Monday, November 24, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)

This is one of the best couples in Bond history...
“When someone's behind you on skis at 40 miles per hour trying to put a bullet in your back, you don't always have time to remember a face. In our business, Anya, people get killed. We both know that. So did he. It was either him or me. The answer to the question is yes. I did kill him."
“Then, when this mission is over, I will kill you."

1) This is one of those movies--probably due to the fact that Richard Maibaum has a new writing partner in Christopher Young--that shows you the Roger Moore James Bond we could have had.  While the Moore punnishness and humor is still there, in many cases that humor is much darker in a way that fits the film’s world.

2) I think a lot of what makes Moore step up his game is working opposite Barbara Bach.  The two have a palatable chemistry and create a credible complex romantic and professional relationship together.  And while the final resolution of their story arc comes off as forced (and features some forced Moore-like humor), the two of them work very well indeed.

3) I know there are some people who feel Stromberg is a mite over the top, but I never felt that way.  Curt Jurgens actually has a very good pitch as the ocean loving villain, remaining arrogant and smart throughout while also having that level of operatic a good Bond villian needs.  If there is one flaw in Stromberg, it’s that he’s not as charming as other Bond masterminds (something Michael Lonsdale also fails at in the next film, but for the exact opposite reason; he underplays while Jurgens overplays).

He bites...and that's one of the reasons he's one of the
greatest Bond henchmen of all time.
4) This is the beginning of that weird period where the producers are experimenting with more contemporary composers for the Bond films.  This film’s score by Marvin Hamlish is at odds with the Bond tradition, being too...well, disco-y at times to be taken seriously as a spy soundtrack.

5) As delightful as Bach is, this film sorely needed more of Caroline Munro’s Naomi.  She is certainly the epitome of the Bond Girl, and her brief, very flirty role adds some spice to this already flavorful film.

6) One of the things this film is not recognized for is that it begins a heightened emphasis on continuity.  Besides making pointed reference to Bond’s marriage, the film introduces a number of characters who will recur throughout the next few films--primarily Walter Gotell’s Gogol, who serves as M’s opposite number.

You know what this film needed?  More Caroline
Munro in a bikini....
7) Just as Bach and Jurgens help to elevate this film to its great heights, so does the presence of Richard Kiel as Jaws.  Kiel is one of the scariest henchmen not due to his physical body, but his non-verbal acting.  Even when the script is obviously trying to make him a figure of fun, Kiel manages to keep Jaws a serious threat by sheer force of will.  The only time he seems to fail is a moment involving a magnet, but it’s a brief moment in an otherwise amazing performance.

8) I find it fascinating how this film reflects the softening of relationships between countries.  In addition to the relationship between Bond and Anya, we get an interesting dynamic between Gogol and M and a third act showing American and British naval personnel fighting side-by-side with Soviets.  This is the beginning of a reorientation of the Bond franchise away from the cold war emphasis of previous entries.

9)  This is one of Ken Adams’ crowning jewels--which is made all the more impressive given how badly his eyesight was failing at this time (he received an uncredited assist from Stanley Kubrick when it came to lighting the massive submarine dock sets).  There are some gorgeous set designs that reflect the changing design esthetic of the70‘s while also maintaining the elegance most people associate with Bond villains.  And while it’s obviously a model, Atlantis is a magnificent sight as it rises from the ocean.

10) I love the Lotus, and I’m even more impressed that its submersible qualities were not faked at all.  Practical effects like this is something I continue to sorely miss.

Overall...Along with For Your Eyes Only (which is atypical of a Bond film), the best of the Moore era with very little to lament.  Recommended.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Ten Statements About....DARKMAN (1990)

"I'd rather look like this than continue trying to speak with
an American accent...."
“I'm everyone and no one. Everywhere...nowhere. Call me... Darkman.."

1) Even though this is treated in almost every way like a classic super-hero movie, this is Sam Raimi’s love letter to pulp heroes.  Liam Neeson’s Payton Westlake is such a mash-up of a number of pulp characters (the intelligence of Doc Savage, the madness of The Spider, the chameleon-like nature of The Avenger, the visual of The Shadow) that he becomes Pulp Fiction’s Greatest Hits.

2) Boy, the non-Americans in this film can’t keep an American accent worth a damn.  Neeson struggles until he just gives up on it about midway through--maybe using the fact that Westlake damaged his body so much it altered his nationality--and Colin Friel’s Strack sounds like a bad imitation of every third Warner Brothers Gangster from the ‘30‘s...

3) ...which is  pity, because the script by Chuck Pfarrer and a slew of other people gives Strack a lot more shading and nuance than it gives the person we’re supposed to react to as The Biggest Bad, Larry Drake’s Durant.  From his background as a developer’s son made to work the high steel by his dad to his motivations, Strack ends up an intriguing presence.  Compared to him, Durant is just Pure-D-Mean.
"I's A Bad Guy!  A BAD GUY!"

4) I really did like Frances McDormand’s Julia (Hell, when I first saw this I thought she was, ummmm, rather sexy), but the reason she works is solely because of McDormand.  Julia is a criminally empty role to the point where I didn’t know what she actually did for a living until late in the last act.  Even with all the posturing about her as an active participant, Julia is nothing but a damsel in distress there to be threatened and saved.

5) I certainly respect the moment where Raimi uses CGI to amplify his own stylized tendencies, like when he uses it to ‘break down’ the backgrounds during Payton’s seizures.  But the few times when it’s being used to make stunts safer (particularly every time Payton swoops down over another character) it sticks out like a badly burned face.

6) I find it fascinating that the macguffin is this plastic flesh, yet the thing that the film is uncannily prescient about is the manufacturing process; Payton is using a 3-D printer!

7) I wonder if the film would have benefitted more by being set in an identifiable city.  I have to think Raimi patterned his no-name city after Detroit, and I can’t help thinking Strack’s argument about tearing-down-to-build-up would be more persuasive if the setting was this great American city that had almost turned feral.
"And one of my particular skills is the ability to make a
stupid face while the background explodes..."

8) I’m pretty sure it’s Raimi and company trying to keep the story true to the rather sketchy nature of the genre, but this is a seriously underwritten script.  This is the ultimate film where no one seems to have a life before the movie begins.  They just exist, with the possible exception of Strack.

9)  Even though this is a fairly violent film, albeit one that is not gory about it given its rating, it’s a real shock to hear some of the cursing in it. Maybe it’s because ‘you must be shitting me’ never appeared in an actual pulp adventure tale, but the examples of swearing stand out as an anomaly.

10) ...although, oddly enough, the Raimi-isms (I’m looking at you, Rivet-cam) actually make sense in this world, as they exaggerate the cartooniness of the film itself.  They fit more seamlessly here than they do later on in the Spider-Man films.

Overall...a seriously flawed but entertaining film that can be seen as the beginning of a transition from cult to mainstream director for Raimi.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE EXORCIST (1973)

The only thing backwards looking about the film is
Regan herself....
“Where is Regan?"
“In here. With us.”

1) One of the reasons this film is so brilliant--and the scare scenes so shocking--is how Friedkin approaches it almost as a police procedural.  The clinical way in which the story unfolds, and the way it progresses, mirrors a mystery story.  Hell, it’s probably the only reason Lee J. Cobb’s Lt. Kinderman is in the film!

2) Part of the reason the key scenes continue to shock decades later is that these scenes are shot with an almost documentary-like clinicalness and without music.  What Friedkin seems to be doing is forcing us to realize these things are happening just because awful things happen to everyday people, and they happen without drama or elaboration....and that elevates what should be a shocking effects scene into something that feels all the more grotesque.

3) Supposedly Friedkin wanted Jack Nicholson for Father Karras, and Stacy Keach had been cast.  Thank God he changed his mind and cast Jason Miller.  In a film full of great faces, Miller’s is the best.  His craggy features and sad eyes speaks volumes of his inner conflict and his past before he even utters a word.  And when he utters those words, it makes us sympathize with him immediately.
There is no way any of the other, more famous actors could
do better than Jason Miller.

4) Yes, the film can be a little plodding in the first act--but I love how Friedkin uses the parallel structure contrasting Ellen Burstyn’s Chris’ life of leisure and her loving relationship with Linda Blair’s Regan and Father Karras’s more austere life and complicated (but no less loving) relationship with his mother.  Friedkin doesn’t judge or come out one way or the other when examining these two lives, but allows us to decide who is using their time on earth more wisely.

5) Okay, I’ll call it--there’s no reason for that beginning sequence in Iraq and connecting Regan’s possession with it.  If anything, it detracts from the concept that this horrible thing is happening at random.

6) As I watched the Extended Director’s Cut, I can safely say I didn’t care for the spider walk sequence.  It seems to detract from the very gradual and subtle turning of Regan into a vessel for Pazuzu, and doesn’t have nearly the impact the other scare scenes have.
One of the single most iconic images in 70's cinema...

7) You have to give Blair credit.  Yes, she’s a limited actress (something we cannot write off due to her youth once you take into account her full body of work), but she does work to make the bond between her and her mother, and her physical acting as she slowly falls under Pazuzu’s control is very effective.

8) As scary and disturbing as the scenes of Regan possessed are, the single most uncomfortable scene for me involves the spinal tap and encephalogram.  The sheer quietness of the scene makes her cries of pain sound like rifle shot.

9) One of the things Friedkin excels at (and still excels at, as witness from some of his recent efforts) is making the best use of limited spaces.  So much of this movie takes place in a single bedroom--hell, there’s really only two or three sets where most of the action takes place--that it needs someone of Friedkin’s spacial creativity to break up the visual monotony.

10) Reasons This Film Could Not Be Made #57: The bittersweet ending, where Father Karras knowingly sacrifices himself by damning himself to Hell, would never stand. And because it would never stand, the film’s ambivalent nature would collapse in on itself in an instant.

Overall...still pretty hard to watch after 40 years, a seminal movie for students of horror.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)

"I am the Devil, and I endorse this message."
"Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle."

1) I am loathe to call this a horror movie, even though there are horrific things within these 91 minutes.  The combination of Neil Jordan’s surrealism, the source material by Angela Carter and the unconventional narrative structure makes this something singularly unique that has to be experienced so that each person can determine what it is to them.

2) And speaking of horrific things--I don’t care how much it’s obviously an animatronic, the transformation of Stephen Rea’s Young Groom into a wolf is absolutely grotesque, and pure nightmare fuel.

3) Of course, one of the amazing things about this film is how Jordan took a feminist sociological text and turned it into a film that thoroughly disguises that it’s an anthology film with big heaping piles of dream logic woven in.

4) Casting Angela Lansbury as Granny was a masterstroke.  Lansbury is able to walk the thin line between being a kindly relic of an older age (even in the medieval setting her segments occur in) and being a very sinister presence.  Thus we sort of agree with Sarah Patterson’s Rosaleen’s mother that the girl spends too much time with her, but also feel awful when the fate we know is coming for Granny comes.
"Crackd mirror on the wall/who's the wolfiest of them all?"

5) I’ll be the first to admit that the dream-within-a-dream-where-stories-are-told structure makes the narrative unclear--but that might be exactly what Jordan intended.  He wants us to be disoriented and confused, just as we would be if we were dreaming this narrative.

6) Just as I think Lansbury’s casting was genius, so do I think the casting of  Sarah Patterson as Rosaleen is brilliant.  She is able to convey that weird mix of awkwardness, innocence and confidence of a girl on the cusp of womanhood, and manages to reflect what others try to feed her--thus she becomes a miniature of Granny when interacting with her mother, and her mother when interacting with the boy in the village who is courting her.  It’s a tiny little complex performance that is a perfect fit for what Jordan and Carter are trying to achieve.

7) I think every movie could be vastly improved by having Devil Terence Stamp rock up in a Rolls Royce driven by a female albino chauffer holding a skull to hand out gifts.
/"Nightmare FUUUUUEEEEEL!"

8) For a film with a number of werewolf transformations spread out over its various stories, I am struck by how Jordan makes sure each one is unique in and of itself.  While most people would remember the ‘wolf out of the mouth’ transformation that became the film’s poster, the one that’s the most visually striking is the mass transform taking place in a shattered mirror.  That Jordan was able to give us this variety in a film that’s obviously low budget is amazing.

9) A lot of the main thread was shot on set, as were key scenes of the individual stories....and I think this once more feeds into the dream-like tone Jordan is going for.  When the skies are colored just a little bit wrong, you have to accept that you’re not in anything close to reality.

10) The last story, featuring Danielle Dax, is so sad thanks to Dax’s physical performance.  And even though the story says more about the teller than the character within, it provides an excellent coda to the film and a rationale for Rosaleen’s decision at the end.

Overall...a singularly original piece of work that weaves a number of disparate elements to produce something that stands out from other horror films of the period.  I cannot recommend this film enough.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ten Statements About....CHRISTINE (1983)

Just a reminder--someone drove this car while it was on fire!
"Let me tell you a little something about love, Dennis. It has a voracious appetite. It eats everything. Friendship. Family. It kills me how much it eats. But I'll tell you something else. You feed it right, and it can be a beautiful thing, and that's what we have."

1) The first thing that strikes me is how quiet this film is for a Carpenter film.  The music cues are few and far between during the first hour, and we don’t hear that signature Carpenter synth whine until that hour is almost over.

2) Good ol’ Keith Gordon.  It’s obvious that Arnie is something of a nothing role, and the script is very confused as to whether he’s meant to be a dupe of Christine or a willing co-conspirator (something we never get resolved, even up to his ultimate fate), but Gordon does everything he can with this role.  What little there is that elevates Arnie from a series of stereotypes is all Gordon.

3) This is another film which is specifically meant to be a period piece (it’s set in 1978), but is not enhanced in any way by its setting.  I suspect Carpenter does this to remain ‘true’ to the novel, but there’s nothing in the novel that demands that period be used.  And given how almost everyone is styled in the 80‘s (check out the hair on Alexandra Paul’s Leigh!), it’s a pointless exercise.
"But Mr. Kot-tah said I could beat on the nerd...."

4) You know, I would accept the seriousness of the bullies in this movie if they weren’t played by a bunch of goofballs.  William Ostrander’s portrayal of Buddy, in particular, is laughable; the man comes off as Cosplay John Travolta.  Thankfully, their presence is limited and their tickets punched before they get too annoying.

5) You wanna know why I love practical effects?  Because there’s an immediacy to these set pieces you just can’t get with CGI.  When you realize that at one point in this movie an actual human being drove a car that was set entirely on fire after another human being blew up an actual gas station, you appreciate what you’re seeing all the more.

6) I really liked Robert Proskey’s Darnell.  While he comes off as very antagonistic, it’s obvious that he’s not.  This makes his death after Christine’s killing spree an indicator of how evil ‘she’ is, as he’s drawing his shotgun to get at the perceived thief, not the car itself.
"Stupid movie...I'll become a director and show everyone how
to direct with style....stupid movie...." 

7) Some people just have old faces...right, Harry Dean Stanton?

8) I find it fascinating how Carpenter has Gordon visually go through different levels of classic 50‘s rebellious teen.  He goes from typical geek to the windbreaker of James Dean to the leather of Marlon Brando the deeper into his mania he gets.  It’s like Arnie becomes symbiotically linked with Christine and is pulled backwards in time psychologically by her.

9)  I’m not sure if Carpenter resisted the urge for Alexandra Paul’s Leigh and John Stockwell’s Dennis to grow romantically close in the third act (it’s been years since I read King’s novel, but my gut says he did pull the trigger on this)...but it never quite works out.  Now granted, this might be because of Paul’s rather stilted performance, but there’s still a whiff of ‘it’s in the script’ to this development.

10) I think that the film benefits from Christine being established as evil right on the assembly line, as it throws out all the ambiguity of the book’s reasoning for her becoming this steel-and-glass ghost.  By just letting us know that Christine is a malevolent entity right from the start, she becomes a motorized version of Michael Meyers, and we accept that its malevolence just exists.

Overall...not the greatest of Carpenter’s films, and arguably the beginning of his decline, it still has some merit thanks to the practical stunt work and the performance by Gordon.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE PROPHECY: FORSAKEN (2004)

For some guys, this might actually be a fantasy....
1) This film automatically gets a few points over its predecessor by the use of Tony Todd as the main villian Stark.  With his literal hawk-like features, smooth voice and imposing figure, he is exactly what we need instead of Cosplay Benedict Cumberbatch and a shape-changing demon.

2) ...and speaking of Cosplay Benedict Cumberbatch, I’m somewhat pleased that John Light has a) less screen time, b) isn’t made out to be a heroic figure and c) acts kinda sinister at points, starting with his first act in the film.

3) If I was irked by the way writer/director Joel Soisson tried to force his story into the continuity of the first three films, I’m not as annoyed here--but still annoyed.  While I like the idea that angels can also be killed by shooting them through their third eye, there are other additions that bugged the crap out of me, particularly the hierarchy of hell Jason Scott Lee’s Dillon rockets through at one point and the revelation that the voices inside Alison’s head is a specific personage from the first film.
Sometimes in Heaven you need a neckband....

4) I’m sorry, but Kari Wuhrer’s Alison this time seems to be an entirely different person.  Yeah, I’m pleased she actually displays more than one emotion this outing, but the way she goes on about her history as a theology student and faith and all this seems at odds with the broken girl we met in the previous film.  And when the film suddenly decides she’s an action heroine, well...it’s a disconnect.

5) Once again, I appreciate how this film decides not to hide that it’s shot in Rumania, but even more so than the last one there’s no reason why this movie has to take place in Rumania.  Hell, given the fact that our heroine is from Chicago, it’s to the film’s advantage not to be set in Rumania.

6) So we’ve got Jason Scott Lee playing a hitman named Dillon because...a supernatural thriller about warring angelic factions needs a hitman?  It certainly does detract from the otherworldliness of the angels, as it reduces Stark to the same level as a mafia don.

7) You know, introducing these lesser angels called ‘drones’ doesn’t make the film scarier; it actually lessens the awe of the angels from the previous films.  The only thing the angels needed up until this film were humans at the brink of death, and only then to operate technology they don’t understand.  By having the angels here rely on what amounts to badly dressed zombies, Soisson doesn’t enhanced or open up the mythology.  On the contrary, he diminishes it.
As if I needed more evidence that Twinkies are the devil's
handiwork....

8) Soisson still hasn’t learned to avoid cliches.  There are long stretches where I was able to predict both the action and the dialogue of the movie exactly.  This extends to the ending, which is supposed to be chilling but ends up bland.

9) Given what we learned about the biology of angels, there is no way that Alison is what she is revealed to be.  If she was, the back story revealed in the previous film (which is called back to here) could not happen.

10) I have to wonder if the idiots who made Legion saw, and was inflenced by it more than the earlier, better entries in the series.  There’s a scene set in a seemingly abandoned church in the middle of a graveyard that mirrors that entire film.

Overall...marginally better because of Todd’s presence and a better performance by Wuhrer, it still stands as a pretty terrible film and a bad coda to what started out as a promisingly great film series.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ten Statements About....PATRICK (1978)

He's got...Marty Feldman eyes (and one Hell of a unibrow)...
1) While it’s obvious that this is notorious Australian producer Anthony Ginnane’s rip-off of Carrie, let’s give screenwriter Everett DeRoche and director Richard Franklin an A for effort in doing their best to make it something unique in and of itself without losing sight of what they’re supposed to be doing.

2) Boy, are all the guys in this film dicks.  Whether we’re talking the husband who tries to play rape Susan Penhaligon’s Kathy or the Cosplay Jim Carrey boyfriend who brags about their sex life to a cop or the doctor who casually kills a frog to make a point, they’re an unpleasant assortment of characters.

3) The spitting angle is unintentionally silly, and is thankfully downplayed when Kathy unintentionally speaks one of the film’s funnier lines.  Besides, the angle where Robert Thompson’s Patrick communicates with Kathy via the electric typewriter is way creepier.

4) While I don’t think it’s as much of a liability as in other horror films, this is a very long, very slow moving film.  Franklin seems to be more interested in creating atmosphere than moving the story along, resulting in some grinding of the plot.  If it lost roughly five to ten minutes, it might be improved.
Somebody used that Real Doll a bit too hard....

5) ...and my nominee for what could be lost are those involving Rod Mullinar’s Ed being stuck in an elevator.  It happens suddenly at the beginning of the second act, and we’re frequently treated to cutaways of him sitting around in this elevator with his hands bandaged thanks to a previous burn scene.  Those scenes take up what seems to be an awful lot of time in that third act, and could be cut as many of the scenes around them conveys the problem Kathy faces in locating Ed.

6) It’s a little thing, but those weird, almost comical sound effects that sometime accompany the manifestation of Patrick’s powers distract from the film as a whole.  The sound effect accompanying Robert Helpmann’s Dr. Roget trying to take an axe to the door of Patrick’s room is unintentionally in its ‘boingcrackle’ hilarity.

7) Keeping in mind that Franklin probably never expected his film to be viewed in a high definition format, some of the practical effects just don’t hold up.  There’s a dummy in particular, the after effects of an electrocution, that looks like, well, a not very convincing replica of the woman who is electrocuted.

8) I really have to wonder how much of Patrick is Robert Thompson, and if there was a dummy involved.  Thompson is only required to move/react for maybe two minutes and the rest of it is Patrick lying in bed literally staring into space.  If that performance is all Thompson, it is impressive.
Don't try to win a staring contest with Patrick...

9)  Okay, I get that Penhaligon was English, and Ginnane and Franklin tried to make the film sound less Australian for international markets....but she sounded Australian, which made the whole ‘first time working in this country’ thing make no sense.

10) While I’m sure Franklin intended the electrocution death to be the big scare, the one moment that made me jump was much more subtle, involving Dr. Roget and a frog.

Overall...a fairly interesting film (and a historically important one given its place in Ozploitation history and the career of Franklin) that may be deliberate in its pace but does manage to entertain.