Friday, June 15, 2018

Mish Mash 15 (Phantom Thread, North Shore, The Fly (1986) Ending, Days of Wine and Roses, The Killing of a Sacred Deer)

Phantom Thread

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This is probably Paul Thomas Anderson’s (Inherent Vice) best looking movie and that’s saying a lot.  I guess that makes sense considering the backdrop to the weirdo love story is the world of 1950’s high fashion.  It all needs to be just so and so does the handling of the delicate plot and characters.  Very few filmmakers can make a picture about an abusive relationship work.  In this case both sides inflict massive pain yet they really do seem to love each other despite how ludicrous and childish it looks from the outside.

I liked it a whole lot but it’s definitely not for everyone.

North Shore

Image result for north shore 1987My buddy had a DVD copy of North Shore sitting in his basement for who the fuck knows how long.  Of all the people that came through there no one had the courage to put it on.  I don’t think the fear was that it was going to be a very poorly made corny 80’s teen romance picture, but that it was going to be a boring very poorly made corny 80’s teen romance picture.  Well fifteen or twenty years later North Shore finally came knocking.  And it’s really not bad (I know, ringing endorsement).

The movie’s about Rick, a surfing teen from Arizona who makes the journey to Hawaii to find out how good he really is.  He falls in love, gains some friends, makes some enemies, gets disappointed that his hero is a total jerk and etc.  It’s nothing special at all.  We’ve seen this scenario play out a bajillion times before with the likes of Thrashin’, Footloose, Airborne, ‘n shit.

Image result for north shore 1987What’s nice about North Shore though is this kid finds out he has to work pretty damn hard to achieve his dream.  It’s not that he’s naturally supremely talented like most of the films in this vein.  Rick travels on his own to a place he’s never been to before and where he has no contacts.  So he needs to figure out where to stay and how to earn money and practice his surfing skills so that he can become better.  Instead of simply learning to believe in himself like would normally be the case it’s cool to see Rick pull himself up and put in a real good effort to make shit workout.

The Fly (1986) Ending

Spoiler on a thirty year old movie

Image result for the fly 1986 endingThe ending to Cronenberg’s The Fly is a throwback to older pictures where the credits would come up as soon as the bad guy was vanquished.  No need to do a quick wrap up of events or ramp down of the heart pumping climax.  Here there’s only time for a couple of brief reaction shots and then they start those end credits rolling.  I wonder if this was an intentional nod due to it being a remake of a 1950’s joint.  It’s an interesting tactic and I wouldn’t be opposed to more films ending like that.  Maybe one day it’ll come back in fashion.

Days of Wine and Roses

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Really wonderful and immensely tragic tale of a drunk named Joe (Jack Lemmon (My Fellow Americans)) and a teetotaling young secretary named Kirsten (Lee Remick (The Omen)) who fall in love.  It’s not too long before Kirsten gets on board with the booze too and very soon they both can’t put the bottle down.  Their alcoholism ruins their lives as well as those around them.

The storytelling may be a little ham fisted at times where it feels like a public service announcement (for AA in particular) but its heart is definitely in the right place.  Director Blake Edwards (10) and co want you to see how horrible alcohol addiction is and that if you or someone you know is wrestling with the disease there’s something you can do about it, the situation isn’t hopeless or endless.

Image result for days of wine and roses jack lemmonSo many aspects are touched on like Joe and Kirsten fail to hold a steady job, they have trouble looking after a small child, they lie and steal to get money to buy more liquor, Kirsten vehemently denies having an addiction and claims she can stop drinking whenever she wants, disappearing for days at a time, relapsing multiple times, severe withdrawal and etc.

Both Lemmon and Remick give incredible performances (ironically Lemmon admitted to alcohol dependency later in life) and Edwards goes all in with almost no comic relief.  The whole thing’s impressive from start to finish.  This is one sad and powerful picture.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Image result for the killing of a sacred deer colin farrellEvery once in a while I run up against a movie where everyone in it acts in an unnatural way and it makes me feel like an idiot because I don’t understand why that’s happening.  In this case all the characters in the film are emotionless.  They say their dialogue and go through scenes that are supposed to be filled with tons of catastrophe but they all remain calm and stone faced.  This is what I had a hard time getting past.  The story about a teenage boy placing a curse on a man’s family forcing him to sacrifice one of them to save the others is weird enough and sorta interesting.  There didn’t need to be this experimental sterile performance angle on top of it.  It doesn’t really add anything to the picture.  In fact it’s unbelievably distracting.  I would’ve loved to have seen this plot executed more straight up but we got what we got.  It’s an alright movie.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Great Race

Image result for the great race 1965This one’s about a turn of the century auto race from New York to Paris which really did take place in 1908 (USA got the win after Germany was penalized for deviating from the designated route).  It seems like an insane idea to do something like that today let alone over a hundred years ago.  It also stirs your imagination about what kind of an experience that would be.  Fortunately, somebody knew this would make for an entertaining movie and so here we are.  But the race was only used as a template.  Everything else was made up.  And the filmmakers sure went in a wacky direction.  You should probably file this piece under “Live Action Cartoon”.

In the good guy camp there’s The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis (Winchester ’73)) with his impeccable white outfits, worldly knowledge, sophisticated demeanor, top of the line automobile and perfect teeth that sparkle when he smiles.  In the bad guy camp there’s Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon (Grumpier Old Men)) with his all black attire, mean spirited attitude, propensity to clumsily fail in every endeavor, self-made monstrosity of a racecar and long twirl-y mustache.  Basically he’s a Snidely Whiplash rip off (that character debuted six years earlier).

Image result for the great race 1965 natalie woodNatalie Wood (Miracle of 34th Street) plays a reporter and fierce women’s rights advocate who covers the race from start to finish.  This could’ve been a much stronger character but unfortunately she keeps getting into situations over her head and eventually becomes the typical damsel in distress.  Making this move is a bit of a slap in the face because she bails both The Great Leslie and Professor Fate out of some dicey situations throughout the race and her reward is to get stripped down, tied up and threatened by some eurotrash asshole.

But overall this is an incredibly fun adventure comedy.  And there’s a huge emphasis on both of those parts.  For instance the movie opens with The Great Leslie and Professor Fate trading off daredevil stunts like parachuting out of a hot air balloon and rocketing down a stretch of railroad track at hundreds of miles per hour.  The race itself is filled with colorful settings like the American west, the Antarctic and eastern Europe.  And the two opponents have to overcome adversity around every corner.  Remember this takes place in the early 1900’s so if their car breaks down they have to fix it themselves, rely on their own navigation skills as maps aren’t totally reliable and finding gas is a recurring issue.

Image result for the great race professor fateThe comedy is a different thing.  I mean I love it but not everyone is gonna go for the extremely zany jokes like Professor Fate using a comically large crossbow to shoot at The Great Leslie, or staging a colossal pie fight with everyone getting plastered head to toe in custards and preserves.  All of the jokes are very old timey, even for when the film was made in the mid 60’s.

Every time I go back to this picture it just amazes me how big of a production it is.  The idea is ambitious and luckily we get the full treatment that matches the true scope of the premise.  This sucker is two hours and forty mins long with an overture, an intermission, two musical numbers and the last half hour turns into The Prisoner of Zenda which involves a plot to have Professor Fate impersonate a prince so that evil folks in the regime can gain power.  It’s jam packed with so many mini storylines and grand set pieces and great actors and a fantastic score by Henry Mancini and etc.

Image result for the great race pie fightBlake Edwards did this after making the first two Pink Panther movies back to back so he was on a helluva roll.  His films tend to get a little sidetracked after a while though.  It’s like he gets bored two thirds in, his mind wanders and then suddenly he snaps out of it and realizes he has to wrap this thing up.  But his cartoonish yet dry sense of humor coupled with his straightforward way of filming is something I really dig.  He lets his actors, costumes and sets do all the work.  He’s simply there to make sure everyone is in frame and in focus.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say The Great Race is an acquired taste.  Either you’re gonna enjoy the exaggerated craziness or find it annoying from the first scene.  It’s not really a “just stick with it, trust me” kinda picture.  But in my book this is a tremendous big time Hollywood type film with star power and enormous vision and all that shit that goes into the making of an epic.  It lives up to the title.  This race right here is pretty damn great guys.

Friday, April 6, 2018

No Escape (1994)

Image result for no escape 1994This feels like a gumbo pot full of a bunch of different movies but the one I can pick out most distinctly is Escape From New York.  The general concept of sealing off an entire island and turning it into a prison without your usual cells and guards and tossing in a fresh con with a mean ass loner attitude is the obvious lift.  But there’s different stuff too like the angle of a relatively peaceful village taking in a stranger with a hazy past and warring factions that the protagonist gets in the middle of.  You put all that together and the result ain’t half bad.

I hadn’t seen No Escape since it came out and expectations were very low going in because no one ever talks about it and I was skeptical of how hacky the concept was going to come off.  But it turns out I started diggin’ it almost immediately.  After some initial cheap B sci-fi movie sets and effects depicting what the dystopian future of 2022 will be like (your usual dust storms, giant floating holographic heads and metallic boxy trains whizzing around on a single rail track) things really start to pick up.  The first half hour is nonstop with Robbins (Ray Liotta (Hannibal)) defying evil warden Michael Lerner (Radioland Murders) and then getting shipped off to the remote atoll to fend for himself.  When he arrives he’s faced with the two opposing gangs that have their own little territory.  Marek (Stuart Wilson (Lethal Weapon 3)) is the leader of the ruthless barbaric gang and the Father (Lance Henriksen (Dog Day Afternoon)) is the leader of the good forget-the-past-let’s-start-over gang.  Robbins doesn’t want to have anything to do with either side, he just wants off the damn island.

The action is alright, not great.  There aren’t any badass “holy shit” kinda moments but Liotta is convincing as a mystery man with a military background that can break your neck in an instant if he chooses.  There’s a psychotic and even suicidal edge to Robbins that makes the performance and the movie as a whole go down easier.  I would totally watch another installment with this stoic character who doesn’t say much and lets his actions speak for themselves.

Image result for no escape 1994 lance henriksenThe non-action stuff is surprisingly strong though.  Henriksen is a gem as always in this nurturing mentor role.  The wisdom and humanity the Father is trying to infuse into his community of cons is genuinely inspiring.  The speech he gives during a funeral for his fallen comrades after a devastating night raid by Marek is particularly beautiful.

Speaking of Marek I want to like this guy but he makes it difficult.  He’s just a little too lame.  Stuart Wilson’s a cool actor but he plays the character all sophisticated by using haughty language, sporting a well groomed beard (although with long semi-dreaded hair) and smiles a helluva lot showing off those perfect white teeth.  In order to make this villain appear edgier they gave him these pins that go through the bridge of his nose and dressed him in black junky battle armor.  The attempt to make him blend more with his crazed followers, who have sharpened teeth or are covered from head to toe in black mud, doesn’t work.  The filmmakers clearly didn’t know what they wanted and they ended up with an unsuccessful clash of ideas.  Although admittedly it’s sort of interesting to see this cultured brute type tried out because it’s hard to tell on paper if that would come together.  Perhaps in the right instance it still can but this film provides unconvincing evidence.  Oh well.

Image result for no escape 1994This was directed by Martin Campbell and he’s a bit underrated in my opinion.  Sure he made the notoriously terrible Green Lantern but he also did what are considered to be the two best James Bond movies ever made, GoldenEye and Casino Royale.  And that’s fine (not really a big Bond fan) but the one piece of his that stands out for me is The Mask of Zorro.  It’s such a kickass action adventure extravaganza and if you haven’t seen it in a while you should seriously consider re-upping.  And with all this under his belt and more (Vertical Limit, Edge of Darkness) he’s rarely brought up.  That’s weird to me.

On No Escape Campbell turns in a solid effort.  He may not have a discernable style (perhaps a reason why no one discuses him) but he does know how to handle his action/character development balance.  And if he has a trademark it’s that he manages to make what you’re watching feel important.  I wanted to see Robbins succeed and for the word to get out about the unthinkable shit that’s going on in the prison and on the island.  The world needs to know!

So this picture is pretty fun in my opinion.  There’s plenty to like here and even the shit that doesn’t work gives you a little something to think about.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


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The killer dog movie is a funny genre.  Both funny haha and funny strange.  There aren’t a ton of these pictures and almost none are held in high regard.  On the humorous end it’s harder to take a killer dog seriously compared to a killer human.  On the strange end it’s also difficult to have your film revolve around a murderous canine because how do you make a dog as nuanced as a human character?  They can only do so much which limits the material you have to work with.  Basically you have two types of killer dogs, ones that are reality based and supernatural beasts.  From what I gather these movies tend to be reality based and Cujo is no exception.

Man oh man, back in the day Cujo was THE killer dog.  Not just killer dog picture but killer dog period.  Any unruly dog that showed up in movies and TV would get called Cujo as a joke and everyone got the reference.  You don’t hear it anymore though and haven’t in a pretty long while now that I think about it.  So because of the huge presence in pop culture when I grew up, and because it took me too damn long to get to it, my hopes were set pretty high.  This is a legendary mutt we’re talking about here.

Well there were more than a few surprises.  To start with this is more like two movies in one.  The first half is about Donna (Dee Wallace (The Lords of Salem)) cheating on her loving husband Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly (The Good Son)).  We never find out why or get details on the backgrounds of any of the characters for that matter.  I like Vic’s storyline though.  You see he’s under stress because his marketing campaign for a line of sugary cereal aimed at kids is going sideways due to the shit causing internal hemorrhaging.  Yikes!  So at least he has other stuff on his plate besides being angry about his wife’s affair.  Donna and Vic put on a brave front for their seven year old son Tad (Danny Pintauro (Who’s the Boss?)) because they don’t want him to know what’s going on.  Plus he’s got his own issues worrying about fuckin’ asshole monsters in his closet.

Meanwhile outside of town there’s this other less well-to-do family with a St. Bernard named Cujo.  The father is a mechanic and Vic goes to him to get his fancy car repaired.  It’s on the mailman’s recommendation who says he does good work and won’t charge an arm and a leg so why not, right?  And I guess Vic and Donna were satisfied because later on they take in Donna’s car to be fixed too.

Image result for cujo 1983You’re probably wondering what any of this shit has to do with a homicidal hound.  Well it turns out Cujo has contracted rabies from a bat and suddenly he ain’t looking so good.  His hearing is ultra sensitive so loud noises like a phone ringing drive him crazy, he becomes intensely aggressive towards everyone and his appearance is a mess.  He’s slobbering more and looks like he’s been rolling around in mud.

The second half of the movie involves Donna and Tad going to the mechanic to patch up her car but some of the family members have been wiped out by Cujo and some have gone away to visit relatives (sorry, you’ll have to watch to find out the fate of each person).  Vic isn’t around either.  He’s on a business trip to save the big account and to think about where he stands on his marriage.  Unfortunately Donna’s car completely breaks down stranding these two at the mechanic’s house in the middle of nowhere.  Ok, it’s Cujo time.

One of the coolest things in the film is mother and son aren’t even afforded the luxury of being stuck at a stranger’s house.  Instead they get trapped inside their tiny Ford Pinto with Cujo jumping back and forth between waiting patiently for them to make a move and attacking the vehicle periodically to try to break through.

As this scenario drags on everyone involved gets worn down exponentially.  Cujo appears more gnarly by the minute.  At the end he’s totally filthy and has so much goddamn fluid coming out of his face he almost looks like an alien creature.  And Donna and Tad go without food, water and respite from the sweltering heat for days.  Tad ends up having dreadful seizures and Donna becomes somewhat delirious.

The performances are incredible, especially Dee Wallace who goes through a full spectrum of emotions throughout the ordeal.  The parts where she’s pounced on by Cujo are genuinely frightening and when she finally gets to her breaking point she becomes one imposing motherfucker who will do whatever she needs to save herself and her son.

Image result for cujo 1983I can see why this piece stuck in people’s memories.  The neat high concept horror of the second half is really fantastic.  It was interesting to see how the film was going to use the limited space and resources available to the characters.  And of course you’re faced with the physical and psychological toll this is taking on everyone.  There are so many pictures out there that use the trapped-in-a-confined-space idea but most come off too gimmicky and/or the performances aren’t strong enough which is perhaps the most essential component to pulling off a play-like movie with a small ensemble cast.  If those performances stink the whole thing’s gonna flounder.  But this is a clear cut above.  I think they pulled it off pretty perfectly here.

There’s also the unique and thought provoking idea of having the villain be a rabid dog.  The animal wasn’t trained to be an attack dog by humans or is possessed by an evil spirit or anything.  Cujo does all this bad horrific shit because he’s sick.  He got a disease through no fault of his own (I think sticking your head in a rabbit warren and being bit by a rabies infested bat is fairly innocent) and now he’s a raging maniac slaughtering people at every turn.  He doesn’t want to be this way.  He can’t help it.  This has got to be one of the most sympathetic bad guys of all time.  I mean what did this fuckin’ dog ever do to deserve this?  Goddamn do I feel bad for the poor little guy.

Image result for cujo 1983 posterNow I haven’t seen every killer dog movie out there but this must be the best of the bunch.  It’s not only a smart idea with wonderful execution but it does everything you want it to do.  And just thinking quickly about it there are probably only two other killer dog pictures out there that are worth your time.  White Dog (which came out a year before Cujo actually) is about a racist dog and it’s a fascinating avenue to explore but it’s not really a horror film.  The other is Man’s Best Friend starring Lance Henriksen (Hard Target, Appaloosa).  It’s about a genetically modified super dog that swallows cats whole, pees acid and somehow knows how to cut the brakes on your car!  It’s a fun silly picture and I recommend it.

But getting back to Cujo, initially while watching I was worried because the first forty five mins really is a separate story unto itself.  Yes, you definitely need proper setup but it feels padded to bring the running time up to 90 mins.  However, once the killer dog stuff starts it’s smooth sailing.  You just need to have patience.

Oh shit, one last thing.  Jan de Bont (Die Hard, Black Rain) shot this but it’s really only during the Cujo shit (naturally) that you start to notice his brilliant handiwork.  I wonder if he got the gig based on his stint on Roar where he got right in the middle of filming dozens of lions and tigers (and almost got fucking scalped in the process).  I guess whoever hired him figured he could probably handle a dog.