Tuesday, January 29, 2013

GROWING BOY screening this Friday in NYC

My film, GROWING BOY, is screening on Friday, February 1st as a part of the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival.    The plot is described thusly:  "Haunted by recurring nightmares of his childhood home, a man begins to undergo unsettling changes." 
 It stars Joe Stipek and David F. Slone, Esq.  I wrote and directed and edited, etc.  Music by Jesse Carlson.  It was made with the helpful participation of Jillaine Gill, Rachel Klein, and Daisy Tainton.
It will be screened on Friday at 8:00 p.m. at the DMAC (Duo Multicultural Arts Center) on 62 East 4th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues) in Manhattan.  Tickets are $10 in advance, and $15 at the door, and are available here.  After the screening, the audience will vote on the films and the highest ranked will proceed to the next stage of the festival.

Hope some of you can make it out!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... UNFAITHFUL

Only now does it occur to me...  Balloon Saloon!  Allow me to explain. 
So I've been on a Adrian Lyne rewatch kick and I finally got around to watching UNFAITHFUL, his surprisingly faithful (no joke intended) remake of Claude Chabrol's 1969 film, THE UNFAITHFUL WIFE.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, and the performances– particularly by Diane Lane and Richard Gere (the AMERICAN GIGOLO himself playing the cuckold in a piece of genius casting)– are incredibly in tune with one another, and subtle even in the midst of scenes that nearly ring "soap opera." 
The film begins with Diane Lane exiting a shop and entering a windstorm of Biblical proportions– or at least Bugs Bunny cartoon proportions.  She is hefted to and fro by the winds until she melodramatically meets a dangerously handsome Frenchman whereupon the titular unfaithfulness is set into motion.  Let me back up a moment– about that shop:

 It is a balloon saloon.


And I guarantee you this is the only time in film you will see Diane Lane battered about by giant balloon dinosaurs and zebras.

Even better, I recognized the balloon saloon from semi-frequent trips to Tribeca.
 Imagine it!  A bar where you can get balloons as well!  Alas, my dreams were dashed when I entered the establishment and discovered that it was simply a party center.  I craned my neck to look behind the counter with the helium tanks and the ribbon cutting station, hoping to spy a glimpse of a lonely tap of "Balloon Saloon Lager," but there was no such luck.  I'm still holding out hope that there's a back room speakeasy, accessible by password, which contains a portal to the clown bar from SHAKES THE CLOWN.  We can all dream, can't we?

By the way, J.D. over at Radiator Heaven did a great writeup on this film some time ago, too, if you want to read an informed opinion on something other than the Balloon Saloon.

Monday, January 21, 2013

RIP, Michael Winner

Michael Winner, a much beloved director here at Junta Juleil, passed away this morning.  
His best-crafted films include the original DEATH WISH, THE SENTINEL, and THE MECHANIC, but I think he'll be most remembered for DEATH WISH 3, the outrageous, incredible Cannon film that reigns over action movie sequels like a benevolent, chicken-loving monarch.  And his legendary multi-film partnerships with giants of cinema Charles Bronson and Oliver Reed shall not be forgotten.  Here's to you, Mr. Winner, here's to exploding juke boxes, mail-order rocket launchers, and dummies plummeting to their doom– your films have made this viewer very happy.  R.I.P.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... MAGIC MIKE

Only now does it occur to me...  that I can predict the future!  Over four years ago, I wrote a facetious musical analysis of the Skatt Brothers' leather cowboy disco classic "Life at the Outpost," and in it, I claimed that the lead singer was in fact Matthew McConaughey, of DAZED AND CONFUSED and BOYS ON THE SIDE fame.
Though this man is not, in fact, McConaughey, in 2012 Steven Soderbergh made a film about male strippers entitled MAGIC MIKE.  During said film, McConaughey comports himself and dresses exactly like the sweat-drenched hard-lovin' gentlemen of The Outpost!  

Also, he busts a guitar like Pete Townsend:

And has a marble statue carved in his likeness:
(which I think as a gift item should be available to the public)

I must say– I was never the biggest fan of McConaughey (outside of his roles in DAZED AND CONFUSED and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEW GENERATION), but if what I've seen recently is any indication, hopefully he's trading in the dialed-in rom-coms (FOOL'S GOLD, FAILURE TO LAUNCH) and laughably soulless Oscar bait (THE PAPERBOY) for nuanced, hilarious character actor performances in films like MAGIC MIKE, BERNIE, and KILLER JOE.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Film Review: THE HOLE (2010, Joe Dante)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 92 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Chris Massoglia (CIRQUE DU FREAK), Haley Bennett (KABOOM, MUSIC & LYRICS), Nathan Gamble (THE DARK KNIGHT, THE MIST), Teri Polo (MEET THE PARENTS, MYSTERY DATE), Bruce Dern (THE 'BURBS, SILENT RUNNING, FAMILY PLOT), Dick Miller (THE TERMINATOR, GREMLINS).  Cinematography by Theo van de Sande (WAYNE'S WORLD, MIRACLE MILE).  Written by Mark L. Smith (VACANCY, VACANCY 2). Directed by Joe Dante (GREMLINS, GREMLINS 2, EERIE INDIANA).
Tag-line: "It knows your deepest fears."
Best one-liner:  "Nobody built the hole!  The hole has been there since the world's first scream!"

I had pretty low expectations for THE HOLE.  I had seen too many beloved 80s horror directors fall victim to runaway CGI, slashed budgets, and the other side effects of the digital era to think otherwise.   Joe Dante's last theatrical feature was 2003's LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION, and THE HOLE (despite being in 3-D) struggled to find distribution for nearly three years– neither of which boded well.  Furthermore, Dante's slight contribution to the largely terrible TRAPPED ASHES did not inspire confidence, but, dammit, I should have known better–  he did make it through two seasons of MASTERS OF HORROR relatively unscathed and emerged with one mini-masterpiece (HOMECOMING).  As to THE HOLE:  I'm sorry I doubted ya, Joe!

What we have here is a pretty solid "scrappy suburban kids versus unspeakable evil" movie in the tradition of THE GATE, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, SILVER BULLET, THE MONSTER SQUAD, and FRIGHT NIGHT, among others.  This being 2013, its success is largely dependent on three important elements of faint praise which in an earlier era would not even need to be addressed:

#1.  The kids are not too annoying, airbrushed, or overly dull.

#2.  Bad CGI is kept to a minimum.

#3.  It tries for a sense of childlike wonder instead of corporate soullessness uncomfortably packaged as "cynicism."

[As a side note, I hold it in a higher regard than another recent, commercially successful film that attempted this vibe (SUPER 8), and though that film succeeded at #1 & #3, it failed miserably at #2, its third act revealing the "monster" and becoming a muddle of groan-inducing CGI reminiscent of the TRANSFORMERS films.]

I've always thought that the best kiddie fiction (from ALICE IN WONDERLAND to CORALINE) involves some combination of parallel dimensions and child abuse, and Dante delivers on both fronts, presenting a more mature children's piece.  It's not as good as GREMLINS or EERIE, INDIANA, sure, but it certainly tackles child abuse with a degree of empathy and sophistication that's not often seen– I was recalling the subtle hints toward Simon's abuse in EERIE, INDIANA, the bonds between the boys in EXPLORERS, and the childish sense of menace in Dante's segment of THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE.

A few other things I enjoyed:

Corman/Dante regular and film legend Dick Miller's wordless cameo as an eyebrow-raising pizza deliveryman:

The bits with the POLTERGEIST/TRILOGY OF TERROR/CAT'S EYE-inspired evil clown/jester doll, who, for the most part (thank God!) is a bona fide puppet:

The twisted, cartoonish vibe  of the sets in one sequence, which recall the best of Dante's TWILIGHT ZONE segment, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, and WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT:

And, hurrah: the generally deranged Bruce Dern shows up to chew on some scenery 
as some kind of steam-punk, Christopher Lloyd-ish light bulb enthusiast named Creepy Carl who utters foreboding dialogue such as "Nobody built the hole!  The hole has been there since the world's first scream!"
You tell 'em, Bruce!

Anyway, THE HOLE is not a masterpiece, but it's a fun kiddie-horror flick that proves Dante's still got some grit, guts n' gumption left in him, which is good enough for me.

-Sean Gill

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Film Review: DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971, Guy Hamilton)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 120 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Sean Connery, Bruce Glover (CHAINDANCE, CHINATOWN), Jill St. John (THE LOST WORLD '60, TONY ROME), Lana Wood (sister of Natalie, THE SEARCHERS, PEYTON PLACE), Charles Gray (THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, SCARLETT), Jimmy Dean (country singer, creator of Jimmy Dean sausages, distant cousin of James Dean), Bruce Cabot (KING KONG, FURY), Putter Smith (IN THE MOOD, LOVE THY NEIGHBOR), Desmond Llewelyn (Q in GOLDFINGER, THUNDERBALL, etc.), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny from DR. NO to A VIEW TO A KILL), Valerie Perrine (CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC, LENNY), Sid Haig (SPIDER BABY, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS).
Tag-line: "The man who made 007 a household number!"
Best one-liner:  [James Bond delivers the following to a sewer rat] "Well, one of us smells like a tart's hankerchief."  (sniffs self)  "I'm afraid it's me.  Sorry, old boy."

Alrighty folks, I'm here to tell you about my nine favorite facets of the gem that is DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER:

#9.  Bruce Glover

#8.  Bruce Glover

#7.  Bruce Glover

#6.  Bruce Glover

#5.  Bruce Glover

#4.  Bruce Glover

#3.  Bruce Glover

#2.  Bruce Glover

#1.  Bruce Glover

Well, while in all seriousness, that's all true, I suppose I'll give you a little more to go on:  DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is one of my favorite films in the Bond franchise and is, in my mind, superior to all save for GOLDFINGER and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.  So let's get down to brass tacks:  my nine favorite facets from the gem of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, culminating in a salute to Bruce Glover:

#9.  The prevalance of a cat's eye in the opening credits, which naturally transforms into a diamond.

As you may already know, I'm something of an aficionado of cat's eyes in credit sequences.

#8.  Sean Connery's disaffection, which nearly reaches Mitchum-esque levels of aloofness.

Sean Connery:  in it for the money.

They brought him back after the short-lived (one film) Lazenby era, and he was in it for the $1.25 million, and little else, it would seem.  Conversely, he was willing to really throw himself into ZARDOZ for only $200,000, so take that for what you will.

Sean Connery:  in it for the art.

#7.  Hey, look, it's Sid Haig!

Right there, in the middle.  You may remember his stern visage from SPIDER BABY, FOXY BROWN, EMPEROR OF THE NORTH, THX 1138, or from his latter-day career resurgence in films like THE DEVIL'S REJECTS or JACKIE BROWN.  He's given nearly nothing to do here as a mob henchman/funeral home attendant, but it's still nice to see him.

#6.  Misogyny, through the rabbit hole.

There are brief moments of misogyny in James Bond films that emerge, I suppose, as fleetingly offensive products of their time.  Then there are the moments of misogyny that are so ludicrous, so abusive, so absurdly pathological, that you have no choice but to laugh.  To do so is nearly a defense mechanism.  Here, we have Connery strangling a woman (who has some association with Blofeld, possibly with two or more degrees of separation) with her own bikini top, which could probably be employed as a visual metaphor for the entire series' gender politics as a whole.

Then he drops a one-liner about not being able to hear her... because she's being choked.  Perhaps the most insane element of this entire tableau is the intense look of satisfaction on Connery's face.  Which, naturally, ties in to his beliefs about domestic violence.  The incident is so deranged that it can only inspire a deranged response from its audience.  In other words:  classic Bond.

#5.  The candy-colored production design on this circus themed casino from the film's second act.

It has all the class and subtlety of a sheet of Necco's Candy Buttons, which obviously means that I like it a lot.  And with those black backgrounds amid cheap, bright 70s colors, I can't help but feel like they could have filmed THE LETTER PEOPLE there, if they'd wanted to.

#4.  Lana Wood.  Natalie Wood's kid sister gets a chance to appear as a bodacious, short-lived Bond girl and casino hanger-on named "Plenty O'Toole."
Apparently her line readings were so, um, creative that she had to be dubbed by an actress in post-production.  That kind of makes me sad, actually.

#3.  The amazingly stupid moon buggy chase which feels like something straight out of PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE.

It's made all the more fantastic by reports that Connery secretly bought the buggy at auction in 2004 for $54,000.  Though others have refuted this claim, I have no choice but to believe that it's a cover-up designed to hide the fact that as we speak, Connery is driving it around the Scottish highlands, bouncing about and giggling like a schoolchild.

#2.  Bambi and Thumper.  Oh, Bambi and Thumper: the Blofeld henchwomen that nearly hand Bond's ass to him after a prolonged beatdown involving Van-Damme-style splits

and parallel bars fight manuevers that would later be recycled in GYMKATA and JURASSIC PARK II.

The ladies in question are Trina Parks, cult blaxploitation legend (DARKTOWN STRUTTERS, THE MUTHERS)

and Lola Larson, who never appeared in another film.
 Look at all that scantily clad female empowerment.  I take it back– this film's not misogynistic!
Of course the whole 'Estrogen party' comes to an end with Bond nearly drowning them, hatefully, in a pool.  ...Annnnd the actresses went uncredited.  Hoo boy.

 #1.  Bruce Glover.  Finally!  As "Mr. Wint," one half of the villainous gay assassination squad "Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd," Glover does what he does best:  acts like a jubilant psychopath.
Observe the look of sheer, childlike exuberance that plays upon his face as he prepares to drop a scorpion down the shirt-back of a helpful, diamond-smuggling dentist.

Though "Mr. Kidd" (Putter Smith) is also excellent, this entry belongs to Glover, who prefigures his son Crispin as a man committed to making the most unexpected, completely bonkers acting choices.

 Throughout the film's entirety he obsessively sprays himself with aftershave

 in a move designed to lead to "whodunit" conclusion whereupon Bond recognizes the smell and reacts likewise.  But as with any 'Great Thing,' we're in it for the journey, not the destination.

Also, the gay partnership element must be addressed.

Smith and Glover never descend into limp-wristed, offensive territory (what I might call "the minstrelization of gay performance"), and that's good.  There's even subtle jealousies that play out between the two, and it's very well-acted for a movie as cartoonish as this one.  (Supposedly, Glover stayed in character throughout filming convincing Sean Connery that he was really gay, a charade that lasted until years later.)

You might even think that simply having gay characters in a mainstream 1971 film is in and of itself a progressive thing, though having the first (and possibly only?  I haven't seen any recent Bond films, nor read many of the novels) gay characters be sociopathic killers isn't necessarily the greatest choice.  And we must keep in mind that 1971 was the year of, for example, SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY, a complex relationship drama that maturely analyzes all ends of the sexual spectrum.

And then there's the matter of [MINOR SPOILER ALERT] Bruce Glover's send-off, which involves an oddly sexualized humiliation with Bond practically mounting Glover in order to tie his coat-tails to a bomb and pinwheel him off the deck of a luxury cruise ship.

It should feel jaw-droppingly offensive, but there's Glover, by God, pushing it over the edge into actual brilliance.  Give this man an Oscar.  

Nearly five stars, 007.

-Sean Gill