Thursday, April 23, 2015

Only now does it occur to me... THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD

Only now does it occur to me... that even in a movie where he's in a wheelchair,

Note the wig.

Christopher Walken manages to shoehorn in... a dance sequence!


Granted, it's via a short-lived flashback, but boy oh boy does the man love to dance.

In all, THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD is sort of a mediocre "Guys Doing a Job" crime movie, injected with 90s indie quirkiness and a slightly out-of-place existential tone.  Clearly, the Weinsteins were trying to capture some Tarantino-ish lightning in a bottle once again, but it doesn't quite take.   However, the Guys Doing the Job are a terrific ensemble, as Andy Garcia assembles a team that includes trailer trash William Forsythe, sporting rainbow-colored tattoos and looking like his character from STONE COLD:

Christopher Lloyd as a crabby porno theater projectionist who's always complaining about how he just "lost a toe!":

Treat Williams as a psychotic ex-boxer and current funeral home employee who trains using corpses as punching bags:


and Bill Nunn, shot from low angles like his character Radio Raheem from DO THE RIGHT THING:

Bill Nunn in Denver...

...and Bed-Stuy.

Plus, we got Fairuza Balk as a streetwalker

doing that same sassy/punk/smartass thing she does in almost every 90s movie, but that's why we love her.

And closing it out over here is Steve Buscemi as "Mister Shhh," the master hitman––
 
who feels more like a character from a Rodriguez film instead of this one, but I s'pose that's fine, too. 

In all, a 90s curiosity that's far from essential viewing––but it does function as a tremendous repository of bizarre and brilliant acting choices.

Monday, April 20, 2015

"420 Fest: Higher Channels" Screening Tonight


420 Fest Trailer from Carl Conway Maguire on Vimeo.

Described as "an evening of late night cable television programming with a particularly dazed demographic in mind," Video Mass' 420 Fest will be screening tonight at at Videology (308 Bedford Avenue) in Brooklyn.  

Among the more than 25 short films will be two by yours truly, including FANNY THE FRUGAL FOODIE and VISIT GRAND CANYON.   Tickets are five dollars and available here, and the entire program will be screening four times: at 7:00 PM, 8:30 PM, 10:15 PM, and 12:00 AM.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

VISIT GRAND CANYON and FANNY THE FRUGAL FOODIE at 420 Fest

Two new short films of mine, VISIT GRAND CANYON (a paranoid travelogue)
 
and FANNY THE FRUGAL FOODIE (a low-rent cooking show starring Jillaine Gill),
 
will be debuting on Monday, April 20th, as a part of Video Mass' 420 Fest: Higher Channels, described as "an evening of late night cable television programming with a particularly dazed demographic in mind."  (Previous fests have included Spooky Fest I, Spooky Fest II, Love Fest, and Flux Fest.)

The screenings will be held at Videology (308 Bedford Avenue) in Brooklyn, tickets are five dollars and are available here, and the entire program will be screening four times: at 7:00 PM, 8:30 PM, 10:15 PM, and 12:00 AM.  Hope to see some of you there!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Only now does it occur to me... THE LAST OF SHEILA

Only now does it occur to me... that I can't decide what the most bizarre moment is in THE LAST OF SHEILA––is it super young Ian McShane ("Al Swearingen" on DEADWOOD) playing around with freaky hand puppets:

is it James Mason surrounded by Shirley Temple-wannabes on set of a dog meat commercial (hopefully they mean dog food):

or is it James Coburn in full hag-drag, looking like Bette Davis in WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?:


The less you know going in the better, though I must say this movie is a wonderfully mean-spirited whodunit; dark, labyrinthine, and hilarious. It seems almost too strange to really exist: with a screenplay by Broadway's Stephen Sondheim and PSYCHO's Anthony Perkins, based on the real-life scavenger hunt/murder mystery parties they would host across Manhattan in the 60s; flamboyant, evocative direction by Herbert Ross (FOOTLOOSE, STEEL MAGNOLIAS); and starring an absurdly eclectic cast (the aforementioned James Coburn, James Mason, and Ian McShane as well as Raquel Welch, Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, Joan Hackett and a closing credits song by Bette Midler?!).  If any of this appeals to you, then, hoo-boy––you gotta check this out.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Film Review: LEONARD PART 6 (1987, Paul Weiland & Bill Cosby)

Stars: –1 of 5.
Running Time: 85 minutes.
Tag-line: "His daughter is engaged to a man old enough to be his father. His estranged wife behaves like she is younger than their daughter. And now his government has asked him to save the world. Again."
Notable Cast or Crew: Bill Cosby, Tom Courtenay (BILLY LIAR, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO), Joe Don Baker (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, CAPE FEAR '91), Moses Gunn (SHAFT, FIRESTARTER, THE NEVERENDING STORY), Gloria Foster (NOTHING BUT A MAN, THE MATRIX), Anna Levine (UNFORGIVEN, TRUE ROMANCE), Grace Zabriskie (TWIN PEAKS, WILD AT HEART), Victoria Rowell (THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, HERMAN'S HEAD).
Best One-liner: No.

About fifteen years ago, I started to really get into "so bad they're good" movies from the 1980s and began to research the canon in earnest.  I assembled a "to-see" list that grew with more and more titles each year, though I still have the original short-list.  It's filled with films that have become personal favorites, like TROLL 2, CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC, THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS: THE MOVIE, REVENGE OF THE NINJA, THE APPLE, and DEATH WISH 3; plus loads of others that have fascinated and entertained, like MAC AND ME, MOONWALKER, and HOWARD THE DUCK.  I went back to the list last month and saw that I had crossed off every title: except for... LEONARD PART 6.

This week, against my better judgment, I finally saw it.   Imagine the scene from PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, when Pee-Wee is saving the animals from the burning pet store.  Each time he goes back in, he sees the snakes, wrinkles his nose, and moves on to a different animal.  But eventually he must grab the snakes.  They're the last animal he saves, and, screaming, he emerges from the pet store and collapses on the ground, fists full of snakes.  That's LEONARD PART 6 in a nutshell.

LEONARD PART 6––conceived, co-written, produced by and starring Bill Cosby at the height of his fame and power––is a glimpse into a disjointed, agitated mind, and like how MOONWALKER reveals a bizarre slice of Michael Jackson's soul, or how THE ROOM shows us Tommy Wiseau's, or how HAUSU shows us Nobuhiko Obayashi's, it is similarly illuminating.  However, the major difference is these latter three films function as entertainment––unhinged, mind-blowing, spit-take-inducing entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless.  LEONARD PART 6 is not entertainment.  It's an echo chamber, an optical illusion, a complex delusion, a tower of self-congratulating sanctimony, built, brick by brick, on the backs of sycophants and yes men.  I exclaimed aloud at several points, "Was this even made by human beings?"

Ostensibly, LEONARD PART 6 is the sixth film in a fictitious, James-Bond-style series; a spoof of secret agent films, populated by groan-inducing non-sequiturs and a peculiar, enduring sense of self-importance.  It builds cartoonish villains out of animal rights activists/vegetarians and has the gall to possess a superior, priggish attitude toward female nudity (is this a reference to Lisa Bonet's appearing in ANGEL HEART against Cosby's wishes?).

The first image is a cartoon rabbit accompanied by the demonic giggling of a little girl (?)

and one of the last is a stop-motion Bill Cosby riding an ostrich away from an enormous explosion.

The film is certain that both of these are some of the funniest images committed to celluloid.  There is a sureness––Cosby's conviction in his own genius––that shines throughout, and this would make the film a vaguely skin-crawling experience even if we didn't grasp the entirety of his character.  It's clearly the work of someone who exists in complete disconnect from reality, and none of his calculated reactions to its failure (disavowing it on the late-nite talk show circuit, accepting the Razzies but only when they were marbled and gold-plated, blaming the director, buying the television rights so no one else could ever show it) can dispel this nearly Caligula-esque notion that he is a god of entertainment, and that the movie-going public are supporting figures in his fantasy, a chorus of cardboard cut-outs that exist to worship Cosby, and only worship.

Pictured: evidence for the above sentiment.

There's really not much more to say, but I have a few quick observations, some of which shed light on the Cosby psyche:

#1.  Legendary character actors Grace Zabriskie and Joe Don Baker briefly appear as CIA higher-ups in a smoke-filled room.
They survive the proceedings with most of their dignity intact, even when Grace must say a line like "How do we strike back against ferocious fish?"  A friend of mine lamented that Grace and Joe Don never got the chance to do WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, and I have to wholeheartedly agree.  

#2.  What is "an executive producer for Mr. Cosby?"
 
This credit is not listed on IMDb.  Cosby himself is listed as "Producer" in the same stretch of credits; and Steve Sohmer was the then-President and CEO of Columbia Pictures.  Did Cosby insist on this bizarre, self-aggrandizing credit because he didn't want audiences to perceive that anyone outranked him? 

#3. Cosby, as a restaurant owner, going out of his way and beyond his job description to personally mix and pour a parfait dessert-drink for a female patron.  Ugh.

#4.  Cosby sneaking out of a woman's home while she lays in the background, comatose.

 #5.  Cosby using a queen bee as a sexual tool to distract a roomful of killer drones.  He begins by mumbling to her, "All right, lady, you get in there and show 'em your garter."

He unleashes the queen, and lasciviously whispers, "Don't mind if I look, do you?"

And proceeds, for an uncomfortable span, to make kissy-lips and buzzing noises.  I would argue that this would be just as creepy if I'd seen this for the first time in 1987.

#6.  The set-up for Leonard's personal life is that his wife left him years ago over a "hilarious" incident where he was found with a nude nineteen-year-old girl, beating her with a birch branch.  It's unclear if she was conscious at the time.  He has the following exchange with his loyal butler (the brilliant Tom Courtenay, who didn't deserve this):







Look at the expressions that play across Cosby's face.  One wonders if similar, rationalizing exchanges with the help have transpired in real life.

Negative stars.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Television Review: CELEBRITY BOWLING: BORGNINE/HARVEY VS. MARTIN/IRELAND (1972, Don Bucola)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 23 minutes.
Tag-line:  "The game in which Hollywood's biggest stars do what millions of Americans do every day... have a good time bowling."
Notable Cast or Crew:  Dick Martin (LAUGH-IN, NEWHEART) and John Ireland (SPARTACUS, RED RIVER) vs. Laurence Harvey (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE ALAMO) and Ernie Borgnine (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY).  Hosted by Jed Allan (LASSIE, ICE STATION ZEBRA).
Best One-liner: "The concentration of Ernie Borgnine, right here... (trails off)"

I'd like to send Ernest Borgnine week out with a bang.  Er, nevermind: make that a whimper.

CELEBRITY BOWLING is a peculiar beast.  Created by Joe Siegman and hosted by Jed Allan, it ran for seven years (1971-1978).  Each episode featured four (washed-up) celebrity non-bowlers facing off at lanes constructed in the shadowy, spartan gloom of KTTV studios.

The visuals are quite striking.


This is the host, Jed Allan.  I know you don't care.

There's all sorts of ancillary rules about who bowls first and, later,  celebrities will routinely finish each other's frames according to the whims of Jed Allan.  All of this is being played, not for charity, but for the benefit of one or two random audience members who will receive prizes of varying quality based on the scores.  If they score a 150, an audience member gets a stereo; if over 180, they get a microwave; if more than 210, a car.  But don't worry––no one is bowling more than 210.  Hell, it's tough enough for these people to crack a hundred.  For the lower scores they receive more realistic prizes, like a piece of luggage or a pair of pants.

Not even joking.

The production value is incredibly low-rent; it's all stark bright lights and empty black backgrounds.  Large portions of the show proceed in silence and often the only noise is the constant putt-putt-putt of the improperly maintained bowling ball retrieval machine (Allan is frequently reminding the stars "Hey, watch it there––don't pinch your fingers!"). Occasionally this is interrupted by unenthusiastic applause while some television actor lobs gutter balls.

Today's episode features comedian Dick Martin and Western actor John Ireland versus Manchurian Candidate Laurence Harvey and Wild Bunchie Ernie Borgnine.  I really like that they refer to him as "Ernie" Borgnine throughout.  And I apologize in advance that I'll be giving the short shrift to John Ireland and Dick Martin; this is Ernest Borgnine week, after all.
 
John Ireland and Dick Martin are bad bowlers...

 
...but not as bad as Ernest Borgnine and Laurence Harvey.

I love Laurence Harvey––here, he's looking gawky (referred to by Allan as "the human pretzel") and showing off what a terrible bowler he is.




Most of the show is Laurence and Ernie slowly walking back from a terrible frame with legitimately pissed off expressions on their faces while Jed Allan mutters, "He was putting a little too much tug in there!" or "He couldn't really get behind that one, could he?"  Why didn't the producers let them get in a practice round or two first?  Were they really that afraid they'd have to give away a free pair of pants?

Grizzled and unkempt, Borgnine looks as though a week-long bender was interrupted by the producers of CELEBRITY BOWLING, who only gave him enough time to change out of his robe and slippies before they slapped him on your television screen. 

Borgnine does this little flourish when he bowls, lifting his arm to the heavens like he's conducting a symphony.





The Gutter Ball Symphony: Lane 1, Opus 1.

Ordinarily jovial, I cannot emphasize how crabby Borgnine is.  He rarely speaks, and when he does, it's muttering bitterly off-camera about––no joke––"One day you're a star, and the next, you're a bum..." or "'Golf' spelled backwards is 'flog'; how would you spell this backwards?"  His finest moment is when he bowls a spare. 

Not quite a strike, Ernie.

When John Ireland rolls a gutter ball, Ernie peevishly growls "Do exactly what he did!" to Dick Martin.  To this, Allan says, "You're all heart, Ernie."
 
The frames proceed pretty badly for our buddies Laurence and Ernie, and, at their lowest moment, when they're beyond the point of no return and cannot possibly win, Allan announces:  "Ladies and gentlemen, in case you forgot, the two gentlemen up at bat now are both Oscar winners.  How 'bout that?"  This is followed by half-hearted applause.

The best (worst?) part is that Laurence Harvey never won an Oscar, he was only nominated for ROOM AT THE TOP.  Nice fact-checking, guys!

But Laurence takes it in stride.

The final score is 116 to 93.

Borgnine painfully laughs and says the scores are so low, they should probably take the audience out to dinner.  The crowd claps at this, and he says, "I don't think we deserve all that applause for those awful scores."  He really means it.

Ultimately, the winning audience member (representing John and Dick) receives a Spiegel catalogue gift certificate (for a conspicuously unspecified amount––it could have been $1) and a "watch."  The audience member who represented Laurence and Ernie receives the consolation prize of a bowling ball and a bag to hold it in.  Hopefully it was one that was lying around the set already.

Before we cut to black, Laurence and Ernie contemplate the ignominy that is CELEBRITY BOWLING.

But they were gluttons for punishment:  Ernie came back to bowl twice more on the series, and Laurence once.

As bleak as it was, I enjoyed this.  Three stars. 

–Sean Gill