Brad and I took a trip over to the NRA Museum, which is something I’d been kind of wanting to check out since I first moved down here. But I was mostly going because I knew they had Charlton Heston’s autobiography In the Arena for 10 bucks. Anyway, that’s a thing I’ve done. Something about going to a gun museum feels like going to a baking contest where you don’t get to taste anything. I enjoy the heck out of shooting guns. I’m not a ‘gun guy’ exactly, but I do love firing them. And looking at them through glass felt extremely empty. There were dozens and dozens of things I wanted to try, but all I could do was look. Boring. On top of that, there’s an all out assault of uglyass, old, fat, white people grimacing at you from framed photos. This or that former NRA president or what have you. It looked like some terrifying Mega-church fund raising committee. But that didn’t hold a candle to the gift shop, which kept any of the serious books about guns off in a darkened corner, but all the garish crap and ultra-right wing political propaganda front and center. My favorite was ‘Call 911 and Die!,’ a book about how cops can’t help you, only your gun can help you. Ugh. Where’s the chapter on shooting house fires? And why the heck was the NRA Museum really crowded on Tuesday morning at 10:30AM? Don’t any of these people have jobs? (From the look of many of them, no. But the government better not lay a hand on their Medicare!). Overall, the museum reminded me of my general feelings about the NRA. Any sense that they’re still an organization devoted to gun safety and education is gone. They are a lobby group/mouthpiece for right wing politics. The only things missing were ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ stickers (the flag of a true douchebag). As a staunch moderate who loves guns (and used to go shooting with among others, an ultra-liberal who also likes guns) I felt extremely uncomfortable in a place that clearly doesn’t represent me or my ideals. Heck, we even had someone (not a reader, this guy) jump in and start going on about John Wayne. Guess I should be glad he hadn’t heard the ‘f&*% John Wayne’ I had just uttered under my breath while looking at the poster for McQ. Anyway, I’m glad I’ve gone. I’m glad I have my copy of In the Arena ($10.!!!). I don’t need to go back.
Anyway, to the movies. Yeah, as you might notice, I was on vacation, and ended up not taking the trips into DC I was planning, so I had more time than I was expecting.
Satan’s School for Girls: Satan was a big problem in the 70s. Always messing with cute young women. In this made for TV movie, a young woman’s mysterious suicide brings her sister to the girls’ school she had attended. All standard stuff, with the twists broadcast a mile away. Some of the girls are cute, though.
Razor Blade Smile: This was a video discovery I remembered liking many years ago. So, when I found it cheap, I decided to check out again on DVD. I love low budget film, and this certainly fits that bill. I respect what driven and talented people can do when they don’t have the resources of a studio or other financial backer. It’s in this sort of film that convention challenged or ignored, where creativity and fresh ideas can flourish. All that aside, this movie isn’t good. It’s so painfully Goth (even when it has tongue in cheek) it feels like buying metal studs at Hot Topic in 1995 while listening to the Cure on loop. And it reminds me how silly and kind of sad the whole Goth thing is. Even by other subculture standards, Goth has an extra degree of ‘PLEASE NOTICE ME!!!’ that is truly pathetic (and I use the word ‘pathetic’ not as a harsh attack, but with pity). The acting is pretty bad, though I do like the disgustingly British Christopher Adamson. Eileen Daly is kind of skanky hot. But at the end of the day, it’s still a vampire movie, which means it’s still stuck in that 16 year old girl’s fantasy world that pretty much all vampire stuff is stuck in.
Carry On Emannuelle: It looks like an 80s sitcom production crew decided to do some after hours work on this ‘comedy’ about a sex crazy young woman (who dresses like she’s one of the Golden Girls). It’s very British and very unfunny. It was in a grindhouse movie set, but it’s not grindhouse. It’s just crap.
High School Hitch Hikers: I’m assuming this is an Italian film that was dubbed for American theaters. It’s naughty, with lots of nudity but not much else. Not shot well. And the narration is awful. The sleazy music and bad film stock seem right for one of those sketchy single screen theaters that used to be in all the strip malls in my home town. (Edit: I found out this was a Jean Rollin film, under another name, so it's actually French).
Fringe Season 4: After a slow start, this season cranks up the crazy to whole new levels. If you haven’t been watching this show, do NOT start with this season. There are some really wild science fiction ideas being thrown around, and they definitely take it to the next level. Seeing how some very different subplots and undercurrents come together is a trip and a half. And the cast stands ready to go wherever the writers take ‘em. It’s the best of the X-Files, but with more current storytelling, not limiting the characters or events to single episodes. It builds and builds.
The Big Country: “You take a hell of a long time to say goodbye.” Gentleman Gregory Peck and rough & tumble Charlton Heston, both at the top of their game, square off in this Western epic. And Chuck Connors! Peck stumbles into some family feuding on the ocean of the West, and his Eastern uprightness may be a handicap in this new land. This movie certainly communicates the vastness and loneliness of the land, away from cities and the rule of law. The music is kind of annoying, though. Often far too grandiose for what should be subtle moments. The fact that Burl Ives won an Oscar for his performance in this movie just serves as a reminder that the Oscars aren’t any more ridiculous today than in days past. No, he’s not bad. But his performance certainly isn’t anything worthy of special note, like so many award winning performance of that era. Some likable old person shows up and drops a bit of ‘down home’ wisdom, and the Oscar is just waiting. Chuck Connors deserved it more, if anyone in the film did (which I posit, they did not).
The New World: Terrence Malick’s usual visual scope and storytelling turgidity takes on a story I didn’t give a crap about in the first place. Typical good cast. Usual beautiful cinematography. And expected mega-dose of dull. Colin Farrell’s interminable, mumbling voiceover is enough to lull the most coffee addled brain into sleepy submission. It doesn’t get better when others join in, spouting various bits of malarkey. This movie reminds me of The Black Robe and The Mission. Like those films (beautifully filmed, both), I kept finding myself wanting to like it, but unable. Q’orianka Kilcher is pretty, which seems to be the extent of her role, though it should be more. And though probably more historically correct than one would like, she looks extremely, uncomfortably young next to Farrell. I bet Malick would be an amazing second unit director, but as a primary director…Ugh. Or maybe he should direct someone else’s scripts? I don’t know.
Hanna: Super-stylized, artfully crafted, and well acted, Hanna is a rather unusual action film, to say the very least. Saoirse Ronan is creepy good as a teenage Jason Bourne type hyper-assassin. There’s some kind of nasty black ops going on, with dental hygienically obsessed Cate Blanchett, sad-faced Eric Bana, and Udo Kier-like, betracksuited Tom Hollander. A young girl’s coming of age, while traveling across exotic parts of the world on a revenge fueled murder rampage. And all to the driving score of the Chemical Brothers. I’m still struck by Ronan, who is somehow able to hold her own against the likes of Cate Blanchett, whom she resembles to a degree. Like Blanchett, and like Tilda Swenton, she has an otherness, a kind of ethereal quality that is scary and compelling. Assuming she keeps taking interesting roles, I think she’s definitely one to watch. The story in this film is hardly original, but the execution makes it stand out from others of the genre.
Snow White and the Huntsman: Charlize Theron is the evil youth sucking monster in this adaptation of the frequently filmed fairy tale. The production design is pretty good, but I just can’t get past the casting of Kristen Stewart as the ‘fairest of them all.’ Sorry, I don’t see it. She looks less like a junkie than usual, but still not a beauty. And sadly, she doesn’t make it up with acting talent. The creatures and weirdness are pretty cool, especially in the various forest sequences. The troll, the White Hart, the pre-Victorian fairies (though too benevolent). I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if someone better played Snow White. Because she’s by far the weakest link. Frankly, I think they could have focused a bit more on Theron’s evil queen and the movie would have been better.
Heavy Metal: “I got an angle.” This movie existed only as a rumored wonder throughout my childhood and early teen years. I would hear people talk about it, see images from it, and hear about bootleg copies sold at comic conventions. And I liked the magazine (for more than just the boobs…though I liked the boobs a lot, too). So when it finally got an official video release, I was super excited. To say it didn’t live up to the hype would be a painfully lacking understatement. In tone and style, it doesn’t capture the content of the magazine much at all (Den, man. Den!). The animation is mostly primitive and crappy. The voice work is occasionally OK, but frequently bad. John Candy is awful. The whole evil orb link between stories is stupid. That said, the movie has kind of grown on me with repeat viewings. I’m always starved for adult(ish) animation that’s not anime, so I’ve found myself coming back to it every few years, and I thing I see more of the good and ignore more of the bad now. There are rumors all the time about a new Heavy Metal being done. They did the F.A.K.K. 2 flick a while back (‘Heavy Metal 2000’), but while fun, it wasn’t very good (and the music sucks). But a well done animated anthology would be cool, especially with good animation and direction. Maybe we can get some versions of classic stories that actually match up with the look and feel of the comics? Druuna, Requiem, something Azpiri inspired, or Juan Gimenez? Some CGI, some traditional cell animation, rotoscope, whatever. But a real anthology of adult science fiction animation. Swell. As it stands, Heavy Metal is an interesting experiment that doesn’t quite work. Like Fantasia, it feels like there should have been a new edition every two or three years, with new stories and music. I just hope it isn’t 60 years before it gets a follow-up.
Wonder Woman: It is odd that the character who most often gets the short end, be it in comics or TV, ends up getting one of the best animated feature DC has done. Granted, a part of what I liked about this was that it was finally a movie not about Superman or Batman (you do have HUNDREDS of other characters, DC!!!). But Diana actually has some personality, and she doesn’t simply react or live by the whim of her boyfriend. They play her as the demigod she should be.
Taken 2: I still think this should be called Taken Too. Alas. Anyway, Liam Neeson crashes, bashes, and smashes his way through the B-Team (he killed the A-Team in the first film) henchmen of a grieving old skumbag. Seriously, these goons suck pretty hard. There’s nothing new or unexpected. Like the first film, this keeps begging to be R, but remains PG-13, shying away from blood or gore and cutting away just before most of the killing gets done. If you’re like me, and you love watching Old Man Neeson kick a ton of ass, then this is a fine film for it. Is it a good movie? No, not really. But if you want more of the kind of thing you saw in Taken, it’s just right. And clearly, the filmmakers also really liked the Drive soundtrack.
The Avengers: Still a fun popcorn movie. This insanity of comics finally on screen without any shame. The script is clever, the action is exciting, and each of the characters gets their moment to shine. I still find myself a bit shocked this exists. I hope the studios learn that keeping the essence of the property is a good idea when doing an adaptation.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The cliffhangers of old get a rousing update by a top of his game Spielberg. Harrison Ford is all kinds of world weary dashing as the adventuring archeology professor. As a boy, watching this film, I felt like I’d found my life’s calling, only to be disappointed that this kind of life, if it were ever any bit real, was long since past. Yet, I can still trace a great deal of my interests (including women) and passions back to seeing this movie in the theater. Another movie that shows how ratings and tastes have changed. This movie was rated PG, but if it came out today, would be R. The violence and gore was pretty darned effecting when I saw it as a lad, I can tell you.
Rabid: I love the atmosphere of this film. Winter in Canada in the 70s. Lonely roads. And Marilyn Chambers really is quite charming in the lead role. She has that post-hippie sweetness I love so much in movies of that era. The movie itself has a lot of Cronenberg’s signature oogie scenes and super-disgusting stuff. I mean, the movie features a spike-tipped penis that shoots out of a woman’s armpit-vagina and bites people, sucks their blood and gives them that sickness from 28 Days Later. It’s not as F-dup as Videodrome or Dead Ringers. But it’s pretty out there.
Anatomy of a Murder: Oh, Jimmy Stewart. This is one of his ‘aw gee, shucks’ performances. But considering it was made in 1959, I am surprised by how frank it is about much of the subject matter. This movie is really long. Probably longer than it needs to be, though I won’t say that it drags. There are lots of great little character moments and odd bits of dialog. It makes a court case look like a chess game, maneuvering people and emotions, shifting legal presidents, hoping to keep three moves ahead of the other player (attorney). I could watch Jimmy Stewart smoke and fake-play jazz piano all day, though.
The Man Who Would be King: “We’re not little men. So, we’re going away to become kings.” Christopher Plummer plays Rudyard Kipling, getting wrapped up in and relating the tale of two men (Masons both) with more bravado than class and a taste for the good life. Michael Caine and Sean Connery are the two fine lads, looking to make it in the world. A grand journey takes them to an exotic land where trouble abounds. I love these adventure movies. Lost Horizon, King Kong, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and the like. Though this movie is only a year older than I am, it feels like one of those classic Hollywood epics from 10+ years earlier. The kind of thing that went out of fashion in the early 60s. The story has a kind of sad inevitability, as our two heroes seem to genuinely try to do good, but the world won’t have it. In spite of their character flaws, I want them to succeed, but you know from the start things won’t be going well.
Twins of Evil: A fun Hammer horror movie, from my favorite era of their storied existence. I like that border between more serious filmmaking and more sleazy stuff. Peter Cushing is a devilishly evil religious fanatic, and he’s a bastard. The girls are cute, the violence occasionally nasty, and the story lots of fun. It’s got all the stuff that makes classic Hammer so good. Heaving bosoms, flashing fangs, creepy forests, and innocent young women losing their shirts (literally, not figuratively).
Tarzan and the Amazons: “Boy think too much, forget to laugh.” Cheetah, Tarzan, and Boy are just chillin,’ waiting for Jane to come back (from fighting those danged Nazis), when a cute jungle girl needs rescuing from menacing cats. (Considering she’s got a bow at the ready, I’m not sure why). But taking her back to the land of ladies will spell trouble. One of the better late Tarzan movies.
Tarzan and the Leopard Woman: Tarzan’s back in that Arab city he found in the middle of the jungle (?). And of course, trouble abounds. A devious woman in leopard print is up to no good, and stuffed great cats are dropping from the cliffs at an alarming rate. Can Tarzan, Jane, and Boy fight a bunch of goofy dudes draped in leopard skins? Man, Tarzan kills a lot of people in this one; most of ‘em in one brief moment.
The Big Town: Matt Dillon is a greaser with a good sense of the dice. So he goes to the big city (Chicago) to be a big shot. It’s hard to decide who I like less, Dillon’s cocky gambler or the jerks he works for. Of course, he’s in for a fall, even more so when women are involved. At least one is Dian Lane, so she’s worth some hassle. But the other, the ‘good girl,’ is Suzy Amis…What, was Jennifer Jason Lee busy? Gamblers kinda annoy me, and gambling movies don’t normally interest me. They’re kind of like band movies or sports movies. They all play out the same way, time and again.
Tarzan and the Huntress: “Jungle much more peaceful before woman come.” I’m sure it comes as no shock that these movies became very formulaic as they went along. But that’s really too bad. Like with the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, I have to wonder, why didn’t they look more to the books for ideas, instead of making the same thing over and over? Boy is frankly kind of creepy by this point. He still has little kid face, but he’s very visibly aged and looks like he and Weissmuller are lifting buddies. They must have raided a stock footage closet for this one. And man, after the 4th or 5th time Cheetah screwed me over, I’d kill her ass. Forget taking her back every time.
Tarzan and the Mermaids: I guess an Arab civilization in the middle of the African jungle wasn’t enough. No, Mexicans also live there. When a girl from jungle hidden Acapulco (or whatever), and an annoying singing guy (?) show up, typical trouble begins. Man, Weissmuller is showing his age by this one. He’d been looking a bit flabby for a few years, he looks a lot older in the face here. There’s a corrupt priest, and of course, bad white people from ‘outside’ who come with guns and greed (as they always do).
Countess Dracula: An evil old woman discovers that the blood of young girls makes her look and feel young again. From there, things go down hill pretty fast as she imprisons her daughter, starts wooing a young soldier, and killing all the local girls. When the old lady makeup comes off, Ingrid Pitt is a fascinating beauty, and obviously dangerous. Her right hand man and would be lover, played by Nigel Green, is vicious and charming. The production design and cinematography is excellent. And this is old time PG, so there’s quite a bit of violence and murder, and several bared breasts.
The Vampire Lovers: Ingrid Pitt, looking especially fetching, is hungry for the blood of young women once again. But this time, she wants to play with her food first. Lots of heaving bosoms get freed from their restrictive dresses, as Pitt’s vampiric huntress seduces her way through the young women of the rural aristocracy (with a few peasant girls for good measure). Excellent production value, though more soundstage work than Countess Dracula seemed to have. Great cast. Lots of gorgeous Hammer ladies.
The Changeling: This movie freaked the crap out of me when I first saw a ratty, grainy VHS version of it many years ago. Ever since seeing it, old style wheelchairs have given me the willies. Vacation tragedy begins George C. Scott’s journey into supernatural horror. Scott is so good at playing a man at the far end of emotional destruction. While much of this film’s various starts and gags have become cliché, they were still fairly new when it was made, and rarely done as effectively since. It’s beautifully shot, with excellent sound design, and very good use of location shooting. Like The Ring, one of the rare color ghost stories I like, it evokes a deeply disquieting, somewhat Gothic vibe (also like that film, it involves the Pacific Northwest and a body in a well…weird). Melvyn Douglas has an especially good supporting role.
So, Saturday night, Brad, Lisa, and I went over to our friend Robert’s place for our annual horror movie night. This is the third year, and we have a sort of pattern. Brad, Robert, and I each select a film to subject the others to. I tend to pick something black & white (or ‘classy’ as Brad has claimed). Robert chooses something gay themed (somehow Sleepaway Camp hasn’t made the cut, yet). And Brad picks something from that golden age of nasty horror, the late 70s-early 80s.
My choice for the night…
Quatermass 2: Our surly hero returns to deal with trouble from space once more. This time, tiny containers are dropping smoky bubbles on the British countryside, and only our trusty A-hole scientist can stop their dastardly plan. Great use of a super crazy looking location, and some good miniatures. I love the very Lovecrafty vibe these movies have.
Vampire Boys: No budget, low talent, but unintentionally hysterical. I think they could have used a few more establishing shots to let us know it was in L.A. I wasn’t quite sure. Lots of scenes that just kind of happen. Every time that frosty haired guy starts talking I had to check my watch. And I don’t know if it’s humanly possible to be more awkward in the proposal of a threesome than that dark haired girl.
And lastly, Brad’s pick which was one I’ve been wanting to see for some time…
Phantom of the Paradise: Paul Williams, huh? He’s a character and a half. This is what I would imagine The Rocky Horror Picture Show would be like if it were something I didn’t hate. Fun, wacky, so far over the top it’s come around the bottom and gone back over the top a second time. Good songs, insane performances, a convoluted and unexpected storyline. And all nearly vibrating with De Palma’s…um, style? Crazy, but very enjoyable.
Over the course of the week, I watched some more Charlie’s Angels, because I needed something light and entertaining after the horror that was The New World. And I watched a couple more episodes of the British show Survivors. I want to like that show more than I do. Why is it that when civilization collapses, the only people left are whiney assholes? Or constantly impulsive idiots.
And I watched the first disk of the old UK series, Robin of Sherwood. Used to dig that show as a kid when my local PBS would play it. Good fuel for Ars Magica. It feels very much like a part of that 80s neo-Pagan, Celtic music, SCA thing. Close companions of the tabletop roleplaying subculture I was a part of, with a lot of crossover. There’s lots of magic and mysticism in this version. I’m not generally a fan of the Robin Hood story, especially because it’s been done and done and done far too many times over the years. But I do like a lot about this one. And that redhead playing Lady Marian is super-cute. The wholesale slaughter of the King’s men seems a bit much. I mean, they don’t even ask questions before dropping horsemen after pikeman with waves of arrows.
I read The Chained Coffin in preparation for the next graphic novel book club meeting. Man, I love me some Hellboy. It features a bunch of cool short stories spread across Hellboy’s career. I especially like A Christmas Underground, The Wolves of St. August, and the introduction of Roger in Almost Colossus. I love the way Mignola bounces back and forth in time, and the way he drops in references to everything from Lovecraft, to the Nazis, to Medieval legend in the same story without batting an eye. His art has a strange starkness that lends things a haunted quality, like woodcuts or carvings on old churches. (And then I finished out volume 2 of the Library editions, with The Right Hand of Doom).
I’ve been reading Arthur Machen stories recently. He’s got some cool ideas, but I can’t say I’m really enjoying his stuff. It’s very stuffy, very Victorian. ‘The Great God Pan’ especially seems to meander unforgivably.
Issue 0 of The Creep is pretty cool. It’s basically Rondo Hatton as a private detective. A big, ugly brute of a man, trying to do some good in the world. The art is OK. Not especially good, but evocative. It has a kind of 40s feel, though it’s set in the late 80s (?). Issue 1 continues the story. I’m really not sure why they started with 0, as that’s usually some kind of prequel or introduction. But with this, it’s just the first issue. Weird. And issue three simply continues the story. The mystery grows. Two suicides. Two single mothers. One mentally unstable grandfather. Bears. We’ll see where it all leads.
And I’ve been completely addicted to Florence and the Machine this past week. I’ve had the first album for a while, and I really dug it when I first got it. But something made me pop it back in rotation this week, and dang. Good stuff.