Monday, July 28, 2008

Some 'Brood' Brooding

David Cronenberg's The Brood is a concept so thoroughly Cronenberg that you can almost imagine the idea forming in his head. Since Cronenberg's films often deal with the complex and painful idea of physical transformation/mutation, it's only natural that he could create such a wretchedly provocative image of pregnancy and birth. As a concept, it's my favorite Cronenberg movie behind The Fly, but purely as a film it has too many narrative flaws for it to be in the director's elite company. Seeing it for the first time recently, I enjoyed it immensely but still had to agree with Roger Ebert's 1979 review. Ebert's review notes that up until the last 15 minutes, The Brood is mostly made up of Art Hindle's rants and raves, and "... just a lot of coming and going and musing, as the music on the sound track hints darkly at the terrible things to come." But boy howdy do those terrible things in the last 15 minutes deliver! Goddamn.

And that's what ultimately hurts The Brood the most -- it's heavily back-loaded, and as a result Cronenberg's novel premise is never really expanded upon. Once it's finally revealed just what the movie is about, the credits roll. Cronenberg put all his chips on the fact that suddenly revealing Samantha Eggars' "strange adventure" at the end would provide a shock like other big twists from the likes of Psycho or Les Diaboliques, but those movies both held your interest up until that point.

The Brood focuses on the goings-on at the Institute for Pyscho-Plasmics, a most unconventional treatment center headed by Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed). At Psycho-Plasmics, patients are encouraged to give physical expression to their pain, with results ranging from harmless welts to ... much more extreme manifestations. Frank Carveth (Hindle) becomes very concerned about his wife Nola's (Eggar) extended stay at the Institute, and spends most of the movie hollering about when he gets to see her again. There's also the matter of a terrifying gang of snow-suited adolescents who are terrorizing family and acquaintances of Nola, and upon closer inspection they appear to be just barely human. Frank suspects the Institute is to blame for the evil tykes and the kidnapping of his daughter -- in the end he will come face to face with the source.

Cronenberg directed The Brood under the premise that you don't know the origin of the titular creatures, but it's never really a secret. If you've never read anything about the movie, then the title itself will give you quite a big clue: the tiny menaces are born from Nola, fueled by her hateful emotions, and do her subconscious bidding. The big reveal to Frank is fantastic disgusting, in a way only Cronenberg can do, with Nola lovingly embracing her newest bloody brood. These final 15 minutes are by far the film's strongest point, but there's still part of it that leaves me wanting more. Frank decides to rid the world of the murderous children by killing his wife, on the premise that her emotions give them life. This is a logical ending to a mostly illogical movie, but it's emotionally hollow: Nola's revelation to Frank is horrifying, but would it really cause him to viciously strangle his wife to death? I think there's one way he could have cured his wife, killed the brood, and kept his family intact. How? Why, some Marvin Gay brand Sexual Healing, of course.

I'm not quite sure how Frank could have accomplished it given the circumstances, but by transforming Nola's thoughts from malicious to carnal, wouldn't it have the same effect on the brood? The visuals would be more powerful as well, with inter cuts of Nola's throes of sexual passion and the destruction of her hateful manifestations. This would not only provide a happy ending by keeping the Carveth family intact, but it would wreck the Institute's radical treatment ideals, showing that modern problems can still be solved in the home.

And yes, I'm aware that the previous paragraphs represent something more disgusting than Cronenberg put together (given Nola's physical state at that point). These are the kinds of things I think about. And yes, I need help.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Once, twice, twelve times a New Beverly

Piper has quite a meme incubation program over at Lazy Eye Theatre, and his new one just hatched. Of course, now it's gonna multiply like tribbles with a premise like this:

1) Choose 12 Films to be featured. They could be random selections or part of a greater theme. Whatever you want.

2) Explain why you chose the films.

3) Link back to Lazy Eye Theatre so I can have hundreds of links and I can take those links and spread them all out on the bed and then roll around in them.

4) The people selected then have to turn around and select 5 more people.

My double bill picks are all related somehow, and I've provided links to past posts of mine about the movies. Note: only a theater like the one pictured would allow me to choose their programming.

The Terror/Targets
(as I say in the linked post, The Terror plays a big role in Targets, and seeing it beforehand will only add to the enjoyment of the second movie).

Point Blank/Beetlejuice
(Both movies deal with the supernatural and the physical overlapping. Chris Stangl has an excellent essay on these themes in Beetlejuice).

Bicycle Thieves/Legend of Billie Jean
(A two-wheeled means of transport is stolen, no justice to be found. What can be done? Lamberto Maggiorani and Helen Slater have a few ideas).

Night of the Hunter/Halloween
(The first directly influenced the latter, by being one of the first modern slasher movies. The visuals of Jack and Pearl barely escaping Rev. Powell would be repeated again and again in the 70s and 80s).

The Burbs/Rio Bravo
(I've said a couple times that these two would make good companions, they complement each other nicely).

Petulia/Superman III
(As suggested by Mr. Peel).

OK, now I'm calling ya'll out:

The afrorementioned Mr. Peel
Becca at No Smoking in the Skull Cave
Damian at Windmills of My Mind
James at his Mad Grasp for Relevancy
Jonathan "Smooth as Vermont Maple Syrup" Lapper at Cinema Styles


Not only does He Shot Cyrus feature one of the best banner images of any blog out there (can I get that on a ... coaster?), but the posts are of similar quality. But be forewarned: you will learn things about Scott Knopf that you can't un-learn, like the fact that he would go gay for Sidney Poitier, or that Last House on the Left would be his choice for a romantic evening (Mr. Poitier, please take note). But most of Scott's writing is wholesome stuff, as evidenced by his too fun take on Villains Robin Could Beat, and his casting decisions for The Office movie (my favorite contribution to Piper's Bizarro Days Blog-a-thon, and no that doesn't mean it's my un-favorite).

EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'In 1990, my parents took me to see the re-release of The Adventures of Milo and Otis. It's a Japanese live action film starring two non-CG, non-talking animals as they go on an adventure. Dudley Moore does all the narration. From then on, I was hooked.'

LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'Actually, it's been a great month. Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Collection for my girlfriend's birthday and the Dirty Harry Box Set for me, both of which are mind-blowingly amazing. I'd been waiting for a re-release of the Dirty Harry movies for years.'

IF YOU WERE A TCM GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU CHOOSE: '1. The Warriors (1979) 2. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) 3. Night of the Living Dead (1968). Three low budget suspense films with a contained timeline, 24 hours or less! All three of these movies are so rad. A group of people find themselves in a shitty situation and they've got to deal with it. The Warriors would definitely be my deserted island movie.'

FAVORITE MOVIE ENDING: 'Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. No one figured out a way to defeat the birds. The birds are here to stay. All you can do is slowly drive away and hope they decide to leave you alone. Incredible.'

WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN, AND WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE: '2001: A Space Odyssey. I've been working my way through the AFI Top 100 and I keep coming back to this one. As amazing as it will be once I finally watch it, the idea of spending 160 minutes on a spaceship doesn't sound like my ideal afternoon.'

The Goodbye Girl
Working Girl
Funny Girl
Jersey Girl -- 'You're probably expecting me to write about the Kevin Smith movie. I prefer the Jami Gertz version!'

WHO WOULD YOU AWARD AN HONORARY BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS OSCAR TO: 2003 was a great year for female performances. Salma Hayek playing Frida Kahlo, Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven, the Zellweger/Zeta-Jones duo in Chicago, and Nicole Kidman in The Hours. Kidman went home with the Oscar but if I had done the voting things would have turned out a little differently. And the Oscar goes to... Diane Lane in Unfaithful! I've championed for Miss Lane for a very long time and watching her get so close to the gold only to have it stolen away from her was a travesty. Unfaithful is an incredible film and her performance knocks the pants off of some fake-nose donning Virginia Woolf. Sorry, bit of a sore subject.'

LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, WHAT DID YOU SEE: 'Here's my moment of shame. I've never been to a drive-in. By the time I drove, all theaters with driving distance were closed. There's rumors that the last remaining one is shutting down soon. I keep meaning to take a trip down there but it just never happens.'

FILM ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH: 'Action films from the 70s. The Warriors, Marathon Man, The Taking of Pelham 123, Death Wish, The French Connection. I love them all. There's just something stunning about 70s cinema. The colors, the wardrobe, the dialogue. We'll never get back there, as far as I'm concerned, not if Michael Bay has anything to say about it.'

FILM CRITIC YOU TRUST THE MOST: 'My girlfriend, Whitney, who writes over at Dear Jesus. We met in grad school (Cinema Studies) and now we do most of our movie watching together. I'm always blown away at how she picks up on things that flew right over my head.'

FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'Going back to 70s film, I am in absolute physical love with Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. It's the funniest, most informative, entertaining book on film I've ever read. After reading this, my fear of meeting Dennis Hopper tripled.'

DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM INTAKE: 'Honestly, it's usually morning, noon, and night. I'm studying film in San Francisco, so my days are filled with movies. When I get home, more movies. I own 1,200 DVDs and get 4 DVDs at a time from Netflix. It never seems to be enough. I also go to the theatres a couple times a week. In fact, after I finish this e-mail, it's off to see The Visitor. San Francisco is my movie mecca.'

1. Subtitles should not be feared.
2. Black-and-white should not be feared.
3. Dennis Hopper should be should Gary Busey.

Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The 1080 Times, vol. 3

Universal was HD-DVD exclusive (along with Paramount and DreamWorks) and the studio provided the format with its best vein of support, and perhaps helped extend its lifespan. This month saw the first Universal Blu-Ray discs released (among them: the Mummy trilogy and Doomsday), so BD owners will soon get a taste of the catalog titles HD-DVD converts have enjoyed. What sticks out to me about Universal's HD support is their eclectic choices for the format: Darkman, The Jerk, The Last Starfighter, Meet Joe Black, Mobsters, Sea of Love ... even Timecop!

These are obviously not the most popular movies in Universal's catalog (or movies that anyone would clamor to see in high def), but it's nice to know that it's possible to watch Navin R. Johnson in 1080p. In addition to putting a diverse selection on HD-DVD, Universal's discs are arguably the highest quality (and value) in the HD lot. I've yet to be disappointed by a Universal HD transfer, and almost all of them have an MSRP of $29.98 (compared to $39.99 for most), so they are all available now for only $13.98. Most interestingly, Universal HD-DVDs all have a special feature not found on others: an extra called My Scenes that allows you to save snippets of the movie. It's similar to the A-B feature found on any DVD player, but My Scenes are available for future viewing even after you stop the movie. This week I touch on three Universal HD-DVDs: The Big Lebowski, Tremors and The Thing.

Casablanca -- You can tell from the opening Warner Bros. logo that you're in for a treat with Casablanca in HD. If this is a good indication of what classic movies look like in this format, then Blu-Ray owners need to save their money for Criterion's initial batch of HD releases this fall. My first impression of Casablanca was that it looked more like a B&W movie from the 1960s, but it's actually better than that. Like The Adventures of Robin Hood, certain shots have a near 3-d quality, and the blacks are all dark as midnight. Only a handful of B&W movies were released on HD-DVD, thankfully Criterion will put plenty of these classics on Blu-Ray. Score: 10

The Big Lebowski -- This is a great example of an eye-popping Universal HD transfer, it just doesn't seem like it should look this good. In the bowling alley scenes you can see how the concourse (?) area behind the lanes are dimly lit, and the trophy case is illuminated by maybe one light bulb. In HD, the Los Angeles of The Big Lebowski comes to life even more, with all the neon and florescent lights looking perfectly crisp and natural. This is a must upgrade for fans of the movie. Score: 9

Tremors -- A nice surprise. From the opening shot, the image is 200% better than you could hope for on DVD, and it's probably due to most of it being shot under the hot desert sun of Nevada. The stark natural light takes full advantage of HD, and the result is something you can't turn away from. It's also fun to see that the excellent creature effects hold up with the increased resolution -- in fact, they might even look more realistic. And just how awesome is this movie? I loved it at the time, but hadn't seen it in a long time -- glad to see it hasn't faded at all. Score: 9

Rio Bravo
-- My first chance to watch a movie with heavy grain in HD, and while the result isn't very impressive, it is still a good improvement. I was unsure about how movies like Rio Bravo or The Sting would look in HD, since both have prominent film grain by design. With Rio Bravo, the movie is also shot in a unique color palette, and when cranked out in HD it won't catch the casual observer's eye. Having seen it many times, I was impressed with how much more detail you see in the interior scenes -- paintings on the wall stand out, and you can see fingerprints on beer glasses. But it's ultimately not a very worthy upgrade, especially with the price still hovering around $20. Score: 5

The Thing -- Another flawless Universal effort, this time with a movie that features very little natural light. This classic still shines due to Rob Bottin's epic creature effects, which look even more gruesome in HD. The Thing is also helped in the overly dark scenes where on VHS or DVD it was a little hard to make out faces and details. These scenes now have greater definition and are easier to follow. Although I've seen this movie countless times, in HD it somehow seemed more intense. Score: 8

Friday, July 18, 2008


Ibetolis knows what the future has in store for him -- it's staring him right in the face in the form of the 1,000 Greatest Films, as compiled by They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?. It is his mission to watch them all, and by all he means all 1,000 movies, even the ones he was familiar with. And Ibetolis chronicles this mission at Film for the Soul, with the occasional sidestep to other topics, like opening scenes. Anyone could proclaim such a mission, but Ibetolis seems bloody serious, and his dispatches from the journey are enjoyable reads (don't miss his take on Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid). Good luck, man!

EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'I'd love to say something cool like the Rosebud moment in Citizen Kane or even Gary Cooper throwing down his badge in High Noon but the simple truth is being cradled in my mother's arms crying my heart out to The Champ. I had to wear glasses back then to correct a lazy eye and I remember my mum removing my glasses and wiping away all the tears before putting them back on my face. I was an emotional kid. And obviously one with no taste.'

LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'I found The Elephant Man and Magnolia in a local second hand store the other day, what a bargain. Brilliant double bill.'

IF YOU WERE A TCM GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT THREE FILMS WOULD YOU CHOOSE: 'After much contemplation, I've decided to go for three films that are like my first loves, these are the films that made me fall in love with cinema. 1) I'd start things of with Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944), the greatest noir of them all, 2) Then I'd have the marathon event that is Seven Samurai (Akira Kurasowa, 1954) and then finishing the night 3) The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969). Nothing quite ends the night like a blood bath.

FAVORITE MOVIE ENDING: 'There are so many but the one that always sticks in my head is Gene Hackman frantically pulling his apartment apart looking for an elusive bug in The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974). The sheer horror and paranoia perfectly sums up that time period in America. I remember Hackman just sitting amongst a pile of broken floorboards and ripped curtains, surrounded by everything he owned that's now destroyed. Brilliant.'

WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN, AND WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE: 'Anyone that's read my blog will know that I've missed literally hundreds of great films, my excuse? The dog ate it. I have no idea what I've done to miss them all but the one I'm most annoyed about is Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953) because I've had this film in my possession TWICE! First time on VHS borrowed from the library (many a moon ago) which I managed to melt on a fireplace and the second time I borrowed a DVD off a friend and didn't get around to watching it and then, to make it worse, I lied and said I did.'

The Goodbye Girl
Working Girl
Funny Girl
Jersey Girl -- 'You should all be very ashamed. What the hell were you thinking?'

WHO WOULD YOU AWARD AN HONORARY BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS OSCAR TO: 'We all know that the Oscar's are a sycophantic charade at the best of times, woefully unable to recognise brilliance when it lands on their face. So it's no surprise that a) 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days was omitted from the Best Foreign Film category and b) it's lead actress, Anamaria Marinca, who incidentally gave one of the greatest performances seen in the past 10 years, was never even mentioned, I'd like to give the Oscar to her.'

LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, WHAT DID YOU SEE: 'England and the drive-in never really got started, well at least not round my way, unfortunately. Too much rain.'
FILM ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH: 'I suppose I can't quite get enough of 70's American cinema (Badlands, Apocalypse Now, The Godfathers, Exorcist, Being There, McCabe and Mrs Miller), you lot were really on a roll back then, amazing films.'

FILM CRITIC YOU TRUST THE MOST: 'Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, all the way. He's helped me seperate the wheat from the chaff, I'll read him before I see a movie and then read him again after I watched the said movie. He's straight to the point and doesn't pull his punches, it's very rare we disagree but when you do it's still a revelation.'

FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'I've promised myself lately that I will read more film books, I used to read them none stop at university but ever since I've been a little lazy, to get back into the flow of things I'm deep into James Monaco's How to Read a Film at the moment. Not exactly riveting but extremly enlightening.'

DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM INTAKE: 'At the moment I'm hitting around 4 a week, I would like to see more but it's not possible at the moment. I like to watch at least one film at the cinema but living in a one horse town good movies are hard to come by, thankfully we have a 'directors chair' night and some great films are featured. Like I say I wish I could watch more, bloody work. Why don't they pay me to watch films? I'd be a great employee.

1) That despite how inadequately bad your team may be all you need is an ex-professional reforming alcoholic as a coach, a misunderstood rebel, a member of the opposite gender and a bunch of oddballs to turn your team around and win the championship.
2) That monkeys are great companions and will always spell fun.
3) That saying 'Matt Damon' in a monotone voice is both derogatory and hilarious.

Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Waking up the echoes

Note: Heavy spoilers herein.

I watch Point Blank a lot. It's probably in the top 3 for my most-played DVDs. Most of this is due to how intoxicating the opening 20 minutes of the movie are, with director John Boorman taking the viewer on a manic spree of exposition both confusing and exhilarating. In these 20 minutes there are haunting moments that will never be equaled through the remainder of Point Blank: Walker's "awakening" in his cell, his march through LAX, the frozen shots and eerie jazz notes of the opening credits, Walker's initial meeting with Yost (Keenan Wynn), and most of all -- the time Walker (Lee Marvin) spends in the house of his ex-wife Lynne (Sharon Acker). It's these opening scenes that embed Point Blank in film history, where it removes itself from all other tough guy movies and becomes something else. And it's after these scenes when the movie becomes fairly straightforward, with chronological narration and few questions about what's going on. It's not until the final scene on Alcatraz (the final minute, really) that Point Blank comes back to where it began.

Point Blank is a movie about supernatural rebirth through vengeance. Through what means it is thankfully never explained, but it also cannot be argued that Walker is not human. His new self lies somewhere between ghost and an urban zombie born out of concrete and steel, nearly incapable of emotion but always ready to put his inhuman durability to work. We see Walker's "awakening" before the violent act that landed him in the cell, his body twitches as if a current had just shot through it. Slowly, he recalls why he is lying in a cold jail cell: Walker was shot three times at point blank range by his double-crossing friend Reese, who walked off with Walker's share of the loot as well as his wife.

The amount of time that passes between the shooting and Walker's resurrection is never explained, though it seems to be at least a few months since Reese has had time to rise up the Organization's ladder. After miraculously swimming from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, Walker returns to the island on a tour boat, cleaned up and dressed in a suit. On the boat Walker meets his spiritual partner, Yost, who acts as if he expected Walker to be there, and informs the recently-resurrected of a plan to get his money back and take down the Organization as well. Walker listens to Yost as if he's being fed a command, and when he hears that Reese is living with Lynne, he silently launches himself toward Los Angeles, fueled by supernatural revenge.

What follows is the best scene in Point Blank, starting with Walker's iconic march through LAX -- the sound of his hammering feet will follow us all the way to Lynne's door -- and ending with the house being drained of all life. When Walker bursts through Lynne's door and tosses her aside, he heads for the bedroom and empties his revolver into the master bed before he even realizes there's no Reese in it. This shot is later replayed in slow motion in Walker's head, and it's easy to read it as a sexual manifestation of his revenge, his bullets burning holes in the very spot where Walker spent countless nights with his wife.

If Walker is powered by paranormal revenge, then it was expended on the aforementioned bed. After the shots are fired, Walker sulks onto Lynne's couch, not bothering to look at his ex-wife as she recounts a memory of happier times -- herself nearly a lifeless ghost. Walker seems to fade in and out of consciousness, recalling the previous days events, and then finding a dead Lynne on the bed with an empty jar of pills nearby. It's unclear exactly what happens after Lynne's death, but I see it as Walker recharging his energy for a spree of daring moves that will eventually take him back to Alcatraz. He fades in and out again, watches Lynne's spilled bottles of perfume flow down the drain (an allusion to her soul draining away, Boorman explains in the commentary track), and wakes up to an empty house with someone knocking on the door. How long was he in there? What happened to Lynne's belongings? The man at the door proves that Lynne indeed lived there, so you can't say the scene with her was a dream. Did her belongings represent her soul -- and does it now power Walker?

The newly-harnessed energy helps Walker rip through the Organization, and takes him back to Alcatraz where his money awaits. But the money never finds its way into Walker's hands, rather he slowly fades back into his eternal steel confines. It's a perfect ending, enhanced by the fact that Boorman never attempts to explain what was behind Walker's resurrection, or exactly what transpired in Lynne's apartment. There's also the question of Yost, was he responsible for Walker waking up again in the cell, and does that mean Yost is of the same existence as the new Walker? Damn, I gotta watch this again.

Friday, July 11, 2008


If you dig the 70s stylings of Kim Morgan or Kimberly Lindbergs, then you should head over to Jeremy Richey's Moon in the Gutter, where the decade is celebrated like it's Dec. 31, 1979. There's more 70s goodness at Harry Moseby Confidential, which recently spent a week paying tribute to Four Flies on Gray Velvet. And while you're surfing around, why not check out his Natassja Kinski site Nostalgia Kinky (great name). There's plenty to chew on at Jeremy's sites, and I really enjoyed his list of Essential Paul Schraeder and 30 Forgotten Rolling Stones Classics.

EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'Seeing Jessica Lange in King Kong’s hand in New York and then seeing the film itself shortly after. I would have just been three or four but that pretty much kick started my love affair with cinema (and I have to admit that it’s still my favorite Kong film).'

LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'The new Dirty Harry box set which is pretty fabulous. I am really digging the wallet that comes with it and the set itself is just beautiful. Ironically I was able to sell my old set for more than I bought the new one for which makes it all the sweeter.'

IF YOU WERE A TCM GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU CHOOSE: 'Since my tastes are rather schizophrenic I would pick three from genres that are among my personal favorites. I guess the main thing they share is that they are all overlooked. The first would be Walerian Borowczyk’s La Marge, a stunning film from 1975 starring Sylvia Kristel and Joe Dallesandro that is almost completely unknown here in the States. The second would be Jean-Jacques Beineix’s The Moon In the Gutter with Gerard Depardieu and Nastassja Kinski from 1983 that I think is one of the great unseen masterpieces in modern cinema and the third would be Andrew Flemming’s Dick, a wonderfully witty and inventive satire about Watergate from 1999 starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams that I absolutely adore.'

'The slight smile Melora Walters gives at the end of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia is one of the most moving moments and perfect endings in screen history to me. I tear up up just thinking about it.'

There’s still lots of classic films I haven’t seen, American and foreign, so I could answer the question with a number of pictures. I will say that I have never made it through all of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. I love his stuff from the seventies but I find his ‘important’ works from the past couple of decades to be so heavy handed and overbearing that I can barely watch them. Perhaps I’ll make it through it one day but I’m not in any hurry.'

The Goodbye Girl
Working Girl -- 'Melanie Griffith was one of the brightest flames that burned throughout the seventies and eighties. How ironic it is then that her one Oscar nomination would come for Working Girl, a film that effectively blew her once mighty flame out.'
Funny Girl
Jersey Girl.

WHO WOULD YOU AWARD AN HONORARY BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS TO: 'Marilyn Monroe wasn’t even nominated for Bus Stop, a fact that I can’t even begin to comprehend as she is so remarkable in it. Of people that were nominated, I would love to go back in time and give one to Montgomery Clift in any of the roles he was nominated for and Elisabeth Shue should have won for Leaving Las Vegas.'

'Wow, quite a while ago. The last one I remember was Stallone’s Rocky II all the way back in 79 when I was 6 or 7 years old.. There was probably some after but that left such a huge impression on me that I honestly can’t remember them.'

FILM ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH: 'Italian horror films all the way and the seventies in general.'

CRITIC YOU TRUST THE MOST: 'Tim Lucas without a doubt. Even if I disagree with him, I always value his opinion.'

FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'My favorite books on a particular filmmaker are Tim Lucas’ monumental Mario Bava: All The Colors of the Dark and Brad Stevens’ Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision. On film in general, I would probably go with Cathal Tohill’s and Pete Tomb’s Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Films 1956-1984, which goes a long way towards showing that "accepted" film studies are only scratching the surface.'

DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM INTAKE: 'On average, I would say a film a day so I am a long way from Truffaut’s 25 per week but with writing, work and having a life of my own it is about all I can fit in.'

THREE THINGS YOU'VE LEARNED FROM WATCHING MOVIES: 'I’ll use three of my favorite lines from films to cover this:
“It ain’t about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” -Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa-
“Everyone has one special thing.” -Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights-
And I find this line from Arthur Penn’s Night Moves (just about my favorite American film) to sum up a lot of my feelings towards life: “He played something else and he lost. He must have regretted it every day of his life. I know I would have. As a matter of fact I do regret it, and I wasn't even born yet.”

Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Between Nightmare and Terror

Note: This post is a contribution to the Self-Involvement Blog-a-thon at Culture Snob.

Dreams and nightmares have long been valuable plot devices for films, able to suddenly jolt us into reality, or make us wonder at the conclusion that all we were seeing was one big dream. The line between dream and reality in movies is often very thin, with the image of a character leaping out of bed after waking from a nightmare being a burned-in cliche. It's no accident that dreams figure so heavily into film, since it's the medium best suited to representing our nocturnal visions, and replaying that half asleep/awake feeling where you question the validity of what you just remembered experiencing.

I know from personal experience that it's possible to grab hold of your nightmare and bring it into the physical world. And no, I'm not talking about the plot of Freddie's Dead: The Final Nightmare, but a strange event in my life that I've been trying to explain ever since. The incident I will explain has given me the rare understanding of what it's like to run like your life depends on it, that any hesitation will result in your body being consumed by unimaginable terror. It's the same emotion we've seen displayed by numerous characters in horror movies (some more realistic than others), and I'm here to say that until you've tried it in real life, you really have no idea what it's all about:

Our story begins in 2001 in Gig Harbor, Wash. The location is important because anyone familiar with western Washington knows that at night the temperatures plummet, no matter the season. I was spending the weekend with family, who had graciously allowed me the use of one of their bedrooms. They lived in a large house at the top of a long, steep and winding driveway, about a quarter mile in length, surrounded by dense forest. Before I went to sleep the night was uneventful, and little did I know when I laid my head down that my nighttime adventures would take me far beyond my bed.

I can clearly remember everything that happened late that night, except for what motivated the events: the terror that lurked in my nightmare. In my nightmare, I was in the same house, I was sleeping in the same bed, and something woke me. I got out of bed and walked to another room in the house where the sound originated from. When I opened the door, I saw something so terrifying that my brain knew I would have to keep running if I was to survive. Now here's where things start to get interesting: in this nightmare, I run back to the room I was staying in, and get back into bed.

Then I wake up. Actually, I don't wake up -- but explode out of bed and run out of the house with the urgency of a person on fire. There is no hesitation as I fling my relatives' front door open and start running down their driveway. Some may brush these actions off as extreme sleepwalking, but this is not true, as I remember every second of them -- I was fully conscious. I remember how the asphalt driveway was ice cold and my feet gradually numbed. I remember how there wasn't a sound to be heard except the impact of my feet to the ground, and my heavy breathing. Most of all, I remember never questioning why I was running, and never having the urge to look behind me at my pursuer.

I was so completely scared for my life that I ran all the way from my bed to the bottom of the driveway without pause, until I came to the first house I saw. I tried the door -- locked. I tried the doorbell -- no answer. So I went for the next logical action: the large flower pot on the porch. I picked up the flower pot, ready to heave it through the house's window so I could seek refuge from the terror behind me. But as I drew ready to power the flower pot, I stopped. I finally questioned what I was doing -- what was I doing at 2 a.m. standing outside a strange house ready to throw a flower pot through their window? Looking around, I realized no one else was near me, and thinking back, I had no idea what could actually be chasing me. After calming down a bit, I began the slow, humiliating climb back up the icy driveway and to the house, where I proceeded to write down everything I could remember from what had just happened.

And what did happen? As I thought about it, my diagnosis was that since I climbed back into bed in my nightmare, and then immediately woke up, there was no barrier to keep me from completely believing what I had just imagined. If I had dreamt of being chased by zombies in a graveyard, then waking up to a dark bedroom would have jolted me back to reality, but in this case what I woke up to was just a continuation of the nightmare. In the resulting escape attempt, I probably moved faster and with more reckless abandon than I ever have in my life, at full sprint in bare feet down a steep driveway. At no point did I stop to question the need to run for my life, as I was still reeling from whatever evil I had witnessed in my nightmare. I don't have to say that I was a little lucky to snap out of my spell before I threw a flower pot through the neighbors' window -- that would have been a little awkward the next morning ("Oh, sorry about that -- our nephew Adam was having a bad dream.").

The result of this event is that I have a different response to similar situations in movies. When someone is running for their life from certain death, I can sympathize with a good performance, and can also tell when they're not in the game. Another movie connection: I never could recall just what scared me so much in that nightmare, reminiscent of one of the urban legends in Candyman (where a man's hair turns white after seeing a ghost) and The Peanut Butter Solution (where an unknown terror the character can't recall causes him to lose his hair). My hair remains intact, like the flower pot.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Seven for the Summer

Whenever I'm faced with the tough decision of which movie to pull off the rack and commit to watching, there are a few titles I instantly disqualify. Some titles just have to be saved for the perfect viewing opportunity: Eyes Wide Shut and Gremlins for Christmas, Halloween and some of its brethren for around said holiday. There's even a few that play best during a rain storm: Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Clue. And taking Mr. Thom Ryan's advice, The Big Lebowski does best on a Friday night, while Vertigo plays well on a lazy Saturday.

But by far the biggest section of my movies that are tagged for a specific time are my summer movies. For one reason or another, I can't imagine watching any of these without the calendar being on a certain page, or without the knowledge that the weather outside relatively matches the on-screen temperature. I've picked seven of my favorite summer movies to explain my madness, and feel free to share a few of your own.

The 'burbs
This is my ultimate summer movie, and my need to watch it often coincides with the melting of snow. I wrote before how it has echoes of Rio Bravo, and I have the same wistful yearning to bullshit with Ray, Art, Ricky and Mr. Rumsfeld -- just as I find myself wanting to share beers in the sheriff's office with John Chance, Dude, Colorado and Stumpy. Joe Dante and Howard Hawks are able to find that natural rhythm with their scenes where it feels like you're really watching a part of someone's day play out. In both cases there is a relaxed, unhurried element to the action, and sometimes it makes you numb to the fact that it's a movie in front of you. This atmosphere fuels The 'burbs' celebration of summer boredom and laziness, which makes it a perfect entry to the season.

This is an obvious choice, but where else would you rather spend a few days in the summer than Amity Island (after Chief Brody cleans it up, of course)? Even though the movie is adamantly against it, I can't help but get the urge to go swimming while watching it. And some of Jaws' summer intrigue for me is that I've never experienced any East Coast beaches. Up and down the West Coast and in Mexico, but nothing like what's portrayed in Jaws.

Dazed and Confused
Last year I tried to start a tradition of watching this on the week schools get out in Boise ... and I'm still trying to get the tradition started (damn parental responsibilities). It definitely plays better in June, when you can vainly try to channel that invincible feeling you had in the waning seconds of a school year. For that reason my favorite parts are all in the opening act, when Richard Linklater perfectly captures the lazily arrogant emotions of the last few hours of a high school senior's year. Suddenly the school is no longer a place of learning, but more like a mall they're walking through, making idle conversation (sometimes with teachers).

Assault on Precinct 13
The early precinct scenes are a bit similar to what I noted about Dazed and Confused, a who-cares? attitude from workers at a soon-to-be-extinct outpost. Ethan Bishop's enthusiasm seems alien inside the precinct's weary doors, and he's the only one not treating the afternoon like the last day of school. John Carpenter does a great job selling the sweltering heat of a Southern California summer night -- you can almost feel the hot pavement. There's also the matter of a lonely ice cream man, and I was once a lonely ice cream man (and really, if you're an ice cream man and not lonely, you're doing it wrong).

The Bridge on the River Kwai
My preference here is also a bit personal. My wife's grandfather was a Dutch soldier who served during the country's occupation of Indonesia, was captured by the Japanese during World War II, and helped build the titular bridge. For this reason the movie had a regular rotation in my wife's family, and I've helped to keep it going. But every bead of sweat and jungle shadow is heightened when it's hot outside -- especially when Col. Nicholson is put in the oven. This movie also makes me want to swim ... in a river ... holding plastic explosives above the water line.

The Trouble With Harry
It might be more accurate to say this is a Spring movie, but it definitely deserves to be watched when the sun is shining. Perhaps Hitchcock's brightest movie (Vertigo looks bright, but it is indeed a dark movie), it celebrates the changing of the seasons in New England, and the events that come with it: leisurely strolls under the foliage, lemonade on the porch, and dead dudes in the grass (and under it). Of course, the sunniest aspect of the movie has to be Shirley MacLaine -- when we finally get around to cataloging everything from cutest to ugliest, MacLaine's Jennifer Rogers will make a good case for the Top 10 (assuming kittens and bunnies can only have one entry).

Total Recall
This gets ranked as a summer movie purely because of when it was released: June 1, 1990. I watched the preview so much I can still recall it well, I gleefully read about the shitty video game in Nintendo Power, and nearly took up the life of a hobo after my father announced that I was not allowed to see it. Strangely, I was allowed to see RoboCop 2. Seeing Total Recall had to wait a few years, but I still love giving it a spin each summer because it reminds me of that one particular year.

Friday, July 04, 2008

'Oh we must be doing something right the last ... 200 (and 32) years!"

Is this the best Fourth of July movie? In my house it is without peers.

I'm also compiling a list of my favorite movies to watch in the summer, but that will have to wait until the weekend -- I have much more important matters to tend to.

Have a safe holiday.

FRIDAY SCREEN TEST: Karina Longworth

According to Karina Longworth's bio at SpoutBlog, she once spilled a negroni on Huey Lewis. My instinct tells me I should ban her name from this blog forever due to this nefarious attempt at alcohol assassination (and Huey is the victim here, not the drink), but I'm going to give her a second chance since she's also kind of a blogging goddess. Don't believe me? Well, she founded Cinematical, then it was bought by AOL, and now she is the editor of the aforementioned SpoutBlog. That was a medium-sized sentence, but those are two very large movie sites, and her writing has also appeared at The Huffington Post, NewTeeVee and TV Squad -- not to mention a few sightings on G4, AMC and NPR. And as you'll read here, she does all this and lots more, I'm getting tired just thinking about it.

EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'In the 80s, before The Little Mermaid reinvigorated their production of new animated films, Disney used to theatrically rerelease their animated classics, at the rate of one or two per year. I know that my parents used to take me to ALL of these––they were the ONLY movies I was allowed to see––and I have a vague memory of really loving Sleeping Beauty and demanding to see it more than once. But my REAL first memory––and the gateway to my first act of film criticism–– comes from the first grade. I set next to this boy named Paul, and on the first day of school, I decided he was my boyfriend. He wasn't so sure. Every day he'd come to school talking about "grown-up" movies that he was allowed to watch: Poltergeist, E.T., Back to the Future, Ghostbusters. Especially Ghostbusters. It was his favorite, and I decided it was going to be mine too, and that would prove that our love was true. It took some convincing before my parents would actually bring a VHS copy into our home––I think Paul's mom got a call from my mom inquiring about Ghostbusters' swear word and boob count––but eventually it was approved, and I remember watching it every day after school until I knew it by heart. A year or two later, a nanny brought over Singin' in the Rain, which was my first non-animated musical, and I recognized that there was something about the way that film was put together that was a lot like the way Ghostbusters was put together. Now, I'd be able to isolate the way Ivan Reitman choreographs actors in front of his camera, the way the plot such as it is exists to more or less form a bridge between set pieces. Then, I think I just thought that Ghostbusters must be a musical. '

LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'Between festivals and screeners, I haven't had a chance to watch, let alone buy, anything new in a while. But I think my last purchase was Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, which is currently stuck in my MacBook's drive. '

IF YOU WERE A TCM GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU CHOOSE: 'This is a really hard question, and I don't think I could provide an absolute answer, but one theme I always go back to is the way the glamour close-up––an image type and use of technology that has remained virtually unchanged since the beginning of cinema––can be used to wildly different ends in different contexts. So I'd show three films featuring some of my favorite close-ups: Pandora's Box, Pickup on South Street, and something where Judy Garland's lips quiver––maybe A Star is Born, maybe The Clock. If TCM deemed that too wonky (and they probably should), I'd probably put together a Lubitsch triple feature, because there are so many of his films I've never seen, and TCM never shows anything but Design for Living and Trouble in Paradise.'

FAVORITE MOVIE ENDING: 'I tend to be really into endings that force you to reevaluate everything you've just seen. Again, this is just today, but right now I'm a bit obsessed with the endings of both James Gray's Two Lovers, and that film's evil Cannes twin, Phillippe Garrel's Frontier of Dawn.'

'I'm not really ashamed about it (although others have told me I should be), but I've never seen a single Indiana Jones movie. I have no excuse, beyond disinterest.'

The Goodbye Girl
Working Girl -- 'Working Girl is one of my classic sick day guilty pleasures. Every day I'm terrified that I'm going to wake up in Sigourney Weaver's place––crippled, powerless to stop a trashy blonde from screwing my boyfriend and stealing my job.'
Funny Girl
Jersey Girl

WHO WOULD YOU AWARD AN HONORARY BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS OSCAR TO: 'Judy Garland for A Star is Born, although that *would* alter the space time continuum in an unfathomable way, and possibly not for the best. At the very least, it would have robbed her of her favorite cocktail party punchline about Grace Kelly ("I hear she only won for The Country Girl because she's a nymphomaniac." "Only when you can calm her down.")

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, WHAT DID YOU SEE: 'I've never been to a drive-in. I drove past one in Delaware on a road trip back from Virginia Beach last summer and really wanted to stop, but the timing was bad. I'd like to rectify that situation some time soon. '

FILM ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH: 'Macro: everything from the 1930s, particularly early talkie sex farces and horror films. Micro: 1934, the year of The Black Cat, The Gay Divorcee, The Scarlett Empress, weirdly class-conscious pre-screwball (and barely pre-Code) comedies like Servant's Entrance. I could go on...'

FILM CRITIC YOU TRUST THE MOST: 'For me, reading criticism isn't really about tapping into someone else's taste––it's never, "He likes it, so I'll like it," probably in part because often times by the time I'm reading a review, I've already seen the film. I'm more interested in critics who either force me to look at films in a new way, or just make me really, really angry. These days it's often David Bordwell, J. Hoberman, Nathan Lee and Armond White.'

FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'Not to be overly dramatic, but Stanley Cavell's Pursuits of Happiness changed my life.'

DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM INTAKE: 'Lately, I'm going to one or two film festivals a month, and at a festival, I tend to start with a 9 am screening and just watch as many films as I can throughout the day, taking breaks to file copy, until I absolutely can't take anymore and have to force myself to go out and drink. Usually it ends up being about four films a day, but often I'll fall asleep for at least part of one or two of them. When I'm not on the road, I'll probably go to one or two press screenings a week, and maybe three special events or rep screenings at Film Forum or Anthology Film Archives. I fit screeners in when I have time. And I watch a lot of fragments of films on YouTube and Hulu.'

1. Smoking and drinking are cool.
2. When two people want to have sex with each other but can't, they either argue or dance.
3. The dead rising from the grave is the fundamental fantasy of contemporary culture. (Actually, I think I learned that from Slavoj Zizek, but I'm pretty sure he was talking about Pet Sematary, so it counts.)

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