Friday, October 31, 2014

Exit Halloween, Enter...The Halloween Hangover!


Man, I had such high hopes for this month. Watch some unviewed movies, write some reviews here, really celebrate the run-up to Halloween. But life, as it so often does, just got in the way. Parental visit, prolific work on the workblog sapping energies for the House. Even the monkeys who cohabitate here were more diligent in celebrating horror movies in the run-up. Plus there was the additional weird juju on the streets of my (gentrifying massively but still beloved) City as the San Francisco Giants took the wild card spot and wound up winning the damn World Series. Always happy to see the black and orange do well (and I'm much happier that such success has smiled on the Baumgarner Giants than the Bonds ones). My only real objection to the post-season is its distraction from the weeks heading to Halloween; it's a key part of my autumn, and it makes me sad when the Giants steal its focus. I don't get mad at anybody over it, it just kinda saddens me.

And yet my appetite for cinematic and other spookiness is rarely sated come All Saints Day, and I often extend the celebration into November for a week or three. (Indeed, a couple of years back I had a great November experience at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto with the two-fer of THE WOLF MAN and THE MUMMY'S HAND, which I declared the real conclusion to the Halloween season.) And so, since the Castro Theatre has a nice 35mm two-fer of Don't Look Now and Daughters of Darkness on the 20th, the celebration of Halloween will continue here at the House of Sparrows until then, with the full intention to present more writing here. Chip away at the October Wall, report on some of the movies seen theatrically, etc.

Whether you're taking your costumed children out for candy, taking in a sexy party, or holing up with horror cinema, I wish you all the best the spooky season has to offer.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Wall of October...

I'm calling this the October Wall. Wanting, as usual, to observe the Halloween seasons by watching as many horror movies as I can (and guilty, as usual, that I'm not more present here, on my own damn blog, my beloved House of Sparrows), I've pulled all of the discs with unseen or newish horror movies with the intention of watching and writing about them. Included are some discs that have sat on my shelf unwatched since purchase, some are gifts that I haven't yet viewed (ISN'T THAT JUST THE WORST), and some are sets containing movies with which I simply want to better acquaint myself. Plus there's that little envelope on the right containing a nice little surprise, borrowed from a friend which I don't doubt will be a verrrrry interesting view...

Anyway, you've got some giallo, a Curtis Harrington two-fer,

This won't quite be the crazy-ambitious 31 Days of Halloween some bloggers are shooting for. I'm hoping for ten at least capsule-length reviews of the movies under consideration, which'll be a nice little horror feast in the run-up to The Big Day. Hope you'll join me!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A FULLER LIFE

On paper the documentary couldn't be simpler: combine images and film shot by the late Samuel Fuller (both from his strident, incendiarily leftist motion pictures and from reels shot throughout his life) with excerpts from his autobiography, read by about fifteen of his colleagues, collaborators, and kindred spirits. But director Samantha Fuller has assembled a tribute to her remarkable father that transcends this simple framework and winds up absorbing us with his life, his images, his words.

Words. As she tells us early on, every word in the movie after her introduction is her father's, and all paying tribute (reading from various positions in Fuller's packed basement archive) can't help but endow their readings with their own gritty Fullerisms. Aaron suggested that all of them (particularly those who had been directed by Fuller) remain to a degree possessed by him, which isn't quite the term I'd use. One wonders how deeply Samantha Fuller asked her readers to approximate her father's cadences; I suspect many of them easily, even subconsciously adopted them as they recalled their own shared journeys with Fuller. It's this sharing, a mutual understanding between Fuller and his collaborators that resonates most powerfully, and these journeys find powerful, moving parallels in the texts read for us.

The pairing of each section of text with its reader is often inspired. James Franco obligatorily shows up and is given the movie's first text, in which Fuller recalls his youthful innocence before taking the newspaper job that would shape his life. Jennifer Beals warmly reads Fuller's recollections of these assignments, illustrated by her performance as a photojournalist in Fuller's The Madonna and the Dragon. Arguably the most powerful impression is left by Bill Duke, whose downright Shakespearean reading of Fuller's recollections of coming of age as a crime reporter speaks to a shared experience, and deep reservoirs of abiding love and respect. Naked Kiss star Constance Towers makes a similar impression as she reads Fuller's cranky, take-no-prisoners recollections of his filmmaking ethos; working with Fuller clearly ignited something inside Towers, and half a century later it clearly still burns inside her.

One would love to hear any of the assembled readers take on the reading a Fuller novel for a books-on=tape/disc edition. Not just because they would all rock the assignment (they all certainly would), but because there's so much pleasure inherent in Fuller's words, and seeing & hearing these talented and respectful collaborators bringing those words to life. Whatever Fuller imparted to these people still clearly lives inside them; thanks to Samantha Fuller's loving, moving tribute, Fuller's life and words resonate inside us as well.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

I really should just recuse myself from conversations about Guardians of the Galaxy - I'm in a frustrating position where Marvel is churning out movies I'd have adored as a kid, or even a youngish adult. But I can't bring myself to savor them, or even care much about them. And though I won't deny that I've had emotional experiences while watching many of those movies (including Guardians, it should be said), those emotions fly away as soon as I'm out of the theatre. But I went to see Guardians opening weekend, mainly because if I was going to find out what happened in it I wanted to go to the source, rather than have it spoiled for me on line. This outweighed any actual enthusiasm I had for the movie, which immediately put us at a disadvantage with each other.

In the act of watching it, I was engaged. After the earthbound, thriller-style heroics of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the dropkicking of the Marvel franchise into colorful/boldly realized space opera is a smart decision. It's great to look at, but has a decent emotional core, with Chris Pratt likeable indeed as nominal team-core Star-Lord. His reconnection with his deceased mother toward the climax is one of Marvel's most bracing cinematic moments. There's plenty to enjoy there, and of course the thing has found a huge, probably record-breaking audience.


But dammit, all these little things kept nudging me out of it. Rocket Raccoon is an irresistible conceit, but the character himself, though resourceful and clever, is quippy without being funny, and comes across as merely bitchy. (This is a common trait to many live-action Marvel characters - it singlehandedly drove me away from the Agents of SHIELD TV show.) Michael Rooker is believably gruff as alien tough guy Yondu Udonta, but in his climactic action sequence outsources his badassery to the flying knife he whistles to. Villain Ronan the Accuser cuts a great visual figure, but rings hollow. The "outsiders find family with one another" trope was already hashed out in The Avengers, and I'm tired of the geek-stroking inherent in the subtext.

And the fucking 70s pop tunes all over the soundtrack - I like that Star-Lord's prized possession is a mixtape from his mother, but I kept wondering why a woman who had undergone the incredible experience of parenting a child with an alien would have such pedestrian taste in music. It's a commercially sound decision to go with more familiar, crowd-pleasing tunes here than, say, the progressive rock the story screams for, and many have mentioned the tunes as one of their favorite things about it. But the juxtaposition of Earth's pop music with high-flying space action is not new, and has worked better elsewhere. And I'll take Sammy Hagar's title track from the Heavy Metal soundtrack to anything from Guardians.

So why even write about it? I'm not going to convince anyone that they're wrong to love this movie (and wouldn't dream of trying). Maybe I'm just trying to figure out why these movies do so much for so many, yet find no purchase with me. Maybe I'm as irresistibly drawn to sounding off about it on line as I was to seeing it. Or maybe there's some subliminal illuminati shit in Marvel movies that I'm immune to. That scenario makes just as much sense as me willingly looking a gift horse in the mouth. Who knows? No conclusion here, just an aging comic book-loving cinephile talking to himself. You're a gem for reading this far. Thank you. Sincerely.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Harry Potter 2

An irregular but ongoing series of posts continue as I watch the Harry Potter series for the first time. And so, having excitedly gotten into the series and committed to seeing it all, we (my gf and I) move without hesitation into:


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

My gf said that she very nearly gave up on the series after this movie, and I can understand why. Like a number of sequels this one seems to confuse expansion with forward momentum. It's pretty much another Harry Potter story rather than the second part of an overall narrative, and though it's nice that it's stand-alone one wonders if it's really necessary. It does broaden the world of the series, introducing new characters (a flying car, a CGI elf, and an effete new teacher played with gusto by Kenneth Branagh) and realms around Hogwarts (including a forbidden forest chock-full of giant arachnids, the grandfather of which is voiced with lovely weariness by Julian Glover).

And the story does send Harry and Ron and Hermione back through many of the same plot points as the the first, with a twist: Harry receives warning that he mustn't return to Hogwarts, the platform on track 9-3/4 rejects him, nemesis Draco Malfoy becomes Harry's counterpart on Slytherin's Quidditch team, etc. And an engaging mystery drives the thing through some well-directed setpieces. But with everything feeling carefully reset at the end there's a feeling that this whole story could have been skipped over. That the production design and music feel less intricate only adds to the overall feeling of sequelitis.

I'm pleased to read that the filmmakers also thought this movie was a bit rushed; it seems director/producer Chris Columbus extended the production time for each movie going forward after this (which must have been a relief for John Williams, whose packed schedule around this time accounts for Chamber's less ambitious score). Quite excited for the third film, which I am assured is where the series well and truly takes off.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Harry Potter 1

My girlfriend has been waiting (usually patiently) for me to catch up on the Harry Potter movie series. I'm only now starting the series from the beginning, and can't account for why I waited - I'd never had anything against the series, and actually liked the idea of a youth-oriented fantasy series that acknowledged the aging of its characters and darkened along the way. Hearing the San Francisco Symphony play an extended piece of John Williams' score a summer or two ago stoked some curiosity, but only now, after some gentle (mostly) nudging from milady, am I watching the series. I'll be sketching thoughts on each movie as I see it here.


Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone

--Had known that the first story was more youth-friendly before the series veered into darker realms but we start off with a protagonist orphaned as a baby, then living life pretty much abused by his aunt, uncle, and cousin. Even without the magical trappings HP is pretty hardcore. D tells me that a number of religious parents groups have objected to the series and I'm not surprised.

--Potter hasn't even arrived at Hogwarts and I'm wishing I'd seen these movies theatrically, in 35mm. For whatever reason I wasn't ready to commit.

--Williams' score and themes are absolutely gorgeous. His knack for instrumentation and picking just the right tone for each of his motifs is undiminished. (I'd love to see him direct a movie, just to see what would happen.)

--The visual design is just as strong as the music - together they're more than enough to carry the thing. D is a total fan of the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings movies, and was delighted that The Hobbit was extended into three movies. Her basic argument is that it means spending more time in Middle Earth, which I totally get. The world of Harry Potter is a fun one to inhabit, and the prospect of doing so over the course of eight two-hours-plus features is a pleasing one.

--I'm watching Harry's relationships with Ron & Hermione gel, watching the supporting cast come into play, sensing that there's more than enough character drama here to fuel the series. Something about the specific dark pitch of the fantasy here in HP1 is making me anticipate nothing less than SCORCHED FUCKING EARTH in Deathly Hallows. Alan Rickman's Snape and Tom Felton's Draco Malfoy are particularly intriguing.

--I muse more than once that this is awfully metal for an ostensibly youth-focused story. It pleases me.

--Daniel Radcliffe hadn't, by the time of The Woman In Black, escaped his reliance on facial expressions to register emotions. I didn't feel much from him in that Hammer movie, and so the performance of the young Radcliffe here isn't quite grabbing me either. I don't have the same problem with either Emma Watson or Rupert Grint as Hermione and Ron.

--For my problems with the lead, and director Chris Columbus' sometimes clunky storytelling, the world of the story and characters within it have more than secured my interest. I'm fully engaged with this thing and genuinely excited to see where it goes.

To the Chamber of Secrets!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Rik

As a media-loving teen in the 80s it was full-time work following up on my various media obsessions. I was huge into Monty Python, and had a jones for all related British humor, staying up late to catch Fawlty Towers reruns on PBS, for example. So when MTV, in a then-novel foray into non-music programming, announced the airing of their first episode of The Young Ones, I eagerly tuned in.

There had been a timelessness to Python, but The Young Ones was more recognizably NOW, injecting elements of punk and other contemporary music that was beginning to fascinate me. The Young Ones seemed to jump out of the set; Python seemed to fester sillily, but The Young Ones was a moshpit. But its celebration of rule-breaking anarchy was tempered with self-reflection. Rik, the in-house anarchist, was often revealed to have crippling self-doubt, often stopping short when considering the reality of the party line he spewed so explosively. I wasn't surprised that Rik Mayall, the actor who played Rik, was one of the lead writers of the show, since Rik seemed to have more shade and substance than his three fellow students. He was a nice warning to a budding malcontent, and, in retrospect, looms large in my personal lexicon.

I'd kept only sporadically in touch with Mayall's oeuvre over the last few years - some swear that Drop Dead Fred is a classic, but it seemed much less than what it could have been. But I was pleased that he kept working, and was sorry to hear of his injuries later in his career. I was sad, though perhaps not surprised, to hear of his untimely death.

There's much to enjoy and appreciate in looking back on his work - memories of Rik's more insane moments, of Mayall's more bittersweet and shaded television experiments. And indeed of his role in a strong, countercultural movement in British comedy that has made as indelible a stamp on comedy as we know it as the surreal antic of Python before it.

I raise one to him, smiling even as I mourn.

Thanks, Rik. G'night.