Sunday, November 2, 2008


There is SO MUCH going on in this film that I don't even know where to begin. Eyes of Laura Mars is an oft-maligned Faye Dunaway vehicle from the late 70s that holds up extremely well in spite of its flaws. It's a melodramatic mystery thriller about a famous fashion photographer/provacateur (Laura Mars, played by Dunaway) whose inner circle is systematically murdered by an icepick wielding maniac. Mars has visions of each murder and can "see" them as they occur through the killer's eyes. Suspects abound, Dunaway overacts within an inch of her life, and romance blossoms amidst all of the chaos. As a straight up thriller, it's debatable whether or not it succeeds or fails. But as a piece of filmmaking, as a tour de force for its actors, as a wildly careening melodrama, and as a time capsule of a bygone era, it is an amazing piece of work well worth watching...over and over again.

Try to imagine a world before cable tv, before Project Runway, before (gasp!) America's Next Top Model (Tyra Banks was most likely pooping her diapers and eating her own boogers when this movie came out). Imagine me, a young impressionable 12 year old gay boy staying up late on weekends to watch R-rated movies on ON TV (the precursor to HBO-if you need an explanation, do your own research, but it's worth checking out)...movies I barely understood such as Midnight Express, Luna and Equus...titillating at times, yes, but just as often quite disturbing and confusing, to say the least. This was a time when the fashion industry was a mysterious netherworld populated by barely human grown-ups who didn't move in the same reality as any of the ones in the suburbia I lived in.
The focal point of the film is Faye Dunaway, and it's to her credit that she manages to hold your attention amid all of the other things going on. She looks fabulous...except for those teeth. My God, the teeth! Teeth have changed, that's for sure. We're living in much-improved teeth times. Back to the film. Expertly shot in New York City, and seething with models, murders, nudity, cityscapes and loud disco music, the movie comes close at times to instigating sensory overload. The confident direction by Irvin Kershner (who went on to direct The Empire Strikes Back) masterfully switches between calm, frivolity, suspense and chaos to keep the viewer interested and just a bit on edge. Dunaway took this role right after winning her Best Actress Oscar for Network, so she was at her career high point. But her intensity and acting style is definitely a throwback to the 1950s and 60s, at least in this flick. Dunaway Acts in this flick, capital A. Watching her performance, you can kind of see Mommie Dearest lurking around the next corner, even if Faye obviously didn't. Her acting isn't terrible, it's just about 3 decibles higher than the rest of the cast. Her performance in this flick elevates it closer to a level of camp that it otherwise wouldn't be at if starring a more understated actress.

It may be difficult to imagine, but the subject matter of Dunaway's photo art in the film was considered so outrageous at the time as to be unrealistic. This movie was definitely ahead of its time in that respect. I also remember thinking that the models (such as the one in the first picture above) surely weren't acting like real models...but now, after seasons of ANTM and PW, I know that is exactly how they behave. The flick is aware of itself as a commentary not only on society's consumption of sex and violence (one of the movie's sly messages is that this is where we're headed, using tits and guns to sell perfume--another seemingly unrealistic aspect at the time that has come to fruition in subsequent years) but of the media's fascination with said subject matter and its role in delivering it to the public, even while it complains about its existence. Many of the photos used were taken by Helmut Newton.

One of the funnest parts of the film is the make-believe fashion shoot set pieces that punctuate the film. Again, I keep coming back to this, but while still over the top, they were completely outrageous at the time the film was released and a few steps beyond the imaginable at the time. Now, I could totally see this as a challenge on ANTM, with the judges critiquing the aspiring models' peformances the whole time. (She's just LYING there, I'm really getting no sense of WHO SHE IS). The above shoot was filmed on location in Columbus Circle during rush hour over 4 days, so there's great crowd reaction shots that go along with it. It must have been a lot of fun (and a lot fo work) to shoot.

There's another photo shoot sequence that takes place in a warehouse as a classic disco song called "Let's All Chant" plays on the soundtrack. That song, by the way, was big in the clubs, but not on the radio, another example of this films off the chart hip quotient. It's an amazing sequence, and I've only used one photo from it (above). I enjoy this movie so much on a visual level, and I've done all these screen caps, but don't want to use too many. This could be one of the first movies to continually use contemporary songs on its soundtrack to enhance the scenes or add to the mood. I think American Graffiti used the same technique with old tunes, but this film (minus its thriller elements) is clearly the precursor to 80s music-imbued films like Top Gun, Flashdance and Footloose.

Just to get back to how old this movie is, I remember being utterly FASCINATED and ENTHRALLED when Laura Mars explains to Detective/Love Interest Neville (well-played by a young, fit, but not quite hot Tommy Lee Jones) how her visions occur, using a video camera and a monitor to illustrate her point. It was so high tech! WOW! I got all excited just seeing that scene, it seemed like a whole new era was upon us. Little did I know that the video era was right around the corner. This scene also leads us to the most clunky and awkward portion of the film: the budding romance between Mars and Detective Neville. I won't go too deeply into it because in the long run it serves its purpose, but boy...very much a square peg in a circle hole. Weird and not all that convincing. But it doesn't ruin the film, just adds to its camp quotient.

Here's a shot of Dunaway and a young Raul Julia, who plays her alcoholic man-whore of an ex-husband, and the prime suspect in the murders. He's trouble all right, and it's somewhat shocking to see him so young and healthy looking. One of the best aspects of this film is the male characters that surround Faye's: her ex-husband, the detective, her manager, her driver...she's surrounded by strong male characters, and yet she distrusts all of them to a certain degree. She obviously derives comfort from their strength, but she is threatened by it as well. It's an interesting feminist subtext to the film that isn't ever really explored in any depth, but I noticed it and I like it.

And finally, last but not least, the Queer Quotient. What would a film about high fashion be without a token gay character? In this film, it's an amazing actor by the name of Rene Auberjonois who plays Donald Phelps, Mars' manager. He's actually a great character, especially considering this is the mid to late 1970s. But then, it's totally pre-AIDS, pre-Moral Majority conservative backlash, so this was kind of a step toward treating gay characters with respect. He's a strong, no-nonsense, take no bullshit character, and I have always remembered him. The cap above is from a scene in which a black cop starts to tease him for being gay, asking him to give him a little bit of that (wink wink) Rona Barrett (if you don't know who Rona Barett is, go do your homework). Donald replies, without missing a beat, "Frankly (wink wink), I don't do Rona Barrett!" It's very empowering and funny, and quite refreshing especially considering the era from which it came.This final cap is a scene from Donald's birthday bash, which takes place in his somewhat creepy apartment with a collection of somewhat creepy guests...but no Village People! You know, us gay people, we like our birthdays. Those our OUR days, after surviving another year of putting up with the world's b.s. Donald plays a pivotal role throughout the movie, and unfortunately doesn't make it through to the end, but then, neither does hardly anyone else, so you can't really take it as anti-gay. Ultimately, it's a very gay-positive role, quite possibly the best of its time up to that point.

Overall, this film is a wonder. I enjoy it immensely for lots of different reasons, obviously, hence the long post and many screen caps. Bottom line is: as a thriller/mystery, it's pretty good but not great. As a time capsule, as a piece of filmmaking with amazing set design, stunning New York backdrops, and quite a bit of overacting from Ms. Dunaway, which ultimately raises the camp factor to a level of enjoyability that makes it a more fun gay viewing, it's fabulous. The Director's Commentary is thoughtful and informative, highly recommended on a second viewing.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


I was excited to receive The Morning After from Netflix. I remember the Los Angeles setting as being one of the best parts of the film and was eager to see it in all its full color widescreen glory on dvd. The main attraction is Jane Fonda's performance which, as is often the case, rises above the material. Her turn as an aging, alcoholic almost-actress is flawless, and it's the one thing about the movie that is above reproach. The film also stars Jeff Bridges, looking rather fair-skinned and beefy as a racist ex-cop who befriends Jane's character after she wakes up one morning in some dead guy's bed with blood all over the place and no memory of how she got there or what transpired the night before. Shades of the Blue Gardenia, anyone? Why yes, now that you mention it...

Ok, so, where to begin? The film has its strengths: Jane's performance is amazing. She's washed up, bleached out, and yes, aerobicized to nothing but bone and sinew, but we can kind of buy it as she's supposed to be a woman who eats nothing but booze. The film's got some comic moments, chief among them a scene in an airport where she's trying to b.s. her way onto a booked flight, which she delivers expertly. She also does a fantastic job at playing an obnoxious self-pitying drunk. There are scenes where she sort of turns on the Bridges character in that mean, goading way that drunks do. It's like, I dare ya to hit me because I'm so obnoxious and drunk. I dare ya!

Jane's chemistry with Bridges is good. They play off each other well and he sort of just lets her do her thing, which is what codependents do when their pet drunk is in the room. Bridges plays this ex-cop from Bakersfield who drops casual racial epithets like "spade" and "beaner" in what looks like an effort to make the audience find him charming. Of course, Jane's character is miffed at the prejudice he spits out, but then, she's just a drunk with her own prejudices, against gays, who appear to be the only fans her character has left. Ultimately, this is a film populated by talented actors who, no matter how good a job they do, can't save this film from being anything else than the giant turd that it is.

What becomes apparent as this film progresses is that, despite its 80s kitsch value (scenes in downtown L.A. loft apartements and Beverly Hills hair salons are wonderfully gawdy in that way only movies from the 80s can be), as a thriller it really sucks. Sidney Lumet just really sucked at directing this movie, and he really sucks at the commentary as well. To hear him drone on about how hard it is to make a good suspense movie is almost laughable. After admitting at the outset that he hasn't watched the film in years (always a bad sign on a commentary track...shouldn't you be prepared?) he then at one point says "Let's just watch this scene play out because Jane is so wonderful in it." Yeah, I already did that you moron, the commentary track is for talking. He's like 100 years old and totally clueless. Sometimes he talks about directing. He thinks he's doing something unique by giving us shots like this one (above), framed just so, with lots of competing colors because that's what L.A. is to him. Ok. But that was probably the camera operator guy who framed that shot, not the director. Other than Mr. Lumet being an incredibly boring old windbag, the story is really bad and unbelievable: the way it unfolds, the fact that Bridges even takes an interest in Fonda's character is kind of beyond reality and they never bother to try explaining it in any meaningful way.

At another point on the commentary, Lumet talks about how great he thinks the score is. Which is funny. Because it's really bad. When it's not "suspense music" it's really sappy soft jazz at moments where Jane's character is being humanized, such as when she gushes over Bridges' Nancy Drew collection, or when Bridges makes her an impromptu candle light dinner. It's used in a very 70s way in this decidedly 80s movie. Ultimately, Jane's character gets back to herself by, what else, getting her hair done. By her estranged husband played by Raul Julia (another great actor in this ridiculously bad film), who's a hairdresser...who's actually trying to frame Jane for the dead guy's murder. Like Jane's bleached hair in the opening shot, this film's a washed up dried out mess. In my book it doesn't even deserve to be a guilty pleasure, which makes me sad cauz I kinda thought it was until I watched it again.

But now let me get to the Queer Quotient. I think the biggest bummer about it is the outright homophobia in the film. The 80s were not an easy decade for gays, and movies like this (i.e. by the big studios) didn't make it any easier.

The morning she wakes up next to a dead guy, she manages to have a good laugh on the phone with her husband when he tells her she pissed off a potential employer by calling her "A dyke. A greasy diesel dyke." Jane laughs, then says "Why would I say that?" "Because she is one. But you have to say it?" Yuk Yuk. I must balance this dialogue with one that was actually a bit empowering on its face: a detective questioning Raul's character at his salon says (about the salon): "It's a great place for a stud...or are you a fag, Jackie?" Jackie (Raul's character) walks up into the detective's personal space and replies: "How bad do you wanna know?" Which shuts that cop right up, and would be kick ass from a gay perspective if Raul's character was gay, but he's not...because a gay would never challenge a straight like that. I don't know, bad gay juju all around in this flick. This film is typical of many from the era in that it goes out of it's way to throw in homophobic dialogue and negative gay stereotypes.

Here's Bruce Vilanch, who's aparently been a shapeless amoeba with bad hair for at least the past 25 years, in a brief turn as a swishy bartender who cashes a check on Thanksgiving day for Jane's character in a gay bar populated by a couple of Village People.Here's one of the Jane character's gays in his God-awful bedroom, nursing a hangover and talking about the fabulous party he threw last night.

Here's an example of the decor in his apartment. Very tasteful and cosmopolitan!

Oh, and did I forget to mention that he's a drag queen? Jane's character needs a new set of clothes and that's why she's there. He offers some comic relief which isn't all that bad in itself, but this whole sequence took me back to being like 20 years old and not knowing how I was supposed to be a man and be gay and I was trying to figure it out and then I'd see a movie like this and it was like so offensive and upsetting. It's like, no, that's not what I am. But is that what I'm supposed to be? Very confusing. In a completely unexpected way, this film took me back (emotionally and mentally and - thank God - temporarily) to a state of confusion and turmoil from my young adult life that I am so thankful to have survived. It also made me kind of mad at the people who made this shit. I suppose you could argue that visibility is better than nothing, but I don't know...I just don't know if this kind of visibility serves any purpose other than reinforcing negative stereotypes. Thank God for movies like Parting Glances, which came out the same year, were far and few between, but were a big help. The gays in this flick are very comforting to the straights of the world, and could be campy fun today to the gays, but since I was there at the time, I don't find them amusing. But maybe that's just me being a humorless jerk!

Anyway, all in all: watchable. Acting good. Direction and story not so much. Director's commentary: Zzzzzzzzzzzz. 80s kitsch factor is huge, but's a dud.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


There's nothing like a well-made Eurocentric costume drama to make me get my gay on. I'm not sure what the connection is, but when it works, I'm putty in the hands of whomever happens to be closest to me. The Other Boleyn Girl far exceeded my expectations and I enjoyed it immensely. I'm a sucker for these flicks when they're done well: Elizabeth, Girl With a Pearl Earring, Wuthering Heights, Sense and Sensibility, Shakespeare In Love...I could go on and on, but won't. Let's just get down to it, shall we?
One of the most enjoyable things about this flick is Eric Bana as Henry VIII. I don't know what's in the water down under, but in my next life I'd better be there to enjoy the results. Bana is a prime specimen of New Zealand man, and I never get tired of looking at him or listening to him talk. What's so great about this role is that he really plays up the arrogance and sense of entitlement of a king, particularly Henry VIII, sort of the King of Kings if you ask me, and he pulls it off perfectly, which is very attractive. Not just any man could do that, you know. Imagine Henry VIII as a young, hot, virile man, before he went all Marlon Brando trying to satiate all his manly appetites. ::Sigh:: Thankfully, we are treated to a sex scene wherein he takes his shirt off, which causes much strain on the Pause button, in my house anyway. But enough about me and my obsessions. Let's move on.

Natalie Portman was actually fantastic in this flick. I sat through the execrable Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones for the sake of my young nephew, and was not impressed with her turn as Princess Abadalamaba, or whatever. When I rented Closer, I could tell she had talent, but at times she appeared to be in over her head in that one: while her stripping scene with Clive Owen was genius, the scenes where she cried and played sad were pretty bad. I sort of chalk it up to her just not having the life experience to play the role. But in this flick she's totally on the mark. She is a bona-fide adult actress (albeit a young one) and I think she'll probably be around for quite a while. Kudos to Natalie!

Scarlett Johansson does her wounded naif routine to great effect, but there are no surprises in her performance. It's a great performance, but we've already seen it. But look at that fabulous dress! This film is full of them!

Speaking of dresses, as you might have guessed, another fabulous element of the film is the costumes. And the set design. OH MY GOD, it's like, almost too much. Many scenes were staged like paintings and it was just a feast for the eyes. Add in all the drama going on and it's a regular festival of juicy high stakes political/sexual intrigue. BTW, Kristin Scott Thomas (above) deserves a mention as the wisened mother of the Boleyn girls, who must sit back and watch the train wreck of what was once her family, powerless to stop it because her idiot husband is the boss. Oh yes, there's also quite the feminist angle in this movie. I think it's another reason I love it so much, as a gay man, because you get to see how the "powerless" women had to maneuver and manipulate things to get what they wanted, and how it didn't always work out the way they intended, and that sometimes the consequences were hella high.

Overall, it's a great rental. The extras are good, if you're into that stuff. There are a couple of documentaries that are interesting, one about the making of and one about the position of women in the Tudor era, both interesting. The Extras are generous and fairly interesting. The film itself, while not exactly packing the dramatic punch of Elizabeth, still delivers on its own merits and is well worth the time to watch it. A job very well done by all involved!

Sunday, June 15, 2008


The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is an effective drama that addresses some big issues on a very limited scale. The insularity of the present day portion of the story is oppressive, staid and often gives the film the feeling of being a stage play. The only time the film breaks out of this clautrophobic feel is when the main character, played by Gregory Peck, flashes back to his experiences in the war. During his flashbacks, the film opens up to include at least part of the rest of the world and points to the characters as being part of something larger than their daily dramas. These shifts in tone highlight the startling contrast between the noise and fire of his life 10 years prior and the quiet, seemingly hermetic existence he is expected to maintain in the present as a career/family man in 1950s America.

My feelings toward Gregory Peck at this point are ambivalent...he's never wowed me the way some other actors of that era have. But he does a fine job in this flick at playing a man who is so contained and yet seething with conflict, memories, guilt, and confusion inside. Jennifer Jones as his wife is kind of the weak link in the film as far as acting goes...she's a bit over the top, and her crying isn't really crying if you know what I mean. If there's one thing I hate, it's when someone is supposed to be crying, but there are no tears. She doesn't stink in the role; when she's playing frustrated, angry or flustered, she's fine. But when she's supposed to be playing hysterical, well, she doesn't quite pull it off.

One of the greatest elements of the film is the set design. OMG, it's SO 50s: African fertility statues, wood paneled walls, oddly shaped hanging lamps, sharp linear furniture in bright, futuristic colors. There's a tiny bit of awesome 50s fashion (primarily worn by Peck's boss's wayward daughter, who only appears in one scene), but only a bit and if that's what you're after, this movie doesn't quite deliver since it's primarily focused on the male characters (nicely cut gray flannel suits notwithstanding) and the Peck character's domestic life. Not very glam.

I will say that the battle scenes were striking and used to great effect. In one of them there's a barrage of incessant bombing and it just keeps going and going and the sound becomes overwhelming. It's a great indicator of not only Peck's memories of the war, but what's going on inside his calm, collected exterior now that he's back home. There was also one element in a war flashback that shocked me: what looked like full on gore, which I didn't know they could do in the 50s to the extent I saw it here. It may have been an illusion, but at one point Peck's friend gets killed by an exploding grenade. When Peck goes to his side to help the friend, the friend's innards appear to be poking out of his stomach. It was almost like an episdoe of CSI.

Ultimately, it's good drama that moves at a S.L.O.W. pace and clocks in at just over 2.5 hours. The set design is way cool 50s contemporary chic, but pleasure derived from the costume design is very limited.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

METH (2006)

I came across Meth on Netflix and streamed it (I just figured out that streamed movies are free so I'm kinda all into the idea). It's a documentary about you know what and, while somewhat interesting, is too limited in its scope and ultimately fails to tell the truth about meth, even while it pretends that that is what it's doing. Unlike the drug, Meth the documentary has no teeth.

Most of us know that crystal is a scourge that has somehow become a twisted rite of passage for lots of gay men. Personally, I believe there are very specific reasons for this, which are societal in nature and are connected to a pattern of extreme sexual behavior that has been in place in the urban gay community for decades. But I'm just some gay guy who's kind of lived through it and made observations, I'm not a professional expert on the subject. Neither are any of the men in this documentary. They are all current and former heavy users (most of them admit on camera to regularly "slamming" or injecting meth intravenously), which gives you an insider's perspective on the living hell that is meth, but also sends mixed messages. These guys talk about how awful it was and how dirty they feel, but only after they gush about how fabulous it was. Which perfectly encapsulates the fucked-up nature of meth, but doesn't give the viewer much perspective. This doc would have benefitted from throwing a few Dr.'s of something or other into the mix: perhaps a sociologist to talk about the very real societal pressures gay men face in our culture; perhaps a medical doctor to talk about what's actually in meth, what it's cut with, what it does to the brain and body (during and after ingesting it), the effects of prolonged use, and all the other messy details about it; perhaps a psychiatrist to talk about what motivates so many gay men in particular to enter into this dance with the devil, this ugly 3-way of gay men, meth and the sex that goes with it.

This doc doesn't suck, it's just very narrow and treats the issue with kid gloves. One of the interviewees talk about going to places that are "evil" without saying what that really means. "Evil" is about the strongest negative word a person can use...and yet, no details? What do you mean by that? Granted, the doc does go into many of the subjects' experiences of "hitting bottom" (and no, I don't mean hitting that bottom), some of which sound horrific. But it's a little like sitting in a group therapy session and gets pretty boring after a while listening to these men go on and on about themselves.

The same individual who refers to some of his past behavior as "evil" also talks at one point about how meth was the only drug he tried that he had trouble quitting. So he's going on about how "I could stop Ecstasy, I stopped coke, I stopped Special K," etc. Which begs the question: why do some of us just accept the use of illegal party drugs as acceptable behavior? I'm sure it has to do with our feelings as outsiders, outlaws, etc. I'm not passing judgment and I'm not saying I haven't done anything illegal myself. But it's an area worth exploring, that we just accept illegal behavior at face value without ever really knowing the possible legal consequences of getting busted for it.

There's a marked difference between the older guys, who kind of go on and on about the circuit scene of the late 80s/early 90s and how fabulous it was, and the younger guys, who are more like at-home users and don't fit the circuit boy stereotype. There's also a creepy guy who looks to be in his late 40s/early 50s who talks about how he just uses it to lure hot 20 year olds to his place for sex, and how it works like fucking catnip. So here we have what amounts to a predator, and yet we're just getting his side of the story. And he's from Orange, CA where I grew up. Ew. I looked at him closely, he doesn't look familiar.

Ultimately, Meth is an interesting baby step toward acknowledging this hideous aspect of gay life, but it just isn't enough. There needs to be a hard core, take no prisoners, "Scared Straight", NC-17 rated doc about gay men and meth to show the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so we can not only acknowledge how truly ugly meth is, and how destructive it is to our culture and community, but use it to just basically scare young gay men away from using meth in the first place.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

THE MIST (2007)

[NOTE: I'm not spoiling the ending.] While writing this post, I started to question myself. Why do I like this movie so much? Why do I still even like to watch certain horror movies? Isn't it a juvenile genre to be interested in? What does that say about me? This movie touches on one of my favorite themes: the fragility of the social contract, and what happens when an unexpected event causes society to break down.

Then I realized, hey, this isn't about ME. This is about The Mist, a FANTASTIC creepfest creature feature, which I'm sure you know is based on a Stephen King novella of the same name. The story appeared in his short story collection Skeleton Crew back in 1985. The Mist has always been one of my favorite pieces of King's writing. For one thing, it's short. The man tends to get long-winded, and he was especially long winded back in the 80s (remember It? 1100+ pages!). The movie is pretty much a faithful adaptation, conveying the same characters, themes and events. There are some changes, but it's all for the good of telling the story in 2007 America. The strange thing is, things haven't really changed all that much in this country since King wrote his story more than 20 years ago.

One of the things that makes the Mist a great movie is the creature factor. There are many "oh shit" and "ewww" moments in this flick. The creatures are pure fantasy but rooted in real world biology...they are bizarre and scary. One of my biggest fears is suddenly finding myself somewhere other than at the top of the food chain. This movie definitely exploits that fear. Some of the CGI in the movie is a bit obvious, but for the most part it works because the creatures aren't anything we've seen on Earth...but you can kind of buy them being real, somewhere, because most of them look like things we recognize: insects, crabs, etc. They're just on a different, decidedly more threatening scale.

Another thing that makes this movie work is the excellent acting. Thomas Jane is a perfect leading everyman...somewhat idealized, a natural leader, pretty much possessing the qualities that most Americans like to think they possess. The cap above is from a scene in which his son begs him not to carry out a plan to go out into the mist to get to the pharmacy for medication. It broke my heart, and you can just feel that kid's panic at the thought of losing his dad. Marcia Gay Harden is also wonderful as the local evangelical religious nut. It would have been easy to make her character a cartoon, but she plays it straight and the character is treated with respect as a person of faith, however misguided she may be. Not one cast member sucks in this movie. They are all excellent, down to the smallest speaking part.

Everyone who worked on this flick deserves a pat on the back. The direction, the way it's shot, the creatures, the actors, everything just gels. And of course, the one person who deserves the most credit is Stephen King. He puts a bunch of Americans together in such a banal setting, a supermarket, so that when the shit hits the fan and things start to go bad, much of the ridiculousness of our daily lives is hilighted just by the setting.

This isn't one of those flicks that has you jumping out of your seat with in your face scares. It's more the concept that is horrifying, the sense of dread at what's happened and how the characters are going to get out of it, if they even can. Like I said before, there are many "Ewww!" moments. A note about the ending: I had heard that this is one of those movies with "an ending," and even knowing that, I was still blown away. So will you be.

In the tradition of many of the greatest horror flicks, this movie fucks with your preconceived notions, your expectations, your mind. I highly recommend it.
There's one unintentionally funny bit about this flick, but you'll probably notice it yourself. I'll just say one word: eyebrows.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


The Brave One is a contemporary vigilante revenge fantasy directed by Neil Jordan and starring Miss Thing. It's a well-made movie and is pretty much an old-school exploitation movie all gussied up in A-list Hollywood respectability, but that doesn't make it any less effective or enjoyable.
Jodie Foster turns in an excellent performance, one that is much more raw and satisfying than her turns in Panic Room and Flightlplan. She pretty much elevates the movie to a higher level than it deserves to be. It's also shot beautifully. The film covers its ass by making sure that the targets of the Foster character (Erica) are multiracial; nasty white men are prominently included in the mix of scumbags. Just so no one's left out, Erica purchases her illegal 9mm from an Asian guy. This movie doesn't show us a woman who is all that conflicted over what she's doing. There's some inner conflict, but not that much. The bottom line is, she's made up her mind and she's not turning back, no matter what. She then has to navigate the minefield that she's walking through as a result of the choice she's made. She never gives her choice a second thought, and that's one thing I really like about this movie: the lack of hand-wringing over the (im)morality of what she's doing.
There was a lot of interesting critical reaction and interpretation of the film, much of which focuses on socioeconomic class for some strange reason. Apparently, to depict such base human traits as hopelessness and revenge is to be tacky and should be derided by the educated and cultured among us. Well, la dee fucking dah. There's nothing wrong with a well-made revenge fantasy. It's a fantasy, for Christ's sake. It plays upon our fears of beng victimized, and our hope that, should we survive, we could mete out some justice where justice is due, especially if the system failed us. Obviously, this hardly ever happens in real life. That's where revenge fantasies come into play. For me, The Brave One is an enjoyable thriller that hits all the right marks and is extremely satisfying in the end. My only gripe (and it's a nearly insurmountable one): they actually use a Sarah McLaughlin song on the soundtrack at key "emotional" moments. It was damn near unbearable, and was completely out of sync with the tone of the movie. (I realize she's a respected musical artist, I'm just not into her).

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Another Time, Another Place is a low key melodrama about an American columnist living in London (Lana Turner) during WWII. Though she left a fiance back in NY City (who just happens to be her boss), she falls in love with a dashing BBC reporter (a very young, very hot, very bushy-browed Sean Connery) and they carry on with a torrid month-long affair before he lets her in on the fact that he's, er, married and has a young son, whom he loves very much. Well, they part briefly, but their love is too strong and they reconcile on the evening Connery is set to fly to Paris to cover the end of the war. Unfortunately, he's killed in a plane crash, and Lana is devastated.

And that's just the first third of the movie! The rest of it has to do with Lana seeking out Connery's village, "to see where he comes from," where she winds up living with his wife and son, who have no idea who Lana is.

Despite this film's measured pace, and despite the fact that it's melodrama (and why am I behaving as if that's a bad thing? I LOVE this shit!), it's a well-written movie that had me hooked through to the end. Part of reason I liked it has to do with my fascination with Lana Turner, who apparently spent at least half of her career playing women of questionable moral character who put themselves through hell but very often redeem themselves in the end. This film is a typical 50s Lana vehicle: she's promiscuous, she's heartbroken, she has a meltdown, she recuperates, she redeems herself, and she looks fabulous.

The first scene in the film sets the tone and foreshadows how the relationship between Lana and Connery is going to go: it centers on a bomb that falls without detonating, and the tense moments that pass while it's disarmed. Later in the movie, there's a great scene where a group of people are sitting around a table having an awkward conversation because all of them but Connery's widow know that Lana was having an affair with him. The actress who plays Connery's widow, Glynis Johns, is excellent and has her own meltdown scene that rivals those of Lana. On the whole, it's a bit contrived but I had fun watching it and will definitely watch it again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Here's the deal: I'm a child of the 70s and 80s who hit puberty right around 1979. I was right there when slasher movies exploded...the original Halloween was re-released each October for several years (this was before home video). I remember them all, even the ones I didn't see until years later: Friday the 13th and its sequels, Prom Night, Terror Train, Graduation Day, Nightmare On Elm Street, etc. etc. Halloween and its first sequel (however much the latter was panned by critics) scared the hell out of me. When I got home one night from seeing the sequel with a bunch of friends, no one was home and the back door to our house was ajar. I can't tell you how spooked and freaked I was having just seen Michael slaughter his way through oodles of horny nurses and lab technicians.

Anyhoo, I am not a big fan of Rob Zombie's movies. I admire him as an artist, and I relate to his visual aesthetic, rooted as it is in pre-slash 70s horror. But House of 1000 Corpses is ridiculous and The Devil's Rejects was just rude. All the promo stuff I saw of his take on Halloween made it look pretty damn good: a bigger, badder kick ass Michael Myers filmed in neo-70s realist grime. Yes, I was worried that Zombie would hit us over the head with sadistic brutality and gore, which he is wont to do. But I also held out hope that he would nail it, because I think he's more than capable. Unfortunately, this movie succeeds and fails simultaneously, at least in the eyes of someone who's viewing it as a remake of a great horror classic.

On its own merits, it's a well-made film. It seems like a documentary. We get all the back story about Michael's fucked up family, his serial-killer-to-be proclivities as a kid, his trip to the booby hatch, his suffering at the hands of a cruel world. Ok, so his family life sucked, he was bullied at school, nobody understands him, he's being exploited by the doctor who's supposed to be helping him, wah wah wah, boo hoo. Lots of us have crappy lives, but we don't all wind up being serial killers, so what's the point of trying to humanize someone who's supposed to be the embodiment of inexplicable evil? Do you really need to try and convince us that he turned out this way because his mom was a stripper with hella bad taste in men (in other words: A Bad Mother)? To someone who's never seen and doesn't care about the original, this movie is fact, it would fit in quite nicely with any hour-long true crime special that regularly airs on Lifetime or the History Channel.

But to anyone else, there are problems. It is a remake of one of the scariest movies ever made...but it isn't scary. There's no suspense, no tension. By the time we get to the third act, which is basically where Zombie gets around to remaking the original Halloween, we know all we ever wanted to know about Michael, and nothing about his soon to be victims, which means that when Michael finally goes on his rampage, we don't really give a shit about what happens to anyone. And neither does Zombie. He's wasted so much time giving us all the back story (and showcasing his real-life wife as Michael's stripper mommy) that he doesn't have any time left to build character or suspense. It's as if he's going through the motions of the events that occur on Halloween night as an afterthought. Another big mistake he makes is that the girls, particularly Laurie Strode, the "final girl", are old school stupid girls who scream and run. Ok, Laurie's not completely weak, but she sure as hell doesn't come close to touching Jamie Lee Curtis' version of the strong final girl who shows a knack for surviving under stress. This one falls into an empty pool, screams, yelps and cries when she's supposed to be hiding, and pretty much sucks ass as a final girl all the way around. She's not even that likable. The gore is updated, but the girls are undercuts one of the primary motifs of the genre, and it ruins it.

The movie gets a lot of stuff right. The actors all do good work. Zombie's got a great eye for 70s detail. His movie is somewhat timeless in that it could be 1978 or 2008. He pays homage to the original film in several specific shots and/or scenes, but he appears to only be paying lip service out of a sense of duty to other fans of the original, not his own respect for it. Zombie treats the source material as not really worthy of revisiting on its own merits. He seems to think he could do a better job of telling the story by telling a different story. As if the original story isn't really all that important. In my opinion, this is a huge mistake on his part and the main reason his "reimagining" fails.

This movie's worth a look if you're a fan of the genre. The gore's not anything worse than you'd see on an episode of CSI. The scares are nonexistent, ditto the suspense. The kills have that Rob Zombie brutality, but they're so staged that it's not as if you're seeing a real person get knocked off. Besides, none of Michael's victims are people we've come to get a sense of or care about, so whether or not they die becomes irrelevant. The commentary's interesting, but again, he doesn't express any affinity whatsoever for the source material, which I think should have been a requirement for anyone considered to direct the remake of Halloween. Ultimately, Zombie's take on the horror classic left me cold, unimpressed, and a little bit miffed that he felt he had something more to offer than the original did. As if!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


The Descent is an enjoyable horror movie about a group of friends who go cave diving in the Appalachian Mountains only to wind up trapped underground and hunted by bloodthirsty humanoid creatures.

Compared to most recent horror films, this one's excellent. The setting is creepy and claustrophobic, the acting is above-par, and the tension builds at a steady pace. Since this is a creature feature, it walks a fine line between horror and camp. This movie does cross that line and degenerate into camp on more than one occasion. Once these girls turn Rambo and start killing the cave creatures, it becomes an over the top gore fest. And each subsequent victim of the cave creatures suffers a more bloody and undignified death. But the camp factor doesn't make it any less scary or creepy.

The set design is amazing and I didn't realize how awesome it was until I saw the special features and making of doc, which is quite funny. Most of the guys who play the cave creatures are sinewy and hairless, so it's fun to watch them clown around in their monster make up in the making of doc. It's also fun to see a bunch of tough athletic chicks do some bad ass cave diving and then fight as best they can to survive once the shit hits the fan. Overall, it's worth a rental on a night when you want to be creeped out and boo!'d.


Leave Her to Heaven is a thriller that moves at a slow pace, like a watched pot set for a boil. It's about a cold, calculating woman whose need to possess the men she loves leads her to commit heartless acts of murder. The pace of the film is similar to that of The Sixth Sense in that it builds slowly under a constant state of dread.

I find this movie fascinating, if a little slow. Also, many of the things that happen are tame by today's standards and a bit cliched, but were probably more surprising back when it was released. The tone of the movie, one of building dread and discomfort as the villainess' true nature is revealed, is sustained throughout. Watching it today, however, one can't help but wonder why family members didn't take matters into their own hands before she could wreak such havoc upon them all.

Visually, this film is STUNNING. It was filmed in Technicolor, and though it comes off as "colorized" at certain points due to the limits of the coloring process of the era, for the most part it's breathtaking. It's so rare that we can see this era in full color because most of the films from that time are in black and white, which creates a barrier between the viewer and the world of the film. This is the first film I can remember seeing that breaks down that barrier; it's the first time I've really felt I have an idea of what it was like to see the world as it was back then.

Gene Tierney is absolutely beautiful, even if she does come off as cold (that is, after all, the whole point). She got a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance (she lost to Joan Crawford in Mildred Pearce). Cornel Wilde is quite a hottie when he's caught at the right angle, although unfortunately we're never treated to a shirtless shot of him. We do see his muscular forearms and bulging bicep, which is just enough to make us wonder what the rest of him looks like. The wardrobe is breathtaking, especially the men's clothes. Oh to live in a time when every day one wore a jacket and tie, and in the New Mexico desert no less! The cinematography is the undeniable star of the film, the lighting and framing is simply amazing. There's a lot of great architecture to be seen, and the set design is interesting as well, although most of the sets are residential, which can tend to be somewhat boring and floral (yuk) in their domesticity. The train scene at the beginning is wonderful with the interior of the art deco styled lounge car.

The movie winds up in a courtroom (with a prissy Vincent Price playing the jilted District Attorney out for vengeance) before delivering its happy Hollywood ending, but the trip to get there is well worth the time...once again, I say this if you are at all intrigued by the actors or the era.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Directed by Fritz Lang, who also directed the classic 1927 sci fi flick Metropolis, The Blue Gardenia is a weird flick. Its tone keeps changing back and forth between suspense and comedy. Anne Baxter (whom I adore, she was Eve in All About Eve, you know) plays a blonde telephone operator named Norah who's betrothed to an armed services member serving in Korea, which keeps her safely out of the dating cesspool. Raymond Burr is Harry Prebble, the sleazy womanizer who unsuccessfully asks her out. Well, Norah gets dumped by her beau, and right after she's read the news that he's met and fallen in love with someone else, she gets a telephone call from slick Harry and on an impulse, she agrees to meet him at the Blue Gardenia, a hip, happening Tiki-themed nightspot. She gets there and proceeds to get drunk on rum cocktails. She then goes back to Harry's apartement with him, where he tells her he's going to have a "party." Well, before you can say "date rape," he's forcing himself on her and she's fighting him off with a fireplace poker, then she passes out on the floor. She wakes up in her own bed the next day with no memory of what transpired the night before. Unfortunately for her, Harry is found murdered that morning. Did Norah snap and kill him? Will she be charged with murder? What's a girl to do?

This film isn't great, but it's got a lot to hold your interest if you're into any of the actors or the era. It's early 1950s, so the set design and the fashion is straddling the 40s and 50s quite well. There's also some great footage of downtown L.A., including City Hall and the Federal courthouse. The main problem is tone: the director seems to be going back and forth between playing it straight and playing it for laughs. Baxter's drunk scenes are over the top and seem to be played for laughs, which doesn't quite fit in with the story unfolding. She was a much better drunk in The Razor's Edge. Anne Southern is really good as Norah's sassy roommate and has the best line in the movie. Describing her ex-husband, whom she is again dating, she says "Homer always had a husband's faults. But now he has a boyfriend's virtues." You can also view this film from a feminist angle, and if you do you'll notice the cautionary message of a what a nice girl is not supposed to do, even if she did just get dumped by her boyfriend who's serving in Korea. I enjoyed the movie, not so much for being a successful mystery, but for being an entertaining time capsule filled with interesting artifacts.