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Please Kill Mr. Kinski (1999)
Schmoeller the ingrate
Scmoeller's first film was "Tourist Trap," a bit of hackwork for producer Charlie Band, starring Chuck "The Rifleman" Connors, made in 1978.
Over the last 30 years, the only seconds of Schmoeller film I have seen that have not been a total waste of my time, are the few minutes Kinski spent on-screen in the course of "Crawlspace." Schmoeller has no gift for directing actors, as clearly demonstrated by any of his films. That the abundantly talented Kinski should resent that his gift would be filtered through Schmoeller's myopic directorial vision is no surprise.
That Schmoeller should elect to assassinate Kinski 8 years after his death, and 13 years after making "Crawlspace," is unfathomable, except as an act of Lilliputian spite against an artistic giant. Perhaps the filmmaker realized that his films without Kinski were monumentally uninteresting. hence this vanity piece as an attempt to jump-start his stalled career.
Herzog had no less difficulty with Kinski. But he was always grateful for the opportunity to capture Kinski's living fire on film. Schmoeller seems oblivious to this gift.
Here, Schmoeller comes off as a raging queen -- not that it matters whether he is gay, but he seems totally unaware that he comes off as a stereotype that even most gays find annoying. Perhaps this lack of self-awareness is a key to what he lacks as a filmmaker?
Not of This Earth (1988)
The root of the most heinous Hollywood career of all time.
Seeing any Jim Wynorski film without advance warning of what a tasteless and untalented hack he is, is the cinematic equivalent of finding that your lapdog has suddenly been taken by a extended fit of explosive, malodorous diarrhea. Before viewing any Wynorski film, view a list of his extensive credits; if you've seen a single one of his films, you will know the cheated feeling that every viewer of his films knows. If you never saw any of them, thank whatever god you worship that you managed to dodge 70 bullets (actually if you also count his writing and/or producing credits, there's some 150 sh*tbombs he's to be blamed for).
If you've escaped this potentially fatal fusillade, do not defy this run of great luck by viewing any of them. Life is too brief. Professionally, I was required to view several of Wynorski's earliest works, and I blame this traumatic experience for ending my career in show biz.
Traci Lords gave much better performances in any of her earlier films, all of which had better scripts, direction and production values than this steaming load.
"The Ultimate Ultimate Challenge" was only the working title for a never-completed pilot; the intended title for the show was "American Cannibal."
The show was not completed, partly due to the accidental injury of one of the contestants. A documentary regarding the entire ill-conceived debacle was released in 2007; "American Cannibal: the Road to Reality."
The documentary is very successful in delineating the moral bankruptcy behind "reality" TV, and draws some interesting parallels to its first cousin, porn.
Since the show was never completed, this listing is likely to disappear from IMDb at any time. C'est la vie.
Moartea domnului Lazarescu (2005)
the mechanics of departure
Frankly, I don't see all that much difference between the Romanian medical system and what I have experienced in the US, but then I am one of the uninsured -- a minority, albeit a growing one.
While the film doesn't make heroes of the medical professionals it portrays, neither does it demonstrate extreme failure. Contrary to others' opinions, this does not add up to an indictment of that system at all.
The film's title tell us that it is concerned with Mr. Lazarescu's death, which is caused by neither bureaucracy (a mainstay of healthcare systems worldwide) or the self-importance of doctors (ditto). It's fairly clear from the outset that Mr. Lazarescu's life has simply reached its end.
Mr. Lazarescu, ill, increasingly "non compos mentis," and medicated to the gills, might arguably suffer more if he were admitted to await surgery while yet alert, and admitted to some gray room to contemplate what has become of his life. The bureaucracy, the trivial arguments, the assertion of egos, are all minor accompaniment to what the film is truly concerned with; those things that are common to all of us. As Mr. Lazarescu becomes more isolated, more silent and passive, he becomes the "still center" of this noisy yet meditative film -- more "present" to the viewer as he is increasingly "absent" to events, as he nears the finality that each viewer of the film will eventually engage, and all of us equally lonely in that passage.
Black Angel (1946)
Barely Noir But Flourishing a Dark Twist
About three-quarters through Black Angel, I got to wondering why anyone would consider this film noir. Then reformed alcoholic Dan Duryea confesses his love to June Vincent, encourages her to forget about her imprisoned husband, and abandon the search for "the real killer," and find happiness with him.
At this point the film's clever twist is written on the wall, and it shifts from a musical whodunit into noir territory, a bit too late to truly belong to the noir canon.
It is a clever enough irony, though, to make this a decent whodunit. Unfortunately, it's quite terrible as a musical; Duryea, between alcoholic benders, makes a living writing sappy love songs that would barely qualify as filler in a low-budget movie. Though set in Los Angeles, there's no indication that Durea works for the movies, but it's hard to imagine these songs selling anywhere else. (The composer, Frank Skinner, had five Oscar nominations predating Black Angel, and has legendary status as a staff composer for Universal from 1933 to his death in 1968). Hard for me to believe, the songs are pure pap for "then" people...
I've already said enough that you could guess the ending, if you work at it a bit...but with an act of will, you might be able to shut your brain down for 81 minutes, so I'll shut up now.
London Belongs to Me (1948)
A love letter to "the little people"
As such, and coming from the pen of a well-to-do gentleman who ran both ITV and BBC-TV during their infancy (Norman Collins, who wrote the novel upon which the film is based), it's more than a little patronizing, though its warmth is sincere.
The film concerns the doings of various denizens of the fictional Dulcimer Street, a once-grand neighborhood now considerably frayed at the sleeve.
"All the characters in this novel are imaginary," Collins wrote. "The London of the title is real enough - that's London all right. But Dulcimer Street and the lives of the people in it, like the other lives which cross with theirs, are all fictitious. And so are the various Funlands, cafés, Sprititualist Societies, agencies, hospitals and institutions, with which the story deals." The story concerns the true urban dwellers, Collin informs us: "plenty of real Londoners who sleep the night in London as well as work the day there - some in love, some in debt, some committing murders, some adultery, some trying to get on in the world, some looking forward to a pension, some getting drunk, and some holding up a new baby. This is about a few of them." At the center of the hubbub is a retired gentleman, pensioned off to get "a pound a week for doing nothing," his long-suffering wife who pines for a suburban cottage, and their attractive daughter of marriageable age. The young lady has two suitors, one Percy Boon (Attenborough), a young man of flexible morals (we know he is an "at-risk" youth from his first frame, as he is shown reading a comic book -- a notorious corrupter of the age), the other a police officer. Aside from the police officer, everyone this little family knows is unsavory; the criminal Attenborough, the con-man Sim, the venal, man-hungry widow Joyce Carey, the tramp St. Helier, and their Uncle Henry (Stephen Murray), a communist agitator.
Collins seems to grant that crime, suffering and unequal justice are the inescapable lot of the less privileged, but Uncle Henry's political buffoonery is there to let us know that radical politics are not his aim.
This environment, and the film's plot primarily concerning Attenborough's slippery slope to criminality, has the seeds of noir, but what springs from those seeds is half domestic drama, half screwball comedy.
It's clear early on that Collins forgives all of his characters for both their willful sins and their hapless mistakes. If you aren't too annoyed by the patronizing noblesse oblige of the author, you'll find yourself having a good time and perhaps, like myself, sufficiently curious about the characters to seek out the novel (five pounds, used, at Amazon.UK)
The Chumscrubber (2005)
Darker than Darko
The Chumscrubber opened in August of 2005 to universally terrible reviews, comparing it unfavorably with Donnie Darko (a film that was not a critical favorite on its release 15 years ago) and Heathers. The general critical take was, "teen angst in suburbia AGAIN? Haven't we seen this before?" Well, I suppose they're right, the third, fourth or fifth time someone tells you that your house is on fire, it gets pretty tedious doesn't it? That is, of course, unless your house is actually ablaze. Unfortunately, the critics successfully stifled the film, which played on a total of 7 screens before distribution efforts were halted.
The Chumscrubber opens with young Dean Stiffle, on a routine social visit, discovering the corpse of his best/only friend Todd hanging from the light fixture of his room. Downstairs, Todd's distracted mother is hosting an adult get-together, and Dean leaves without telling anyone of his morbid discovery.
In the aftermath of Todd's death, Dean becomes involved in a kidnapping-extortion plot formed by Billy, Dean's main torturer at school, as a means to gain access to the drug stash Todd left behind. but, as despicable as Billy's machinations are, the real focus is the insanity of the adult community, who determinedly remain blind to the events in the world around them.
The truly incredible cast (especially for a film that few have heard of or seen) includes Glenn Close as Todd's mother, whose grief seems at first to make her the most imbalanced character, but who ultimately shows herself to be more connected to what's real than any other adult; Rita Wilson as the career-minded mother of the kidnapped child, too distracted by her re-marriage plans to be aware that her son is even gone; Ralph Fiennes as Wilson's husband-to-be, obsessed by his perception of an unknown, beneficent power guiding his life; Carrie-Ann Moss as a woman whose sexual security is so threatened that she attempts to prove herself in competition with her daughter; and William Fichtner as Dean's psychiatrist father, who uses his son as a case example in his pop psychiatry self-help books.
Where Chumscrubber succeeds best is in portraying the reality of the teen who is pressured to achieve, even as he or she is convinced by their keepers of their unworthiness; and compelled toward success in a suburban milieu where "success" is itself a tawdry mediocrity.
Unlike Donnie Darko, where the title character ultimately sacrifices himself to preserve the very landscape that gave birth to his misery, Chumscrubber offers little that is worthy of redemption in its bleak suburbia; even the main character's romantic interest, the very appealing Camilla Belle as Crystal Falls, is tainted.
Though the ending suggests that perhaps there is a wise, beneficent power that ultimately guides us through this vale of dung, the overall impression I had of this film was of a sharp cynicism that is all-too-accurate, so that even the sunshiny image that brings the film to its happy conclusion seems a sardonic slap in the face.
A few words mostly about the DVD commentaries
The movie is about Anton Newcombe. The music and careers of the two bands are simply backdrop. It's only fair that Newcombe have the last word about the film, which at this writing you can find in the "news" section at the brianjonestownmassacre website. I'd link it here but IMDb won't permit it.
Documentarians are limited by what the camera captures, as well as by the need to assemble a cohesive narrative from the somewhat-random occasions when chance has put the camera lens on a sight-line with relevant happenstance. In Dig!, fortune smiled on the Dandy Warhols, capturing their rise to the status of pop-idol candidates, as they formed slickly-produced pop confections for mass consumption, most notably "Bohemian Like You," a song that made them global darlings thanks to a Euro cell phone ad.
No such luck for Brian Jonestown Massacre. The film captures little of what made the original BJM lineup great, with the sole exception of a single montage, lasting a minute or so, showing Newcombe creating/recording a number of brief instrumental parts, unremarkable in themselves, and concluding the sequence with a playback of the lush, shimmering sounds that had to have been in Newcombe's mind and soul before they could enter the world.
Three commentaries accompany the film; one by the filmmakers, and two by the members of the bands (the BJM track is solely former members, and without Newcombe). Both the Warhols and BJM alumni point up this montage sequence as the "best" bit in the film, and I'd agree that, given the film's focus on Anton Newcombe, it is the only part of the film that sheds proper light on his gift, and seems too brief to lend proper balance to this attempted portrait of the "tortured artist."
Interesting thing about commentaries is that, unlike film, they are recorded in real time -- one long take -- which can be more honestly revelatory than a documentary that takes shape primarily through editing.
The Dandies do not come off well in their comments. If the rock and roll world extends the experience of high school life for its denizens -- as I believe it does -- the Dandies are the popularity-obsessed preppy types, the ones who listen to rock because it's what their peers do, while the BJM crew come off as the half-rejected, half-self-exiled outsiders (to insiders like the Dandies, "losers") that are the real rock spirit. BJM's Joel Gion, who talks a LOT, nails the film's message for me when he says (paraphrasing): "You can't forget that Anton has been able to do the only thing he ever said he wanted to do. Make a lot of great music."
The Dandies, meanwhile, laugh too easily at every outrageous display in the course of Newcombe's meltdown (all the BJM footage here ends at 1997, before Newcombe quit heroin). Courtney Taylor-Taylor's discounting of Newcombe's commitment to his vision is summed up as follows: "He's 37 and still living in his car. You can download all his work at his website. He was so tired of being ripped off by everyone else, he's giving it all away. He could be making a mint." You can practically hear him shaking his head in disbelief.
The film's shortcomings can't be blamed on the filmmakers; rather it's the difficulties of the documentary form, and the loss of cooperation by the film's subject, that makes this portrait of Newcombe so fragmentary. But it's likely the best we will get, outside of his music.
I only rented disc one, which has the feature. Most of the extras are on disc two. Not renting that, as I've put in my order to buy the set.
Yomigaeru kinrô (1979)
How bad can a man be?
I don't know what that other guy's problem with Jun Fubuki is, she's over 50 now but still pretty cute. Unless you live in Japan, where she does a lot of TV, you probably don't know what she looks like now, anyway. Back when this film was made she was hot, as were all the other women in this film. Especially the black go-go chick! Anyway, this movie isn't about eyeballing the ladies, though that's no chore. It's about hating your life because you have some soulless job that your whole life is centered around, and it's about one guy who decides he will break out of that box -- no matter how rotten evil he has to be to make that happen! How Asakura got to be so good with weapons and street-wise with his wheeling and dealing isn't gone into much, we just know he's trained as a boxer. But that won't bother you because you'll just be wondering where he gets the nerve to be so bad! You might also wonder, as I did, whether he'll have a redeeming moment at the end...
Some may find the pace a little slow, but even when the story fails to develop in spots, Asakura keeps saying and doing nasty things. Favorite lines of dialog (early in the film, so not a spoiler): "Do you have a family?" "Yes! Yes! Please don't kill me!" "They'll be happier when you're dead." bang.
Conran may be a great director, but he's no writer
Once Kerry Conran's six-minute "World of Tomorrow" short was a "go deal" as a feature film, either Conran himself, or one of the many many credited producers, should have had the good sense to put a real screenwriter to work on the project. Unfortunately, the script they shot, penned by Mr. Conran, takes nearly every opportunity to undermine itself, starting with the ludicrous name of the Gwyneth Paltrow character, "Polly Perkins," a name more suited for a ditzy secretary in a 1930s screwball comedy, and not at all evocative of the pulp adventure genre that Conran visually evokes.(see "Polly Pringle" in the 1936 Harold Lloyd film "The Milky Way," or "Polly Pinbright" in 1939's "Let's be Famous").
Polly is indeed a "ditz," who is again and again the inadvertent cause of disaster, most particularly when she turns over an item that she believes could end the world to a swarthy villain who has barely said "boo" to her -- with no hint of remorse for the deed. To her credit (and no credit to Conran's ability to build consistent characters) Polly later joins the captain in a suicidal attempt to stop the doom that she so casually set in motion Unlikely lines like, "Can we for once just die, without all this bickering?" spoken at one perilous juncture by the titular captain, provide mountainous evidence that Conran finds cool irony of more interest than pulp storytelling.
Many other reviewers seem undisturbed by the coy ironies and attempted satire. It's subjective, for sure, but again and again these nervous tics of hip self-reference locked me out of the narrative.
The visuals are what garnered this film the bulk of its notoriety, and the images are sufficient to make the film a must-see. Everybody knows about the digital sets throughout the film, but the digital manipulation goes deeper than that; in image after image, the lighting on the actors' faces and hair is digitally tweaked to emulate the illustrations of the classic pulp illustrators; and, in even the most hackneyed of such images (i.e., the boundless sky reflected in an aviator's goggles), seeing such images photographically lends them an impact they no longer hold in pen and ink.
It's like a giant "coffee table" book of photo-real pulp art, with each image outdoing the one before. Yet even this unfolding of the fantastic is undermined by the script; reporter Polly Perkins, through much of the story, is toting a camera that is nearly out of film. Because she only has two shots left, she declines to photograph one amazing sight after another, as she believes something more significant may be around the corner. The repeated use of this device inevitably leads the viewer to the conclusion that the film will reach a visual crescendo when Polly takes that picture. But in the final moments, the resolution of this thread proves to be emotional rather than visual -- in a film where the emotional content up to that point is practically nil.
To lead expectations in this manner, and then totally fail the viewer, is one of many signs that Conran should go back and read the pulps a few hundred times over, until he knows how to simply tell a story.
Conran's next picture is "John Carter of Mars." I'm very pleased to hear that this film's script is in other hands.