So jeez, what the hell happened in November? And why does it take me so long to post about it?
Houseguests crashing over because of Hurricane Sandy, much mental turbulence due to the job search, houseguests bringing over rare films, heat waves, cold fronts, visiting friends I haven’t seen in a while, living a genuine life not just a vicarious one,
plenty of DVDs thrown into my lap via the lovely folks at the New York Public Library (love ya!), and
a delicious Thanksgiving dinner (cooked by yours truly*) almost ruined by psychotic relatives…
Oh, the usual…
Searching in the patterns of my film-viewing, that’s what I do, trying to understand my actions and the inputs that may affect those actions; or, the choices of views determined by the psychic needs post- the completion of actions… I was practically raised as a feral child!
Lack of early developmental socialization has fried my circuits!
I seek understanding in the patterns of behavior!
If you’re confused, how do you think I feel? (And yes, I know, I'm posting my "November" list after my "Best of 2012," it's bass-ackwards, I get it...)
[Speaking of confusion: Often I pick photos to illustrate moods, rather than accurate illustrations or film stills from the movies in question. This sort of art direction is especially prevalent when I’m running one of these portmanteau posts, with many, many films covered.
These days, if I’m writing about one film, I rein in my creative excesses, but sometimes, I must indulge. Besides, whose blog is this anyway? And if you really want to look at stills from Outland, then just Google it, dude…
BTW, the illustrations for this post are all, with the exception of the “Granny” painting at the bottom—which I stole from Bliss Blood’s timeline on Il Fachebuk; thanks Bliss, love ya!—are from dreadful, awful, whacky reality.]
What Was Watched In November? This Was Watched In November:
Sons of Anarchy: Season Four (2011; created by Kurt Sutter) Biker-soap-opera-mayhem-Hamlet rip-off—LOVE IT, one of my faves.
The bikers on the show often act irrationally and violently on the spur of the moment, usually to their detriment—just like members of a motorcycle MC in real life! I wish I had the courage (and insanity) to live this free!
Billion Dollar Brain (1967; Ken Russell) [written about HERE]
The Killing of America (1982; Sheldon Renan; written by Leonard Schrader and Chieko Schrader; produced by Leonard Schrader and Mataichiro Yamamoto) [written about HERE]
BEASTS: “During Barty’s Party” (1976; Don Taylor; written by Nigel Kneale) Finally getting around to catching up with Nigel Kneale’s infamous 1970s anthology show, BEASTS.
This episode is almost a radio play, but expertly done nonetheless, where a couple is threatened by very loud rats under the floorboards. And the rodents may be extra-smart mutations! Boy, does this episode get creeeeeepy.
Worth hunting down, especially if you’re a horror fan.
Aeon Flux (2005; Karyn Kusuma) And what was the point of taking an excellent, superbly-crafted nihilistic spy cartoon and making it live-action and deep?
Were they trying to imitate the worst parts of Zardoz on purpose?
Hopscotch (1980; Ronald Neame) Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson are delightful as ex-spies on the run, chased/aided by a delicious cast of vets, like Ned Beatty, Severn Darden and Herbert Lom. A marvelous and witty old-school romantic comedy, with dashes of suspense, but nary a real sense of danger. A perfect “comfort food” film, especially if you’re in a “Robert Osborne” mood.
The Traveling Executioner (1970; Jack Smight)
The Wild, Wild Planet (1965; Anthony Dawson—a.k.a. Antonio Margheriti)
God Bless William Lustig!
Both of the above I caught as part of William Lustig’s annual grindhouse-a-thon at the Anthology Film Archives, and while I had fun, I cannot recommend these movies—they are both pretty bad—unless you can remake the theater experience, watching the flick with a crowd and hooting and hollering, maybe arrived slightly buzzed—that sort of thing…which is what Lustig is recreating very successfully. Caveat emptor!
Rufus Jones for President [short] (1933; Roy Mack) [written about HERE]
Outland (1981; Peter Hyams) The “High Noon in Orbit” stuff is a snooze, but there’s a neo-documentary feel to the scenes of life and work in the mine and company town that I really like: Dirty Space Tek. It’s almost monotonous, but like a Wiseman documentary, you’re given so much time to observe the scenery and people in it that you’re granted a “genuine” look at the world of the future.
It’s sad though, that the dumb drug war is continuing unabated, even into the far future. Look at this place, it’s a moon of Jupiter, it sucks! Of course, you’d need drugs to work in a place like Io!
Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003; Thom Andersen) Unlike many native NYCers, I love Los Angeles and try to visit it often. More than a mere clip show, this documentary/montage is a fascinating, eye-opening, brilliantly-written love letter/critique of this West Coast metropolis and how it is (mis)represented on film and television. A film I revisit every so often. A must-see.
The Changeling (1980; Peter Medak) a somber and graceful ghost story with several very chilling moments, aided by some brilliant sound design and cinematographer (and Peckinpah veteran) John Coquillon’s mobile camera and expert lensing. A good supernatural tale that benefits from its cast’s seriousness, especially lead George C. Scott, but suffers from being too long: at 120 minutes, the flick starts to feel…padded. Had it been trimmed to 90 minutes, it would’ve been perfect.
Crimewave (1954; Andre de Toth) [written about HERE]
Decoy (1946; Jack Bernhard) A vicious and bonkers film noir with a deliciously sleazy vibe and a weird quasi-sci-fi/horror subtext. A femme fatale seduces a sawbones to give a convicted killer some “Methylene Blue” just after the gas chamber, reviving (zombifying?) the murderer—who is the only one who knows where the money is hidden. Cheap sets and overacting aid the flick in becoming Twilight Zone-transcendent, and the twists in plot and mood, and all the slow deaths, push Decoy almost in to avant-garde territory. (This is on the same DVD as Crimewave, FYI, so you get two good flicks for the price of one.)
The Power of Nightmares (2004; Adam Curtis) What can I say? I’m a total convert to BBC documentarian Adam Curtis’ way of thinking. This film is a look at the parallels between the psychotic idealists of Middle East extremism and the neoconservative movement in the US, how both groups took credit for the “end” of the Soviet Union, and how the two inadvertently aided each other at their weakest moments.
The world has been ruined by ruthless ideologues who do not believe in democracy or individual freedom.
The subject of a future essay, LERNER INTERNATIONAL will look more in depth at
The Power of Nightmares and Curtis’ other epic socio-political, quasi-agitprop documentaries, like The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom (2007), an exquisitely constructed look at how “freedom” has been mutated beyond all belief by deranged and compassionless think-tank geeks, like the bloodless and paranoid ghouls from the Rand Corporation.
King Kong (1933; Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack; special visual effects by Willis O’Brien) was watched at Thanksgiving because I am a good New Yorker.
One of the best films ever made, King Kong will be the subject of a longer essay in the future. Would you believe that this epic, iconic Hollywood fantasy is actually an incredibly personal, almost psychological, tale, perhaps one of the first Transrealist films ever? Well, it is.
Homeland: Season One (2011; developed for American television by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa; created by Gideon Raff) Since I consider the “threat” of Al-Qaeda to be primarily a creation of the intelligence community and ideologically driven neo-conservatives, the whole series for me is a goof on these policies:
Carrie Matheson may be right, but it’s driven her mad and denied her life of any joy—and she’s right about what anyway? That a POW is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? Yeah, yeah, yeah, he was going to blow up all those jerks in the military-industrial complex, and the bad part of that is what?
In my eyes, Carrie is the bad guy of the show, to be pitied, but also feared and shunned. I’m glad she’s ends up in the loony bin, getting electro-shock; she deserves it. When you look at the show objectively, she really hasn’t stopped anything—the “sleeper agent” is stopped by his own sense of morality inspired by a new closeness with his estranged daughter.
Meanwhile, that ex-POW is the guy I’m cheering on: go, man, GO!
The writing is good—with plenty of exciting, complicated mind games—who’s zooming who?—and the actors (especially spooky Claire Danes) really throw themselves into their roles. I’m looking forward to Season Two, so shhhhhhh! Don’t spoil it for me!
This series is also an interesting companion-piece to The Power of Nightmares (see above); watching Homeland after that documentary makes me realize how much empty rhetoric is at the heart of all politicians’ words, even the “fake” ones on TV.
The Last War (1961; Shūe Matsubayashi; special visual effects by Eiji Tsurubaya) [written about HERE]
Dogma (1999; Kevin Smith) The first Kevin Smith film I’ve ever seen, and probably the last. I only watched this in pursuit of theological questions, and as such, this flick was entertaining, even thought-provoking.
But Smith’s style of dialog isn’t my cup of tea, and I loathed the characters of Jay and Silent Bob.
The Walking Dead: Season Two (2011; developed for television by Frank Darabont; based on the comic book by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard) Actor Scott Wilson is great—as always—as an old country vet who thinks the flesh-eating ghouls can be cured, but aside from the groovy gore, this soap opera is a SNOOZE, full of selfish, jerky people doing stupid things that they should really die for. Stick with the BBC’s Dead Set (2008) instead.
The Gorgon (1964; Terence Fisher) One of Hammer’s odder entries, this flick is pretty weak, and certainly only recommended for fans of Christopher Lee (as a righteous, but heroic investigator) and Peter Cushing (as a secretive surgeon).
Scream of Fear (1961; Seth Holt; written and produced by Jimmy Sangster) Hammer-Lite: Had this flick been a bit more macabre or “sick,” and if the ending had been more vicious, it could have been a classic.
There seems to be a conspiracy to drive a crippled heiress insane, but is she really whom she claims? Is her father on a business trip really? Could he be trying to drive her insane as well? Is Christopher Lee’s intrusive French doctor to be trusted? Good twists and turns, with specific bits of information withheld (or added) for maximum suspense.
Unfortunately, the flick’s given a goody-two-shoes ending, where the real plot is to uncover a murderer—Susan Strasberg is a stone fox as the “heiress,” but at the end she’s essentially an undercover cop. I would have preferred if she had been the major (unseen) character who was supposed to have killed themselves, but who’s stolen someone else’s identity, and then getting involved in a plot trying to kill the woman who’s already dead! Of course, I’d have Strasberg turn the tables on the plotters, but not the way here—I’d make it more grisly, and nerve-wracking, something with drowning—or rats!—something for the real Hammer fans.
Scream of Fear is a missed opportunity.
* = The secret to a perfect turkey? Cook it upside-down: the back has all the fat, so it melts and drips down, accomplishing two things: reducing the grease of the dark meat from the legs, and keeping the white breast meat very moist and juicy.
Other turkey secrets: Using bacon fat on and under the skin makes it crisp up very nicely, and then pouring about five tablespoons of honey over the turkey about one hour before removing it from the oven adds a delicious glaze and some more flavor, some sweetness to contrast the earthy, meaty flavors that will soon assault your senses.