Tuesday, February 26, 2013

FRESH PISS at the Atlanta Film Festival


Fresh Piss, which has played previously at Bideodromo in Bilbao, Spain, and won the 2012 "Best Transgression Short" at the PollyGrind Film Festival in Las Vegas will be appearing this March at the prestigious, Oscar-qualifying Atlanta Film Festival.  For those in the area, it will screen as a part of the "Unconventional Shorts" program on Saturday, March 23rd, at 8:00 p.m. at the Plaza Theatre (1049 Ponce De Leon Ave. NE) in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood of Atlanta.  Tickets and more information are available here.

The film is described thusly:  "A nasty little scene, set in a cesspool. A nefarious, masked man hires two fun-loving, Thunderbird-swilling hobos to assist him in a specialized task."  It's dark, political, and features a curious combination of masked men and ventriloquist's dummies.  It stars John Sellers, Isaiah Piper, Astrid Ferrari, Scooter Pie, and Eric Schmalenberger, and was written, shot, edited, and directed by Sean Gill.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... THE PIRATE

Only now does it occur to me...  that Gene Kelly has an enthusiasm for explosions that may even surpass Michael Bay's!
 
 
These undeniably insane screen captures come from one of the musical numbers in THE PIRATE, directed by Vincente Minnelli (Liza's dad).  Gene Kelly and Robert Alton were the "dance directors," however, which leads me to believe that this sensational frenzy of pyrotechnics may have been Kelly's brainchild.  He gyrates, kicks, fires pistols, twirls a sword, stabs with a spear, and tosses torches that detonante on impact like Molotov cocktails.

All of this while a flurry of explosions erupt in the not-so-distant background, curling into dangerous mushroom clouds of flame.  I find myself wishing that Jean-Claude Van Damme had been around for the Louis B. Mayer era.  Oh, well.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD

Only now does it occur to me...  that the Willis vs. Schwarzenegger "rivalry" runs deeper than the EXPENDABLES.

I've followed the semi-fictitious "rivalries" between action stars on this site such as "Bronson vs. Eastwood" and "Schwarzenegger vs. Stallone," rivalries that pop up probably due to the actors being up for the same roles and generally expressing themselves in onscreen, good-natured ribbing and obscure references for the benefit of the diehards (no pun intended).  Being as they'd never really taken the spotlight together, I assumed that the Schwarzenegger vs. Willis jocularity in EXPENDABLES 1 & 2 was manufactured for the series, and befit their "major star in bit part" pairing.   Now, that I stand back and look at it from afar, it seems this "feud" has been brewing for years.

I got to thinking, and began to wonder– John McTiernan made DIE HARD and THE LAST ACTION HERO.  Willis had even worked with Shane Black's writing before on THE LAST BOY SCOUT.  Was Willis jealous that he wasn't 'the Last Action Hero?'  And afterward, when its financial losses became apparent, was Schwarzenegger peeved that it hadn't been Willis in the role?  Did Willis gloat?  That seems like something he would do.  Did Schwarzenegger mock him for his "Bruno" musical career and those Seagram's Golden Wine Coolers ads?  The possibilities are endless.  Of course, that's just speculation.  But look at this:

Willis, Schwarzenegger, and Stallone appearing together on British television in 1993.  Notable for  their spectacular 1993 fashions (for instance, Stallone's Planet Hollywood baggy stonewashed jean vest and Schwarzenegger's Hawaiian shirt that proves that he's actually playing 'himself' in TWINS),

Willis' clear but thinly veiled distaste for the host (Terry Wogan),

Stallone's insistence that he does not deliver one-liners well (ask COBRA about that!), the special presumably drunken appearance by Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith,

 Wogan's creepy request that Willis show off his left breast

as well as Wogan forcing him to awkwardly talk about INDECENT PROPOSAL in terms of Demi Moore and his personal life, and finally the simultaneously childlike and depraved way Arnold's eyes light up when INDECENT PROPOSAL is discussed, as if the idea of asking a woman to sleep with him for a million dollars is just then hatching in his mind.

In short, this is magnificent.

Anyway, now knowing that their friendship and rivalry has existed for many years, that brings me to the actual point of this entry.  Which is that in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, Bruce Willis (while protecting Justin Long from the bad guys)




takes out a TERMINATOR (figurine) as collateral damage and smirks about it!  If that ain't a shot across the bow, I don't know what is!


As a side note, I only rewatched LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (4) in order to pump myself up for seeing A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (5) in theaters.  Though not horrible, seeing DIE HARD 4 again sufficiently disheartened me to the extent that I think I'm gonna wait on 5 for DVD.  Ah, well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... BANANAS

Only now does it occur to me... that Sylvester Stallone could have easily been a DEATH WISH punk!


Near the beginning of BANANAS, Woody Allen's Latin America-regime change-screwball-comedy, our nebbish hero is accosted by two Italian American thugs, one of whom is an extremely young Sylvester Stallone.  (It begins exactly as a scene from DEATH WISH, though that film wouldn't come out for three years.)  He steals a woman's hat and begins molesting an old lady with crutches


when Paul-Kersey-in-training Woody Allen takes the initiative

and tosses their asses off the train.  Of course, as in real life, the subway doors reopen when least expected and/or appreciated

and the Italian Stallion takes his revenge, chasing Allen down the train car to an uncertain fate.  Alas, there is no Bronson.
 
I'm not gonna lie to you– it's the highlight of the film.  Woody Allen's films are often pretty hit or miss for me, and this one hasn't aged too gracefully.  It's Zany with a capital 'Z,' and occasionally is Konsciously Kooky enough make a Benny Hill sketch seem understated.  Still, I say Stallone counts for plenty!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Charles Bronson, welcome to the Criterion Collection

In a big day for Bronson aficionados, the man finally enters the Criterion Collection via (not as I had hoped, as in Mandom Commercials as a bonus feature on the disc for HOUSE, or as part of a DEATH WISH box set) Delmer Daves' Western JUBAL.  (Also, the irrepressible expression upon painted Ernest Borgnine's face appears to be worth the price of admission alone.)  Pass the chicken!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

GIRLS BEFORE SWINE

I've finished a new film– a collaboration between myself and theater director Rachel Klein.  It's called GIRLS BEFORE SWINE and it stars Aimee DeLong, Jillaine Gill, Meghan Holland, Joe Stipek, Michael Porsche, David F. Slone, Esq.,  Brian Ferree, Scooter Pie, Megan O'Connor, and Robyn Nielsen.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Film Review: THE DEAD ZONE (1983, David Cronenberg)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 103 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Starring Christopher Walken (THE DEER HUNTER, KING OF NEW YORK), Brooke Adams (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS '78, DAYS OF HEAVEN), Tom Skerritt (ALIEN, CHEERS), Herbert Lom (SPARTACUS, EL CID), Anthony Zerbe (STEEL DAWN, THE OMEGA MAN), Martin Sheen (APOCALYPSE NOW, THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE), Geza Kovacs (MEPHISTO, SCANNERS), Peter Dvorsky (VIDEODROME, THE PARK IS MINE), Les Carlson (VIDEODROME, THE FLY), Jackie Burroughs (MORE TALES OF THE CITY, HEAVY METAL).   Screenplay by Jeffrey Boam (THE LOST BOYS, LETHAL WEAPON 2), based on the novel by Stephen King. Cinematography by Mark Irwin (VIDEODROME, SCREAM).  Music by Michael Kamen (LETHAL WEAPON, DIE HARD).  Produced by Dino de Laurentiis (DUNE, BLUE VELVET) and Debra Hill (HALLOWEEN, THE FOG).
Tag-line: "In his mind, he has the power to see the future.  In his hands, he has the power to change it."
Best one-liner:  "The ICE...  is...gonna... BREAK!!!"

THE DEAD ZONE is not a flashy film.  It possesses a muted quality, it proceeds at its own pace, it relishes its understated, tragic plotting.  As such, it's often a forgotten (or at least marginalized) film, both in the David Cronenberg and Stephen King canons.  Hell, both of them had more elaborate (King's CHRISTINE and CUJO) and ballsier (Cronenberg's VIDEODROME) films come out the very same year (1983)!  THE DEAD ZONE is more of a psychological study: its monsters are not rabid St. Bernards, nor hellish Plymouth Furies, near-immortal Walkin' Dudes, demonic clowns, nor possessed industrial machinery– THE DEAD ZONE's monsters are men, and the perversions of human minds.  It's a strong film, and an artful one.  Here are eight reasons to visit THE DEAD ZONE:


1.  Melancholy Horror.
Readers of the site have heard me pontificate at length on the joys– er, I suppose I mean sorrows– of melancholy horror, which is probably my favorite of all the horror sub-genre classifications that I've pulled out of my ass across the years.  While this is a touch late in the game to qualify as Golden Age Melancholy Horror (1969-1981), it sure fits.  The mood is pensive, our hero unravels in misery.  The soundtrack, by Michael "LETHAL WEAPON & DIE HARD" Kamen even follows suit– it's downcast and quotes Tchaikovsky on occasion.

The imagery is wintry and despondent (as Canadian locations are wont to be).  The color palette is delicate, the spaces vacant, the trees barren.


I might just have Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as "SAD," or "winter depression." I think I'll mount a one-man campaign to have it colloquially renamed "The Dead Zone Blues."


2.  Kronenberg Kronies.
This one could easily also be called "The Villains of VIDEODROME Reunion Tour."
We got Les Carlson ("Barry Convex" from VIDEODROME) as a man being politically intimidated by Martin Sheen.  (And behind him is Géza Kovács, who played an assassin in SCANNERS.)

And then there's Peter Dvorsky ("Harlan" from VIDEODROME) as a sleazy reporter named Dardis.

An interesting side note is that in the novel, it's a sleazy reporter from fictional rag mag INSIDE VIEW named Richard Dees who comes to harass our hero, and he later shows up as the protagonist in a Stephen King short story called "The Night Flier," hunting down an exclusive about a Cessna-piloting vampire.  This short story was later made into a 1997 film starring Miguel Ferrer as Dees, which I'll review one of these days.  Miguel Ferrer (ROBOCOP, TRAFFIC, "Albert Rosenfield" on TWIN PEAKS) made for a fantastic sleazebag, but I'm going to go ahead and pretend that Dvorksy here is also playing Dees, as I feel like there's a spiritual connection between the unsavory acting choices of Dvorsky and Ferrer.


3.  The Collars.
How ya like your collars?  Popped?  I sure hope so.

We could probably call this thing "THE POPPED COLLAR ZONE."  And I'd be fine with that.


4.  Shit-Eatin' Sheen.
It doesn't happen often these days, but I love Martin Sheen as a villain.  He gives a brilliant, disturbing performance as a child molester in another melancholy horror flick, THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE, and here he taps into the same realm of performance as a sociopath enamored by the power he lords over others.

Kind of prefiguring his far more benevolent politician on THE WEST WING, he imbues the role with an incredible polish.  He probably could have been a real politician.  Gone is the immature, animalistic villainy called for in BADLANDS, this character's a far darker, rational fellow.
He's got a pretty fantastic crazy-eye, as well:


5.  Strong Imagery.
I revisited THE DEAD ZONE this week, but I had seen it once previously, probably around the age of ten or eleven.  I didn't remember a great deal about it, but what stuck in my mind (and vague spoilers follow) was the vivid, haunting imagery of some of Walken's psychic episodes.  I still remembered, as if I had seen it yesterday, the shots of children breaking through the ice and plunging into frigid waters:



and the scenes of Sheen in his presidential bunker, contemplating World War III:



It's understated, but incredibly well done.  Cronenberg can play ya like a piano even without the sensationalism of flesh pods and Brundleflies and VHS vaginas!


6.  Walken's Psychic Episodes.

I already mentioned the strong imagery which accompanies them, but when Walken's in the midst of it, uttering something like "The ICE...  is...gonna... BREAK!!!," you are there with him.  It's nearly "overacting," but Walken is so present, so connected to the material that you simply have no choice but to believe his performance.
Also, though I usually am not the greatest fan of parodies, Walken's lampooning of his DEAD ZONE role re-imagined as "Ed Glosser, Trivial Psychic" on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE is well worth your time.

7.  George Bannerman.
In the novels of Stephen King, much attention is paid to the details of the fictional community of Castle Rock (among others), and one of the markers for chronology becomes the succession of sheriffs in the town.  Bannerman is only a Constable back in THE BODY (the basis for STAND BY ME), gets promoted to Sheriff, plays large and memorable roles in THE DEAD ZONE and CUJO, and he's mentioned in passing even in novels that take place after his time.  Then he's replaced by Alan Pangborn (who's been depicted on screen by Michael Rooker and Ed Harris) who plays a major role in THE DARK HALF and NEEDFUL THINGS.  Anyway, what I'm saying is that King lends great verisimilitude to his fictional locales, and he does it so well, that you're looking forward to seeing how even minor characters will be depicted.  Bannerman was portrayed the same year in CUJO by Sandy Ward (THE ROCKFORD FILES, POLICE ACADEMY 2, THE PERFECT STORM), and while he does a fine job, Tom Skerritt is sort of exactly who you'd imagine from the page.

It's a fairly minor role here, but he lends it a genuine credibility.  We find Walken's psychic nature far easier to swallow as an audience because it plays so realistically off of Skerritt's skepticism (and eventual belief).


8.  The SLEEPY HOLLOW connection.
Early in the film, when he's still a (relatively) carefree schoolteacher, Walken assigns his class to read Washington Irving's THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW.


Little did he know, I'm sure, that some sixteen years later, he'd be playing the Headless Horseman himself.

Note the popped collar, however.  Some things never change, I suppose!  Four stars.

-Sean Gill

Monday, February 11, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... HEAVEN'S GATE

Only now does it occur to me... that I'm not sure if a movie has ever been packed with as many beloved character actors as HEAVEN'S GATE, and I'll even include THE LONGEST DAY, COP LAND, THE EXPENDABLES, THE PLAYER, and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in consideration.

There's so much to say about HEAVEN'S GATE.  Probably too much.  From its tumultuous production that basically destroyed United Artists to its hideous reception to its latter-day critical re-evaluation to the Johnson County War on which it is based– one could fill a volume.  (And people have.)  In the end, I'd say it's an ambitious film which flirts with genius, is bogged down by poor pacing, but consistently holds the viewer spellbound with gorgeous Western imagery (courtesy of master cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond) even when the narrative begins to dawdle. 
So set aside nearly four hours and give it a try– I'd say it's worth the time for the curious, the Western fan, the cinematography aficionado, or the character actor die-hard.  But more on that in a minute.  Then, see FINAL CUT: THE MAKING AND UNMAKING OF HEAVEN'S GATE (available in eight parts on YouTube here), and go ahead and read this interview with Cimino himself for a little taste of the outlandish (and possibly insane) creature who lurks beneath the surface of this genuinely talented and occasionally virtuosic director.

But for now, fasten your seatbelts, and prepare for a whirlwind tour of character actors, the sheer magnitude of whom may even give you whiplash: 

Coming up on the left here is Eastwood crony Geoffrey Lewis (10 TO MIDNIGHT, MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, DOUBLE IMPACT, BRONCO BILLY, 'SALEM'S LOT, MAVERICK) looking like the live action mountain man version of "Pigpen" from peanuts.

Attached to Geoffrey Lewis is a hand.  And in that hand is a tongue.  And that tongue is attached to...
...Mickey Rourke?  
 
Lookin' pretty young there, Mickey!  Good show.

Down the road a spell is Terry O'Quinn (THE STEPFATHER, BLIND FURY, THE X-FILES, SILVER BULLET, THE ROCKETEER, "John Locke" on LOST)
He's got his hair still, and is playing a baseball-luvin' member of the U.S. Calvary.  In a strange tie-in with his character on LOST, he's got an injured leg and is carrying an important and mysterious "list" of names.

Continuing on with our journey, here's Richard Masur (IT, THE THING, LICENSE TO DRIVE, MR. BOOGEDY, RENT-A-COP, RISKY BUSINESS, MY GIRL)

chomping on a corn cob pipe, giving his all to his colorful brogue, and looking about as intense as he's ever looked (no small feat for a man generally typecast as "suburban dad").

Over on the right here, to the left of that presumably 19th Century malt liquor is edgy queen of French cinema Isabelle Huppert (THE PIANO TEACHER, AMOUR, I HEART HUCKABEE, COUP DE TORCHON, LA CEREMONIE, Hal Hartley's AMATEUR).

Up here behind the beard is Brad Dourif (CHILD'S PLAY, WISE BLOOD, ALIEN: RESURRECTION, DEADWOOD, THE TWO TOWERS, DUNE, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, THE EXORCIST III, BLUE VELVET, GRIM PRAIRIE TALES)
and sure he doesn't have much to do, but it's a modern-day Western, so we had to have Brad Dourif in some kind of old-timey spectacles.  I think it should be written into the SAG paperwork.

Around the bend in the proto-pimp costume is Bronson heavy Paul Koslo (THE OMEGA MAN, VANISHING POINT, THE STONE KILLER, MR. MAJESTYK, CLEOPATRA JONES, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, LOVE AND BULLETS).

Then, over in that train with the fur hat and the lip carpet is Sam Waterston (THE KILLING FIELDS, THE GREAT GATSBY, SERIAL MOM, LAW AND ORDER, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, CAPRICORN ONE)

who finally gets to play a bad guy, and to great effect!

Over to the side there, you can see a Kris Kristofferson (PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID, BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, CONVOY, FLASHPOINT, BIG-TOP PEE-WEE, BLADE, and star of CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT, the only feature Arnold Schwarzenegger ever directed) in his natural habitat.
And wait– who's that in the shadows behind him?  Why, it's the film debut of Willem Dafoe (THE LOVELESS, WILD AT HEART, ANTICHRIST, SPIDERMAN, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, EXISTENZ, BODY OF EVIDENCE, BOONDOCK SAINTS, THE ENGLISH PATIENT).  He's just an extra, but, hot damn!

Down the path a spell is none other than Jeff Bridges (TRON, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, CUTTER'S WAY, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, KING KONG '76, STARMAN, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT).

He's got a great intensity here in a supporting role– and supposedly when production wrapped, one of the many "cabin" sets were up for grabs, so Bridges swooped in, disassembled it, and reconstructed it on his ranch property!

Over in this glen is Christopher Walken (THE DEER HUNTER, ANNIE HALL, KING OF NEW YORK, THE DEAD ZONE, A VIEW TO A KILL, MCBAIN, BATMAN RETURNS, WAYNE'S WORLD 2, NEW ROSE HOTEL, KANGAROO JACK)
and I'll yes indeed shut my big mouth, shitpoke!  Another fine Walken badass role.

And then right here, if he'll put down the flask long enough for you to get a clear look– is none other than John Hurt (THE ELEPHANT MAN, I CLAUDIUS, ALIEN, THE HIT, 1984, THE STORYTELLER, KING RALPH, DOGVILLE, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, DEAD MAN, HELLBOY, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY '11)!
He delivers an eccentric performance, dripping with pathos.  Like every other John Hurt performance!  The man is never anything less than superlative.

Then, upon examining the end credits, I realized that one of my favorites, Tom Noonan (MANHUNTER, HEAT, THE MONSTER SQUAD, THE LAST ACTION HERO, ROBOCOP 2, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, DAMAGES), was in the film as "Jake," and I didn't notice him!  To be fair, he may have been standing around the back with a beard and hat on, and I'm sure I would have seen him if I'd been looking in advance, but allow me to repeat this sentiment:  there were so many character actors that I missed Tom Noonan.

Whew!  I'm impressed.  I hope you've enjoyed this breakneck tour of character actors.  And perhaps in closing, it begs to be asked:  where the hell was Harry Dean Stanton?