Monday, November 30, 2009

Film Review: FAT CITY (1972, John Huston)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Stacy Keach (ROADGAMES, ESCAPE FROM L.A., W., LUTHER), Jeff Bridges (TRON, CUTTER'S WAY), Candy Clark (THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, AMERICAN GRAFFITI), Susan Tyrrell (BIG-TOP PEE WEE, FLESH + BLOOD, ROCKULA).  Based on the novel by Leonard Gardner.  Featuring the song "Help Me Make It Through the Night," by Kris Kristofferson.  Directed by John Huston (THE MALTESE FALCON, THE MISFITS, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE).
Tag-line: "The surprise hit of this year's Cannes Film Festival!"
Best one-liner:  "You can count on me!  You...can...count....on me!"

Once again I have been floored by the venerable Mr. Huston. FAT CITY doesn't present fights between formidable competitors; it presents wearied, battered husks of men who stumble and swipe at each other haphazardly...
I guess there was a dream at the end of the line once, but it now it's all so hazy they can't quite remember. And to say that it's better when they're not in the ring is to delude yourself: if it's not swigging hooch out of a brown paper bag while doing migrant work or (literally) beating your brains out on a jukebox, it's passing out at a dingy rat-trap in your tighty-whities, debating whether or not it's worth it to get out of bed. 

Stacy Keach is a washed-up fighter in a world without meaning. Huston strips him down to nothing- a tragic loser with a hare-lip- and from the nothingness, Keach creates a hopeful, vital man eternally numbed by booze and misfortune. This film is probably the most brilliant illustration of broken dreams and the "I'll do great things...tomorrow" mentality that I've ever seen. But this is not an exercise in building up characters just to bring them down- Huston languidly lays it out with nothing but humanity and pathos.

And I don't believe anyone has ever directed 'drunk' better than Huston (UNDER THE VOLCANO, THE MISFITS). None of this 'over the top' shit. 
These people seem LOADED for real, and they clash with the loudmouthed desperation and mutual self-destructiveness of flailing, blinded junkyard dogs.
 Susan Tyrrell delivers, without exaggeration, one of the finest performances in film. She's a sloppy drunk, a sad puppy, and a raving lunatic wrapped in one, trying to find the meaning of her wrecked life at the bottom of a bottle. 

Jeff Bridges and Candy Clark play the youngsters, about to take an unfortunate trip through the same meat-grinder.
 It's a vicious circle with no solution, short of a reinvention of what it means to be human. Bleak, grimy, and shockingly REAL.  One of the great films.
Five stars.

-Sean Gill

Side note:  It must be said that Aronofsky's THE WRESTLER would not and could not exist without FAT CITY.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Film Review: RED ROCK WEST (1993, John Dahl)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Nicolas Cage, Lara Flynn Boyle, Dennis Hopper, J.T. Walsh.
Tag-line: "...all roads lead to intrigue.
Best one-liner:  
 "You must be Suzanne. You look pretty enough to eat."  (Better when recited by a terrifying Dennis Hopper.)

Thankfully not succumbing to Eszterhasian flavors-of-the-month, RED ROCK WEST is a respectable Southwestern neo-noir in the mold of DETOUR or THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE with a touch of the old Hitchcockian mistaken identity. Director John Dahl crafts a thriller that nearly belongs to that 80's genre where an unwitting protagonist is swept up in an existential, horrific, endless journey with one terrible thing leading to another (see: AFTER HOURS, MIRACLE MILE, SOMETHING WILD- and Oliver Stone tried to duplicate RED ROCK WEST's success in the genre with 1997's uneven U TURN). 
Noir updated for the 90's and beyond has a kind of disquieting vibe to it– dingy, rat-trap motels and eerie, rustic gas stations have been replaced with Comfort Inns and Chevrons; stark lighting and bold shadows have swapped for slick production value and unambiguous color. The film definitely works, however, despite it all. Dahl casts his film with a squad of David Lynch alumni: Nicolas Cage (WILD AT HEART), Lara Flynn Boyle (TWIN PEAKS), and Dennis Hopper (BLUE VELVET), and you can never go wrong with that. Cage is effective as our bewildered anchor,
Boyle is appropriately femme-fatale-ish (and as an added bonus, she already had 1940's eyebrows),
 and Hopper is utterly unhinged (nearly repeating his performance from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2).
 Wearing a ten gallon hat, lasciviously licking his lips, and dispensing nicknames (like "Wayner") and nuggets of wisdom (like "Don't piss on the seat, even if they's not lucky!") with élan. There's denim, bolo ties; a vile, intense J.T. Walsh; and an excellent, twangy soundtrack with the likes of Johnny Cash, The Kentucky Headhunters, and Dwight Yoakam (who has a cameo). 
There are so few characters, the film is nearly a chamber piece, and it develops into a sort of blend of TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. Since the film has the chops to pull it off, that's a real good thing. Four stars.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sean Gill's SLEEPY TIME-TIME 4 Chosen by NewFilmmakers!

My new film, SLEEPY-TIME TIME 4: CRUISIN' FOR A SNOOZIN', has been chosen by NewFilmmakers and will premiere at the legendary Anthology Film Archives in New York City in 2010. A screening has been scheduled for 7:00PM, January 4, 2010 at the Anthology, and will cost $6. More details to follow.

The nefarious Doctor (Sean Gill) twinkles the ivories in SLEEPY-TIME TIME 4.

From the press release:
Set in a world of urban decay and restless nights, this fourth installment in the Sleepy-Time Time series pits our somnambulistic hero against vast, terrifying, undefinable forces which seep into our world through radiators and cracks in the plaster, slavering viciously as they dance their way into the very fabric of our dreams.

Film Review: THE FOG (1980, John Carpenter)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 89 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Tom Atkins (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, HALLOWEEN III), Adrienne Barbeau (SWAMP THING, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), Jamie Lee Curtis (PERFECT, HALLOWEEN), Janet Leigh (PSYCHO, TOUCH OF EVIL), Hal Holbrook (MAGNUM FORCE, THE FIRM), George 'Buck' Flower (THEY LIVE, COUNTRY CUZZINS), Charles Cyphers (BORDERLINE, HALLOWEEN), John Houseman (SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, ST. IVES).
Tag-line: "What you can't see won't hurt you... it'll kill you!"
Best one-liner: "There's something in the fog!"

In the wake of Carpenter's HALLOWEEN, a wave of dumbed-down, trashier, gorier slashers- led by FRIDAY THE 13TH- careened headlong into theaters. But in 1980, before it became basically 'unfashionable,' three of the most atmospheric, minimalist, and genuinely scary ghost stories were able to creep in: THE SHINING, THE CHANGELING, and...THE FOG. From its "old sea dog telling tales 'round the campfire" prologue (with the flawless theatricality of John Houseman):

to its ever-present, soothingly sultry D.J. voiceover (Adrienne Barbeau’s finest hour):

to the majestic, sumptuous seaside photography (worthy of RYAN'S DAUGHTER):

to its Carpy meets Bach soundtrack, THE FOG's scares seem grounded in simpler comforts and nostalgia. But Carpy's film (unlike something actually meant for children, like THE GOONIES) takes its spooky fireside frights very seriously: it's an ornately crafted tale with a genuinely troubling mystique. Released a mere 4 years after America’s bicentennial, THE FOG raises uncomfortable questions of what exactly we celebrate when we memorialize our ancestors- Will nature afford us our selective memories? Our buried secrets? Let us wash our hands of the things we’d rather forget? Well, the residents of Antonio Bay are about to find out.

We have George ‘Buck’ Flower as the same old sleazy drunk he always is, Hal Holbrook as a wino priest (and the only resident burdened by the weight of the past),

Janet Leigh embodying the ‘show must go on’ mentality, her daughter Jamie Lee as a hitchhikin’ non-objectified babe, and Tom Atkins as the magnet for said babe (yeah, I’m as confused as the rest of you).

There are a couple of in-jokes (characters named Dan O’Bannon and Dr. Phibes) and silly exchanges (Atkins is talking about fishing and drinking, Jamie Lee says “What’s it like?”- in regard to fishing- and Atkins replies, “It’s always the same. The room starts spinning…”), but, on the whole this thing is grim, pensive, and, most importantly, smart. Five stars.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 121 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Brad Dourif, Michael Shannon, Xzibit, Irma P. Hall, Fairuza Balk, Val Kilmer, Jennifer Coolidge, Shea Whigham.
Tag-line: "The only criminal he can't catch is himself."
Best exchange: "Shoot him again." –"What for?" "His soul is still dancing!"

"I'll kill all of you... to THE BREAK OF DAWN!" PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS is a 'remake' of BAD LIEUTENANT in the sense that WILD AT HEART is a remake of THE WIZARD OF OZ: both pairings are ingenious masterworks (cut from entirely different cloths) that really have little to do with one another, save for some superficial and thematic elements. So despite being a tremendous admirer of Ferrara's film, Herzog's does not in any way inspire the "die in hell" (to quote Ferrara's opinion of this reimagining) bile I would reserve for, say, if "McG" were to reboot it.

Nic Cage is THE BAD LIEUTENANT, and while he doesn't deliver a performance quite as soul (or genital)-baring as Keitel did, it's probably his best role in 20 years. Instead of phoning in more uninspired faux-craziness, Cage artfully develops a character from the ground up: I don't know if it indicates personal maturation on his part or the firm hand of Herzog, but I like it.

Shuffling around in oversized suits with an AGUIRRE style slouch and his .44 tucked in the front of his pants, Cage is a groggy force of cracked-out nature.

His highs and lows alike are extraordinarily compelling, and oddly believable– though I suppose Herzog also made us believe that an army of dwarves was hellbent on wrecking the world's aesthetics (EVEN DWARVES STARTED SMALL) or that a small German village could lie in a state of constant hypnosis (HEART OF GLASS). The supporting cast is more than up for the ridiculous challenge: Eva Mendes as his long-suffering, crack-addled hooker girlfriend; Brad Dourif as a ponytailed, fretful bookie;

Val Kilmer as the haggard, ludicrous 'Worse Lieutenant;'

Fairuza Balk as a smokin' babe cop (words I never thought would pass through my lips); Michael Shannon as a stiff, shifty property room bureaucrat; Xzibit as the lively kingpin 'Big Fate;' and Jennifer Coolidge as a moralizing Stepmom who's always wasted... (on beer).

Things begin rather routinely (courtesy of L.A. LAW writer William Finkelstein), but quickly transmogrify into truly Herzogian madness- an alligator's wild-eyed lament over a roadkill'd lover; long-buried silver spoons that may or may not be pirate treasure; the best use of "OH YEAH" since Yello:

"Oh, yeah."

and the most egregious eyebrow indicating since KUFFS:

Herzog isn't afraid to ask the tough questions, either. Questions like, "Do fish dream?" "Did you remember to destroy all copies of the property voucher?" "Doesn't everyone have a lucky crack pipe?"

"What are these iguanas doing on my coffee table?"

and "Should we shoot him again?" And, of course, the answer to that last one is "Yes...because his soul is still [break]dancing."

This movie IS Nic Cage, hiding behind your bedroom door, shaving himself with a portable electric razor, unplugging your oxygen tank, plugging it back in, and screaming "It's people like you that fucked up this country!"

But at the same time, it's Herzog, crouched behind us, softly whispering his peculiar- yet soothing- maxims about the human condition into our ears. Sure, we've heard them many times over, and they're a little ludicrous if you start to really think about them, but damn– you've got to admit that, even at his whackiest, the man knows what the hell he's talking about. Five stars.

-Sean Gill

Side note: It must be said that the presence of breakdancing could be the influence of Executive Producer Boaz Davidson- a frequent Golan/Globus collaborator and director of GOING BANANAS and SALSA. I'm just happy that we can finally connect the dots between Werner Herzog and Cannon Films.

Additional side note: Cage's use of a .44 Magnum (Dirty Harry's gun) sort of leads me to believe that his off-kilter, in character appreciation of DIRTY HARRY in JULIEN DONKEY-BOY was, in fact, sincere! (Though of course, this is the man who has always said he'd prefer watching a kung fu film over one by Godard.)

Last side note: And, yes, this movie is actually called THE Bad Lieutenant, according to the main titles, which say "THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS," and then immediately let you know what city it's going to be taking place in with a new title, "NEW ORLEANS," in case there was any confusion. Ah, Herzog, how I love thee.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Film Review: MIRACLE MILE (1988, Steve De Jarnatt)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 87 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Anthony Edwards (ER, REVENGE OF THE NERDS), Mare Winningham (ST. ELMO'S FIRE, TURNER & HOOCH), Kurt Fuller (GHOSTBUSTERS II, Russell Finely in WAYNE'S WORLD), Eddie Bunker (RESERVOIR DOGS, RUNAWAY TRAIN), Robert DoQui (ROBOCOP, King George the Pimp in COFFY), O-Lan Jones (THE RIGHT STUFF, MARS ATTACKS!), John Agar (NIGHTBREED, CHISUM). Music by Tangerine Dream.
Tag-line: "You just found out that you have 24 hours to live. What are YOU going to do?" Hey, what is this, a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure?
Best one-liner: "There's lots of good actors in this town with insomnia and nothing better to do than stupid things like that..."

MIRACLE MILE, directed by Steve de Jarnatt (CHERRY 2000), is an exceptional example of the slow build. Obviously it helps that there's music by Tangerine Dream, whose 80's film work was typified by relentless, dark arpeggios hammering toward cathartic, explosive crescendos. This thunderous, soaring repetition was well-used in these scores: the rising tension as a 'Nam vet seizes Central Park in THE PARK IS MINE!, the mounting supernatural doom in THE KEEP, the countdown to the face-off with the school's biggest bully in THREE O'CLOCK HIGH- and it's perfect for MIRACLE MILE, a film built around the premise of (possibly) impending nuclear holocaust.

A chance phone call leads to a world spiraling out of control, and the result is somehow the exact median between AFTER HOURS (1985) and PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! (1962). Beautifully photographed by the often misused Dutch cinematographer Theo van de Sande (BODY PARTS, WAYNE'S WORLD), it's full of glossy colors that pop, striking visuals, and disorienting modern edifices: kind of Scorsese by way of Tati.

Anthony Edwards brings the proper sense of bookish urgency, but Mare Winningham just barely pulls off what she has to. There's excellent bit parts by Robert DoQui (COFFY, THE MAN) as an irascible, survivalist diner cook:

and Eddie Bunker (STRAIGHT TIME, RUNAWAY TRAIN) as a crabby nightwatchman (who even gets in an in-joke about his real-life prison time). (Side note: the Bunker role was evidently meant to be played by Jack 'ERASERHEAD' Nance, but he either couldn't or wouldn't get the time off from his own rent-a-cop gig!)

The film doesn't try to get political: we have no idea who, or what, is behind the supposedly imminent attack- instead, our enemy is the whirling, spinning clock; our struggle the one between sheer, sociopathic survival and being hellbent on saving the ones you love. An excellent film, and one that packs an unexpected punch. Four stars.

-Sean Gill

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Film Review: TWIN PEAKS- FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992, David Lynch)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 135 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie, Kyle MacLachlan, Eric DaRe, Heather Graham, David Bowie, Chris Isaak, Harry Dean Stanton, Kiefer Sutherland, Jürgen Prochnow, Miguel Ferrer, Dana Ashbrook, Mädchen Amick, Frances Bay, Walter Olkewicz, James Marshall. Music by Angelo Badalamenti.
Tag-line: "Meet Laura Palmer... In a town where nothing is as it seems... And everyone has something to hide."
Best one-liner: "Hey, slow pokes... Guess what? There's no tomorrow... Know why, baby? 'Cause it'll never get here!"

David Lynch's TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME is a misunderstood masterpiece, a surrealist treatise on the psychology of abuse, the nature of evil, and a host of other (domestic) horrors. It's chilling, expressionistic, and punctuated by moments of genuine terror. Thematically, Lynch picks up where his near-apocalyptic finale left off. If the series was about peeling the veneer away from quirky, small-town America; then the movie is about peeling the veneer from the show itself. In fact, the first image of the film is, literally, a television being smashed-

Lynch is wiping the slate clean for this even darker tale; similar to the off-handed, undignified manner with which he disposed of Windom Earle (who had stolen Season 2's focus from the pure, calculating evil known as BOB). FIRE WALK WITH ME goes through the proverbial looking glass, and we're entreated to many scenes that mirror ones in the series, but which are twisted and contorted by evil (and our knowledge of the future).

In the Deer Meadow police station, we're presented with a creepy, cackling deputy and secretary who offer days-old coffee and give the FBI (Kiefer Sutherland and Chris Isaak) the runaround- it's a warped, 'other side of the mirror' reflection of Andy, Lucy, and Sheriff Truman's genuine playfulness and hospitality when we meet them in the Pilot.

At Hap's Diner, we're given a skewed version of Norma's pride and joy. Where Norma Jennings would heartbreakingly roll out the 'fancy' plastic checkered tablecloths at the thought of a notorious food critic coming to town, Irene assholishly announces, "You want to hear about our specials?.... WE DON'T HAVE ANY."

And yet, I still love Irene.

We're shown 'The Pink Room,' a north-of-the-border bar which makes One-Eyed Jack's look wholesome and serves as a depraved version of 'The Roadhouse,' with its semi-'safe' 50's juvenile delinquent-style fisticuffs from the Pilot.

The Pink Room is a veritable hell on Earth, and Ron Garcia's wobbly, disorienting cinematography makes it probably the most accurate depiction of being dangerously inebriated that I’ve ever seen.

Lynch's use of violence is startling (and similarly disorienting) at times- much like Cronenberg, he's a big fan of the one over-the-top moment of violence in the film that really pushes the envelope, even if only for a split second. Look at the decapitation-by-shotgun in WILD AT HEART, the point blank head explosion in BLUE VELVET, the rotted corpse in MULHOLLAND DR., or the dissection by glass table in LOST HIGHWAY.

Here, it's the scene where Bobby shoots a "drug dealer" whom we've seen earlier in the picture. I'd be interested in seeing Lynch's reactions when these scenes are being shot- is he beside himself with juvenile glee, or is he troubled by what 'must' be committed to celluloid in order to complete his vision?

Is this mysterious, uncredited woman really David Lynch himself in drag? I think so.

David Bowie with a Southern accent is well worth the price of admission and serves as proper penance for THE LINGUINI INCIDENT.

David Lynch's Gordon Cole. Quite possibly my favorite character.

Harry Dean Stanton does in just two scenes what most actors can't aspire to in an entire career. The quiet desperation which he breathes into "That godammed trailer's more popular that Uncle's day in a whorehouse, you see what I mean? It just means I've....more shit I gotta do now," ...goddamit, I'm about to cry over here.

The man exudes pathos with the ease that a fat man sweats. It reminds me of his big scene in DILLINGER when he says, "Things ain't workin' out for me today..."

Then, Eric "THIS IS WHERE WE LIVE, SHELLY!" DaRe brings more of his vein-bustin' ponytailed douchery to the table,

and Walter "Jacques Renault" Olkewicz is given the opportunity to revive his sloppy, slobbery French Canadian sleazebag.

Sheryl Lee channels the tradition of wide-eyed, doomed silent film heroines,

Ray Wise brings his brow-furrowing intensity to a level the series only alluded to,

and Grace Zabriskie's bug-eyed, off kilter energy is always incredible.

The denial of the victims and the rift in believing (or wanting to believe) the abuser and the ‘good’ person are two different entities has never rung so true.

Ultimately, Lynch and Badalmenti heighten the murder to such a degree that it becomes almost a religious experience- the rail car transformed into a cathedral, each blow like a strike of lightning.

We're left with a reflective ending which hints that the shitstorm at the end of Season 2 could possibly be rectified, and that perhaps the murder was necessary to properly disarrange the pieces of BOB's hateful, interdimensional puzzle (I will debate this in the comments section, if you'd like). But FIRE WALK WITH ME gazes deeply and powerfully into the abyss- a soothing enigma and a shriek unto the night- and still it leaves you with a touch of comfort and a spark of hope.

Five stars.

-Sean Gill

Well, it is one of the scariest movies of all time, so I guess it goes on the list: