ONE HUNDRED POSTS!!!
Thanks to loyal readers and friends!
Your feedback and comments keep me going, and I really regret not being able to post as much as I would like.
That said, since I’ve subtitled this post “Where No LIE Has Gone Before!” it will be illustrated with some of the Star Trek images that I’ve had clogging my computer for too long.
I wasn’t going to use a picture or a cake, or the actual number “100.”
I love the original Trek—it was the show that Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea should have been.
The Original Trek was really about a U.S. battleship cruising the Pacific, keeping the peace—promoting the benevolent Pax Americana. Voyage was just dopey kids’ stuff—but set on the U.S. Navy’s most super-science submarine! Voyage should have been about subverting Castro and destroying the crops of Laos, not lobstermen, phony lizards and atom bomb swallowing whales! (Although that was a cool episode…)
For the reviews of August and September (and more Trek pix, both from the show and our nation’s cosplayers), please read on:
So why so few posts?
Long story short, my life has been somewhat hellish of late.
If you’re interested—or even better, have a writing/ publishing/ researcher job you could direct me towards—feel free to drop me a line. My email address is around here somewhere…
I haven’t been screening flicks like I should be, and writing up things even less.
Well, that’s not completely true: I always write a lot—but little scraps of paper with ideas I never type into a laptop don’t really count.
Actually, I’ve been feeling quite desperate of late—totally under the gun—and it has prevented me from seeing the “forest for the trees.”
What that means is I am not sure what my viewing choices for August and September mean. Honestly, many of the movies I screened were done so only because those were the movies the library dug up for me.
(You know you can use your local library as a DVD rental center: PLENTY of good stuff in the New York Public Library to be found, as long as you’re patient.)
Not much in the way of synopses here, sorry. Gotta desk clear!
MOVIES WATCHED IN AUGUST
Cloud Atlas (2012; written and directed by Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski; based on the novel by David Mitchell) Wow! I really liked this mystical and humanist science fiction epic—but I will admit I watched this three-hour opus over the course of several days, and it really helps to watch it with subtitles: you should really read this film to appreciate the language better.
That said, I was fascinated by Cloud Atlas from the get-go, as it presented (overwhelmed me) with a buffet of wild ideas imaginatively created, helmed by a trio of humanist rather than technocratic directors.
Innovative and thought-provoking, this film is about the positive life force versus the negative: The spirit that would make humankind better against the lack of spirit (or more accurately, the anti-spirit) that would hinder mankind, and keep it selfish and brutal. It’s a genuinely uplifting film—nerve-wracking and tension-packed at times—covering the nature of power and man’s rebellion against it. This is epic radical politics in a delicious sci-fi/adventure movie candy-coating! Huzzah!
Circular storytelling beyond the casting presenting a multitude of connections made and missed. Told across several interconnected and often very intersecting storylines, the film is set in the past, present and future—with the same cast appearing in each segment, in sometimes wildly differing roles (Tom Hanks gets to play evil), and under heavy makeup as to be unrecognizable, while playing different races and genders, too.
Cloud Atlas is a technically perfect film with good pacing, quite exciting at times, covering art, music, philosophy and how a religion gets made, as well as social topics like slavery and ageism—with plenty of spiritual/new age/existential dialog: “Death is a door!” and “You think someone’s gonna hear your prayer and come down from the sky?” are said, followed by horrifying truths: “They feed us to ourselves…”
This is a damn grand sci-fi epic, with some top-notch performances, especially from Hanks and Jim Broadbent. I really enjoyed this film.
GREAT insightful review of Cloud Atlas via the always awesome John Kenneth Muir HERE.
Violent Streets (1974; Hideo Gosha) Ultraviolent, convoluted weirdness of yakuza vs. yakuza after a botched kidnapping turns into blood-splattered “Mario Bava Crime Thriller Goes to Japan!” A couple of gangs, all-business—like something out of a Richard Stark novel—come to blows in often odd settings, like a chicken farm, or Spain-themed nightclubs. Fantastic color scheme, too! Not essential, but lots of fun.
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971; Emilio P. Miraglia) Stupid, overwrought quasi-giallo. Not as much fun as the title would suggest. Most giallos don’t make sense, but at least they can be entertaining. Not this one, it’s dreadful!
Personal Best (1982; written, produced and directed by Robert Towne) Two female track-&-field athletes fall in and out of love while training for the Olympic trials.
Editor Bud Smith (who often collaborated with William Friedkin) and DP Matthew Chapman deserve much praise—the movie is technically flawless, but plotwise, often veers into soap opera territory—and where’s Robert Towne’s usual great dialog? It is, however, a sports fan’s movie, with strong roles for women, all whom are long, lithe athletes in top shape, with everything filmed and edited perfectly.
A Bullet to the Head (2013; Walter Hill) Wow, this is a movie utterly on autopilot! It’s like someone set out to make a “Bad Movie” parody of Walter Hill’s later, post-48 HRS. flicks, with a clunky, exposition-heavy dialog—that needs subtitles because star Sylvester Stallone’s mumbling is incomprehensible.
Yeah, there are a few good scenes of killing and mayhem, but hardly enough to make the slog worth it. Extremely disappointing; does Walter Hill even care anymore?
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971; Mel Stuart) My ten-year-old nephew was visiting—and picked a classic for us to watch. Gene Wilder rules! A great movie, don’t argue with me.
Matango (1963; Ishiro Honda; visual effects supervisor Eiji Tsurubaya) is the missing link between Don Siegel’s conformity death trip Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and the total societal-breakdown ghoulishness of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968)—with a dash of prescience regarding the paranoid body-horror of Carpenter’s The Thing. This is not hyperbole; I think Matango absolutely deserves to be in such august horror royalty: it’s a lost masterpiece.
The re-edited, dubbed Americanized version, retitled “Attack of the Mushroom People,” did not help the film’s reputation—although SoCal punks the Angry Samoans did write a song about the flick.
This movie—as it was intended to be—is truly nightmarish, with great Japanese filmmakers like director Honda and visual effects supervisor Tsurubaya working outside their comfort zones, and creating a rich and moody semi-supernatural tale. While radiation is given lip service, the island where the squabbling vacationers’ yacht crashes is more of a haunted place, where bad voodoo happens. Of course, the mystery deepens with the discovery of a similarly wrecked research vessel, with a mystery-packed captain’s log and a crew that’s not really missing… just different.
The spooky atmosphere is aided by subtle effects (there is an extensive use of miniatures excellently integrated with the actors throughout the picture) and highly detailed production design, as well as spectacular Tohoscope cinematography in super-saturated Technicolor: the widescreen palette is lurid and sensual! Delicious!
It’s a fantastic visual design plugged into a tale with creepy Lovecraftian overtones—there are hints that mutant island has been playing its tricks for a long time. This film is interesting in that it plugs a high level of Cronenbergian drug-addiction/body-horror into something that sounds written by Sam Fuller: these squabbling yuppies talk tough and staccato speechify as if in one of that director’s hard-boiled noirs—while tripping out (oh yes, there are drug references here) and turning into mutated mushroom people.
A new favorite, and another “New Best Old Film.”
It’s a Disaster (2012; Todd Berger) A comedy skit extended until it is almost too long and clever for its own good. It’s the “End of the World” with a gaggle of selfish, one-dimensional hipster/yuppie types at their weekly brunch—that everyone secretly loathes. I gave it a chance and was mildly amused, but it’s not recommended, except for David Cross fans: he’s a treat as the only sensible brunch guest—with an unsettling secret.
Goldfinger (1964; Guy Hamilton) Classic Connery Bond: not perfect, but great. Distasteful tone of casual, sadistic misogyny crops up too often, but forgive because of exciting action from an excellent script that never stops surprising—or being sexy. Ken Adams’ production design is the epitome of cool and slick, a constant visual joy.
Doug Stanhope: Beer Hall Putsch (2013; Jay Karas) Sick, adversarial humor, with Stanhope on top of his game, stretching out horrid, hilarious tales (like his mother’s suicide, or a twisted football player-fantasy rape scenario) to intense conclusions. Very, very funny, highly recommended, and available on Netflicks.
Mommie Dearest (1981; Frank Perry) This biopic is almost meta! It is Joan Crawford’s life presented as if it was a combination of her work with William Castle and Robert Aldrich, along with other elements of Crawford’s films, like the forgettable leading men, but a strong younger female costar; the weird product placements; overwhelming melodrama; and complete anti-naturalism. Wonderfully excessive beyond-bonkers perf by Faye Dunaway.
“A great old-fashioned Hollywood movie,” says John Waters in his commentary, which simply must be listened to, as well: brilliant, humorous and insightful stuff—you can tell he loves this movie.
September 2013 Had Few Movies in It—and I have few words…
Night of the Living Dead (1968; George A. Romero) THE classic. Still unbeatable—lightning in a bottle that was not only a great horror film—it was groundbreaking for its time as a horror flick, but quite political, too, no matter how inadvertent. Just so damn good.
Pain & Gain (2013; Michael Bay) WOW! The Michael Bay style really works at creating the mental landscape of our characters. Stupid work-out studs have a kidnapping/great-rich-quick scheme that almost works.
It’s good filmmaking—with a great perf by Dwayne Johnson.
Dawn of the Dead (1978; George A. Romero) The classic sequel to the classic: Consumerism makes you a zombie. Dig it.
20 Years of CUFF (2013) This was a retrospective of some of the short films from the Chicago Underground Film Festival’s early days—featuring me! My short film “Light Fuse Get Away” (1994) was featured during the first CUFF; I got to hang out with Chris Gore and Richard Kern back then!
Life Is Sweet (1991; Mike Leigh) Brilliant f’ing movie where nothing happens (compared to standard Hollywood movie spectacles) but so much happens (like in real life). Incredible honest performances help make this a magnificent film. Very, very recommended.
Ronin (1998; John Frankenheimer) One of this great director’s last films is also one of his best: lean, mean damn good spy nastiness. These espionage experts are more like less-chatty gangsters from the local mob that the cream of the CIA, MI5 and KGB—and that is great.
Literate yet reticently brutal, smart and nonstop, Frankenheimer’s Ronin is fabulous filmmaking—with some of the most excellent car chases ever.
There Will Be Blood (2007; Paul Thomas Anderson) One of my favorites—I feel I get Daniel Plainview—and a film I go back and rewatch every so often.
The Incredible Hulk (2008; Louis Leterrier) Nice anti-militarism message in the midst of a flick about a rampaging anger monster. Really enjoyed this flick, and especially how Marvel Comics is creating its cinematic universe.
The Day of the Triffids (1981; directed by Ken Hannam; adapted by Douglas Livingstone from John Wyndham’s novel) An updating that is very faithful to the spirit of Wyndham’s classic 1951 novel, condensing and rearranging his story nicely. Sure the show’s zero-budget absolutely impacts how much this miniseries can show and do, but it also makes it a worthy low-key apocalypse. Not too many explosions or “epic” moments, but plenty of dread and uncanny gloom. This miniseries should also be of interest to zombie fans: the way the bioengineered nightmare plant has ruined the world and stalks humans reminded me of better films dealing with the undead’s eventually global takeover.
Iron Man Three (2013; Shane Black) I thought it was AWESOME that a zillion-dollar slab of Hollywood tentpole action-madness was also a film that pointed out the “conspiracy theory”—Ha!—that the military-industrial complex really does create the nation’s enemies, all to line their pockets.
Breaking Bad: Season Five (2012-2013 created by Vince Gilligan) You know, when the series ended, I got depressed.
One day, I’ll go through my various theories, etc. regarding Walter White & Co., but until then, let this suffice: This became my new favorite TV show—as beloved as The Prisoner, or The Outer Limits.
BOOKS READ DURING AUGUST 2013
The Devil and All His Works by Dennis Wheatley—A copiously illustrated encyclopedic summary of the Powers of Darkness and the Powers of Light. Excellent stuff, except when Wheatley’s prejudices show up: he considers Voodoo quite heinous, but is thankfully quite critical of how assholes have perverted Christ’s message, especially the Catholic Church.. (Y’know, I think I found this book in the trash…Perhaps it was delivered to me by unknown forces…)
“The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft (short story) Seems like I’m staying in supernatural territory this month. Not surprising since I had my Tarot cards read by none other than good pal and incredible musician Bliss Blood! (Yes, I namedrop.) And she said good things were around the corner.
Inspired, I read a grim Lovecraft tale about a doomed farm. A piece of the sky—a meteor? Something else? A “colour”?—falls into a field and at first, encourages great growth in the plants and livestock. But everything soon turns grotesque, and the corruption soon spreads everywhere. Massive interdimensional dread on every page. Loosely adapted into the AIP horror flick Die Monster Die (1965), starring Boris Karloff and Nick Adams.
“The Shadow Out of Time” by H.P. Lovecraft (short story) HPL whips up some supernatural sci-fi as a man recounts the time he switched bodies with a strange, plant-like alien—all part of an intergalactic colonization/migration to escape the dreadful Old Ones. Fascinating weirdness that still reads fresh because it pays no attention to sci-fi conventions. Like many of Lovecraft’s tales, this doesn’t have a happy ending.
A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong—The Death of God has led to the Sickness of Man; we need myths—which explains the successful return of superhero films—or else we go mad. Wonderful philosophical/mythological read.
What’s So Funny? by Donald E. Westlake—Another of Westlake’s thankfully-not-quite-whimsical Dortmunder adventures. This time the hapless thief and his gang of oddballs and misfits (criminals all) must swipe a jewel-encrusted chess set, while dealing the usual hilarious setbacks that plague John Dortmunder regularly. As comfortable and rewarding as a warm bath; Westlake is a favorite.