Tuesday, September 27, 2011

TRAGEDY OF MARIA MACABRE also coming in October!

Running concurrently with my show DREAMS OF THE CLOCKMAKER at the Wild Project this October is Rachel Klein's THE TRAGEDY OF MARIA MACABRE an underworld dance fantasia which some of you may recall I did the sound design for, worked on the story of, and adapted into a short film. So if you're in New York this October and are hankerin' for some morbid/mystical theater, tickets are available HERE. To further rev you up, I've cut a trailer for the for it, which you can watch HERE.

The Tragedy of Maria Macabre Trailer from Rachel Klein Productions on Vimeo.

And for those whose computers can't handle Vimeo, there is also a YouTube version HERE. Happy (early) Halloween!

Monday, September 26, 2011


For the forthcoming run at the Wild Project from October 17-30, tickets are available HERE. For a trailer and more information, click HERE.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Film Review: THE STUNT MAN (1980, Richard Rush)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 131 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback (LIFEFORCE, HELTER SKELTER, SAVE ME), Barbara Hershey (THE RIGHT STUFF, THE NATURAL), Sharon Farrell (CAN'T BUY ME LOVE, IT'S ALIVE), Alex Rocco (Moe Greene in THE GODFATHER, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN). Music by Dominic Frontiere (HANG 'EM HIGH, THE OUTER LIMITS). Cinematography by Mario Tosi (CARRIE, RESURRECTION). Stunts coordinated by Gray Johnson (ZAPPED!, THE BEASTMASTER). Additional stunts by myriad stuntmen, including Dick Warlock (THE THING, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, CHRISTINE, MR. MAJESTYK, THE ABYSS).
Tag-line: "If God could do the things that we can do, he'd be a happy man . . ."
Best one-liner: "Besides, I've fallen madly in love with the dark side of your nature." (Smarmily intoned by Peter O'Toole.)

THE STUNT MAN. Hot damn- what a specimen! One of the great films of the 1980s. It's a wild-pinball game of a movie, full of brilliant, inventive visual pops and gags that zig and zag and zing throughout, around, and across the movie with a demented, electric exuberance. As the film played out, I found myself brimming with primitive excitement: for the first time in a long time, I felt as if I was watching something alive, insane, full of pulsating energy– something NEW. (And naturally, the director, Richard Rush, has only directed one fiction film in the thirty-one years since– damn you, Hollywood, for rewarding the uninspired and punishing the innovative!)
Right off the bat, Rush lets us know exactly what kind of a mad, irreverent journey he's about to lead us on: a dog licks its own balls.

This sets off a chain-reaction of events which involves helicopters, electricians, a diner, an errant apple-core, an actual game of pinball, an arrest, an escape, and, in general terms, the subsequent events of the film. But allow me to take a step back for a moment: a movie that begins with a dog licking its own balls was nominated for two Oscars, and even more surprisingly– really deserved them. Obviously, this is a candidate for the Junta Juleil Hall-O-Fame.

Now I won't say too much about the plot of the film, but it involves a fugitive drifter (played by a rugged, fuzzy Steve Railsback, whose performance here occasionally has the feel of a young Tommy Lee Jones)

Railsback: Here, more HELTER SKELTER than LIFEFORCE.

who accidentally brings about the death of a stunt man as a war movie is being shot in a small town by a psychotic director (Peter O'Toole, in one of his finest hours). In return for not turning him in to the police, O'Toole requires the somewhat naive Railsback (who's excited to risk his life for $600 a go) to impersonate the deceased stunt man– dangerous, show-stopping feats and all. Simultaneously, Railsback builds a burgeoning romance with co-star Barbara Hershey as events spiral continuously and exponentially out of control. It's a film of döppelgangers and secret sharers, of lofty gods and mere mortals; of men who fight wars, men who fight windmills, and men who fight to make movies. Along the way, it toys with the many disconnects between reality and illusion in film, and more cleverly than any other movie I can think of– latex is peeled off, body parts retrieved, rugs pulled out from beneath us, and you're eternally left guessing as to whether the punch-line will take place in the real world or in the film-within-a-film.

Some of my favorite moments include a gaggle of gum-chewing tourists watching the brutalities of war being recorded on 35mm and applauding like they're at the State Fair, lens flares used as bizarre transitions, Steve Railsback doing the Charleston on the wing of an airborne biplane,

an extraordinarily visceral depiction of drowning, a shitload of mind-blowing stunts,

Dominic Frontiere's infectious Euro-style score, and, in general, Mario Tosi's breathtaking cinematography.

O'Toole, as always, deserves special mention– he floats about on a crane like an omnipresent cine-deity,

coming down from Olympus only to manipulate his insignificant cast, to blow smoke rings, and to drip sugar off of a knife while exuding utter disinterest.

Replace that bowl of sugar with a bowl of booze, and O'Toole might be able to muster some enthusiasm.

When he first appears in earnest, he embodies absolute, self-possessed lunacy without even opening his mouth.

When he does, it's usually to announce something incredible like "I'LL KILL THEM, AND THEN I'LL EAT THEM!" or bellowing orders that "NO CAMERA SHALL JAM, AND NO CLOUD SHALL PASS BEFORE THE SUN!"

Is O'Toole three sheets to the wind in this freeze frame? I'll leave that to the film historians to decide.

It's got the zaniness of HOOPER, the energy of Ken Russell, the groundbreaking creativity of films from the likes of Welles or Buñuel, and a shocking amount of class– not to mention that it's from the director of FREEBIE AND THE BEAN (which had a rumored feud between director Rush and actor Alan Arkin pertaining to... the performing of dangerous stunts). In short, it's the kind of movie that I really think you should see. Five stars.

-Sean Gill

Side note: In 2001, Richard Rush made only the second film he's made in the last thirty-one years: a documentary on THE STUNT MAN called THE SINISTER SAGA OF MAKING THE STUNT MAN, which I'll have to check out forthwith.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cliff Robertson, RIP

I'm unhappy to report the passing of the legendary Cliff Robertson. I first took notice of the man in middle school, when my Language Arts class screened his Oscar-winning turn in CHARLY as part of a unit that involved reading FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON. There was a great sincerity there, a sad and terrible but extremely rewarding connectedness to the material; a man's journey toward electrifying intellectual heights– and the degeneration which followed. It was a demanding role, and Cliff Robertson nailed it– he inhabited Charly, and Charly inhabited him. Then I became a TWILIGHT ZONE junky, and the two episodes which starred Cliff ("The Dummy" and "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim") became two of my favorites. Then there's his ferocious performance in Sam Fuller's (proto-GANGS OF NEW YORK but so much better) UNDERWORLD U.S.A.; his grandfatherly sleazemeistin' portrayal of Hugh Hefner in STAR 80; his ridiculous "cowboy of crime, monstrous maverick of malfeasance" Adam West-BATMAN villain, "Shame;" his tortured lead role in one of my favorite De Palmas, OBSESSION; and his rancorous, 'moral majority' crypto-fascist President of the United States in ESCAPE FROM L.A. Clearly, I could go on. Rest in peace, Cliff– you were one of the greats.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Junta Juleil's Top 100: #50-46

50. DUCK, YOU SUCKER (1971, Sergio Leone)

One of Leone's finest achievements, and one which only grows in impact with each subsequent viewing. Beginning with the depiction of a man pissing on an anthill and ending with the mournful cry "What about me?," DUCK, YOU SUCKER is sort of the ultimate statement on revolution– its winners, its losers, its agitators, its perpetuators, and the seemingly endless supply of moneyed, oppressive motherfuckers who always manage to reappear after a revolution, like the regenerative heads of the Hydra. Leone pulls no punches here: even though it's peppered with action and humor, it's brutal, passionate, and operatic. It's James Coburn's Sean and Rod Steiger's Juan, two sides of the same coin, who criss-cross paths with one another– one in decline, and one unknowingly on the rise. So many emotions are captured to the point of perfection: the exhilaration of bank-robbing or riding out in open country, the disgust at watching blue-bloods stuffing their anus-mouths, the sting of betrayal and the deeper sting of the betrayed, the unequivocal horror of mass graves. Leone is writing his history of the Twentieth Century, the Era of Extermination, the epoch of man perfecting his ability to stamp himself out. Orwell saw the future as a boot stomping on a human face forever– Leone sees men pissing on ants, pissing on each other, clawing at one another in a bloodied trench of corpses as our overlords above prepare to administer the coup de grace, just as perhaps the overlords' overlords prepare to administer their own. It's monstrous, it's soaring, it's Goya, it's John Ford, it's Mozart, it's Pagliacci. Ennio Morricone is in top form, and he creates a score full of perhaps a dozen individualized themes, any of which could carry a movie on their own. Coburn and Steiger are grand, Antoine Saint-John is frightening, Romolo Valli exudes the proper complexity. It speaks to the sheer quality of Leone's body of work that even this is still his third-best film. (Side note: it's unclear if Leone thought that "Duck, you sucker" was a common English expression, or if he believed he'd be creating a new catchphrase with it, but either way, you've got to love those Italians.)

49. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980, Irvin Kershner)

My favorite film in the STAR WARS trilogy, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK saw Lucas kept in check via formidable craftsman-ly direction by Irvin Kershner, and an occasionally tragic, occasionally quotable, often mystical, and always two-fisted screenplay by old-Hollywood worshipper Lawrence Kasdan (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, SILVERADO, BODY HEAT) and old-Hollywood player Leigh Brackett (RIO BRAVO, THE BIG SLEEP, THE LONG GOODBYE). Even chubby, post-fugue state, CGI-humpin' George Lucas couldn't find too much to mess with in the various iterations of EMPIRE we've seen since 1997. I don't know what to say that hasn't been said ad nauseum by STAR WARS acolytes already, but we've got Frank Oz taking the art of filmic puppetry to new and astounding heights, Boba Fett exuding Western-baddie cool without actually doing anything, Harrison Ford in his first appearance as a capital-A Actor, Carrie Fisher fueled by mountains of cocaine, towering and frightening stop-motion vehicles, elegant matte paintings, loads of C-3PO/Lando Calrissian homoeroticism, a hand-puppet that eats spaceships, an exhilaratingly complex John Williams score, more strangulation per capita than any comparable PG-rated space opera (even Chewie gets in on the action), abominable snowmen, Cliff Clavin, and a really awkward breakfast with Darth Vader. It's better than HOWARD THE DUCK is what I'm saying.

48. BRAZIL (1985, Terry Gilliam)

An eye-popping dystopian cauldron of Kafka and Orwell brazenly stirred by visual mastermind Terry Gilliam, BRAZIL (originally conceived as "1984 AND 1/2") piles on the grandeur, cheekiness, and dread that one would expect from such an endeavor. It's filled with genius performances and memorable moments– Jim Broadbent freakishly contorting the rubbery face of socialite Katherine Helmond; the breathtaking clashes between Icarus-armor clad Jonathan Pryce and a gargantuan samurai; mustachioed Robert De Niro bursting forth from here, there, and everywhere, a postmodern anti-bureaucratic Robin Hood; Ian Richardson leading a phalanx of pencil-pushers, striding purposefully through an office which bears more resemblance to a parking garage; Michael Palin leading awkward, flustering torture sessions while donning a grotesque baby mask; the paralyzing paramilitary-style assaults on average Joes by the minions of the Ministry of Information– it's nearly two-and-a-half hours of nonstop hilarity, wonderment, and torment, and I'm fairly certain that Kafka (who was rumored to chuckle his way through readings of his manuscripts) would be proud.

47. DOCKS OF NEW YORK (1928, Josef von Sternberg)

Probably my favorite silent film of all time, DOCKS OF NEW YORK is a mist-enshrouded and shadow-entrenched look at life and love between grime-coated, seafaring brutes and suicidal, proto-Dietrich barflies. The entire first half of the film takes place in near-darkness– unforgiving furnace rooms, tenebrous alleways, murky canals, and a rough n' tumble tavern full of cheap drinks, cheaper drunks, and a rogue's gallery of other salty characters. But then the plot develops and this endless night ends– daylight hits, and it's stark and painful and shocking because we've adjusted ourselves to the darkness; it's the same effect as waking after too little sleep on the morning after a night of debauchery, and it's astonishing to really feel that intruding dawn in the context of watching a film. DOCKS OF NEW YORK is a treatise on impulse, the worth of human beings, and what it's like to spend a lifetime scraping the bottom of the (sardine?) barrel while catching only fleeting glimpses of happiness from between the wooden slats. Also see: THE SCARLET EMPRESS, MOROCCO, BLONDE VENUS, THE LAST COMMAND, et al. Sternberg's one of the greats, and I'd recommend any of his films that I've seen without reservation.

46. SUNSET BLVD. (1950, Billy Wilder)

What to say? That the funeral for an ape sequence is more subtly terrifying than any horror flick released in the last fifteen years? That Gloria Swanson is the scariest woman not named Joan Crawford to ever draw breath? That Erich von Stroheim is so damned classy they should give him an extra "von" or two? I mean, just look at this stuff:

If you haven't already, I mean... Just go see the damn thing.

Coming up next... Even more Eigeman, sandwich-making with Crispin Glover, and more Argento!

-Sean Gill