Saturday, October 21, 2017

If I were smarter or younger...

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!

I would never be so bold to say this is my last post ever because I certainly hope that isn't true.

I can say this will be the last post for some time though.

I started this little experiment in March of 2011.  But, in May of 2012 I foolishly deleted all the posts I'd written (about 30 at the time).  Some of them I was able to retrieve from the Internet Archive but, the bulk of them were lost because I didn't have my own backups - and as I was deleting the posts I never assumed I'd need the backups in any event. 

However, after someone from back east (I am a Missouri boy...and it is a great place to be from) gave me shit over a film I'd mentioned I liked (People think Californians are judgmental - I'd suggest you've never been to Missouri), I decided it was time to give the site another go...and so the 59 previous posts have been my attempt to let people know you shouldn't let Roger Ebert, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB or your "friends" decide what you like.

ART is ART!

In any event, I'm gonna take a long hiatus from the blog for my own reasons.  Not because someone thought the topics were unseemly. Could be six months - could be six years but, at least I'm making the decision this time and in the mean time I'll take those extra CPU cycles and apply them to my job (and see if that does any good).

However, before last call there were are few things I feel I need to say so that if this is the last post it will be these words that linger in the ether.

1. Tobe Hooper was perhaps the most under-appreciated genius ever to work in film.  He never made a bad feature film although I enjoyed some more than others.  And his television work was just as solid.  Hooper's departure essentially means the end of the brilliance that came from the cinema movements of the 70s. A small number of those artists remain...but not for much longer.  And then the world of  "film" will be entirely absorbed by the James Cameron/Bryan Singer/Joss Whedon collective of loud and digital.

God help us all.

2. If you are  my age and aren't essentially giddy that Kristine DeBell is working again then you may have missed some great times growing up. And if you haven't seen her work in the recent film Holy Terror then by gosh treat yourself.  A good film made great by Kristine's work.  She is an Oscar winner in the making - one great role and she'll be a household name.

You can take that to the bank.

3. One of the best Friday night's you could ever possibly have is the adult beverages of your choice and a double-bill of Flesh Gordon and The Groove Tube (if you need a third throw in Kentucky Fried Movie). It will leave a smile on your face for at least 72 hours.







4. Edward D. Wood, Jr. is one of the most inspirational people who ever lived. 

He had a dream and he chased it - always. And I want to say "Thank You" and "Fuck You" to the Medved brothers for both bringing Wood back into the American consciousness while  shitting on him.














5. The New Beverly is hallowed ground.

It's a fact.  I think it may be the only place I actually ever relax and reason enough to live in the LA area.

and finally - if you know Dobie Gillis, Get Smart, F-Troop, My Favorite Martian, All in the Family, Maude, Chico and the Man, The Gong Show, the Lone Ranger and the Cisco Kid and watched cartoons on Saturday morning - Holy shit did you have fun growing up.

Live every day like you're Buckaroo Banzai.








Miss you Pops

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Don't give a finger to.....The Giant Claw

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!

I guess it is safe to say you work at a pretty cool place when your boss send you a link to a movie that is begging for an essay.  So, as that is the case, it is time for me to shower some love on a much maligned film (although in some cases it is understandable).


After the release of Jaws, there was an endless array of sea faring creature features ranging from Tentacles to Piranha and Up from the Depths.  In fact, I think you could safely say that sub-genre of "Monster" movies continued from 1974 until the summer of 1987 when Jaws 4 The Revenge appeared to finally kill of the trend.  But damn, what a run.  However, due to the dawn of both atomic and space age and the ever growing tension between the United States and the Soviet Union the 1950s saw a similar run of monster movies - Them, Tarantula, It, The Terror from Beyond Space, The Deadly Mantis and, of course, Attack of the Crab Monsters (we've all been there amiright?). Among those amazing films is the oft overlooked classic 1957's The Giant Claw.
Now, I'm not obtuse - I genuinely understand why this picture is often derided. The titular beast of the film is, if watched in a particular frame of mind, laughter inducing. But, let's delve a bit deeper shall we?

In the well done opening narration sequence of this Columbia Pictures produced picture, narrated by the director Fred K. Sears, we are reminded of how the world had been utterly altered in only a generation.  The sequence reminds us that even in 1957, the world had grown much smaller and technology and automation where changing the very face of society itself. Of course, the narration leads handily to the first scene of the film as we are introduced to electronics engineer and pilot Mich McAfee (the always great Jeff Morrow) and mathematician Sally Caldwell (the stunning Mara Corday) as they perform radar flight tests in the north pole.

It is during these tests that McAfee first sights the creature and reports a UFO.  However, nothing appeared on the radar.  However, a squadron of jets are scrambled to search for this battleship sized flying anomaly.  During the search a pilot and jet is lost and the military is initially angry with McAfee as they believe the who incident is a ruse - despite the machinations of McAfee otherwise. McAfee and Caldwell are flown back to New York, but, their craft is attacked by a UFO.  In the attack the pilot is killed and McAfee has to crash land the craft.  A French-Canadian farmer sees the crash and brings McAfee and Caldwell along with the deceased pilot to his farm.   Soon it is discovered that other aircraft have gone missing and the military soon have to accept McAfee's assertion that something sinister is flying the skies - and it threatens all mankind.  The last act of the film leads to a climatic battle between man and giant bird over the skies of New York City.

I have been asked a couple times in the past a question that usually boils down to "What is the most distinct difference between b-movies of the past and the current crop of direct to video (or NetFlix) films of today."  My answer is a bit simple but I believe it is generally accurate (in my opinion) and this film demonstrates it very well.  In era without CGI and shower scenes, a film, without regard to budget, had to feature good actors...even great actors.  That is the real selling point of this film.  The cast of actors are so good, their sincerity and commitment to their roles sell the film entirely.  That is why I can enjoy this film and still find some (NOT ALL) of the special effects.....humorous.  And I could say the same about almost all b-movies from the 40s through the mid-70s.  After Jaws, films had to boast at least attempts at great special effects.  They didn't always succeed but, it became a film's selling point in any event.  And if you could throw in a nude scene or two (or three) all the better for the demographics (Corman's Humanoids from the Deep leaps to mind right away - what a great late 70s flick that is).

Now, I'm no prude by any stretch of the imagination...and that goes double when it comes to film. My mantra is and always will be "Art is Art". And if that means a shower scene for no good reason at all well so be it.  My larger point is, without the spectacular work by many of the actors in the these films audiences may very well have walked out on them (or driven out as these were likely part of a drive-in double bill).  Likewise, not every b-movie from the 50s had a cast of great actors (I'm looking at you Robot Monster - but I love you anyway).  But lets face it, as much as I love Charles Band, he's not going to get a Hugh Beaumont level actor to be in an Evil Bong movie...nor does he need to with cheesy SFX and nude shots.  That doesn't mean I don't love me some Evil Bong movies.

If you're remotely familiar with this picture, you're aware the effects were initially slated to be handled by the brilliant Ray Harryhausen (if that is a name unfamiliar to you, stop right now, go to Google and discover his brilliance and artistry), but, time and cost were deemed to be prohibitive. so, with time and money being an issue, a special effects studio in Mexico City which worked on the cheap was hired and created the creature featured in this production. The creature has been ridiculed and reviled essentially non-stop since the picture's1957 release.  I would suggest, however, that is is the sound effects for the creature that have as much to do with the ridicule as the puppet created for the creature itself.  But, in the only handful of times I've seen this picture (last night being probably only my third time in my 50 years) I just keep in mind the budget and other restraints this film had to overcome.  Now days, if Billy Joe Jim Bob wants to make a film about a giant creature, the special effects can be done well and cheap by firing up a laptop.


In any event, the film is available in a number of ways online and I'd encourage you to check it out - even if your goal is just to have a laugh at it.  I still honestly believe you'll find more of the film engrossing than you'll find it funny.  If you have any thoughts or comments, leave them below or feel free to drop me a line at jakebanzai1@gmail.com

Next week I'm going to share some thoughts on writer, director, actor and overall raconteur Kevin Smith.









Miss you pops

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Eaten Alive

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!


Some of the best films I've ever seen are also films I can't watch very often. Off the top of my head Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream comes to mind as does John Cassavetes' greatest film (in my opinion) A Woman Under the Influence (released the same year as Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Both are brilliant...and gut wrenching. Although Gena Rowland (who was Oscar nominated for her performance) and Peter Falk's work in the latter film drag me back at least once a year..and then I take a week or two to recover.  But, that is the thing with art. If you want a comfortable film that is gone from your consciousness five minutes after you've watched it I would suggest a Madea film or perhaps something with David Spade.  Now, before you write me - I'm not suggesting I've not enjoyed me a Tyler Perry film, and, hell, I even have a soft spot for David Spade but I don't think Tyler Perry believes a Madea film is going to affect you on an emotional level for years to come.  And, kinda guessing David Spade forgets what he's done shortly after the check clears (but I could be wrong).
 
I mention this because I made a point of re-watching one of my favorite Tobe Hooper films recently.  One that has gone by a number of titles but when I saw it at the drive-in years ago it was called Eaten Alive. And, because distributors used to plan out their drive-in double bills for maximum effect, I saw it with an equally good and under appreciated English film called Raw Meat ("Mind the Gap!").  I think Hooper's work on Eaten Alive was perhaps his most effective - I mean of his entire career. Certainly this is a topic that is up for debate. Some will suggest that his classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre will always be his Citizen Kane, and if you know me you'll also know that I am in no way maligning one of the greatest American films ever made.


Eaten Alive is the story of a madman named Judd (the utterly brilliant Neville Brand) and his pet Nile crocodile operating the Starlight motel in the Louisiana bayou. As it turns out, Judd is not a people person. The story opens with Buck (portrayed by a boyish Robert Englund) attempting to make a young prostitute named Clara (the late Roberta Collins) do something she doesn't want to do. This leads to Miss Hattie, the madam, portrayed by Mrs. Morticia Adams herself (Carolyn Jones) kicking Clara out.  Clara sets off with a bit of money given her by a kind soul to find a place for the night...and leading her to the Starlight.  Judd, as portrayed by Brand, appears to have some deep seated sexual hangups and knows she is from Miss Hattie's.  This leads him to assault Clara and, in a visceral and disturbing scene, feed her to his croc.  As the story goes on a family arrives portrayed by Hooper stalwart Marylin Burns, William Finley (The Phantom of the Paradise) and their daughter.  Finley's character it appears to be every bit as mad as Judd and is shown in one of the most uncomfortable scenes in the picture.  Rounding out the cast is the father of Clara (Mel Ferrer) and her sister (Crystin Sinclaire) who have been searching for her in an attempt to bring her home.  As the second act winds down we are introduced to the town sheriff played by veteran actor Stuart Whitman.

Despite the indicated location of the film, it was shot entirely on a sound stage at Raleigh Studios, a magnificent studio I had the pleasure of visiting a few years ago but never made it to any of the sound stages.  This was a brilliant move on Hooper's part.  It adds to a claustrophobic feeling of the film.  The perfect lighting and cinematography bring the grime, grit and humidity through the screen.  You almost feel as if you cannot catch your breath...as if the swamp is swallowing you up.

Let me add, when people suggest that Hooper didn't have the chops to direct Poltergeist I would have to direct them to his work with Brand in this picture.  Hooper masterfully leads Brand through madness, cloaked in a home-spun good ol boy persona not dissimilar to people I knew in Malden, MO or Southern Illinois. Honestly, Brand's work in this film was Oscar worthy, but, the Academy then, as it is now, is a club that doesn't necessarily reward talent - but, that's real life I suppose.

It's a hard film to watch - there is no comic relief. No rays of light. No thoughts of escape.  Just a mad man and his croc.

Later this month the New Bev will be showing TCM and Eaten Alive as part of a Hooper tribute.  Currently my intention is to attend.  But, two visceral examples of Hooper's best work back to back might make for a very depressing drive back down the 10.

I watched Eaten Alive on the Shudder option from Amazon.  Although, I do have the special edition 2-disc DVD set arriving soon.  However, there is an extras laden Blu-ray available that was just a bit past my price point.  I cannot encourage people enough to watch this film.  But, have a Madea or David Spade movie on deck afterward.  Eaten Alive is not an easy film to watch - made all the more ominous by the amazing cast (I mean, did Stuart Whitman ever not deliver?).

Also bear in mind this film goes by a number of titles.  I saw it under it original title, but, as you can see below it has had several.  This was not an uncommon thing to do up through the 80s (I saw The Dorm that Dripped Blood under a secondary title of Pranks in the early 80s).  But, it was a standard practice to march a film out through the drive-in circuit annually, but with a different title and perhaps some updated artwork for the ads.


Tobe Hooper really was a one of kind. Brilliant in every way.



















Miss you Pops.  

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Remembering the 1984 Classic Streets of Fire

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!


The 80s, in retrospect, was a decade that provided more than its fair share of "Cult Classics". Films like They Live, Blue Velvet, The 'Burbs, Strange Brew and Heavy Metal pop into my head initially but I'm really just scraping the surface.  Some of the films did better than others at the box office while others floundered and found their cult status later on premium movie channels and video rentals.  That worked out very well for Michael Paré twice.  The first was Eddie and the Cruisers, a film which tanked hard upon its initial release and then became a sensation a year later when the film appeared on HBO. Suddenly you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown band.  In fact, a few years after Eddie in the Cruisers failed at the box office, a sequel was made which also tanked...but could not be salvaged by its appearance on the various movie channels or video tape.  Too bad because, although not as good as the original, its not a bad film and Paré was great as usual.


Meanwhile, Paré went on to star in another film that only found a real audience later, along with a number of great performers like Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe and Bill Paxton, in Streets of Fire.  A film which failed at the box office, and for the life of me, all these years later I do not know why.  It literally had everything an 18 year old male would want in a film - action, music, car chases and a beautiful heroine. Although Dan Hartman's song I can dream about you and its video did get both radio air time and some rotation on MTV, the film floundered and by the end of the summer of 1984 it was only a hazy memory.  Hollywood is full of these sad stories and the stories bounce around my head when I'm in LA - so many great ideas that come to Hollywood to die while another Transformers movie is in the works. It's a logic game you cannot win.

The film, written by Walter Hill and Larry Gross (and directed by Hill) tells the story of a "Rock and Roll Fable". Soldier (mercenary?) Tom Cody(Michael Paré) returns home at the urging of his sister Reva (Deborah Van Valenburgh)...a home that has no name, and looks like a run down factory town from the 1950s.  Reva calls Tom home because his ex-flame, Ellen Aim (Diane Lane), a hometown girl who made good, has been kidnapped by a biker gang called The Bombers, lead by Raven Shaddock (played note perfect by Willem Dafoe). Soon, Cody and  Ellen's manager, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) come to an agreement and Cody sets out to rescue Ellen.  Along the way he teams up with McCoy (Amy Madigan) to make a late night assault on Torchie's, a bar in the Battery, where Fish used to book bands.

To add heft to an exciting story is the music in this picture.  Two of the best known songs, Nowhere Fast and Tonight is what it means to be young were written for the film by the always brilliant, if not occasionally inconsistent, Jim Steinman.  Although originally slated to be used in the film was Springsteen's Darkness at the edge of town, Springsteen pulled permission to use the song when he found out it would be recorded by other artists. Honestly, this was a lucky break.  The Steinman songs used to replace Springsteen's are far better and add to the "another time another place" feel of the movie.  I think a known song would have detracted from the ambiguity of the time and location.

The film is the direct result of the success of Hill's 48 Hrs. It was the financial success of that picture that made it possible for Hill, Lawrence Gordon and Larry Gross to approach Paramount with what Hill thought would be the perfect film for a teenager saying he wanted to include things he'd enjoyed when he was younger "and which I still have great affection for: custom cars, kissing in the rain, neon, trains in the night, high-speed pursuit, rumbles, rock stars, motorcycles, jokes in tough situations, leather jackets and questions of honor." (Streets of Fire Production Notes". MGM Press Kit. 1984).  And he was right - that was pretty much a list he could have pulled from my head in 1984 (or, now for that matter - I'm old not dead).

Despite everything right with the film, it opened on 1 June 1984 to a poor reception at the box office.  In its first weekend in release it only managed to bring in 2.4 million dollars.  In fact, Joel Silver made a joke "Tonight is what it means to be Young? Tonight is what it means to be dead".  Ultimately the picture pulled in roughly 8 million on a 15 million production.  And in the 80s no one really counted on overseas monies to make up a shortfall.  The film was a flop.

I loved it when I saw it that summer - it was like the film had been made entirely for me.  And, as I was the only person in attendance at the theater I watched it in, there really was the impression that was indeed the case.  However, when I saw Eddie and the Cruisers take off after being on cable I held out hope that perhaps the same would happen for Streets of Fire and I'd see more of Tom Cody.


As has often been the case....I was disappointed.

Oddly enough, a 2008 film called Road to Hell is a thing; and the trivia included on IMDB indicates "The film is a spin-ooff of 'Streets of Fire': Michael Pare returns in his role as Tom Cody and Deborah Van Valkenburgh as his sister". I've not seen this film yet (although I will track it down) but Paré is credited only as "Cody" and Van Valkenburgh as "Sister". I'm sure that was as close to skirting the rights to the original production writer Cynthia Curnan and director Albert Pyun (a fave of mine) were willing to come.

Most of the cast of Streets of Fire went on to huge and successful careers however.  Although Paré never fully enjoyed the stardom he still deserves.  Always a great actor in every role. Happily Paré has worked very steadily in both mainstream productions like The Lincoln Lawyer and less mainstream work like those directed by Uwe Boll (I have a real love/hate relationship with his work - don't get me started).  As long as Paré is out there, I still think he'll snag that role that will make him a household name..and an Oscar someday.  And I'll have an insane smile on my face when that happens.

Shout! Factory has recently released a gorgeous Blu-ray edition of this film.  It is stunning and has some interesting extras on it.  Michael Paré returned for interviews but most of the other cast members are sadly absent from the extras.  I'm hopeful they were simply busy because this film should in no way, shape or form be considered a blemish on one's resume - the film was simply ahead of its time.

Check it out if you haven't already - you'll thank me.



If you have any comments you'd like to share feel free below or drop me a line at jakebanzai1@gmail.com.






 

Miss you Pops.