Sunday, January 25, 2015

2014: Gone, and Good Riddance! (or: Ding-Dong, the Year Is Dead!)

I’ve been officially accepted into graduate school—working towards my MA in Language & Literacy—and if you have any idea of what that means, you know I ain’t gonna have the time…

Honestly, 2014 was probably one of the toughest years of my life, burning me out to the core of my soul, messing with my health, emptying my bank account and essentially ruining me financially.
But WOW, I learned a lot about myself and the “System.”
Like I will never teach in a public school. Not because the kids are monsters (and many of them are), but because the pedagogical bureaucrats and creeps run the show—and their one desire is a classroom full of obedient zombies. Teaching students how to be quiet and sit up straight was more important that engaging them intellectually. Sad, really, and I want no part of it.

Wow, this month, I really caught up (sort of) with my movie viewing and “for fun” reading (not that any reading these days doesn’t have an ulterior motive).

Les Maudits (The Damned) (1947; René Clément)
Uninvited (1987; Greydon Clark)
Ich-Ein Groupie (a.k.a. Higher & Higher; 1970; Erwin C. Dietrich & Jack Hill)
Funeral in Berlin (1966; Guy Hamilton)
Genocide (1968; Kazui Nihonmatsu)
Treasure Island (1934; Victor Fleming)
The Final Programme (1973; Robert Fuest)
A Perfect Getaway (2009; David Twohy)
Interiors (1978; Woody Allen)
Hell Is for Heroes (1962; Don Siegel)

Movies Screened in December 2014!
To My Great Chagrin (2007; Jeff Sumerel) Brother Theodore was an impossible-to-characterize monologist, someone awesome—and this very Lynchian (as in “like a David Lynch film”) documentary actually manages to recreate a smidgen of the energy and whirling psychosis that was a Brother Theodore show.
I consider myself so lucky to have seen Brother Theodore’s show twice (or was it three times?), and I think he was one of the greatest performers/thinkers/ranters ever. I want to be Brother Theodore when I grow up.
However, the movie needed to be longer and include more of Theodore’s appearances on shows like Letterman or Merv Griffin, but I am sure there are reasons, like cost.
Great quotes: “The best thing is not to be born—but who is as lucky as that?” and “As long as there is death, there is hope.”

The Flying Padre (1951; Stanley Kubrick; 8 minutes) Big Stan’s second film is a beautiful—if sentimental—documentary about a priest who services his parishioners over 400 square miles of Nevada via piper cub. Kubrick calls the flick “silly,” but it’s also endearing, with a handful of shots that show that he was already thinking big.

Z (1969; Costa-Gavras) One of the best movies ever made. It’s an excellent film, but so damn frustrating—there’s no way not to know that the villains will win. (And then there’s the sad fact of the hidden hand of the Americans behind the assassination.) And I love Irene Pappas.

Pink Flamingos (1972; John Waters) THE classic (still with the most shocking—nay, stomach-turning, ending ever), and it’s easy to forget how damn insane and transgressive—but delicious smart—exquisitely unique, not just over the top, but deliriously psychotic the film is, referencing Genet, Krafft-Ebing, 1950s R&B music, radical politics, porno chic, mutated Roman Catholicism, a genuine love of Baltimore, underground gay culture and, well, the list is endless. (Waters and his pals were not hippies, but freaks.) What sells the flick is the 150% the cast gives—and so many long takes! It’s a fearless movie with a different moral standard that you suburban middle-class square. The film is essentially a ping-pong war of aggression between two twisted families, but the thing is that Divine’s “family” actually love each other: no matter what, Divine and her kin—unlike Connie and Raymond Marble—know what love is and know how to love. And that’s why they win!
BTW, any creative types would do themselves a favor by watching the supplemental features as well as listen to Waters’ commentary track: it’s not only a history of the making of the film, but a history of the times—Waters refers to the lesser known bits of the late-1960s that influenced the flick like the Manson trials, the courtroom antics of black radicals in the courtroom, as well as the flicks of the time that really got under the directors skin, like bad Liz Taylor and Mondo Cane movies.
My favorite line: “Mama, nobody sends you a turd and expects to live!”

Berberian Sound Studio (2012; Peter Strickland) Makes as much sense as the usual giallo, but with a nicely postmodernist take on the genre—very stylish visuals add spice to an psychotically dense audio track—the sound design in this flick is f’ing perfect, as intense and brilliant as the audio track for Eraserhead. While its plot goes a tad off the rails (about as much as a good Argento flick, though), the plot is secondary to the mood—while a commentary on giallo, this film makes itself into one of the prime examples of the supernatural giallo subgenre. Well worth checking out. I watched the film with headphones on to increase my appreciation of the multilayered soundtrack, as well.

Breakheart Pass (1975; Tom Gries) Fun Charles Bronson flick—a spy movie/whodunit disguised as a western. It’s a suspenseful B-movie with an all-star cast, courtesy of Alistair MacLean—wow, I read so many of his books when I was in junior high. And this flick was a childhood fave due to multiple screenings on TV.
This flick would have been the nice beginning to a potential series, like a western Bond or a less fanciful Wild, Wild West (and I refer to Robert Conrad’s TV show, not the horrible Will Smith film).

The Final Programme (1973; screenplay, designed and directed by Robert Fuest; based on the novel by Michael Moorcock) A new fave! The creator of Dr. Phibes makes a superhero movie that oozes weirdness and an internal logic that’s both infernal and delicious—bonded with tart and snappy dialog. Visually and thematically, there is a grand Terry Gilliam vibe, and because this is the science fiction of big ideas, I feel as if there’s a bit of Nigel Kneale in the influence of the script. Jon Finch is fabulous, swaggering like a rock star (and you will swear that Jerry Cornelius is a huge influence on Eddie Izzard).
The apocalypse is around the corner, and superhero Jerry Cornelius wants to napalm his late father’s house—with his evil junkie brother, Frank, inside.
New Wave Science Fiction—sui generis, proto-cyberpunk—This is Buckaroo Banzai’s more hip, “cooler,” elder brother.

Mr. Turner (2014; Mike Leigh) Awful, dull mush…What a waste of my money! Fookin’ ’orrible! Bland, middle-of-the-road Masterpiece Theater snoozeville rubbish; the type of biography that meanders incessantly, with neither rhyme nor reason, concentrating on too many details, and not enough on a specific few. And a proto-abstract, but sincerely dull painter like Turner needed a more Ken Russell-esque style applied to his life. Sure, Timothy Spall is great—but trapped in a mundanity.

The Last Command (1928; Josef von Sternberg) Visually gripping B&W silent melodrama about an old deposed general from Imperial Russia now living as an extra for Hollywood movies, who is “discovered” by a director (a shockingly young William Powell)—who was also one of the general’s victims during the Russian Revolution. Von Sternberg is one of my “new” fave directors whose work I must catch up with more.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014; Doug Liman)
Director of Go!, Swingers and The Bourne Identity
Clever time-travel/space marine flick—y’know, Tom Cruise needs to be praised for being the most consistently-in-sci-fi actors—
Flick didn’t really need the “future war” stuff, but it was still fun;
Script structure was superb—although info overload towards the end…ahhh, but that’s sour grapes! This is an action flick with strong science fiction backing via an intelligent and thoughtfully constructed script—that never loses pacing or a sense of humor (or humanity, for that matter). And while I’m not an expert on the subgenre of “video-game-inspired/akin films,” I have to confess that in this film, you were given an almost perfect reproduction of the get-killed-often experience of a novice player (as is Cruise—whose character has an excellent learning curve, thankfully).
But dear Christ! “Edge of Tomorrow”? That sounds SO generic! The ad lines on the poster would have made a better title: “Live. Die. Repeat.”

A Clockwork Orange (1971; written, produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Anthony Burgess)
Still fantastic—incredibly faithful, but uniquely belonging to Stanley; he doesn’t change the language—but the book’s stylization is the book’s, and the film’s is the film’s—some criticize the film’s violence, and cartoonish depiction of the secondary characters—but Stan would do that routinely.
Stanley has to change the book enough to make the film similar to the book.
Cinematography, editing, sound, production design, art direction, costume, and of course, the music. All fantastic.
Just trying to imagine how mind-blowing this film was when it first came out is a trip.
According to John Baxter’s bio of Kubrick, Warner Bros. had approached Stan about doing a flick aimed at the youth market—and this is what he gave them! Terry Southern had given Stanley the book years earlier.
And such a British movie
And made so cheaply!
Probably Kubrick’s last “perfect” film
Watched this twice in a row.

A Swiftian satire covering many topics: language; mind control; violence in society; politics; juvenile delinquency; and others.
Alex is an unreliable narrator—which is why all the secondary characters are so cartoonish (and makes one wonder what Alex’s politics are, if he has any? Like most people who are from impoverished or criminal backgrounds, I would bet Alex would consider himself “conservative”—meaning reactionary).

Kubrick’s influences—a big one would be Richard Lester’s films (especially the Beatles films as well as Lester’s Petunia) as well as Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones—which were in turn influenced by the “freedom” given to cinema by the French New Wave—and I must mention the impact Costa-Gavras’ Z must have had
(Is A Clockwork Orange Kubrick’s Petunia?)
1971—when Savage Cinema broke out! The French Connection, Straw Dogs, Dirty Harry, The Devils, Deliverance and A Clockwork Orange—what a year! Not to mention emotionally savage films released that year, like Carnal Knowledge; Drive, He Said; and Klute. (Then there was “savage” weirdness like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory; Two-Lane Blacktop; THX-1138 and Vanishing Point. Madness was in the air!)

Alex and language—teenagers don’t want you to understand them! But he can still communicate quite effectively and colorfully.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues—SuperSized & Rated-R (2013/2014; Adam McKay) Supposedly much different from the theatrical version…
Funny as hell no matter what, with that neo-Upright Citizens Brigade absurdist humor. The flick’s philosophy seems to be “funny, no matter what—even if it breaks the rules of logic.”

The Dark Crystal (1982; Jim Henson & Frank Oz) Still a fascinating achievement—the weak story is forgotten behind the all-practical-effects creation of an entire world (NO CGI!)—which only feels about 10 miles square actually—it’s an elaborately-designed and incredibly “alive” 10 square miles, but there is not a feeling of…I don’t know—maybe “global consequences”? Sure, if the villains succeed it’s bad news for the peaceful Gelflings, but the damage does not seem as vast as it should.
Or is this only supposed to be what is happening in only one part of the world? That subsequent films (had they happened) would have explored further this weird world—maybe the Gelflings could become wandering mercenaries? Okay, that’s too far, but I am willing to accept that what strikes me as a flaw, could actually be a specific element for future examination?
Be that as it may, this is a wonderful, rich fantasy that is utterly sui generis, not based on any previous sources, but definitely acknowledging its influences. Fans of the genre really need to catch The Dark Crystal, a film where it looks like Jan Svankmeyer and George Pal have joined forces—a nice balance of the truly innocent and the grim with its own internal logic.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008; Kim Jee-woon) Fun and kooky Korean craziness. Hardly essential cinema, but a treat for action fans, especially those with an interest in New Asian Cinema.

It Felt Like a Kiss (2009; Adam Curtis) WOW! One of Curtis’ less straightforward—or even narrated—films, but therefore one that feels more powerful in its sole reliance of the juxtaposition of images and sound and text. Great left-wing agitprop!

Forty Deuce (1982; Paul Morrissey) Like von Sternberg, Morrissey is another director whose body of work I need to delve into further. After a kinetic and fractured opening set all along the grimy neon of 42nd Street circa 1981-82, the film completely shifts gears and becomes a filmed play—fascination is kept high by the use of two cameras and a split-screen effect: It is a filmed play, but with our gaze guided in specific areas as post-adolescent male hustlers try to make a big cocaine score while trying to get rid of a dead body. It may sound funny, but it’s a grim story with nary a laugh—but extremely engaging and an engrossing watch. It helps that the actors (including Orson Bean and a very young Kevin Bacon) are all very good and inhabit their characters completely.

BOOKS READ IN DECEMBER (* = read previously)
*) The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845)
Needed to reread this; working in high schools and middle schools this past year reminded me of how much this book is used in the NYC school system and I felt I needed to brush up. Meanwhile, this is still an excellent and moving screed against man’s inhumanity.

Queer by William S. Burroughs (1985)
Lost book “rediscovered” in the mid-1980s; a sequel of sorts to his Junky. Okay, but not really essential.

“Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau (1849; 1866)
The classic manifesto—most of us know what’s in it already, but it’s good to read to familiarize yourself with some of the foundations of modern society.

Films of 2014

January 2014
Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1991; Craig Baldwin)
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (2010; Werner Herzog & Dmitry Vasyukov)
The Red Chapel (2009; Mads Brügger)
The Ambassador (2011; Mads Brügger)
South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut (1999; Trey Parker)
Smoke ’Em If You Got ’Em (1988; Ray Boseley)

February 2014
Uninvited (1987; Greydon Clark)
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013; Jeff Tremaine)
The Train (1964; John Frankenheimer)
Tourist Trap (1979; David Schmoeller)
The Wild Bunch (1969; Sam Peckinpah)
Lost In America (1985; Albert Brooks)
A Bucket of Blood (1959; Roger Corman; written by Charles B. Griffith)

March 2014
Beat Girl (1960; Edmond T. Greville)
Matango (1963; Ishiro Honda)
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970; Richard Fleischer, Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda; with second unit/stunt directing by Ray Kellogg)
The Notorious Bettie Page (2005; Mary Harron)
Kubrick & the Illuminati: Don’t You Want to Go Where the Rainbow Ends? (2013; Laurent Vachaud with Michel Cimint)
The Outer Limits: “The Deprogrammers” (1996; Joseph L. Scanlan; written by James Crocker)
Concerning Violence: Nine Scenes From the Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defense (2013; Göran Olsson; text by Frantz Fanon)
Captain Phillips (2013; Paul Greengrass)
Zulu Dawn (1979; Douglas Hickox)
Blood and Black Lace (1965; Mario Bava)
Team America: World Police (2004; Trey Parker)
Beauty Is Embarrassing (2012; Neil Berkeley)
Thor: The Dark World (2013; Alan Taylor)
All Is Lost (2013; J.C. Chandor)
Feed the Kitty (1952; Charles M. Jones—short)
¡Mátalo! (1970; Cesare Canevari)

April 2014
Jane Eyre (2011; Cary Joji Fukunaga)
Ich-Ein Groupie (a.k.a Higher & Higher; 1970; Erwin C. Dietrich & Jack Hill, uncredited)
Funeral In Berlin (1966; Guy Hamilton)
SMASH TV: Gunslinger (2014)
GHOUL FRIDAY (programmed by me!)
Milius (2013; Joey Figueroa & Zak Knutson)
Genocide (1968; Kazui Nihonmatsu)
Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968; Hajime Sato)
Macbeth (2010; Rupert Goold)
The Devil Is a Woman (1935; directed and photographed by Josef von Sternberg; screenplay adaptation by John Dos Passos, continuity by S.K. Winston, based on “The Woman and the Puppet” by Pierre Louys)
Morocco (1930; Josef von Sternberg)
Blonde Venus (1932; Josef von Sternberg)

May 2014
The Getaway (1972; Sam Peckinpah; script by Walter Hill, based on a novel by Jim Thompson)
Godzilla (2014; Gareth Edwards)
Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter (1974; written and directed by Brian Clemens)
Outrage (2010; Takeshi Kitano)
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956; Ishiro Honda, with Terry Morse)
The Terminator (1984; James Cameron)

June 2014
Beyond Outrage (2012; Takeshi Kitano)
Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970; Ossie Davis)
A Dandy in Aspic (1968; Anthony Mann, and Laurence Harvey, uncredited)
Apollo 18 (2011; Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego)
Rush (2013; Ron Howard)
A Field in England (2013; Ben Wheatley) This Year’s FAVE
Live and Let Die (Guy Hamilton; 1973)
Burn! (1970; Gillo Pontecorvo) Brilliant stuff, an all-time fave!
Screwed (1994; Alexander Crawford)


August 2014
The Purge (2013; James DeMonaco)
The Last Days on Mars (2013; Ruari Robinson)
Abandon Ship (1957; Richard Sale)
Patton (1970; Franklin J. Schaffner)
Treasure Island (1934; Victor Fleming)
Twelve O’Clock High (1949; Henry King)
The Mummy (1932; Karl Freund)
El Dorado (1966; Howard Hawks)
Dr. Dolittle (1967; Richard Fleischer)
Muscle Shoals (2012; Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier)
A Perfect Getaway: The Director’s Cut (2009; David Twohy)
Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013; Frank Pavich)

September 2014
Open Grave, (2013; Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego)
The Purge: Anarchy (2014; James DeMonaco)
Design is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli (2012; Kathy Brew & Roberto Guerra)
I Am Divine (2013; Jeffery Schwarz)
Under the Skin (2013; Jonathan Glazer)
Bad Words (2013; Jason Bateman)
The Lost & Found Film Club at The Spectacle—
Not of This Earth (1957; Roger Corman; written by Charles Griffith & Mark Hanna)
Earthquake (1974; Mark Robson)

October 2014
The Empire Strikes Back—Uncut (2014; multiple fillmakers)
Five Dolls on an August Moon (1970; Mario Bava)
1941 (1979; Steven Spielberg)
Film, Film, Film (1968; Fyodor Khitruk) A fun short (18 minutes) from the Soviet Union about how a movie is created.
White Homeland Commando (1992; Elizabeth Le Compte/The Wooster Group) Fantastic stuff!
Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957; Edward L. Cahn)
Les Maudits (The Damned) (1947; René Clément)
State of Emergence (2014; The Anti-Banality Union)
Despair (1978; Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

November 2014
The Curse of Ghoul Friday (programmed by ME!)
Willow Creek (2014; Bobcat Goldthwaite)
Hell Is for Heroes (1962; Don Siegel)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014; Anthony Russo & John Russo)
Interiors (1978; Woody Allen)
Parks & Recreation: Season 6 (2013-2014; created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur)
Paths of Glory (1957; Stanley Kubrick)
Judex (1963; Georges Franju)
American Hustle (2013; David O. Russell)
Eraserhead (1977; David Lynch)

December 2014
To My Great Chagrin (2007; Jeff Sumerel)
The Flying Padre (1951; Stanley Kubrick; 8 minutes)
Z (1969; Costa-Gavras)
Pink Flamingos (1972; John Waters)
Berberian Sound Studio (2012; Peter Strickland)
Breakheart Pass (1975; Tom Gries)
The Final Programme (1973; screenplay, designed and directed by Robert Fuest; based on the novel by Michael Moorcock)
Mr. Turner (2014; Mike Leigh)
The Last Command (1928; Josef von Sternberg)
Edge of Tomorrow (2014; Doug Liman)
A Clockwork Orange (1971; written, produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Anthony Burgess)
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues—SuperSized & Rated-R (2013/2014; Adam McKay)
The Dark Crystal (1982; Jim Henson & Frank Oz)
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008; Kim Jee-woon)
It Felt Like a Kiss (2009; Adam Curtis)
Forty Deuce (1982; Paul Morrissey)

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