In 1934’s “Manhattan Melodrama,” Clark Gable’s virtuous gangster literally goes to the gallows for the sake of his friendship with William Powell’s honest but sincerely conflicted politician, now the governor of the state. As Gable nobly refuses Powell’s offer of a reprieve – he deserves his fate – and prepares to meet his end, they shake hands, a bit dewy-eyed. Thirty-four years later, Oscar (Walter Matthau) and Felix (Jack Lemmon) in “The Odd Couple” are pretty clearly in the throes of one hilariously complex love/hate relationship but, when their friendship is healed by the end of the film, even the briefest of hugs is not in the cards for the poker buddies.
Now, of course, we live in a very different male-bonding world. Yet, even as the hug becomes the new handshake for many, the question remains: what is the new hug? No wonder so many of us seem caught between a junior high school level fear of being thought gay and artsy post collegiate embarrassment that we’re not cool enough to actually be, you know, a little bit gay. It’s life in the post-Kinsey, post-ambisexual/glam David Bowie, post “Seinfeld” “not that there’s anything wrong with that” world where, as proven by “Superbad,” the spectacle of straight males being physically affectionate is somehow funnier than ever.
Also, If you’ve haven’t seen them, you may also want to check out my interviews with Humpday‘s two stars, Mark Duplass (of the filmmaking Duplass brothers) and actor-filmmaker Joshua Leonard (“The Blair Witch Project.”)
A once influential theatrical artist with a flair for surreal provocation and a madcap sense of humor makes some questionable decisions and winds up in a world where, at least for the moment, no one much cares for his stories. Doe this remind us of anyone we know?
Well, ex-Monty Python animator and trouble-plagued big budget cult movie director Terry Gilliam has made no secret of the autobiographical nature of “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.” Between that, the tragic death of Heath Ledger midway through filming, and the numerous references to the grim reaper that fill this dark and occasionally comic fantasy, it’s kind of impossible not to think about the grim real world conditions of its making; not only did the production lose its star in the most painful way possible partway through filming, but producer William Vince also passed on from cancer during post-production, while Gilliam himself suffered serious injuries after being hit by a car. The writer-director emphasizes that the screenplay for “Parnassus” was not significantly rewritten after Ledger’s death, but in view of this strangely disjointed film, that brings up a lot more questions than it answers.
By the way, if you happen to be seeing this on December 24th, Meet Me in St. Louis is playing tonight on TCM 1o:00 pst/1:00 est and again in March. Here’s the scoop.
Note: This review was co-written many weeks back (I’m linking late!) with the highly esteemed Ross Ruediger of Bullz-Eye and The Rued Morgue. Guess which movies I saw, and which ones Ross saw!
Forty-two years after his death, B-horror legend William Castle remains synonymous with cinematic gimmicks with names like “Emergo,” (a glow-in-the-dark skeleton that flew over the audience), “Percepto” (a small vibrator under some theaters seats) and “Illusion-O” (a “ghost viewer”). Though his modestly budgeted productions delighted the young, they were impossible to take seriously and never earned him the kind of respect given to less avidly commercial auteurs. Still, he was a solid movie craftsman of the old school with a buoyant attitude who worked with Orson Welles and Roman Polanski, and possibly influenced Alfred Hitchcock’s move into sensational horror with “Psycho” and “The Birds.” As a director, he was a competent craftsman whose essentially good-natured works aimed a bit low. As a showman, however, Welles, Polanski, and Hitchcock had very little on him.
There’s a good chance that, growing up, you’ve fantasized about being a private investigator. Fed by a lifetime of TV, movie, and literary P.I.s, I know I have – and still do. The mind of Andy Barker (Andy Richter), however, has been elsewhere.
Andy’s an accountant, and a very good one, but he’s so unaware of the noir mythos that when someone mentions the movie “Chinatown,” he asks, “Is that with Jackie Chan?” Blissfully married to the adoring Jenny Barker (the quirkily deadpan Clea Lewis), he’s more than happy taking all his walks on the mild side. Still, when he moves into the strip-mall office that once belonged to the aging and more than slightly crazed retired tough guy private dick Lew Staziak (the late, great Harve Presnell), he finds himself beset with clients who have more need of Jim Rockford or Phillip Marlowe than a Certified Public Accountant. With the questionable help of Staziak and two of his office neighbors – zany video store proprietor Simon (Tony Hale of “Arrested Development”), who provides Andy with movie knowledge and little else, and flag-waving Afghan-American restaurateur Wally (veteran actor Marshall Manesh) – he sets about righting wrongs and fighting bad guys. His only weapons: common sense, high morals, and his vast knowledge of accountancy.
A film about Greece, made by an expatriate Greek director, but featuring an all-star French-speaking cast, “Z” is, alongside John Frankenheimer’s “The Manchurian Candidate” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend,” one of the most important political films of all time. Even if, artistically and in terms of sheer entertainment, it’s not quite on the same level as either of those masterpieces, it had an immediacy those films lacked. Unlike Godard and Frankenheimer, director Costa-Gavris wasn’t only working out of political conviction, he was trying to free his homeland.
Shot and financed in the former French colony of Algeria, “Z” is based on a thinly fictionalized novel by Vasilis Vasilikos detailing the 1963 murder of pacifist leader Gregoris Lambrakis and the investigation that followed. Presaging the John F. Kennedy assassination by several months, the killing helped set the stage for a full-scale fascist military takeover of Greece, which lasted from 1967 to 1974. That, in turn, set the stage for Costa-Gavris, a promising young director hot off the success of his first film, “The Sleeping Car Murders,” to recruit a cast of mostly French stars to participate in a film designed specifically to raise a worldwide alarm. With the tacit acceptance of the U.S. and Western Europe, the world’s cradle of democracy was harboring a totalitarian regime that regularly tortured and murdered dissidents and had banned everything from the Beatles and long hair, to Mark Twain, Dostoyevsky, and a certain letter of the alphabet. With “Z,” Costa-Gavris made sure the world knew that.
I’ve been largely neglecting this site lately because of my other blogging duties, though over the next few days there will be links and maybe some bonus materials for a couple of Bullz-Eye.com reviews, but I did want to revive a tradition and post a favorite video of mine, the great RKO short film “The House I Live In.” Written by Albert Maltz and directed by Mervyn LeRoy, it’s a wartime propaganda piece for tolerance (except where it comes to our nation’s WWII enemies, of course), and tolerance can always use some good propaganda. Anyhow, I’m never able to get through this one without misting up, and it really does some up what I think all Americans have to be thankful for today and all days, especially this year.
As always, a quick proviso for those who’ve never seen this. The first song Frank Sinatra sings here isn’t much and was clearly the promotional part of the film. If you’re the slightest bit bored/impatient, skip ahead to 2:43 when Frank goes out for a smoke.
THE HOUSE I LIVE IN
I was very sorry to hear earlier this morning of the death at age 79 of a personal favorite of mine, Edward Woodward. Although he may still be best known for his roles in the acclaimed fact-based war drama, “Breaker Morant,” the espionage/crime-vigilante TV series, “The Equalizer,” and by our friends in England as the cynical, super-tough spy “Callan,” his role in what was once a fairly obscure cult film all but buried by its studio, the 1973 “The Wicker Man,” is getting the lion’s share of attention in most of his press obituaries, that’s including the very touching one issued by the BBC this morning.
“The Wicker Man” has been one of my favorite movies since I was teenager and remains so now — not even the worst imaginable remake can touch that film, and that proposition has now been tested. Still, my admiration of the actor Woodward goes well beyond one single role. He was the kind of performer you could rely on to be great in anything and so he was on countless television programs. A master of understatement who knew when and how to go big (the oft-spoiled ending of “The Wicker Man” being a case in point), he was a real virtuoso whose un-showy approach probably doomed him to being underrated to a certain degree. Still, he didn’t seem to mind and judging from the press accounts I’ve been reading, he was a real gentleman and as fun to be around as his best known characters were definitely not. He was also, by the way, an accomplished Shakespearian stage actor and a fair-to-middling pop singer. It’s a shame he rarely got to do either on screen, though his voice can be heard to powerful effect during the final scene of “Breaker Morant.” (If you don’t mind learning the fate of his title character, or already know it from history, you can see the conclusion here.)
Two of his more devoted fans appear to have been Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, who were smart enough to cast Woodward in “Hot Fuzz,” and you can read their thoughts at Wright’s blog and via a message board post by Pegg. (Big h/t to Beaks.) Wright’s piece is really lovely and I strongly recommend you read all of if . However, here’s one line that tickled me, in the spirit of “it’s funny because it’s true.”
I also remember telling him that Quentin [Tarantino] was a huge fan of his film ‘Sitting Target’ (another great soundtrack – btw) and he looked shocked. I’m not sure anyone had ever complimented him on it. He replied “Well, you must tell your friend he is very strange indeed”.
And so it goes, another great lost. I do want to echo Edgar Wright’s entreaty that, especially you’ve never seen it, you watch the 1973 “The Wicker Man” as fast as possible and avoid any place where spoilers about the ending might be found, which seems to be about 99% of what’s been posted about it recently. (I tried to avoid giving too much away in my 2000 review linked to above.) Woodward’s portrayal of a repressed, bitter, humorless, but also decent, principled, and compassionate man is, to me, very much what acting is all about. So, why are we surprised to hear about what a funny and regular guy he was in real life? He was acting — extraordinarily well.
Greg of Cinema Styles has more. Highly recommended.
Originally posted at Premium Hollywood.
I’m 17 years late getting on board the “Army of Darkness” cult train, but I’m pretty glad I finally did, even if I’m not certain I’ll be taking many repeat trips. A sequel to Sam Raimi’s late 80s horror comedy non-sequel, “Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn,” “Army” drops most of the horror of the prior film and combines Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” with bargain basement Tolkien and a huge dose of imaginative slapstick comedy in the vein of classic era Warner Brothers cartoons and the Three Stooges. The result is a pretty rich broth of high-style geekery.
The film opens as wisecracking, chainsaw-armed, loutish, egotistical big-box hardware store clerk hero, Ash (cult superstar Bruce Campbell) and his Oldsmobile Delta Royale fall through some kind of time hole and wind up in 13th century England by way of California’s Bronson Canyon and Vasquez Rocks. Held captive by Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert), his only initial supporter is the local Wiseman (Ian Abercrombie). However, victory in battle against some hideous monsters and the chance to use his magical “boomstick” (actually, a non-magical 12-gauge shotgun) adds to Ash’s credibility and helps to attract the amorous attention of a refined and beautiful noblewoman (Embeth Davidtz, adding a touch of class and some real emotion to the proceedings).
The hype around “Paranormal Activity” is more than justified, but it still isn’t much more than an extremely well-made engine for getting a roomful of people to squirm, giggle, and actually scream in near unison. In a way, it’s entirely unfair that I’ve given this barebones video terror flick a slightly higher rating than an artful and far more fully developed horror construction like “Drag Me to Hell, but life isn’t fair and dramatic depictions of creeping death are even less so.
“Paranormal Activity,” which has been making the film festival rounds since last year, starts out in true post-“Blair Witch” fashion, eschewing ordinary credits and replacing them with titles implying that Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat may be less than completely healthy; the filmmakers thank their parents and their local police department for the use of the edited home video footage we’re about to see. After that, the set-up is about as simple as things get: Grad-student Katie believes that she has been dogged by a decidedly unfriendly presence of some sort her entire life, and that lately it has been getting worse. As our tale begins, her ebulliently arrogant day trader live-in boyfriend, Micah, decides to pursue the spectral whatsis by putting them both under constant videotape surveillance in their very large San Diego townhouse. (Since the movie is set in 2006, we can assume the careless Micah purchased the house via a highly suspect interest-only loan. Perhaps it’s just as well.)