Thursday, May 28, 2020

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Only now does it occur to me... HANSEL AND GRETEL (1987)

Only now does it occur to me... how much narrative padding has to go into HANSEL AND GRETEL to make it feature-length. Let's be honest, the bullet points are these: mom and dad are struggling; Hansel and Gretel go into the woods on an errand (or are abandoned there by their parents, depending on the telling), find the witch's candy house, almost get eaten by the witch, and then they shove her into the oven. There's a reason why the best film version (Tim Burton's) runs about 35 minutes. But this is not early Tim Burton––it's a Cannon MovieTale.

That's right: the children's movie/fairy tale offshoot of Cannon Films (probably only created to get a tax break or something), the same one that brought us Christopher Walken as PUSS IN BOOTS. And, hoo boy, this thing is a mess. As the parents, we have David Warner (TIME BANDITS, TRON, TITANIC, TWIN PEAKS) and Emily Richards (EMPIRE OF THE SUN, ENEMY AT THE DOOR), who clearly deserve better. There's a lot of dignity up for grabs here. Look at Emily Richards, she's so upset she can barely stand up by herself. For starters, she's dressed like an Oktoberfest wench at a knock-off Disneyland.

And poor David Warner. He's trying his best. He's wearing a community theater peasant blouse they stole from a production of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE. They didn't even launder it first.

They pad this shit with 44 minutes of family drama before we even see the candy house. Lotta Aryan-types moping and puttering around a medieval cabin. It's like the world's worst Ingmar Bergman film. 

Finally, the candy house. You'd have to imagine this would be a holy grail for a production designer––you could really go nuts with it. Instead we get this sad sack shit.
They thought they could jazz it up with some half-assed star bows from the Dollar Store that were lying around in somebody's junk drawer. A child would have done a better job.
You'd think you couldn't get any more depressed. Maybe if they shoehorned in an Oscar-winning actress who deserves a lot better? Somebody like Cloris motherfuckin' Leachman (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, DILLINGER, DAISY MILLER, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN)?

At least she has fun with it. You can tell she wasn't directed at all. None of this movie was. Half of her shots have her leering and extending her fingernails like she was told to "act witchy" and then they forgot to say "Cut!" She gets to go full-HOCUS POCUS soon enough, and in one of the film's two stylistic decisions, they give her some SUSPIRIA-style Argento lighting. 
 
So there's that, at least. She just keeps going, though, cause, like I said, they totally forgot to say "Cut!"
She captures the kiddies and we get a few iconic images.

I recommend singing aloud––to the tune of Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog"––"Now you're messin' with a... Leach-man wiii-iiitch! Now you're messin' with a Leachman witch!"

We even learn that her grounds are populated with the still-living bodies of her victims, children who have been entombed within weeping gingerbread men:
"If you look closely, you can see the tears." Hell, that shoulda been the tag-line to this movie. Speaking of which, throughout, all of this is crosscut with David Warner wandering in the woods, looking for his kids.

It's very post-Beckett, and we return to it a comical number of times. Yep, time to check in on Warner again. No dialogue. Just fruitless searching. And disappointment. It's sweaty out there. If you look closely, you can see the tears.
He's giving us some real "I need to fire my agent" vibes. It's great.

They try to make it a plot point that the witch can't see without her magical, enchanted magnifying glass

but it's totally one of those plastic magnifying glasses that you get as a prize from a cereal box. It doesn't even have glass as a lens, only thickened plastic. Tough to sell it as a magic totem, is what I'm saying. Anyway, the kids lower her into a subterranean oven with a rope (which is much less satisfying than shoving her into a more conventional stove)
 
but then comes the coup de grâce, and the second creative stylistic decision the filmmakers made. That's right, the house explodes in a SHINING-style ejaculation of foamy Leachman blood: 
And it just

keeps

gushing!

The other kiddies break out of their gingerbread prisons
and, mercifully, it's over. This has been a Cannon MovieTale.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

"Mrs. Ives at the Shooting Gallery" in Hemingway Shorts

My latest short story, "Mrs. Ives at the Shooting Gallery," has been published in the fifth volume of Hemingway Shorts, the literary journal of The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, "a collection of short stories from new and engaged writers in the best tradition of Ernest Hemingway."

Friday, May 15, 2020

GIRLFRIEND FROM HELL––The Musical!

There's a new theatrical musical coming soon from my compatriots Sean Matthew Whiteford (writer), Rachel Klein (director), and Brian Campione (producer) that I must plug: it's called GIRLFRIEND FROM HELL, and it's the Real McCoy, the '80s throwback VHS madness that you deserve, equal parts ROCK N' ROLL NIGHTMARE/DEMON KNIGHT/BLACK ROSES/HELLO MARYLOU: PROM NIGHT 2/NIGHT OF THE DEMONS/etc. and some of the most fun I've had at the theater!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Only now does it occur to me... MAME (1974)

Only now does it occur to me... that an operetta-within-the-musical MAME can function as an important prequel to THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL. Yeah, that's right, I'm giving you all that May-the-Fourth-Be-With-You content you crave.

So in MAME, Auntie Mame's (Lucille Ball) buddy Vera Charles (Bea Arthur) is starring in an operetta as a lady astronomer.


In the operetta, Bea casts an eye to the stars, drawn by the promise

of astronomical knowledge and adventure among the galaxies.

Is it so hard to believe that the character––with the hard-headed determination, raw intellectualism, and charmingly bad attitude of a Bea Arthur––might escape her planet, cross the galaxy, and end up as Ackmena, the nightshift bartender of the Mos Eisley cantina, as depicted in the STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL?

No, it's not so hard to believe because it's precisely what happened.

Also, as I can happily inform you, Bea Arthur has never looked quite as much like Gene Simmons as she does here.

Bea in MAME.

Gene doing poor man's Tim Curry in NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE.

Only now does it occur to me.... STAR WARS: EPISODE VII––THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

Only now does it occur to me... that since I've amply demonstrated the inspiration that the STAR WARS sequel trilogy drew from something as humble as old random episodes of DROIDS, it's time to officially acknowledge that Oscar Isaac's character "Poe Dameron"

is clearly inspired by Nicolas Cage's character "Cameron Poe" from the masterpiece CON AIR.

That is all.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Only now does it occur to me... A STRANGER AMONG US (1992)

Only now does it occur to me... I'm pretty sure that once upon a time in the late '80s, somebody was watching a Harrison Ford double-feature: WITNESS and WORKING GIRL. They were left with the sensation that they wanted to remake WITNESS, but they also wanted to see Melanie Griffith continue doing her WORKING GIRL schtick. So they pitched the following: How 'bout WITNESS, except instead of Harrison Ford we have Melanie Griffith, and instead of the Amish we have the Brooklyn Hasidim?

Furthermore, it's directed by Sidney Lumet, who I have to imagine was a hired gun to give it "gritty NYC flavor." The problem is, instead of the next SERPICO or PRINCE OF THE CITY or DOG DAY AFTERNOON we have something a little closer to THE WIZ.
 
Well, if Club ZAP! is in a movie, it can't be all bad

So we have Melanie Griffith as a hard-boiled hot-doggin' cop who is totally subjected to the classic "next time you act like such a goddamned maverick I'm gonna need your badge and gun on my desk!" speech
only she's making no effort whatsoever to appear tough n' gritty, opting for the "Marilyn Monroe-via-BODY DOUBLE" baby voice throughout. Which is frankly kinda great.

Anyway, there have been some murders in the Flatbush Hasidic Jewish neighborhood, so she's sent in to go undercover (!) by a screenplay that A. thinks it's definitely going to win some Oscars, B. is dedicated to the idea that Melanie will learn a lot from the Hasidim and the Hasidim will learn a lot from Melanie, and C. really wants to shoehorn a bodice-ripping romance with a rabbi in here somewhere. This is obviously a recipe for success, if by success you mean alienating the religious community you are attempting to depict as well as causing a variety of audience members to snort their beverages through their noses. Allow me to demonstrate what I mean:
They're a regular Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant, aren't they. And that's right, her name is "Detective Eden"... like the garden from that book

She shore is a sassy shiksa

First, note Mia Sara (FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, LEGEND, TIMECOP) playing Hasid. Second, note that Melanie Griffith's character, when informed that someone "died in the camps," does not know what the camps are.

HEY WHAT DO YOU MEAN "YOU PEOPLE"

This is just poetry, a Song of Songs if you will

If FLEABAG brought us "Hot Priest Summer," truly A STRANGER AMONG US brings us "Lukewarm Rabbi Summer." The crux of it is that she doesn't even want to date him, it's just kind of an experiment to prove a point about repression or something

Along the way, in attempts to summon some New York-realness, we have young James Gandolfini as a low-level mobster:
 
John Pankow (TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.) as a likably dorky detective:
some full-FIDDLER dance scenes:

use of the brilliant catchphrase "Okey-dokey":
and an amazing scene where for some reason Melanie Griffith deputizes the rabbi:

This whole thing is so absurd that you end up being slightly more puzzled than offended. Also, they totally tried to sell it like it was from the same genre as BASIC INSTINCT:
 
a desperate early '90s decision that tells me they knew they had a real winner on their hands.