Archive for the ‘Movies (G)’ Category

 

This weekend I watched GROSSE POINTE BLANK again, for the first time in a long time. It’s eighteen years old now! It can vote! As an undergraduate film student, I wrote a seventeen-page paper on GROSSE POINTE BLANK — that’s how convinced I was of its greatness. I still love it, but I’ll try to be more brief here.

 

 

GROSSE POINTE BLANK has a perfect one-liner comedy concept – a contract killer accepts invitation to his ten-year high school reunion due to its proximity to his latest contract – and a sharp fit of a leading man in John Cusack, always the most cerebral of 1980s teen stars, who transitioned better than most into adult roles in the 1990s.

 

 

Cusack and his co-writers fine-tuned Tom Jankewicz’s original script and got the movie made under the direction of George Armitage, a filmmaker who works way too infrequently, having made the way-underrated hillbilly barnstormer VIGILANTE FORCE with Kris Kristofferson and Bernadette Peters, the somewhat-underrated (many cool people know how fantastic it is) crime classic MIAMI BLUES with Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the most-underrated-of-all action epic HIT MAN with Bernie Casey and Pam Grier.

Armitage nails the unusual tone of GROSSE POINTE BLANK, a very dark comedy about a paid murderer who kills people for money and who is lovable mostly only because he’s played by that guy who everyone loved in BETTER OFF DEAD and SAY ANYTHING.

 

GROSSE POINTE BLANK is one of the best-sounding movies of its decade, which is quite a feat considering this was the era of DAZED & CONFUSED, PULP FICTION, DEAD PRESIDENTS, and FRIDAY. The score is by Joe Strummer of The Clash. Pretty epic ‘get’ there. The soundtrack is stacked with killer pop, ska, punk, and new-wave songs from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

The supporting cast is pretty deadly – Dan Aykroyd deftly playing against type as Grocer, an insane hitman and rival of Cusack’s Martin Blank, who in true capitalist fashion is looking to consolidate his industry.

Alan Arkin as Blank’s traumatized psychologist, Dr. Oatman, who is terrified of his patient and continually begs him to stop coming back.

Joan Cusack as Blank’s secretary, equally traumatized by her cuddly sociopath of a boss.

Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman as a pair of bored government spooks who Grocer sets on Blank.

MAGNUM FORCE’s Mitch Ryan — a Dirty Harry sidekick! — as the dad of Blank’s high school sweetheart (played by a very winning Minnie Driver).

Stuntman and martial artist Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, who probably has the movie’s single best line. (“It is I…”)

 

 

In retrospect, GROSSE POINTE BLANK is a bit less successful in its action-movie moments as it is any time it’s being a hyper-verbal, deep, dark, and truly bizarre character study. But boy, it’s not like we ever get too many of those. I mean, technically this is a romantic comedy where plenty of people get shot dead.  My kind of movie entirely. If I were making movies, I’d probably make one like this (though maybe not as witty). We flatter ourselves with self-descriptions sometimes.

 

grossepointeblank-07

 

And in case you were ever wondering where the name of my site came from, now you know!

 

 

 

 

Fire away at me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Like everyone else who writes about films, I’m working on a year-end top-ten movies-of-2014 list. Here are some short pieces I wrote throughout the year about some of the contenders:

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

That cover image encapsulates THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL — and maybe even Wes Anderson’s entire career so far — so perfectly: It’s an invented monument of a building in the countryside of a nation that does not exist, soaked in color and leaping out from its drab surroundings. That bright pink hotel looks to me like a rich, fancy dessert, the kind that you can’t attack all at once, not even back when you were a candy-craving kid.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is the most Wes Anderson-y of all the Wes Anderson movies to date — he has with each subsequent film come up with an intricately-designed, entirely invented realm in which his casts of eccentrics and potty-mouthed poets take refuge from the world the rest of us know — Max Fischer’s school plays, Royal Tenenbaum’s mansion in the middle of Harlem, Steve Zissou’s ship (the Belafonte), the Darjeeling Limited (the finely-painted train traversing India), every minute of THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, Sam and Suzy’s secret cove (which they call “Moonrise Kingdom”).

This time around, the sphere of existence inhabited by the film’s characters travels beyond the titular location — Anderson has invented an entire country! Not only that, but the story is a flashback within a flashback: Tom Wilkinson plays the older version of Jude Law, who plays a writer interviewing the owner of the hotel who is played by F. Murray Abraham, who in turn recounts the escapades of his younger self (played by the winningly expressive Tony Revolori), the apprentice to a charismatic iconoclast named Gustave H. (a thrillingly unlikely comic performance by Ralph Fiennes — twice as funny here as he was in 2008’s IN BRUGES), who has a flair for theatrics and a lust for geriatrics. Credit for outstanding achievement in protrayal of the latter arena goes to Tilda Swinton, who appears in beautifully grotesque make-up and luxe costuming.

It’s even more whimsical than it sounds, and normally I can’t stand whimsy. But the effusiveness of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, and nearly every performance within it, is contagious. The cast is a menagerie of wonderful actors, most of whom have at least once worked with Anderson before. The newcomers fit right in with the stock players — even Harvey Keitel, perhaps the most unlikely casting choice of them all, who nimbly plays past his characteristic gruffness, as a heavily tattooed gulag lifer. Keitel has rarely been this animated and enthusiastic.

Don’t mistake this for an unequivocal rave — THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL continues the odd trend of Anderson underusing Bill Murray, which has been going on since THE LIFE AQUATIC. (I get the feeling Bill Murray keeps showing up just because he enjoys the company, and Wes Anderson keeps finding a place for him just because he’s goddamn Bill Murray and if you’ve got his number you use it.)

But I did enjoy the time I spent with this movie, particularly any of the scenes with either Tilda Swinton or Willem Dafoe, both of whom add unforgettable new grotesques to their lengthy repertoires. I also liked that THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is the most violent Wes Anderson film  since THE LIFE AQUATIC; the moments of darkness are essential to counterbalance the otherwise madcap nature of the proceedings, and they disarm the common argument (one I’ve flirted with at times but invariably discounted) that Anderson as a filmmaker is merely an indulgent quirkster.

I’m really not sure where Wes Anderson can go next, since THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL goes so far up into what he does that I’m not sure he can go any further. I’d love to see him attempt a hardcore genre picture — maybe science-fiction or even horror –but I won’t count my chickens.

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@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

GHOSTBUSTERS 2

 

 

My love for the original GHOSTBUSTERS is infinite, and the sequel is the only one I got to see in the theaters, so it took me a lot of distance before I could ever admit to the flaws of GHOSTBUSTERS 2. I get it now. It’s not a great movie. It isn’t the stone classic the first one inarguably is. Fine. That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of goodness happening around the edges of the under-cooked main plot about rivers of slime and demon paintings and weirdly-accented demon-painting familiars.

 

Ghostbusters-2-PF-WENN-1

 

For one thing, I’m not about to overlook any movie where cinematographer Michael Chapman gets to shoot New York City. The man shot some of my favorite New York movies ever — TAXI DRIVER, THE WANDERERS, RAGING BULL, SCROOGED, and QUICK CHANGE — and here he’s taking over for the legendary László Kovács, who gave the original GHOSTBUSTERS (and the New York City of 1983/1984) such a timeless look. Chapman gives us a movie that is more recognizably 1989, but it’s still got more widescreen pop than most comedies ever get near.

 

EXONERATED

 

For another, I will argue for the comic excellence of the opening bunch of “Whatever Happened To?” opening scenes, which establish what these guys have been up to since they saved Manhattan from paranormal ruin five years previous – Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler has gone back to academics, while Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz and Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore are playing kids’ birthday parties. Best of all, Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman is making a living as a TV psychic talk-show host. (Which Sigourney Weaver’s character somewhat predicted in the original, when they first met!)

 

WORLD OF THE PSYCHIC

 

This isn’t a rehash of the first movie; it’s a believable, logical, surprising, and very funny extension of what would most likely be happening five years after the first movie ended. GHOSTBUSTERS 2 doesn’t really get into trouble until the basic plot kicks in, but even then there are still great bits such as Rick Moranis as former accountant Louis Tully, now representing the Ghostbusters in court since he’s all they can afford.

 

ESQUIRE

 

Despite whatever flaws the film may or may not have, all of the character beats between the main guys, and particularly between Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver, feel completely right to me. This is five years after these dudes saved the world and since Venkman got the girl, but in the interim that romance petered out (no pun intended) for realistic relationship reasons. Just because two people kiss at the end of the movie doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be together forever. Is there another sequel that has addressed something this real? As goofy and corny as it is in so many places, GHOSTBUSTERS 2 is also a movie about a guy who realized he let one of the good ones get away. And now she’s got an infant son. Bill Murray plays those moments so well. “You know, I should have been your father. I mean, I could have been. ” Am I the only guy who’s ever gone on Facebook and seen a baby picture on the wall of some long-ago girl and thought something similar? Or is that just more evidence of my own weirdness?

 

ORANGE NOSE

 

More than anything, it’s just a pleasure to have this group assembled again. I’d rather hang with these characters in a problematic movie than most other characters anywhere else. GHOSTBUSTERS 2 gives Sigourney Weaver more of a chance to interact with Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd than she did in the first movie. Harold Ramis didn’t act too much after this movie, nor did Rick Moranis come to think of it. Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray never teamed up again, to my knowledge. And what a pleasure to get to spend more time than before with Ernie Hudson, as likable an actor as I could ever name. (Also, an actor with access to the Fountain Of Youth — he looks five years younger this time around.)

 

DON'T LOOK GOOD

 

 

There are a few regrettable scenes to skip past (i.e. the ghost baby carriage; whatever that pink thing in the bathtub is supposed to be) and Randy Edelman’s score is nowhere near as iconic and lovely as Elmer Bernstein’s work on the original, but I’m a person who’d rather look at the assets than the demerits. I’m an assets man. Perfect movies are pretty rare. Sometimes you have to yield your critical eye a little and loosen up. There’s no way this thing is a total wash. If you’re combining Harold Ramis with Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd you can’t help but come up with a ton of hyper-specific and hyper-quotable dialogue, and if you’ve got Bill Murray on board you’ve got the best comedic leading man of the past few decades, and that’s the value of GHOSTBUSTERS 2. So there.

 

For more on the incredible Harold Ramis, who the world lost this year, please see this tribute.


@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

Parts of this piece originally appeared over on Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

 

ONE OF THE FETTUCINIS.

ONE OF THE FETTUCINIS.

GHOSTBUSTERS 2

 

 

 

DEVIL'S EXPRESS (1976)

 

THE DEVIL'S EXPRESS

 

THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS is sometimes known as GANG WARS, I guess because there’s one or two scenes where gangs fight each other. Truly, it is the tale of a man named Warhawk Tanzania — that’s not his name in the movie, but some details are destined to be lost to time — who encounters an ancient Chinese demon monster who has been mauling unfortunates in the tunnels beneath New York City. Only Warhawk Tanzania, with his kung-fu mastery, is brave enough to battle the demon.

 

DEVIL'S EXPRESS

 

Quite obviously GANG WARS is one of the greatest movies ever made. It’s BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON meets THE WARRIORS meets THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE meets THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, or whichever monster movie you feel fits in there best.

 

Warhawk and Rodan in happier times.

Warhawk and Rodan in happier times.

 

Actually it’s not all that great, and there’s no way the reality of THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS will ever match up to the movie you are no doubt imagining right now. But it’s still one of the more fun movies we’ve covered on the Daily Grindhouse podcast so far, and our conversation about it was most definitely a ton of fun.

 

Click here to listen!

 

 

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And now here is the growing list of our previous episodes, in case you’d like to catch up. I’m a couple episodes behind, having been slow to update my personal site in general, so you’re in luck — if you’re not already aware, there are two newer episodes after THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS, which I will put up in separate posts right after this one!

 

 

STREET WARS (1992)

STREET WARS (1992)

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Vigilante Force

VIGILANTE FORCE (1976)

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GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

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THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973)

THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1973)

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Raw Force (1982)

RAW FORCE (1982)

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Ganja & Hess (1973)

GANJA & HESS (1973)

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Find me on Twitter:

@jonnyabomb

 

 

Ganja & Hess (1973)

 

This episode of the podcast is probably our finest to date. For one thing, this is the most profound film we’ve discussed so far, the one with legitimate cultural importance and the one that most readily makes the case for itself as a work of art. GANJA & HESS is often described as a horror film, mostly because its most immediately identifiable elements carry echoes of horror. Duane Jones, best known as the star of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, plays Dr. Hess Green, an anthropologist who is stabbed by a cursed dagger by his deranged assistant (Bill Gunn, who also wrote and directed) and finds himself relatively indestructible, with an insatiable craving for blood. The word “vampire” never comes up. The focus of the film is on the relationship between Hess and the assistant’s widow, named Ganja (played by the gorgeous and winning Marlene Clark), their conversations and their physical connection. GANJA & HESS is a dense, lyrical film, and kind of a challenge. I believe it’s worth the effort you put into it, but while you’ll hear me try mightily to connect this film to George A. Romero — particularly his 1978 film MARTIN — it’s a fiercely individualistic piece of work, dream-like and nightmarish and pretty much unlike any other movie.

On this episode we were greatly honored to be joined by Mike White of Cahiers du Cinemart and the Projection Booth podcast. The Projection Booth has been on my site’s blogroll (on the left-hand side over there) forever, since in my opinion it’s maybe the best movie podcast anywhere — so consistent, thorough and thought-provoking, with uncommonly knowledgeable interviews with many major players involved with the movie at hand. So I was trying to raise my intellectual game this time around, and hopefully I didn’t yammer too much or make too many bone-headed statements (Joe was kind enough to edit out my dumbest moment, but you can drop me a line and I’ll tell you what it was.)

So please, listen to the Projection Booth, but first scroll down and give our talk about GANJA & HESS a listen!

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Ganja & Hess (1973)

 

 

BILL GUNN'S LETTER

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CLICK HERE TO LISTEN!

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Ganja & Hess (1973)

 

 

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Here are our previous episodes, in case you’d like to catch up. We’re recording a new episode tonight! I’m really excited about this one. Stay tuned.

 

 

STREET WARS (1992)

STREET WARS (1992)

Vigilante Force

VIGILANTE FORCE (1976)

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973)

THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1973)

Raw Force (1982)

RAW FORCE (1982)

Find me on Twitter:

@JONNYABOMB

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

 

GHOSTHOUSE is pretty far from a classic, but at least it inspired what I’d argue is our funniest podcast yet. Umberto Lenzi, aka Humphrey Humbert as he calls himself on this poster anyway, is an Italian exploitation filmmaker who made a bunch of gory zombie and cannibal movies. This is his take on the haunted-house genre, from 1988, which is not generally considered to have been Lenzi’s prime, if indeed such an era existed. GHOSTHOUSE has some of the stupidest and most irritating human characters you’ll meet in any horror movie anywhere, but their stupidity and obnoxiousness is nothing compared to little Henrietta and her evil clown puppet.

 

DUMB CLOWN

 

Yes, absolutely, the evil clown puppet goes on a rampage, but it’s not remotely as cool as it sounds.

 

CLOWN ATTACK

 

 

To be fair, a spooky hooded skeleton shows up near the end, but it’s way too little and too late to redeem this dungheap:

SPOOKY

 

Basically, you’ll hear the three of us talking about everything we can before getting down to the movie — including the work of Nicolas Cage — but once we do, it’s hard to tell which aspect of the movie tormented us most: the anti-urgent pace, the butcher-block editing, the horrific acting, the complete lack of scares, or most likely, the cruel, cruel, torturous score. Oh God. It still rings in my skull.

Here’s the movie, if you think you have the constitution for it, but be forewarned, many stronger warriors have crumbled before its awful might:

And now here’s us talking about it — hear us reeling from the agony it induces!:

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

[Click here to listen and download!]

Once you’re done with that, it’s never too late to check out our previous efforts:

STREET WARS.

STREET WARS (1992)

VIGILANTE FORCE.

Vigilante Force

 

 

The new episode drops this Tuesday, so stay tuned!

 

@JONNYABOMB

The Gauntlet 1977

Let’s start off by agreeing that the poster above is probably the single best one of all time. That is a Frank Frazetta. This isn’t the kind of thing Frazetta usually painted, but as he described in the documentary PAINTING WITH FIRE, Clint came over to ask him personally to do it, so he did. It’s a fun part of the documentary because Frazetta was often told he resembled Clint.

Frazetta Self-Portrait

Frazetta Self-Portrait

frank_frazetta_thuviamaidofmars

frank_frazetta_space_attack

frank-frazetta-the-destroyer

Frazetta-Tigress

I’m starting off my thoughts on THE GAUNTLET with its poster and poster artist because rarely has there ever been such a perfect match of promotional artwork to finished film. Frazetta’s paintings were bombastic, ferocious, horned-up, and hyper-masculine. He painted incredibly beautiful women, but at the same time I’m not sure how impressed the feminists would be.

Likewise, THE GAUNTLET features this kind of dialogue:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d have to give her a 2, and that’s only because I’ve never seen a 1 before.” — Ben Shockley (Clint Eastwood).

I mean, that’s a fun line to me, but I recognize it ain’t exactly courtly.

A large part of my writing about movies to date has featured a long-running battle between the brain and the crotchular vicinity, with the heart reffing the match. Intellectually I tend toward the feminism-friendly but instinctively I rage and I ogle as much as any man on the planet. Being thoughtful and being masculine often results in internal hormonal warfare. I love Clint’s movies for their violence and their brutishness as much as for their progressive thinking and genre-spanning restlessness. THE GAUNTLET is the Icarus of Clint’s movies, darting dangerously close to the burning sun that is the mass of critics who eternally underrate and undermine his work. I don’t think the wax exactly melts, but it’s a photo-finish. What helps is context.

THE GAUNTLET comes in a pivotal place in Clint’s career. It’s the first film he directed after his first masterpiece, 1976’s THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. In 1976 he also starred in THE ENFORCER, which is the Dirty Harry movie which straight-on tackles the issue of feminism by assigning Callahan a female partner. His next film as director after THE GAUNTLET was 1980’s BRONCO BILLY, hands-down one of his most personal films. It’s interesting to note that THE GAUNTLET was not originally derived as a vehicle for Clint — both Walter Hill and Sam Peckinpah had wanted to make it with Kris Kristofferson, and according to Wikipedia, Steve McQueen had considered it at one point before dropping out over arguments with his female co-star, Barbra Streisand (!!!). The writers, Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, later wrote 1985’s PALE RIDER, in which Clint starred, and also 1977’s supreme horror oddity THE CAR, apropos of nothing.

So THE GAUNTLET, while incredibly entertaining, is not particularly endemic of Clint’s work — it features very few of his thematic preoccupations, outside of systemic corruption and outsized masculinity. Clint plays an alcoholic detective — unlike Harry Callahan, not remotely an ace — who is charged with safeguarding a federal witness who turns out to have damning evidence about a major authority figure. It’s a set-up. He’s meant to be killed alongside her, and the movie becomes one long dash to the endzone, the titular gauntlet wherein Shockley commandeers a city bus to drive to the federal courthouse in Phoenix despite the fact that the entire police force is bearing down on him with a literal blizzard of bullets. That painting Frazetta did? Not much of an exaggeration.

The most obvious Clint-ism about THE GAUNTLET is that this movie happened during the Sondra Locke era, so she’s the actress who plays the witness. With respect, I’m not the biggest Sondra Locke fan. She seems kind of brittle to me. The combative banter between their two characters is usually entertaining as written, but comes off a little harsh, with the visual disparity between them. With any other female lead, the constant hectoring may have been more charming. There are other Eastwood stock players in the mix, including Pat Hingle (HANG ‘EM HIGH, SUDDEN IMPACT), William Prince (BRONCO BILLY), and the great Bill McKinney (THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES), but the co-stars who leave the biggest impression remain Sondra Locke and that bus.

Really, the final gauntlet scene is what makes this essential viewing. The constant barrage of gunfire is so outlandish that it goes beyond comical to harrowing and then back again. It’s a predictor of the next three decades of American action movies, right up to the present. At the time, it could have been Clint’s way of sending up his own gun-happy image — it certainly works as satire, but so too does it work as a viscerally-pleasing massacre of public property. (The human body count is not particularly high in this film, compared to other Clint actioners.)

Whether there’s much going on beyond the surface of this particular film or not, there are few things as ingratiating and as enjoyably American as Clint in his 1970s primacy, and if THE GAUNTLET isn’t one of his most essential films by a long shot, it’s still pretty damn fun.

@jonnyabomb

The Gauntlet (1977)