Monthly Archives: May 2015

Midnight Screening: Ed Wood

With the culmination of the month-long Worst or “Worst” feature on some of the alleged worst films ever made, what a better way to return to the weekly Midnight Screening series than a great film about the guy who made some of the alleged worst movies ever made…

As a rule, Tim Burton’s interpretation of “film” works best when it has a guiding light and a vision. In the early 1990s, Burton was about the most visionary mainstream American director you could find, doing nothing less than sneaking away with oodles of money from the Hollywood producers he played uneasy servant to and using that money to paint his personal fixations all over the screen. In recent years, he has become a passe parody of his former self, creating gluttonous products that feel more like someone’s idea of a “Tim Burton film” than the real deal. But the passion, the lusty Americana, and the campy, Christmas tree fuel-for-the-fire went away long ago. Money, as it so often does with directors, has made Burton a blase Hollywood director-for-hire. But for this enfant terrible, boredom was not always the rule of thumb… Continue reading

Worst or “Worst”: Heaven’s Gate

How does one begin to discuss Heaven’s Gate, arguably the single most infamous film in the entire history of the medium, and this is with the likes of Cannibal Holocaust released in the same year mind you. Michael Cimino, fresh off his dueling Oscar wins for Best Picture and Best Director for The Deer Hunter, his famed dissection of American malaise and disconnect pre, post, and during the Vietnam War, was given an ungodly amount of money by a major production company to make his next film. He then proceeded to greet that money with a severe and aggressive lack of regulation or order. He went over budget many times, and nearly destroyed his production studio, not to mention doing his fair share to sour the relationship between Hollywood production companies and American New Wave directors and ending the great long chain of challenging, pulsing American films to win over both the box office and the critical consensus in the 1970s. Never again would a Coppola or even a Scorsese have almost unmitigated access to the Hollywood well whenever they wanted, and for the next decade, Hollywood drama would be reduced to arguably the most sanitized, antiseptic period in its entire history.
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Worst or “Worst”: Santo on Screen Part 2: Santo Y Blue Demon Contra Dracula Y El Hombre Lobo

As much as 3 Dev Adam gleefully misinterprets Spider-Man and, to a lesser extent, Captain America and Santo, I have to give it up for Santo Y Blue Demon Contra Dracula Y El Hombre Lobo which misinterprets, as far as I can tell, none of its characters, but has a blast being on-point with them from beginning to end.

The title is, naturally, the plot. Mexican Luchadors Santo and Blue Demon (who I am gushing to report never once take their masks off in the film) fight Dracula and the Wolf Man (here named Rufus, and he puts in a game attempt to beat the two heroes for most ostentatious leisure-wear in the film). They also fight a heaping collection of quasi-vampiric zombies, but these are largely non-characters and not nearly so important. As for Dracula, however, what a pallid Hammer knock-off this guy is, roiling and masquerading in the oiliest idea of suave ever known to man, coming off more like a pick-up artist than a foul demon of the night. His sideburns are quintessential examples of the form, and even when he goes to sleep in his coffin, he does so in full regalia and even brings his cane with him.
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Worst or “Worst”: Santo on Screen Part 1: 3 Dev Adam

The likes of 3 Dev Adam (literally, “Three Giant Men”) and its ilk have been parodied and shot through with satire for decades, but this Turkish 1973 anti-classic is the real deal. A … I don’t particularly feel comfortable using words like “action” or “gangster” or “crime” film, so let us not resort to genre in describing it. Let us say instead that it is a film where a guinea-pig toting Snidely Whiplash dressed up as Spider-Man (and presumably several clones of himself, but more on that later) runs a crime syndicate in Turkey and the combined forces of Earth’s greatest heroes are necessary to stop him. Which should be its own genre, honestly. Besides, with Spider-Man as a villain, it already makes 3 Dev Adam more warped and twisted and heinous than the intentionally parodic Italian Spider-Man (3 Dev Adam being one of the premier foreign interpretations of Western superheros found in the filmic landscape, the very idea that Italian Spider-Man was parodying). Continue reading

Worst or “Worst”: The Wicker Man

In The Wicker Man, Nicolas Cage pretends to be a police officer and a nice man, and director Neil LaBute has aspirations for only the former. What exactly is he policing? Women, or at least, his own internal dread about women ever having any remote semblance of power or control in society. And he isn’t even trying to hide himself under a veneer of velvety niceness. Continue reading

Worst or “Worst”: Battlefield Earth

First things first when discussing Battlefield Earth: Scientology is a red herring. Criticizing the film for its association with the religion is petty and largely recalcitrant to sensible criticism. In addition, the connection to Scientology is also largely inessential, and in this respect, Battlefield Earth is utilitarian. It gives the reviewer caverns and caravans of badness to discuss, and it spends its entire existence excavating new tombs of incompetence to prop up inadequately in its museum of all that is and has been bad about cinema in the century of its existence. Next to the crimes that Battlefield Earth performs on the world, Scientology is ephemeral. Continue reading

Pop!: Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid

butch_cassidy_-_h_-_2016It does not take a historian to note how malnourished and jagged the late 1960s were in American society, or to point out the cataclysm that was the destruction of a nation whose identity had for centuries been predicated on turning the other cheek and smoothing over tension with a facade of nationalist fervor and small-town boot-strap pulling. Things erupted in the late ’60s, the nation fell apart, and film went with it, using that dislocation and terror to create a new breed of films that felt bruised and alienated and hurting from that social apprehension down to their very bones.
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Progenitors: Poltergeist (original)

Not any sort of official series, but especially during the summer months, remakes and sequels are, if nothing else, great excuses to review the films that came before. As I am above no excuse to review a film, I must answer the call.

I would like so much to proclaim the original Poltergeist as a fascinatingly accidental volcanic meeting of disparate, jagged minds, the harsh nihilism of director Tobe Hooper jutting out into the heart of the sticky-sweet nostalgia of producer Steven Spielberg, whose nostalgia is in turn engulfing the nihilism of the director. Ideally, the two seminal figures in arguably the first AAA horror film of the early ’80s (the genre’s introduction into the big leagues of crass, craven ’80s consumerism) would have had their nails at each others’ throats like a cage match between a devil-worshiping, corpse-eating, grave-residing raven and an elegant, iconographic American eagle. Even if the two minds burnt each other out, the battle would be a bile-spewing front-row-seater if ever there was one.

At its best, Poltergeist almost gets there. Introducing us to Steven and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) who reside in a regimented, rigid California suburb with their three children: Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Carol Anne (Heather O’ Rourke), all of whom bear a grand-old Americana name if ever there was one. Now, most suburbs have their everyday problems…rats, tax collectors, salmon shorts, but ghosts is another story (I must concede, however, that salmon shorts may be the greater evil still). One night, Carole Anne discovers first-hand that something is up, and as time moves on, things begin to bump a little too much in the night for this family to handle.
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Worst or “Worst”: After Earth

After Earth is the sort of bad movie anyone could have made, which is disappointing after the release of three tried and true “M. Night Shyamalan”-encrusted bad movies of the sort that only his holiness could make. Or Kirk Cameron, maybe. But the point is there was a certain personal touch of badness on display, and following that tripartite masterpiece of anti-filmmaking, After Earth is just bad movie leftovers. Continue reading

Film Favorites: The Thin Red Line

Edited January 2016

A word on Terrence Malick, and not a terribly original word at that: the crux of the Malick state of mind, for at least its pre-Tree of Life existence, is fundamentally cinematic poetry, with any presumption of an artistically unmediated reality shot-through with an oneiric potency that nonetheless conjures Malick’s unique fascination with the vibrations of human being better than any more obviously “realistic” film could convey. Malick was introduced to the world through a high-minded treatise on the idea of an American New Wave film, releasing his debut, 1973’s Badlands, in a thick-on-the-ground decade of American grit and what many directors would call “realism”. The late ’60s and early ’70s had their Bonnies and their Clydes, their Bunches that were Wild, and even their Streets of indefatigable Meannness, and the consensus around those films was that they gallantly and brutally brought some fighting words for the Old Hollywood ways of geniality and safety. The general consensus is, in other words, that America got nasty in the ’70s, and specifically, that their films brought the “hard-won realism” in a way America never had before.

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