Sunday, February 26, 2017

R.I.P., Bill Paxton

Man, this is tough. Paxton had such an irrepressible joie de vivre, this endlessly manic and goofy energy, that it was nearly impossible for me to watch him do his thing without having a grin plastered on my face the whole time. NEAR DARK, TRUE LIES, THE VAGRANT, you name it. He's a legend. The man battled a Terminator, an Alien, and a Predator, for godssakes. And he could do serious roles, too, like NIGHTCRAWLER, A SIMPLE PLAN, and APOLLO 13. He had dimension. As a director, his major output is comprised of the FISH HEADS music video and the religious thriller, FRAILTY. I suppose what I'm saying is that Paxton contained multitudes... whether he was rockin' leather pants and saying "Hasta...whatever!" in BOXING HELENA, making the frame story watchable in TITANIC (with a pirate earring), servin' stache in TOMBSTONE, playing a proto-Cannon Films punk in THE TERMINATOR, forever claiming "Game Over" as a Paxton-ism in ALIENS, under-fivin' it in COMMANDO, sizing up the PREDATOR (2), reviving an old catchphrase in SPY KIDS 3-D, promoting the Battle of the Bills (a.k.a. Paxton vs. Pullman) in BRAIN DEAD, or turning in one of the zaniest, most smart-assed performances of all time in NEAR DARK, a movie where he exclaims "Finger lickin' good!" after drinking a redneck's blood. Damn. Here's to you, Bill.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... FEDORA

Only now does it occur to me... that Billy Wilder, in his 1978 film FEDORA, simultaneously peels back the veneer on the more ghoulish aspects Old Hollywood and sends a nostalgic love letter to the studio system. Suffice it to say, there's a lot going on in this film, but I'll make it quick.

In a story told largely in flashback, William Holden plays a washed-up, elderly Hollywood producer named "Detweiler" (which sounds a lot like "Wilder" in passing conversation)

who travels to Greece in hopes of turning up "Fedora" (Marthe Keller), a reclusive Garbo-esque screen icon who resides on an island villa, along with her sleazy plastic surgeon (José Ferrer), a macabre Polish Countess (Hildegard Knef), and her bizarre housekeeper (Frances Sternhagen). Fedora has been in a state of seclusion since a nervous breakdown on her last film shoot (after a short-lived love affair with Michael York––played with good humor by Michael York).

There is more to "Fedora" herself than meets the eye, and it soon becomes apparent that she is probably being held prisoner by this menagerie of knockoff CLUE characters.

Aha! It was... the Housekeeper in the Bedroom with the Hidden Wall of Michael York Photos!

Without revealing the main payoff (which comes about an hour earlier than it should), I'll say that FEDORA often feels like a watered-down, latter-day Hitchcock/early De Palma flick, and its primary motivation seems to be a postmodern critique of Hollywood through a postmodern distortion of Billy Wilder's own SUNSET BOULEVARD. All of this is relatively interesting.

I wouldn't call it a failure by any means, but I also wouldn't say that it's particularly enjoyable. Perhaps it's only overdue for a campier remake by John Waters.

With Kathleen Turner as the Countess?

Anyway, the entire basis of this post is a hilarious moment where William Holden's character is lamenting the end of the studio system, by (playfully?) attacking the rising generation of young American filmmakers, the so-called '70s "movie brats," as the reason why he can't make movies anymore. He says,
 
"It's a whole different business now––the kids with beards have taken over! They don't need scripts! Just give 'em a handheld camera with a zoom lens!"

By "the kids with beards," he is surely referring to Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, George Lucas, et al., and while it's not a particularly vicious critique, it's interesting to see a contemporary (and possibly facetious) reaction from Wilder to a Hollywood he barely recognizes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE

Only now does it occur to me... that Jack Clayton should certainly be in the running for "greatest ever director of child actors." Anyone who has seen THE INNOCENTS cannot fail to be impressed by the child leads (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin), who infuse their roles with a spooky maturity and an uncanny depth that almost make you wonder if the children have been possessed for real. [I've already reviewed THE INNOCENTS (1961), and conclude that (alongside THE CHANGELING) it's probably the greatest "ghost story" film ever made.]

Clayton further demonstrated his proficiency in working with child actors in the (flawed, but interesting) adaptation of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983) and the (Harold Pinter-penned) domestic drama, THE PUMPKIN EATER (1964). I just finished watching OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE (1967), and I have to say he sort of outdoes himself, at least as far as the directing is concerned.

I wouldn't quite call OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE a horror film, but it's more macabre than your usual drama; between its atmosphere and pedigree, I think I can safely shoehorn it into my "Melancholy Horror" genre, which I've described at length here. It has an overcast, oddly unsettling pre-autumn color palette

that carries a "back to school" nostalgia alongside a kind of bleak-hearted English emptiness.

In its own way, I'd call it a minor influence on everything from CARRIE to THE BEGUILED to THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE.

The initial set-up (without getting too spoilery) is that a deeply religious mother has been living from her sickbed, trying to raise seven children of varying ages. Consequently, they have become quite self-sufficient but have developed a complicated socio-political structure, a structure whose key anchor is their daily religious instruction, ominously called "Mother Time."

When Mother dies, the children see little reason to alter the makeup of their insulated household, and therefore decide to bury her in the backyard garden without telling anyone. What follows is a sort of domesticated and more introverted version of LORD OF THE FLIES, filled with unexpected happenings and power struggles and séances and matriarchal cults––it's top-notch wacko melodrama, and I mean that as highest praise. That any of this works at all is a testament to Clayton and his talented child actors. Of course, one of the standouts is THE INNOCENTS' Pamela Franklin,

who seizes a mantle of power and is overwhelmed by deep, pubescent insecurities. The role requires her to run a gamut of human emotion that even lifelong devotees of the craft would find daunting. She is phenomenal.

Also, Dirk Bogarde is in this, too. I won't tell you under what circumstance he appears, but he knows this film belongs to the children and he does not attempt to upstage them.

(He has top billing in this movie, simply because the true stars are little-known child actors.)

In short, if you have an interest in morbid 1960s melodrama, a master's class in child acting, or what I term melancholy horror, OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE is a curiosity worth seeking out.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Updated, Browsable List of All Reviews: February 2017

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BALTIKA EXTRA 9 (2008, Russia)BANANAS (1971, Woody Allen)THE BAND WAGON (1953, Vincente Minnelli)BARB WIRE (1996, David Hogan)
BARFLY (1987, Barbet Schroeder)
BASKET CASE (1982, Frank Henenlotter)
BATMAN RETURNS (1992, Tim Burton)
BATTLE IN HEAVEN (2005, Carlos Reygadas)
THE BEACH (2000, Danny Boyle)
BEAT GIRL (1959, Edmond T. Gréville)
BEAT STREET (1984, Stan Lathan)
THE BEGUILED (1971, Don Siegel)
BEST WORST MOVIE (2009, Michael Stephenson)
BETRAYAL (2003, Mark L. Lester) BEVERLY HILLS COP II (1987, Tony Scott) BIG (1988, Penny Marshall)
BIG BLOW (2000, United States)
THE BIG CLEAN (198?, Michael Ironside)
THE BIG EASY (1986, Jim McBride)
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986, John Carpenter)
"BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA" (1986, The Coup de Villes)
BIGGER THAN LIFE (1956, Nicholas Ray)
BILL AND COO (1948, Dean Riesner)
THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970, Dario Argento)
BLACK BOOK (2006, Paul Verhoeven)
THE BLACK CAT (1981, Lucio Fulci)
THE BLACK CAT (2007, Stuart Gordon)
BLACK MOON RISING (1986, Harley Cokliss)
BLACK ROSES (1988, John Fasano) A BLADE IN THE DARK (1983, Lamberto Bava)
BLADE RUNNER (1982, Ridley Scott)BLIND FURY (1989, Philip Noyce)BLINDSIDE (1987, Paul Lynch) BLOOD BATH (1966, Jack Hill & Stephanie Rothman)
THE BLOOD OF HEROES (1989, David Webb Peoples)
BLOODSPORT (1988, Newt Arnold)
BLOODSPORT 2: THE NEXT KUMITE (1996, Alan Mehrez)BLOODSPORT III (1996, Alan Mehrez) BLOODSPORT 4: THE DARK KUMITE (1999, Elvis Restaino)BLUE CHIPS (1994, William Friedkin)
BLUE COLLAR (1978, Paul Schrader)
BLUE DIAMOND BEER (2005, China)
BLUE STEEL (1989, Kathryn Bigelow)
BLUE THUNDER (1983, John Badham)
THE BLOB (1988, Chuck Russell)
BLOOD WORK (2002, Clint Eastwood)
BOARDING GATE (2008, Olivier Assayas)
BOB ROBERTS (1992, Tim Robbins)
BODY DOUBLE (1984, Brian De Palma)
BODY BAGS (1993, John Carpenter & Tobe Hooper)
BODY OF EVIDENCE (1993, Uli Edel)
BODY PARTS (1991, Eric Red)
BONE TOMAHAWK (2015, S. Craig Zahler) BOOMERANG (1992, Reginald Hudlin) BORDELLO OF BLOOD (1996, Gilbert Adler)
BORDERLINE (1980, Jerrold Freedman)
BOXING HELENA (1993, Jennifer Chambers Lynch)
THE BOY WHO COULD FLY (1986, Nick Castle)
BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991, John Singleton)BRAIN DEAD (1990, Adam Simon)
BRAINSCAN (1994, John Flynn)
BREWSTER'S MILLIONS (1985, Walter Hill)
BRAZIL (1985, Terry Gilliam)
BREAKING GLASS (1980, Brian Gibson)
BROKEN ARROW (1996, John Woo)
BRONCO BILLY (1980, Clint Eastwood)
BRONX WARRIORS (1982, Enzo G. Castellari)
THE BROOD (1979, David Cronenberg)
THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (1978, Steve Rash)
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992, Fran Rubel Kazui)
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: "HALLOWEEN" (1997, Bruce Seth Green)
BUIO OMEGA (1979, Joe D'Amato)
BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013, Walter Hill)
BULLETPROOF (1988, Steve Carver)
BUNNY O'HARE (1971, Gerd Oswald)
THE BURNING (1981, Tony Maylam)
BURNT OFFERINGS (1976, Dan Curtis)
BURYING THE EX (2014, Joe Dante)
BUSINESS IS BUSINESS (1971, Paul Verhoeven) THE BUTLER (2013, Lee Daniels)
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