Monday, September 1, 2014

The Return of the Reviews! The Films (& Books) of June & August

So, what the heck have I been up to?
Six months of intense and hellish training to be a prison guard to the young folks, that’s what: I was in the bowels of the edjoomakashun system, lorded over by a series of Dolores Umbridges—which thankfully in the long run, I was rejected for—
“Let’s use brutal, militaristic techniques to keep the young’uns in line, to make them good little worker bees—oh, there’s no jobs and poverty creates a toxic stress environment as well as cycle of defeat? Not to mention the learned helplessness where folks say, ‘Why bother to try and improve when the dice are loaded, the cards marked and the game is rigged right from the start?’ Well that’s not our problem….”

Basically it was like dealing with the students of Mao’s Cultural Revolution: Obey or die!

Here’s the thing: these Umbridges claim to “love the children,” but I believe they only do so in the most abstract way….
But I’ve burned enough bridges already…
One day I will go into further detail—but today is not that day—today is September 1, and it’s the start of the final quarter of 2014, and it’s a new page in my life.
Getting my ducks in a row, looking forward, and NEVER giving up. The only way you’re going to stop me is by chopping off my head—and then you better watch out: the Gypsy said if that happens, my right hand with come after you…and avenge me.

Now, onto the movie reviews! (Most of which will be very short; I just wanna get this one out of the way—break the silence, and get back on track…)

(Why pictures of eyes? Because they are always watching you! The last six months were a horribly paranoid time for me, full of tension and stress, and I am only now beginning to recover from the case of PTSD that I picked up…)

Beyond Outrage (2012; Takeshi Kitano) Great stuff! The sequel to Outrage isn’t as formalistic, but isn’t as violent either. Takeshi Kitano rules!

Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970; Ossie Davis) After about 30 minutes, I had to watch most of this at fast-forward—fabtastic location photography of Harlem from 1970, but overall the film is uneven, unfunny and didn’t have a genuine perspective.
Sort of a proto Spike Lee flick: lots of characters, lots of bits, lots of local characters, lots of great singular moments, with many themes touched upon—but for whatever reason (lack of funds? Studio interference?), this flick is half-baked. Many pointless scenes go on and on, not advancing the plot, and are usually boring.
I read Chester Himes’ book and liked it a lot. Interestingly, the book is very accurate in its location details—author Himes must’ve walked these Harlem streets.
The movie on the other hand, does the typical Hollywood nonsense: Someone walking on Amsterdam and 145th turns the corner and then they’re on Lenox and 125th! Worst was during a car chase (that was actually well done and exciting) when a car heading north on St. Nicholas turns right on 155th and then is seen zooming along Riverside Drive and 145th. The location mix-up was so prevalent, I began to wonder if it was some sort of in-joke.

A Dandy in Aspic (1968; Anthony Mann, and Laurence Harvey, uncredited) Very paranoid, often dour spy story bolted onto some mod stylishness. Excellent perfs throughout, although Mia Farrow’s character is a red herring that is just TOO DAMN QUIRKY. Otherwise, very enjoyable for me.

Apollo 18 (2011; Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego)—Love this flick: reviewed HERE!

Rush (2013; Ron Howard) Great racing movie with exceptional performances. A surprise flick that I watched at Otto Mannix’s house. I would not have seen it otherwise. BTW, I heard Ron Howard is into S/M; can anyone confirm? Just curious is all...

A Field in England (2013; Ben Wheatley) Wheatley’s finally hit his stride in my opinion in this fabulous tale of two alchemists in battle. Fantastic and witty dialog, very intelligent—set in 1648 during England’s Civil War—film deserves to be next to Witchfinder General or The Devils or Valhalla Rising—a film of mystery and grace, superb sound design—where magic mushrooms play a big part of this tale of sorcery, but also very spiritual—yet with a brilliantly disjointed editing scheme.
Perhaps my fave new film of the year—a thoughtful and thought-provoking, incredibly unique genre film that defies genre descriptions.

Live and Let Die (Guy Hamilton; 1973) Basically this movie is a paranoid white racist’s wet dream: Voodoo, evil black men selling dope and lustin' after de white wimmen...
It’s as if Black People worldwide were some sort of giant criminal conspiracy, like a Negro Hydra—by the end of the movie, every time you see a black person, you see a potential threat! The flick is infectious paranoia! That said, it’s a great action flick—but sick, pretending to be a Blaxploitation flick, but should really be a tragedy about Kananga/Mr. Big: Why is James Bond interfering with the internal affairs of a sovereign nation?
It’s Blaxploitation backlash; putting the Brothers down, and crushing them underfoot.

Burn! (1970; Gillo Pontecorvo) Brilliant stuff, an all-time fave! Watch it HERE!

Screwed (1994; Alexander Crawford) I’m in this movie! Formerly subtitled “Al Goldstein’s Kingdom of Porn,” it’s a disjointed documentary looking at the dead porn publisher, and the sleazy, crazy New York that no longer exists.

NO MOVIES SEEN IN JULY!!! I was too busy fighting the brainwashing of the Umbridges, while trying to teach some middle schoolers in the Bronx. I know I reached them, but my so-called supervisors would rather have clueless, doe-eyed, inexperienced just-graduated post-adolescents delivering their commands. Oh well…

August 2014
The Purge (2013; James DeMonaco) I really like this flick (reviewed HERE) and I watched it to refamiliarize myself with its concepts before seeing the sequel (which I have yet to see, however…).

The Last Days on Mars (2013; Ruari Robinson) A mission to Mars gets a zombie infection, and things get really bad for the astronauts…
Starts off slow and unimpressive, but grows in power, increasing the tension while never falling into standard genre tropes. Smart and unique sci-fi, worth a look, but have some patience…

Abandon Ship (1957; Richard Sale) One of my all-time faves; required viewing if you ask me—reviewed HERE.

Patton (1970; Franklin J. Schaffner) One of the best (and smartest) movies ever—a brilliant epic—they sure don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Treasure Island (1934; Victor Fleming) Watched on the recommendation of Erick K. at Acidemic, and he’s right! Old school entertainment that feels very “pre-code,” with stuff they wouldn’t let be in a “kid’s movie” these days…

Twelve O’Clock High (1949; Henry King) After Patton, I needed more intelligent and thoughtful war movies, and picked this one. Hardly jingoistic, it’s an almost-noir about US bombers over Germany, with an impeccable cast, but especially Gregory Peck giving a subtle performance as a tough commander. This is a real man’s man movie, about genuine guys doing tough things—not the “rough tough cream puff” bullshit churned out by the Propaganda Machine these days.

The Mummy (1932; Karl Freund) A disjointed, kind of silly movie helped by a fabulous perf by Boris Karloff. Mood trumps sense in this movie, but it moves so quickly it doesn't matter, and Karloff really grabs you as a 3,000-year-old wizard. Worth a look.

El Dorado (1966; Howard Hawks) Goofy nonsense where Hawks remakes Rio Bravo again, but Leigh Brackett’s script provides some surprises, with a young James Caan stealing the show. Also watched on recommendation from Acidemic.

Dr. Dolittle (1967; Richard Fleischer) Hadn’t seen this since I was a kid. Love some of the songs, but with the exception of the production design, actor Geoffrey Holder's wise and wily island leader, and L.B. Abbott’s old school special effects, a bit of a terrible movie. But I do love that song, “My Friend the Doctor.” 

Muscle Shoals (2012; Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier) Decent documentary about the town with some famous recording studios, saved by vintage footage and some awesome music, but I really felt like something was missing. A much better doc is the one about Stax (whose musical output I prefer anyway), 2007’s Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story.

A Perfect Getaway: The Director’s Cut (2009; David Twohy) Damn good mystery/thriller with some neato twists and red herrings. Vacationing couple has to deal with some truly loathsome villains, and it’s best to see this movie knowing nothing of what’s going to happen. I also think that you should seek out the director’s cut since it probably makes more sense.

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013; Frank Pavich) Genuinely trippy, almost hallucinatory documentary about one of the greatest movies never made. Alejandro Jodorowsky is truly a shaman/madman and when I grow up, I want to be just like him!

Books & Stories
Read in June
“The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter,” a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1893) The first appearance of Mycroft Holmes and the Diogenes Club!

“Daughter of Invention,” a story by Julia Alvarez (1988) Something read along with the students in a friend’s class that I was sitting in.

Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov (2010)—the new Mein Kampf. Evil stuff that treats children worse than convicts. This is not the way to improve the educational system: it’s a stealth method to increase the drop-out rate.

The King Must Die by Mary Renault (1958) Fabulous “realistic,” semi-historical retelling of the legend of Theseus. An action-adventure book that will make you smarter!

The Devil Finds Work: Essays by James Baldwin (1976) Baldwin takes on film criticism and does it brilliantly!

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (1948) The classic story about blah, blah, blah. Still taught to kids who could care less…


Books & Stories
Read in August [* = 'read before']

*) From Bauhaus to Our House by Tom Wolfe (1981) Wolfe takes on modern architecture as only he can.

Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke (1976) Decent sci-fi—read to wash the horrors of the previous few months out of my mind. This was the first book I read for “me” a while. In this book, Clarke predicts the iPad and "selfies," and messes with our heads by, about halfway through, revealing that the hero is a Black man: something shocking when you remember how lily-white sci-fi tends to be...

“Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell (1946; essay) Orwell is a genius, and his incisive thoughts still hold true.

The Serialist by David Gordon (2010) Great read—a ghost writing ex-pornographer and tutor has to deal with the attention of a serial killer. Fab stuff that deserves a better review from me, but I’m in a hurry. Here’s a review(s) that does a better job than me!

“Kubrick” by Michael Herr (1999) Very long Vanity Fair magazine article about Herr's friendship/collaboration with Big Stan K. RIP.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1961) A damn fine satire of self-important teachers who do more harm than good. Guess why I read this?

Okay, that’s it. Let’s hope I can get back to a semblance of a normal publishing schedule again, as well as more in-depth analysis…Of course, that might be tough with me starting graduate school...


  1. I think I saw that version of Treasure Island on TV once. It was a pretty good adaptation of the story and Wallace Beery made a pretty good Long John Silver before Robert Newton's iconic take on the character. Also, Twelve O'Clock High is a classic.

  2. JH, Thanks for dropping by!
    Nowadays, Beery's LJS is a breath of fresh air; when I see Newton's LJS, all I can think of is that Monty Python skit about overacting and scenery chewing...
    I didn't mention in the article, but Twelve O'C. is why I've got the Leper Colony patch up top--also I felt like I was being assigned to the LC during my teacher training--
    Them: "So, you want to teach Advanced English to high schoolers? We're putting you in a class of 7th grade Special Education kids, most of whom have ADHD."
    Me: "?!?!?!"

    BTW, *THANK YOU* for hating Godard--or as I call him, "Jean-Luc Garbage."

  3. ...although the Leper Colony patch above is not from WWII, but Vietnam era--a C-130 crew out of Japan, I believe...
    BTW, it's never mentioned in the film (but in promo and background material), but Slim Pickens' B-52 in Dr. Strangelove is supposed to be named The Leper Colony...