Monday, September 29, 2008

Bad boy in the house

Earlier this month I wrote about my 12 Must (somehow Sees) -- rare or hard to find movies I long to view. I had little hope of watching any of these movies, but that was before good samaritan and all-around awesome blogger Marty McKee basically gave me a "step inside my office." Through Marty's goodwill, I will be able to cross two of those movies off my list, including the one I had most wanted to see -- Bad Ronald. A 1974 television movie, it seems like I've been aware of Bad Ronald for a long time, though I'm not sure when I first learned about it. I had high expectations for this movie, and am happy to say that they were largely exceeded.

Based on the book by the same name, Bad Ronald stars Scott Jacoby in the titular role as a sweetly weird teen who has a very bad 18th birthday. Lots of people have had miserable birthdays, but few of them can say they accidentally killed an adolescent girl on their big day. After blowing out the candles on his cake and re-affirming his desire to be a doctor with his clingy Mom (Kim Hunter!), Ronald is flush with confidence and heads out to ask mean girl Laurie Matthews on a date. This goes badly, as Ronald is laughed out the door by Laurie and her friends, and in his haste to get home, Ronald collides with Laurie's little sister Carol on a sidewalk. Things quickly get worse as Carol starts making fun of Ronald and his mom, and in his desire to get an apology from the girl, she falls down and hits her head on a cinder block.

Naturally, Ronald finds a shovel and buries the dead girl, which as Mom will later tell him was not a bright idea. Mom is of course heart broken at the news of her son being a murderer, but also strangely delighted, as Ronald now won't be able to study in college and leave her alone. Mom's big plan is simple yet dramatic: she and Ronald will construct a hidden "lair" in their house for him to hide out in while the mess dies down. Using Ronald's "incredible" tool kit that he just opened as a birthday present, the Good Family erects a mock wall over the door to a bathroom ala Dawn of the Dead, adds a secret entrance in the neighboring pantry -- and Ronald's new life has just begun.

It's these scenes of Ronald's new captive life where I thought Bad Ronald was at his best. Jacoby is well cast as a dorky teen shut-in, and we see that he doesn't exactly share his mother's enthusiasm for her hideaway plan. As Ronald's mother, Hunter is the best thing the movie has going for it, growing increasingly creepy in her transition from mother to warden. In her brief interactions with Ronald in the lair (as she refers to it), Mom is quick to shut the door on her son and remind him how stringently they must stick to their plan. Ronald's new dwelling also allows him ample time to tend to his literary creation of Atranta, a Tolkien-like fantasy world complete with life-size illustrations. This subplot is really our only clue to Ronald's label of being weird, but it never feels natural.

So everything's going just fine until Mom goes in for surgery and doesn't come back. In fact, the next visitors to the house are realtors who are trying to sell it. Ronald is soon joined in the house by a "they all were blonde, like their mother" nuclear family, helmed by Dabney Freaking Coleman. It's not long before the family notices missing food and strange noises, leading them to believe that the house is haunted. Ronald takes some delight in being the ghost of the house, and gradually loses his grasp on reality. When the youngest daughter finds herself alone in the house, Ronald takes the opportunity to cast her as the princess of Atranta, and hijinks ensue. The family's eventual discovery of Ronald and his lair is played out perfectly, and is probably the movie's best (and scariest) moment. For the genre, the ending is pretty by-the-numbers, but it doesn't take anything away from the previous 70 minutes.

I had hoped Bad Ronald would combine the sensibilities of a made-for-TV movie, with a highly creepy story that could have come from a Stephen King short story. While obviously hampered by time constraints and content sensitivity, Bad Ronald is never boring and packs in a few honest scares with a constant air of creepiness (my wife surrendered 30 minutes in, proclaiming it "too creepy"). With a longer running time would have served it well, as we barely see any of Ronald before the accidental murder, and never really get to know him as a normal kid. What Bad Ronald does best is maintain a consistent ghost story/urban legend feel, it's the kind of story you heard at the playground that's "totally true."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

'Yo sound the bell, school's in, sucka'

So it's been almost a month since the good professor Dennis Cozzalio assigned his latest questionnaire, Dr. Zachary Smith's Lost in the Space at the End of Summer Movies Quiz. My tardiness on turning this in is on-par with everything else I'm trying to do lately, but as always, Dennis has outdone himself with this quiz. Stop over at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule for more interesting answers, and even more stimulating posts.

1) Your favorite musical moment in a movie
Two moments immediately spring to mind: the opening scenes of Danger: Diabolik and the opening credits-strutting of The Wild Bunch. Ennio Morricone's Diabolik score isn't for everyone, but I can't get enough of it, particularly the early scenes where we're introduced to Diabolik, Eva and their underground lair. At first I found the opening song "Deep Deep Down" to be annoying, but today I sometimes find myself humming it, and there are few electric harmonies better than when we meet Diabolik and Eva on their bed full of money. The beginning notes to The Wild Bunch are so perfect with Jerry Fielding's militant percussion and tense strings, giving you the impression that something big is about to go down. Fielding's guitar-strum conclusion matches up masterfully to Pike Bishop's terse "if they move, kill 'em!"

2) Ray Milland or Dana Andrews
Andrews, for his great performance in one of my favorite movies, The Ox-Bow Incident.

3) Favorite Sidney Lumet movie
Fail Safe
. It's helped by my love for Dr. Strangelove, for which it serves as an interesting chaser, but it's also just so damn scary and contains one of the most petrifying endings I've ever seen.

4) Biggest surprise of the just-past summer movie season
Ummm, maybe the fact that I didn't see any theatrical releases during the summer? We thought about taking my then 7-month-old son to Wall-E, but he would have spent the whole time grabbing at a nearby person's hair, or desperately grabbing for a loose popcorn kernel.

5) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth
I'll take Tierney, obviously for Laura, but also for her nice appearance in Advise & Consent.

6) What’s the last movie you saw on DVD? In theaters?
Last night I convinced my wife to watch my new HD-DVD of Forbidden Planet, but I don't think the Krell drew as much sympathy from her as they did from me. In theaters, you'll have to go all the way back to In Bruges, seen at my favorite Portland theater -- Cinemagic.

7) Irwin Allen’s finest hour?
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure
, who else could come up with a sequel like that? "They go back into the ship, and there's plutonium onboard!"

8) What were the films where you would rather see the movie promised by the poster than the one that was actually made?
I've probably given this question more thought than all the others. One that stands out for me is the original poster and similar teaser trailer for The Fifth Element, which was simply a shot of space with "It Mu5t Be Found" on it and a date. The title wasn't even revealed, but it inspired a lot of intrigue. The movie was okay, but I was expecting a lot more after reading those four words on the poster.

9) Chow Yun-Fat or Tony Leung
Having recently watched the Infernal Affairs trilogy, I'll have to say Leung.

10) Most pretentious movie ever
I would actually say The Royal Tenenbaums. Like all of Wes Anderson's post-Bottle Rocket movies, it's a celebration of pretentiousness (pretentia?), and all the comedic potential it presents.

11) Favorite Russ Meyer movie
I'm utterly devoted to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. If I had my choice, The Carrie Nations would play at my funeral.

12) Name the movie that you feel best reflects yourself, a movie you would recommend to an acquaintance that most accurately says, “This is me.”
I've said before that Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) in The Third Man reminds me more of myself than any other movie character. I can't really put my finger on any one quality I share with him, but I see a lot of myself in the way he views the world and where he fits into it.

13) Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo
I honestly don't have too much of an opinion about either one, but Dietrich supplied one of my favorite lines: "What does it matter what you say about people?" (Touch of Evil).

14) Best movie snack? Most vile movie snack?
There's something comforting about the sound Raisinets make inside that movie theater box. You don't get it in a box anywhere else, and you really don't buy Raisinets anywhere but a theater. Most vile snack would have to be the movie theater nachos with awful nacho cheese and jalapenos. Gutter-quality nachos are bad enough to ruin a good movie.

15) Current movie star who would be most comfortable in the classic Hollywood studio system
Val Kilmer still looks like he could be a character in a classic film noir, and he obviously has great comedic chops. I'm sure he could have found himself a few (hundred) roles in the old studio system.

16) Fitzcarraldo—yes or no?
Yes! I didn't even realize this was a question. Not my favorite Herzog film, but a great cinematic achievement that still deserves to be marveled at.

17) Your assignment is to book the ultimate triple bill to inaugurate your own revival theater. What three movies will we see on opening night?
This would have to be three movies I would do anything to see on the big screen: Vertigo, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Point Blank.

18) What’s the name of your theater?
(The all-time greatest answer to this question was once provided by Larry Aydlette, whose repertory cinema, the Demarest, is, I hope, still packing them in…)
The Screen.

19) Favorite Leo McCarey movie
Duck Soup

20) Most impressive debut performance by an actor/actress.
Since I saw it only recently, I'm going with Matt Dillon in Over the Edge. Dillon was 15 and discovered at his high school for the role, which was maybe the best of his career, and one of the most definitive in the late 70s/early 80s teen rebellion movies.

21) Biggest disappointment of the just-past summer movie season
See question 4.

22) Michelle Yeoh or Maggie Cheung
I'm getting killed by these actor A or B questions this time, another one I really don't have an opinion on.

23) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Overrated
Though I haven't seen it (see question 4), it seems likely The Dark Knight will eventually be labeled "overrated" for how much praise it's received.

24) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Underrated
I'll say In Bruges: it's the only 2008 movie I've seen this year, and I liked it.

25) Fritz the Cat—yes or no?
God yes, I'll even give thumbs up to the sequel.

26) Trevor Howard or Richard Todd
Trevor Howard played one of the Krypton elders in Superman: The Movie. Edge: Trevor Howard.

27) Antonioni once said, “I began taking liberties a long time ago; now it is standard practice for most directors to ignore the rules.” What filmmaker working today most fruitfully ignores the rules? What does ignoring the rules of cinema mean in 2008?
It's so easy for me to say David Lynch, he writes his own rules and we're just trying to keep up.

28) Favorite William Castle movie
Battle of Rogue River
, I've never actually seen it, but I've traveled many miles of the Rogue and would love to see what locations he used for the movie.

29) Favorite ethnographically oriented movie
The Big Lebowski

30) What’s the movie coming up in 2008 you’re most looking forward to? Why?
Hmmm, what else is coming out this year? I'll say Miracle at Saint Anna.

31) What deceased director would you want to resurrect in order that she/he might make one more film?
It would be fascinating to see what Sergio Leone would offer up.

32) What director would you like to see, if not literally entombed, then at least go silent creatively?
Whoever those idiots are behind all the Epic/Disaster/Shitty Movies. Just enjoy your money and live a rich life without inflicting any more pain on this world.

33) Your first movie star crush
Meg Ryan, at the height of her cuteness in Innerspace.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Trailer vs. Trailer

Today I present two trailers for upcoming movies, one that surprised me at how good it looked and one that looks shockingly bad:

As a football fan, I usually find myself bitching about football movies, instead of trying to enjoy them. It's probably the same way with glass movers and car chase movies. There's always something with the football part of it that's enough to drive me crazy, and keep me from enjoying it. It's rare I find myself looking forward to a football movie, but that's exactly the case with The Express: The Ernie Davis Story. For college football fans, there's a lot to like here: the name (nice retro structure), an authentic CGI recreation of Syracuse's defunct Archbold Stadium, and the fact that it's based on Davis, one of history's greatest forgotten football stars. But what really pleases me is the way the movie's trailer is handled, that is they leave out any mention of Davis' tragic final chapter.

Davis was the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy, then tragically died from leukemia two years later, never playing a down of pro football. It would be easy to show in the trailer that the movie ends up being a weepie, but the images are all about action and Conquering Obstacles. In an age where all of Tropic Thunder's funny lines are put in the trailer, I find this refreshing.

Now for something completely revolting: Lakeview Terrace. This movie brings to the forefront the fear of many people: living next door to Samuel L. Jackson ... the cop ... who doesn't like interracial marriage. I can understand why this movie was made -- since 2008 was in fear of not having a Sam Jackson Screams movie, and the perils of interracial marriage is a topic everyone likes examining. Oh, and it's PG-13. Has it won you over yet? See if you can count how many lines in the trailer make you grit your teeth, I got 9 (my favorite: "I'm a cop, you have to do what I say!"). The scene with Jackson trying to cut down their trees looks promising.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Los Angeles Crime Saga

In 1995, a great deal was made about how Heat would be the first pairing of actors Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in a movie. Thirteen years later, we have Righteous Kill again showcasing the two actors, and I've heard exactly zero buzz about the movie. You could say this disinterest is due to the falling popularity of the two actors -- owing some to the passage of time, and most to their own doing -- but it probably has more to do with how generic Righteous Kill looks from the previews (or maybe the fact that they play characters named "Turk" and "Rooster"). With Heat it was Pacino-DeNiro, but also director Michael Mann diving into a canvas as large as Los Angeles itself, creating a giant world we spend nearly three hours in, yet still feel to have only seen a few nooks and crannies of it.

Pacino and DeNiro have had their moments since Heat (Cop Land, Insomnia), but it looks doubtful that either actor will top the roles of Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley. The latter is my favorite DeNiro character, completely inhabiting the idea of a man who is always someone else -- essentially playing an actor. Right from the start we see exactly who McCauley is, just from the way he's walking and his gaze constantly darting, confidently strolling through a hospital in a paramedic uniform and making off with an ambulance. We get a few peeks at McCauley's personality through the film, but most of all we see a lifetime criminal who knows his success depends on himself not existing -- never getting close to anyone, or drawing any attention to himself beyond that of an anonymous bystander. The role suits DeNiro's acting style perfectly, as he's at his best when communicating without words. It's also worth noting that DeNiro has perhaps never looked as good outside of Heat, physically he looks much slimmer than his usual self, and he simply appears as the last person you want to disappoint or double cross.

Pacino's character of Lt. Hanna resembles many of the actor's stereotypical roles of hot-headed, fly-off-the-handle eccentrics, but Mann puts him in a setting that makes it work. In the DVD documentary, Pacino said an underlying theme with the development of Hanna was to play him as if he was a cocaine addict, although it would never be touched on in the film. Watching the movie with this in mind, it's easy to see how Hanna has something else in his system pushing him, but it's also plausible that his redline behavior is a side effect of law enforcement success. Hanna gets results, but he also exhibits some of the qualities of McCauley, notably how he must hide his emotions even in situations where there is only one human way to react: like when he meets the mother of a murdered prostitute at the scene of the crime.

Mann's main theme in Heat seems to be how similar the two sides are. McCauley and Hanna are both surrounded by a team of professionals who take orders from their leader, but still seem like an indestructable group of friends who will only let death get in the way of their goals. The cameraderie and drive of Hanna's group makes for one of my favorite moments in Heat: at the precinct when Det. Casals (the always great Wes Studi) gets the bank heist tip and just shouts out the bank name and time. Everyone in the room knows exactly what he's talking about and immediately springs into action. The group's spontaneous reaction feels real, and ratchets up the tension leading into the raucus heist scene.

The equivalent of this moment for McCauley's crew still brings chills to me. Sitting in a greasy spoon diner before embarking on their daring daylight bank heist, McCauley gets word that Trejo (Danny Trejo, of course) can't shake the police on his tail and is out as driver for the job. Amazingly, McCauley spies a man behind the restaurant's grill from his past: Donald (Dennis Haysbert), an old crony he met in prison. Before this point we had been following Donald's journey to make an honest living after being released from prison, but what he found was near-slave labor in the diner, working below minimum wage. McCauley approaches Donald and asks him point blank if he can be the driver ... today ... "yes or no." Donald steps back to think, knowing the decision will forever alter his life, good or bad. "Yeah." Donald throws his hairnet to the ground and shoves his asshole boss to the floor (Bud Cort!). The character and story of Donald is the most heart-wrenching in Heat, he's not the caliber of criminal as McCauley and Co., but he's also trying to get out of that life and obviously has someone who loves him and wants to see him succeed. Post-prison, Donald sees nothing in front of him but a hot grill and tiny paychecks, and in McCauley he sees an opportunity. When his girlfriend/wife (is she ever named?) sees Donald's face in the news report after the heist, I can barely watch it.

The most infamous scene in Heat remains the much-talked about coffee sit-down between Hanna and McCauley. I have to say, this scene never really did much for me, the best part is simply Hanna's decision to confront his adversary, and the way Mann films their highway meet-up. In a movie filled with great musical cues, this Freeway Oddysey is the biggest highlight for me. Showcasing Moby's adrenaline-pumping New Dawn Fades, we fly through a glowing Los Angeles freeway through Hanna's mile-a-minute eyes. Like few can, Mann completely fuses his imagery to Moby's song, and gives us one of Heat's trademark scenes. I still put it on occasionally just for that 1-minute trip.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Now THAT's cover art!

Why can't I stop looking at this DVD cover? Why did it take me this long to actually see this amazing illustration? Why don't one-sheets feature actual illustrations any more? Why are amazing one-sheets like this ever NOT used for the DVD cover, as opposed to some Photoshop hack job? Damn that looks good.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

12 must (somehow) sees...

Niceguy Joseph Campanella of Cinema Fist was nice enough to tag me with the latest 12 Movies meme, and I'm hear to spread the love even further. A spinoff of Piper's 12 Movies Meme, the Holy Grail List is different in that you're selecting 12 hard-to-find movies you haven't seen (full rules at the meme's birthpalce, The Dancing Image). I like this idea, and I only had to cheat a little bit to come up with my 12:

  • Frog Dreaming (1986, aka The Quest) -- The only movie on this list I've actually seen. This Australian kids adventure flick used to be on regular HBO rotation in the late 80s under the U.S. title The Quest. Nowhere to be found on DVD (even in Australia, apparently), this is a creepy little movie about a nerd in a small town who investigates the local myth about a lake-dwelling monster. After a little poking around, it's actually on YouTube in multiple parts, beginning here.

  • Night of the Creeps (1986) -- Heard a lot about this Fred Dekker effort, starring Tom Atkins and Dick Miller, and riffing on horror and B-movies in general with an Invasion of the Body Snatches-ish plot. Not available on DVD, but if Monster Squad can make it, why not this?

  • Bad Ronald (1974) -- TV movie about a disturbed kid who accidentally kills a classmate, and rather than go to jail, mommy hides him in the basement. Things get interesting when ma dies and a new family tries to move in. This one sounds right up my alley, and with TV movies starting to appear on DVD, maybe there's new hope for this one.

  • Summer of Fear (1978) -- Another TV movie, this one brought to my attention by the good guys at Kindertrauma. Summer of Fear is about the one fear we all share: that weird country cousin is actually a witch.

  • Phantasm II (1988) -- As a big fan of the original, I've been wanting to track down this one for a long time, unfortunately it's not available on Region 1 DVD (part of the legendary Region 2 "ball set").

  • Great White (1980) -- Enzo Castellari's shark movie resembles Jaws, in the illegal way. Universal successfully sued and was able to get it pulled from theaters shortly after its release, and it's never gotten (and likely never will) get a legal release on video. I'm just curious what it looks like, since there are many movies that resemble Jaws: does it feature Sheriff Crody? Mr. Squint? I want to know.

  • Santa Sangre (1989) -- Alejandro Jodorowsky's last real movie was made in the tradition of his great surreal masterpieces like The Holy Mountain and El Topo. Not available on DVD.

  • Dune (1984, David Lynch cut) -- Universal has supposedly tried to get Lynch to sign off on a director's cut of the film, but his hard feelings from the project have not softened. I enjoy the theatrical cut, but it's clear that most of the movie is edited as basically a montage of a much longer cut. But in its current form, very little of Lynch's version remains -- even the opening credits don't look like something Lynch would do.

  • The Movie Orgy (???) -- Dennis Cozzalio had a beautiful writeup of experiencing Joe Dante's wondrous Movie Orgy, an endless string of movie, TV and commercial clips spliced together. Impossible to release on any home video format, I'll have to catch a rare screening someday.

  • Fitzcarraldo (1980, early version) -- As chronicled in the epic documentary The Burden of Dreams, this Werner Herzog classic began with Jason Robards in the title role and Mick Jagger (!) as his assistant, Wilbur. Nearly half the movie was shot in this configuration, but Robards became intensely ill and doctors orders kept him out of the Amazon. Jagger's schedule wasn't able to accommodate the delay, and we were still given a great movie with Klaus Kinski picking up the title role. I'm curious what Robards would have done with the role, and what Jagger's character was like.

  • Noon Wine (1966) -- After the epic failure and disastrous production of Major Dundee, Sam Peckinpah went back to television and crafted this adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter's short novel, starring Jason Robards and Olivia de Havilland. Just an hour in length for ABC's Studio 67, Noon Wine is an interesting examination of social justices and prejudices, with many saying it's Peckinpah's most intimate work. The piece's critical reception led to Warner Bros. approaching Peckinpah for what eventually became The Wild Bunch. Amazingly, it's only viewable through the Library of Congress and the Museum of Broadcasting.

  • Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977) -- I've been interested in this movie ever since Kim Morgan posted her thoughts on it (las I am with just about every movie Kim likes). Diane Keaton stars as a woman whose search for the perfect man goes downhill and very dark.
Now to tag some unsuspecting blogs with this fun meme. Looking forward to these folks' Holy Grail list:

Joseph B at itsamadmadblog2
Jeremy Richey at Moon in the Gutter
Moviezzz at The Moviezzz Blog
weepingsam at The Listening Ear
Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre