Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Songs About Movies: The Union Forever

Do I love this song because most of the lyrics are lines from Citizen Kane? Possibly.

"The Union Forever" - The White Stripes

Monday, September 28, 2009

I Love Procedures

As a child, nary a Saturday went by in which my siblings and I missed PBS's block of building shows (This Old House, New Yankee Workshop, Hometime). Other kids had their cartoons, we had carpentry. We grew to love and appreciate all the individual quirks and distinct charms of these varied shows: the no-nonsense home building standard bearer of Bob Villa's This Old House, the thick New England accented Norm Abram's focus on individual carpentry projects in the New Yankee Workshop, and, our favorite, Hometime, whose host Dean Johnson was joined by a revolving door of female co-hosts. Our love for this particular show, though, stemmed mostly from the elaborate backstories we would contrive to explain why big pimpin' Dean was able to corral such a large assortment of carpentry shorties.

Given my fascination with these shows it was wrongly assumed that I also had an interest in actually building things, or, at the very least, in physical activities. Such was not the case. I was a lazy child. My dad could never understand why, although I couldn't go a week without watching these shows, when asked to help him work on his truck or an actual carpentry project, I would react as though I had been sentenced to end my life in the Bataan Death March.

As I soon grew to realize, I liked these shows because I just liked to watch stuff get done. It wasn't until some time later that I got into baseball. For the time being, this was my sport of choice. I was a regular armchair construction quarterback. What? Are they crazy? Clearly, you need to use a miter saw for that. That joint isn't going to hold. You can't paint Oak. Varnish that shit. You wanna be able to see the wood. Amateurs.

My love for these shows stemmed not so much from a love of carpentry, but rather a desire to watch, in detail, tasks being completed from start to finish. I loved to watch the process through which people went from Point A to Point B. Why I love seeing this, I can not explain. It's like trying to explain why unspoiled nature or beautiful songs can bring some people to tears. To quote Louis Armstrong (referring to his music), "Man, if you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know."

Not surprisingly, my love of procedures carried over into and commingled with my movie love. I have come to realize that most of my favorite movie scenes involve the detailed depictions of tasks being completed. An early favorite of mine, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, involves (surprise, surprise) carpentry. Later remade as The Money Pit, this film depicts put-upon husband Cary Grant's attempt to build a house in Connecticut. Because it would be a pointless movie otherwise, everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

[Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House]

My love of procedures, is not confined to carpentry and construction, however. Another favorite is the depiction of criminal activities, specifically heists. In the early years of the production code, one of the biggest movie no-nos (after fucking) was the instructional depiction of any criminal enterprise. The powers that be were concerned that depicting the hows of criminal activities would serve as blueprints for prospective criminals. As rules grew more lax over the years, filmmakers had freer reign to teach audiences in the ways of crime.

An early gem, taking the comedic route, is the Edward G. Robinson vehicle Larceny, Inc (latter remade by Woody Allen as Small Time Crooks). In this film, Robinson and company set up a luggage shop as a front so that they can tunnel to the bank vault next door. When their luggage shop begins to be profitable, they realize that it might make more sense to go straight. Shenanigans ensue.

[Larceny, Inc.]

Yet to be topped, the perfectly detailed set-piece of Jules Dassin's Rififi stands as the standard bearer for heist sequences. His flawless, silent thirty minute sequence depicts the process by which a group of criminals tunnels through a floor, and then cracks the safe below.


What with movies teaching the how-tos of crime, it sure would be nice if they could also prepare the criminals for life in jail. Luckily, prison escape films have also proven a treasure trove of procedure set-pieces. An early favorite of mine is The Great Escape. Don Siegel's Escape from Alcatraz is also an important example. My favorite, however, will always be Jacques Becker's Le Trou. With an almost fetishistic attention to details, Becker produced a movie whose entirety is the depiction of men tunneling out of prison. As is evident in the clip below, he could make a seven minute scene consisting only of men chiseling through concrete that managed to be every bit as riveting as any elaborate, big budget Hollywood spectacle. [Of course, I can't guarantee that other people would find such a scene as entertaining as I do.]

[Le Trou]

Factory lines also hold a special place in the procedure canon. Most of my early favorites were actually the educational films contained in Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. "So that's how a pencil is made. Awesome!" [Side note: Have I mentioned that I was a boring child?]

Although on the nauseating side, the opening credits to Michael Ritchie's Prime Cut is a prime factory line scene. Possibly designed as a means to turn viewers into vegetarians (I couldn't eat meat for quite some time after I saw this for the first time), this scene depicts the process by which a cow becomes dinner.

[Prime Cut]

I leave you with my all time favorite procedure scene, To Live and Die in L.A.'s counterfeiting sequence. It is a favorite for many reasons, foremost being the slight illegality of it. Director William Friedkin employed an actual counterfeiter for the closeups in this scene. Because it depicted actual counterfeiting, most of the cast and crew feared that they would be arrested while filming. So as to keep their activities closer to the right side of the law, when actually counterfeiting the money, they would only print one side of the bills. Nevertheless, it's a very good how-to for any enterprising individual whose got a hankerin' for some counterfeitin'. Had such a scene been filmed, gotten past the MPPDA, and included in a film in the early thirties, Friedkin would have ended up serving time.

[To Live and Die in L.A.]

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Taxi Driver Came Out. Got Cunted"

I have yet to see Nick Love's movie Outlaw, but thanks to youtube I can listen to snippets of the DVD's commentary track featuring Love and actor Danny Dyer's bitter, ego-maniacal, drunken ramblings on the critical flogging that the film received. It is truly a thing of beauty.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Horror Film Scenarios That Might Not Be So Bad

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
dir. Don Siegel

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
dir. Philip Kaufman

Mysterious alien pods have landed on earth and transformed 1950s suburban Americans (70s San Franciscans in the first remake of Siegel's film) into mindless drones. Although not detectable at first, it soon becomes obvious that something is slightly different about these folks. The new, improved citizens blissfully go through life without a care in the world. Sure, they have now become completely bereft of their already tenuous individual personalities, but life sure is much easier after succumbing fully to the hive-mind.

Why this might not be so bad: Independent thought is for chumps.

On second thought, maybe it wouldn't be so great: After a while, you'd--[ed. note: at this point, Donald Sutherland walked into the room, pointed at Dave and let out a high pitched shriek.] There would be nothing wrong with this scenario.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)
dir. George Romero

The zombie holocaust, well underway by the time of Dawn of the Dead (Romero's second zombie flick), has left our four heroes stranded in a mall. While walled inside the impenetrable fortress, they have complete access to all of the stores in this suburban paradise. They are free to joyride, rob, and commit general mayhem without fear of being harassed by mall cops.

Why this might not be so bad: Read the description.

On second thought maybe it wouldn't be so great: It's not as easy to fend of roving bands of psychopathic bikers as one might think. Where are those mall cops when you need them?

The Shining (1980)
dir. Stanley Kubrick

Jack Torrance takes a job house-sitting at the Colorado hotel The Overlook for the winter. While at the resort, he has all the time in the world to work on his new novel. And if he ever feels the need, ghosts will provide him with free booze. Incidentally, he probably makes enough scratch here so that he can go the rest of the year without working. More time to write.

Why this might not be so bad: Did you read the description? This place should be called heaven.

On second thought maybe it wouldn't be so great: The whole writer's block/going-crazy,-chasing-your-family-with-an-axe,-killing-Scatman-Crothers,-and-then-freezing-to-death-in-a-hedge-maze thing.

The Thing (1982)
dir. John Carpenter

In John Carpenter's tense remake of The Thing from Another World, an amorphous alien being wreaks havoc on a science crew based in Antarctica. Spreading like a disease, this alien leaves its human hosts virtually unchanged--for a time. It is near impossible to detect who has become infected until it's too late. This unstoppable force eventually decimates the small community here. In the bleak finale, all hope is lost for humanity's survival.

Why this might not be so bad: I really like the cold, so I think Antarctica would be a neat place to spend some time. [See also: the original film.]

On second thought maybe it wouldn't be so great: Read the description.

The Fly (1986)
dir. David Cronenberg

After a transportation portal experiment goes awry, scientist Seth Brundle's DNA becomes fused with that of a fly, empowering him with numerous superhuman powers.

Why this might not be so bad: Among Brundle-fly's many powers is the ability to fuck like a beast.

On second thought maybe it wouldn't be so great: It's been a while since I've seen this movie and I don't remember what happens in the last third of the picture. I'm assuming there are no drawbacks here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

R.I.P. Patrick Swayze

Dead-End Drive In (1986)

dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith

"Don't you have a life outside you wanna get back to?"

Were future, or alien, civilizations to unearth the Aussie filmic output of the eighties, they would be horrified to learn that, while the rest of the world wallowed in opulence, mohawked nomads wreaked havoc on this southern hemispheric hell-scape. Clearly some doin's were transpiring down under. Sure, African, Asian, and Latin American countries had their fair share of problems (starvation, military juntas, civil war, etc...), but these hardships paled in comparison to those experienced by the aforementioned former prison colony. Traditional capitalism, law and order, running water (indeed, all mod cons), had been abandoned in favor of a rape and petrol based economy. How could the First World ignore the cries of the damned that poured forth from Oz? Easy. Outside of the Mad Max movies, none of Australia's post-apocalyptic pictures made any money in the states.

Although Australia has long been a lost cause [No news has reached our American shores from this wretched wasteland since approximately 1989], the documentaries this country produced chronicling its descent into chaos, will prove invaluable in guiding us through our skull-based economy of the coming years. Sure, we may be powerless to prevent our eventual collapse, but with a little guidance from Australia's movies we can better navigate the future wasteland. This is the only reason I watch any of these movies--learnin'.

Brian Trenchard-Smith's documentation of Australia's burgeoning movie-drive-in-concentration-camp industry, Dead-End Drive In, although lesser known, proves just as instructional as any Mad Max film.

Crabs (Ned Manning), a young ne'er-do-well, decides to take his gal Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to the local drive-in for a night of care-free bangin'/movie watchin'. Things are soon thrown askew, however, when the five-o hijacks a couple of wheels from Crabs' vintage ride. Thompson (Peter Whitford), the drive-in's manager, proves incapable of helping this couple out of their jam. What with the lack of tire shops, lack of public transportation, and illegality of walking on the only street near this place, it would appear that this couple is stuck. Not to worry. Thompson informs the couple that he will give them food vouchers every week, redeemable at the concession stand. Understandably, the couple finds this imprisonment perfectly reasonable. Beats workin'.

As is soon made clear, the government, with the help of Thompson, established this drive in prison camp as a way of quarantining the young, punkish, undesirable rebel types wreaking havoc in the dystopia of Australia. Crabs isn't too fond of this set up, though. No, he doesn't like it one bit. After growing weary of the confinement, Crabs attempts to persuade his fellow inmates that they should revolt, or at the very least attempt escape. The incredulous youngsters are angered by his impudence. They've got it made here, they inform him. It's much better than the life they had outside. They can eat junk food all day and watch movies all night. Getting locked up by the government was the best thing that's ever happened to them. If there's one thing that young rebellious types enjoy more than anything, it's being told what to do by the authorities.

Although Crabs has made it his mission to escape the drive in paradise (seriously, who would want to leave?), his girl Carmen has embraced Stockholm Syndrome with open arms. Even when given the opportunity to escape with Crabs, Carmen reasons that it would be better for her to stay. She's got a future here. Indeed, in a few years time, she might just rise to the top of the post-apocalyptic punk-whore ladder.

In the film's thrilling conclusion, will Crabs abandon his freedom loving ways for the sake of his girl, will she decide to escape with him, will Australia abandon its violent, rapey ways and instead become a literate, civilized country? [Answers: no. no. probably not.]

These visions of things to come--far-fetched you say? Sure. Everything presented in Dead-End Drive In is still more plausible, though, than any of the lunacy believed by, and spewing forth from, the right wing in our country.

Things I learned while watching Dead-End Drive In:

Shopping carts are the perfect modes of conveyance for trash fires.

Anytime is the perfect time for Foster's time.

A steady diet of high-fructose-corn-syrup-infused drive-in food, and sitting and watching movies, results in one hell of an active, physically fit populace.

All cops are drug dealers. If you want the best grass, coke, or hairon (before it's cut with inferior shit), befriend the fuzz. All re-ups will come through you.

'Splosions sure are neato.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Car (1977)

dir. Elliot Silverstein

"Whatever happened to last Thursday? I had it made last Thursday."
-Wade Parent

I can't tell you how many times I've heard other horror fans say, "Gee, I really like Jaws and all but I wish that the shark had wheels and an engine and that it killed people on highways instead of in the water. Where's that movie?" I'll tell you where that movie is. It's in Elliot Silverstein's late seventies flick The Car. That's where it is.

In Silverstein's action packed James Brolin starring killer car movie, no attempts are made to explain any of the goings on. The Car is one of the purest examples of my favorite genre, the "wouldn't that be awesome" movie. This screenplay, most likely birthed after the writers enjoyed their fifth round of car bombs, is one reckless piece of movie, driving foolishly through the landscape without regard for reason, credibility, or anything resembling coherence. Existing as a well shot excuse for various scenes of a driver-less car speeding and killing folks, The Car is exactly what you'd think it would be. It is not until the film's finale when the car gets sploded and various demon figures burst from the flames that it is revealed, "Oh I guess the devil possessed this car and stuff. Well, I'll be damned. I'm glad that's over." Or is it? DUH DUH DUH.

Since this movie had but the vaguest reference to Satan and demonic possession, Anton LaVey was brought in as a technical advisor for the picture.

[Side note: I am convinced that Anton LaVey's position as head of the church of Satan was merely a ruse through which to make scratch by performing the role of technical advisor to various low budget horror flicks.

"So Elliot, I understand you're directing a movie about a killer car."

"Yes, it's basically Jaws meets Duel. A fun little horror action flick."

"A killer car, you say? So, who's driving this car? Why is he murdering people?"

"Hadn't really thought much about it, Anton. Umm, no one I guess."

"So this car, no one at the wheel mind you, just goes around killing people willy nilly. No regard for human life. Doing it just for the hell of it. No other reason?"

"I don't know. Hadn't really thought about it."

"You hadn't thought about why this car would be killing people?"

"I don't know. The action scenes would be really cool. We could film some car chases and shit. Why does Jaws eat people? It just makes for a cool movie."

"Well how convenient."

"Look, I'm not trying to kid myself, Anton. I ain't making Shakespeare or like--" Elliot interrupts himself to grab another Schlitz. "I'm sorry. Being rude. You want one?"

"Drinking that filth. I see why your mind would come up with such filth for the screen."

"Ain't gonna lie. These shits give me hangovers somethin' fierce. Don't know exactly why I drink the bitches. Just ain't one for learnin' I suppose. Damned if they don't get the ol' creative juices flowin', though."

"Well isn't that special."

"As I was sayin', no one drives the car in this movie. It kills because it's awesome. It just...It is what it is."

"So let me get this straight, a killer car roams the highways in search of fresh human flesh. It kills without remorse."

"We're gonna have awesome shit. Like, there's gonna be this scene where the kids in the school marching band are practicing for this huge parade and shit-"

"Why? What's the parade for?"

"Doesn't matter. So anyways, they're like practicing and stuff and then out of nowhere--BAM. Car's here. The car's thinking, 'I've got tons of people to run over.' And it'll be extra scary for the audience because it's a bunch of kids getting chased."

"Lovely. Let me see. Let me see. A driver-less killer car roams the landscape in search of kills. No real reason for any of this. It just needs to kill. Who could be behind all these shenanigans? Who could it possibly be? Let me see, who could be the one pulling the strings? Could it be, oh I don't know...SATAN?"

"I guess. Sure."

"You know, if your making a movie about Satan it sure would help to know a little about the fella, Elliot."

"Look, I don't care. I just want 'splosions and shit."

"Do you want authentic or do you want shit? Because, you know, given what I do--I forget. What exactly is it that I do? Oh that's right, I'm just, I don't know, just the leader of a little group called the church of Satan. Perhaps you've heard of it."

"Do you need a job. This movie isn't really about that shit. Look, if you're hurting for money I can help ya' out. Just say-"

"Silence. This disciple of Satan does not accept charity. I just think that if you're going to make a movie about the dark one you should do it right."

"Well, like I said, I'm not really making a Satan flick. That whole angle is just an excuse for this car to come to life and shit. We don't really deal with that shit until the finale when the car explodes and demons and shit rise out of the fire."

Anton becomes over-excited. "Ah ha. Ah ha. Not a Satan movie? Not a Satan movie? Well what is that finale? Huh. Riddle me that. Do you have any idea what demons look like when they've burst from an evil car? Huh, do you? Because you know who does know. I sure as hell do. That's who."

Elliot rolls his eyes and sighs in resignation. "Anton if you wanna be the advisor-"

"I'll take it. How much does it pay?"

"We don't really have any extra room in the budget. I'm sure craft services can make a few extra sandwiches and-"

Anton thrusts his hand forth, shaking Elliot's hand. "You've got a deal mister."

The two men, using their free hands, give thumbs up.]

[Second side note: my apologies to any folks who came here expecting a review of The Car. If you're wondering, I dug the shit out of this movie.]

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009