Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Monday, May 31, 2010

Polyester (1981)

dir. John Waters

Before going into it, I only knew a few things about John Waters’ Polyester: its William Castle-esque gimmick of Odorama, its stunt-casting of Tab Hunter, and the fact that it was Waters’ bid to enter the mainstream. As big a John Waters fan as I am, I took my sweet time getting to Polyester. Although I do love Waters’ later mainstream, and sometimes family friendly, pictures, my heart will always be with his earlier anarchic fuck-the-system pictures. Sure, Waters’ limited visual style was painfully apparent in these films, but I have always admired their DIY aesthetic. They will always have a fond place in my inner punk’s heart.

Most of Waters later pictures bear a similar, if toned down, sensibility but with a studio polish and sheen (i.e. they’re easier on the eyes). Polyester was in-between, however. Surely, like his later pictures, it would be Waters defanged, but still not as polished as those later mainstream movies (In the oeuvre of Waters, polished filmmaking is a relative term, of course).

So how does Polyester stack up? It’s pretty fucking good. To be honest, though, my favorite bits are those with Tab Hunter, mostly occurring in the second half of the picture. Because performers now will regularly poke fun at their public images, folks might forget that the stunt-casting of Tab in this picture would have been quite a shock to audiences at the time. The former clean fifties teen heart-throb, was here making out with Divine (and having an affair with Divine‘s mother), freebasing, attempting to kidnap Divine’s children to sell as sex slaves, and engaging in other tomfoolery.

Ol’ Tab sure isn’t the only one to give it to Divine in this picture, however. Divine gets it rough but how. We are constantly reminded that this is Divine‘s first normal role in a Waters film. In his previous Waters collaboration (Female Trouble), he was last seen getting executed for murder. Here Divine plays Francine, the doormat housewife of porn theater king Elmer Fishpaw (David Samson). Try as she might, nothing goes right for Francine. She finds out that her husband is having an affair, gets divorced, sends her daughter to a nunnery for unwed teenage mothers, and witnesses her son getting thrown in the pokey for a violent slew of foot-stompings, before finally getting rescued by Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter)—or so it seems.

Not surprisingly, Waters heavily borrows from Douglas Sirk for the look and feel of this Melodrama homage (of course, with an ironic wink). Considering his debt to Sirk, Waters’ Polyester is one of his better looking movies. The opening Steadicam shot moving into Francine’s house, up the stairs and into her bedroom as she readies for the day, made me gasp. This is a John Waters movie? I would dare say that this is Waters’ best looking picture. Of course, Polyester came on the heels of Desperate Living, perhaps the most purposefully ugly picture that the trash auteur directed (rivaled only by Pink Flamingos). Anything would look good in comparison.

Although not a standout in the career of Waters—too out there for the mainstream and too tame for the freak crowd—Polyester is nonetheless a consistently funny picture. It also reminds me why Waters found such a comfortable fit in the mainstream. Sure, his subject matter is frequently offensive and in your face, but it is never meant to be taken seriously. He's a punk director having fun at the expense of some stuffed shirt squares. If some toes get stepped on, then so be it.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

R.I.P. Dennis Hopper

I'm on vacation now so I don't have time to write much of an obit, but the news of Dennis Hopper's death kinda bummed me out. I wanted to post something, so here are some trailers to some of my favorite Hopper performances.

[Apocalypse Now (1979)]

[Out of the Blue (1980) Dennis Hopper's best work behind the camera.]

[Blue Velvet (1986) This is a damn good trailer]

[River's Edge (1986)]

[The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)]

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Caddyshack Boringified

What if Caddyshack, instead of being funny, focused on Michael O'Keefe's uninteresting caddy Danny Noonan?

It would suck this much:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Evilspeak (1981)

dir. Eric Weston

Pity poor Clint Howard. While his older brother Ron was able to become a child star, the unfortunate looking Clint had to settle for a stint as a Star Trek villain and act alongside a bear during his formative years. Whereas Ron Howard became known as the guy who participated in some really great TV but then went on to direct blandly crowd-pleasing, Oscar-bait films; Clint became doomed to be known as that weird looking guy who always plays the crazy person in horror movies. Given the choice, though, I’d have to side with Clint. He has long been my favorite Howard. Sure, most of the shows (The Andy Griffith Show, Arrested Development) Ron participated in are unequivocal masterpieces, but has Opie Cunningham ever flown around and chopped people’s heads off while being possessed by Bull from Night Court? I thought not.

In director Eric Weston's film Evilspeak, Clint plays the ultimate victim. Boarding at a military school, he is perpetually harassed by not only his fellow classmates, but also the instructors, chaplain, soccer coach, secretaries, and, hell, pretty much anyone who happens to be aware of his existence. He was born with a kick-me sign strapped above his dick. And just how bad are his bullies? When not making fun of Clint for having dead parents, they like to spend their time sabotaging Clint‘s school projects, giving him evil looks, and, oh yeah [SPOILER ALERT:] killing his puppy [END SPOILER ALERT. To be honest, though, it‘s pretty obvious the instant the puppy is introduced what its fate will be.] These are, perhaps, the most unapologetically ruthless bullies ever to grace an eighties film (and that‘s saying a lot).

Luckily, Clint has an ace up his sleeve—the Prince of motherfucking Darkness. After discovering an ancient Satanic tome in the basement he‘s been punished to clean—the janitor has more important drinking and sleeping engagements—Clint gets an idea. He brings his Apple computer to the dungeon, plugs it in and uses it to summon the spirit of, Esteban, an old Satanic priest. [I knew Steve Jobs was evil.] What follows is the awesomatastical revenge and bloodshed we’ve been waiting the whole film for.

Evilspeak is an odd duck. Although we can’t wait to watch them get their comeuppances, the bullies are so over-the-top evil that they are downright laughable. But as bad as the bullies are, their puppy slaughter seemed out of place. They go from drunkenly trashing Clint‘s dungeon lair to mindlessly chanting “kill“, without missing a beat.

As is to be expected, the film is also riddled with the occasional plot-hole. Events occur less from proper character and logical motivations than a necessity to advance the plot. Even before Clint has gathered all the necessary ingredients to summon the dark one, for instance, Esteban’s spirit show up to kill that pesky janitor who had been getting a little too nosey.

Although campy and illogical at times, Evilspeak is constantly grounded by Clint’s superior performance. He appears to be acting in a different film. Indeed, his performance is so heartfelt and believable that one wonders whether Clint was informed that he was appearing in a trashy gore-fest. It is easy to shit on Mr. Howard because his films are so often less than respectable, but the man brings it to every role. Evilspeak rocked my fucking world.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, May 24, 2010

TV Shows and Movies to Drink to

I recently came across Wendell Jamieson's piece in the New York times about picking the perfect drinks to complement DVD's, and I have to admit I got a little jealous. It's not that he came up with the idea for his piece before I did. Rather, I had a similar blog entry idea for quite some time but never got around to writing it. Damn, why'd he have to write it first? I can't write this piece now. It's gonna look like I bit his shit.

Then again there is always the rule of fuck it, I'm gonna write this anyway. Besides, I'll hardly be treading the same ground, as Jamieson failed to highlight so many obvious drink and DVD combinations. Mine will be more of a corrective piece.

Although some might call such attempts to link film and drink connoisseurism (fuck you, I'm making this a word) the last ditch attempt of a sad, pathetic wino to justify his problem by cloaking it in the veil of intellectual curiosity; as Jamieson stated in his piece, drinking while watching movies is a true art. [i.e. I don't have problem.] This skill is honed over many years of careful movie watching and drink experimentation. Not just any beverage can be consumed with any movie. Make a wrong move and the results can be disastrous. This is a delicate balancing act. It is a skill, incidentally, I didn't decide to perfect until recently.

As much as I like the occasional drink, I used to be adamantly opposed to drinking while watching movies. When slapping down twelve dollars for a movie, I want to remember the fucking thing. Although my rule made sense for theatrical movies, for some reason I used to also extend it to my home-viewing. This was just foolishness. I can re-watch DVD's. Why not indulge in some spirits while enjoying the occasional flick.

Of course, after I started drinking while watching DVD's I soon began to extend the hobby to theatrical viewings as well. I swear I only do this when it will enhance such midnight movie fare as The Room and Birdemic. [Who am I kidding, everything's better with alcohol.]

The Wire - Jameson

The show that freed me of my sober viewing rule. What better way to enjoy the institutional decay of the post-industrial city than with a nice glass of aged Irish whiskey. I guess it says something about me that when I watch a show filled with drug dealers, addicts, and functioning alcoholics, my first reaction isn't revulsion but rather, "that Jameson looks mighty tasty."

[NSFW video]

Although I have some other standard Movie and TV/drink combinations in my repertoire I decided to experiment a little for this piece. I needed some new shit. Here is but a partial list of the many important new, sure to be future movie/drink fixtures that I discovered.

Satan’s Sadist’s - Chateau Le Pin Pomerol 1999

The proper way to celebrate this revenge opus is with some fancy-ass wine. The subtle blend of savagery and unrelentingly amoral violence in Adamson's picture is perfectly complemented by the alcohol in this wine.

Gerry - Mad Dog 20/20

MD’s aromatic blend of Kool-Aid and rubbing alcohol is the perfect compliment to Gus Van Sant’s hour-and-a-half-of-footage-of-two-people-walking-through-the-desert film.

The Hours - Scotch, scotch, scotch. I love scotch.

Damn, I'm starting to sober up.

You know what’s awesome? More Alcohol. I better get more alcohol.

Letters to Juliet - whatever it was the kind man at the bodega sold to me in the brown paper bag

No, you're not kicking me out. I'm a grown-ass man. I'll be damned if I'm told I can't enjoy a beverage in the comfort of the movie theater seat I paid twelve goddamn dollars to sit in. Get the fucking manager. See what I care. This is America. You're not gonna take-

Daddy Day Camp - I wonder if I have any paint thinner in the apartment.

You wanna know what the problem with today's kids is, I (hiccup),, I'm not drunk...


...and that's why you don't ...


...oh shit, I'll clean that up in the morning...


I wonder if there's anything else under the sink to drink.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

dir. Leo McCarey

Although I love every era of film-making, I do have to admit that I respect thirties pictures more as historical objects. These impeccably produced factory-line movies don't tend to move me as much as films from say the late sixties and early seventies. Leo McCarey's Depression era Make Way for Tomorrow, however, threw me for a fucking loop. This is a movie, I'm ashamed to admit, I'd never heard of until a few weeks ago. Somehow, despite my familiarity with McCarey's work, I'd managed for too long to remain oblivious of Make Way for Tomorrow.

Although not given the respect of such peers as Ford, Hitchcock, Hawks, Sturges, and Capra; McCarey was just as important a golden Hollywood era film-maker. He teamed Laurel and Hardy, made a star out of Cary Grant with The Awful Truth, and directed the best, most anarchic Marx Brothers movie (Duck Soup). If his lack of present day name recognition can be attributed to anything (aside from the fact that he would later show support for the HUAC hearings), it is that his style was so unassuming. Although his visuals lacked the authorial stamp of his peers, McCarey did excel in his direction of actors.

Modern viewers are frequently put off by the theatricality of pre-method, classic Hollywood acting. This stiff, old-school style is sometimes derided (or lauded) for its camp value. Leo McCarey, however, attempted to advance the art. For him, drawing believable performances from performers, trumped all other concerns. Anticipating such directors as Robert Altman and Mike Leigh (and to a lesser extent Judd Apatow and Adam McKay), McCarey relied heavily on improvisation. Cary Grant was so uncomfortable with McCarey's unorthodox directing methods, incidentally, that he begged to be removed from his screwball comedy The Awful Truth (released the same year as Make Way for Tomorrow). Fortunately for Grant, he was forced to finish his star-making picture.

The success of McCarey's films is directly due to the fact that his style was perfectly suited to comedies. He had sense enough to give the funny folks he was directing, room enough to improve on the stories. With the drama Make Way for Tomorrow, however, McCarey ventured into uncharted territories. Where his improvisational techniques proved hilarious in his comedies, here, it resulted in an absolutely gut-wrenching picture. To quote Orson Welles in regards to McCarey's picture, "it would make a stone cry."

Make Way for Tomorrow is an anomaly not just in the oeuvre of McCarey, but also in the films of its time in that it is one of the few to deal head-on with the Depression. Unfortunately for McCarey, there was a reason so many directors opted not to address this issue. Make way for Tomorrow bombed at the box office. If we know one thing from the recent failure of Iraq movies to perform at the box office, it's that people don't want to be reminded of real life tragedies. As Joel McCrea learned in Sullivan's Travels, people would rather be cheered up. Make Way for Tomorrow is such a downer, though, I doubt it would have been a success in any era.

Elderly, unemployed couple Barkley (Victor Moore) and Lucy Cooper (Beulah Bondi) have learned that they will soon be losing their home to the bank. Problem is (as if losing their home wasn't problem enough), none of their children have room enough to take in both parents. They decide that Bark will stay with daughter Rhoda (Barbara Read) and her husband. Lucy will live with son George (Thomas Mitchell) and his wife. Although attempts are made on all fronts to make the best of the situation and remain civil, the cramped living soon takes its toll, leaving all involved at their wit's end.

The frazzled children attempt to pawn off their parents on the other siblings but none are willing to take them in. Lucy and Bark, meanwhile, suffer from loneliness after being separated from each other for the longest stretch of time in their fifty year relationship. Mercifully, McCarey gives the couple one last hurrah in the film's magical last third. Reuniting after a long break, they travel throughout New York City, recreating their honeymoon. The evening is bittersweet, however, as Lucy and Bark realize this could be their last moment together. [Side note: The over-the-top niceness of the New Yorkers in this section of the film is the only unbelievable aspect of the entire movie.]

For a movie so steeped in respect for the old school, Make Way for Tomorrow has a surprisingly modern feel. Because of its subject matter and acting styles, this is a movie that feels as if it could have been made today. Few modern directors, however, are imbued with McCarey's humanism. The temptation would be too great to turn at least some, if not all, of the characters into villains. The only other directors I can think of who could have handled this material with the same subtlety and care are the long deceased Renoir and Ozu. Indeed, Ozu was such a fan that he paid homage with his film Tokyo Story.

McCarey knew that for a movie like this to work, viewers would have to empathize (if not sympathize) with every character. Although our hearts may break for Bark and Lucy, we understand the position the children are in. We recognize that, even with the best intentions, when placed in the same situation, we might behave the same.

Dave's Rating:
[Side Note: Although I absolutely loved Make Way for Tomorrow, I didn't think my fun, girl-on-girl Wild Things rating would be appropriate as it doesn't reflect the sadness of McCarey's movie. Instead, I am using a picture from Mulholland Dr. of Naomi Watts masturbating. She's also crying, so it's totally appropriate for Make Way for Tomorrow.]

Monday, May 10, 2010

Killer Nerd (1991)/Bride of Killer Nerd (1992)

dir. Mark Steven Bosko and Wayne A. Harold

Although some may call it an OCD, I pride myself on my stick-to-it-ive-ness when it comes to movie watching. Unless forces beyond my control are preventing me, I always watch a movie from start to finish. I don't care how insipid, art-less, morally bankrupt, or devoid of entertainment value the product; if I start a movie I will goddamn well finish it. Indeed, many times, the more awful the picture, the more I want to finish watching. I take it as a dare from the filmmakers. "Oh, you think you can make a movie so lifeless and boring, no self-respecting person would even think of making it all the way through the piece of shit? I'll show you." Yes, I have never willfully stopped watching a movie before finishing it. Except once. Four years ago. The movie was Killer Nerd and I was forever changed.

When I moved to New York nearly six years ago (Goddamn, I've been here a while), I was out to take any job I could find. A more discerning person might have a better grasp on the sorts of jobs suited to him and do his best to find a position in the field most complimentary to his talents. I, on the other hand, was broke and needed to eat. I also knew I had to take whatever I could get because my job interview skills were still at the Neanderthal stage. If any company wanted to hire me after one of my painfully awkward interviews I knew I had damn well better take the position.

I rely so much on cynicism and vulgarity in my day-to-day life that when put in a situation that forbids it, I turn mute. Normally, when a person says such a phrase as "As soon as I finish filling these holes with caulk, I'm gonna go outside and deal with the beaver problem. Boobies", my brain produces at least five equally fucked-up responses. Indeed, I develop Terminator vision—scrolling through a series of phrases before my mouth almost instantly recites the most inappropriate one. In a formal setting, however, when I'm required to engage in safe, G-Rated small talk, my brain produces nothing but images of wind-up toy monkeys smashing symbols together. A typical interview might go something like this.

"So, Dave, I see you went to Bowdoin. How did you find the social life there? Did you enjoy the small town atmosphere?"

"I like pie."

My first job interview in New York, however, went surprisingly well at first. Before my roommate and I came here from Maine to look for apartments, I went on-line and applied to as many jobs as I could find, regardless of the requirements or fields. For our two day New York trip, I managed to snag one interview. It wasn't until arriving in the city that I realized the job would be in New Jersey (not that the company failed to advertise this fact in the job listing, mind you, I just failed to notice it). I knew right off the bat that I didn't want to make this commute, but I decided to go through with interview regardless. I don't like to break commitments. Perhaps because I knew I wouldn't want to take the job, I felt less pressure and was able to give really good interview. The conversation was actually quite lively and my interviewer seemed impressed. Then he had to go and throw one of those "lame-stream media" types of gotcha questions at me.

"So, Dave, what was it about our company that attracted you to us?"

"Well, uh...I, uh...well, you see...," and then after a long thoughtful pause the perfect response came to me, "what exactly is it that you guys do?"

"Thank you for coming by, Mr. Enkosky. We have many more interviews to get through today. We'll be in touch with you when we make our decision."

Temp agencies are a wonderful thing. Although it wasn't ideal, the mail-room job I scored through an agency allowed me to achieve my twin goals of sleeping under a roof and eating. It wasn't a month later that I landed my second job at Movie Place. Despite the fact that my social retardation would be a seeming negative when it came to retail work, my encyclopedic movie knowledge trumped everything else. All that mattered was that I knew that movies existed before 1980.

If I was a film connoisseur before working at the video store, within two months I became a full on blowing-dudes-in-back-alleys-for-a-fix movie junkie. "The complete works of Jodorowsky, Sam Fuller movies, a bunch of out of print Andre de Toth pictures, an entire 'Something Weird' section? Oh my God, I need it all right now. Why can't I watch everything at once?"

Sure, between the two jobs, I was working 65+ hours a week, but I had access to so many free movies. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to soak in as much as possible. At my height, I averaged ten movies a week. For those doing the math, not much sleep was happening in this period. Of course, after a while, most of the movies started to blend together, but I didn't care. I just needed to watch them all for no other reason than that I needed to watch them all. My most pressing quandary on a typical night was, "alright it's midnight 'o thirty. Do I watch another movie or rub one out? Ahh, Wild Things. Perfect, I'll kill two birds with one stone."

These were the salad days.

I actually did have one semi-legitimate reason for my movie-binging. I didn't know when I'd have access again to so many obscure titles so I considered it my duty to watch as many of these movies as possible. One such movie was Killer Nerd. Being the American Splendor fan that I was (and still am), I got excited when I found out that Movie Place had a double movie disc of the real life Toby Radloff's foray into acting Killer Nerd and its sequel Bride of Killer Nerd. These being Troma releases was doubleplusgood as far as I was concerned (Troma pictures are almost always sure to be jam-packed with titties). I couldn't wait to watch the sure to be entertainingly bad movies.

Killer Nerd was about ten minutes in when I looked at the clock and noticed that it was 2:30 AM. I looked back at the movie.

"There's not enough time in the world."

Under different circumstances I probably would have finished the movie and even found a few things to enjoy about it. I am grateful, however, that I tried to watch it when I did. I am proud to say that my once crippling movie addiction became a manageable three-a-week habit. Thank you, Killer Nerd.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sorry for My Absence

My writing partner came to visit and we've been immersed in screenwriting goodness. I swear to have more shit up soon. In the meantime enjoy this: