Seeing movies in a theater has become a real rarity for the Ivanlandia High Command—once we'd skip class and catch four movies in a day, but it’s a joy that we really just cannot afford these days (I got bills to pay!), not when DVDs are cheaper to get ahold of (via the library or pals or…), and then there are all the choices available on-line! Why deal with an icky theater full of so-called humans when the couch & TV & fridge are at your fingertips?
All that said, since the start of April, I’ve hit the hard-tops three times, taking in The Raid: Redemption, The Hunger Games and The Cabin in the Woods. Honestly, I could’ve waited till home-viewing-versions were available, but there was some $ burning a hole in my pocket, and for once I wanted to be part of the cinema discussion while it was still ongoing…
Onto the Reviews! Specifically, those screened theatrically!
The Raid: Redemption (2011; Gareth Evans) So disappointing it’s not even funny. What could have been a martial arts wonder is ruined by excessive shaky-cam. I get shaky-cam in H’wood blockbusters— can't let the audience see that it isn't Brad Pitt punching out Danny Trejo— but when you've got a cast of martial arts experts JUST LEAVE THE DAMN CAMERA STILL so I can enjoy their hard work. The Raid's shaky-cam gave me a migraine (for real! my head was killing me!). Shaky-cam makes me think that the filmmakers are trying to hide something, like maybe this isn’t a cast of Indonesian martial arts experts. Maybe they’re fakes, and this flick was actually shot in the San Fernando Valley.
And once that door of annoyance is opened, I can’t regard the story as anything but from hunger—a total rip-off of the generic plot to a hundred Hong Kong cop movies, down to the corrupt father-figure, brother vs. brother, and the complete jettisoning of logic just to squeeze in one more fight scene. After about 45 minutes sitting in the theater, my head aching more and more, I was sneaking many, many glances at my wristwatch. I should have waited till The Raid was available on DVD or something.
The Hunger Games (2012; Gary Ross) I liked the film, but it wasn’t as good as the book—and while it tried to be (too) faithful, it also struggled mightily to remain middle of the road—no filmmakers’ individualistic reinterpretation of Ms. Collins excellent pageturner, thankyouverymuch—just a densely-packed movie, which never seems to have any time to breathe, to stretch its arms out, to give the audience a chance to process the info-dump. Both the Missus and I were glad we’d read the book beforehand, otherwise I think much would’ve been missed or ignored in the plethora of stuff thrown at the viewer.
In being faithful to the letter of the law, as it were, the filmmakers (who include Ms. Collins) lose some of the spirit: Sure some of the satire of The Hunger Games-the book is still there, but not as biting, not as sharp. The film is not as nasty or savage as the book. And Gary Ross can’t shoot action scenes for shit, since he seems to believe that establishing shots are for unnecessary. However, Jennifer Lawrence really sold the character, and saved the flick.
This is a film I should’ve waited for on DVD because I think the “ultra-deluxe special edition” disc will be longer and hopefully paced better. But who knows? The flick’s already made about half-a-billion smackeroos globally, why do anything to satisfy one not-quite-disgruntled consumer?
(BTW: regarding Ms. Collins’ source novel, lemme tell ya: anything that tells kids that the adults are OUT TO GET THEM and are NOT TO BE TRUSTED is cool with me. The novel The Hunger Games needs to be on the shelf next to Francine Prose’s incredible After, which you should all read immediately.) The Cabin in the Woods (2012; Drew Goddard) Loved it! Will see it when it comes out on DVD, absolutely—might even buy the bootleg from the Asian gent who comes through the subway hustling a bag of flicks that are still in release.
Although not as good as Haneke’s German Funny Games (which The Cabin in the Woods gives a shout-out to via the music cue as well as the font, color and layout of the opening title credit) in terms of the meta-"give-the-audience-a-taste-of-its-own-medicine" scenario, but the nightmare menagerie? Brillo.
The zombies hacking up the college kids, though, were a bit of a snooze—I get why, in the overall Brechtian twitch of reflexive cinema, the inhuman killers are such a snooze—and need to be, to maintain the parody of the spreading mundanity in the horror genre. But it was still a snooze—at least comparatively—everybody’s going on about the “Angry Molesting Tree” gag—sure, it’s funny, but “Dismemberment Goblins”? Better: I’m so there!—and wouldn’t you have rather seen either of those going after the youngsters instead of generic ghouls?
I did appreciate the anger the flick inspired in me (towards the “controllers”), but I noticed that I was never made to question the relish I felt for the subsequent slaughter due to PURGE. But I did like the stoner being the most sensible one, though…the wolf dance was niiiiice, too—and tension-packed! But references to Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft keep me happy, otherwise, so…
BTW, how about those weird creepy parallels with The Hunger Games—is there some sort of “surveillance/young people dying for the old folks’ entertainment/bloodsport as control” zeitgeist going on? If so: Freeeeeee-KEE.
Honestly, though, I wish The Cabin in the Woods had been even smarter—taken even more of a stand about something—anything—other than just horror movies. Am I asking too much? Maybe I should see it again… The Rest of the Reviews:
The Harder They Come (1972; Perry Henzell) This one’s going to the top of the “Best Older Films Discovered This Year” list: Wow! I’ve had the album for more than twenty-mumble-mumble years—just like so many of you—and only in mid-April did I finally catch this movie.
Roughhewn and wild (low-budget but technically top-notch: especially the often-staccato editing), The Harder They Come is an exciting multi-leveled portrait of a country that we’re all familiar with, but known really nothing about. The plot’s simple—country bumpkin comes to the big city, gets in trouble, cuts a record, slices a face, makes some money, becomes an outlaw, makes a run for it, gets betrayed, fulfills self-prophesized legend—but the very documentarian feel of pure reality, and the massive attention to detail, as well as a ripping pace, push The Harder They Come up a notch. The picture routinely feels like it was shot on the fly, with no legal permissions—the crowds were just doing their thing when the film crew showed up. And, Lordy! The grinding poverty displayed here is heartbreaking! It makes sense to join the ganja trade—only a fool would turn down work; what’s he gonna do? Starve his family?
And lead Jimmy Cliff’s a definite presence, and his body language reminds me so much of Bob Dylan’s performance (quirky, but stoic—violent, but mellow) in Sam Peckinpah’s underrated Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973; and I’m talking about the director’s cut). Maybe it’s the “Rock Star” vibe, or something akin to that. Maybe both Bob and Jimmy are stoned beyond belief; from what I’ve heard about the set of Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, I wouldn’t be surprised. Whatever it is, Jimmy fills the character’s shoes completely.
And the music? Ayyyy, mon! LOTS of great sounds, but unlike the album, which sticks to the reggae “hits”—the film shows the heavy influence of church music (the straight-up soul-stirring choir music, naturally, but later, when the gospel is going down, and people are stomping and jumping, some of the guitar/bass beats are pure Funkadelic, I swear), as well as the more disco/dance/groove sounds permeating the audio landscape. And I dug how I’d “hear” on a radio or in the background of a bar, an older, more “Pop Music” tune, with a kinda skiffle beat, I think.
A fabulous movie I’m so glad I “discovered.”
Kimjongilia (2009; N.C. Helkin) A very moving series of interviews with escapees from North Korea’s brutal prison camps. These fortunate souls have literally escaped from HELL.
However, Kimjongilia is also a very earnest film that would have been improved by being maybe only about 30 minutes in length. Jeez, I feel like a total churl writing that: Ivanlandia has very good diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea (usually referred to as South Korea) and has visited Seoul, enjoying the town immensely; while my wife has visited semi-often, and one of her best friends lives there. Needless to say, we don’t want to see the horrors of NK extending below the 38th Parallel, and would prefer a peaceful and prosperous reunification. And as such, I feel a more genuine review is impossible.
Vynález zkázy (a.k.a. The Fabulous World of Jules Verne a.k.a. A Deadly Invention) (1958; Karel Zeman) Beautiful Eastern European fantasy film—which means it has a very measured pace with exquisite technical effects, and simultaneously murky and simplistic politics. Yeah, yeah, Zeman was a big influence on Terry Gilliam—that wasn’t a secret since Terry G.’s film was a remake of Zeman’s 1961 Baron Prasil.
A re-edited for US audiences version of this film, titled The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, used to be shown all the time on WPIX in NYC back in the day—the US distributors really punched things up I seem to recall, and also completely rearranged the narrative to suit their purposes. Anyway, the film is ultimately for nostalgia buffs with an interest in effects-heavy Eastern European fantasy films.
Watch this Trailers From Hell about Vynález zkázy, then see if how you feel—the complete movie is HERE. The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008; Chris Carter) A movie that really sticks with you; very intelligently written, with lots of food for thought. Cheap thrills, it ain’t—although with ultra-creepy gore effects, certainly.
But Christopher Knowles of the incredible and recommended cultural symbology-examination blog The Secret Sun is a big fan of this movie, and has written extensively about it HERE and HERE.
After reading Knowles’ words (below), I knew I had to see this movie— “The X-Files film I Want to Believe allegorizes the series' own Mythology, symbolically retelling the drama of aliens, abductions and genetic experimentation in a real-world context.”
I read that, and was hooked! Nor was I disappointed—although honestly, I’m not sure if those not familiar with the TV show will appreciate it as much. Straw Dogs (1971; Sam Peckinpah) Still the ultimate in “feel-bad” Savage Cinema; still great. Bad Man Sam had to go all the way to the UK to make his most powerful film, go figure. On the other hand, by being taken out of his comfort zone (revisionist Westerns), he’s being forced to put his thoughts into other modes of expression that haven’t yet been cocooned by cultural super-examination.
Honestly, Straw Dogs is perhaps Peckinpah’s most original film, as he’s not recontextualizing and accessorizing aspects from other people’s films—yeah, Peckinpah was a lot like Tarantino that way: Before his career imploded, Sam’s other films—especially the Westerns, once you put them into historical context, are really mash-ups and tributes to previous movies (and other pulp media). Ride the High Country is a tribute to Boetticher and Ford; Major Dundee is a sprawling mess; and The Wild Bunch (which I’ve said before is really a mercenary movie) borrows from The Seven Samurai, Treasure of Sierra Madre, Vera Cruz, others but most notably from Sam's own Major Dundee (Danny Peary points this out in his first volume of Cult Movies). The Ballad of Cable Hogue is an overrated bore, with a completely miscast Stella Stevens (on the other hand, casting Englishman David Warner—a move that predates Tarantino & Co.’s excessive stunt-casting— as the traveling preacher was a stroke of genius, I’ll admit). Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid is nothing if not a tribute to the “Old Hollywood West,” and Junior Bonner stands out as being Peckinpah’s only examination of American’s Southwestern horse-riding pioneers and plainsmen that doesn’t smack of cinematic reinterpretation (because the characters are already doing that: living out their pathetic cowboy fantasies).
An unholy mess (that I love), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is Peckinpah’s postmodern recontextualization of his own life as sleazy grindhouse flick, with a near cosmic level of self-loathing squeezed in.
Straw Dogs isn’t about cowboys and the West, it’s about aggression and territoriality—and it’s also the most intellectually rigorous of Peckinpah’s films, his true potential “breakout” film. If he’d stayed on this track—a tougher row to hoe when it’s easier playing the drunk belligerent, I will confess—his later films might have had greater staying power— heck, those flicks might have been simply better. (And I say that being a fan of both The Killer Elite and Cross of Iron.)
So, yeah, David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman as a vicious intellectual) is the villain of Straw Dogs—I even wondered at one point if maybe he’d killed his wife’s cat, just to start trouble. You can’t say he’s a nice man. He’s certainly a passive-aggressive bully. He’s an adolescent, really. The editing and camerawork all show how to create tension and action in a film. Jeez, imagine something like The Hunger Games in the hands of a Peckinpah? That would be…niiiiiiice.
And so, now I will try to write and post a review of movies as I see them—I’m getting sick of these massive posts I make for myself! (Of course, I’ve got half-a-dozen flicks already watched with handfuls of scribbled notes scattered about the house, so we’ll see how that works out for me….)
Although this is lovely actress Ella Raines in a publicity still from some forgotten bit of 1940s Hollywood patriotism, I swear to all that I hold unholy that I cannot help but think of it as some sort of outtake from Paul Verhoeven’s much-loved-around-here Starship Troopers! Ms. Raines was/is the female lead of Preston Sturges’ fantastic Hail the Conquering Hero, and unlike the usually spot-on Tom Stempel of Understanding Screenwriting, I think Ella is cast perfectly— I will confess that she certainly is my “type,” but I also think she fits perfectly in the manic whirligig of HtCH’s cast, with a sweet and calming performance. Her cool, almost stoic emotionalism is comedic gold as far as I’m concerned—she’s the hysterical screwball comedy dame, but as very fetching ice queen: she’s the stoner in a house full of speedfreaks, and a nice contrast to the manic goings-on.
If you haven’t guessed by now, The National Film Board of Ivanlandia has decreed that 1944’s Hail the Conquering Hero is one of the greatest movies ever made—and if you disagree, I will fight you—with garrison belts! (Watch the movie, and you’ll get what I’m saying)
Aside: One thing I noticed on my latest viewing of Hail the Conquering Hero, however, is that the shrine Woodrow’s mother has to his late father is spookily similar to the shrine that Edward G. Robinson’s wife has to her “late” husband in Fritz Lang’s Scarlett Street, but is almost more creepy. What a trip to lay on a kid! Other Films Watched In These First Few Days Of April…
The Life & Death of Peter Sellers (2005; Stephen Hopkins) I got this from the library for the sole purpose of catching Stanley Tucci’s performance as Stanley Kubrick. Tucci’s good, but the role is little more than a cameo. As Britt Ekland, Charlize Theron is energetic and vivacious (and stone foxilicious), but is given little to do other than look sexy, and then be abused.
Geoffrey Rush does his usual top-notch thesping in the lead role of the mercurial comedian, but is hampered by the script’s flaws.
That said, this movie is probably incomprehensible, confusing and dull to anyone not already familiar with Peter Sellers’ turbulent life. The flick has interesting tension as it ping-pongs between arty experimentationalism and standard biopic snoozefest, but on the whole, it’s a lot of things happening with zero depth.
The best biopics, like Patton or Ed Wood, concentrate on the most relevant part of the subject’s life, those five to 10 years which truly define that person (and/or their life’s work). Bad ones, like The Life & Death of Peter Sellers, try to cram in too much of the person’s life—and then pay short shrift by hardly concentrating on anything at all.
Le Corbeau (1942; Henri-Georges Clouzot) A classic watched again—because it’s so damn good!
Here’s what I wrote back in August 2008, when I first viewed Le Corbeau (French for “The Raven”): A new favorite of mine, Le Corbeau is a mystery/noir that feels like a Jim Thompson novel in tone and plotting: The inhabitants of possibly the meanest and most petty town in the world are driven into a frenzy as all their secrets are revealed by an unknown letter-writer. Meanwhile, the “hero” is a cynical abortionist!
Smooth and crisp camerawork effectively increases the mood of paranoia and suspicion, and the exquisitely crafted script keeps the twists (and red herrings) coming.
But make no mistake; Le Corbeau is an angry, acidic film – not surprising considering the circumstances of its production in German-occupied France. Because of that dark worldview, the film still holds up today.
World of Shortz— I also screened the short Dick McBeef— Inspired by a “play” written by the Virginia Tech shooter, this short film/video is more of a sociology experiment with John Waters-esque over-the-top profanity-laced dialog, and is disturbing on multiple levels that have nothing to do with the film’s intrinsic value.
FINALLY, I should probably start keeping track of the flicks I don’t bother to finish watching, right? Nah, fuck it.
And our special hostess, Cosplay Dark Phoenix will now escort you through our gallery of films screened during the month that enters like a lion, and leaves like a lamb, in this special April the Second posting….
Maniac (1980; William Lustig) Joe Spinell’s tour-de-force! Wow, he acts up a storm here. And why not? He’s the executive producer and co-screenwriter—and he brilliantly uses the B-movie/grindhouse/gorehound crowd to spread the word—not to take away from sleazemeister William Lustig’s directorial contributions, and the nefarious talents of splatterking Tom Savini. Dude, do you remember HOW MUCH this flick was promoted in Fangoria back in the day? It was insane!
But this is Uncle Joe’s show, and boy-oh-boy, does he take the ball and run with it! It’s a fearless performance, and infectious, sucking us in. It’s a weird flick in how strangely personal it all feels, like we’re being permitted into some schizoid psychodrama of personal demons. As of this writing, I know nothing of Spinell’s personal life (more on this below, however)—but this grimy, nasty, gore-drenched horror flick feels like a genuine product of a fevered id, not just a quickie rip-off of Halloween or Friday the 13th.
I love Spinell’s performances, especially the offbeat, “quieter,” more sympathetic ones, like the personnel officer in Taxi Driver (When he replies to Travis, “Oh yeah, I was in the Marines,” I can’t help but think what sort of battlefield HELL did Spinell’s character see?), and as the Army Psychiatrist in John Milius’ underrated surf tale Big Wednesday. Now, aside from director Milius’ good taste in actors, here’s why I think Spinell was cast in Big Wednesday: Who else are you going to cast against Gary Busey—playing kee-ray-zee—? (Busey’s a surfer pretending to be crazy in an attempt to avoid the draft.) In the scene, Big Joe Spinell is sitting there cool as a cucumber—like in Taxi Driver, wearing glasses (both times a nice touch)—wearing an officer’s doctor’s coat—sheeeeeeeeit. He’s unnerving— and how Busey underplays against Spinell’s calm is wonderful. It’s a great scene and a high point in an admittedly problematic movie—with incredible surf footage, though.
As for Maniac, I’d put Maniac on a double-feature with underrated feel-bad-fest Lipstick (see below).
So after watching Maniac, I hunted around the intertubes and found The Joe Spinell Story (2001; David Gregory)—
Holy moly! Joe Spinell was a complete closet case! Not that I’m criticizing any lifestyle choices, but after seeing this doc, Maniac makes much more sense. Watch both of them. The actor may be dead, but his work lives on: LONG LIVE JOE SPINELL!
Hell’s Angels (1930; Howard Hughes) Great flying footage, still—totally stomps any CGI—the hard work, innovation and effort is all there on the screen, with some incredible miniature and special effects work, as well. Technically, Hell’s Angels is brilliant. The soap opera plot is annoying, though, and can be fast-forwarded through.
Much has been made about producer-director Hughes’ obsession with this film, so I won’t go into that, but… There’s always been something delightfully a tad OFF with these big-budget films made and financed outside the H’wood “system”: like Gibson’s Passion of JC or Apocalypto; George Lucas’ flicks post-1999, including Red Tails; George C. Scott’s The Savage Is Loose; and so on— —there’s an Asperberger’s Syndrome obsessiveness about these productions, focusing intently on one basically technical aspect and letting others, like a cohesive script, out to dry. But the obsession can be rewarding, whether you’re a gorehound with Gibson’s flicks, or an airplane nut with Hell’s Angels: the flying footage still beats today’s work.
Trailer Park Boys: Season Two (2001; Mike Clattenburg) Still great. I’m hooked. “And the dope’s not bad!”
What happened was… (1994; Tom Noonan) Holy moly! This is a new Ivanlandia fave! The film itself is a classic of loneliness and depression, unrelenting and unblinking and never succumbing to the awful sin of being “clever” or “ironic.” Purposeful awkward and uncomfortable, this gets some raw emotions going, and I dare you not to be moved.
Pontypool (2008; Bruce McDonald) Very nice twist on the “zombie” genre—I think inspired by Stephen King’s Cell. But the flick shows a big tip of the hat to William Burroughs, with its whole “language is a virus” theme/causation—Director McDonald isn’t as famous as fellow Canuck Cronenberg, but he’s been making unique semi-genre flicks for some time now (I think of him as a Canadian Wim Wenders)—and this low-budget zombie Apocalypse is one of his best. And this flick can be VERY intense and frightening for what’s essentially a filmed one-set play (set at a radio station), with only a handful of characters. And you cannot praise lead actor Stephen MacHattie enough. If it wasn’t for his intense and remarkable perf, this movie would be nothing—an incredible performance by the perennial character actor.
And stick around for the movie’s “cookie” [the weird bit of footage after the end credits—Joe Dante’s movies, and all the Marvel superhero movies have done it—although I don’t remember if X-Men: First Class broke the trend or not…], the one for Pontypool is pretty damn sexy/awesome/bizarre/hilarious!
Ip Man 2 (2011; Wilson Yip) dull overall, especially poor after the awesome first film, where the stakes were higher. Cool fight between Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen on a wobbly table, though—fans of great martial arts action should rent the flick, just to fast-forward to the meager handful of martial arts excitement.
C.C. & Company (1970; Seymour Robbie) definite ‘70z relic—Joe Namath and Ann-Margaret and bikers and musical montages: huh?!? Watched as part of my attempt to see as many biker movies as I can—but this movie’s gang, The Heads MC (great name, though), is a pathetic pack of sad losers. Headed by the incredible William Smith (acting like SUCH a jerk), but losers nonetheless, they can’t even hold onto newest member Namath (who takes off his colors—the vest—so often that you really wonder if he ever had any commitment to the club). And the movie is more concerned with dirt-biking than real hogs. However Wayne Cochran’s hair is very impressive. (Namath and A-M visit Vegas at one point and take in a show—and I wouldn’t be surprised if that same hotel was where A-M performed…)
No Blade of Grass (1970; Cornell Wilde) Some good portions, but loses a lot of steam by the one-hour mark. Sometimes extremely heavy-handed, and suffering from a lack of budget, No Blade of Grass is often slip-shod, and its script feels like a first draft. Only recommended for connoisseurs of The Cinema of Dystopia (see ZPG, Children of Men and Soylent Green, to name but a few). This flick doesn’t come close to the awesomeness that was director Wilde’s masterpiece, The Naked Prey, nor does it break new ground like Wilde’s 1968 WWII flick Beach Red tried to. About the USMC taking an island during The Great Pacific War, Beach Red has an often experimental structure, mixing fantasies and memories with the “now” of combat, as well as treating all combatants as equally human—especially the enemy and the cowards. It’s not a success, mainly because the opening credits raised the bar far too high: we’re treated to a series of paintings depicting WWII-era Marines in combat, often (if memory serves) panned across or zoomed into via the optical printer, with as the very last image of the opening titles, co-star Rip Torn (as the tough sergeant) literally and very seriously turning and stepping out of a painting! It’s audacious and almost unbelievable still. When I rented Beach Red years ago, I remember rewinding and watching that precise moment over and over again. Beach Red is definitely in the “Interesting Failure” column—
Both Beach Red and No Blade of Grass suffer from a lack of budget—which director Wilde, rather than adapt to, seems to “make do”—that is, instead of rewriting the script to suit his budget, it often feels as if Wilde is “pretending” that he has the budget. Wilde cares about his movies—all of his films are unique or personal in some way, and they all carry heavy themes. Maybe it’s just that the purest of his films—The Naked Prey—in terms of action and representation of personal philosophy/worldview has the least dialog and characters. The Naked Prey is the kind of movie I hope Samuel Beckett managed to catch at some point in his life. Hmmm…I didn’t really talk too much about No Blade of Grass there, did I? That says something…
Portions of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968; Stanley Kubrick) The Best Movie Ever Made.
Trailer Park Boys: Season Three (2003; Mike Clattenburg)
Trailer Park Boys: Season Four (2004; Mike Clattenburg)
Portions of Monster Zero (1965; Ishirô Honda) Even once in a while I need a kaiju infusion, that’s all. Devo-aliens and their disposable alien wenches screw up taking over the world from us puny humans. One of these days (ha!), I’ll do a longer piece on this movie…
Trailer Park Boys: Season Five (2005; Mike Clattenburg) The show’s still weird—almost Lynchian—but not as funny as it used to be.
Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre (2009; Julius Kemp) So damn disappointing. Some good gore here and there but otherwise a waste of my time. But an effective anti-tourism commercial for Iceland. And I'm almost sorry the director's last name isn't Kelp.
The Sands of the Kalahari (1965; Cy Endfield) Bought on a whim, this flick winds up being quite disappointing—mainly because all can see that there’s a tight, brutal thriller under there—that some judicious editing could have turned this 119 minute melodrama with too many scenes of solipsistic go-nowhere dialog (bordering too often on the ridiculously pretentious—usually surrounding Stewart Whitman’s asshole hunter character trying to justify his selfish and savage actions) into something awesome. Trimmed down to a sleek 80 minutes, this “man vs. nature vs. man” tale would have been equal to some of Herzog or Peckinpah’s greatest works, equal almost to The Naked Prey even! Unfortunately, that’s not the case: Sands of the Kalahari does have potential, but it’s almost if the crew was scared about going too far, about perhaps pushing some uncomfortable questions—for instance, Susannah York’s character is a kissing-cousin to Susan from Straw Dogs—and all that that implies. If you can rent SotK, or borrow it from the library, go for it. It’s the folks who brought you Zulu stretching their wings, so the action sequences are well-staged and the technical aspects are all top-notch, with a cast of B-list regulars and familiar faces all doing their best in the acting department. It’s just not worth buying. Sigh…
Trailer Park Boys: Season Six (2006; Mike Clattenburg) The magic is back—a return to the funny: whew!
Portions of Silent Running (1972; Douglas Trumbull) People who tear this flick apart for “scientific inaccuracies” are assholes. This tale of the last forest exiled into space is a metaphor—I rewatched it during the Bush/Cheney years, and at the time it felt like prophecy— and one that still pulls the heartstrings (especially for us 1970s kids) primarily through the strength of Bruce Dern’s performance, as well as the performances of the amputees playing the robots. When I was a kid, I cried with sadness after watching this, and any flick that gets a genuine emotional reaction out of me is a winner.
Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970; Joseph Sargent) This is a pulse-quickening Cold War thriller that throws the “fear of the computer” that was rattling around in the late-1960s into the mix. Every few years, I pop this one in—I used to catch it every time it aired on WOR-TV Channel 9 back in the day. I’ve got the UK PAL widescreen DVD—not available here in the colonies for some obscure reason—the US DVD is an awful pan-&-scan job. BTW, Colossus, the film is infinitely better than its source novel, ditching the book’s “future” setting, full of “futuristic” techno-junk, for a more realistic “contemporary” setting, becoming very much like Fail-Safe or The Bedford Incident in the process; that is, more of a techno-thriller with some sci-fi elements (as opposed to a more “hard” science film like 2001 or The Andromeda Strain). Because how the computer works in this film seems to be a bit of hoodoo—why hasn't IBM replicated this yet?—a big magic box, the genie out of the bottle (in reverse?).
But the set-up is played straight till its grim end: Nope, you ain’t beating the mega-computer, puny human.
Director Sargent really uses the Panavision frame well, filling it and keeping it active—and creates wonderful split-screen effects by having the frame filled with video screens of various characters in different locations. If Joseph Sargent’s name is somewhat familiar, it’s because he directed one of the greatest movies ever made: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. None of Joe S.’s subsequent films ever came close to the awesomeness of these two flicks—which is too bad, but I’m glad to have these.
The Velvet Underground: Under Review (2006; Tom Barbor-Might) Absolutely required viewing for fans of the band. Big Lou and John C. are no-shows, but the doc is more than a hagiography, with plenty of well-spoken music scholars chiming in, as well as good comments by Mo Tucker and Doug Yule.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1978; Lewis Gilbert; produced by Albert R. Broccoli) James Bond films are basically beyond real criticism now—you can complain if they don’t fulfill their promises of entertainment and action—but otherwise, you seem foolish. So I won’t go into how this rip-off of You Only Live Twice (replacing spaceships with submarines, and SPECTRE with Stromberg) is a very stupid, smug and shockingly unrepentantly sexist flick. However, I specifically rented it because that night I needed a James Bond flick and while stupid, this is a BLAST. The effects are cool, every penny of the budget is on screen, Jaws is a superb villain, and there are oodles o’ quim to eyeball. Honestly, though, I prefer Moonraker to this one—both have the exact same plot (so You Only Live Twice has been ripped-off twice by its own producer), but the monsto-success of The Spy Who Loved Me allowed Broccoli & Co. (I firmly believe that Broccoli is the auteur/CEO of the series; the directors are all hired hands, and the stunt coordinators get to be much more creative than they do) to up the budget, and really allow special effects master Derek Meddings to go to town.
Children of Men (2006; Alfonso Cauron) Religious allegory or cautionary tale or war/secret mission movie? It’s the background that I truly love in this film—the urban dystopia, the slow death of England, the crumbling ruined infrastructure. And the DVD supplementals heavily feature Ivanlandia fave, crazed commie philosopher Slavoj Zizek. The List of Adrian Messenger (1963; John Huston) A fun, murder mystery, but as shallow as a plate. The gimmick of the guest stars might have been neat 50 years ago, but not anymore—I think Huston was aiming for some sort of post-modern meta-twist on Agatha Christie stories, but if so, he was distracted too much by skirt-chasing and fox hunting. Thankfully, the movie’s brisk pace and top-notch acting (especially both George C. Scott and Kirk Douglas underplaying—for once), and a super cameo by Robert Mitchum, make this a good movie to kill some time with—especially if you’re on a date: the love story subplot (between the French munitions expert and the Countess) is very mature, yet also very warm and tender. A nice surprise if, like me, you cannot tolerate what poses as a romance movie these days. BTW, if you’re a fan of voice-over god Paul Frees (as I am) this movie is a treasure as Frees supplies voices and overdubs throughout. Jeez, I love the sound of his distinctive voice! Golden tonsils…
Death Race 2000 (1975; Paul Bartel; produced by Roger Corman) Another Ivanlandia fave—been catching up on my dystopian/bloodsport movies lately (or trying to). This recent viewing made me realize that Death Race 2000 is ripe for an in-depth look here at The United Provinces of Ivanlandia; there’s a lot of meta-social commentary going on! Stay tuned! Vrrrrrrrrrroooooooooom!
Barry Lyndon (1975; Stanley Kubrick) On DVD, this is still a great film, but without the visuals to overwhelm you—like they would in a movie theater with a good print—the miscasting of Ryan O’Neal is very obvious—at least before his character of Barry Lyndon becomes an out-and-out bully and monster. Then, it might not be acting. Some people have called Barry Lyndon boring. Some people are fucking morons.
The Onion Field (1979; Harold Becker) Great parts, but overall? Very imperfect. Lead John Savage can’t really carry his part of the flick (it seems like he’s a bad imitation of a drunken Christopher Walken half the time), and director Becker has zero style or flair. The flick is lit and shot like a mediocre TV movie—a decent TV movie vet like Buzz Kulik (see his William Castle-produced Riot), Boris Sagal or Ted Post could’ve turned this flick into a more visually appealing movie. And it didn’t know where to end, either—continuing on and on with a coda that is useless. The flick really drops the ball on its expression of the existential legal nightmare that goes on in this movie. However, the performances by Ted Danson (as a doomed cop), Franklin Seales (“Don’t you harass my Nana!”) and especially James Woods are vivid and memorable. Listen, Woods is FREAKY in this flick, pouring on the psycho evil queer bit thick. But it works—Woods is striving for that Klaus Kinski-esque level of intensity and kee-ray-zee. An absolute must-see for fans of the actor.
The Visitors (1972; Elia Kazan) This has been on my Nflix InstaVue list since I first subscribed to the service, and I was compelled to watch it after seeing Woods in The Onion Field— This is James Woods’ first film and it’s a good one. Directed by Elia Kazan, shot in 16mm (so the film has a real grainy, sleazy vibe), The Visitors belongs on a triple-feature with Straw Dogs (the Peckinpah version) and Funny Games (the German version). Inspired by the same incident that inspired Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War, The Visitors postulates what would happen when the two guys sent to prison for raping and killing a Vietnamese girl on the “battlefield” are released—they go visit the guy (Woods) who testified against them. Also making his movie debut is Steve Railsback, playing the former sergeant of the unit, exuding a spookiness that shows the actor was very intense way before he wound up typecast as Manson. After seeing The Visitors and Kazan’s excellent 1950 thriller Panic in the Streets, I really must go back and rethinking my attitude towards Kazan’s films. For a long time I was negatively influenced by the decades of praise heaped on the director for his ability to extract good perfs from actors, his affiliation with The Method, blah-blah-blah and so on. But Kazan also has style and knows how to edit (or knows how to hire a good editor)—The National Film Board of Ivanlandia will have to conduct a retrospective of his work soon. Addition—here’s my take on Lipstick, from a Nflix review I wrote back in March 2008 (before The United Provinces of Ivanlandia even existed!)
Lipstick (1976; Lamont Johnson)A unique time capsule from a crazier time in movies, Lipstick epitomizes the type of film that could not get made today: Grim, creepy and often uncomfortable to watch, this is as much a feel-bad thriller as Last House on the Left. As the John Cage-wannabe (with quasi-electronic soundtrack to match) and rapist, Chris Sarandon delivers another excellent performance as a sleazeball, an unctuous oily creep who makes your skin crawl. While the filmmakers try to examine rape and molestation in a non-exploitative way, the flick’s “realism” often pushes it into the realm of extremely questionable taste. But then, on the other hand, when Lipstick goes into revenge overdrive, it takes on an almost psychotic disco flavor that must be seen to be believed. So when this movie was released in 1976, the critics tore it to shreds. It’s worth a second look for fans of bleak ’70s flicks.
That was my original idea for the title of this blog, a sort of summation of nearly everything I'd ever wanted cinematically: regularly playing on the ABC Channel 7 4:30 movie--or on WOR-TV Channel 9's 4 O'Clock Movie--the greatest monster movie in the universe, and incredible combo of miniatures, men in suits and stop motion, with entire continents destroyed!
But then there was a coup d'etat, and Tzar Ivan I of Ivanlandia took charge.