Saturday, June 8, 2019

Only now does it occur to me... BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III

Only now does it occur to me... that Robert Zemeckis, in his infinite wisdom, decided to include an oddly specific homage to the comedy BLIND DATE (1987) in his BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III (1990).  Since the average movie viewer today is more likely to have seen the concluding chapter of the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy than Blake Edwards' BLIND DATE, a film best described "as if Scorsese's AFTER HOURS slipped on a banana peel while Bruce Willis played a slide whistle," allow me to explain.

Early on in BACK TO THE FUTURE III, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), having traveled to 1885, is attempting to blend in at the local saloon

when Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) comes to harass him in a Biff-inspired scene which should seem quite familiar to fans of the series.

 After giving his name as "Clint Eastwood," Marty innocently refers to Buford as "Mad Dog," which induces his fury.

Commanding him to dance, Buford shoots at Marty's feet... and Marty proceeds to do the "moonwalk."

He then shouts "Whooo!" in the manner of Michael Jackson and kicks a full spittoon onto Mad Dog.

This leads to a chase sequence. End scene.

In BLIND DATE, Bruce Willis' character has been set up on the titular blind date with Kim Basinger,

which triggers a series of unlucky and harrowing events (he's fired from his job, has his car destroyed, and begins suffering a full psychotic break, for instance). Basinger is also being stalked by her ex, John Larroquette, who carelessly menaces and nearly kills Willis with his car. Later on, a worse-for-wear Willis encounters his new nemesis Larroquette and begins brawling with him.

 When Willis lays his hands on a mugger's gun,

he holds Larroquette at gunpoint and insists that he dance.

 When the dance is not to Willis' liking, he insists he moonwalk.

Larroquette proceeds to moonwalk. However, it was a insincere request, as Willis soon announces, "I hate that shit!" and begins firing at his feet.

Shortly thereafter, Willis is arrested, leading to the iconic "BLIND DATE mugshot" sequence.
And end scene.

Okay. So. There's little doubt that these scenes of comedic violence are interconnected, and the connection is so specific that I have to imagine Zemeckis intended for his scene to be an homage to BLIND DATE. Or, perhaps, he saw BLIND DATE, and though he tried to forget it––a feat many BLIND DATE viewers have attempted––he felt some ineffable connection between the moonwalk and being held at gunpoint and inserted it into his film via sheer BLIND DATE-osmosis. I wonder if this is something they discussed when Zemeckis directed Bruce Willis in DEATH BECOMES HER. Or if this led to the John Larroquette cameo in the Zemeckis-produced TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT.

Also, if we want to get really "out there," note that the poster/cover art for BLIND DATE bears an eerie similarity to 1988's ACTION JACKSON––a film that co-starred Thomas F. Wilson, a.k.a. "Biff/Buford Tannen" from the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy.

Only one thing seems clear: truly, all roads lead back to BLIND DATE, whether we like it or not.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Only now does it occur to me... CRAZY MAMA

Only now does it occur to me... that I never thought I'd live to see Cloris Leachman scream aloud the word "fartknocker" and go on a wild crime spree.

Allow me to contextualize. CRAZY MAMA is a Roger Corman-produced, Jonathan Demme-directed (the second feature from the man who would bring us THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, STOP MAKING SENSE, and A MASTER BUILDER) nostalgia-crime flick that feels like a less-competent John Waters version of GREASE fused with BONNIE AND CLYDE. Set in the late 1950s, it features Ann Sothern (THE WHALES OF AUGUST, A LETTER TO THREE WIVES):


as a mother-daughter duo whose beauty parlor is foreclosed upon by a dunderheaded Jim Backus. This leads to the aforementioned "fartknocker" (screamed by Leachman at a repo man) and a crime spree that sees Cloris and her gang taking out banks, dirt bike races, and even a wedding (!).

As is the New World Pictures Way, there are many scenes of parades and truck stops and racetracks that seem to exist not because the script calls for it, but because the crew wandered past and began filming without a permit.

Imagery worthy of Malick, I say

Of note: the bit parts and cameos are more than worthy of a Demme-Corman flick of this caliber. The legendary Dick Miller shows up as a cuckolding highway patrolman:

We're looking at less than a minute of screentime

 Writer/director and noted gun enthusiast John Milius (RED DAWN, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, EXTREME PREJUDICE)

plays a state cop who lines up the perfect shot but is run off the road by an unbridled Cloris Leachman:

Will Sampson (THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, "Chief" in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST) plays a roadside entrepreneur feigning interest in this movie:

And Bill Paxton plays a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cop in his first film role, ever:

Spectacularly, the whole crime spree (which indeed amasses a body count) is relatively consequence-free for Ms. Leachman, who, in the course of this film, murders, robs, speeds, and even vandalizes her daddy's grave.

How ya like that, remnants of the production code?

I'm concerned that in describing this film I've made it seem more appealing than it actually is––it's definitely a mess and occasionally a chore, but for the completist, it is an effective delivery system of Cloris Leachman crazyface in a variety of low-rent 1950s tableaux.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

"The Naked Foundation" in Jellyfish Review

My latest flash fiction, "The Naked Foundation," has been published in issue 42 of Jellyfish Review and is available to read online here.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

R.I.P., Larry Cohen

This is a tough one. Larry Cohen––consummate old-New Yawwk indie-auteur, master of exploitation and horror, father of the IT'S ALIVE trilogy, progenitor of the only Yaphet Kotto chamber drama, facilitator of Michael Moriarty method performances in movies with stop-motion monsters, inventor of THE STUFF (a movie so good, I reviewed it twice), creator of MANIAC COP, the force behind the exquisitely unnecessary (in all the best ways) sequel to SALEM'S LOT (co-starring Sam Fuller!), the person ballsy enough to star Adam and Alan Arkin in the same movie and not have them play father and son, and the final director to match wits with Bette Davis––has died at 77.

I was lucky enough to almost work with Larry as a production assistant on an indie thriller he was going to make in 2006 called SURVEILLANCE. Though I was interviewed, hired, and ready to go, the film was stopped short before principal photography began. [A major network was able to kibosh it due to surface similarities with a pilot they were pushing (based on an Alfred Hitchcock movie) that never came to pass either. Ah, show biz.] Regardless, Larry and his partners were delightfully old-school in a very "New York moxie" kind of way that I somehow can only compare to the spunky, screwball newspaper comedies from the '30s and '40s. Fitting for a guy who grew up on Bogart and Cagney, made the journey from NBC page to show creator in less than a decade, and managed to make some of the most whacked-out, socially important horror films of the '70s and '80s with little more than shoestrings and elbow grease. I don't think we'll ever see his like again.

Friday, March 15, 2019

"A Fine Green Thread" in The Los Angeles Review of Books

My latest book review––of the essay collection The Writing Irish of New York, edited by Colin Broderick––has been published by The Los Angeles Review of Books and is available to read online. Happy early St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 11, 2019

"The Statement of [REDACTED], Revised" Wins 2019 Gail B. Crump Prize

Pleiades has announced that my short story "The Statement of [REDACTED], Revised" has won their 2019 Gail B. Crump Prize in Experimental Fiction, and will appear in print this June in Pleiades 39.2.

Pleiades: Literature in Context is a literary biannual published by the University of Central Missouri featuring "poetry, fiction, essays, and reviews by authors from around the world. Past contributors include winners of the Nobel, Ruth Lilly, Pulitzer, Bollingen, Prix de la Liberté, and Neustadt Prizes, recipients of Guggenheim, Whiting, National Book Critics Circle and National Book Awards."

Monday, February 25, 2019

Friday, February 1, 2019

R.I.P., Dick Miller

It saddens me to report the death of the Bronx's own Dick Miller, one of the most beloved and recognizable character actors in American film history, and one who was as seemingly ubiquitous in 20th Century B-movies as car chases, rubbery monsters, or karate chops. From his star-making turn in Roger Corman's A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959) to his cranky gun salesman in THE TERMINATOR to an "animal trainer" in Sam Fuller's WHITE DOG to roles in blaxploitation classics like TRUCK TURNER and DARKTOWN STRUTTERS to his appearances in seemingly every single Joe Dante film through 2014's BURYING THE EX, he contrasted his gruff, cantankerous, and occasionally sleazy exterior with a lovable inner life. This was a man who could lend profound, nuanced grace notes to an under-five role as a heckler, a pizza deliveryman, "man in bed," or a thankless security guard.

He had several roles that were so iconic he reprised them: BUCKET OF BLOOD's "Walter Paisley" ends up in CHOPPING MALL, THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, SHAKE, RATTLE, AND ROCK, THE HOWLING, and HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD. His role in GREMLINS, "Murray Futterman," even manages to cheat death for a triumphant return in GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH!

We've seen him corrupt Mark Hamill, play David Carradine's brother in a movie that already had Carradine's real-life brother in it, put down riots begun by P.J. Soles and the Ramones, play a crabby trucker who name-drops Joe Dante, swig hobo wine and share a scene with a demonic Billy Zane-as-Hunter S. Thompson, and shill for a fictionalized William Castle––he truly did it all. In his 90 years on this planet, he was in so many films (almost 200!) that there was something inherently reassuring about his presence. This was only intensified by the fact that he, like Harry Dean Stanton, seemed to remain the same age (around 50?) for nearly sixty years. Well, here's to you, Mr. Miller, and all the joy and drama and absurdity and comfort that you gave your audiences across the decades.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Sean Gill's "Exodus" in Vol. 1 Brooklyn

My latest short story, "Exodus," an imagined history set in a near-future New York City, has been published in Vol. 1 Brooklyn as a part of their ongoing "Sunday Stories" series. You may read it online here.