Sunday, December 30, 2012

Film Review: CAUGHT (1949, Max Ophüls)

Stars: 3.8 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Tag-line: "The story of a desperate girl."
Best one-liner:  "Look at me!  LOOK AT WHAT YOU BOUGHT!!"

A hard-to-come by 40s melodrama that occasionally masquerades as a film noir, CAUGHT had been on my 'to-see' list for years, so I decided to take the plunge when I saw that it was expiring from Netflix instant at the end of the year.  A thickly-veiled portrait of Howard Hughes' love life (Ophüls was once fired from a Hughes picture, VENDETTA) and one of Martin Scorsese's favorite films (possibly the reason why he made THE AVIATOR?), the film walks that thin line between high art and low camp (or perhaps between low art and high camp?), and we all know that that's the sort of thing I enjoy.

Ophüls was a German arthouse filmmaker best known for making expressive, French romantic melodramas, packed with exquisite tracking shots.  He's at the height of his powers when he's presenting life as a lurid carnival– an endless dance rotating amongst different social milieus, like in LA RONDE or LOLA MONTÉS.  He's at his weakest when his carousel remains stuck in a single stuffy mode (i.e., THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE..., a much-loved film that I happen to dislike).  In a film like CAUGHT, he's socially responsible, capturing the moments of life that exist between the stations of life.  However, his wings are rather clipped by the studio– he does get some nice tracking shots in there, but visual flair is few and far between.  As James Mason later wrote in a poem, "A shot that does not call for tracks/ is agony for poor old Max,/ who, separated from his dolly,/ is wrapped in deepest melancholy./ Once, when they took away his crane/ I thought he'd never smile again."

Basically, the plot follows Barbara Bel Geddes as she tries to further herself by saving up for an education.  Don't worry, it's 1949– she's not going to college:

I nearly did a spit-take when she pulls out this brochure after going on about educating and furthering herself.  Anyway, after gaining the necessary skill set for obtaining a husband, she marries an oddly named ("Smith Ohlrig") big shot played by noir-standby Robert Ryan, who seems to marry her only to vex his psychiatrist (!?).  He turns out to be a raging psychopath, á la Howard Hughes, who must destroy everyone whom he cannot own outright.

Robert Ryan, on the warpath.

Psychological abuse and boredom and melodramatic slapping take their toll

and Bel Geddes' character decides to reject this abusive life of Riley for a more emotionally fulfilling existence in a tenement house, working as a receptionist for a young doctor played by James Mason.  It's fun to see him as a caring pediatrician when in retrospect, he carries the cultural baggage of famous roles like "nymphet molester" (LOLITA) and "child murderer" (SALEM'S LOT).  At one point he says he'd like to "cut off of the curls" of an irritating, hypochrondriac little girl patient of his.  Stay classy, 1949!
 James Mason, incredulous.

It sort of turns into stock, well-acted melodrama at this point as she falls for dreamy 'doc Mason while still married to crazytown Ryan, but there were a few happenings that really set it apart:

#1.  Robert Ryan's benders that end in bouts of "angry pinball."  It seems like the sort of detail that was probably culled straight from Hughes' life.  I couldn't verify this in cursory Internet research, but I'm still going with it.
 Robert Ryan staves off sexual frustration and sociopathic tendencies with another angry pinball session.

#2.  This close-up from a gossip column montage about Ryan and Bel Geddes' declining love life.
Look at the story at the bottom, the one we're supposed to ignore during the course of the scene, because it's not highlighted and has nothing to do with our plot.  It appears to involve criminals, a radio show, a former circus clown named "Jebbo," and a volley of bullets.  I kind of wanted to be watching this movie!

 #3.  The finale, which involves shouting, the revelation of secrets, the destruction of the aforementioned pinball machine, and a happy ending featuring Dr. James Mason force-feeding liquor to a near-comatose pregnant woman (Bel Geddes).
 Though I'm still holding out hope it was Thunderbird!

 Not Ophüls' finest hour, but a pleasant enough and head-shakingly misogynistic melodrama with some noir elements.  Nearly four stars.

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... HOME ALONE 2

Well, in addition to being a soulless, self-plagiaristic complete retread of the first installment, even down to geometric patterns that become imprinted upon Daniel Stern's forehead, only now does it occur to me... that the finest and most sincere moment in HOME ALONE 2 may very well be Tim Curry's intense and wholly spectacular shit-eating grin:

The shit-eating grin that saved Christmas

Also, it gets a few extra points for John Hughes-veteran Ally Sheedy's cameo:

And I must say that the levels of family-friendly sadism reach cruel and excruciating heights perhaps even worthy of the master himself, Lucio Fulci:
 Daniel Stern is agonizingly staple-gunned through a doorway in HOME ALONE 2... a similar manner to Olga Karlatos' agonizing run-in with a splinter in ZOMBIE 2.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... INDECENT PROPOSAL

Only now does it occur to me... that my favorite part of INDECENT PROPOSAL may very well be the brief, incredibly ill-advised flashback whereupon the thirty-one year old Demi Moore and the thirty-two year old Woody Harrelson are depicted as high school students.

Please bear in mind that this film is in no way intended to be a comedy.  
Adrian Lyne films generally fall into two camps:  Camp A:  slick, well-acted, extremely sincere fare (FLASHDANCE, INDECENT PROPOSAL, 9 1/2 WEEKS, FATAL ATTRACTION) that's designed as erotica Oscar bait but ends up in hindsight possessing uncommonly well-crafted unintentional hilarity.  Camp B:  JACOB'S LADDER.  And don't get me wrong: I love Adrian Lyne, just occasionally for the wrong reasons.  He's sort of an unsung 80s/90s commercial auteur, perhaps comparable to a Philip Noyce or an Alan Parker or, on his best days, a Philip Kaufman.  I'm also kind of excited to see that Lyne has his first film in a decade coming out next year, BACK ROADS.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... URBAN COWBOY

Only now does it occur to me...   that Scott Glenn steals the show in URBAN COWBOY right from beneath John Travolta's nose (and weirdy-beard).

 Scott Glenn flips pouty Travolta the bird!

Donning a black fishnet shirt (was the costumer's intent to make Travolta look manlier by comparison?- it didn't work),

 grinning up a storm, and chomping the shit out of the tequila worm (in a bit of improv),

Glenn ensures that his slimy character-actin' country-western bizarre-itude will be remembered for all time.  See, Hollywood?  That's what you get for burying him in a bit part in APOCALYPSE NOW the year prior.  This is full-force Glenn unleashed, and there's no stoppin' him!

As for the film itself?  Imagine if Cannon Films, during its dance-craze phase (BREAKIN', RAPPIN' SALSA, LAMBADA), made a country-fried remake of ROCKY, except instead of boxing in Philly it was about mechanical bull-riding in Houston.  Also, imagine if the film I've just described was engineered with the sort of corporate sincerity designed to win Oscars in a cheap, sleazy, kinda proto-FLASHDANCE/OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN way.

Also, prepare yourself to hear "Lookin' for Love in All the Wrong Places" at least fifty-seven times.  Yee-haw!

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Slater Factor in the News Cycle

Longtime readers of this site will know that I am an enthusiast of the phenomenon known as The Slater Factor.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that he's been making headlines today due to the fact that his vote was rejected in Florida do to signature issues and his name was misconstrued as "Christina Slater."

Note that he toned down the eyebrows a little for his pose with the President.

Also, Christian Slater is going to be in a Lars von Trier film?!

Film Review: INVASION U.S.A. (1985, Joseph Zito)

Stars: 2.8 of 5.
Running Time: 107 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Directed by Joseph Zito (MISSING IN ACTION, THE PROWLER).  Written by James Bruner (THE DELTA FORCE, MISSING IN ACTION), Chuck Norris, and Aaron Norris (HELLBOUND, DELTA FORCE 2).  Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.  Music by Jay Chattaway (VIGILANTE, MANIAC, SILVER BULLET).  Cinematography by João Fernandez (DEEP THROAT, DEADLY WEAPONS, CHILDREN OF THE CORN, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART IV, WALKER TEXAS RANGER).  Starring Chuck Norris, Richard Lynch (SCARECROW, THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER), Melissa Prophet (CASINO, GOODFELLAS), Eddie Jones (A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, C.H.U.D.), Billy Drago (THE UNTOUCHABLES, DELTA FORCE 2), and James Pax (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS).
Tag-line: "No one thought it could happen here...  America wasn't ready...  but HE was!"
Best one-liner:  "If you come back in, I'll hit you with so many rights, you'll be begging for a left!"

Is INVASION U.S.A. a good movie?  No, no it is not.  Today, I suppose it reads more like a post-election Tea Party fantasy, but back in the 80s I guess it was for the set who thought "I would have loved RED DAWN if it had been about one guy in tight denim with dual uzis instead of a teenaged guerrilla army."

Granted, "that guy" is Chuck Norris, but what I'm saying is: RED DAWN it ain't.  There are a lot of things that go wrong here– it's generally bland and doesn't have the mind-blowing action movie moxie of a DEATH WISH 3 or a STONE COLD, Chuck Norris doesn't do much in the way of martial arts and is offscreen way too often, and the supporting cast is pretty weak (the two Cannon character actors I was all psyched to see, Billy Drago and James Pax, get about a combined 2 minutes of screentime).  As far as Norris flicks go, I think I'd even have to put this one below THE HERO AND THE TERROR and SILENT RAGE.  It's even three or four steps down from DELTA FORCE 2: THE COLUMBIAN CONNECTION.

Mind the mud!

But– before you go throwing yourselves off of balconies– this is still a Norris/Cannon picture, and as such there are a handful of things that should tickle the fancy of any conoisseur of 80s trash nonsense.

"Let the fancy-tickling commence:  I'll bring the beard!"

Starring Richard Lynch as a communist-terrorist-mercenary

who wants to invade America because  we don't value our freedom enough ("They are their own worst enemy, they don't realize how we can use their freedom against them!"), INVASION U.S.A. sees Lynch proceed to "Monsters on Maple Street" the country, sowing mistrust and violence.  He expends a great deal of his resources on blowing up Chuck Norris' cabin and frightening his pet armadillo, shoots a drug-dealin' Billy Drago in the balls and tosses a hooker out the window, executes some kids making out on the beach, shoots up a Latino community center, and then heartily fucks up suburban Christmas with blasts from a rocket launcher during "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."  Did I mention that this was sort of a Christmas movie?

"Daddy, can I put the star on top?"


I gotta say that the filmmakers do do a pretty good job of straight-up destroying Christmas.  But then, in a most egregious mistake, Lynch & Co. blow up a mall in the midst of holiday rush.

Ya don't mess with Reagan-era consumerism when Chuck is around, that's for sure.  And what did DEATH HUNT teach us about property rights?  Don't fuck with a man's cabin.  That's a big mistake.

And fuck with Norris' cabin they did.  They also needlessly scared the daylights out of this cute little guy:

the aforementioned pet armadillo, who might actually be my favorite element of the film.

Although, perhaps the biggest mistake they really made was killing off Drago.

This may have marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship (Drago also appears with Norris in THE HERO AND THE TERROR, DELTA FORCE 2: THE COLUMBIAN CONNECTION, and the WALKER, TEXAS RANGER episode "Terror in the Night") but he really only gets about sixty seconds to slither in and creep everybody out and say "Impress me" like he's Tom "Thrill me" Atkins in NIGHT OF THE CREEPS

before this happens

and then Lynch crams the coke straw of Drago's number-one-lady up into her sinus cavity and then tosses her out the window for good measure.

I'm not really sure what the purpose of all this was except to add some sleaze to the picture and to associate communism with American drug culture/prostitution?

Well, if you have any questions, you'll just have to ask the writer:

Yeah, Chuck just broke a bottle of Coors with his fist because he was so angry at the thought of having his artistic acumen undermined.  Well, that angry-bearded scribe brings us some rants against Social Security and the line "They're turning people against each other... even worse, they're turning them against authority!"  And it's a major plot point that all of this is happening because Norris didn't execute Lynch back when he had the chance:

Though he did kick him in the face.

And he also brings us yet another in a series of Chuck Norris characters with first names for last names:  Matt Hunter.  Also see:  Scott James, John Booker, Sean Kane, Josh Randall, etc., etc.

There's a weak plucky journalist character (Melissa Prophet- though supposedly Chuck's first choice was Whoopi Goldberg) who makes up for lack of character development by loudly calling everybody "Bozos!" and "Bastards!"  James Pax shows up impersonating a cop as he guns down partygoers at a Hispanic community center:

this guy shows up, too, the sort of ridiculous tank-top body-builder who's always wandering around Cannon Films for some reason:

and then there's a fairly great scene where Norris is threatening/propositioning Lynch via live television:

"One night you're gonna close your eyes..."

"And when you open them..."

"I'm gonna be there..."

Anyway, it gets pretty damn dull in stretches, and I think it might be because it was one of Cannon's biggest budgets (at $10 million) thus far.  Therefore, I theorize, they wanted to show it off with lots of shots of trucks driving and soldiers assembling and crowds running and tanks driving around instead of shots of street dancers and spandex'd henchmen and chicken being good and all.  I think Cannon wanted to make a "real" movie, and for that reason it loses a little of its charm.  Not all of it– not even close– but some.

Anyway, it practically redeems itself with an abrupt finale involving bazookas which recalls another Cannon film abrupt finale involving bazookas from 1985, DEATH WISH 3.  You see, Chuck and Richard Lynch are in a hallway with bazookas, sort of cruising each other

when this happens

At least you knew how to go out with a bang, INVASION U.S.A.– I'll give ya that!

-Sean Gill