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Chariots of Fire (1981)
boring bourgeois idiocy
i didn't give this picture any stars because it doesn't deserve any stars. it was perhaps the most boring picture i have ever seen. i'm very angry and depressed at the current time. this review is supposed to be at least ten lines long so i will see what i can do to extend it. not only is this film boring, it is cold. i see it as symbolic of bourgeois society as a whole. i don't know what i detest most about the bourgeosie, their simpering sentimentality or their deadening practicality. this film certainly epitomizes bourgeois sentimentality. we shouldn't care whether individual a or individual b wins a medal at the olympics or whether the medal is gold, silver, or bronze. to hell with the olympics, with all athletic competitions, with competition period. what the bourgeoisie values actually has very little value. and if mr. hugh hudson were here with me in this room, i would tell him what a silly bourgeois ass he is........
Polly Polly Polly Polly Polly Polly Polly Polly (and, to some extent, Lesli)
if you are a director, do you wanna know how to make a great film? bang the production designer, that's how. yeah!! sure, peter bogdanovich is an auteur. he's a mother, my favorite film director after billy wilder and Orson Welles. and Boris Karloff does a bang up job in one of his few serious, "straight" roles. not to mention Tim o'Kelly, who REALLY does a bang up job. (He. He.) nonetheless the heart and SOUL of "targets" is Polly Platte's production design. or perhaps the heart and soul of "targets" is the synergy between peter bogdanovich and Polly Platte. they married in 1962 and divorced ten years later. i guess that in 1968 things were going hot and heavy between them, before that simp Cybill entered the picture. Polly Platte's work on "targets" is an achievement for the ages. actually, it's hard to see where Polly's work ends and peter's begins. each interior set is a masterpiece of modern (or postmodern) art. at times, Platte seems to be parodying the middle class's taste in interior decoration. yet her own taste is so exquisite that the the parody comes off as CLASSY parody. (the art direction is like something out of a "dragnet" episode. however, it's much better as well as more self-conscious than that.) the location work is like a series of masterpieces of FOUND art (the oil refinery with its tanks, the drive-in with its partially-gone-to-seed screen and back screen area). each shot is framed as if it were a photo-realistic painting. of course cinematographer Lesli Kodaks had a hand in all this. (he may be the only cinematographer to merit the designation: "genius.") however, the real genius behind "targets" appears to be Polly Platte, who ISN'T recognized as one of the greatest production designers. she was nominated for the best art direction academy award for "terms of endearment." yet she did so many things in Hollywood that her career as a production designer tended to be ignored. she did a little of this and a little of that. Platte designed the costumes for seven films. she was credited as executive producer, producer, co-producer, or associate producer on twelve pictures. she was involved in writing five movies. ms. Platte also had two acting roles in films. she was credited as "production coordinator" on "voyage to the planet of prehistoric women." and she even served as Nancy Sinatra's stunt double on "the wild angels." yet she should be remembered primarily as a stellar production designer and as peter bogdanovich's REAL muse. Polly Platte. not Cybill shepherd. Cybill shepherd may have looked like a model (which she was). nonetheless, ms. Platte was probably better in bed than ms. shepherd. the look and feel of "targets" is that of two people REALLY collaborating........
Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
Mano's isn't a bad film
Mano's isn't a bad film. really. it all depends, of course, on how one defines a "bad" film. as far as i am concerned, a "bad" film is one that is boring and/or annoying/disturbing. Mano's kept my attention and didn't really contain anything that i found annoying or disturbing. Harold p warren wasn't much of a film maker, but he somehow managed to maintain the narrative flow in this picture. he is continually throwing something at us that is freaky and/or entertaining. (albeit, i am a b film fanatic and a lover of horror films. if i see a film of this type, i WANT to like it. i TRIED to like Mano's, giving the film every benefit of the doubt, and i succeeded.) now, there is much in this movie that a film school instructor would rate as amateurish and technically inept. but within the context of Mano's, this amateurishness and incompetence WORKS. incompetent cinematography, art direction, and editing can have their charms, and in Mano's they definitely DO have their charms. Robert guider's idiosyncratic photography definitely has its charms. he shot using a hand wound sixteen millimeter camera. as a result, he comes up with some delightfully unusual effects. the film's color scheme is interesting. one could dismiss the cinematography as b movie hackwork, but that would be too cruel. the technical "lapses" actually help to create the funky, grungy atmosphere that is essential to the film's "success." (and i contend, uncynically, that it IS a "success.") tom Newman designed the sets, and these are sets of a kind that one is unlikely to find in a Hollywood motion picture. the "funky"/"grungy" aesthetic of the cinematography is echoed in the set design. the film takes place in the desert, at the roadside compound of a polymerase, polytheistic cult. the members of the cult are funky, grungy people. bohemians who have chosen to live off the beaten path, in frankly offbeat surroundings. and these surroundings have a charm of their own. one might think of the master and his cult as progenitors of the Manson family. if you want to imagine what the decor in Mano's is like, imagine a compound whose rooms have been decorated by members of the Manson family. the scrappy editing adds to the fun. smooth, "professional" editing would not have worked on Mano's. but the rough- Hew editing of Ernie smith and James a Sullivan succeeds brilliantly. the choppy, idiosyncratic cutting seems to bring out the power in the film (or whatever power the film possesses). (Sullivan served as production manager on the "eye creatures." he was the assistant director on "zontar: the thing from Venus." he was unit manager on "curse of the swamp people" and he actually directed the john agar starred "night fright." these are all "good" pictures, as far as i am concerned. and as far as i can ascertain, James Sullivan's contributions to these films were effective. the man knew what he was doing. even if he didn't know what he was doing, what he was doing WORKED.) all in all, the cinematography, set design, and editing of Mano's conspire to create a dark, evocative mood. think of Mano's as a "mood piece." in that light, the mood that Mano's creates is an interesting one. Mano's is a funky, grungy trip to an imaginary place located somewhere in roadside America. it succeeds at what it attempts. even if it succeeds in a way unforeseen by its creators, nonetheless Mano's is a film that succeeds in creating and maintaining a distinctive atmosphere. what more should one ask of a motion picture?
The House of Exorcism (1975)
sympathy for the devil/ Elinor lives!!
first of all, let me say that i am reviewing the "house of exorcism"/Robert Alida version of this film. secondly, let me clarify my own beliefs. i am not a religious person. in fact, if anything i am Anti-religious. i am an agnostic who has been influenced by a secularized version of Buddhist philosophy. Buddhism is a philosophy for me, not a religion. however, the Buddhist concept of the "middle way" has made a great impression on me. (i take the concept of the "middle way" seriously, much more seriously than most people take their religions.) the "middle way" is neither "good" nor "evil." following the middle way might be conceptualized as treading a path BETWEEN good and evil. or, better yet, it could be seen as an ESCHEWAL of both good and evil, as a resolve to seek moderation with aesthetics and pragmatism (but NOT morality) as one's guides. i do not believe in any kind of morality PER SE. there are other ways to look at life apart from the "moral" view. one can look at life in aesthetic terms, a la Oscar Wilde. one could also look at life via the (essentially amoral) "pragmatic" viewpoint of john Dewey and Richard Rory. we have Oscar Wilde, john Dewey and Richard Rory (not to mention Derrida and Foucault and, of course, shakyamuni). we really don't need Jesus, moses, or Muhammad. third, i have never seen "the exorcist" and have no desire to do so. my interest is in films on the periphery, NOT on mainstream bourgeois cinema. "house of exorcism" may have been influenced by "the exorcist," but it should be judged as an entirely separate work of art and the elements it contains should not be viewed in relation to anything contained in the earlier film. now that that's out of the way, on to "house of exorcism." HOE could be read as a formulaic horror film, as a story of good against evil in which "good" emerges as triumphant. or it could be read against the grain as a story of evil against good in which evil wins out in the end, or in which at the very least the concepts of good and evil are discredited or called into question. the most sympathetic character in the film is Elinor, the young lady whose spirit inhabits the body of Lisa. Elinor is an essentially amoral (yet not unenlightened) woman. when she was alive she satisfied her lust, having sex in order to sate her physical urges instead of for reasons of love. her impotent husband was, shall we say....less than understanding of her needs, and ended up killing her. so Elinor has returned from the dead and is now (understandably) somewhat bitter. the specter of Elinor is a "truth teller." she tells the truth, or at least the truth AS SHE KNOWS IT, and the only truth that any of us know is the truth AS WE KNOW IT. she uses a kind of "streetlevel postmodern" speech, employing the "f bomb" and other "swear" words. (i would call them "aware" words, words of awareness and sensitivity meant to express strong emotions.) some people (inhibited prudes) may be offended by this language, but as far as i am concerned the point is that we SHOULDN'T be offended by this kind of speech or by ANY kind of speech. (if we insist upon "being offended," we should reserve that prerogative for ACTIONS, not for mere SPEECH ACTS.) the father asks Elinor where she comes from and she says "from far way, from incest and adultery." (which may be factually correct.) the priest is unsatisfied with this answer and she says that she came "from a c*nt." (brilliant. truer words have never been spoken.) at one point, the father labels Elinor as "evil." Elinor responds by saying that the priest and his church are evil. now i would part company with Elinor at this point. i don't think that the church is evil....just unnecessarily and, as such, counterproductive. as for labeling any person or spirit as "evil": the universe is a moral vacuum. "good" and "evil" are BOTH figments of the bourgeois imagination. but i can see why some people might find the church and its hypocrisy to be so distasteful that they are tempted to label them as "evil." the film ends with the priest performing an exorcism at the mansion where Elinor once lived. one could view this ritual as a "triumph," as an act sending Elinor's "evil" spirit back to "Hell." but from a pragmatist/methodologically rational point of view, i would see the exorcism as an empty ritual. Elinor lives on, or at least what she stands for survives. Elinor lives on as the symbol not of evil but rather of an amoral yet enlightened pragmatism........ p.s.--earlier in the film we see telly savalas (the "devil") sucking a lollipop. in the last scene, we see Robert Alida wielding an aspergillum (holy water dispenser)....which looks quite a bit like a lollipop. now, as far as i am concerned, the telly savalas character represents not "evil" but rather a kind of "pragmatism" (whether one views it as "enlightened" pragmatism, "unenlightened," or somewhere in between is up to you). in any case, the lollipop of telly savalas is much more powerful than any priest's holy water dispenser. ("who loves ya, baby?")
Teenage Seductress (1975)
sandra currie seduced me (metaphorically speaking)
i have a thing for seventies and eighties b movies, and i have a thing for sandra currie. so i can't be rational about this film. i was debating whether i should give it an eight (my baseline for a "good" movie) or go as high as a nine. so i decided not to submit a numerical rating at all. rating films on a numerical basis is as stupid as scoring women on a one to ten scale. (as far as i am concerned, sandra is an infinity.) sure, the cinematography and art direction are "subpar" when compared with what can be found in a major studio film from the same period. they might even be said to be lacking when compared with the tech credits of the average seventies INDIE film. but i found the cinematography and art direction to be delightfully cheesy........ "teenage seductress" has a story that keeps your attention. (it maintained my interest, at any rate.) and it has sandra. so if you are into seventies exploitation flix and sandra currie, i would definitely recommend this film to you.
this is one of the darkest films i've ever seen. certainly, it's one of the most politically incorrect. it may have been packaged as a sex and violence exploitation thriller, but it could be thought of as more along the lines of an existential art film. it really goes beyond the need for a numerical rating; it practically inhabits a universe unto itself. yet at the same time it in some ways is VERY MUCH of its time. it's a post-"easy rider," post-youth culture seventies burnout epic. "good" doesn't triumph over "evil." in fact, the fact calls into question the validity of such categories. a woman is raped and learns to "accept" her ordeal as a part of life. the rapists are never punished and the crime never even appears to have been reported. as far as i am concerned, the film goes a BIT too far. it's existential acceptance of human suffering ends up as a kind of complacency. authentic existentialists generally see human suffering as largely meaningless and hence unjustified. yet director polakof seems to ask us to view suffering as justifiable, as part of "the plan," as part of "fate." nonetheless, he takes the viewer on a "realistic" journey instead of giving us fairy tales and revenge fantasies. as a result, "slashed dreams" stands apart from both common exploitation fodder and whatever kind of product the "mainstream" motion picture industry is putting out these days.
i'm reviewing this title, even though i don't think video games SHOULD be included in the IMDb (precisely BECAUSE of their interactive nature; film and television have traditionally been conceived of as PASSIVE media). it must have been nineteen eighty five. i was going to college in brunswick, maine, and an arcade in that town had one of the "hang on" video games. (i don't even know if you could call it an arcade. it was a small section of a chain store and this might have been the only game it had.) prior to my encounter with "hang on," i had had very little experience with video gaming, but as soon as i tried "hang on," i was hooked. i loved the mock up of the motorcycle handlebars and enjoyed careening down the track passing the other racers. i didn't know there was a "qualifying" heat until i actually found myself in "the race." (during all the time i was building up expertise in order to qualify, i thought the qualifying heat WAS the race.) this game gobbled up quarter after quarter and i ended up becoming addicted to it. i spent hours playing "hang on" when i should have been studying. to this day i miss those carefree hours of "hang on" playing and wish that i still had access to one of these games................
The Brain Machine (1977)
and now for something at least somewhat different.........an impressionistic review of an impressionistic film
"The Brain Machine" is one of those action films with relatively little action and lots of "filler" sequences between the action scenes. But that's OK in this case, because what we get is intriguing filler. At times endearing filler....entertaining filler....but above all intriguing filler. This is also one of those films in which you don't really know what's going on a good deal of the time, or even most of the time. And at times you don't even know who some of the characters are supposed to be (antagonists? PROtagonists? NEUTRALS??). But that's OK in this case, since what is on the screen is interesting even when it's incomprehensible. "Brain Machine" keeps your attention and gets you to think. I like the way Joy N. Houk, Jr. mixes "modernistic" and "postmodern" elements. The whole production, from a design point of view, has a "modernistic" orientation (obsessive use of the color blue in the decor, the appearance of abstract expressionist paintings as wall murals, the overall sleek and clean look, etc.). Yet the storytelling style and characterization are decidedly POSTmodern, i.e., ambiguous, amorphous, and ill-defined. "Brain Machine" tells the stories of a group of disturbed individuals living in a disturbed, uncertain universe. The film may be more than thirty years old, yet in some respects it is quite contemporary........
The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)
not a bad film at all
This film has a reputation as one of the all-time stinkers, a reputation that it in no way deserves. How many stars should i give it? At least eight, but should I go as high as nine? Or even ten? Arguably it DOES deserve ten stars, as it compares favorably with such fifties sci fi classics as "Earth vs the Flying Saucers" (a definite "ten" film in my book). I've seen most of the John Agar science fiction films and i'm quite impressed with them. The man does reign as one of the great sci fi film icons of the fifties and sixties. Most of his sci fi films follow a formula. The idea is to contrast the charming Mr. Agar, the epitome of Midwestern normality, with the outrageous, literally out-of-this world goings-on featured in these pictures. And this formula almost always works. This time it's disembodied brains from outer space, a "good" brain and an "evil" one. The evil one ends up residing in Agar's body, so the actor ends up giving TWO performances in essence. He acts as his usual self, and as a maniacal power-crazed version of himself. (Picture McLean Stevenson playing the role of an out-and-out villain.) "Arous" has developed a cult following, but for all the wrong reasons. It shouldn't be noteworthy for being bad. It should be remembered as a very successful example of fifties-style formula science fiction.
Childish Things (1969)
one of my favorite films (no foolin')
"Victormin" may think he's the only person who ever saw this film. But I saw it as well. I saw it on television about twenty or thirty years after HE saw it. What "Victormin" says about the film is correct. It is a concise, tightly presented feature. But I wouldn't label it as a product that came "out of Hollywood." It is definitely a West Coast product, yet it was produced far from the Hollywood mainstream. In fact I'd say that it's a production that emerged from the seedy underbelly of the film industry. (Despite its Christian theme, and despite the fact that Don Murray and David Nelson are such fine, upstanding exemplars of middle-class rectitude.) What I like about the project is that it has two directors to handle the two elements or "sides" of the story. Sex-obsessed skank (and I say it in a kind way) John Derek is there to show us the tough, gritty background of the Tom Harris character, and squeaky-clean David (son of Ozzie) Nelson is there to detail Harris's redemption. John Derek does double duty, working as cinematographer, and his washed-out "California sunshine" photography is effective. "Confessions of Tom Harris" is a "religious" picture, sure. But above and beyond that, it's a tough, kickin' indie flick with BALLS.