Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Pros: After two plus years, and a difficult, Shire-scouring move-in process, I'm back in my previously burned out, fully refurbished digs. A radical change in the menu at the dayjob means a bunch of new challenges and, happily, a lot of writing about film. My piece on the resurrection of William Friedkin's Sorcerer gets a delighted response from the director himself on Twitter (thanks, Brian). The woman I love. Welcome visits from parents. Reading Lovecraft on stage, wearing only a veil of machine fog. Hitting the stage with three fine actors, none of whom I'd worked with before, in my "Queen of the Nile" adaptation for the Dark Room's tenth edition of Twilight Zone: Live. A slew of fine contemporary movies laying waste to the notion that cinema is dead. A robust (though embattled) rep scene in San Francisco showing great stuff in all formats. New audience members appearing at these venues and realizing what they have.

Cons: My new home a battleground (in a blogpost, at least) in an ongoing war. That war of course the dot-com fronted gentrification that is making San Francisco blander and unaffordable. Expanded editorial duties at the dayjob distract from other writing outlets, including, I'm sad to say, the House of Sparrows. Getting older and being too exhausted or otherwise engaged to do stuff. Too many friends dealing with too much shit. Republican intransigence/inability to campaign on issues. Democratic gutlessness/inability to turn GOP weakness to their advantage. The deaths of too many cinematic titans, including but not limited to Ebert, Hinds, O'Toole, Fontaine, Walker, etc. etc. fucking etc.

Movies that stuck: The Place Behind The Pines, Mai Morire, The Search for Emak Bakia, Something In The Air, Viola, The Hunt, Frances Ha, The World's End, 12 Years A Slave, The Great Beauty

Movies that stunk: Trance, The Counselor

Movies that deserved better: (recognition) The Last Stand, The Lone Ranger; (better distribution) Byzantium, which I didn't get to see; (ANY distribution) Me & You, Bertolucci's intimate and lovely coming-of-age tale that should've played beyond US festivals.

I'm wishing you nothing but the best in the coming year. With the move out of the way my deck is clear, and I'm ready to jump in and engage. Join me.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Stewart Copeland's music gets into my system first. He makes the first sound on Peter Gabriel's SO: a single hi-hit ticking and splashing, heralding the "Red Rain" that opens the album so devastatingly. Over the course of the summer of 1986, SO changes my life completely. A couple of months later in Utah, watching my first episode of THE EQUALIZER on CBS, Copeland's name again, this time as composer of the formidable and energizing score of that series. The next day, a record/tape store at the Crossroads mall yields a cut-out tape of his score for RUMBLE FISH, I movie I recalled but had never gotten to see. The tape engages me immediately, and though Copeland's acoustic/electric soundscape for Hinton & Coppola's Tulsa is light years away from the electronic urban hellscape he composed for THE EQUALIZER, it remains in heavy rotation in the coming years. Any musical instrument in my possession has some of Copeland's motifs played on it; my old manual typewriter is integrated into the mutt percussion set-up taking up more space in my basement room.

I catch up with the movie belatedly, on video, a couple of years later. As foreign as it is initially, with its time-lapsed clouds billowing over its young, going-nowhere, gang-fighting protagonists, it too engages me immediately. An only child, I view the story of brothers Rusty James (Matt Dillon, uncannily channeling my friend James) and the Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Roarke, just as uncannily embodying Sean) from some distance, but from that vantage appreciate the care taken in its characters, its music, its look, and its other sounds. Coppola's mission had always been to make an art movie for the kids: my own eyes were opening to experimental/avant-garde music, film and art, and so I was squarely in Coppola's target demographic. The kids in John Hughes' movies talked like we imagined we would, at our best, but something about Coppola's movie felt more honest, more real to me. I don't see in black and white, there were few fog machines present in my world, and my family's suburban home was far from any noisy factory setting. And yet RUMBLE FISH looked and felt like the world in which I lived.

It was until well after I moved to San Francisco, in the heart of Coppola territory, that I finally saw the movie on film for the first time. Tulsa breathes on film, the ghostly clouds and fog taking on an ethereal life, Rusty James seen as larger-than-life as he aspires to be, his stupidity and vulnerability rendered crystal clear. The Motorcycle Boy, too, appears vast and wise, as regal as the characters regard him ("royalty in exile", as one character puts it), but we see to his weariness, his uneasiness in his own skin. Coppola swings for the fences in stylizing the thing, and it still looks and feels quite unlike any youth-targeted movie I've ever seen (not to say that it's the only such film with avant-garde ambitions; Phil Joanou worked similar magic mining an ordinary high school for otherworldy atmosphere in THREE O'CLOCK HIGH). Set in a curious otherworld that resembles an earlier decade (but set, according to Coppola, in the near future), the thing remains timeless.

And to be quite honest I'm not sure why its hold on me remains. I've outgrown other movies of my youth, or enjoy some of them without nearly the stake that I had in them back then. Maybe the distance between me and the story remains, allowing me to look at it objectively still now, and find new things. Maybe, estranged as I am from James and Sean (with no chance to reconcile with the latter, may he rest in peace), I value the movie for bringing them back. Maybe I value it for bringing ME back. Or maybe, just maybe, it's as great a movie as I know, as I feel, it is.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

October, Day 31 - DUSK

(Please note: the following is the concluding chapter in an ongoing story begun last Halloween. If you would like to start at the beginning, and I hope you will, the first chapter in the story can be found here. Each chapter ends with a link to the next one, so you can click-through and read the whole thing, if so inclined. Please enjoy. And Happy Halloween!)

Bigbaddrac's Twitter feed.

DUSK (De Santos, 12) Another negligible YA fantasy fuckfest, elevated only by Peyton's performance as Come-On-That-HAS-To-Be-Dracula

SamGFan's Twitter feed.

and that OLD guy as Lord Darkbloom was TOTALLY WRONG. HE DIES IN THE BOOK. WTF #dusk

Bigbaddrac's Twitter feed.

@SamGFan that OLD guy is what they call an Actor. Nothing you'd know about.

SamGFan's Twitter feed.

@Bigbaddrac whatever. He's WRONG. HE WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE. #dusk

Bigbaddrac's Twitter feed.

@SamGFan the future sucks because of you.

Internet Movie DataBase.

Box Office Milestone: "Dusk" Crossing $200 Million Domestically

28 October 2012 12:30 PM, PDT | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

The teen horror romance sensation Dusk isn't going dark anytime soon. Despite some fan controversy about liberties taken with Stacy Lao's best-selling novel, the first movie in what is already slated to be the next YA fantasy franchise remains strong at the box office. Stars Samantha Gillenwater and Travis Sibley have already signed on for the follow-up, The Ocean at Night. No word if the second film will continue to rewrite (with Lao's blessing) the fan-favorite epic and resurrect horror legend Matthew Peyton for another go as Hamilton Darkbloom, whose relationship with Gillenwater's heroine Devona Bradshaw is less combative (though no less intense) in the movie than in Lao's original novel. Photos: Horror Crit

Read more


Toni Blackthorn's blog, The Bay of Angels.

You know what, screw it. I don't care what any of you whiny whippersnappers say: My word is final on this.

Just 'cause you're all invested in your favorite book and wanna be all whiny 'cause the movie's all different and wah wah wah, shut up. You got two things I never got when I was your age.

1) You got Matthew Peyton in a new vampire movie. That you got to see on the big screen. (It's in a goddamn digiprint, sure, but it's better than nothing.)


2) You got Matthew Peyton in a new vampire movie playing effin' Dracula. Yeah yeah, I know he's Hamilton Darbloom and why didn't he die cuz he dies in the book and shut up. We here at the Bay of Angels (all one of me) have gone all Zapruder movie on this, and we've sat thru Dusk more times than we care to admit for ten minutes of Peyton. And in those ten minutes, Peyton's playing DRA-GOOOOOO-LLYA. THE EVIDENCE:

--The ring. Lord Darkbloom's got some fairly fancy and modern threads in this (and give'em credit, Peyton looks...downright smokin' in some shots) but if you look at his left hand HE'S WEARING DRACULA'S ONYX RING. They never zoom on it like OMG HE'S WEARING THE RING HE'S DRACULA, maybe cuz the director credits us with some attention to detail, or some intelligence. Hell, maybe it's just fanservice, but dammit, that's the ring.

--The speech. Darkbloom rolls his aaarrrrrs just a leetle bit, like Dracula. And no dammit, that is not 'cause Peyton's got no range. I've seen him play Brit, American, French, Latin (oooh, that was a bad one), and all other kinds of accents. Plus he studied that stuff, and as recently as last year, in the British movie CONSUL executed what I'm told is a flawless Eastern European accent. So yes, that's Dracula's accent what Lord Darkbloom be talkin' wid, and it's not the only one Peyton's got. It's a choice, I tell you.

--The triad connection. Okay, it's a little thin, but Darkbloom talking about that skirmish with the triads in the 90s had to be a reference to FIFTY GUNS AGAINST DRACULA. But wait, you say, that was in the book, so point to you, sonny. Maybe.

--The tenderness. Darkbloom's affection for Devona has a faint hint of the chemistry we saw between Peyton and Jenna Clark back in THE RED RED BLOOD OF DRACULA. There's a whiff of respect in that chemistry - in the book Darkbloom's got no time for Devona, but movie Darkbloom (who, remember is DRACULA), maybe a bit more progressive since RED RED BLOOD, less inclined from that experience to write off a tough young sista jumping into the vampire game. If you bookfans actually want Darkbloom to be the one-note shallow jerk that I hear he is in the book, then you're welcome to him, but Peyton's giving you something better.

But the final piece of evidence is exactly what you've been bitching about since a month before the damn thing even opened. Yes, Darkbloom/Dracula doesn't die. And we know that Peyton asked not to be killed in the movie, and there's a very simple reason for that. And no, you cynical bitches, it's not because he's washed up and wants to stay in the damn franchise. What you see in DUSK, when Devona leaves the chamber and that goooooorgeous last shot of Peyton on the throne, smiling all mysterious and not dying, is a new wrinkle, a new moment, a shift in film history, or at least a key moment, an affirmation of one of the greatest partnerships in horror movie history. And honestly, the third time I saw the movie it finally clicked with me, and I sat in my seat and I cried and cried and cried.

The reason Darkbloom/Dracula/Peyton doesn't get killed in Dusk...is because nobody kills Peyton's Dracula but TED EFFING AFFELDT.

I rest, your honors.

Matthew Peyton's Diary covering the dates and events in question has not been published.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


I can not dismiss the artistry of Cormac McCarthy as easily as his detractors. And I will not read any kind of depth into his nihilism, as would his defenders. I certainly agree that McCarthy is the guiding auteur of this thing more than director Ridley Scott, but what the hell do we get out of it?

Perhaps his detractors, finding his shallow worldview given such a clear and uncluttered depiction here, are realizing that they overpraised NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN back in the day, and trying to backtrack. McCarthy's "we're trapped by our bad decisions, everything and everyone is fucked" semi-philosophy always struck me as high school-level nihilism. Even given a high shine and executed by strong actors, as it is here, it's still high school nihilism. Such a worldview is better (or is at least more honestly) played for comedy, as the Coens did in their post-NO COUNTRY project BURN AFTER READING, or as Javier Bardem does in his fantastic monologue in this movie, recalling his girlfriend's sexual encounter with his car.

The movie moves with style and grace, and does find variations on its one-note message. McCarthy's style tends to give each member of the cast the same voice (much in the manner of Tarantino or Sorkin). Happily, there is poetry in that language, and the movie's greatest gift is letting its veteran cast go to town with fairly lengthy and eloquent passages (among the supporting players, Bruno Ganz finds fine purchase in his scene as an eternally wise diamond merchant; Ruben Blades offers a perfect sardonic world-weariness to his own summation near the end of the movie). But in the end its all lip service to the same petty, faux-deep nihilism, and no matter how eloquently it delivers its message, THE COUNSELOR can't hide the fact that it isn't saying a damn thing.

Monday, October 14, 2013

BATMAN: Strange Apparitions

I was six years old on the rainy, rainy day I spent at my dad's office. We'd stopped in at the nearby 7-11 for coffee (for him), pastries, and comics to give me something to do while he worked. One of those comics was Detective Comics #475, "The Laughing Fish". Between the tight and offbeat story by Steve Englehart, the gorgeous, moody, and occasionally abstract art of Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin, and the weather that perfectly matched the story, I was dropkicked into a familiar but darker world of storytelling. I'd never be the same.

Strange Apparitions collects the complete six-issue run on 'Tec by Englehart, Rogers, & Austin (with a couple issues before & after to fill things out). I'm amused by the rather regular assertions that the run is the DEFINITIVE Batman - I certainly agree, but did legions of fans have the same life-defining experience with it that I did? Or was "The Laughing Fish" just coincidentally the exact book I needed at the exact time in my life to kick me down a path that continues to enlighten & define me?

(Sidebar: in 1988, some friends and I formed a performance art group called The Laughing Fish. About ten years later, two days before our final performance together in New York, the episode of Batman: The Animated Series based on it aired on the local WB affiliate. Finally, my own batshit idea to stage the comic as a modern Noh drama died about a third of the way into the scripting stage.)

But the six-issue run is stellar, solidifying a darker direction for the character begun previously (even the arch narration woven throughout, which evokes the voice of the narrator from the campy 60s TV show, adds a sinister dimension to the goings-on). A nice revamp of villains like Hugo Strange and Deadshot that would define those characters for decades to come, fine adventures featuring the Penguin and Robin (the latter clearly defined as no longer a sidekick, but now an adult peer of our hero). A definitive romantic interest in Silver St. Cloud, still for many the only woman in Batman's life. And, of course, a crucial two-part Joker story, craftily built to in the previous issues, and as three-dimensional and crucial a realization of the character as Moore and Bolland's THE KILLING JOKE in the following decade.

The edition is a fine collection, with a lengthy intro by Englehart outlining the run's history. He also calls attention to how the first two issues were written Marvel-style, allowing readers a side-by-side comparison between Marvel-style and full-script comic writing (and, to me, a defining and decisive argument in favor of the latter). I can't believe it's out of print, but that's just one of many, many dumb things happening at DC Comics presently.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dead City Flashback: Chemlab

Oh, my, this: 1990?, maybe '91: a cheap anniversary party at the (OLD) 9:30 Club, free admission, with a performance by this band. I knew them solely by reputation, and for some reason it was easy enough for me to swing by, grab a drink, hear the band, then split. Not a huge affair at all. I learned later that some local scenesters refused to take the band seriously: it was an inhouse band of sorts, funded heavily by the owners of Fifth Colvmn, better known for their famous "FUCK ART LET'S KILL" t-shirts than for having anything resembling musical talent. But everything seemed to align on that particular evening. It was at a time when I was taking Clubland (and my trips to its various regions) very seriously, and at this moment my adolescent, illformed apocalyptic aesthetic matched perfectly with the adolescent, illformed apocalyptic aesthetic of the band I was watching. Jared was visibly, completely smashed out of his mind, and he nailed every single second. People I would come to know later who saw it said it was nothing special. But to this day I number it among the five-or-so best shows I have ever seen.

I picked up 10 TON PRESSURE on cassette at Smash! in Georgetown (where else?) for maybe five dollars. I would often listen to it while driving. The tape deck in my Dad's Olds (my usual ride, when I was home) would play things a mite faster than it should have; it pitched everything a note too high, a beat too fast, and it would be noticeably off. True, perhaps, to the particular energy of the band that made it, 10 TON PRESSURE sounded FANTASTIC on this wayward sound system.

Why this ongoing nostalgia? The usual longing to escape a difficult present into an idealized past? Or trying to recapture an energy when I was younger and angrier, an energy I need now, in this chaotic moment, more than ever? to be continued.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


And some movies cut so damn close you almost want to recuse yourself from talking about them. And though they never made me uncomfortable, the similarities between me and Gary King, Simon Pegg's strung-out, hard-partying protagonist, made themselves keenly known: an occasionally overwhelming sense of nostalgia; the all-black uniform of your youth, slightly (but only slightly) modified here in our mid-40s; and a curiously abiding, nay unshakeable faith in the Sisters of Mercy's FLOODLAND. And though I'm more aware than Gary that "This Corrosion" is only half-serious (director Edgar Wright is definitely in on the joke), I suspect we both grow silent during "Driven Like The Snow."

Gary's so at odds with the modern world that he gets the lads back together to recreate an epic but incomplete pub crawl that, in retrospect, was their last real night of freedom. And though none of the lads (Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan in uniformly well-observed turns) can seem to communicate to Gary that he's living too too much in the past, soon even Gary realizes that all is not right in Newton Haven.

It's a grand and funny conclusion to Pegg & Wright's Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy; the comedy lands and the fight scenes (built around the notion that our heroes become better fighters the drunker they get) match those of any purer action movie. Its portrait of a small town beset by unseen and sinister forces is social genre fiction in line with Wyndham. But more than any of its substantial gifts, I'm savoring its bittersweet taste of melancholy. Wright has commented that even when things are good one is always drawn home, driven by a strange need to go back. And as specifically as my life resonates with Gary's (though I like to think I'm not quite so addled, or pained), I suspect this aspect of the movie will resonate with many. It's a clever and thrilling movie, to be sure, but one with much to say about our world and those who live discontentedly within it, whether they acknowledge this discontent or not.

FLOODLAND begins righteously with meticulously produced Eldritch/Steinman epics, and ends in Never Land (fragments); epic but incomplete. THE WORLD'S END also ends in a kind of Never Land (fragments). Like FLOODLAND, it bestows a certain energy, a righteous rock & roll thrill. You leave it with a new perspective on the world, and its goofily apocalyptic pop playing in your head. Like FLOODLAND, I can't wait to see it again.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Perversely, perhaps, I find myself longing for an American remake of this thing. Thomas Vinterberg's moving, harrowing tale concerns a kindly schoolteacher (Mads Mikkelsen, worthy of every award he's won) facing alienation and worse when a misunderstanding leads to accusations of pedophilia. The story's remarkably free of one-dimensional villains (or villains of any kind, really), but generates powerful tension as rumors escalate beyond the point of no return. Though a universal story to be sure, it could easily happen in the American heartland. Yet I wonder if American producers and audients would shun the movie for capturing their reflections all too well, if anyone seeing it would fess up to being capable of the kind of hysteria the movie so beautifully portrays. In the end it asks us how well any of us really know or trust our children, or those tasked with their care. Serling would have admired it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

David Lynch, THE BIG DREAM

Some thoughts on the first listen of the new David Lynch joint:

--Kind of a rough start - I was beginning to fear that the best track off the disc would be the Bob Dylan "cover". There's a slow, almost minimalist spin to the lyrics, where a tense situation grows moreso through the repetition of certain details, as Lynch's guitars (including an acoustic) and a deep, nearly subliminal synth percolate threateningly in the background. But it doesn't peak there.

--The start is admittedly uneven - the 2am invocation of "last call" doesn't really land. Lynch's music has advanced and grown intriguingly more complex, but in at least the first half his approach to the lyrics wasn't working. (More than once I consider what this would have been like as a series of instrumental sketches.) It sounds more like an album of songs than CRAZY CLOWN TIME did (whether or not CCT was such an album was never really an issue). Nice variations on his mutant blues surface later in the album, and "We Rolled Together" is pretty damn fine, despite its uncanny resemblance to The Police's "Invisible Sun".

--Holy crap, the synth washes in "the line it curves" are absolutely fucking beautiful.

--The album's a kind of transition for Lynch - it's not as consistent as CRAZY CLOWN TIME, nor quite as unsettling (though I'm not sure it really tries for the latter). There are some moments in THE BIG DREAM that transcend the previous album, though I think the next album is where shit's really going to come together.

--In the end, the process of his music doesn't seem the same as that of his films; each movie is its own complete entity, but I think music is a more amorphous entity for Lynch, a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself. The albums feel more like sketchbooks than complete, unified works, and I'm pretty sure that he sees his albums and his movies in completely different terms. The albums feel like steps in an ongoing process, and though THE BIG DREAM doesn't feel like a self-contained success, its high points show Lynch fully engaged with that process. The road, the tracks, the train all figure prominently here, and Lynch is riding to the end. And even (especially!) if he can't see the final destination, the ride's well worth taking.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Happy Birthday, Ken Russell!

I mentioned over on Twitter that I was more excited to celebrate Ken Russell's birthday than I was the 4th of July. And as delighted as I am to have a job where writing a celebratory post on the occasion is a duty specifically called for in my job description, I have, of course, not exhausted everything I want to say about this estimable figure.

I came in at the tail end of the main of his career - of all of his films I only ever saw WHORE during its theatrical run. I've been lucky enough to catch up with some of his work in rep screenings, and other films (LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM and particularly SALOME'S LAST DANCE, possibly my favorite cinematic adaptation of a play) were mainstays of my video watching then and now.

Though he'd had a long and provocative life and career (which only got more and more outrageous the older he got), I was still stunned and saddened by his death in November 2011. One naturally assumes that such larger-than-life folk will remain, but of course this isn't so.

Reading up on Russell prior to writing about him I clicked through to the article on "A Kitten for Hitler", a rare Internet-only film from Russell. Challenged in 2007 to make a film that he would himself want to have banned, Russell created a short, bizarre, and horribly, horribly wrong little eight-minute short. The hilariously shit CGI is only the start of it. The thing is on YouTube. Consider yourself warned.

Today with Russell firmly on my mind, I kept laughing about this movie. Marvelling at its sheer wrongness, but delighted that there's still a huge body of work to be experienced for the first time. It should hold me over until 2019, when his Richard Strauss documentary can be legally shown again.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Sometimes you need to clear the cobwebs and just talk about a movie you enjoy. And some movies just roll over your critical faculties until all you can do is enumerate the ways in which the movie is awesome. THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES is such a movie. And it is awesome for so, so many reasons.

A co-production of Hammer Films and the Shaw Brothers, LEGEND is every bit as delightful as you'd hope from that promising combo. Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), on a lecture tour of China, finds his words and warnings falling on deaf ears. But the student Hsi Ching (David Chiang) is all ears, and enlists the good doctor on a mission to liberate his village from the death grip of a cult of insidious vampires. And we just kick back and watch the two halves on this co-production find some awesome common ground, as Hammer atmospherics and earthiness serve as a springboard for honorable kung fu warriors taking on a slew of HK-style hopping vampires and the hideously-made-up vampire disciples that control them.

The American edit, THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA, feels more like the desperate cash-in on the kung fu craze that the movie fundamentally was (and I suspect it was cut to fit on the bottoms of double bills). What's charming about LEGEND is that it feels less like a cash-in and more like a conversation, with two directors well versed in their respective traditions (Roy Ward Baker and a shamefully uncredited Chang Cheh) giving and taking, with a script that puts these traditions on equal, mutually respectful footing.

And holy crap, look at Cushing.

Cushing must have been about 60 when the cameras started rolling on this, and one can only speculate on what he thought of the insane movie he'd been drop-kicked into. But damned if he doesn't give it his all. You get your usual authoritarian and involving delivery of vampire history, and his dialogue with Chiang is absolutely winning, elevating the thing into a charming, East/West buddy movie. And though Cushing doesn't fly on any wires or execute any flying kicks, he's not too old to get his hands a little dirty in the fight sequences (see above). A look into the archives (including Cushing's costume sketches for the film) suggests that he was no less engaged in working on this film than any of his others. And it's easy to imagine him looking around the set, watching these fighters executing their choreography, shrugging and saying "I'll do what I can." And then going to work.

And that's as fine an image to hold of the man on this, the week of his centenary. Wishing the late Peter Cushing a very happy 100th birthday, and submitting this piece in honor of the Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon happening all week.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


So grateful for the chance to get reacquainted with this, a hidden gem among Stephen King adaptations. King himself adapts two of his NIGHT SHIFT stories ("Quitters, Inc." & "The Ledge"), and pens a new closing segment ("The General"). So distinct is each segment from the other two that director Lewis Teague is directing three different movies. And he's directing a cat in all of them.

A blogger of my acquaintance makes a credible case that rather than an anthology, it's all one story with a plucky and determined (not to mention insanely well-trained and directed) cat as its protagonist. I would add that the film even follows its feline hero through Hell (Quitters Inc. - a terrifying no-escape situation) into Purgatory (The Ledge - trial by heights) before ending in Heaven (The General - home at last).

Kudoes to Teague, King, and the four credited animal trainers in this film; I'm hard pressed to recall another animal character (a cat, no less) that makes such a strong impression. But each of the segments has its strengths: James Woods provides a grounded and believable performance in the Twilight Zone-like Quitters, Inc.; Kenneth McMillan's mania dances beautifully with Robert Hays' fear-then-determination in The Ledge; and there's genuine suspense in The General's cat-on-troll fight.

Stephen King movies came and went throughout the 80s, but something about CAT'S EYE held it a little higher than the others. It became something of a staple on cable, which is where I initially saw it - indeed, I caught it tonight on Encore's Movieplex station, which seems to be bearing the standard of pan-&-scan, weirdly random cable programming that made Cinemax such a favorite destination during my teenage years. If pressed, I'd name "The Ledge" as my favorite segment, for the intensity of the McMillan/Hays conflict, the way the cat plays his shifting loyalties, and the sound effect that caps it. Rare for anthologies like this, a browse of reviews on line finds each of the three segments with its champions. This lack of consensus speaks to something special in it, an offbeat charm that the decades haven't diminished, whether you enjoy it as a trio of Stephen King stories, an undersung gem in the offbeat but entertaining filmography of Lewis Teague, or the tale of a resourceful, well-traveled, and ultimately lovable cat.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


A good friend once commented that THE DA VINCI CODE existed for the sole purpose of making stupid people feel smart. "Well, it's got Da Vinci, and he's smart, and it's about a code, and I figured it all out, so I'm smart! Wa-hey!" I can not speak to the accuracy of this assessment of THE DA VINCI CODE, and yet I feel, having seen Danny Boyle's TRANCE, that I have experienced the exact movie my friend was describing.

The movie is as empty as the frame held above by Vincent Cassel. For all its games of dress-up in the complexities of the human psyche and entry-level art history, TRANCE has nothing to offer us. No credible, dimensional characters (the leads are revealed to be as shallow and duplicitous as the multi-ethnic but otherwise interchangeable thugs that make up the cast); no reason to give a damn about the fate of the missing painting that serves as the movie's MacGuffin; no real plot on offer that isn't driven by the schemes of these shallowly drawn and uninvolving characters. The truly lovely cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle and brisk filmmaking do their damnedest to make something look like it's going on, but it very carefully explains every stray image, sealing everything so neatly that even the most dense viewer is sure to not be left behind. If after seeing this you have a desire to go again to catch the details you've missed, then you've been conned, and are a suitable target for the anti-human disdain this smug motion picture oozes from every scene.

Friday, April 5, 2013

200, for Roger

Representation is, in fact, important.

And so it was that young, prepubescent, bespectacled, asthmatic, schlubby me was somewhat adrift in a childhood free of identifiable role models. No one on television looked like me, or did anything within my sphere to emulate.


Davey Marlin-Jones (who was just as bespectacled and a hell of a lot weirder than I) was on television reviewing films for Eyewitness News. Which started to unlock something in my head...

...until viewings of Sneak Previews not just unlocked that door, but blew it wide open. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert weren't just relatable, they were smart. The way some kids looked at athletes with tangible dreams of growing up to be one, so did I see these guys as my own heroes. I was always a movie-loving kid, but these guys honed my nascent cinephilia. Siskel & Ebert had me looking at movies outside my comfort zone at an early age, enabling a number of cinematic epiphanies possible. Sure, my family took me to STAR WARS like any other child of my generation, but THE SHOOTING PARTY was the movie that truly sent me and showed me what movies could address. Sneak Previews didn't point me at that film, but it made my experience of it possible.

With Siskel and other partners, into soloville as Thee Recognizable Face and Voice of The Movies, Ebert continued to serve admirably as both reviewer AND critic (remember, they aren't the same thing). You could trust his opinions, whether you agreed with them or not. The disagreements were a challenge to articulate your own position. And the agreements would open new doors to beloved, familiar works. And he was refreshingly capable of human error (as when he picked up a certain rumor about a local movie palace a year and a half ago, but why dredge up those details?).

I had something much larger in mind for my 200th post here (which, indeed, this is), but that piece has been floundering under the weight of what I wanted it to become. It's necessary for me, for everyone touched by Roger's example, to articulate what that example meant to them. I can't imagine what my life would be like without that early formative influence. I'm sad to say goodbye to him, but the fire he stoked in me burns still. And in everything before these 200 posts, through them, and everything after.

Thanks, Roger. G'night.

Monday, March 4, 2013


1831, Sydney, Australia: Among the ne'er-do-wells and convicted criminals making a new start in this sweaty liminal zone is Charles Adare (Michael Wilding), the cousin of the colony's new governor. Charles is taken in by shadowy but prosperous businessman Samson Flusky (Joseph Cotten), whose troubled and alcoholic wife Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman) was acquainted with Charles back in Ireland. Charles' growing fondness for Henrietta gradually brings her out of her shell, but also brings to light a variety of demons that have lurked quiet in the Flusky household, which threaten to destroy all in their wake.

Goddammit, this movie should have been HUGE for director Alfred Hitchcock, returning him as it does to the Gothic milieu of REBECCA and building confidently on the long-take experiments of ROPE. It's one of his most technically assured films, and he'd aided immeasurably in its execution by the artfully garish Technicolor photography of Jack Cardiff and an incredibly lightfooted crew of camera operators. The long takes stalk through the manor and draw you in, giving the actors time and space to fully inhabit their characters and put you away. (Among other noteworthy scenes, Bergman delivers a confession that, at the time, was the longest speech recorded in a feature film - I think it's the finest piece of acting I've ever seen her do, in its breadth and restraint.) The result is one of Hitchcock's most emotionally involving films, a powerful revitalization of the Gothic melodrama that remains absolutely fresh and engaging.

It is believed that its box office failure was the result of an audience unwilling to follow Hitchcock into non-thriller territory (which is baffling, since in its quiet way it's one of his most thrilling films), and/or the public's shunning of Bergman after her affair with Roberto Rossellini became public. Part of me thinks that the failure of this movie either depressed Hitchcock so much that he wound up phoning in STAGE FRIGHT, or that he deliberately phoned it in as a fuck you to that neglectful audience. Their stupid loss became our stupid loss, and UNDER CAPRICORN remains one of Hitchcock's more obscure films. It remains a truly misunderstood gem, and well worth seeking out.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Eight years after an unknown event brings the dead back to life to feast on the flesh of the living, one young zombie (call him R) shuffles through an aimless existence; though vocally reduced to monosyllables, R is able to take startlingly clear perspective on his life with a robust inner monologue. Protracted circumstances find him feeling oddly protective toward Julie, a young survivor suspicious of her undead savior. But R's growing feelings for Julie begin to have startling effects on both of them, and the shattered world around them.

WARM BODIES is certain to be deemed not-hardcore-enough by the zombie faithful. But though clearly pitched mainly at a young adult audience, its orientation is pitched toward fantasy rather than pig-guts-and-fake-blood. As such, it's absolutely charming, and disarmingly earnest. Nicholas Hoult is as adept at R's zombie meanderings as his glib, smart voice-over; Teresa Palmer offers a solid and believable young heroine in Julie. (Rob Corddry brings a nice energy to a solid supporting arc R's zombie peer M.) Jonathan Levine keeps the whole thing balanced, mixing some overt Shakespeare references, a nice wrinkle on zombie-unlife-as-contemporary-metaphor, and, most crucially of all, an unflinchingly sincere sense of romance. Whether or not the hardcore zombie crowd are open-hearted enough to accept it is open to question; the rest of us get to enjoy the spectacle of unabashed romantics injecting new life into the dead genre.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


My first great moviegoing experience of the year came courtesy of Noir City, from your friends at the Film Noir Foundation. The screening of a new DCP of a respected but little seen 3-D noir was always going to be an intriguing event; this particular presentation, the result not of corporate repackaging but some insane curatorial diligence (including a lucky find at an estate sale by the late 3-D producer Ray Zone), was nothing short of a goddamn miracle. Eddie Muller and co. have presented the fruit of their efforts back to 20th Century Fox (who had no idea this work was even being done on the film), and I'm hoping that digital rep offerings will include other left-field projects like this (or the lovely fan-made DCP of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE that made the rounds last year). The screening offered real excitement that at least this moviegoer usually doesn't feel in the face of digital cinema. And as a nice little bonus, the movie was pretty damn terrific, too.

INFERNO is a gritty and involving piece of work, with Robert Ryan battling for survival in the Mojave Desert (even as he contemplates how he'll dispatch the cheating wife and lover who marooned him there, if he survives). Director Roy Ward Baker, a perversely prolific journeyman whose filmography includes as diverse offerings as A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, patiently creates a tense and involving film blanc, trading up noir's customary shadows for an ever-beating sun. The roughness of the digital transfer was evident in many of the more brightly lit scenes, but even the crystalline points of pixelation added a nice, somewhat psychedelic edge to the proceedings, endowing the screening with some of the character that an occasional scratch lends to a 35mm print. And though the film came out of Hollywood's initial 3-D craze, Baker's handling of 3-D is more subtle, putting the audience among the story's environments rather than constantly throwing things in our faces. Even if Baker does fling a snake or a rock at the camera from time to time, the effect is more startling given the involvement he's already made us feel. And the cast just brings it home: Robert Ryan is compelling as a man who just won't quit (unless he does), and Rhonda Fleming and William Lundigan are just as strong as the lovers dealing with the consequences of their plan.

(Image from They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To, who's just as high on the movie as I am.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


We can blame it on RESERVOIR DOGS, I think, the spate of self-aware indie gangster movies with glib, pop culture savvy criminals double- and triple-crossing each other in a comfortably shady milieu. These things are as thick on the ground as low-budget zombie movies, all trying to capture the same lightning that Tarantino did with his startling (and, it should be said, still effective) debut. But the problem with all of these fan-made films is that they're too mired in other movies - set in a world made up of established types rather than people, all of these gangster movies fail to ultimately be about anything more substantive than other gangster movies.

Andrew Dominik is just as aware of these formulae as we are, and his gangland opus KILLING THEM SOFTLY, from a novel by THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE scribe George Higgins, is a bracing change of pace. It's by no means a perfect film; though of course all films should be About Something, Domink's sledgehammer insistence on underscoring the economic desperation of his milieu in every scene is somewhat tiresome (every dive bar in Boston seems to have their TV tuned to CNN). And yet Dominik's not above juicing his action with forays into high style: the ironic juxtaposition of a romantic ballad with an extreme-slo-mo gangland execution, pretty as it is, is nothing we haven't seen before. (The scoring of a drug trip scene with the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" is a particularly lazy choice.)

In the end these are quibbles. For all of the film's strident symbolism, Domink's characters all live in something recognizably close to our world. They deal with tangible concerns, their dialogue refreshingly real with a noticeable and welcome absence of cod-Tarantino glibness. Some of our finest characters actors (many of whom I suspect worked for scale simply to be involved) step up to the plate and run with the fine, literary dialogue. And its glorious final scene, in which the nigh-unstoppable, status-quo-enforcing hitman played by Brad Pitt is finally rendered vulnerable (in lovely counterpoint to the message of solidarity and hope that's been blaring from all screens everywhere) is a perfect capper.

Monday, January 21, 2013

RIP Michael Winner

(from the archives, a piece written in mid-2005.)

So now I'm at home, watching AMC's OVERKILL DOUBLE BILL, Charles Bronson shooting the hammiest packs of 80s street punks you ever saw in DEATH WISHes II and III. Both were directed by Michael Winner - he directed the controversial and interesting DEATH WISH a decade prior (and worked with Bronson prior to that on the lean and gripping THE MECHANIC before that), but by this time he really was slumming. Indeed, it was during the 80s that he unleashed the sleazy, wrong-headed and hilarious teen-in-peril schlock-a-thon SCREAM FOR HELP, the only movie I still love for totally wrong reasons (Time Out raved: "Will cause Winner fans to re-view earlier work to reassess a hitherto unappreciated comic talent."). The films viewed tonight are pretty unrelenting - the world seems to consist solely of victims, badly dressed street punks, and Bronson. II is a bit more raw and painful (though a great deal of the nauseating violence has been cut out), as the remainder of Bronson's family are killed, and he sets off on a vendetta against the bastards who killed them. They belong to a larger gang, so Bronson kills the rest of them, too, as long as he's there.

The movie takes itself very seriously, though a young Laurence Fishburne wears goofy new wave shades and dances while licking a switchblade. The urban grime is piled on so thick you gotta wade through it - and holy God, I don't believe that a) Laurence Fishburne was the dude who tried to hide behind the ghettoblaster during the big gunfight about 90 minutes in and b) AMC actually kept in the bit where his eye falls out. It's like I got my own little grindhouse right here in my apartment. Right on.

(NOTE: Jimmy Page composed and performed the score to DEATH WISH II. John Paul Jones composed and conducted the score to SCREAM FOR HELP. What hold did Michael Winner have over the members of Led Zeppelin that enabled him to use their talents in such twisted service? And what excuse can be made for Jones' berzerk and overwrought symphonic score for SCREAM FOR HELP [Time Out again: "...soundtrack so far removed from the action as to be positively existential."]?)

DEATH WISH III's a great deal sillier and schlockier, with only friends of Bronson getting hurt or killed this time out. Anarchy reigns to a ludicrous degree - we don't see a woman walking down a street carrying a purse without watching some punks run up and snatch it. A whole neighborhood is terrorized by these troublesome jerks, but with the blessing of a corrupt police lieutenant (Ed Lauter, natch) Bronson shows up to set things right and avenge the violence inflicted on his friends. He gets into it, too, and is seen doing things like wasting a couple of punks with an elephant gun for fucking with his car radio. But they keep coming after his friends, and even throw buddy Martin Balsam down a fire escape in probably the most half-assed Hitchcock homage ever committed to film. Soon the violence escalates and you have a full-tilt battle royale, as Bronson takes a big Browning machine gun and mows down legions of punks, and the good citizens of the neighborhood take their guns out of their bureaus to help take back the streets. The leader of the street punks (who, it must be pointed out, sports a spectacularly asinine reverse mohawk) is dispatched in an effective and hilarious manner, and Bronson, empowered and absolved by Lauter's manly nod of endorsement, packs his bags and walks down the street into the sunset. Fantastic.

Due respect to the late Michael Winner, who entertained even at his sleaziest.

Friday, January 4, 2013


Winter break means getting caught up on some movies I'd missed during the year. I'd been curious about this, from the YA novel by Suzanne Collins. What I'd read about it made me suspicious of the nerdmob's knee-jerk allegations that the book (and, by extension, the film) was a ripoff of Battle Royale, but I kept sleeping on chances to watch it and gauge the similarities for myself.

Ultimately the story (of a young woman's fight in a gladiatorial battle televised throughout a futuristic dystopia) is a distinctly American take on its familiar subject matter. It is as awash in direct references to Greek & Roman cultures as it is in similarities to Battle Royale or other hunting-humans stories, but its take on the specifically American aspects of a media-saturated culture (and the attending desensitization to both violence and the more systemic suffering of others) makes it A Young Person's Guide to Class Warfare, Volume One (of Three). The story's focus on protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, as assured as ever) further muddies any comparison to other, similar stories. Is it the most effective treatment of this kind of story? Perhaps not (and, yes, I do believe that BATTLE ROYALE is a stronger film), but for better or for worse it is its own story, with its own agenda, its own strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately its own power.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

the top tens, 2012

"Best"? No (that would be presumptuous - I didn't see everything released this year, here or anywhere else), but these are the movies I valued more than the others this year.

The Top Ten, in order seen:

HOLY MOTORS (my favorite film of the year)

The Other Top Ten, also in order seen: