Archive for the ‘Movies (T)’ Category

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974

 

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was a movie of its time, and it reflected that as surely as any other more prestigious and acclaimed American classic.  It’s a genuinely important American film. Movies of the era such as THE GODFATHER, TAXI DRIVER, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE are justly heralded, but THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is equally important as a historical document of the 1970s.

 

JUST DON'T.

 

The movie arrived in 1974.  This was the era of the Vietnam War.  The war was still going on when the movie was being made.  What director Tobe Hooper and his collaborators did, consciously or otherwise, was to capture the anger of the era.  Obviously there are no politics directly addressed by the story, which is at its core, like PSYCHO before it and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS after it, a hyper-fictionalized elaboration of the Ed Gein story.  The political furor of the era is not to be found in the main text, but instead, it roils underneath, embedded within the ferocious, hopeless atmosphere of the piece.

 

YAR

 

Five years before THE DEER HUNTER or APOCALYPSE NOW, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE managed to reflect the cultural unease, disillusionment, and nihilism that the war in Vietnam, by all accounts, engendered in American minds.  Note how iconic franchise villain Leatherface carries a chainsaw as his weapon of choice.  The chainsaw treats human bodies like inanimate objects – like meat.  The chainsaw is more businesslike, less up-close-and-personal than say, the fangs of Count Dracula, or even the knife wielded by Michael Myers.  The house where Leatherface dispatches most of his victims is, literally, a slaughterhouse.  Meat lockers line the walls.  Bones decorate the room like promises.  The ruddy cinematography by Daniel Pearl gives the images alarming texture.  You can almost smell the coppery metallic death in the air.

 

BONEYARD

 

Horror audiences have become inured to this kind of imagery but in 1974, it had significance.  Human bodies treated like cattle, hung by meat hooks and clubbed in the head with ruthless efficiency.  It’s an impersonal, industrial kind of murder.  When the movie does demand an emotional response to the murders, it does so in unusual, script-flipping sorts of ways.

 

HEY IT'S FRANKLIN

 

Think of Franklin (Paul Partain), the wheelchair-bound character – sure he’s disabled but he’s also one of the most intolerable creatures in film history.  This is a type which movies normally sentimentalize, yet Franklin is so shrill and abhorrent that, if anyone, most audiences end up siding with Leatherface by the time Franklin is sent to his fate.  As the film progresses, the murders are purged of sentiment. Only madness awaits.  Chaos becomes constancy.

 

DELICATESSEN

 

In THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, human beings are just meat, ground up by an unintelligible enemy that cannot be reasoned with or dissuaded.  Now think again of the Vietnam War.  In general terms, the first sentence of this paragraph could be describing the actions of a murderous giant carrying a chainsaw, or that of a lengthy and unpopular overseas conflict which tore apart many American lives.  How much of this thematic resonance was intentional on the part of the young filmmakers and how much was intuitive does not matter as much as the fact that it IS resonant.

 

RED DAWN

 

What an opportunity, then, for a horror movie released in the modern moment, to address some comparable sociopolitical subtext.  Again America is embroiled in an unpopular war overseas.  Unlike the era of the Vietnam War, however, many Americans are not concerned with the details of our current war on a daily basis.  Modern war affects some of us profoundly and many of us hardly at all.  This is very fertile ground for the kind of veiled commentary and brutal satire which is buried within so many of the great horror films.

 

TC3D

 

So far, the current practitioners of the genre are largely failing us.  This past year’s TEXAS CHAINSAW, which I reviewed back in January 2013 and from which I expanded this piece, was an absolute failure to engage either the individual intellect or the sociopolitical viscera.  The most popular horror films of 2013 were haunted-house films like THE CONJURING, spooky and relatively innocuous as far as cultural resonance goes.  Zombies remain the predominant horror paradigm of the moment, whether they be sweet and lovelorn as those in WARM BODIES or swarm-y and CGI-abetted as in WORLD WAR Z or impeccably-designed and personality-free as in The Walking Dead.  And if it’s not zombies, it’s vampires.  And so it has been for over ten years now.

 

ZOMBIE GOSSIP

 

Ghosts.  Zombies.  Vampires.  Dead things.  This is what our horror films are reflecting back upon us. What does that say about our modern preoccupations?  Things have changed.  Times have changed.  Of course, OF COURSE, horror films are almost always about death in one form or another.  But the recent onslaught of horror movies by and large feel antiseptic and by nature of their generous CGI budgets, ultimately safe.  THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, by contrast, feels like a documentary from Hell.  THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, even looked at today, has an energy, an urgency, a vitality, a ferocious vigor to its bloodletting which stands in contrast to the majority of today’s horror output.   Look again at that final, indelible image:  Leatherface, denied his final victim, swinging his chainsaw with simultaneous fury and futility in a blind rage, lit by a dawning sun.  For a killer of masses, in that ultimate moment he is alive.  It’s his Marilyn Monroe moment.  This is how a monster becomes a star.

 

DAWN OF THE RED

 

This is a piece I wrote for Daily Grindhouse. I am reposting it now because a fortieth-anniversary restoration print of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is playing tonight at 11pm, at New York City’s Film Society Of Lincoln Center, which, yes, is precisely the highbrow venue which a film this important deserves. 

 

@jonnyabomb

 

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Touch of Evil

 

It’s Orson Welles’ birthday today (he would have been 98), and so here’s a little thing I recently wrote about one of his masterpieces, TOUCH OF EVIL

 

TOUCH OF EVIL

 

Here is a movie that can’t be contained by a single paragraph. There’s not a single aspect of its essence that lacks for greatness. Before you even see a human being in the frame, TOUCH OF EVIL announces its excellence with Russell Metty’s landmark camerawork, roving up and over the terrain of the bordertown where the story takes place. The typically cool, swinging, swaggering score is by Henry Mancini.

 

 

 

 

Then the movie brings in its sole source of light in Janet Leigh, and one of its many sources of weirdness in Charlton Heston, playing her new husband. His role is as a Mexican cop, and of all the memorable histrionics Heston snarled through gritted teeth over the course of his career, there’s good reason he was never revered for his accent work.

 

Mexican

 

The sudden and conspicuous explosion of a car brings law enforcement officials to the scene, most notably Hank Quinlan, who is played by an unrecognizable Orson Welles, who also wrote and directed. As galvanizing a figure as he was in CITIZEN KANE and as romantic a figure as he was in THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, that’s how grotesque and captivating Welles is as Hank Quinlan. As visually repellent as Welles makes himself here, there’s a magnetism that makes him the immediate and eternal center of this film, and it’s wholly believable that Marlene Dietrich’s Tanya still carries residual feelings for Quinlan, no matter how far he’s gone to seed. 

 

ORSON & MARLENE THEN

 

TOUCH OF EVIL is one of the more eccentric, unusual of the widely-acknowledged canon classics you’re likely to see. It works as tragic noir but it is also full of strange, unique touches — unless you know of another border thriller where the lovely blond ingenue has a hallucinatory drug trip in a seedy motel. Really! If you haven’t already, check it out, and have your cranial movie glossary instantly expanded.

 

ORANGE

 

 

Here’s a drawing I did of Welles as Hank Quinlan:

(a Hank Quinlan drawing I did)

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972)

 

So the way we do the Daily Grindhouse podcast is each week’s movie is chosen in turn by Joe, Freeman, and myself. This is what happened when my turn came around. THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE is a movie I was always curious about, because I am a huge Pam Grier fan and this is one of her earliest film roles.

Well folks, there are all kinds of reasons one could choose to watch THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE, but wanting to get a look at Pam Grier is absolutely not any one of ’em. She plays a monster, which is kind of cool and different, but without spoiling too much up front, she has a lot less screen time than the rest of the movie’s monsters. Let me put it in big colorful letters: DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE IF PAM GRIER IS YOUR ONLY REASON. 

We still found plenty to talk about, and this week we had a guest to suffer along with us!

 

THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972)

 

Click here to listen!

 

What follows is the short introduction I wrote for the podcast:

 

UGH

 

THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972) is a movie made in the Philippines and released in 1972. It was co-written and directed by the prolific Eddie Romero, and is notable for being an early role for Pam Grier. But before I tell you about THE TWLIGHT PEOPLE, I have to tell you about two other movies, both from 1932.

 

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1933)

 

One is 1933’s ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, which is an adaptation of the HG Wells story The Island Of Dr. Moreau, starring Charles Laughton as a mad scientist who creates a frightening new breed of animal-men.

 

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932)

 

The other is THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, based on a story by Richard Connell and starring Joel McCrea as a famous hunter who survives a shipwreck only to end up on the private island of a deranged count who hunts men for sport.

 

TWILIGHT PEOPLE

 

There have been multiple movies made from these two stories, but I’ve chosen to use two of the most well-known iterations in order to introduce THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE, which is a combination of the two.

 

SCUBA

 

A scuba diver is captured while underwater and taken to an island where a man named Dr. Gordon endeavors to save the human race from extinction by giving them extra-human abilities. Soon our hapless hero becomes the endangered species. I’m not being vague. That’s about as much as happens here. The point is:

 

Every painter knows how to mix two colors together to concoct a beautiful combination. If you mix blue and yellow, you get green. If you mix yellow and red, you get orange. But if you mix green and orange, you get brown. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.


BAT

_______________________________________

 

And now, a tribute in pictures to some of the greatest worst animal-people ever glimpsed in a movie:

 

 

Antelope Man.

Antelope Man.

 

 

Bat Man.

Bat Man.

 

Ayesa, The Panther Woman.

Ayesa, The Panther Woman.

 

CAGED

 

PAMTHER

 

 

 

THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972)

 

_______________

That episode is a fun one, so be sure to check it out! Here are our previous episodes, in case you’d like to catch up.

 

 

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)

_______________

Ganja & Hess (1973)

GANJA & HESS (1973)

_______________

DEVIL'S EXPRESS (1976)

THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS (1976)

 _______________

 

Find me on Twitter:

@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973) THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973) THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973)

Definitely, definitely, definitely don’t look at the title THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE and mistake it for having anything to do with the Michael Jackson album. Also known as THEY CALL HER ONE EYE and HOOKER’S REVENGE, this vicious, grubby revenge picture from Sweden is little known to mainstream audiences but has been massively influential on the grindhouse and cult-film circuit. You see the footprints of this movie all over Tarantino’s work, particularly KILL BILL, and even on our promo artwork for Daily Grindhouse.

DG LOGO

 

 

 

THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973) is a hard movie for normal people to watch. I’m in no way a normal person and I still had a lot of trouble with it when I finally watched it for the first time for our most recent podcast. In fact, I kind of hated it. Despite that knee-jerk reaction, we still had a detailed, rambunctious, hopefully informative conversation about it. Give us a listen!

Here are our previous episodes, in case you’d like to catch up. A new episode drops this week! Stay tuned.

 

STREET WARS (1992)

 

STREET WARS (1992)

 

Vigilante Force

VIGILANTE FORCE (1976)

 

 

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

 

 

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

 

Tyson (2008)

Tyson

The man tattooed his face.

He… tattooed… His face.

How does a world-class athlete, household name, and one-time multi-millionaire get to the point in his life where he decides to get a tattoo on his face?

On the subject of Mike Tyson, the comedian Artie Lange once remarked that when you tattoo your face you’re basically declaring that your life is over.  He was exaggerating for the sake of comedy, but there’s a point in there.  You can’t ever go back from the face tattoo; once that happens, straight-world suit-and-tie jobs are out of the question forever.  You’re giving up on at least half the world.

If you’ve ever wondered about why he opted for this facial alteration, or if you are curious about what Tyson almost imprinted on his left profile before he ultimately settled on Maori warrior markings [that trivia answer would be “hearts”!!!], then you need to see the new Tyson documentary – entitled “TYSON,” for obvious reasons. If you are a boxing aficionado like me, or if you are just a student of human nature, it’s a necessity.

The filmmaker James Toback is apparently a controversial figure himself, but he dials that infamous persona down for this movie.  While Toback’s sympathies are clearly aligned with his subject (Tyson appeared in Toback’s improv film BLACK & WHITE), here he simply sets the camera on Tyson’s face and only occasionally cuts away to archival footage and photographs.  He lets Mike Tyson tell Mike Tyson’s story, in effect.  Obviously the perspective is slanted, then, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth attention.

Some of the bad deeds attributed to Tyson were well-documented; some were completely fabricated; some true but exaggerated; some true but explainable; some forgivable; some not.  Is Mike Tyson a monster?  Absolutely not.  That’s a hellish title to lay on an obviously troubled, conflicted human being.  He’s a rageful man, yes, but one might argue that this is a requirement and a function of his profession.  The only steady job he ever held demanded that he hit grown men in the face.  He’s also sensitive and sentimental and has a weird poetry in him, which has made him endlessly quotable.  The reality is almost always more complicated than we expect or want it to be.  This is absolutely a realization that Tyson, the documentary, will lead you towards, even if you retain your negative perception, which you are free to do.

Mike Tyson’s voice isn’t really the most soothing voice to listen to for more than an hour, and his face is not the most reassuring face to gaze upon for that long either.  But his words are worth considering – both for what he says out loud, and for what he as a continuing presence in popular culture says about the rest of us.

_______________________________

Tyson

 

I wrote the above piece all the way back in September 2009.  I’m not even positive I still agree with myself, but I’m reprinting it today because Mike Tyson finds himself in the public eye again.  Last night he appeared on the Tony Awards, singing and dancing alongside Neil Patrick Harris.  (He did a tour on Broadway this past spring in a Spike-Lee-directed one-man-show, so it’s not totally without context.)  This new musical duo is garnering rhapsodic reviews with the theater crowd, which just shows how much public perception can change in twenty years.  Then again, Chris Brown sings and dances all the time, and half of America thinks it’s totally swell.  It’s funny what and who we’re willing to forgive, and when.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of Mike Tyson myself — take away the disturbing allegations and he’s basically Forest Whitaker in GHOST DOG, a large violent man who has a soft spot for pigeons.  Vocally and visually, he’s an outsized character, just south of a cartoon, and that’s always going to be compelling.  But we’re absolutely living in stranger days when Mike Tyson is the toast of Broadway.  Among the cooing audiences in Radio City Music Hall last night, I bet Tracy Letts got the irony, but I wonder if anyone else in that room did.

 

Put up your dukes on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

 

 

P.S.  Remember when Michael Jai White played Mike Tyson

 

 

 

The Hangover (2009)

Teddy Bear (2012)

TEDDY BEAR is the name of a Danish film that is known in its native country as TEN HOURS TO PARADISE.  It’s possible that I’m not the only English-speaker who finds the title TEN HOURS TO PARADISE to sounds a little bit porn-y, or maybe they figured it’d be better business to have a little healthy box-office confusion with another 2012 film.  I’m pretty sure I first found out about the movie from seeing a small piece on it in Film Comment, but I never made it to the theater.  In that oversight I had plenty of company:  As it turned out, almost literally nobody went to see TEDDY BEAR when it played in the U.S., and that’s a damn shame.

Director/co-writer Mads Matthiesen originally began this story as a short film called DENNIS, which also starred his leading man, Kim Kold, as the title character.  TEDDY BEAR expands Dennis’s story into a modest but ingratiating feature film about love in its most unlikely forms.

DENNIS

Dennis is an avid bodybuilder, which is obvious the second you get a look at him.  He’s the size of two Frankensteins soddered together at the seams.  In real life, Kim Kold is a prize-winning bodybuilder, which, again, makes sense, because that’d be a hard thing to fake.  What is surprising is that he was a non-actor before Mads Matthiesen cast him, because he does such a nice job centering his first feature film — no easy feat for an actor of any size.

Dennis is nearly forty and still lives at home with his mother (Elsebeth Steentoft), who is quietly but severely domineering.  The filmmaking is non-obtrusive, subtle, pseudo-documentarian, observant.  A lot of character work is accomplished with very little dialogue.  It doesn’t take long to establish Mom is a real beast in a tiny frame:  While Dennis is using the shower, she comes in and uses the toilet, for example.  That kind of shit is gonna mess with a dude’s head, no matter how scary-looking he is.

Teddy Bear

For this reason, and for many reasons that are suggested but unseen, such as the story behind the absence of Dennis’s father, Dennis is a shy, reflective, reserved man-child who is uneasy around single women.  He looks like Sean Bean if Sean Bean were hit by a gamma-bomb, but his biggest problem is talking to girls.  And that’s all he wants.  One day, Dennis and his mom visit his R. Crumb of an uncle, who has just married a Thai woman.  Uncle Bent tells Dennis it’s easier to meet women over there.  That gives Dennis an idea.

Teddy Bear

He tells his mom he’s got an out-of-town bodybuilding competition, and heads to Thailand in search of love.  Uncle Bent puts Dennis in touch with an odd American man (David Winters, who has a Wikipedia entry you absolutely have to read, having produced Raquel Welch’s TV special RAQUEL! among other adventures) — but this guy turns out to be exactly the kind of creep you may be expecting to meet when you hear “American man in Thailand.”  Dennis is a naïf — it simply never occurred to him to take a sex vacation.  He really just wants to meet a nice girl.  And then he does.  Disillusioned with the nightlife, he retreats to the comfort of the local gym, where he eventually becomes involved with the owner (Lamaiporn Sangmanee Hougaard), a widow who was left the place by her late husband.  The relationship gets serious fast — the main dramatic question of TEDDY BEAR, then, is how Mom’s going to take the news.

Teddy Bear

This isn’t heavy plotting.  This isn’t a steady stream of dense wordplay.  This isn’t explosive drama.  It’s an inward piece.  Very low-key.  Unassuming.  Believable.  Which is odd, since there’s such an outsized figure in the center.  Dennis doesn’t entirely look like a real person, but he proves to be a very winning one.  In TEDDY BEAR , director Matthiesen and cinematographer Laust Trier-Mørk get a lot of visual mileage out of the disparity between the massive bodybuilder and all the tinier or odder-shaped people who surround him, but no one is being lampooned.  It’s a movie abundant with heart.  It leads to reconsideration of stereotypes, which I endorse and appreciate.  I’m as guilty as anyone as laughing off those huge muscle guys at the gym.  “At a certain point, isn’t that more than enough weight-lifting?”  Right?  But here’s what I never think about:  I’m well acquainted with my own demons.  They’re half the reason I write every day like my life depends on it, regardless of compensation.  Those are my demons.  I always thought they were pretty fierce.  But what kind of demons power a guy like Dennis to do what he does?  Must be pretty fearsome in their own right.  That’s not really the point of the movie, but the instinct towards more empathy certainly is.

Kim Kold can now be seen in the newest FAST & FURIOUS movie.  He plays an evil henchman who takes a flying headbutt from Vin Diesel, because that’s what we do in America with guys who look like him.  Seeing that movie last week is what reminded me to catch up with TEDDY BEAR this week, and I’m obviously glad I did.  It’s a much friendlier showcase for a hugely unlikely leading man.

@jonnyabomb

Teddy Bear (2012)

The Tourist 2010

 

THE TOURIST   THE TOURIST

 

 

THE TOURIST was co-written and directed by a man named Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, and now that I’ve written that name once, I’m already running low on my daily allotment of consonants.  It has script contributions from both Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes, though you’d never notice the signposts of either writer.  Try to imagine a movie that falls between THE USUAL SUSPECTS/ THE WAY OF THE GUN and GOSFORD PARK/ DOWNTON ABBEY.  The supporting cast includes Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Rufus Sewell, and Steven Berkoff (Victor Maitland from BEVERLY HILLS COP!), so that could go either way.  It was based on a 2005 French movie called ANTHONY ZIMMER, starring Sophie Marceau.  There’s only one way to take a step up from Sophie Marceau.

They say that movie stars don’t matter anymore.  They say that SFX and superheroes have taken over, and people don’t go to watch people the way they used to.  If nothing else, THE TOURIST worked as a repudiation of that theory.  The movie made back double its huge budget and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Comedy, despite not being even a little bit funny absolutely at all.  (The foreign press does love to tipple.)

People went to see THE TOURIST for Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.  There’s no other reason I can imagine.  There are some illustrious names in the credits — John Seale shot the movie and James Newton Howard did the score — but between the look and the sound of it, this movie could have just as easily happened in the 1990s.  It’s a Euro-KNIGHT & DAY, but in 2010 people were more interested in Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie than they were in Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise.  That’s just how it shook out.  They wanted to watch two of the world’s biggest and best-looking movie stars take a vacation.

I know people who simply hated this movie, but I didn’t.  Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t into it, but I get it.  I mean, if you’re a super-beautiful movie star and you have the time, why not go to Venice?

The set-up of this movie is akin to a classic Hitchcockian wrong-man thriller, but if that’s the case it’s a lot more THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH ’56 than NORTH BY NORTHWEST.  Johnny Depp plays a supposedly-mild-mannered schoolteacher named Frank Tupelo (to be fair, that’s a great name) who is on a train to Venice when he is swept up in the gravity of a glamorous undercover agent in the form of Angelina Jolie.  Hijinks do ensue.

I do like that this is a movie willing to directly address the fact that one of its characters looks like Angelina Jolie.  Depp’s character sees her and immediately audio-auto-corrects.  “FUCK! …You’re ravenous.”  Lady’s got Johnny M’F’in’ Depp mesmerized.  I buy that.  For a minute, at least.  THE TOURIST does strain the believability of Johnny Depp as a hapless schmuck long past its recognizable limits.  It got to the point where I was focusing on the fact that Johnny Depp speaks in a perfect American accent in this movie whereas he has that weird Robin Williams accent when he talks in interviews.  Is he putting us on in real life?  I don’t think this line of thinking is where Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck wanted our minds to go.

Crap.  I used up a lot more consonants.  Didn’t expect I’d have to do that again.

THE TOURIST isn’t a great movie.  All of its action scenes are pretty boring so the music has to work overtime to compensate.  There are a bunch of double-crosses and even a surprising reveal or two, but I kind of dozed through them and wasn’t much moved to care.  Some people hate this movie, but I don’t think it’s a movie to hate.  It’s a movie to forget.  It’s forgettable.  If you’ve seen the poster, you’ve seen the movie.  What was I talking about again?

 

@jonnyabomb