Archive for the ‘Dogs’ Category

 

Burt-DayIMG_4674

 

This past week, Nitehawk Cinema hosted the latest Kevin Geeks Out show, focusing on Wigs, Toupees, and Hairpieces in movies. It was my great honor to be among the talented and hysterical presenters. I got the chance to talk about one of the greatest movie stars of the past century, as part of my mission to remind people of his greatness. The following is what I presented:

 

000 BURT REYNOLDS

 

It feels like high time to remember what makes Burt Reynolds so important. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s he was the number-one movie star in the country for five years straight. For that reason, Burt’s story is part of America’s story. He met everybody. His memoir is loaded with many of the most famous people of the past century. His book is like Forrest Gump, if Forrest Gump was Burt Reynolds.

 

001

 

Why am I bringing up Burt Reynolds in a show about Wigs, Toupees, and Hairpieces? There are at least two big reasons, and I’ll get to them both. I’d argue that hair is a central theme of Burt’s stardom, and it’s also part of the reason we lost track of him.

 

Burt Reynolds, with his dog Bertha. 1970.

 

002 SAM WHISKEY

 

For a good part of his career, Burt didn’t have his signature mustache. Here he is taking a bath in SAM WHISKEY from 1969. That same year, Burt grew a mustache for his role in 100 RIFLES opposite Jim Brown and Raquel Welch.

 

003 DELIVERANCE

 

But one of Burt’s signature roles had nothing to do with the mustache. Here he is in DELIVERANCE from 1972. It’s a strong movie and Burt is a big part of what makes it that way. In an alternate universe, we can imagine, Burt continued on this hairless path.

 

004 AS ROCKY RHODES IN 'THE TWILIGHT ZONE'.

 

Burt says he grew the mustache because he was tired of being compared to Marlon Brando. This is Burt from an episode of The Twilight Zone, early in his career, where he plays a sort of Brando type actor. In the book Burt tells a story about Brando cornering him at a party to accuse him of cashing in on the resemblance. Burt said, “I’m not having surgery because you don’t like the way I look. But I promise not to get fat.”

 

005 MUSTACHE PARTY

 

So, the mustache. This is the popular image of Burt Reynolds in people’s mind. At one time in American pop culture, a mustache was a symbol of maleness, of virility. Maybe it was a Teddy Roosevelt thing. But as time went on, and especially nowadays, the mustache seems to promise comedy.

Ron Swanson.

Ned Flanders.

Chuck Norris.

 

006 PLAYGIRL

 

That’s the catch-22: It’s partly because of the very sign of his legendary machismo that people stopped taking Burt Reynolds seriously.

 

007 COSMO

 

And this is another reason. In 1972 Burt posed naked for Cosmopolitan magazine. He did it right before DELIVERANCE made him a huge star. Burt did it for a laugh, but it worked against him. People didn’t get it.

 

008 Fuzz (1972)

 

As you can see from this poster for FUZZ, that photoshoot haunted his image.

 

009

 

Most people see Burt as a playboy, as a goofball. They don’t remember how good an actor he was, and how great a movie star he was.

 

010 DANCING

 

This is Burt (on the far right) dancing at a party near Steve McQueen and his wife. It’s true that Burt Reynolds was always fun. It was part of his image.

 

011 DANCING

 

Another thing about Burt Reynolds that makes him awesome, but that also works against him, is his openness and honesty. He called his own movies crap when they were crap, and even when they weren’t. He was never afraid to be the butt of the joke, but maybe people stopped noticing he was in on it.

 

012 SHATNER

 

Here’s another thing: In America, you can’t ever admit you wear a hairpiece. William Shatner is an example of a guy who didn’t hide it, and so he’s generally treated as a punchline.

 

013

 

Here’s a guy who never admits it.

 

014

 

As long as you never admit it isn’t real, you’re invincible.

 

015

 

Even when there’s relatively apparent visual proof that you’ve had work done on your hairline…

 

016

 

As long as you don’t admit it, you’re golden. The second you admit it, you’re Samson post-Delilah.

 

017 Deliverance (1972)

 

Burt says, “I’ve always been frank about my hair, because if you deny it, you’re fooling yourself.  Everybody else will do jokes about it. It’s better if you do the jokes first.” And so he did. But I think it made people forget what an effective dramatic actor he was.

 

017a

 

Fun story about Burt and the hairpiece: “One night at a bar in New York some idiot came over and made a crack about a “pelt on my head and I said, “If you can get it off before I beat the shit out of you, you can have it.”

 

017b

 

Another admirable thing about Burt is his ability to make amazing friendships. He can be best pals with a guy who turned out to be as right-wing as Jon Voight…

 

017c

 

And he can be as close as he was to Ossie Davis, who told Burt, “You’re the only actor in the world liked by both African-Americans and the Ku Klux Klan.” For the record, Burt wasn’t interested in entertaining racists. If you watch his movies, his love for people shines through — regardless of their gender, race, or orientation. If it was a party, everybody was invited.

 

018 White Lightning (1973)

 

DELIVERANCE solidified Burt as a Southern-fried action star. He appeared – still without the mustache – in films like WHITE LIGHTNING

 

019 Gator (1976)

 

…and GATOR

 

STICK, Burt Reynolds, 1985

STICK, Burt Reynolds, 1985

 

…the latter of which also marked the start of his directing career.

 

021 The Longest Yard (1974)

 

One of Burt’s best and most famous movies, THE LONGEST YARD, shows what he can do without mustache power. It’s one of the greatest sports movies ever made.

 

022 Hustle (1975)

 

Coming from the same director a year later, HUSTLE was a very underrated crime film. Guaranteed Michael Mann saw this one somewhere along the line.

 

023 Lucky Lady (1975)

 

Here’s Burt co-starring with Gene Hackman, one of the key actors in the New Hollywood. In this era, guys like De Niro and Pacino, Hoffman and Hackman, began to redefine naturalistic acting on film.

 

024 Semi-Tough (1977)

 

And just as American movies were getting more serious, Burt went the other way.

 

025 Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

 

This is SMOKEY & THE BANDIT, the movie that was a colossal hit for Burt and his friend, the director and legendary stunt man Hal Needham.

 

026 Burt Reynolds, Hal Needham, Jerry Reed, and a bassett hound on the set of Smokey & the Bandit.

 

While most highbrow critics don’t give any kind of attention to Hal Needham’s work, I think it’s very important, not least because of how it showcases the severely under-appreciated art of movie stunts.

 

027 Hooper (1978)

 

HOOPER was maybe Hal Needham’s most personal movie, showing the life of a Hollywood stuntman. It’s great.

 

027a Hooper (1978) Japanese Poster

 

So is its Japanese poster.

 

028 The End (1978)

 

Even amidst the popularity of all the Hal Needham movies, Burt continued to direct, and this is also the era where he buddied up with Dom DeLuise.

 

Reynolds Roast 1977

 

Burt and Dom together are magic, they’re infectious, you can’t not love watching them,

 

029 The Cannonball Run (1981)

 

But they’re also clowns. Their movies together are live-action cartoons.

 

Dom DeLuise

 

If all you know is THE CANNONBALL RUN, it’s very easy to lose sight of Burt’s dramatic talents.

 

030 Paternity (1981)

 

When Burt makes a movie like this…

 

031 Sharky's Machine (1981)

 

…It’s easier for cinematic tastemakers to forget that, the same year, he also made a movie like this.

 

032

 

SHARKY’S MACHINE is really worth seeing. I wish Burt’s career had continued with him directing more of this kind of melancholy, sleazy crime movie.

 

033 Stick

 

Burt made an Elmore Leonard adaptation before it became the in-thing to do.

 

034 Heat

 

There’s a better film out there going by the same name, but HEAT is still pretty special, a perfect showcase for Burt as a tough guy whose glory was beginning to fade.

 

035 CITY HEAT

 

Teaming him up with his old buddy Clint Eastwood, 1984’s CITY HEAT should have been a hit. It wasn’t.

 

036 City Heat (1984)

 

I think the contrast between Clint and Burt at this stage of their careers is very telling. Both of them were stars who appealed to men as much as women. Both of them are better actors than most people recognize. Both of them directed. But only one of them became a mainstream Academy Award winning institution.

 

037

 

I love Clint, never get me wrong, but he would never let himself be the butt of the joke, the way Burt did so many times. Even in the movies he made with the orangutan, Clint was always the coolest guy in the room. In CITY HEAT, he calls Burt “Shorty.” The final line of the movie from Clint is, “You’ll always be Shorty to me.” And he gets the last word. [Clint is 6’4″, Burt is 5’11”.]

 

M8DCIHE EC004

 

Notice who’s wearing the nice suit and who’s wearing the silly costume.

 

039 Stroker Ace (1983)

 

This is also the era when Burt became more famous for tabloids than for movies. For one thing, a facial injury he sustained on the set of CITY HEAT led to a rumor Burt had AIDS. If you remember the ‘eighties, there was a lot of spite and prejudice in a rumor like that.

 

040

 

This is also around the time Burt met Loni Anderson.

 

041

 

It isn’t like Burt wasn’t famous for his offscreen relationships before, but this was where it started to overshadow his onscreen work.

 

042

 

In his book, Burt isn’t mean about it, but he indicates he got swept up in the relationship in a way he wishes he hadn’t.

 

043

 

Guess that’s hard to say no to, no matter what your type is.

 

044

 

Burt says this was one of the happiest times of his life…

 

045

 

…but then also the worst.

 

046

 

Again, headlines like these are the primary basis of his celebrity in the late 1980s. By contrast, Clint was really taking off as a serious filmmaker, going from BIRD to UNFORGIVEN.

 

047

 

People see Loni Anderson, a blonde bombshell, and they probably make assumptions about her, and about Burt for being into her. But the loves of Burt’s life were girl-next-door types.

 

047a

 

The chapter in the book on Burt’s regrets about it not working out with Sally Field is really affecting.

 

048 Cop and a Half (1993)

 

So real life got sadder, and then these were the kinds of movies Burt was getting. No offense to COP AND A HALF, but it’s no IN THE LINE OF FIRE.

 

TSDEVSH EC011

 

In the ‘nineties, Burt went back to TV for Evening Shade, a show that had one of the greatest ensemble casts ever, but it was on CBS at a time when it wasn’t cool at all to be on CBS, assuming that time ever existed.

 

050 Boogie Nights (1997)

 

Then, towards the end of the decade, this came along.

 

051

 

By the time Burt gives his phenomenal half-dramatic/half-comedic performance in BOOGIE NIGHTS, nobody seemed to remember that’s what he’d been doing all along.

 

052

 

I think movie fans of my generation revere this movie and we revere Paul Thomas Anderson’s work in general. BOOGIE NIGHTS is a great American movie. But it was well publicized that Burt was uncomfortable with it. He’s still never seen it all the way through. Anderson went on to make several more great films, and Burt didn’t. This kind of stuff leads people to take sides, and most go with the brilliant auteur over the so-called has-been. But it’s not that simple.

 

053

 

For one thing, Burt was 62 when he made Boogie Nights. Paul Anderson was 27. Keep in mind Burt started acting back in the 1950s. Imagine you’re Burt and some kid is asking you to do and say some pretty damn out-there things. BOOGIE NIGHTS isn’t porn, but it’s sure got porn dialogue. Burt was the son of a police chief. He was raised to be a gentleman. He had valid reasons to be concerned about his image at this point in time. I don’t think Burt Reynolds is an uptight guy, but I also think it’s okay if he wasn’t too comfortable calling Julianne Moore a “foxy bitch.”

 

054 The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)

 

Burt was incredible in BOOGIE NIGHTS, but just about everything that came afterwards was underwhelming. THE DUKES OF HAZZARD was a movie based on an old TV show that was itself a rip-off of Smokey & the Bandit, and now Burt was getting novelty-cast in the Jackie Gleason role.

 

longest_yard_ver2

 

055 The Longest Yard (2005)

 

Don’t even get me started on what happened here.

 

056

 

So the full-on renaissance he deserved didn’t happen. Burt returned to Florida. He runs an acting school there now.

 

057 Burt Reynolds Institute & Museum in Jupiter, Florida.

 

Can you imagine getting acting lessons from Burt Reynolds? That’s a movie right there.

 

058

 

Burt turned 80 this month. If I had to bet on any human being lasting past a hundred, it’d be him, but still.

 

059

 

Too often the critical re-evaluations come too late. I don’t think it’s too radical for me to suggest that the work of one of the most popular movie stars in history is worth another look.

 

060 IN CONCLUSION

 

Let’s not let a legend go under-remembered in his own time. And one last thing about the book: It not only has chapters remembering Bette Davis, Lee Marvin, and Frank Sinatra, but there’s also one dedicated to the horse Burt rode in the movie NAVAJO JOE. What’s better than that?

 

Navajo Joe (1966)

 

 

— JON ABRAMS.

IMG_5595

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

“Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.”

— Clint Eastwood, as The Outlaw Josey Wales in THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES:

Clint Eastwood’s career is so long-running and so varied in subject matter that the mainstream reactions to his work have really run the range.  He was nobody, then he was a sudden success, then he was underrated, then he was accused of shallowness and sadism, then he was ignored, then he was discovered as a great director, then there was a backlash or seven, then he was called overrated by some, then the waves of rediscovery surged and ebbed and flowed, and so on.  By any measure there are plenty of bright spots on that lengthy resume, many under-seen and under-appreciated films, and some stone-cold masterpieces.  As actor and collaborator he has THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and DIRTY HARRY, and as director, he has UNFORGIVEN, BIRD, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, and this one right here.

 

 

THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is about a farmer who joins the then-raging Civil War when his family is massacred by marauders.  When the war ends, he becomes an outlaw rather than surrender his guns.  In the course of his travels, he meets a variety of companions and, as their protector, forms a kind of frontier community that due to his outlaw status he may or may not be able to join for good.

Time Out New York has referred  to THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES as “messy” and “rather ponderous” and I truly hope that you take my word for it over theirs.  THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES takes everything that Clint ever learned from Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, and everything he learned from cinema in general and Westerns in particular, and pours it all into this one glorious epic.  The film is stuffed with savvy references to the history of American Western cinema, from the dizzying callback to the “Ecstasy Of Gold” sequence from THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY when Josey’s home is attacked, to a pointed reference to the white scorpion from THE WILD BUNCH, to about a hundred visual cues and thematic echoes of the work of John Ford, particularly in the complicated, layered depiction of Native American characters, which is virtually unique to THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES.


  

 

 

One part revenge picture, one part Lone Ranger & Tonto picaresque (a travelling odyssey with the greatest Indian sidekick ever in movies, Chief Dan George), one part political allegory, and one part mournful hymn, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is clearly Clint’s warm-up lap before UNFORGIVEN.  It’s a meditation on violence and the effects of a life of violence on its perpetrators.  Interestingly, it factors in the Native American experience in an unusual way, as something of a peripheral but running concern.  Josey’s most consistent companion in a film where he has several of them — something of an irony in both the one-man-army Eastwood career and in a film where he’s billed as an outlaw — is Lone Watie, a very elderly man of measured speech whose easygoing, pointed humor and relaxing manner are a fascinating contrast to the typical clenched-teeth Eastwood gunslinger performance.  The most charismatic, funniest role in the entire movie is carried out by a then-77-year-old man.

 

 

Chief Dan George

 

Consider also the taciturn young Navajo woman, Little Moonlight, who gets wrapped up into the defacto community that Josey Wales and Lone Watie pick up along the way in their travels.  Her very existence in the film has an accumulated history to it — she is visually reminiscent of the Comanche squaw in THE SEARCHERS, but while that character was treated with less respect, literally booted down a hill by Jeffrey Hunter and laughed at by John Wayne, there is a redemptive quality to how Little Moonlight is portrayed here.  She gets to carry a gun!  I’ve seen a ton of Westerns and I’m pretty sure I never before or since saw an Indian squaw get a chance to fight alongside the heroes.

 

 

There’s also the warrior chief Ten Bears, a character who isn’t in much more than one scene but is played indelibly by the 1970s’ go-to Native American character actor, Will Sampson.   An artist in life, Sampson was often framed as a looming, possibly dangerous figure on film.  He was the deaf-mute Chief in the anti-establishment classic ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and the observant man-who-knows-whales Jacob in the wackadoo killer-whale epic ORCA.  While even those roles bordered on stereotyping, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES inverts the image by portraying Ten Bears as a fearsome warrior chief, but then immediately equating him with the film’s hero.  There is an instant recognition of equals that passes between Ten Bears and Josey Wales.  It’s not unforeseeable that, had he lived, Will Sampson could have gone on to his own UNFORGIVEN, playing a similar violent-but-self-aware character in advancing age.  Clint would direct, of course.

 

 

The brilliance of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is that it works on so many different levels at once — it can and has been watched as a Clint’s-so-badass manly-man classic action film, from the epic gunfights right down to the quotability — but there’s an incredible depth and poetry to its engagement with American history and American film.  It’s simultaneously traditional and revisionist.  No action star before or since has ever been as knowing and sly about his onscreen persona as Clint has been, and none have deployed it so cannily.  If all you see when you look at Clint is “Dirty Harry” or “The Man With No Name,” well, he gives that to you here, but even as he’s delivering it sincerely, he’s also serving it up as a rejoinder.  For one thing, this is a good movie to watch for any of those skeptics who assume Clint’s acting is limited.  Here he fills in the image of his standard vengeful-gunslinger character with pools of complicated emotion.  Josey Wales can be nasty, not only to his enemies but to many who deserve compassion.  I mean, in this movie he spits on a dog!  Josey Wales is often a dick.  He’s maladjusted but that makes sense:  He’s a veteran.  He’s seen heinous things, and done them too.  He’s good at killing, less so at living.

 

 

 

There’s a lot more to be said about this movie, from the sweeping landscapes by cinematographer Bruce Surtees (PLAY MISTY FOR ME, THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID) to the score by composer Jerry Fielding (THE WILD BUNCH, THE GAUNTLET), but there’s only so much time and space.  Let’s end with a special hand for the bad guys:  John Vernon, who plays Clint’s ally-turned-nemesis Fletcher, has between this, his roles in POINT BLANK and CHARLEY VARRICK, and Dean Wormer in ANIMAL HOUSE, played at least four of the greatest heavies in film history.  (Five, if you count KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE.)  He could do ominous erudition with ease, but here there’s a melancholy and a weariness to his relentless pursuit of his quarry in THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES that really stays with you, as much as Clint’s iconic warrior-gunman does.   Eastwood regular Bill McKinney, probably best known for his part in DELIVERANCE, is menacing and monstrous here as the more straight-ahead villain, Captain “Redlegs” Terrill.  A hero is only as tough as his toughest enemies.  It’s not easy to play the equal but opposing force in a Clint Eastwood action film, but both of these gentlemen do a phenomenal job.  Respect.  Thank you.

 

@jonnyabomb

 

Now THIS is how you do homage. When I talked about 1986’s LINK, I mentioned how Australian director Richard Franklin was a devoted acolyte of the work of Alfred Hitchcock. You wouldn’t know it from watching LINK, but you’d absolutely know it from watching 1981’s ROAD GAMES.

ROAD GAMES, sometimes known under the more claustrophobic title ROADGAMES, stars Stacy Keach as Pat Quid, an American trucker making his way through the dry plains of Southern Australia in order to deliver a freezer full of frozen meat. His only companion is a dingo, which Quid has named Boswell, who rides shotgun. (Attention, English majors…) This is the first clue that Quid is an unconventional guy. It’s not exactly legal in this time and place to be riding with a dingo, no matter how docile and domesticated Boswell seems to be. Also, Quid is a bigtime chatterbox. He barrages poor Boswell with constant conversation, which for us viewers is a pleasure, since these monologues are delivered in the plummy stentorian register of Stacy Keach. Keach has come up with names for all the fellow travellers who he spots recurring along the highways, including Benny Balls, Fred Frugal, Captain Careful, Sneezy Rider, and, most ominously, Smith Or Jones.

Smith Or Jones is the driver of the dingy olive-green van that Quid spots driving suspiciously at the same time he’s hearing radio reports of a deranged killer at large. It’s a long time before Quid himself gets a look at Smith Or Jones, but right from the outset we the audience know that Quid’s not crazy, due to the eerie early scene where a young woman is strangled in a motel room with a mean-looking length of wire. For better or worse, and probably the latter, we know, we’re going to see that guy again. It’s when Quid picks up a young hitch-hiker (Jamie Lee Curtis, just a year fresh off THE FOG and three off HALLOWEEN) who he nicknames “Hitch” that the trail really starts getting warm.

Quid calls this young lady “Hitch” A) because it’s what he calls hitch-hikers and he likes nicknames for everyone, but to the film fanatics in the audience it’s a clear nod from Franklin and his writer, Everett De Roche, to the master filmmaker who made a movie much like this one in spirit. (And it’s no accident that Quid’s first name, “Pat,” was the also name of Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter. Nice little gender-reversal on the shout-out, there.) If you’ve seen 1954’s REAR WINDOW, there can be no doubt which Hitchcock movie Franklin and De Roche have taken as inspiration. REAR WINDOW is also a film about a hero stuck in an enclosed space, who catches wind of a crime and is deemed crazy by the authorities, leaving him to take matters into his own hands. Both movies make effective use of diagetic music, which means that you sometimes see the source of the music on screen — Stacy Keach plays the harmonica throughout ROAD GAMES, and at times his playing blends in with the score (which is a very good one, by Brian May of THE ROAD WARRIOR fame). Both movies have fun with nicknaming. And both movies are very romantic, despite all the bleakness and the overcast of murder. ROAD GAMES is romantic not just in the nicely-played relationship between Quid and Hitch, but also in the romance of the open road, of that dream some of us have of gassing up a truck and driving down highway as far as the eye can see — it’s a bonus if you’ve got a dog and a pretty girl riding shotgun.

I suppose it’s a minor stretch to classify ROAD GAMES as a horror film — it’s more of a suspense thriller than anything else, although Smith Or Jones is a truly spooky presence in his few fleeting appearances throughout the film. I feel justified grouping ROAD GAMES into horror because of its prime status in the genre of “Oz-ploitation” and because of its interesting proximity to HALLOWEEN. Richard Franklin was reportedly friendly with John Carpenter (I’m still looking for more information on this but it seems they studied at USC at the same time), and Franklin cast Jamie Lee Curtis in ROAD GAMES after meeting her on the set of THE FOG. And of course, the same year Jamie Lee Curtis appeared in ROAD GAMES she would soon appear in HALLOWEEN 2.

Much is said about John Carpenter’s affinity for the work of Howard Hawks, but less is said about how much Carpenter’s sensibilities also reflect a love for Hitchcock. (One clue is how HALLOWEEN‘s Dr. Loomis is named after a character in Hitchcock’s PSYCHO.) While Carpenter was subtly — and stylistically — paying homage to Hitchcock in HALLOWEEN, Richard Franklin would go on to do so directly with the sequel to PSYCHO, 1983’s PSYCHO 2, which I’ve not seen personally but if you’re interested to read more on it, you should read this review by the great Vern.

All of which is to say that if you loved John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, and who doesn’t?, you will most definitely love Richard Franklin’s ROAD GAMES.

Ride with me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

 

I fell in love once.  It was just about perfect for a while, but then it ended.  I took the loss hard, ending up in increasingly seedier neighborhoods, experiencing increasingly trashier replacements in my desperate search to fill the void left empty after that one perfect moment.

That story could be a description of my love life… or I could just be talking about great-white-shark movies.  When I first wrote about JAWS on my site, I argued that it’s the one great great-white-shark movie, the monarch in its genre.  It’s not the hardest argument to win, really.  After JAWS, the pool of competitors is pretty shallow.  Just about every aspiring horror filmmaker feels up to taking a crack at a zombie movie or a vampire movie, but hardly anyone wants to touch the great-white-shark genre.  Part of that is no doubt a budgetary concern, as the legend behind the troubled JAWS shoot is almost as well-known to cineastes as the movie itself.  CGI sharks don’t look right, but we all know the probable pitfalls of having a practical shark model too.

The other problem is that having a man-eating shark as the villain of your movie is limited by circumstance and the boundaries of imagination; in other words, as long as the characters stay on land or on the boat, there’s no movie.  You need reasons to get people into the water, and there are theoretically only so many ways to do that.

To that end, Australia’s BAIT (3D) has a decent high-concept, at once supremely silly and once you think about it a little, weirdly believable.  A tsunami batters the Australian coastline, destroying a supermarket and killing most of the people in it, and stranding the small group of survivors inside with a great white shark washed in from the ocean.  It could happen!  The odds are about as likely as a Victoria’s Secret model personally delivering a pizza to me sometime this evening, but it is physically possible to occur upon this realm of reality.  The best horror movies are able to convince an audience of the believability of their extreme concepts.  BAIT is not among the best horror movies, but one could do plenty worse as a starting point than JAWS meets DAWN OF THE DEAD.  It’s a great set-up for a joke, anyway.

The problem with BAIT is that its makers seem undecided as to whether to treat their premise with solemnity or camp.  The initial script for BAIT was co-written and meant to be directed by Russell Mulcahy, who managed the tonal balance better in the 1984 killer-boar movie RAZORBACK.  I’m not fully aware of the circumstances behind Kimble Rendall (second-unit director on movies such as 2007’s GHOST RIDER) replacing Mulcahy, and it’s unclear as it is with most movies where to apportion credit or blame, but let’s just say that BAIT is a movie of mixed pleasures.

The cast of characters who serve as the titular fodder are part of the issue.  The main pair of protagonists, Xavier Samuel and Sharni Vinson, as an estranged couple of lifeguards brought together by fate and nature, are certainly pretty and likable enough, but a more callow couple trapped underwater with their yipping pet lapdog are probably more obnoxious than intended.  More interesting, at least on paper, are a pair of armed robbers played by Dan Wyllie and Julian McMahon (who played Doctor Doom in the recent FANTASTIC FOUR movies and is now almost entirely done morphing into Kevin Spacey.)  For me anyway, I didn’t love anyone enough to worry too much about them (not the way I do about, say, Quint in you-know-what), but nor did I loathe anyone enough to want to see them munched on by sharkteeth.  It’s the oldest criticism in the book but it’s a mistake movies like this one keep on making:  If the characters aren’t worth caring about, the movie isn’t worth remembering.

Still, BAIT has engaging moments.  The shark CGI isn’t great, but the tsunami scenes are actually convincing.  The main sets — the submerged parking garage and the flooded supermarket — are believably-rendered environments.  One of the early character deaths isn’t the fault of the shark and is surprisingly effective for it.  (It’s reminiscent of a similar scene in THE GREY, though not as well-executed.)  The final scene, with its real-world implications, tries to give the movie an emotional resonance it hasn’t really earned, but at least it indicates that someone somewhere was thinking about issues other than mangled viscera.  Thinking is the fun part of a movie like BAIT — it’s not remotely as gripping as the movie it compares to unfavorably, but like that movie, it makes you think twice about getting in the water.  At the very least, it leads you to imagine what you might do in a situation like this one, and if it’s better to have a movie that wraps you up in its every moment, it’s some small consolation to have a premise that sparks the imagination.

Word of warning, however:  Whatever you do, don’t make this movie a double-feature with THE MASTER.

 

More sharp-toothed wordplay on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

 

Waltz With Bashir is an astonishing piece of work – it’s a dreamy reconstruction of one man’s recollection of his experiences in the Israeli military during the Lebanon War in the early 1980s.  The director, Ari Folman, wrote for the original Israeli incarnation of the TV show “In Treatment” and that background in pop psychology shows – this is a searching and introspective story.  It’s not entirely fictional, but it’s certainly not a documentary either.  The harsh world in wartime and the realm of dreams swirl together and co-mingle.

Necessarily then, Waltz With Bashir is an animated movie.  The choice is crucial to the movie’s effect:  It’s colorful and mesmerizing and upsetting.  It is NOT rotoscoped.  All of the animation is meticulously choreographed and depicted, under the art direction of David Polonsky with contributions from, among others, two artists whose work I adore, the brothers Tomer Hanuka and Asaf Hanuka.  (If you’ve picked up a newspaper or a magazine in the past decade, you know their work.)  On a visual basis alone, Waltz With Bashir is a necessity.  Combined with the emotionally conflicted and self-exploratory storytelling method which Folman employs, Waltz With Bashir is a film unlike any other.  It’s not an exaggeration to pronounce that I have very rarely seen a medium so well matched to its message.

I can’t exactly say that I loved this movie – it left me feeling more than a little anguished and sad.  But it is very clearly a work of cinematic art that has made some valuable observations about the real world, and as such, I sincerely recommend that it be seen by as many people as possible as soon as possible.  See it with your deepest friend.

@jonnyabomb

In the realm of faceless people writing about movies from the safety of the internet, I like to think I’m one of the more reasonable you’ll find. But I could be wrong. (See?) It’s a point that’s come up before, but it bears repeating: Unlike most people who write about movies online, I’ve spent A LOT of time working in all corners of the film and television industries in virtually every position there is. I know well how hard people work, around the clock, to bring every show to an audience. I try not to take that hard-earned knowledge lightly. Besides, I have friends who still work in film and TV, and I’m not even all the way out myself. I try mighty hard not to put anything on a computer screen that I don’t feel ready to say to someone’s face. On top of all of that, I grew up with movies. I love this stuff as much now as I did when I was young — if not more. It doesn’t make me happy to be unkind. I’m in this to share my enthusiasm, plain and simple.

All of that said, and try as I might, it’s way harder to find new ways to be nice. It’s certainly harder to be funny that way. And sometimes, a movie is put in front of me about which I just can’t find much nice to say and still remain honest.

These are the movies that forced me to be unkind.

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This is from August 5th, 2010:

It’s true.  I’ve seen Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore.  It really happened.  I was on a pretty good streak of seeing really solid movies there for a while, and such streaks are inevitably made to be broken.  The real reason why this occurred is that I am uncle to an adorable niece and I am bound by my will to honor her every request, within reason.  Hopefully the rest of you love the children in your lives significantly less.  Just this once, love is not the answer.

This Cats & Dogs movie is nominally a sequel to the previous movie called Cats & Dogs, but I’m not sure that there’s any kind of story to follow.  The first movie came out in 2001, which makes the gap between movies comparable to the time James Cameron took between Titanic and Avatar.  But whereas Cameron spent all that time working on new technologies and designing a movie that would appeal to the widest audience possible, Cats & Dogs does the opposite.  If anything, it seems like the makers of Cats & Dogs spent nine years accumulating all the crappy dog and cat puns in the world.  Seriously, I haven’t seen a movie with this many crappy puns since Batman & Robin, and we all know how that one went.

I’m not even going to bother recapping the plot for you, because… who cares?  The dogs and the cats are in some secret war, where this one police dog (voice of James Marsden) gets recruited by the dog side to stop this one evil cat (voice of Bette Midler), but it’s really all just an endless, crappy, James Bond riff.  Now there’s an original fount of comedy; no one’s ever spoofed James Bond before.  (Besides only Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, Fathom, the original Casino Royale, The Pink Panther, Get Smart, For Your Height Only, The Cannonball Run, Austin Powers, just about every cartoon ever made, and probably every third episode of Family Guy… just for starts.)  Can you possibly feel good about yourself as a creative person if you’re doing sustained James Bond spoofs in the year 2010?  Do you realize that kids, your target audience, don’t get the joke?  Do you realize that kids don’t actually find animal puns all that funny?  No, they don’t!  But more on that in a second.

Some of the voice cast is done by actors who I actually like (usually), such as Christina Applegate, Nick Nolte, Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Clarke Duncan, and comedian Katt Williams, but let’s face it, they’re all just cashing paychecks here.  And those people who complain about cartoons being aimed too much towards adults these days might be reassured by this movie.  There was nothing for me here.  There is nothing here for any fan of these performers.  Having Christina Applegate in a movie doesn’t do any good if I can’t look at her.  Having Nick Nolte in a movie doesn’t do any good if he doesn’t growl, “Damnit Reggie!” every once in a while.  Having Katt Williams in a movie will surely disappoint his many fans if he’s not allowed to use the N-word.  I mean, you see the name Katt Williams in the credits, and it’s fair to expect that the N-Word is going to happen.  I’m not saying that it’s right, or that anyone should feel good about it, but devil’s advocate:  Would this movie be any better if the pigeon voiced by Katt Williams was running around saying the N-word?  Well no, but it couldn’t have been any worse either.

So grown-ups will be miserable; that’s a given.  Then again, this movie isn’t not really for kids either.  It leans heavily on butt-sniffing humor, which seems to be leaning dangerously close to gay-panic humor at moments.  (The Bette Midler fans in the audience won’t dig it.)  The movie comes close to insinuating an interspecies romance. There’s a scene with stoner cats.  Good luck explaining that one to your kids.  The human performances are wincingly bad, particularly Jack McBrayer, who really better hope, employment-wise, that 30 Rock stays on the air for as long as possible.  But I’d rather cringe at human behavior than have to ponder the questionable morality of putting words in animals’ mouths.  It’s one thing if we humans decide to act like dickheads – at least that’s a choice – but these dogs and cats are not being given the option over how they’re portrayed.  I know it’s a big-philosophy question, but if this movie doesn’t have a brain in its head, that doesn’t mean I have to turn mine off.

Besides all that, here’s the only review you need.  On the way into the theater, my niece tugged at my hand and smiled, “This is going to be the greatest movie I ever seened!”

After twenty minutes or so, the fidgeting started.  Then it turned into full-blown roaming.  Somehow we made it through the whole thing.  But.

On the way out, she turned to me and said, “I don’t want to see Cats & Dogs again!”

This is a kid who can tolerate more hours of Dora The Explorer than even the toughest guy in the county (her uncle) can handle, and this one she couldn’t stand.  I think I just inadvertently told you that we’d both rather watch Dora The Explorer.  There can be no more dire condemnation of a supposed kids’ movie than that.

Happier news, usually, at: @jonnyabomb

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Why do we watch movies?  It’s a simple question with an entire bookshelf’s worth of answers.  There are so many reasons: To cheer up, to laugh, to cry, to get scared, for an ego boost, for an assist in the romantic process, for smartening up, for dumbing down, for an education, for wasting time, for monsters or pretty girls or explosions or a look into a past that doesn’t exist anymore.

And sometimes it’s about the imagery.

I saw Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE only once, almost fifteen years ago, and yet there are several images from the film that have stayed with me.  There are movies with dialogue I can recite by heart from start to finish, and then there are movies like this one, which only needed a single viewing to plant root in my consciousness.  EYES WITHOUT A FACE is a film that haunts.

The story is centered around a ghostly young woman named Christiane (Edith Scob), who was horribly disfigured in a car accident.  Christiane roams the halls of the family mansion wearing a white mask that covers her every feature, besides her eyes.  Her father, a wealthy surgeon, is dedicated to reconstructing his daughter’s face, to the point where he abducts and subdues young women in order to attempt elaborate skin graft procedures, swapping their faces onto Christiane’s.  The experiments have varying degrees of success, but are never permanent.

 

The essential theme of the movie is that Christiane is a prisoner of her father, who has lost all humanity in pursuit of his goal and is more concerned with scientific success than his daughter’s comfort and recovery.  And despite the disturbing countenance of Christiane, with and without her mask (but mostly with), there is a purity and a strange beauty to her that makes these experiments hardly necessary.

But more than anything, what you’ll remember are the images.

 

Georges Franju, the director, had a history of non-fiction filmmaking before this, which was his second feature.  He made documentaries about factories and veterans’ hospitals (this not long after World War II) and, most pertinently to some of the most squirm-inducing scenes in EYES WITHOUT A FACE, slaughterhouses.  The grisly, lengthy face-transplant scenes are shot by Franju with an unblinking eye, almost as if it unfazes him and he expects it not to faze us, his audience, either.  That’s filmmaking as character – the evil doctor would look at his subjects that way.  These scenes would be upsetting enough here in 2012, after five decades of gore films – just imagine what they would have felt like back in 1960!

 

 

Franju has a lyrical eye as well, though – those scenes of Christiane gliding through the darkened corridors of a mansion too large for its occupants, with orchestral accompaniments by Maurice Jarre, are as eerie as any ghost story.  These sequences are as simultaneously creepy and pretty as other sequences, most notably the final fate of the doctor, are savage.  It’s an indelible juxtaposition, and that’s why this film is so well-remembered despite initial misunderstanding, disinterest, and disgust.  Hilariously, according to Wikipedia, EYES WITHOUT A FACE was originally screened in the States on a double-bill with THE MANSTER.  Most people in 1960 didn’t know what they had:  A true work of cinematic art.

EYES WITHOUT A FACE is also an important film for readers of this site due to the profound influence it has had – the second you see Christiane, you know exactly where John Carpenter got the inspiration for Michael Myers’ mask in HALLOWEEN.  Yes, we all know the apocryphal story of how Carpenter’s art director, Tommy Lee Wallace, used a William Shatner mask and melted it down in order to create Myers’ featureless mask, that spooky pale death’s head with only openings over the eyes to indicate the scant humanity within.  But the image, see, the image, that’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE.  It got into John Carpenter’s head too.

 

 

When I first saw EYES WITHOUT A FACE way back when, it wasn’t long after FACE/OFF had come out, and it could be said that the face transplant scenes in that film were also influenced by Franju’s film, but I’m not so sure.  John Woo cut away quickly from the face transplants in FACE/OFF (or was forced to by studio test screenings, who knows).  EYES WITHOUT A FACE, on the other hand, showed the operations in all their awfulness.  Despite my adoration of John Woo, or in fact as a statement of how impressive Franju’s unflinching method is, I have to say that, in this respect at least, FACE/OFF is a pussy next to EYES WITHOUT A FACE. 

 

 

The Billy Idol song, however, is absolutely a response to this movie.  Whether that is a virtue or a travesty is in the ears of the beholder.

 

 

Sorry – eyes.  I meant eyes.

 

 

EYES WITHOUT A FACE is playing at NYC’s Film Forum as part of their “French old Wave” Series.  It’s screening on a double-bill with Henri-Georges Clouzot’s DIABOLIQUE, which I haven’t yet seen, but can assume is a far better fit than THE MANSTER.

 

Find me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

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