Thursday, September 20, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

Only now does it occur to me... that it took––no joke––twenty-five writers and a lyricist in order for the 1996 animated film THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME to improve upon the 1831 Victor Hugo novel of the same name. And how did they improve on said material, beyond lending it the ol' Disney happy ending?

Not pictured: the melancholy mingling of our dead protagonists' ashes.

Well, I'm going to point out one scene in particular, whereupon the French Roma dancer Esmeralda (voiced by Demi Moore) performs for an enthusiastic crowd by twirling acrobatically on a vertical pole (in actuality, a well-placed spear)––

and is subsequently showered by the audience with appreciative gold coins.

This strikes me as a clear––albeit as PG as humanly possible––reference to the 1996 Demi Moore masterpiece STRIPTEASE (which was certainly in the zeitgeist––it was due to be released exactly one week after HUNCHBACK). Driving the point home is that she is performing in part for a corrupt politician––the Archdeacon Claude Frollo––who soon develops a violent, flagellant's fascination with her.

This, naturally, stretches the STRIPTEASE comparison even further, as there's clearly a parallel between Frollo and corrupt Congressman Dilbeck (Burt Reynolds), who, in the latter film, pines for and slobbers over Demi Moore in a quite similar manner.

(In closing, please allow me to take this moment to sing the praises of STRIPTEASE, a trashterpiece that's equal parts Elmore Leonard and Menahem Golan––essentially OVER THE TOP except with striptease instead of arm-wrestling. It also features a performance by Ving Rhames and a tiny monkey sidekick that would be right at home in the Disney movie of your choice.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Sean Gill's "The Mongrels" in Joyland Magazine

My latest short story, "The Mongrels," a morbid fantasy set in the Midwest, has been published in Joyland Magazine and is available to read online.

Founded in 2008, Joyland Magazine has featured work by Roxane Gay, Zinzi Clemmons, Lydia Millet, Amelia Gray, and Ottessa Moshfegh.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... FIREFOX

Only now does it occur to me.... that Clint Eastwood basically outsourced the villains of his Cold War caper FIREFOX to the Lucas/Spielberg industrial complex.

The Russian villains you see before you are: Kenneth Colley (Ken Russell veteran and "Admiral Piett" from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK),

Ronald Lacey ("Toht" from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK),

and Wolf Kahler ("Sgt. Gobler" from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK):

To balance things out, we have John Ratzenberger (CHEERS, "Major Derlin" from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK), essentially reprising his role from EMPIRE (Rebel on an ice planet) as an American soldier fighting the Evil Empire from the North Pole.

Because I have to tip my hat to the outliers, another of the Russian villains is Klaus Löwitsch, a legitimately Great Actor who may bear some resemblance to Corbin Bernsen, but is in fact one of the most talented players to come out of the New German Cinema and a veteran of no less than five Rainer Werner Fassbinder films. It's probably not too much of a stretch for you to understand that he is completely wasted here.

Apologies, Mr. Löwitsch.

The film itself was a box office smash at the time, but today it plays like a second-tier, phoned in cold war thriller, á la Eastwood's own THE EIGER SANCTION or Peckinpah's THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND. Author Howard Hughes (AIM FOR THE HEART: THE FILMS OF CLINT EASTWOOD) probably sums it up best with, "Less a 'Firefox', it's more of a damp squib, or at best a smoldering turkey."

The opening is kind of a proto-COMMANDO, with shirtless Eastwood as a veteran in pastoral environs trying to enjoy his retirement when he's pulled out to do "one last job." In this case, the Last Job is stealing a top-secret Soviet fighter plane.

I guess there's an understated sci-fi aspect to the film with a "mind-control helmet" that pilots the Soviet plane via telepathy, but that's not even important, so you don't have to worry about it.

Also, for a Cold War actioner, there's not a lot of action. In fact, the entire plot could likely be reduced to about three scenes––therefore, I'm not sure why it runs 2 hours and 15 minutes. Ah, well.

It's also perhaps worth mentioning that the 'thrilling' dogfight is simplistic enough so as to prep us for the eventual Atari game tie-in; and despite using a superior "Reverse Blue-Screen" technology, it still looks inferior to the Battle of Hoth in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Out of the 39 completed films Clint Eastwood has directed, I have now seen 37 of them (for the curious, my only gaps are HEREAFTER and THE 15:17 TO PARIS). Only THE EIGER SANCTION, SULLY, and INVICTUS are as boring as this one. I prefer BREEZY, for godssakes. BREEZY.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... GLITTER

Only now does it occur to me... that Mariah Carey's much-reviled 2001 film GLITTER contains an obscure reference to the seminal '80s trashterpiece BODY ROCK. This brings me much joy––a joy of the sort that GLITTER mostly deprived this viewer: it's just not as much cheesy fun as it should be.

Technically a period piece set in 1983, the plot revolves around Mariah Carey's character, "Billie," attempting to claw her way to the top of the music industry so she may reign as queen of the pop idols. After one of her concerts, she meets a potential manager (note his shirt patterned with CD-ROMS––er, I mean, '80s gold records) and the following exchange takes place:
He just signed Chilly-D!  That would be Lorenzo Lamas' character from BODY ROCK––a man who is similarly attempting a frantic claw to stardom. Chilly elucidates the triumph of being signed by a record label in one of the finest and most notorious monologues in film history (beginning at 4:07 in the video below):
Truly, who could forget lines like, "All you need is management," "Yo, this cut? Very big in Europe this season," "It's a live ride!," and "Manager says next step––def cut a record!" And in this BODY ROCK homage, GLITTER flirts with the film that it perhaps wanted to be––(or at least the film that I wanted it to be), and then resumes business as usual: as the worst kind of vanity project. In any event, I don't think I've been this proud about spotting an obscure paracinematic reference in a moderately obscure paracinematic movie since they paid a roundabout homage to HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH in CHILD'S PLAY 3.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... LINK

Only now does it occur to me... okay, a few things. LINK is a "killer ape" movie (it was pitched as "JAWS with apes") in the vein of MONKEY SHINES and Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue." It is also a Cannon Film––however, they only distributed it: i.e., Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus are not listed in the credits. The director is the accomplished Richard Franklin (PSYCHO II, CLOAK & DAGGER, PATRICK, ROAD GAMES), a suspense-driven Australian auteur who probably ranks second only to Brian De Palma among Hitchcock disciples. The stars are Terence Stamp––who plays a wild-eyed anthropology professor with an eccentric fashion sense and Rod Stewart's hair––

and Elisabeth Shue, who plays his student/housekeeper/ape nanny.

And that's all there is to it. The end.


Okay, that's a lie. I didn't tell you the entire truth: LINK is a strange little chamber piece and a "killer ape butler" movie. The Germans had the good sense to call this thing LINK: DER BUTLER, cause that ape butler thing isn't something you want to keep under wraps.

It's kind of like EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE meets THE REMAINS OF THE DAY. Except it's a horror movie.

I say, after you, old chap

About a chain-smoking orangutan butler who first made his name as "The Master of Fire" in an infamous carnival show.

So allow me to amend that: LINK is a movie about a "pyromaniac killer-ape butler."

There are also some killer dogs thrown in for good measure, but that's not very important.

As to the film itself, it's fair. It starts strong, but loses steam quickly. It's packed with interesting ideas and camera angles and setpieces, but it never quite delivers on its premise. Franklin does acquit himself admirably: there are inventive edits, theatrical sets,

and tour de force sequences of diegetic and non-diegetic sound (the first diegetic sound we hear is The Kinks' "Ape Man" coming from a car radio, soon it bleeds into "Hot Voodoo"––Dietrich's ape musical number from BLONDE VENUS––coming from a television as an ape stalks its feline prey).

There's inspired wide-angle cinematography by Mike Molloy (DP on THE HIT and SHOCK TREATMENT; camera operator on BARRY LYNDON and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE),

and overall, Franklin possesses a pure filmmaking joie de vivre that you don't often see outside of Richard Rush, Sam Raimi, or Ken Russell. There's also so much ape POV that at times I thought I was watching a Lucio Fulci film.

This angle does not bode well for the cat

It's extremely atmospheric and makes excellent use of the Scottish countryside, occasionally to great 'melancholy horror' effect, though I would not categorize the entire film as such.

In any event, this movie is about a pyromaniac killer-ape butler, not the Scottish countryside. As it progresses, our friend Link the Butler begins to lose his mind after falling in love (?) with Elizabeth Shue. The most chilling moments in the movie are when he's creepin' on her in the bath and elsewhere.

Look at that face. This pervy performance by "Locke the Orangutan" might be the best in the entire film. In fact, you'd better look outside your own door, right now, just to make sure some indifferent orangutan isn't out there, staring you down. To quote Werner Herzog, "the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder." Damn.

Also, I must make a special note about the soundtrack, by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith (ALIEN, GREMLINS, PLANET OF THE APES, PATTON, FIRST BLOOD, TOTAL RECALL), which is an insane carnival of circus-y madness, a reverb-heavy '80s nutball score that must be heard to be believed. Seriously, listen to the first minute and a half of this amazing nonsense. It's like if Paganini did the soundtrack to GHOULIES II. Or maybe if Kurt Weill did the score to Bertolt Brecht's CONGO. I don't know, man. But I also think I secretly like it?

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Film Review: HIGHLANDER III: THE FINAL DIMENSION (1994, Andrew Morahan)

Stars: 2 of 5.         
Running Time: 99 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Christopher Lambert (HIGHLANDER, SUBWAY, HAIL CAESAR!), Mario Van Peebles (RAPPIN', HEARTBREAK RIDGE), Deborah Kara Unger (CRASH, THE GAME), Mako (CONAN THE BARBARIAN, PACIFIC HEIGHTS).
Tag-line: "One man was chosen to protect all that is good. Now an enemy from the past journeys time to challenge him in the present."
Best one-liner: "There can be only one?"

HIGHLANDER III: THE FINAL DIMENSION must partake in some majestic retconning and narrative gymnastics to even justify its existence. For the uninitiated, HIGHLANDER the First depicts a challenge among immortals called "The Gathering" with the operating tag-line "There Can Be Only One."
 ...three HIGHLANDER movies. Er––make that six, and counting. Plus two television series. Live action, that is. And three animated series. And a handful of novels.

They commence beheading each other (the only way to kill an immortal) until there is indeed only one left (sorta like BLOODSPORT, I suppose, only with more immortal beheadings), whereupon the winner (Christopher Lambert's Connor MacLeod) undergoes "The Quickening" and brings balance to the force or whatever. HIGHLANDER II at least has the good sense (?) to imagine a whacked-out future scenario where aliens, global warming, and a long-haired Michael Ironside join forces to keep the plotline going. However, HIGHLANDER III––a prequel to part 2 that I'm certain no one asked for––takes a full step backward and imagines that "The Quickening" was actually a sham, because Mario Van Peebles (RAPPIN', EXTERMINATOR 2) was a top-seeded Gathering contestant who happened to be accidentally trapped in a cave in Japan the whole time, and therefore The Gathering ain't over till Van Peebles licks all the blades
wears all the samurai armor

(This ain't KAGEMUSHA)

does all the eyebrow indicating

(To be fair, he's good at it)

gets zapped with all the '80s lightning

and turns into all the birds.

His name is Kane, like from 'Cain and Abel,' which is a very artistic way of letting us know that he has a brotherly relationship with our hero, except, of course, he's the "bad one." (See also: all the other times a character was named Kane for similarly embarrassing, crypto-philosophical reasons.)

Frankly, however, we should all be glad that Van Peebles shows up to do things like 'look like Dave Navarro playing CONAN THE BARBARIAN' and––because he's been trapped in a cave for centuries and doesn't know what they are––'eat condoms.' This is probably the high-water mark of the film.

"No glove, no love" is actually said aloud during this sequence. Also, is this some kind of oblique reference to Van Peebles' father Melvin not using a condom and contracting gonorrhea on set of SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG (for which he obtained Worker's Compensation)?

Is this a good movie? No. No, it is not. There are lapses in continuity, hilariously stilted dialogue, and incomplete mattes.

We are forced to endure tableaux such as a yuppified Connor MacLeod wearing dumb shirts, playing catch, and bonding with his son

as well as redonkulously dumb drawing room flashbacks to 18th Century France that feel like scenes deleted from ANGEL, or at least HELLRAISER IV.

Not even Lambert deserves this

You're probably wondering if this is all worth your time. It's not––but it's also not entirely without value. For instance, the female lead is Deborah Kara Unger (David Lynch's HOTEL ROOM, David Cronenberg's CRASH, David Fincher's THE GAME),

a Canadian actress who probably could have achieved more mainstream success, booking romantic comedies and the like, but who chose to fully embrace the "bizarro character actress" route. She always brings an unpredictable dark edge to her roles, in the vein of a Willem Dafoe or Crispin Glover or Susan Tyrrell.

When she first meets Kane (he breaks into her museum, after hours), the blocking and dialogue play out almost exactly the same as a seminal scene from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 when Chop Top (Bill Mosely) breaks into Stretch's (Caroline Williams) radio station and, posing as her biggest fan, proceeds to intimidate and weird her out.

It's a pretty deep cut as far as homages go, though I think any fan of TEXAS CHAINSAW 2 would spot the parallel immediately.

Eh. What else? At least we get to see Connor McCloud beat the guillotine. You know, between the French Revolution, The Wars of Scottish Independence, World War I, World War II, the American Revolution, The Napoleonic Wars, etc., etc., the dude is essentially the Forrest Gump of your Western Society class, and I'm honestly surprised he never crossed paths with Bill and Ted.

I'd say that none of this is essential viewing, and I'm one of those people who will wholeheartedly recommend HIGHLANDER II.

In other words, watch HIGHLANDER, HIGHLANDER II, and then, in lieu of HIGHLANDER III, just watch the Michael Ironside Labatt Blue Maximum Ice beer commercial that was an official HIGHLANDER II tie-in.