Archive for March, 2013

Private Parts – Paul Bartel – 1972

Posted in 70's with tags , , , , , , on March 19, 2013 by bookofdread

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Paul Bartel’s Private Parts is a solid little thriller. I can’t say the film is entirely successful, because I can’t help but think Bartel intended the film to be a bit funnier than it is, but hey, I guess, that’s as much on the audience as him. As it is, the film is a strange little thriller. Cheryl runs away from her friends. She finds her way to her aunt’s hotel, where her aunt treats her like a whore for wearing make up. Once she finds out Cheryl is her niece she allows her to stay for a few days while she gets on her feet.

The hotel is peppered with strange residents. There is a quiet photographer named George and a creepy priest who always seems super happy to see everyone, in a gross way. Before long we see a couple of gooey kills and we are left to wonder who’s doing the killing. This suspense rarely works, due to lack of character investment. The film starts like a slasher, and then heads into Hitchcock territory. There’s a type of slow burn as Cheryl meets and becomes enamored with George the photographer. Her aunt won’t let them meet, but they talk on the phone. Honestly, this part is slow, slow, slow, and it has everything to do with the likeability of the characters.

Cheryl, as played by Ayn Ruymen, is terribly dishonest and cruel little bitch. Sure, youth plays a large role in this, and we aren’t supposed to like her much, but still, she could be more likeable. She’s supposed to be this wayward youth, but she just comes off as someone the world could live without.

Her aunt is no better, but is at least complex. She is both a nurturer and a destroyer. She helps the world how she can and sees herself a respectable type of woman, but her dark secrets betray that moral attitude. She is actually a woman imposing her will on the world, worse, a woman hating woman. She is that woman fighting against feminine liberation, yet also represents a type of feminine control. Her role in the tale is what makes the whole thing work. She is not unlike what one might imagine Mrs. Bates to be like, and Psycho is clearly referenced in the film several times.

George is the wildest of all. Inside of his room, he has a transparent blow up sex doll. It is filled with water and wears a mask made from a photograph of Cheryl over its face. In the film’s most awesome and crazy scene, George draws blood from his arm with a syringe while he makes out with the doll and then injects the doll with his blood. I’m not going to lie, this shit is crazy and looks really cool, but you can’t believe what you are seeing. Why would someone do this?

In the end it is revealed that George is a woman raised by mean Aunt as a boy. This type of gender reversal has been seen in other films such a Sorceress and Sleepaway Camp. By having the character or the audience believe in the gender of a character, and then revealing the opposite to be true forces the viewer to re-evaluate the characters actions. George penetrated the sex doll with his syringe because he(she) didn’t have a penis with which to penetrate  it.

After the final few murders I was left feeling a bit seedy, not too thrilled, and only a little amazed at the films weirdness. Paul Bartel really wanted to play loose and fast with human life and in this film, it still feels linked to a recognizable reality. In later works, such as Death Race 2000 and Eating Raoul, his zest for bloodshed would be met by producer approval.

I recommend this film for gender studies students, fans of Paul Bartel, and people who think there aren’t enough blow up sex dolls in movies. 

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Oz: The Great And Powerful – Sam Raimi – 2013

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2013 by bookofdread

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Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great And Powerful is at once a reverential loveletter, espousing admiration and respect to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz and L. Frank Baum’s beloved novels, and every inch a Sam Raimi classic bearing all of his signatures.

The last film I reviewed here was Raimi’s A Simple Plan, which is, honestly, the least Raimi of all Raimi films. In that film he shed all the comic-book stylings he’d developed throughout his kinetic action and horror films. Well, one of the things Raimi really hadn’t made up to this point was a genuine family film—(OK, OK, the Spider-man films count, but they are more specifically super-hero action films.) OTGAP is really a film to take even very young children to. It is pretty, its heroes are good, and there are thrills and chills!

Let’s start with James Franco. Oz is a good man who wants to be great, but he’s kind of a sleaze. That’s part of the story though. By the end of the film he becomes, well, not a sleaze and a good guy. He possesses the perfect amount of natural beauty and charm, and he makes Oz a case worth rooting for.

Mila Kunis is extremely hot, though maybe a bit miscast as Theodora. Even after her naiveté had been betrayed and she becomes, Hulk Kunis—I still liked her. I never rooted against her, I just kind of saw her as the victim of false promises and the inevitable reprisals against such fabrication.

Evanora, as played by Rachel Weisz is a much more evil character, though we aren’t given even one note as to why she’s such a bitch. She just is. I really didn’t like her character,  not because she was the villain and did mean things, but because the writers never let me in her head once. She was a completely removed character and seemed alien.

Finley and China Girl are Oz’s companions and they are a heartbreaking duo voiced by Zach Braff and Joey King. These two really bring out the humanity in Oz and form the sounding board against which he will find his inner goodness and win the battle against the witches. China Girl’s story in particular is shattering. Her family and entire village was destroyed by the witch. Yikes! Though we don’t see the attack we do see the devastating effects, and it is this event that really creates stakes for the story. Here, the audience truly becomes invested.

Michelle Williams as Glenda is a marvel. Beautiful and damaged, she is the mind that recognizes Oz for the fraud that he is but needs him to lead despite his lack of magic. Williams plays wise and benevolent perfectly, she seems a maternal goddess a force of goodness in the world, not just of OZ but here in the really real world as well.

Raimi uses 3D in the most tasteless and delicious way possible. He frequently, but only when appropriate throws objects into your eye. For example: a flying, shrieking baboon, or a witch’s fireball. The tornado scene at the beginning is amazingly scary! It reminded me of the second storm in Life Of Pi, but with a sense of humor and thousands of feet in the air.

Ultimately, this film is about a false wizard who takes over a land based on a misrepresentation about his power. In this case, brains wins over brawn and the bloodless finale is exciting and should also leave parents concerned about violence happy. As the film ends, the Huckster becomes the wizard and it is determined to be better leaving the populace of OZ not knowing Oz is actually powerless. Herein we discover a positively Nolanian theme: What lies protect the populace from themselves? This is positively one of the key questions of The Dark Knight, though in the form of Harvey Dent, a false Messiah.

Here too, Oz, is powerless, but he did make the witches flee and was that not an exercise of cunning and power? Fun and colorful though it is, this film has a great moral question at its heart. Can we identify the false wizards in our midst? Did our rulers come to power through deception or democracy?

Here are a few words about Production Designer Robert Stromberg and Composer Danny Elfman. These guys are the meat and potatoes of this film. Both guys do exceptional work. Stromberg, being one of the highest paid guys right now continues to push himself and does not repeat his work from Avatar or Alice. Instead, many of the designs are based on the illustrations from the Baum books and the world created pops and flows, but feels more like another dimension than another planet. It is a reflection of our world, a kinder and simpler version of this world with wonders around every corner.

Elfman has been doing this for nearly thirty years and he’s past the comfort zone and now explores writing themes that don’t call attention to himself like his early work. His scores now can be counted among those who punctuate the filmmaking with grace and subtlety.

Everyone should see this film. It will please fans of the original, fans of the books and fans of Sam Raimi. Now, if they do another chapter, I want another director so that Sam can go on with Army Of Darkness 2. And that director should be: Clive Barker.

A Simple Plan – Sam Raimi – 1998

Posted in 90's with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2013 by bookofdread

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Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan is a hellish nightmare of a film. It’s dressed up as a Coen Bross style Hitchcock thriller, but this film is so much more Raimi than all that. It lacks the humor of a Coen film and the identifiable or empathetic protagonists of most Hitchcock films. No, A Simple Plan is a hate-filled treatise on greed, not unlike Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell. In that film the curse of greed manifests in a literal demon, creating a remove from our everyday reality, but in ASP, Raimi shoves verisimilitude of reality in our face. The performances are incredibly humanistic career bests from Thornton, Paxton and Fonda.

The plot is simple. Three yokels find a crashed plane with four-million plus dollars inside. They form a pact to keep the money till spring, and if no one is searching for it, split it three ways and run away. The seeds of greed have been sewn.

Raimi takes an incredibly righteous glee in putting the screws to these types of characters, and as in drag me to hell, the greed in these people is not those un-identifiable wall street hot-rods, it’s a seed accountant, or a loan officer.

Bill Paxton is riveting as a man who becomes more and more involved in a series of lies and murders involving his brother and their friend. In a truly awful moment, Raimi shoots Paxton’s face as he suffocates a man in the snow. No wide shot. We see only a close up of Paxton as the man dies, choking under his hands. This scene is as horrifying as any moment in any of Raimi’s more overtly Horror films. In this moment, and as a testament to Paxton’s awesome ability, we see the man become evil.

From here on Paxton and his wife begin a series of deceits that end up in murder after murder. Bridget Fonda is stellar and in one scene, a moment that takes place just after her child has been born she is absolutely terrifying. You’ll know it when you see it. Having her the lioness with cub only adds to the sick drama of this whole tragedy. You know when these dumb fucks open this bag there’s no happy ending. So why does it hurt so much? Raimi and writer Scott Smith and the actors make these greedy little men so real, so genuine.

Billy Bob Thornton wears some strange, out of date, overgrown Elvis haircut. He has prosthetic teeth in that make him look hideous and taped glasses from the seventies, which I believe may have been his fathers, though it’s not explicitly stated. Jacob is a simple man who only ever wanted the farm, but his father mortgaged it so Paxton could go to college. Jacob both looks up to and resents his younger brother, and it’s this conflict that makes the whole film so sad. It’s this simple man’s fall that hurts the most.

Their father is revealed to have killed himself, one in a series of revelations that the seemingly simple Jacob bequeaths to his brother. The specter of their father, a man who each seems to admire ending his life in hopelessness only adds to the doomed nature of this morality play. Theirs is a cursed bloodline.

Brent Briscoe is great as Lou. The character is a bit under-written as just kind of jackass, but Briscoe finds some great humanity for Lou, especially in tape-recording scene that ends in a shooting.

After having watched this film, I have to say that it lands high on Raimi’s filmography, with my only complaint being, I really didn’t like any of the characters, and while I suppose the point is to laugh at these evil people getting what is coming to them, I find the whole ordeal super-bleak. But, hey, the poison of greed is deadly.

Raimi resists most horror tropes with the exception of the death-foretelling blackbirds that watch our characters omnisciently throughout the film. Removed from the action, they judge the sinners. When the birds fly directly at the camera, directly at Hank, the birds warn him. Jacob asks him “Did you see those birds?”

 

Double Agent 73 – Doris Wishman – 1974

Posted in 70's with tags , , , , , , , on March 6, 2013 by bookofdread

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Double Agent 73 by Doris Wishman isn’t what I’d normally recognize as a film. That’s because it’s apparent that only very few people knew what they were doing in this films production. In this list of ineptitude I would include the editor, cinematographer, the actors and definitely the financiers if your name weren’t Ms. Wishman.

She creates a satire of a satire type, the His Girl Friday genre. This in and of itself is almost the entire conceit that the film hangs it’s boobs on. The His Girl Friday genre is already a type of spoof of the James Bond films, always being kinky spy farces, usually with a buxom blonde as the girl in question. Now, the Bond films are already a delicious atrocity of sexism, but the HGF films actually don’t really comment on that, in fact, they are as a rule, even more sexist!

So Ol’ Doris gets a bee in her bonnet about this and rightfully so. So she makes a film with the biggest tits of all, Chesty Morgan. Oh. You clever girl. You got us right where it hurts.

It hurts so much. Chesty has her chest out all over this movie and her tits are hideous. It’s like a slow-motion train-wreck, starring vein-spotted, stretch-marked 73’ inch jugs. She has about as much sex appeal a plastic bag filled with cottage cheese.

See, as a secret agent they installed a camera in her left tit. We never see it, but it’s there. After she strangles a yutz with a telephone cord, (her preferred method of assassination), she takes her milkers out and squeezes lefty. Our ears are treated to a camera noise. Awesome right? I do not joke.

There is a scene in the beginning where they consecutively cut to five very similar angles of a pair of feet walking.

There is a scene where Chesty is receiving orders from her boss and she is out of focus and the back of her boss’ head is in perfect focus.

The music however is a confident, jazzy tune that evoked laughter every time I heard it. Thank God. This was the only levity in the otherwise trying experience.

Doris knew exactly what film she was making, and she’d be damned if it was going to take her more than 8 days to shoot and edit the thing. (I made that stat up, but you get my point.)

Plot? Uh, She’s a spy? She takes her tits out and takes pictures of people she kills.

They cut around 90 percent of Chesty’s dialogue. I think I saw her speak maybe twice.

So, to sum up, Double Agent 73 is probably best enjoyed with a head full of mescaline and your hand in a box of termites. This is one cinema cocktail for the adventurous and masochistic only. Grotesque and well, just really grotesque, Double Agent  73 is essential viewing for exactly no one and that’s precisely what makes it so fascinating.

Hell Is For Heroes – Don Siegel – 1962

Posted in 60's with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2013 by bookofdread

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Don Siegel’s Hell is For Heroes is a dramatic retelling of the events that transpired on the Siegfried German line in WWII. A small squad of soldiers is required to maintain a stretch of the line despite having few men and fewer resources. The film is lean, muscular little beast, with a crackerjack cast, very nice black and white photography, and a stirring plot.

The film opens with dramatic stills of soldiers in the trenches when the title, “Hell Is For Heroes” explodes onto the screen. I have to note the music here, and it’s the last time I’ll do so. It’s very dated, action-suspense music, and I feel it gives little effect to the film, and often I was distracted by it’s bombastic presence.

It’s 1944. France, somewhere near the Siegfired line, 2nd squad waits for the call to go home. We meet these characters one by one, each making a point of empathy. I particularly like James Coburn’s mechanic type. This film is more about plot than character, so each of these guys is really just a type: the funny guy, the guy who fixes things, the loner, and the existentialist. We meet the squad and their commander tells them to get ready, they’re going home. Only, they’re not going home. They’re going back to the line.

Steve McQueen is Reese, a previously court marshaled dickhead who’s a great soldier. He’s a bit cracked though. McQueen is serviceable here, giving seething looks but never coming across as inherently noble, as he should.

The film moves quickly and once at the line, most of the battalion leaves in the dead of night, leaving 2nd squad, six men, to defend a huge stretch of land and not give away their depleted forces. The second act of this film is much character building and not too much action. However after days of being pinned down and with the commanding officer killed, Reese decides that they have to take the pillbox or die. They can’t afford to wait for reinforcements.

This failed attempt ends up with a man dead. Reese retreats. When the CO of the battalion returns and asks Reese if he was right to attempt to take the pillbox, McQueen replies, conflicted, “Oh, who the hell knows?” In this one moment the film drives its point home. War can make even the most capable man rash and prone to bad even fatal decisions.

The 1st squad makes good on their promise to return. They storm the hill and attempt to take the pillbox. Reese sees men get shot and James Coburn covers Reese with a flamethrower so that Reese can run a charge pack up and throw it in the bunker. He does, but it is thrown out again. Standing Reese is shot, but he runs back at the bunker and tackles the explosive into the open portal. The bunker blows to smithereens. Roll credits.

This film is a tough mans film peppered with moments of psychosis and sentimentality. It’s a very low concept production and until the third act it appears as if it could be taking place anywhere.  There are few misplaced characters that add some un-needed comic effect. The Polish kid who wants to come fight with these GI’s is pretty annoying and though his character should serve as a vessel of perspective for a devastated nation, he comes off as goofy and bumbling. Furthermore, Bob Newhart, though funny, is a constant distraction.

Hell is for Heroes and for Heroes there can be only Hell.

The ending of the film is very abrupt. I read that this was because the film ran out of money, however, I find it to be an exciting punctuation mark on a sometimes lugubrious film. The ending effectively makes the film, and I recommend it to anyone who loves war films, Bobby Darin or Fess Parker.

 

 

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