Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Awesome Movie Trailers: Requiem for a Dream (2000)

dir. Darren Aronofsky

Addiction, debauchery, success, food, addiction, ecstasy, party, game show, regret, addiction, incarceration, madness, failure, addiction. A dark, fractured tone-poem of a trailer—frenetic, intense, disorienting. In a word: overwhelming. In a word (or four): Requiem for a Dream.

[The trailer:]

Monday, May 30, 2011

Awesome Movie Trailers: The Blob (1988)

dir. Chuck Russell

Sorry about the lack of a real post today. I'll resume my blogging duties as soon as possible

Friday, May 27, 2011

My Favorite Opening Scenes: The Player (1992)

dir. Robert Altman

What better way to end my Altman week than with the virtuoso single-shot opening scene to the director's comeback movie The Player.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Favorite Credit Sequences: Nashville (1975)

dir. Robert Altman

Altman at the top of his game. Weaving together over twenty stories against the backdrop of the country music capital, Altman was a master conductor. How do you open a movie like this? Answer: with lots of pizzazz. A series of album covers spin behind a music magazine cover displaying an ever-changing series of portraits of the the film's performers. A radio announcer joyfully boasts of all the stars in Robert Altman's newest movie, announcing each one as his or her portrait appears. All the while, snippets of different country tracks play in the background. As with the rest of the massive-in-scope movie, this credit sequence is a bit overwhelming but ultimately rewarding.

[The Credit Sequence...and then some:]

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Awesome Movie Trailers: McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

dir. Robert Altman

Ok, I'll say right up front that I ain't sure if this trailer is legit. Well, I mean I don't know if it's actually the original trailer. You see, the Warner logo at the beginning is the modern one so it's a little iffy. Regardless, If this wasn't the original trailer it damn well should have been. Set to a couple of the soundtrack's haunting Leonard Cohen songs ("The Stranger Song" and "Winter Lady"), the beautiful images in this dialogue-free trailer tell a mood story. As with the best trailers, the one constructed for McCabe & Mrs. Miller lets viewers know what they're in for without giving away the story.

[The trailer:]

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Delinquents (1957)

dir. Robert Altman

We all bring our own baggage to the pop culture we consume. Whether we want to admit it or not, our history, our personality, everything that makes us us informs our appreciation for or disgust with a particular piece of art. None of us is truly objective in our evaluation of a movie, book, album, etc. This is why I refuse to label a movie as good or bad or what have you. Ain't no such thing as a good or bad movie. This shit is subjective. Sure, some films are more technically accomplished, some are better representations of a director's vision than others, and some are innovative enough to expand the film language. What it all ultimately comes down to, however, is: did I enjoy this; did this work for me?

This is all shit I've come to realize over the course of working on my blog. I started this blog for two reasons: to give myself another writing outlet and to tell folks about movies that I like. As with any years-spanning endeavor, this blog has evolved over time. Most importantly—for me anyway—it has become an almost therapeutic medium. In writing weekly about movies, I have had to get all analytical in a way I haven't since College. I have realized that when parsing out my reaction to a movie, it's been just as important to analyze myself and understand what it was about my history that created such and such a reaction to such and such a movie.

This is one of the many reasons I refuse to judge people based on their movie tastes. To quote Renoir's The Rules of the Game: "Everyone has their reasons." Sure I don't happen to be a fan of modern romantic comedies (although I fucking love 30s and 40s screwball comedies) but that doesn't mean I'll attach negative attributes to a person who loves those movies. I don't cotton to that kind of snobbery. Most of the shit I like falls far outside the realm of respectable cinema, anyway, so I ain't one to judge.

Interestingly, I was having a conversation with a fellow writer a while back and he said that he's discovered that the more he writes, the more snobbish he becomes. I don't know if it's a reflection of my not-yet-good writing style or my ill-refined tastes, but this couldn't be further from the truth for me. The more I watch and the more I write, the more empathetic I become. Sure, as I've gotten older, my tastes have become more defined, but I've also lost that "what the fuck is wrong with you for liking that" edge.

I state all of this to set you up, unfortunately, for yet another one of my annoying personal posts. I've spewed enough shoegazing bullshit on this blog to fill a narcissistic book, so I'm hesitant to return yet again to the "hey, folks read the stuff I dun writ about myself" well, but I think it's necessary for this entry on Robert Altman's early juvenile delinquency picture The Delinquents.

As stated numerous times before, as a young'un, I was nerdy, socially-retarded bully-bait. I was also deathly afraid of drugs and alcohol. I like saw about pills and booze and marijuana cigarettes in TV shows and stuff. I knew the story. I knew that some no-good kids would totally try to peer-pressure me into trying alcohol or some other wrong substance, and the next thing I'd know I'd be shirtless on a roof attempting to fly. Had I friends at the time and had they offered me such substances, I would have vehemently refused; only losers do that stuff. To say I was a square would be an insult to squares.

[Yeah, this was basically me in high school.]

Obviously, I'm no longer the person I was in high school, but that don't change my inherent squareness. Whenever I see a movie with bad kids, I am instantly on edge. "Uh oh, I don't trust these fellas. They're bad news." (This is one of the reasons, incidentally, I've never watched Larry Clark's Kids; I think my head would explode with disapproval at all the naughty stuff the kids do.) It doesn't even matter the quality of the movie (well, up to a point); I can't help having a strong response when watching one of these movies.

And so I wasn't too surprised when I watched Altman's early juvenile delinquency-sploitation picture and got caught up in the story, dreading the bad influence the bad kids were bound to have over the wholesome kids. In a nutshell, Billy Jack— er, I mean Tom Laughlin stars as Scotty, an all-American teen who accidentally falls in with the wrong crowd.

To be precise, Billy Jack was just like going to his girlfriend's place and stuff and when he got there, his girlfriend's dad was all like, "Blabbity blah,'re too young; you two have to stop seeing each other because I'm old and I don't like young people having fun" and Billy Jack was all like, "this is bullshit, pops, I'm outta here" and then Billy Jack went to the drive-in to like be alone and cry and stuff and then, out of nowhere, a bunch of hoods in the next car went and messed with some folks in another car and those other folks all like thought Billy Jack did it and then they totally went over to try to beat up Billy Jack, but you don't fuck with Billy Jack, so Billy Jack straight up started beating ass and then the hoods went in to help Billy Jack and Billy Jack was all like, "thanks for getting my back, guys", and then the head hood got chummy with Billy Jack and then Billy Jack told him about the problem with his female's dad and then the head hood was all like, "I'll help you with that and stuff; I'll go to pick her up and then I'll bring her to you", and then Billy Jack was all like, "thank you for being a friend, man", and then the head hood brought the girlfriend to Billy Jack but then told Billy Jack and his girl to go with the hoods to an abandoned house, so Billy Jack and his girlfriend went there and she like got all upset when the head hood tried to make a move on her and another female forced Bill Jack to drink a whole mess o' whiskey, so then billy Jack's girlfriend was all like, "Billy Jack, let's leave", and then they left and then the cops totally busted up the party and then the hoods totally thought Billy Jack tattled on them, so they decided to get revenge and stuff on Billy Jack and his girlfriend.

But you don't fuck with Billy Jack.

Will other folks find this movie as riveting and emotionally involving as I did? Likely not. But it sure had me on the edge of my seat.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Awesome Movie Trailers: The Palm Beach Story (1942)

dir. Preston Sturges

If you haven't seen this movie yet, do yourself a favor and watch it right now. For that matter you should go watch every Sturges movie right the same time. I don't care how, just do it. Believe me, you'll thank me for it.

[The trailer:]

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Favorite Opening Scenes: Fargo (1996)

dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

No doubt, at this point, you're used to my typical favorite opening scene: cum-inducing action and/or general craziness. Yes, I love the Fuller-esque opening scene; that ain't no secret. Dare I say, the crazy opening scenes are my favorite opening scenes of all. Lest you think, however, that I'm all about the grabbing-the-viewers-by-the-balls openings, I thought I'd treat you to one of my favorite subdued examples: the opening scene to Fargo.

A car towing another car pulls into the parking lot of a bar in the middle of snowy nowhere. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy)—covered head to to toe in winter gear—walks in to the old-timer bar, passing a large assemblage of seniors. He joins two youngish, fish-out-of-water hoods—Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare)—at a table. Empty bottles sit on the table and Grimsrud is dozing. Lundegaard apologetically announces his presence. All Midwestern hospitality, he feels genuine guilt when he finds out that he is an hour late on account of mutual acquaintance Shep telling the two hoods that the meeting would take place an hour earlier.

Why is this gee-shucks Midwesterner meeting with these two hoods? We find out through their conversation that Jerry is hiring them to kidnap his wife so that he can get a ransom from the wife's father, at which point Jerry will give half the money to the two hoods. Even the hoods seem confused. Some bickering ensues and Jerry refuses to explain what financial situation compelled him to come up with this fucked up plan. With a "fuck it" attitude, Showalter gives in and asks to see the stolen car Jerry brought for them.

With this brief opening scene, the Coens set the story in place, established a setting and tone, and fleshed out the characters. This, like most Coen opening scenes, is a study in efficiency.

Note: I was unable to embed the video but you can watch it here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Awesome Movie Trailers: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

dir. Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam

I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Saturday night and I was in my mid teens and the TV in front of me presented endless boredom-killing possibilities. Awesomeness abounded. Flipping through the channels I saw that Monty Python and the Holy Grail was about to play. Yet to see any of their output, I was still very much aware of The Pythons. Based on the few "Flying Circus" clips I'd seen during PBS pledge drives (those cock-teases weren't playing any episodes at the time), I knew I needed to start watching. What luck that I happened across a channel showing The Holy Grail that Saturday night. OCD pop-culture-consumed-in-chronological-order completist that I am, I would have preferred to watch the episodes first, but this would do.

Words cannot begin to describe my joy that night. As I'm sure many another comedy geek felt on his first exposure to Python, it seemed as if those brilliant, silly Brits had built a movie tailored specifically to my comedic sensibilities. Of course, given that the Pythons' impact on the comedy world was so far-reaching, I'd consumed much of their pop-culture progeny by this point in the mid-nineties. Sure I hadn't seen Python before but I'd seen plenty of imitators. That night, however, I was getting it straight from the tap for the first time. I can honestly say that I've never laughed harder at a movie than when the Pythons broke my cherry. (My first viewing of Raising Arizona at the same age would be the closest rival.) Of course, nothing ever matches your enthusiasm when consuming pop-culture during the formative teenage years. Everything like means so much more, man. It like— you just don't get it, man.

Anyway, cut to a few years and several Holy Grail—as well as other Python movie—viewings later and my purchase of the Holy Grail DVD. Considering I'd memorized the entire movie by this point, my purchase was almost pointless. Ahh, but this was a 2-disc special edition DVD. (Remember when that used to be exciting?) I had to buy this. What with all the special features, I thought this was money damn well spent. (Oh, the money I could've saved over the years if I had only known at the time of the future existence of Netflix, but that's a matter for another post.)

My favorite special feature on the fuckin' 2-DISC! SPECIAL EDITION!! BADASS!!! Holy Grail DVD was the original theatrical trailer. Here was some material I hadn't seen before that was almost as funny as the movie. Instead of slapping together a typical, explain-the-plot movie ad, the Pythons smartly realized this was another medium they could use to create some funny. As mentioned before, this should be the rule for all comedy trailers: make something original and funny. Nothing saps funny like predictability.

In this trailer— you know what? Just watch it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Graduation Day (1981)

dir. Herb Freed

I had originally planned to review for you fine folks the early eighties Troma slasher movie Graduation Day. Problem is, almost nothing interesting enough about this flick for me to waste time droppin' words on it. As you all know, there are any number of cinematic crimes I'll accept in a slasher movie; boringness ain't one of 'em. Graduation Day murdered me with dullness. Sure, technically speaking, Graduation Day ain't much worse than the other slasher movies I love, but because the filming of this film was done with such a going-through-the-motions attitude, I felt wronged.

Chief among the perfunctory elements of Graduation Day is the murder mystery. It never ceases to amaze me how many of these slasher flicks carried on like they were fucking Agatha Christie novels. The creators of these movies always seemed to operate under the misguided assumption that audiences for these movies were all atwitter over which despicable, deceitful devil could say he did lay claim to the numerous bodies piling up in the small town, campground, high school, or what have you.

"It was the scorned boyfriend? Well I'll be damned."

Don't get me wrong. This is one aspect of the movies I always dig. The amount of effort that went into creating and maintaining a pointless mystery certainly always outweighed the give-a-shit-itude of the audience in regard to said mystery. What can I say? Wasted energy amuses me.

Of course, this is all a roundabout way of saying that, because the makers of this movie didn't put any effort into crafting an entertaining picture, I'll waste no time in describing their non-efforts to you. Instead, I'll leave you with the following clip, the only entertaining section of the movie. Midway through the movie, the students go to a roller-disco themed party where they are sung at by rock band Felony (whom you may remember from such movie soundtracks as Vally Girl). Playing a gargantuan in length song, Felony scores not only the rockin' roller party but also a young horny couple sexin in the woods near the school.

[For a seemingly important event, the roller disco happening is never mentioned before or after this scene.]

[The trailer [Side note: I'm pretty certain this ain't the original trailer but one that Troma produced recently. Don't judge the movie based on this trailer. What was cobbled together here is far more interesting than the movie itself.]:]

Dave's Rating:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Awesome Movie Trailers: Bananas (1971)

dir. Woody Allen

Why don't more comedies come up with comedic trailers? It seems like a no-brainer. The trailer length of a couple minutes is perfectly suited for creating a quick comedy piece. Why not create a new little film in the comedic vein of the movie and use that to advertise your picture? Instead, most modern comedy trailers follow the standard formula of setting up the plot, intermittently throwing in the best punch lines, and ending with the title of the film followed by another punch line. These trailers are so similar to each other, they lose comedic impact.

What Woody Allen did for the trailer to Bananas (the best out and out comedy he ever made), though not groundbreaking, is nevertheless fresh. Sure, he sets up the plot and throws in some punch lines, but he frames it all in the form of a mock interview about the upcoming movie. He is able with this to break up the sameness of comedy trailers, while at the same time, employing his stand-up comedy skills.

My favorite exchange from the interview:

"How do you think it's gonna do at the box office?"

"Well, we have a very interesting plan. We're gonna let the people in all over the country for nothing and then charge them to get out."

[The trailer:]

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Thing with Two Heads (1972)

dir. Lee Frost

Hey remember yesterday when I was all like, "Blabbity blabbity blah, look at me writing stuff. I'm important. Bob Loblaw. Pay attention to me. Yadda yadda yadda." (I don't remember writing that.) Well, I also wrote about my love for the low-budget movie-studio AIP. I mentioned that this company always looked for fads to exploit and on occasion created its own. Such was the case with new-fangled seventies fad the studio created of doctors attaching second heads to people. After their initial foray into this subject (The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant), the folks at AIP realized that this premise contained unending possibilities. And so was created the following year's blaxploitation take on the subject The Thing with Two Heads.

Although, normally, it'd be overkill for a studio to tackle the same, very specific, idea so soon after it mastered it the first time, with The Thing with Two Heads, AIP more than justifies the reincarnation. Ray Milland stars as Dr. Kirshner, a noted surgeon/racist who is dying of cancer. In order to continue living, Kirshner decides to perfect a head transplant technique. He experiments by placing a second head on an ape (Rick Baker, who also did uncredited effects work). Kirshner explains that after attaching a second head to the body, the new head will fuse with the body after a month, at which point, the original head can be safely removed. No muss, no fuss...except, you know, that the original head will no longer be alive.

Now the only thing left for Kirshner to do is find a suitable body for which to get his head attached, a body which the losing of the original owner's head/life will not present any moral dilemmas for the doctor. It's off to death row. Kirshner, no longer functioning at this point, has his seconds head down to the mayor's office for to ask him to allow the death row inmates to be used as guinea pigs. The Mayor agrees. Word is sent to the inmates that any who chooses to take part in the experiment will get an extra 30 days to live. Just what would be required of an inmate in this experiment is never stated.

Enter wrongfully convicted inmate Jack Moss (football star Rosey Grier). Right before he's about to get the juice, he agrees to the experiment. Hot dog, now he'll have an extra thirty days to clear his name. Oh Happy day. Right before he's about to be put under, Moss asks the doctors if their experiment is going to be painful. Awkward pause. And then the doctors tell him that they, in no way, intend to attach a racist honky's head to his body. Nope. No sir, no how. The doctors quickly sedate him and attach a racist honky's head to his body.

["I won an NFL championship."

"I won an Oscar."

Isn't their downward career spiral adorable.]

After Moss/Kirshner escapes from the lab, Moss attempts to solve the crime that wrongfully landed him on death row, all while bickering with the racist honky on his shoulder. When your movie can be turned into a sketch comedy spoof of a buddy cop film without changing anything, you know you've done something special.

[The trailer [Side note: The first line uttered by the narrator of this trailer—"it seemed like a good idea at the time"—could also act as the apologia from the creators of both this film and the previous year's The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, when explaining to their grandchildren why they felt the need to get stoned before coming up with movie ideas.]:]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971)

dir. Anthony M. Lanza

Casey Kasem has to rescue Pat Priest (Marilyn Munster #2)* before helping hunt down the psychotic two-headed creature created by Bruce Dern. Yes, folks, AIP went back in time to the early 70s and created a movie based on my whiskey and burrito induced nightmare from two years ago. The name of that nightmare: The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant aka reason number 973 why I love AIP.

*[Side note: Wikipedia has a rather unnecessarily long and detailed entry on the character Marilyn Munster. Wow, internet. I'm not complaining or anything; it just seems that any description longer than "the normal member of the Munster family who, having been raised in a family with a different/monster standard of beauty, considers herself homely" is a bit overkill. Still, internet, I gotta praise the geekery.]

Low budget production house AIP latched onto any fad it could grab a hold of (hippies, bikers, lsd, etc...) and sucked that shit dry until nothing remained but regret. Occasionally, when the well of available fads ran dry, AIP was tasked with creating its own. And so in 1971 it said, "Hey, there's no demand for movies about doctors attaching murderer heads to large Faulkenrian idiot man-child bodies. Let's sate that." And so was born the above-mentioned movie.

Like most AIP productions, the cast of The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant consisted of on-their-way-out B-level stars (Pat Priest), talented up-and-comers (Bruce Dern), and miscellaneous (Casey Kasem). I can't remember if I've written at length here on my appreciation for Bruce Dern, but I should have by this point. He is, after all, one of my favorite New Hollywood actors. With a manic, sincere intensity, Dern excelled at the sort of twitchy psychos and damaged individuals so many other actors would ham to fucking hell. Although Dern would later experience some success and recognition, he toiled in the B-World far longer than most of his compatriots. That's not to say he didn't appear in a number of big-budget and/or acclaimed studio pictures in his early years (Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte; Support Your Local Sherriff!; They Shoot Horses, Don't They?), he just lacked the star-power necessary to avoid continually paying his dues. He made a career early on of exceeding his material. That is until the shot heard round the world that was The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant.

Where his costars in this picture turn in laughable B-Movie performances, Dern is in another fucking movie. Yet another reason I love Bruce Dern—no matter what he's in, he treats the material like it's The King of Marvin Gardens or Coming Home. Dern stars as the well-intentioned but mad Doctor Roger who, instead of banging his devoted wife Linda (Pat Priest), spends his time in his lab with a deranged assistant who helps him attach unnecessary second heads to animals. His mad experiments are not without reason, of course. He hopes to perfect a method whereby he can completely transplant the head of a dead person onto the body of a living person, giving the dead head life. And what, you may ask, of the moral quandaries raised by a procedure that would leave one person dead? Roger refers to the lesser known line in the Hippocratic Oath of "too fucking bad".

For reassurance that his medical experiments aren't batshit, Roger invites his friend Ken (Casey Kasem) to the lab so that the the velvet-voiced one can witness the plethora of two-headed creatures that are the fruits of Roger's demented labor. Where his proper response should be something along the lines of "Jesus goddamn fucking Christ, what the fuck is wrong with you? Why would you fuck with these animals like that?", Ken responds with the sort of detached curiosity of someone seeing an electric toothbrush for the first time, "Huh, that's kinda neat." Considering the bevy of enablers with which the mad Doctor Roger has decided to surround himself, it's no wonder he would eventually decide to do what he does end up doing. [Stay tuned to the next paragraph to find out what he does.]

What Roger does is he takes advantage of an opportunity that just falls into his lap. You see, on the othe other side of town, a crazed serial rapist/murderer escapes from the padded Hilton, discovers Roger's home, kills the gardener, kidnaps Linda, attempts to rape her in the woods, and is shot dead by Roger. Roger and his assistant bring the body back to the lab and both men have the same realization, "Hey, we've got a dead rapist and a large, sedated, ape-strengthed, developmentally disabled man who gardens for us and whose father (who also gardened for us) was killed by the rapist I killed. Let's put the rapist's head on the strong man's body. Fuck humanity. But especially fuck gardeners." Because the gardener's son is developmentally disabled, Roger and his assistant don't experience any moral qualms with using him as a lab rat. This movie bathes in a pool of unexamined moral dilemmas.

[Hey, fellas, here's a phrase no woman wants to hear from her husband, "Hey, honey, remember that crazed criminal who kidnapped you and tried to rape you? I just gave him ape strength. Your welcome." If there are any mad scientists who read my blog, please, I urge you to use your powers for good...or more advanced snuggies.]

As you may have guessed, as inadvertently entertaining as The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant is, it is unfortunately yet another example of film's inability to deal with developmentally disabled characters in any kind of meaningful, nuanced or mature manner. Still, not as bad as Radio.

[Dear. Fucking. God.]

So, anyway, the two-headed transplant of Roger's creation runs amok; and Roger drugs his wife, ties her up, and locks her in his lab. Whaa? Yeah, it turns out [SPOILER ALERT:] Roger's a little nutty. So it's up to Ken to save the day.

The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant is the greatest movie concerning the subject of doctors attaching one person's head to another person's body. Or is it? Stay tuned tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion of "what is the point of this?"

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Friday, May 6, 2011

Awesome Movie Trailers: 8 1/2 (1963)

dir. Federico Fellini

That's right folks, 8 1/2. I thought I'd class up the joint with a fuckin' classic picture today. I got ya' Fellini right here.

[The trailer]

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Awesome Movie Trailers: Superman (1978)

dir. Richard Donner

R.I.P. Jackie Cooper

[circa the time when he was a member of "Our Gang", the most ruthless criminal organization the Depression had to offer (or so I was told by the internet).]

[circa the time he was in the movie I posted the trailer of below.]

[The trailer:]

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Monkey on My Back (1957)

dir. Andre De Toth

Prizefighter Barney Ross (Barney Ross) is on top of the world. He's climbing his way up the boxing ladder, and his gambling winning streak is never to end. He soon meets chorus girl Cathy Holland (Dianne Foster), the swellest gal, mother of one, and Barney's future wife. The two start a courting and everything is right...that is until Barney's gambling addiction gets out of control. But he's on a hot streak, baby. He can't quit now. Cathy thinks otherwise.

After Barney loses an important fight, he decides to give up boxing for good. Cathy couldn't be happier. Not only is he taking himself out of harm's way, but he's also abandoning the boxing lifestyle, the lifestyle full of unsavory bookies responsible for Barney's gambling addiction. Or so Cathy thinks. It is only then, after his departure from the ring, that he plunges full-force into his gambling addiction. Unable to continue in such an unstable household, Cathy takes her daughter and hits the road.

Barney is upset, but he knows it was his fault. He needs a change and he needs it now. He turns his life around. He joins the marines. His time in boot camp instills in him a discipline lacking before. Cathy, reading the letters Barney's been sending her, has fallen in love again with the man she knew before. But, alas, Barney must ship off to the South Pacific, to Guadalcanal to do his part in helping the Allies win WWII. In jungle fighting, the likes of which he could never have imagined, Barney is stranded alone in a hole with a crippled comrade, the rest of the platoon having been wiped out by snipers. But Barney refuses to give in to that bastard death. He obliterates forty oncoming enemy soldiers. He is left in the rain, however, to sleep in the water-filled hole and soon contracts malaria. When Barney is discovered and shipped to a hospital, the doc gives him morphine to dull the pain. Mistake.

Barney returns home to Cathy's open arms. Things couldn't be grander. Except for one thing. Barney's got a monkey on his back. And in that monkey's hand: syringes full of morphine. Barney fights all he can but he can't escape the clutches of sister morphine. He sniffs out an unsavory morphine dealer and gets a fix and spirals out of control with the drug addiction. Ashamed of what he's doing to his family, he kicks the junk and things are swell again. But not for long. He quits his job. He's broke. He needs a fix. He robs his wife and breaks open the kid's piggy bank and steals the change. Wife and child and run off. Barney tries again for another fix. He doesn't have enough dough. He beats up a pusher, steals his dope and shoots up in an alley.

When Barney returns home, he finds Cathy has returned. She tells him he has to kick the habit and he turns himself in to a rehabilitation center. He has a hard time of it at first. Withdrawal is a bitch. But eventually, eventually after a period of many months, he's clean for good. He leaves the hospital and returns to the loving arms of his faithful Cathy.

Everything I've just described takes place in the course of Ninety. Fucking. Minutes. If that ain't a selling point, I don't know what is. Anyone who thinks old movies are slow is a fucking asshole.

[Side note: At the end of this movie, after Barney's kicked the junk, a caption appears onscreen that says "The Beginning". Get it, because usually a movie will say "The End" at the end but this one says "The Beginning" because Barney's beginning a new sober life. I think they should make a sequel that's four hours long and consists solely of footage of the Sober Barney painting his house. Come on, Hollywood, this idea can be yours. If the price is right.]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Prophecy (1979)

dir. John Frankenheimer

Atoning for previous movie sins. If seventies cinema can be unified by one all-encompassing theme (and it can't), this would be it (but it wouldn't). A generation raised on the triumphant entertainments of golden era Hollywood, would soon come to believe that its cultural legacy was built on the backs of the exploited. Seeing as Native Americans were one of the most heinously wronged groups, movie-wise and otherwise-wise, it was only logical that the tables would eventually turn, movie-wise, and this group would get a voice. The most interesting attempts at redressing the cultural lampooning of canon-fodder "injuns" in the previous decades of Western film, came in the horror genre.

Horror film, preying as it does on our current fears and obsessions, has always acted a great barometer of the zeitgeist. Much of the brutality of seventies horror (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Crazies, Deathdream), for instance, can be seen as a direct response to the carnage pumped daily into American homes via footage of the Vietnam War on the nightly news. John Frankenheimer's late seventies Native American/enviro-horror pic Prophecy, on the other hand, existed in response to the director's heroic level of alcoholism...and, to a lesser extent, Native American and environmental issues. But, yeah, mostly the booze.

Though nowhere near as nutty as the splendiferous Native American horror pic The Manitou, Prophecy certainly earns points for its setting in my home-state of Maine and for naming its monster "Katahdin", the name also of Maine's tallest mountain and northern terminus of the Appalachian trail.

[This piece of Maine trivia brought to you by Moxie, the cough-syrup-tasting drink of choice of American hero ballplayers and frozen heads everywhere.]

You may recognize Frankenheimer as the director of such stone-cold classics as The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds. Prophecy is yet more proof, however, that his previous directing of bona fide masterpieces was due mostly to the material. In my opinion, he was an efficient, TV-trained, technician-for-hire, workhorse director who had the potential for greatness but was not against earning a paycheck. Of course, the man could also film a car chase like nobody's business.

So, anyway, back to Prophecy. Robert Foxworth and Talia Shire star as Dr. Robert and Maggie Verne, an idealistic couple that moves to Androscoggin, ME at the behest of the EPA so as to investigate the lumber industry. While there, they also get embroiled in a land-rights issue with the local Native American tribe. The couple also learns of a mythical creature spoken of by the native Americans called Katahdin. Also, the couple discovers large mutated fish and a buggin' racoon. Also, the couple eats one of the mutated fish. Also, Dr. Robert finds out that the lumber mill is dumping mercury in the lake and rivers and such. Also, Dr. Robert tells his wife that when fetuses are developing, they go through all the stages of human evolution (fish, chimp, manbearpig, etc...). Also, Dr. Robert tells his wife that consuming mercury while pregnant can cause the fetus to become stuck in one of these stages or become a combination of all these stages. Also, Maggie tries to find an easy way to tell her no-time-for-kids husband that she is pregnant and doesn't want an abortion even though she totally ate some mercury tainted fish.

Also, there's a random family camping in the area and, also, this happens:

Go ahead, watch it again. You did just see that.

Also, in the rest of the movie, everyone battles Katahdin.

Much like the logic behind the Mulattorus from Mr. Show's "Racist in the Year 3000" sketch, Katahdin is a conglomerate creature. Nature, with an assist from mercury, was all like, "we'll take a little from bears, add a dash of fish, some more from reptiles, and add just a pinch of sand-crab and various other assorted beings and voila, we got ourselves a monster."

Sadly, as entertaining as this movie was, I have to call bullshit on its mercury causes cheap-monster-suit looking super-beasts hypothesis. When, back in '93, an eighth-grade science classmate of mine made all of us laugh by breaking open a thermometer and drinking the mercury, he did not become Katahdinized. Of course, I can't say I blame Frankenheimer for not presenting a realistic depiction of mercury poisoning. Sensory impairment and a lack of coordination? Who wants to watch that when you can have this:
[I'm shocked, shocked to find out Frankenheimer was in the midst of an alcoholic tailspin when he made this movie.]

Prophecy is so of its time, commenting on every hot-button topic of the day (environmentalism, Native American rights, abortion), that it almost seems as if it was work-shopped by Madison Avenue. I mean that in the least disparaging way possible, by the way. You, my faithful reader, should know by now that what I love a lot is dated film and what I love about it is that I love it a lot. Yes, the unintentional humor is great and all, but datedness also helps provide a snapshot of a people at a particular point in time (like when filmmakers pause their futuristic, sci-fi/action, wanky pseudo-intellectual philosophy picture so that a bunch of folks in a cave can get they rave on). Yet, despite any notions of being a righteous-indignation-movie railing against the injustices of its time, Prophecy is also little more than a man-in-a-cheap-monster-costume film. And I love it for that also.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating: