Tuesday, October 31, 2006

[1980] THE SPOOKY BUNCH: I think I'm going to enjoy going through the Hong Kong New Wave, if this and The Sword are any indication of what's to come. OK--this is about a Cantonese opera troupe that finds itself beseiged by ghosts. It turns out the ancestors of one of the troupe members (Josephine Siao) and the relative of another member (Kenny Bee) sold some bad medicine to an army platoon, which killed them all, and now they're out for revenge. Comical, inept revenge. It's not out to scare you, but it's not a pure comedy either--it's sort of a precursor for the comic/supernatural pictures Hong Kong would put out in the 80s. It's also a catalog of Chinese superstitions, many new to me--did you know if a woman jumps over you you stop growing? Or that if you're in an opera troupe it's bad luck to speak backstage before the show begins? Another interesting point (also true in Spooky Encounters) is that when the supernatural happens, nobody's shocked--they just sort of accept it and move on. I'm not as high on this one as I was on The Sword, but it's a more subdued picture in terms of action (there's hardly any) while being much quirkier in terms of character. I think I'll like it better with a few more viewings.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

[1980] DEATH WATCH: Harvey Keitel? Harry Dean Stanton? Max von Sydow? Oh yeah--we're in deep cult movie with this one, directed by Bernard Tavernier. It's the near future and Romy Schneider has been given two months to live. Stanton is the producer who's trying to convince her to let him televise her death. Keitel has had cameras installed in his eyes so that he can follow her everywhere, since she's rambunctious and insists on dying off-camera. It's not without its charm but I found it hard to follow (it's in English but half the actors speak it as a second language.) Supposedly there's another version of this that explains that Katherine (Schneider's character) has been lied to, and isn't actually dying, and the plan is to rescue her later on in the series, but this is certainly not explicit on my ancient laserdisc. On my ancient laserdisc it's just an interesting kind of confusing.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

[1980] HEAVEN'S GATE: I can't pretend I didn't enjoy this--so I won't. Yes--it's too long, and rambling, and doesn't represent the actual Johnson County War in the slightest, but all the bloat and historical inaccuracy were extremely well done, and the last battle scene is really memorable. (Oppressed immigrants mount a last charge on the evil hired guns behind huge log walls mounted on wagons. It's incredibly brutal--Cimino spikes the sound on a couple of people's death cries, so you can actually feel the bullets hitting.) It sets up its internal world extremely well, a world of rigid class heirarchy where no matter what a poor immigrant does life is a miserable struggle and any attempt at rebellion will be ruthlessly stamped out by those with money, and power, who will always have money and power. Kris Kristofferson's character is symbolic of Cimino's intentions: his character starts off graduating from Harvard; we find him next as a lawman in Wyoming with a relationship with the local hooker with a heart of gold (Isabelle Huppert--she's great but obviously the role is a cliche, so you can pick on Cimino for that) that he can't ever commit to, even though the affection between them is genuine. Why? Rigid class roles! And of course Isabelle is killed in the end by another member of the upper class, and Kristofferson goes back to his gilded life, having changed absolutely nothing out in the great frontier. So, yeah, the movie is unceasingly depressing, and hardly anyone makes it out of it alive or happy. But in a good way somehow! I dunno. Just keep in mind that this movie is just as mythic and unreal in its treatment of how the west was won as any other Western and you may enjoy yourself. Of course the myth here is that the American dream will always be crushed by American power, which may explain part of the reason why it bombed (the other part: the legendarily bad buzz) and why the French were the first to revive it critically.
[1980] THE VICTIM: Another Sammo Hung movie! It's not as good as the unapologetically fun Spooky Encounters, but the straight-up martial arts action is better. Hung burdened this one with a lot more plot--he inserted himself for comic relief purposes into a battle between two brothers, played by Leung Kar Lan and Chang Yi, who are nursing a lifelong grudge against each other. (The battle between two brothers idea would repeat itself in Spooky Encounters, but in that film Hung remembered to make himself the focus of the film. In The Victim the brothers' quarrel is definitely the main story.) Sammo's trying to get himself apprenticed to Leung Kar Lan, you see, and he won't take no for an answer (and both takes and gives an impressive number of beatings in the process.) It's worth watching for the fights but I can't recommend it too too much as it doesn't resolve the various plot points that well, and frequently can't decide whether to break out the sentiment or ignore the sentiment. Luckily Sammo figured out how to do everything right later this same year, so we can chalk this up to a learning experience (and not a bad one.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

[1980] USED CARS: Well--as far as bloated comedies from the year 1980 go, it's not as good as Blues Brothers, but it's okay. Jack Warden is great in a dual role as a nice and amoral used car lot owner and a mean and amoral used car lot owner. Kurt Russell is Kurt Russell. I get the idea from a bit of Googling that Zemeckis and Gale intended this to be sort of a Capra movie where everyone was completely hateful. But nobody who matters (Russell, his girlfriend, his sidekick) is quite hateful enough to stop being likeable. And Capra didn't need to keep blowing cars up to keep people watching. I'm just going to quote from a review I found at IMDB, because I agree with it: "The situations are funny enough, and the writing is passable, but there's a sense to almost every scene that the gags are being overplayed. Zemeckis seems to have pushed the actors to be zanier, and louder, and more profane, when a more low-key approach might have served them better. The situations are outlandish enough that it's not really necessary to sell them much. Zemeckis's approach, however, is to sell everything harder, like he's hawking some old beater instead of a serviceable machine."

See also this Movie Martyr review. Bill Chambers liked it, as did (apparently) Pauline Kael, so I could be full of it.
[1980] THE BIG RED ONE: AKA Sam Fuller Hearts Lee Marvin. Aesthetically it's a bit dated--people just fall down and die when they're shot instead of screaming and flailing as in modern war porn, and they do that thing where speaking English in an accent stands in for a foreign language (instead of subtitles.) Tonally it's all over the map, but it seems to love absurdity more than anything else--the asylum scene with an assassin among the inmates, the woman giving birth in the tank, Robert Carradine pulling a cigar out of a dead man's pocket and not even pausing to look at the intestines spilling out of his gut. A Belgian lady who can spot a German infiltrator by the way he eats. Lee Marvin throws away a wounded man's testicle, but the guy's deliriously happy because he still has his cock. An unconscious Marvin getting mouth-kissed by a German who thinks Lee's a "superman." There's great moments of dialogue too: the "Horst Wessel was a pimp" speech, the "fat ass against a cold window" fantasy of Kaiser's. Performances--here we range from Lee Marvin being completely awesome as the best possible Sgt Rock to Robert Carradine ruining a movie with narration in a way that probably tops Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. (And yes--neither Fuller nor Ridley Scott wanted the narration. And I can't believe I've watched two Robert Carradine movies in a row.) Mark Hamill's performance lies somewhere in the middle. The film's kind of a muddle and I understand that was probably Fuller's intent, to present war as a series of absurdities and grotesqueries (did I mention the ear cutting?) that you simply either survive or do not survive--there's almost no trace of war as something heroic here. It's good at what it does but it's not whole enough somehow for me to really love it. It's like once Fuller decided to make a war film drained of heroism he couldn't quite figure out what to replace it with, and stuffed in as much stuff as he could think of--so as a cinematic grab-bag it's great.
[1980] THE LONG RIDERS: This was Walter Hill's followup to The Warriors and it's not as great as that but it's good. The gimmick casting involved casting some Carradines as the Younger brothers and the Keach brothers as the James brothers. (There's some Quaids in there too.) I think this was Walter's love letter to Peckinpah, at least in the action sequences--they're slo-mo and there's closeups of people shooting and bodies slowly falling to the ground. Plotwise it's nowhere near as nihilistic as a Peckinpah, as Hill is interested in exploring the family tensions angle of the end of the James-Younger gang. Jesse (James Keach) is more or less a supporting character in this thing--the real meaty stuff is given to David Carradine as Cole Younger. I hate thinking I have to like him now just because he was great in Kill Bill (he's definitely the most talented Carradine of his generation--Keith and Robert are kind of useless in this,) but he's good in this too as the leader of the Younger boys. Stacy Keach is Frank James--again, why was he never a bigger star?--and the Stacy-David interactions are quite good, as Walter is pushing the theory that the gang broke up due to Frank's loyalty to his crazy brother, and Cole's loyalty to his useless, none-too-swift brothers. Oh, and I loved that Hill made sure to acknowledge the fact that the Civil War was still a gaping wound at the time of the James and the Youngers--everyone's still either a rebel or a damn yankee, and it's another piece of the motivations of everyone involved. It's a well thought out film and there's good performances--there's worse things you could spend your time on.
[1980] THE SWORD: Really fantastic swordplay movie from Patrick Tam (his first.) It's all about the cost of ambition, as symbolized by the Chi Mud--a sword made by evil men, and Swordmaster Wah has been told to throw it away. But he just can't--it's never quite explained why he has the sword in the first place, but we can imagine the process of acquiring it meant something to him. He gives it to a friend for safekeeping (girlfriend? concubine? I have no idea what the culturally specific relationship is) and goes into seclusion. He is the best swordsman in the land, after all, and everybody wants to fight the best. But the sword becomes his downfall and that of many others. I mean, the Chi Mud doesn't like possess people or something, there's little of the supernatural in this film. It's a symbol, like I said, of Wah's ambition (that he's still holding onto, even in retirement) and the guy who just wants one fight with Wah, Li (Adam Cheng.) And Wah's daughter is running around the film, causing trouble or looking for vengeance, and a pretty one-dimensional villain (in the sense that he never reflects upon why he wants what he wants--he's your usual nakedly power-hungry antagonist) manipulating things in the background, who's married to Li's childhood sweetheart. And of course he's a crappy husband. So you have all these interwoven character dynamics and the film just winds them up and then presses go and we speed to the bittersweet conclusion. Suffice it to say Li gets what he wants--or what he thought he had wanted--and it's all sorts of awful. Without giving away how, he has the Chi Mud in the end; his last act is pitching it over a cliff, which would be my one quibble with the film--it redeems him a little too much; better the freezeframe happen a few seconds before, him with the sword in hand, deciding whether to throw it or not. This is a really lovely film from the early days of the Hong Kong renaissance--Wikipedia says Patrick Tam was part of the "Hong Kong New Wave," which is not a term I'm that familiar with (but it includes Tsui and Ann Hui--again, according to Wikipedia) but apparently this film (and Tam) were an early part of the transforming Hong Kong cinema of the 80s and 90s. As Mark Pollard says in his review, "Patrick influenced HK cinema by pushing for higher standards and combining modern film techniques with traditional Chinese sensibilities." Even from the start, apparently (and now I understand better why it was a big deal that he came out of retirement to do a new film this year.) Great stuff, definitely check it out if you're a Hong Kong fan. I'd recommend it for everybody, but I know there are those who don't like Hong Kong tropes (wires, a bit of sentiment, swordplay in general.) This one hit me just right.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

[1980] CLAN OF THE WHITE LOTUS: This time it's Gordon Liu versus Lieh Lo as a Pai Mei lookalike (Pai Mei himself gets killed in the opening credits.) That's the film! It's something like a five-round fight as the overconfident Priest White Lotus beats Liu's Hung Wei-Ting again and again, but always manages to find a way to leave him alive for the next film. And there's some training sequences--Gordon has to learn ladies' kung fu to get in striking distance of Priest White Lotus (which means his voice drops an octave while he fights) and then learn acupuncture (to find the priest's fatal point. It's a really memorable scene when he slows Priest White Lotus down enough to run through all the pressure points he can think of with the needles he hid in his hair.) Other than the fights there's a bunch of training sequences with Gordon beating on his comic relief sidekick and Kara Hui telling him to stop beating on his comic relief sidekick before he kills him. When she's not teaching him about feminine kung fu. She somehow manages to really stand out despite not having a huge role--she's basically Gordon Liu's coach. It's decent stuff--a couple of the later fight scenes are really memorable, as is the initial fight where Gordon loses his brother and his girlfriend to those no good Chings.
[1980] RETURN TO THE 36TH CHAMBER: Not that it has anything to do with the original 36th Chamber movie--but "Scaffolding Kung Fu" probably sounded unsexy. Gordon Liu starts off as a conman in this, and he's roped into helping the workers at a local garment factory by playing a Shaolin master and intimidating the factory's owner into raising their wages (those no good Manchurians have taken over, you see, and are forcing a pay cut.) Of course he's exposed as a fraud--so he goes off to learn actual kung fu! Of course, being a shady character he has to con his way into the monastery too, and he's caught, and as punishment has to build scaffolding around the entire temple. This is the film's vast training sequence--he's not allowed into the temple proper but the process of scaffolding (and watching the other students) teaches him kung fu while he works. And then he's ready to return and campaign for labor reform using the martial arts style of negotiation (shaolin scaffolding style, where your only weapon is the bamboo string you're using to lash your enemies to their own weapons and whatever's handy.) Oddly PG--the bodycount is 0. Nice, well-made fun, and it is amusing in parts (though they do play that "here comes the nutty part!" music a bit too much.) The Foreign Humor was the comic relief guy who wore huge buck teeth the whole movie--I didn't understand that.
[1980] SHAAN: OK--I'm trying to mix in a little Bollywood with my 80s watching. (This is why I'm excited for this project. Not just this, but for trying some new films in general. God help me--I actually plan to watch all three hours and 30 minutes of Heaven's Gate.) I figure, it's the biggest cinema in the world, it can't all be bad three hour musical costume epics. But it's hard to know where to start--there's never been as many Bollywood fanboys as there has been Hong Kong deviants or Japanaphiles, so there's not a lot of information out there that I can find. And yet on the IMDB like every Indian film has at least 7 stars out of 10, so I can't really go by that either. (Apparently Indian audiences just love everything.) This movie--Shaan--was directed by Ramesh Sippy, who did Sholay in the 70s, which is like THE Bollywood movie--so I figured it was a good place to start. Where Sholay was a Leone pastiche this is more of a Bond pastiche--well, if Bond was a city policeman with two brothers and Blofeld just ran guns for a living and was just sort of sneeringly evil but not out to rule the world. But he still has his secret lair! With a crocodile pit and henchmen and a clean white suit and a control chair with a million buttons. The policeman gets killed about a third of the way in so his ne'er do well brothers (the very big star Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor) decide to clean up their act and take revenge through a variety of shenanigans and musical numbers. Amitabh fights a crocodile in the closing reel. I liked the beginning way more than anything else--Bachchan and Kapoor are low-level conmen who get conned by an uncle-niece conmen team, and then the four of them get conned by yet another conwoman (Parveen Babi), and there's shifting alliances and cute humor and establishment of how slick everybody is (and we have our love interests and comic relief for the rest of the film.) But after their brother is killed by the Blofeld doppleganger this becomes fairly standard stuff. The effects are decent but even regular Bond movies look dated now in that regard. Yeah. It was good, but not different or distinct enough as an entertainment to get me too enchanted.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING: The only person on the planet with my name. Wait--I don't exist either!

LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Oh well. Yes--a brief respite from recycled movie blogging to another form of the lazy blogger's content: the Internet poll. Via Crooked Timber.
[1980] ORDINARY PEOPLE: If you've seen one tale of suburban emotional repression, you've seen them all, right? Course not! Not every messed-up Brady Bunch has Tim Hutton on their side, giving a remarkable performance as a teenager recovering from a suicide attempt and the guilt of losing his brother. Very few have Donald Sutherland as the suburban dad: seemingly the only levelheaded one, but the levelheadedness only masks an inability to help anyone in his family. And I'm betting none have Mary Tyler Moore as their villainous boogeymoms, permanently unable to forgive Tim Hutton's Conrad for bringing shame upon their household with his suicide attempts and his inability to be her favored dead son. Plus Judd Hirsh is there too as a wise oracle of helpful psychobabble. All the greatness of the film is due to this ensemble. I mean, great acting or not, this film's message is just the usual "forgive yourself before you can forgive others" kind of thing. It's just more convincing when you have Hutton dropping f-bombs on the guy from Taxi. Plus Moore's character never quite figures that out, leading to the film's bittersweet conclusion. Nicely done by Robert Redford, and I can completely see why this beat Raging Bull: it's strongly conventional, a real honest-to-gosh Hollywood dramatic movie with actors acting and strongly emoting (or strongly not emoting in Moore's case; she's perky, but cold somehow)--something Oscar tends to reward. (The director's Oscar probably was a travesty, though, as Redford is merely competent in this, or anything else he's done.)
[1980] THE LAST METRO: Nice, quiet film about a theater company making its way through Paris during the occupation. Catherine Deneuve's husband is Jewish and has to live in the basement of their theater, leaving her in charge of everything above ground--she runs the company and stars in the plays. Gerard Depardieu is there too as a new actor in the company and a love interest for the beleaguered Deneuve's Mme. Steiner. He's good, more restrained and less sloppy than a lot of the stuff I've seen him in. But the picture is basically Deneuve's and she's great as this person burdened with a huge set of responsibilities, in the midst of a war, who never gets too desperate or down on herself, but it's mostly because she doesn't allow herself the luxury of an emotional life. Her legendary coolness becomes sympathetic, in other words. Definitely not a waste of time, but it's not going to bowl you over either (not that everything has to.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

[1980] SOMEWHERE IN TIME: Yeah--if you couldn't forgive Il Mare or even Kate & Leopold their inconsistencies or their unabashed sentiment this is not the movie for you. If you don't like the twist ending style of science fiction (this is written by Richard Matheson) this is also not the movie for you. But if you can be swayed by atmosphere, and by earnest performances, and the creation of a simple yet perfectly constructed self-enclosed world--this is the movie for you. Like Bad Timing (this would be a fabulous double feature with that) it's the tale of a doomed romance. But it's science fiction! Where ideas become literal, physical things. So the characters do not conspire against themselves--the universe conspires against them. It's very much of the type of interesting "idea" science fiction (as opposed to, you know, stuff with flying saucers) you occasionally find in Analog or F&SF, or at least I did when I read those kind of things. The director is a journeyman type who did Jaws 2 and is in tv now--Jeannot Szwarc--but the choices he made were all the right ones. Mainly the decision to be restrained--I think he moves the camera at the same speed throughout the film, except for the one time he doesn't--and that's during the twist ending! When you would say "oh, crap" to yourself at the end of the Matheson or the Bradbury or whoever. And he creates mood with the repetition of the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody, and it's a great pick--a popular piece of classical for this classic of the popular cinema. (The interior of the hotel is blood red, just like that scene in The Shining--explain that, cinephiles!) One of those commerical movies where everything just came together right--and like Blade Runner, another film in that category, a classic of mood, but with an unambiguous plot. It's also a classic of science fiction; the heartbreak of Reeve and Seymour (and they're both perfect, though Reeve goes a little too Clark Kent at times) is impossible without the time travel. I don't know if it'll hold up to repeat viewings, though--always the problem with "twist ending" SF. But recommended for the science fiction heads and anyone who can swim in an ocean of sentiment.

Monday, October 23, 2006

[1980] SHOGUN ASSASSIN: 160 minutes of stylized violence edited down to 80 minutes gives you....80 minutes of stylized violence. Really, the Baby Cart movies don't lose much in translation because they never had much to begin with, so if you just want a best-of comp of the first two films than this is perfectly fine. It gives you the swordplay without the superfluous plot--plus you get to here Sandra Bernhard voice the Supreme Ninja with a terrible Japanese accent! I think I don't get too much out of them (or this) for the same reason I don't get into Bond movies: I never have the sense that our (anti-)hero is in any danger. He's indestructable, the baby's indestructable, so let's go slaughter some ninjas! And they do. If these movies were more fun that would make up for them being not very good--but they go down the path of being incredibly grim instead. PASS. (Note that this is technically a Kill Bill movie, but Tarantino doesn't actually homage it--it's the movie the Bride watches with her daughter as they fall asleep. So it's basically Baby's First Sleaze & Exploitation film within the Kill Bill universe, which it sort of is in ours too--something to get you into Asian pulp cinema but also something you throw away when you throw away the childish things.)
[1980] THE STUNT MAN: I rewatched this to see if I could justify the impossibly high ranking I was going to give it--and I almost can. There's a stretch near the end where Peter O'Toole is no longer on the screen and we're bogging down in the Railsback/Hershey romance and you can sort of feel the energy leaking out of the picture. But the first 90 minutes or so and the ending are pure gold. It's a metamovie that's amazingly uncynical--unlike most metamovies where the directors sort of rub it in your face that YES MOVIES MANIPULATE YOU YOU DUMB RUBE, Rush takes that as a feature, not a bug. It's like the central condition of the universe of The Stunt Man; nobody's ever who they say they are, except when they are. Hershey isn't in love with Railsback, except when she is. O'Toole's a manipulating monster (almost always ensconced in a machine; he's like a supervillain in that crane-propelled director's chair) except when he isn't. Even the clearly everymannish Railsback starts to doubt his own simplicity, screaming out "I'm real!" to O'Toole's Eli near the end. It's so playful and energetic, admitting artifice while the same time reveling in it (unlike Cruising, or your usual De Palma, where manipulation is trotted out as something that always leans sinister.) The proverbial million billion stars.
[1980] BAD TIMING: What a beautifully fractured narrative. (WHAT HUH I THOUGHT TARANTINO INVENTED THE FRACTURED NARRATIVE) I've never seen somebody carry a movie quite like Theresa Russell carried this thing--it's one of the braver performances I can think of. No qualms about nudity, or looking like an idiot, or going over the top in a rage the one minute and playing a near-corpse the next. She actually turns into the Joker at one point (and if you've seen the move you know what I mean.) She's paired with the very limited Art Garfunkel, but his casting makes sense--a limited actor to play a guy with a limited emotional range. (It also probably makes her performance look more brilliant as a result.) And there's Harvey Keitel running around in the background with a terrrible Euroaccent, but it's okay, he does well despite that. It's a fine fine tale told sideways about two terrifically maladjusted people--she the irrepressible flirt, he the brooding paranoiac--who can't let go of each other. Recommended for everyone, but especially for first dates. (The Criterion cover art is really terrible, by the way--it looks like The Last Seduction poster, and this isn't a noir in the least. Well, a guy falls in love with the wrong woman, but aside from that it isn't.)
[1980] THE FORMULA: WOW this was a lot of nothing. So apparently you can get your 70s TV movie with your 70s TV script and your flat-as-a-pancake direction made into a feature if you have George C. Scott star and bring in Brando to chew the scenery three times. (Twice they're there together.) When it's not boring it's preachy--something about oil and corporations and amorality in big business. There's like one interesting scene where Scott and his companion go to this "pornographic club" in Germany where ladies dressed like the Rockettes dance in front of footage of Hitler. "Interesting" in the sense that it's the only time this movie does something not bland. (Besides the performances, I mean--Scott is always good and Brando is his usual mumbly hambone self.) Oh, and there's elephants running loose in the midst of a battle during a World War II flashback. A litle bit of goofiness that happens five minutes in and you can stop watching at that point. Stinky poo.
[1980] CRUISING: Yeah--when your movie begins with the disclaimer "The film is not intended as an indictment of the homosexual world. It is set in one small segment of that world which is not meant to be representative of the whole"--you know you're in for a movie. I had no idea this movie was as controversial back in the day--this review says it is thought of as the Birth of the Nation for gay people. It's nowhere near that bad--the two most morally ambigous figures in the film are the "killer" (Friedkin makes it as ambiguous as possible as to who the killer actually was) and Pacino's character--an undercover cop operating in the world of gay clubs in order to root out a serial killer. A really shallow, politically motivated reading of the film would have you believing that Pacino is walking the line between heterosexuality (the good side) and homosexuality (bad, depraved, men in leather) but that's not really what's up there on the screen. I mean, from the beginning his relationship with his girlfriend (Karen Allen) is completely perfunctory--she's like a badge of his presumed hetero-ness and nothing more. And the killer (or killers) is never given a reason for their actions--just the Pee Wee Hermanesque line "You made me do that." There's some mucky flashback thrown in to sort of hint at a motivation of the killer--some obsessive nonsense about his father--but it's so incoherent it has to be intentional. Oh, and your climatic showdown is between two guys with knives in their boots and no pants on. Yeah. This is completely worth your while if you can get your hands on it (just don't ask me for a copy--I can't tell you how frustrating it is to watch a movie for the first time on CED. You know how dusty old records tend to skip? Same thing times ten with CEDs. I'd have to burn it ten times before I got a clean copy.) Oh, and here's somebody's, like, Master's thesis about the film. Warning: the phrase "Lacanian psychoanalysis" is used.
[1980] RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN: Well. This was certainly a nice enough portrait of aging boomer-types circa 1980. But I can't help thinking time has past it by, and it exists today more like an essay (or a short story) about the end of the 60s and such. It's just (and I know this is a criticism of Sayles in general) not particularly filmic. I dunno. Is Clerks going to feel like this in 20 years? Where the comedy appears so dated that you can no longer forgive the bad performances? Well, maybe. Anyway--yeah. Consider me underwhelmed.
[1980] SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS: Raimi must have seen this before Evil Dead II. It's not quite on that level, but I can't imagine some of the gags in that film without this one. Like--there's a scene where a corpse is mirroring Sammo's every move, so Sammo gets smart and pretends to smash a brick into his head. So the corpse smashes the brick into Sammo's head. HA! It's the kind of random slapstick Raimi loves to pepper in, and it's good to see him stealing from one of the best. It's inventive and energetic, like you expect a Hong Kong movie of this era to be, but funny too. I liked a quite a bit, but it's not something I could use a lot of analytical verbiage explaining why I liked it. It's not completely coherent as a narrative--but it doesn't aspire to anything like a coherent narrative. It's a collection of escalating setpieces, and just about every one is memorable. Corpses in jars attack rips chunks out of Sammo during the opening credits. A skeleton hand grabs his ass! A ghost appears in a mirror and pulls a guy into the netherworld. There's a hopping vampire (and this is one of the first hopping vampire movies) that Sammo has to duel in two claustrophobic scenes. And the aforementioned slapstick. And the showdown between two kung fu mystics fighting on giant raised altars where Sammo gets possessed by the monkey god. And he speaks in monkey gibberish and I have no idea if they subtitled the gibberish in the original Cantonese (or Mandarin?) but they subtitle the gibberish in the version I watched and it's hilarious. I dunno, just watch it--I loved it.
[1980] VIRUS: So I figured, Fukasaku, Edward James Olmos, George Kennedy--how bad could it be? And isn't bad at all. Sure, it's bloated (amazingly Netflix has the full version--and I can't imagine what they hacked out to make the American version that gave it such a bad reputation) and there're too many scenes of George Kennedy chairing a survivors' conference, and a couple of the English-speaking performances are terrible--but it's unflinching in a way you expect from Fukasaku. There's a scene where a bunch of guys are listening to a five year old decide to kill himself that's just harrowing (excepting that whoever they hired to voice the five-year-old was obviously not five.) And another where this dying woman is piloting a boat out into nowhere and urging her dying child passenger to yell the name of his father, just to keep his spirits up. Those (among others) are what I think of as the Fukasaku moments, the ones by the guy who grew up during and after the war in Japan. And did I tell you about the character actors who keep popping up? Glenn Ford! Robert Vaughn! Bo Svenson! Henry frigging Silva! Chuck Connors with a terrible British accent! It's worth seeing just for that cast. So yeah--perfectly competent disaster film with some nice moments and the bleakest happy ending possible.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

[1980] THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY: This was treeeeemendous, right from the quasi-Tangerine Dream score during the opening credits. Well, actually I was wavering on it for a stretch during the opening half, thinking "this is just a well-plotted caper film" but once things started spiralling out of control it totally sucked me in. Bob Hoskins--I mean, I knew what he was capable of from Unleashed (my second Hoskins picture after Roger Rabbit) but this is a much calmer (and better) performance. You could find bad things to say about this film's take on the Irish--they're sort of the unstoppable amoral Other--or Americans--the mafia guys in this movie have the same role Europeans play in American movies, cruel, cool and calculating supermen--but it wouldn't be worth it. But note how as soon as the Irish boss is killed (who's also a demolition derby driver--so he's quite at home with chaos) there's a literal explosion. That's what this movie is about, a tide of chaos that gradually drowns petty crimelord Bob Hoskins. And Hoskins is amazing. Fabulous stuff, though it's more the result of the script and the performances and not the very inoffensive direction.
[1980] KAGEMUSHA: Lucas should've offered to edit too when he was offering Kurosawa Star Wars bucks to finish this thing, because I think it went on a bit too long. I dunno--I haven't seen that much Kurosawa, but I had the distinct impression he was trying to do a Leone movie here. It's probably just the combination of the huge running time and the trumpet fanfares on the soundtrack that gave me that sense. (Well--that and the dream sequence, which seemed like the musings of the railroad baron in Once Upon A Time In The West when he was staring into picture of the ocean. Except Leone did that in a couple of lingering closeups and some ocean noise on the soundtrack; Kurosawa had to break open the whole box of crayons.) Yeah, there's color, and pageantry, and young men being sacrificed on the altar of color and pageantry, and a wandering thief who ends up being the only one who believes in all the color and pageantry. I just--I feel like I've seen this rags-to riches-to rags story done better (as recently as Melvin & Howard!) As long as Kagemusha himself was front and center this film was golden, but the frequent and lengthy interludes in enemy camps and internal politics is taking this down a notch for me.

The guy who played Shingen's brother was great too. The guys doing peasant-stock comic relief were fun too (one of the many stylistic quirks Lucas stole from Kurosawa.) Hey--I didn't hate it, but I'm not praising it to the moon either.
[1980] MELVIN & HOWARD: Awwwww--this was really great. A feel-good movie where you don't feel manipulated into feeling good. Demme and Goldman really loved their characters, so they never get to the point where Melvin is just a lovable loser, or Mary Steenburgen is just a flake--they both get their moments to shine, or to be obnoxious, or stupid, and make bad decisions all on their own. There's times when I was afraid Paul Le Mat's acting was going to descend into "awww shucks" good-boyism, but he always pulls back. He's restrained and he plays it basically straight--Melvin gets the joke about himself but he also can't not be who he is (if that makes any sense.) The movie is restrained in a similar fashion. I really liked it.
[1980] HOPSCOTCH: This was a perfectly fine little movie--it's like the funniest possible flipside of something unbearably grim like The Jackal. A little overcute for my tastes. I know it was sort of different to do a cold war comedy in 1980, but I think it's lost a bit since we're not in that context anymore. Doing this with Matthau was great as well (though the intentionally bad accent schtick wears a little thin.) The first hour or so is really funny, especially the Matthau-Glenda Jackson banter--it's the second half, full of clever plan as it is, that loses me.
BLOGGING THE FILMS OF THE 80S: You know--instead of letting this place go dark for months and months again, I'm just going to recycle my DVDVR posts for the Best of the 80s thing we're doing over there. That way, if you stumble across this place from some long-dead blog somewhere, or a random search or something (god knows "Slotman" is a popular name), you won't think I or the blog are dead. Plus this way everything will be in one place when I make up my best of the 80s list. They'll be short little film reviews for the most part--I don't have the time to go too far in depth--and this'll last as long as I can maintain my enthusiasm for this little project. The tags in front indicate the year of the film (we're starting right in the beginning.) Enjoy.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A POST ABOUT NOT POSTING: Yeah--been a bit busy. I've got this to take care of, and it ain't no joke. Also:
You can find me writing at Veteran Presence now.
I am going to involve myself in the DVDVR 80s project (a best of the movies of the 80s poll.)

Also: I turn up in Jim's BSG threads, and occasionally at John Cole's and (very occasionally) at ObWi.

Oh, and did you see this Ezra Klein thread about Hitch's bout with insanity? The best joke comes four comments in, from "calling all toasters":

Hitchens foresaw "a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate."

That would be all the distilleries in the world beating the crap out of Mother Teresa.

Heehee. Anyhoo--there's your current status report. Carry on.