Sunday, January 12, 2020

Only now does it occur to me... TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME, JUNIE MOON

Only now does it occur to me... that TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME, JUNIE MOON is not what it appears to be. I'd been told that this, one of the final films Otto Preminger made before he died, was merely mediocre. They didn't tell me that it was batshit insane, a gloriously sincere queer melodrama starring Liza Minnelli that occasionally feels like John Waters made a Hammer horror flick. Am I goin' too fast for ya? 

So Liza plays Junie Moon, a withdrawn good girl making her way in the world, when a date goes horribly wrong––and I mean horribly wrong. First her date orders her to strip in a cemetery, which is sort of a red flag.
And it would all be very Hammer horror/Roger Corman faux-Poe-Gothic if it wasn't for the music––it's scored with the similar kind of POW! BANG! big-band music they use whenever Batman and Robin get in a fistfight in the 1960s series. Hey, I don't know, man.

Then things really take a turn at the junkyard, where he knocks Liza down and pours battery acid on her face...
 
I'll have you know that absolutely nothing motivates these events except for maybe a heightened, post-Tennessee Williams dedication to lurid melodrama.

With her face half-scarred, Liza spends time at a sanitarium [please, for sensitivity's sake, make no references to her collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys, "(I Think I'm) Losing My Mind"]
where she gains a wheelchair-using gay bestie (played by the legendary Broadway director of THE BOYS IN THE BAND and DEATHTRAP, Robert Moore).
He lends the film an amazing, manic energy and a propulsive heartbeat, like he stumbled out of an Armistead Maupin novel. Liza also befriends a troubled and seizure-prone young man and possible love interest (Ken Howard), and the trio make their way to a rented house, trying to prove they can make it on their own.
Note Liza claiming she does not not know what to do with sequins

Along the way, we meet creepy-peeper neighbors who feel like they escaped from a Russ Meyer/John Waters flick, Liza develops a friendship with a tree-dwelling owl,
there are bizarro nightmare sequences with black & white makeup and a disorienting squashed screen effect,
what I swear is a Charles Bronson mannequin,
Prove me wrong––I dare you!

and holy shit, Fred Williamson––the Hammer himself!––as a workin' man and homoerotic foil named "Beach Boy,"
Williamson fans will note that there is also a CABARET-inspired gang in the plagiaristic-Italo-trashterpiece 1990: BRONX WARRIORS, which co-stars Williamson as "The Ogre"

and finally, an aging Kay Thompson (nightclub singer, Page Six standby, creator of the ELOISE book series, and godmother and eventual real-life roommate of Liza) shows up, strutting around like she's a socialite from a hag horror film (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNTIE MAME?)
and generally acting like she owns the place.
Are you going to tell her otherwise?!?

It culminates in a warm-hearted road trip and journey of self-discovery––
and dammit if this ridiculous camp-fest doesn't have a big ol' heart, surrounded by genuine compassion and confidence. This movie is completely insane, completely sincere, and I enjoyed it on every level.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

"Rejected Alternatives to Roy Batty's 'Tears in Rain'" in Queen Mob's Teahouse

Since it's 2019, the year in which BLADE RUNNER takes place, my latest humor piece––"Rejected Alternatives to Roy Batty's 'Tears in Rain'"––pays homage to Rutger Hauer's famous monologue and is available to read online at Queen Mob's Teahouse.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Only now does it occur to me... DREAM A LITTLE DREAM

Only now does it occur to me...  that DREAM A LITTLE DREAM is a weapons-grade '80s oddity, a repository of batshit craziness, and one of the strangest, most uneven films to emerge from the decade.

The average viewer couldn't be faulted for assuming that DREAM A LITTLE DREAM is just another post-FREAKY FRIDAY body-switch flick along the lines of VICE VERSA, 18 AGAIN!, BIG, or LIKE FATHER LIKE SON, with the major differentiation being that this one happens to star "The Two Coreys."

But they would be wrong. For starters, while the body switchers (Corey Feldman and Jason Robards) would seem to fit the criteria for an '80s body-switch flick

Jason Robards is too old for this shit

(old man has to go to high school! young man has to deal with dentures!), it's not even a proper switch: while Robards is transported into Feldman's body during a dream-meditation/bicycle wreck (don't ask), Robards' and his wife's bodies simply disappear as Robards enters Feldman's body, and Feldman enters Robards' dream-world.

The dream world looks like the regular world, except with a blue filter, and the only people there are Feldman and Robards. Feldman prefers the dream-world to his precarious teenage existence (even though there seems to be nothing to do in the dream-world) and tasks Robards with fixing his real-world life (get the girl, score well on the SATs) or else he won't let Robards exit Feldman's body and rematerialize in the real-world as his elderly self, alongside his wife. Freddy Krueger references aside... are you bored yet?

And I suppose that is DREAM A LITTLE DREAM's biggest surprise: that it's pretentious! I swear, this film feels like it wants to be ALTERED STATES or AWAKENINGS or SOLARIS and then it gets T-boned by LICENSE TO DRIVE or BETTER OFF DEAD. You definitely get the sense that the filmmakers were going for a deep metaphysical dive, and then were saddled with a "Two Coreys" picture. Its uneven nature even extends to its soundtrack, which is best described as THE BIG CHILL meets TOP GUN. We have Jon Bon Jovi rip-offs playing over elderly folks eating dinner and then '50s oldies playing over aerobicise sequences. Timbuk 3 ("The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades") featured alongside Frank Sinatra ("Young at Heart"). Wilson Pickett ("The Midnight Hour") flows into R.E.M. ("It's the End of the World as We Know It") and none of it feels motivated. Though I'll let the Timbuk 3 slide. What am I, a monster?

Oh, and did I mention that Harry Dean Stanton and Piper Laurie are in this thing?

It's like the world's worst David Lynch movie

They're playing Jason Robards' best friend and wife, respectively, and Harry Dean's appearance here prompted Roger Ebert to disavow his famous "Stanton-Walsh Rule," which posited that "no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad." Well, at least Piper Laurie gets a weird little Lynchian moment where she does a sassy solo dance with a tea service.


Coulda been a Golden Girl

Speaking of sassy dancing, Corey Feldman (while hosting Jason Robards' character's mind) does a Michael Jackson solo set to a hideous '80s cover of "Dream a Little Dream."


To say that this is deeply uncomfortable, and for a myriad of reasons, would be an understatement.

A poster for THE LOST BOYS gets a cameo, 
 
and the two Coreys are allegedly on so much coke and heroin that their dynamic actually feels like a teenage BIG LEBOWSKI or CUTTER'S WAY, with a relaxed-yet-overwhelmed Feldman standing in for Jeff Bridges' character(s) and a manic Haim stumbling around with a cane and an 'Nam bomber jacket as the Goodman/Heard-style sidekick, ready to erupt at any moment, a 5'5'' ball of pure id.
Rounding it out, we have the naturalistic Meredith Salenger (VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED '95, THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN) managing (along with Stanton and Laurie) to be one of the few actors here who doesn't embarrass herself. That she still spends a good 45% of her screentime doing jazzer- and aerobicise may or may not factor into this assessment.
Salenger plays the girl of Feldman's dreams, who happens to be already dating William McNamera (SURVIVING THE GAME, Argento's OPERA)
so obviously it's up to old man Robards in a teenage body to break them up and save the day or whatever. The final ignominy is the fact that they make Jason Robards do the 'ol soft-shoe and lip-sync over the end credits
as a duet with Corey Feldman, who is continuing to do his poor-man's Michael Jackson routine, which essentially makes it feel like an outtake from MOONWALKER. Whew.

In closing, I have to make a point about FREDDY'S GREATEST HITS, the 1987 novelty album by "The Elm Street Group," which features Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) performing covers of several classic songs and a few originals, including an instrumental (!). On this album, he performs "The Midnight Hour" (featured in this film) and, on the back cover, affects a Michael Jacksonian pose.

Given the Krueger reference, I have to believe that DREAM A LITTLE DREAM's makers were perhaps really jibin' with the glory of FREDDY'S GREATEST HITS (the film was released in 1989) and you cannot tell me otherwise. That is all.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Only now does it occur to me... CARLITO'S WAY

Only now does it occur to me... that CARLITO'S WAY is probably one of De Palma's best. It has all the ridiculous vintage spectacle of SCARFACE (i.e., a life of crime occasionally depicted as a sleazy Mentos commercial) alongside the endlessly creative visual storytelling that you've come to expect from De Palma,

but it also possesses some incredibly nuanced character development, particularly in the dynamic between Carlito (Al Pacino)
 
Pacino: pictured wearing a leather duster during a heat wave––something that likely soured Pacino on subway filming at least until he played Satan in THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE. According the the doc DE PALMA, he walked off set that night, mid-shoot!

and his scuzzy lawyer (Sean Penn, in one of his finest performances).

I'm not even joking about the caliber of Penn's work here––he's phenomenal.

Furthermore, there are brilliant supporting turns by underground NYC standby Rick Aviles,

pre-fame Viggo Mortensen (back when he was still a character actor),

a ubiquitously likable Luis Guzman, and a subtly chilling John Leguizamo.


But, as you can probably tell––being as this is an "Only now does it occur to me"––I'm about to dive into some minutiae. First, I'd like to call out a Dario Argento reference. De Palma is no stranger to giving a nod to his post-Hitchcock contemporary across the pond. Historically, DRESSED TO KILL is chock full of Argento references, and there's a pretty substantial TENEBRE homage in THE UNTOUCHABLES. Here, it's a little subtler. Pacino is stalking his ex-girlfriend Penelope Ann Miller and he follows her––in the rain––to a ballet academy.


Probably only the die-hards would read this as an abstract reference to SUSPIRIA, whose infamous opening scene involves a furtive (and voyeuristic) visit to a ballet academy in the pouring rain.

Finally, I wanted to salute the MVP of CARLITO'S WAY: Dancing Phone Call Woman. Allow me to explain.

At El Paraiso, Carlito's dance club (the name is a reference to the sandwich shop in SCARFACE), the revelers revel mostly in bottom-shelf cocaine and top-shelf disco.

De Palma is brilliant at staging group scenes with dozens of extras. Look no further than the "Relax" scene from BODY DOUBLE. Some directors don't direct their extras at all, some use an assistant director, and some assistant directors just tell the performers where to stand. De Palma is precise––incredibly so––and practically every single extra is doing something specific and visually interesting. There are no rooms of people randomly milling about, mumbling "peas and carrots, peas and carrots," wondering what the hell to do with their hands. This leads me to the all-star background artist of CARLITO'S WAY: Dancing Phone Call Woman. As De Palma's camera roams the room, in one corner, behind an open door, there is a woman on the phone. No, she is not merely on the phone––she is shaking a maraca while on the phone. And, no, she is not merely shaking a maraca while on the phone––she is dancing up a storm, twirling like Stevie Nicks, shaking a maraca, and beaming like a beauty contestant––all while making a phone call from a land line with a spiral-coil cord. 

I salute you, Twirling-Dancing-Maraca-Phone Call Woman. You are a special, irreplaceable thread in the tapestry that is CARLITO'S WAY. You are a goddamned champion.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Sean Gill's "An Inhospitable Place" in Fiction International

My latest short story––an encounter between a man and a mosquito called "An Inhospitable Place"––has been published in the "Body" issue of Fiction International (#52). Fiction International is the journal of arts and letters published by San Diego State University and has published authors such as William S. Burroughs, Alberto Moravia, J.M. Coetzee, and Kathy Acker.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sean Gill's "16 More Auteurs Weigh In On Whether 'Marvel Is Cinema'" in Slackjaw

My latest humor piece, "16 More Auteurs Weigh In On Whether 'Marvel Is Cinema'"––in response to the recent dust-ups between Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Marvel––has been published online by Slackjaw.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Only now does it occur to me... DR. MABUSE––THE GAMBLER

Only now does it occur to me... a few thoughts about DR. MABUSE––THE GAMBLER, a criminally underrated work in the Fritz Lang oeuvre. 

While, like some epics of the era, it doesn't quite have enough plot to justify it's four-and-a-half hour runtime, it's still a dizzying, edgy roller-coaster of pure Weimar id, German Expressionistic fantasy, and creeping zeitgeist horror. Probably better translated as "DR. MABUSE––THE PLAYER" (in German, "spieler" refers to game-player, gambler, actor, and puppeteer, and Dr. Mabuse is certainly all four). 
Mabuse (Rudolph Klein-Rogge, the mad doctor of METROPOLIS) is a hypnotist/gangster/psychologist/master-of-disguise/general trickster/proto-Batman villain whose schemes have enveloped most of Berlin. The great film theorist Siegfried Kracauer saw Mabuse as among a "procession of tyrants" in post-WWI German film who foreshadowed the rise of Hitler.

Fritz Lang is really at the height of his powers here: in his staging and imagery, in his use of texture and dimension, in his contrast between stillness and motion––whether he's depicting a the mass hallucination of a Bedouin procession in a Berlin theater:

Otherworldly séances:


Powerful tableaus that resemble Renaissance paintings:


The expressionistic/Bauhaus interior design of Weimar's 1%:
For all its stylish exaggerations, it's an important time capsule of the era.


Decadent Weimar nightlife realness:

Which includes one unforgettably over-the-top display of insanity, whereupon a pas de trois commences between a dancer and two giant, terrifying (papier-mâché?) heads with exceptionally phallic noses and suspiciously testicular cheekbones.
These dudes seem to like the production design just fine

Then, in a visual worthy of Ken Russell, she ascends the noses and dances atop them until they climax with a "sneeze" that, incidentally, blows away most of her outfit and leaves her with
a creepy baby...
Hot damn, Fritz! Legitimately one of the more unexpected sequences in a silent––or any––film.

Finally, I must note the majesty of  Mabuse's descent into madness, which definitely prefigures the Moloch sequence from METROPOLIS. Here, pieces of industrial equipment are reimagined as quasi-mythical monstrosities which come to life and torment the much-deserving Dr. Mabuse.
It's also worth noting that this is the state in which we find Mabuse at the beginning of THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (1933), Fritz Lang's brilliant sequel, which I also cannot recommend enough.