Wednesday, March 28, 2012


"At least I don't need a haircut, monkey boy."
"Why? What are they so hostile? What have we done to them?"
"Well, they still think of Earth as their planet, Jo, and they want it back. As far as they're concerned, man is just an ape that got above himself."

1) Oh Lord, does this serial drag. This thing seems to take forever to play out, and there are whole episodes that are literally twenty minutes of filler with three or four minutes of actual plot floating in the middle of it.

2) And the biggest part of the filler is, sadly, The Master. There is simply no reason for him to be in this story, and he seems to be there solely because, you know, Hey...we've got The Master. Episode Two, in particular, seems weighed down by the character's presence.

3) Is it just me, or do the episodes of this serial feature some of the lamest cliffhangers in the series' history. I mean...The Master throws a knife at The Doctor? A guy runs down the hall at our heroes who proves to be a scared man? A Sea Devil raises his gun but does not fire? These final moments fill me with ennui....

"I'm eating a sandwich while swordfighting...because eating
sandwiches while swordfighting is coo'..."
4) While I understand that since Barry Letts got the cooperation of the British Navy for this serial he felt the need to use them a lot, this is a story that sorely needed the presence of UNIT, and of the Brigadier.

5) There are elements of the Sea Devils I actually find fascinating. The way they seem to press hands together as a greeting and as a way of pledging loyalty, for example, or the elegant design of their weapons. Those elements sort of balance out the silly blue netting that serves as their clothes.

6) I know there are people out there who insist if I give Jo a chance she'll grow on me, but she doesn't here, being content apparently to stand around waiting to be ordered about. And she's the center of one particularly annoying bit of filler where a scene is stuffed with endless bits of silent pantomine. That scene takes up an extra minute and change of watching Jo at a window waving her hands about in random attempts at communication.

7) I usually don't mention much of Ron Grainer's synth-skronk heavy scores...but while I respect the attempt to do something different for this serial, the score is thoroughly annoying. All the seemingly random squeaks and shrieks and sonar pings just interfere with the episode, distracting us from the action at hand.

8) There are certain plot twists in the Letts/Dicks era that at this point simply don't work. The late introduction of a Government Asshat to inhibit any chance of a peaceful solution is pretty hamfistedly handled, and yet another 'Master Needs The Doctor's Help' moment falls flat because we know The Doctor isn't going to switch sides by now. They even bring out the ol' 'regional/rural comedy figure' trope in Episode Two, although thankfully the character disappears after that.
"Damnit, I'm The Master--I belong in every serial, even this one!

9) I don't understand what the whole 'summoning device' thing brings to the story. I mean, they already established in the first episode that the handful of Sea Devils we see in the story is up and about and wrecking havoc on ships that wander into their we really need the whole foderol with the prison and the Master and stealing electronic parts for building the signal device. Excising that angle saves us an entire two episodes, and since the only thing we get is some minor fun exchanges between the Doctor and The Master, well...I'm willing to give that up.

10) Maybe it's because The Doctor is separate from his UNIT supporting cast, or maybe it's because he's busy underwater while the Government Asshat is causing problems with the navy, but he seems a touch...softer in this serial than in the last two I've viewed. While I appreciate that some of that softening works--the whistful sadness with which he talks about the Master in Episode One is actually very effective--I missed the sharper edges of those previous serial. That softness will soften further later on, but right now it's just a niggling feeling that I don't care for.

Overall...overlong, overcomplicated and, well, for long periods boring, this is a four parter--hell, maybe even a three parter swimming in a six-parter bag. And even though there are some interesting elements, it's not worth watching for them.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS (2005)

"I'm looking at the man in the mirror...I'm wishing he'd change
his waaaaays..."
"You see, I don't really have any personality of my own. There used to be a me behind the mask, but I had it surgically removed."

1) How do you do a biopic about a man who was such a great actor because he saw himself as someone without personality? You make the artifice that is central to his life a central part of the film itself. This is a highly creative movie that uses frequent cinematic tricks--inspired by the movies that Sellers makes throughout the film's running time--to give us insight into Sellers' psychological make-up...

2) ....although all the tricks in the world wouldn't work if it wasn't for Geoffrey Rush's central performance as Sellers. There are long stretches where it's hard to see Rush as Sellers at all. It's a marvelous, unflinching performance, made even more amazing when as a reflection of Sellers' ability to take on multiple roles, Rush does these transitionary monologues as different personages in Sellers' life. Sure, the one where he plays his mother is goofy, but the ones where Rush does dead-on impersonations of the actors portraying Stanley Kubrick and his father are uncanny.

3) And speaking of Stanley Kubrick, I want my Kubrick biopic with Stanley Tucci playing the director. Even though Kubrick's role is not as big or as pivotal as John Lithgow's Blake Edwards, Tucci's performance just draws you to him while revealing nothing.

4) The other great performance as a living personage? Charlize Theron as Britt Eklund. Not just because Charlize Theron makes me feel all wobbly, but because--just like Rush and Tucci--there's very little Theron on the surface....
If the only reason Rush took this tole is because he gets to
molest a Swiging-60's-dolled-up Charlize Theron...
I understand, I understand.

Okay, maybe a lot because Charlize Theron makes me all wobbly, but she's really, really good.

5) I really appreciated how director Stephen Hopkins makes the major phases of Sellers life reflect the movies associated for it. Thus, the sequence depicting Sellers' affair and marriage to Eklund has the same sort of hazy, multiple exposured and overtly mannered look of that parody-that-no-one-laughs-at travesty Casino Royale, while the sequences set during Sellers' filming of Dr. Strangelove (my favorite film of all time) alternates between black and white and color shots, with the color being faded and washed out.

6) However....this is not a perfect film. The script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley cherry picks Sellers' career too much, chosing to focus on a very few highlights while neglecting others. This is most obvious during the sequences involving Kubrick and Edwards. I was particularly puzzled as to why there is no reference to Sellers and Kubrick'sprior collaboration on Lolita during the Dr. Strangelove sequence.

7) While I am not as taken with Lithgow's Edwards--unlike with Rush, Theron and Tucci, you never forget that this is Lithgow in tinted glasses--I do give him credit for successfully conveying his very ambivilant feelings towards Sellers. It's another blind spot in the film's chronology that we don't see Edwards more, especially give the one key moment where Sellers proclaims 'No one gets me more than you!' to Edwards.
Geoffrey Rush is wearing pink pants while playing an oversized
novelty sitar.  Your argument is no longer valid.

8) And while the script wisely makes a large portion of its third act Sellers' obsession with making Being There--and equally wisely makes a connection between his greatest role and how he saw himself--the actual sequence seems sketchy and ill-formed. We see him struggle to get financing, we see him shooting a scene, but where's that key moment where he does get the go ahead? Where's his reaction to being nominated for an Academy Award for this personal project?

9) While I thoroughly understand the usage of former Goon Show members Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe, who appear in the background as key scenes as silent witnesses to Peter's life, I really wish we got a better sense of them, and Peter in relation to them, to give their frequent pop ups more heft.

10) Similarly, I wish the script blended Sellers' darker elements better. There's a weird stuttery feel to the way it handles Sellers' tantrums and outbursts. Since it ties into the film's central conceit that Sellers acted the way he did because he never quite grew into emotional and psychological adulthood, the long stretches without addressing those moments is...odd.

Overall...even with its flaws, this is an exceptional biopic of one of my favorite actors that works. It would make a great double bill with the Milos Foreman/Jim Carrey biopic of Andy Kaufman, Man In The Moon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE ABOMINABLE DOCTOR PHIBES (1971)

He says more with body language and a look than some horror
actors can say with everything in their arsenal.
"Nine killed you. Nine shall die. Nine eternities in doom."

1) You want proof that Vincent Price is a true actor and not the hammy caricature most people think he is? In this movie, Price manages to emote in subtle and meaningful ways while being robbed of both his face and, for the bulk of the story's ninety-eight minute run, his voice. It's truly one of his greatest performances.

2) And even though it wasn't written by Robert Fuest (although Fuest did do a slight rewrite to tone down the supposedly grotesquely violent nature of James Whiton and William Goldstein's original script), this film is his baby. There's a look and feel of the movie that can be seen as a direct connection between it and the television series where Fuest made his bones, The Avengers.

3) much so, that you can almost see the bad Doctor and his assistant, Vulnavia, as the evil mirror universe version of Steed and Peel. Each has their own stylistic stamp that makes them instantly recognizable, each shows an appreciation of finer things, and most importantly, each goes to some wild extremes in carrying out their purpose in life.

Perfection in woman-as-villian....thy name is Virginia North.
4) Virginia North may not be the most beautiful woman in the world--an argument could certainly be made that Vallie Kemp, who replaced her in the sequel, is a much more attractive gal--but she is without a doubt overpoweringly sexy in her role as Vulnavia. She's got a certain Grecian beauty, which coupled with her body language, makes her the perfect female assistant for any up-and-coming criminal madman. Hell, she manages to commit the usually unforgivable sin of breaking the fourth wall without distracting the audience from the story as a whole.

If I ever become an evil mastermind, I want Virginia North as my assistant.

5) My best friend Derrick pointed this out to me--the true hero of this film isn't Joseph Cotton's Vesalius, but Peter Jeffreys' excellent Inspector Trout. Trout is an exceptionally clever character--smart and capable of real cool deductions, but hampered almost entirely by people around him who look upon him as a simple blue-collar noob. It's his collaboration with Vesalius that drives the film's plot forward, and you definitely get the sense that if it wasn't for the classism of the people around him, he may very well have stopped Phibes.

6) You know something else I love about this film? I love how this could almost be looked upon as a musical. There are a number of cool sequences which are just Phibes playing with his clockwork band, or Vulnavia taking a break from cleaning up to listen to some music, or (my favorite) a victim having his neck crushed to powder by a gimmicked frog mask while Paul Frees sings 'Darktown Strutters Ball'. Hell, even the destruction of the mansion puts Vulnavia's swinging an axe every which way to jaunty jazz.

7) And while we're on the subject of Vulnavia, this film features one of the few times I can accept a 'Just Go With It' moment. We have literally no idea who she is, why she doesn't speak, and why she is so devoted to Phibes. But because so much else is explained so elegantly, and there's enough time between Phibes' supposed death and his ramapge, that we can accept her presence without knowing her backstory.

8) One of the true, small joys of this film is how even the smallest character is given little grace notes that lifts them up from being just a cardboard place setter of a character. Of the smaller parts, I'm rather partial to Aubrey Woods' fussy, prissy Goldsmith, but even someone like John Franklyn's Graveyard Attendant gets a pinch of flavoring. Hell, we even get a sense of Victoria (my beloved Caroline Munro) as a character even though she's primarily seen only in a series of snapshots.
Yep...I've stared at photos of Caroline Muro for hours as well...

9) Even though they don't get into it, I like how there's a definite resonance between Phibes and Vesalius--I have to assume that, like Phibes, Vesalius is widowed, and to an extent his son assists him in cracking the case (pointing him toward the music seller) the same way Vulnavia assists Phibes. Vesalius is a great opponent because he is Phibes, ummm, light mirror that reflects and informs our fiend's madness.

10) And the greatest thing about this film? Unlike similar movies of this type, where we're asked to sympathize with the villain, then turn around and root against him for the climax, Phibes gets away with it. He triumphs, giving our heroes the slip by using the Tenth Plague of The Pharoahs on himself...a trick he always planned.

Overall...I love this movie. It's one of my favorite films, period, and can be seen as one of the bridges between the 'classic' horror movies to the slasher films of the 70's and beyond. A great showcase for Price and Fuest, it is absolutely essential viewing for anyone interested in this period of scare flicks.

A Parting Glance: Robert Fuest (1927-2012)

Robert Fuest might be an unknown name to most people. To others, he might be just a peculiar cult director responsible for a handful of B movies. To me, he was an integral architect of my creative life.

Fuest, who passed away at the age of 84 today, was not only the director of such stylish and demented movies as The Devil's Rain, The Last Program and one of my favorite films of all time, The Abominable Dr. Phibes. He was the Production Designer for my favorite television series of all time, The Avengers. All the wild props, insane sets and vibrant costumes you think of when you think of Steed and Peel kicking ass in their uniquely British style? That's all him. And it was his success at creating a unique and bizarre world that led to Fuest directing several episodes of the sixth and final season of that show, which then led to him directing a well-received adaptation of Wurthering Heights, which led him to creating one of Vincent Price's greatest roles.

I watched The Avengers as a very, very young boy on WWOR-TV here in New York, and it was that show that drew me into the pulpy, fun world of Spy Culture. It was watching Diana Rigg rocking those jumpsuits as she wandered through sets made up of oversized photos of herself that made her my first actual media crush. And later, it was watching Price and the absolutely luscious Virginia North 'And-Then-There-Were-None' the surgery staff that killed the even more luscious Caroline Munro with style and aplomb made me realize that villainy is not just in the deeds themselves. I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that there are things in my writing to this day that have Fuest's vague fingerprints on them, and that he is one of the creators that helped shape my own creative style.

Apparently Fuest never quite recovered from the rather rancid reception of his last theatrical film, The Devil's Rain. Only going behind the camera for two television movies and a number of television episodes--including two for the series revival The New Avengers and a bunch of ABC Afterschool Specials (I can hardly imagine how surreal having him in the director's chair for those bland-as-toast things)--throughout the 80's, Fuest eventually retired to teach filmmaking and paint.

I have to wonder what would have happened if Fuest was able to build on the promise inherent in the Phibes movies; what sort of insane entertainments would I have enjoyed then? Sadly, that's all I'll be able to do...wonder, and honor a Great, Great Man.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ten Statements About....SHARK NIGHT (2011)

What is up with your forehead, woman?  WHAT IS UP WITH
"There's no such thing as sickness anymore. It's all moral relativism. Remember Faces of Death? Real killing on tape, banned in 40 countries? An eight year old can download it on the internet for free, man. Comon', it's beyond good and evil! Someone's gotta raise the bar."

1) I would gladly watch Katharine McPhee do her taxes in loose fitting sweats and fuzzy slippers. It's most likely one of the reasons why I watch the wretchedly stupid Smash, and the main reason I allowed Des Reddick to convince me to watch this film. And, judged solely on the amount of McPhee-ness, this film admittedly delivers, even if she is eaten by tiny little CGI 'cookie cutter' sharks at the one hour mark.

2) On the other side of the coin, Sara Paxton is one weird looking chick, even for a Final Girl. I'm not surprised to find that she's distantly related to Bill Paxton...but her strange, all-forehead face confused the Hell out of me. In fact, she has a strange in-bred air to her, so much so I was waiting for the moment when she turned to Dustin Milligan's Nick and reveal that she brought the group there intentionally because she was either in on the scheme or the ringleader.

"It's your fault I'm saddled with a phony-ass missing arm!  I
keel you!  I KEEEEEEL You!"
3) And speaking of that's the fundamental problem with the film. The scheme is so bizarre and so wildly over the top (at no point does anyone address how these people actually got the finances to populate this lake so thoroughly) that the script by Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg needed to decide whether this was a put-on or not. And if they did intend it to be a put-on like Pirahna 3-D (an obvious influence), they needed to have the courage to blow up the tropes of the slasher genre and not try to do this half-and-half schtick they ended up doing.

4) ...and make no bones about it; this is another film like The Grey (which, unlike this one, does have a thought in its head) which is a slasher film. Only in the case of this movie, the killers utilize sharks--many with cameras attached to their hide--as their murder weapon.

5) This film came very, very close to losing me within the first twenty five minutes, as it features not one, not two--but four montages that are there primarily to sell the soundtrack. Hell, until a shark takes a bite out of Sinqua Walls' Malik, I was convinced this was a soundtrack that just happened to have a movie attached to it.

6) Another major flaw of the film--it never bothers to establish our Designated Shark Chum as actual characters. Oh, there are attempts to give them characters, but they're firmly in the 'Hey, you're going to be a first round pick in this year's NFL Draft,' 'Oh yeah, well I'm going to get you laid before you become immersed in pre-med preparations' mode of dialogue. Similarly, there's no attempt to conceal, even in the slightest, the nefariousness of our three villians (yep, even the one we're supposed to be shocked to learn is in cahoots with the other two...). That being said...
Dear movie...please don't throw the genuine hot
chick to the tiny sharks and let Forehead Girl live.
Love, Tom....

7) I have to admit that Donal Logue, a much better actor than his cv indicates, manages to almost sell the scheme these three numbnuts come up with to get rich through shark snuff porn. Wisely, the script entrusts Logue's Sheriff Greg with the explanation of what's going on, and he gives the concept that, ummmm, society is to blame a little gravitas.

8) I admit, I was a little put off by the PG-13-ness of the whole film. Given that it's sold entirely on the idea that we're going to see people get et by sharks, the carnage is relatively bloodless. Hell, most of it is conveyed by red-tinted water, with one really phony looking missing arm and a CGI burst shark head being the exception to rule. Even the Katharine-McPhee-getting-cookie-cuttered-to-death scene, which is obviously meant to be the film's 'wow' death, is handled so daintily. It needed to have the same gross factor as Pirahna 3-D for it to really work.

9) You know what I really wanted to know? Why Joshua Leonard's Red had his teeth filed. I assume it's because he wanted to emulate the sharks he liked so much, but the film could have benefited a lot from a little explanation....because without any reasoning, there's just a cardboard trio menacing a cardboard group of kids.

10) Ummmm....what the FUCK was the whole deal with that awful rap song the cast put together that serves as the post-credit easter egg?  Look, I understand that post-credit thingies are a way to keep the audience in their seats during the final role, but that thing is so brutal I almost wanted to break the DVD to make sure it never gets played again.

Okay, it does give Sinqua Walls a moment where he is genuinely funny, doing a kinda, sorta R. Kelly-esque ode to the Hammerhead shark he kills in the film. But it's. Just. Not. WORTH IT.

Overall...not a terrible film, but not a good one, this needed to make a decision on where it wanted to stand and stick to it. Still, I don't know if I can recommend it...unless you want to see Katharine McPhee in her underwear. In that case, well, win.


"We had an agreement--it followed you home, YOU walk it!"
"There are tremendous advantages for humanity in Axonite."
"Yes, tremendous material advantages, but I doubt if even Axonite could increase the growth of human common sense."

1) Let me get this out of the way--I hate Katy Manning's Jo Grant. As opposed to Liz Shaw, Jo is a useless companion who's there mainly to rival Victoria as a living scream generator. Yeah, she's got a great body, but that steel wool voice just sets my teeth on edge, and the way Pertwee guides her by the hand (because apparently Manning was so blind without glasses she had no idea where to go) just makes her appear more like a child than a spy trainee. I have no idea why this companion is so popular; this serial doesn't give me any reason.

2) Here's why I seem to prefer my Doctors more aloof or arrogant like Pertwee and the two Bakers to friendly or kindly...because of Pertwee's impatience, even contempt, for humanity makes us believe the moments where he offers to collaborate with The Master to escape from Earth, or offers an alliance with Axos in exchange for revenge against the Time Lords. The way that arrogance informs even smaller moments (I love when he's saying goodbye to everyone in Episode Four, his statement 'Goodbye, Jo. You I will miss' seems dripping with sarcasm) drives home the point that The Doctor is just Not From Around Here, no matter how he looks.

3) Man, I wish the Brigidier was as much a hard man as he is in these Pertwee serials. When he threatens people at this point in that calm, clipped British voice, I believe it. And when he shouts, you know Someone's Shit Is About To Be Fucked Up.

4) I know there are some people who think this serial is aggressively mediocre...and I'll be the first to admit that based solely on the story it's a little lackluster. But what I think elevates this is the truly wonky art direction. We're at the point in the series history where color is still a bit of a novelty, and these guys go to town imagining some insane stuff. The tones are so luridly vivid I can almost see Mario Bava coming up with the sets.

THIS is what happens when you sleep in your contact lenses.
5) And while I thoroughly understand why The Axons never got a second story (their very schtick makes their usefulness limited), I really liked how they were developed. There's something really elegant in the way these aliens are envisioned--the simple bodysuits in the swirling pastels, the golden masks with the unnerving solid gold eyes all contribute to give these aliens a real flaver....even with the visible zippers in the back.

6) Similar to Statement 4, this is without a doubt a Who serial rooted in the 60's. Hell, it's the series' version of a Romero zombie movie in that We Fuck It Up For Ourselves. The Axons are a credible threat, sure...but it isn't until Chin starts doing his best Administrative Asshole and begins distributing Axonite everywhere that the threat becomes dire.

7) Ahhhhh, yes...The Delgado Master. Is there a more effortlessly charismatic yet viciously dangerous character in Who history? There is such a naturalism to Delgado's performance that it just shows up the artificialness of both Ainley and Simm. Even in this serial, where The Master is there just to facilitate the plot, Delgado just shines.
For several years, the Doctor thought his companion was not
hot girl, but a chimpanzee....

8) Boy, I get a kick out of Paul Grist's Bill Filer. Not just because Grist is doing a parody of and American spy in the middle of a British show, but because, well, he seems to be a lot more action oriented than resident James Bond stand-in Captain Yates. Hell, I even tolerate his vague flirtation with Jo...since I was hoping that when he returned to Washington, he'd take her with him.

(And imagine my annoyance that, when sometime does show up willing to take Jo away, he's even more of a nob than she is....)

9) Apparently, this was meant to be a six-parter...and Thank God it was cut. This is a very simple story--so simple that even in four parts there's a segment in Episode Three that appears a little stretched out for time. I have to wonder if this serial would benefit even more if it had been devised as a three-parter instead of the then-standard four.

10) And here's the second Pertwee serial in a row where Pertwee is trying to convince us he's being menaced by a wrapping it around him and squirming. It still doesn't work.

Overall...while there are some wonky elements, including some scenery chewing (I'm looking at you, Peter Bathurst), this is a very simple, well executed serial bouyed by the absolutely insane and vivid set design.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ten Statements About....BULL DURHAM (1988)

"Lady, baseball gloves do not go with that
dress.  Nor does it hide the fact that you're
a hootchie."
"You never hand in your luggage in the show; somebody else carries your bags. It's great. You hit white balls for batting practice. The ball parks are like cathedrals. The hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains."

1) Let's get this out of the way right now: Susan Sarandon's Annie Savoy is a truly detestable character. She makes a practice of seducing young ball players under the rubric of teaching them to be better people; sends a young girl out to sleep with her prospective boy toys for the season as 'spring training;' plays mind games with Tim Robbins' Ebby LaLoosh....until it results on her not getting laid, at which point she whines and moans about wanting sex; and overall keeps trying to pretend she's anything but a hootchie. If this movie was about a triangle between Annie, Ebby and Kevin Costner's Crash Davis, it would be an unwatchable romcom....

2) ...which is why, thankfully, the romance stuff is just seasoning for what the movie is really about--baseball, both as a science and as a form of magic. Ron Shelton's script manages to address both metaphors for the game equally, and it's those moments of the players using different angles to get the results they want that make the film come alive.

3) It is a thorough shame that Kevin Costner decided at some point he had to be a big screen sci-fi action star, because it's films like this where his strength truly lies. Crash is a very vivid character, a professional who knows he's getting too old for this but is trying his hardest to hold on just a little while longer. And Costner manages to give Crash a level of arrogance without it leaking into assholishness. There are people I can think of right now who could look at this and get a message about hanging onto their glory a bit too long.

4) I was surprised when I revisited this for this review how, well, modest it is for an R rated film. The nudity is mainly clinical, happening in the locker room, and the love scenes all occur under the covers or are conveyed through implication. The rating, I suspect, is mainly for the language.
"Better enjoy this while we can, about twenty
years, you'll be single and I'll be in Actor Limbo...

5) God, I miss Trey Wilson, who was such an amazing actor capable of taking the smallest role--and his role is pretty small here--and making it big just with his presence. The thing that was coolest about him is how he makes every actor he shares a scene with look better. And when he had a great actor to work with--Costner, Tim Robbins, Roberth Wuhl--the film just shines for those few minutes.

6) And speaking of's tough taking a character from a cartoon--and trust me, LaLoosh in the beginning is a cartoon, a caricature of every bad boy pitcher that was roaming the landscape in the late 80's--to a fully realized character in the space of ninety odd minutes. And Robbins does so subtlety and realistically.

7) I think this is a film that worked partially because Robbins and Sarandon were falling in love on set. It gives the film a sense of veracity it might not otherwise have, making the strange handling of the payoff to this plotline work better than it should have.

8) Reason why this movie could not be made now #792: Shelton would not be allowed to end the film with Crash not sharing in LaLoosh's success. Even though the seeds of his being cut and leaving baseball are planted deep in the first act, a modern version of this film would have LaLoosh use his pull as a prospective superstar to bring Davis with him, or insist on Davis getting the roster spot instead of him, or some other sort of inspiring, punch-the-air nonsense....instead of the logical ending of seeing Crash struggle with giving this career up, break the record quietly and without fanfare, and head off to fade away gracefully.
It's a dark day when Tim forgets the chords for 'Michael
Row Your Boat Ashore'....

9) As much as I dislike the Annie plotline, I give Shelton credit for this--he finds a way to parallel her story with Crash's, gets her to realize that the two of them are not all that different, and have her 'fade away' just as gracefully as Crash, settling down with the man who understands her perhaps better than she does.

10) I have to wonder how the film would have benefited or suffered if we got a better sense of Durham as a city. The film's almost total immersion in the ball parks might explain why Annie does come off so badly; maybe if we saw her interact with her students, or with other people in the town she might seem less....well, skanky.

Overall...a great little film that works as a meditation on baseball almost more than it does as the romantic comedy, bouyed by some great performances and a clever script.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ten Statements About....THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984)

To you, it's Harry Shearer stuck in a plastic pod.  To others,
it's a metaphor for life.
"There's such a fine line between stupid and clever."

1) Let's get this out of the way--this film does fit fully with Deja's Law of Satire--if you remove all the jokes, the film still holds up as a documentary about a rock band falling apart. Hell, there's a ten minute chunk toward the end of the film which is extremely true to life as the leads stare they impending obsolescence in the face.

2) That being said...this film does not hold up well, and the main reason for that is that our lead characters are utter morons. Unlike in later efforts directed by Christopher Guest, where we're brought into an insular world that's already a little insane by normal societal standards, David, Nigel and Derek wander around in a world that's recognizably real, which makes moments that are meant to be comedic come off as awkward and sometimes even cruel.

3) Even more so than our core trio, the character of Ian Faith, played expertly by Tony Hedra, comes off extremely well. Yes, he says some strange, borderline stupid things--but the way Hedra reads the lines and reacts later in the film to the idea of co-managing with June Chadwick's Jeanine seems to indicate that he's playing down to his charges in the same way a patient father deals with his perpetually stupid sons.

4) And speaking of June Chadwick--I now remember why I crushed on her in the V television series. Just saying is all.
You know, when you're on Fran Drescher's side of an argument,
you may have outgrown this film.

5) You know who, to my surprise, comes off extremely well in this picture? Fran Drescher. Once you get past her goofy 'Bobbi Fleckman!' intro, she plays her role very serious, and you can certainly understand the resistance she gives to the album cover. It makes me wonder what her career would have been like if she pursued a more serious acting career instead of becoming a lame caricature of a Noo Yawk babe.

6) And it needs to be said that the film would not have worked on younger Tom back in 1984 if Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer didn't know how to write actual songs. The only thing that makes the songs in this movie parodic are the lyrics and the presentation--taken as artifacts on their own, they're no worse than many of the songs written by actual metal acts of the some cases, they're actually better.

7) I truly idolize Harry Shearer. I admire his humor, his writing ability and his willingness to stand up for his political views every Sunday on KCRW. has been, and always will be, difficult to get the sight of his man-fur out of my head sometimes. I pray for his wife--a talented performer in her own right--that the pelt he seems to wear as Derek Smalls was artificial.

(On a related note...I wonder why, even though Guest and McKean frequently switch starring roles in all of Guest's movies, Shearer always ends up as a background player. Is it by choice or...?)
Airline searches were tough on soccer stars, too...
(Oh, comon--you guys are prolly quoting the lines each
still belongs to right this minute...)

8) Legendarily, this film was improvised, as are all of the film featuring Guest, McKean and Shearer. But the amazing thing about that fact--and about the later, Guest-directed films--is that it never has that anarchistic, unformed air of an improvised film. This thing feels like a complete artifact, not a sketch of one...which is why I almost regret the trio's need to keep revisiting this one thing of theirs over and over again.

9) I imagine this was Rob Reiner's idea, and not the trio's, but I love the brief cameo by Patrick MacNee as Sir Denis Eton-Hogg. Not just because I love The Avengers, but because the cameo--much like Drescher's role--is played totally straight, which adds a little bit of veracity to that crucial first act (after all, if we don't buy into the conceit in the first act, the film is lost).

10) I have to say this...while Michael McKean's David St. Hubbins matches the type of heavy metal vocalist he's satirizing perfectly, Christopher Guest may very well be the weakest link in the film with his Nigel Tufnel. The character never feels real, and he comes off as so stupid he could be marginally retarded. It's hard to see him functioning in this group at all, let alone for the seventeen years the band is supposed to be in existence at the start of the film

Overall...a film that's sort of lost its lustre due to the test of time, it's still worth watching as the blueprint for the Christopher Guest canon that will follow it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


I'm sorry...I'm laughing too hard to think up a caption.
"Since UNIT was formed, there have been two attempts to invade this planet. We were lucky enough to be able to stop them. There was a policy decision not to inform the public."
"Do you seriously expect me to believe that?"
"It's not my habit to tell lies, Ms. Shaw."

1) This is the only serial to be done wholly on film--and, truth be told, I really like the look of it. Sure, the sound quality is kinda hinky at times, but it further emphasizes the spy movie feel of this period forced upon producer Barry Letts by the severe budget cuts.

2) And here's something else I love--Caroline John as Liz Shaw. She provides a much different companion to the standard, and she seems to work really well with the more arrogant and righteous Doctor Jon Pertwee is portraying. If The Third Doctor is The Spy World Time Lord, Liz Shaw is his Emma Peel, a peer he can relate to and feel comfortable around. While I can certainly understand why Liz was given the boot after this season (when you're as smart as The Doctor, there's no need for him to explain things to you) doesn't mean I think it's a shame she only lasts a season, especially given what Pertwee ends up with.

(And yes, Avengers fans....if Liz Shaw is Emma Peel, Jo Grant is 100% Tara King.)

3) Similarly, I can understand why The Autons never made the Royal Court of Monsters--their second appearance diminished them as credible threats--but damn, they're cool. And the fact that they're just ill-fitted human vessels for a psychic entity, they'd be so much easier to do on the shoestring budget. Pity their rampage on the streets on London happens so late, because they're pure nightmare fuel.

4) ..and to be fair, part of the reason I love the Autons so much is due to the efforts of Hugh Burden, who as Channing provides a creepy and effective face to the Autons and The Nestene Consciousness. And it's not just his performance--his plastic make-up is so much more subtle and disturbing than, let's say, the facsimile General Scobie that you're never quite sure until it's made clear in Episode Three whether he's fallen in with the Autons because he's an alien...or because he's really, really wrong in the head.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Shaw...but after this year, our mandate from
the U.N. requires us to replace you with an idiot with
bigger tits."

5) You know what doesn't work--and it's something that will plague the series throughout the Pertwee era? The weird obsession with rural humor that Letts and Story Editor Terrance Dicks seems to wallow in. The subplot with the poacher and his wife is painfully unfunny, and is totally unnecessary to the story. This kind of thing is doubly puzzling given how Pertwee is a talented comedian who infuses his serials with humor that's logical to the series proper.

6) Maybe it's because my initial exposure to the Brigadier was in those two Tom Baker serials where he doesn't do much--but man, does he come off as a serious bad-ass in this serial...and because he is such a bad-ass, the whole sense of The Doctor and Liz creating their own little circle of two in opposition to him gives the series a much different least until the empty-headed doll-baby that is Jo Grant shows up next season.

7) While I understand the appeal of incorporating Madame Tussaud's into a serial about using plastic facsimiles of important government officials as part of a massive plan to take over the country, the whole concept makes no sense. Didn't someone at some point balk about the constant stream of politicians and military folks pushing out the celebrities and public personalities? And why did Channing and co. think hiding the comatose, flesh and blood Scobie in plain sight as a display? The logic problems caused by this angle outweigh the potential charm and atmosphere the wax museum scenes could contribute.

What tipped people off to the alien invasion wasn't so much
the weird pastiness of their faces, but their appalling
fashion sense....
8) The thing that strikes me about this first appearance of The Third Doctor is how there are moment where Pertwee reaches back to the earliest days of Hartnell to create a Doctor who's somewhat...contemptuous of humanity. Oh, sure, this Doctor is very civil, even friendly towards humans he knows personality--genuine warmth comes off him in waves when he first interacts with the Brigadier, and he takes a very quick liking to Liz once her intelligence is apparent to him--but he's not fond of us as a whole. There are even moments where he seems to treat the people around him like children, expecting them to fall for the simplest tricks. It's an interpretation that provides continuity while going off on its own--and I can see the seeds of my favorite Doctor, Colin Baker, in Pertwee at this moment.

9) While I appreciate the way the serial disguised that UNIT HQ at this point was just a parking garage, a utility closet and a local classroom...except for that point in Episode Four where it's rather obvious the soldier guarding the parking garage is...well, a mannequin (and not one that starts walking around in herky jerky motion shooting people with its gun-hand) dressed as a UNIT soldier.

10) Given that it was probably cobbled together from some cellophane, a glass eye, a fishtank and a bicycle pump, the Nestene Consciousness is actually pretty effective. I do wish that they didn't pull the whole 'hero tries to convince you he's being strangled by some phony-looking tentacles' trope, however.

Overall...A very cool little storyline that sets up the new status quo effectively, features a great new alien race, and has a lot of neat grace notes. Recommended.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ten Statements About....HEAD (1968)

"Hey, Hey, we are The Monkees...and we've had Enough Of
Your Shit."
"Nobody lends money to a man with a sense of humor."

1) Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this film is that at its core it's four people trying to break down their public identity and reconstruct it in a way that's not disrespectful to that first version but much more adult. I think it works, even if said attempt happened long after the damage was already done.

2) That being much as I love this movie, and it is one of my all-time favorites, there are moments when the quartet tries to hard. I think the inclusion of actual Vietnam footage jars the viewer out of the anarchistic comedic sketches and disrupts the flow of the film itself.

(However, the incorporation of Rockettes footage during the 'Long Song Title (Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?)' is amazing, especially given how the editing lines up the dancing to go along with the beats of the song itself.)

3) While I know some people point to the recently departed Davey Jones as the 'face' of the Monkees, my nominee is Mickey Dolenz. The other member of the group chosen for his acting experience (Jones was a regular on the British soap Coronation Street, while Dolenz was the star of the drama Circus Boy), he is a master not only of comic timing but of excellent facial expression. Hell, one of my favorite moments is when we get a demented reaction from Dolenz during the desert sketch when the voice in his head does, in fact, leave him alone.

4) That being said, Jones does provide the best song sequence in this film, the absolutely gorgeous Harry Nilsson ballad 'Daddy's Song.' Very simply shot with a very elegant concept, this song allows Jones to display his true talent for dancing, as he engages in a clever little number with film choreographer Toni Basil.
Davey Jones is hanging out with Frank Zappa and his pet
cow.  Your argument is no longer valid.

5) I really have to wonder if Tim Carrey, who played Lord High N' Mighty, wasn't exactly acting during his handful of rants at the quartet.

6) You'll notice I don't talk much about a plot here. That's because this isn't so much a narrative film but a string of gags and sketches and musical numbers held together by this dubious through line. The film is so plotless, in fact, that I have to wonder if writers Bob Rafaelson and Jack Nicholson (along with the Monkees themselves) didn't look upon this as an unofficial remake of the infamous Olsen and Johnson 'comedy' Hellzapoppin', which also made a plot point out of the main characters being unpopular hacks.

7) I know there are lots of people who look upon the Monkees' early compositions as their masterpieces, but I am absolutely confident in declaring the songs on this soundtrack as being the best collection of songs this band ever put together, a grouping of numbers that manage to reflect the personalities of each member individually and as part of the band. In addition to the previously cited 'Daddy's Song,' I love 'Circle Sky,' 'Long Title (Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?)' and 'The Porpoise Song.'

"And then I thought about starting a hippie death cult...but I
decided to stare into space and join a rock band instead..."
8) While Mickey Dolenz is the best all-around actor...there are moments where Mike Nesmith cracks me up. The rant he goes off on about surprise parties that ends with '....the same goes for Christmas' gives me the giggles something fierce.

9) There are some details to this movie that still make me wonder, and details I discover every time I watch, this time around, the handful of backwards credits. I don't think they're supposed to have significance, but then....

10) ....there is the idea that this is all a fantasy in the mind of someone--I can never decide if it's Victor Mature or Mickey Dolenz whose head we're riding in, but the circular nature of the film itself gives me that impression.

Overall...I love this movie (I've watched it way too many times for it to be healthy for me), and I've only scratched the surface of this flick with my Ten Statements. Eminently rewatchable, it's one of the better examples of psychedelic cinema. And it makes me sad we never got the sequel the band had planned in the 80's, which would have seen them trapped by the denizens of Pleasant Valley....

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ten Statements About....PERFORMANCE (1970)

His boss may call him Jack The Lad, but there's nothing
boyish about James Fox's Chas....
"We push the buttons. He's the Horror Show. He's an old pro. He can take it. He dishes it out, too."

1) Even from the first few minutes, co-directors Don Cammell and Nicholas Roeg make it very clear that this is not your average movie. With its quick cuts and transpositions, it's obvious that these two filmmakers are not interested in linear narration, and are going to delight in moving backwards and forwards in time to tell the story they kinda, sorta want.

2) ...and good thing Roeg and Cammell start out with that quick-cut, fast-forward transposition style, because this is one of those films which changes narrative lanes on a dime. The first forty minutes is such a relentlessly brutal gangster film with an equally brutal human animal at its center...but the moment he steps into Turner's mansion, James Fox's Chas suddenly enters squarely into the realm of the psychological suspense thriller.

3) I have always had a dim view of Mick Jagger, being firmly in the camp of the Davies Brothers and The Kinks, but let's give credit where credit is due--this is a guy who in this film shows some promise as an actor (that said promise never got paid off is another story). Turner is an interesting character who may be written off as being Jagger playing Jagger, but there's something deeper in this. Turner is Jagger's worst fear of the future, a version of him who's lost touch with his talent and is empty, crawling around this empty mansion with his two hand maidens waiting for an apocalypse that he fears never is going to come...until Chas walks through his door.

"I don't have a French Hot Girl...will a German Hot Girl
4) Apparently Johnny Shannon was a gentleman of some shady disposition hired by Roeg and Cammell to dialogue coach James Fox that they decided to cast as Harry Flowers. Thank God, too, because he is a truly compelling character who benefits from Roeg and Cammell's insistence on leaving so much open to interpretation. When Flowers pursues Chas, we cannot decide whether it's to punish him for his insubordination, or because he has an unrequited sexual crush on the young torpedo. I can't imagine a more accomplished actor making Harry come to life so thoroughly as Shannon does.

5) Anita Pallenberg...I get it now.

6) I think it's a credit to the production as a whole that I can't decide, two days after my most recent watching of this film, if the reason I find it so disturbing was because of Cammell's script, the interpretation of the script by the actors, or the gleefully off-kilter directing of Cammell and Roeg. This may very well be one of those perfect storms of a film where every element came together to construct something greater than the individual parts.

7) While I will not champion the claim made by the documentary on the DVD that 'Memo To Turner' is the first music video (I think the Monkees, the Beatles, and the creators of the Scopitone would have something to say about that), it is one of those steps towards MTV. I do like how it seeks to tell a surreal story within the song, which goes a long way towards perfecting the classic MTV formula.
"See?  You're one side gangster, one side German Hot Girl...
it's a metaphor, it is!"

8) I got to give credit to the script for being so intensely literary--this film is heavily inspired by Jorge Luis Borges, to the point where we see Borges' face when Chas shoots Turner in the head (or we think we see him...but I'll get to that in Statement Ten)--without being totally inaccessible. If you're not interested in all the psychic identity stuffage, you can enjoy it as a story about a gangster struggling for control with a has-been musician.

9) While I do understand that Michelle Breton's Lucy is there to emphasize the hedonistic lifestyle of Turner, I wonder if the film really needed her. At its core, this is a three-handed game of wills between Chas, Turner and Pallenberg's Pherber, and Lucy comes off as somewhat superfluous. Yeah, there's that weird attempt to give her and Chas something of a love story in the last fifteen minutes of the film, but by then it's too little, too late.

10) And speaking of that last fifteen minutes, and the way Roeg and Cammell refuse to spell things out for you....I love how, even though you see Chas shoot Turner in the head, these two manipulate things narratively to the point where you still have doubt about what happens in the end. I swear, I honestly suspect that what actually happened is that Chas and Turner switched identities, Turner killed Chas and took his place, marching off to the back of Harry's limo and certain death in his own right. I love a film that can keep me wondering like this, and it's one of the reasons I respect Roeg's work as a whole. excellent, dark, and bizarre little film that masterfully plays games with our heads right up to the end....and knowing that this is just the first step on two very different journeys for the filmmakers, one tragic (Cammell only did a few more films over the next twenty years before taking his life) and one uniquely strange makes it all the more satisfying.


"Ahhhh, there's an actor who isn't my pal Frazier...."
"When somebody writes about an incident after it happens, that is history. But when the writing comes first, that's fiction. If we had fallen into the Master's trap, we would have become fiction."

1) I know this was a scripted serial--hell, they talk at length with writer Peter Ling in the documentary accompanying the story on the DVD--but one of the things I like about this tale is how the whole thing feels on some level improvised. Granted, part of that is because the producers had to add an extra episode (the first) onto it with literally no budget, but even when we're deep in the scripted portion, that feeling of organicness remains.

2) Another thing I liked? For the bulk of the first three episodes, the Troughton Doctor is off-balance. He literally doesn't know how to manipulate this situation to his own advantage, and seems extremely lost and panicky at times. And I like seeing Troughton dithering and knowing it's not The Doctor putting on an act.

3) It's so strange hearing this version of The Doctor talking about a villain called The Master. I know Emrys Jones' character isn't that Master (calm down, Michael!), but still.....

4) Even though there is some tiny lip service made to an alien race using this Land of Fiction outside of the space/time continuum, this is arguably the closest the classic series ever gets to pure fantasy...and once again, we get some really clever ways of working around a budget. The way the production staff conveys the idea of Jamie standing on top of a forest made of adages, for example, is quite clever.
"You don't think it doesn't take hours of effort and work to
make my hair look like a Stooge's?"

5) ...and speaking of Jamie, this is the serial where Frazier Hines' illness prompts him to be replaced for an episode by Hamish Wilson. And while Mr. Wilson's work is good, his presence really emphasizes how great Hines was as a companion. The chemistry Hines has with both The Doctor and Zoe is just outstading.

6) Zoe...Wendy Padbury is a definite improvement over Deborah Watling. Unlike the screaming machine that Victoria became, Zoe seems to have a real place in the crew. I particularly like the way The Doctor will treat her like a peer when it came to piloting the Tardis.

And that cliffhanger to episode one....ummmmmm, yeah. Good way to point out that Padbury is not a young girl while making us fans uncomfortable. If you've ever seen this, you know what I mean.

7) Given that this serial apparently had almost no budget whatsoever to work with, I was rather impressed with how some of the crazier mythological beasts came off. The unicorn that serves as the cliffhanger for Episode Two is really cool and convincing, and the way the crew works out the minotaur utilizing shadows, sound effects, and a very, very, very brief shot of a minotaur head works...but then you get that really bizarre, almost impressionistic version of the Medusa with the stop-motion snakes that's just shoddy. No amount of Zoe screaming that this gorgon is real convinced me at all.
"'ll be a woman....soon."
(And all over England, adolescent boys suddenly realize
they....are MEN!)

8) I rather like some of the featured fictional characters, particularly Christine Pirie's Rapunzel. The way she seems so casually resigned to having people climb up her hair is hilarious.

9) I have to give Emrys Jones credit--he makes the constant switching from a befuddled lil' writer to the spokesvoice for the strange alien race that's intending to drag humanity into the World of Fiction so they can inhabit Earth work. The way director David Maloney leads us to believe the Master is a very sinister figure only to have him be this gentle, sad man is pretty well done.

10) As creative as this serial is, and given how much is thrown onto the screen, the shorter episode lengths (they last from eighteen to twenty-one minutes in length, as opposed to the standard twenty-four) is noticable. Instead of making the serial seem more faster paced, it makes the narrative flow come off as fractured and disjointed. The final episode in particular edges toward the nonsensical.

Overall...another one of the classic series' forays into surrealism, this one is head and shoulders above the previous attempt at something unique, the Hartnell serial The Web Planet, and is probably the best example until we hit the McCoy serial Ghost Light at the end of the classic run. A curiosity, but one worth watching if you're interested in seeing just how out there some production staffs were willing to go.