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excellent, though not as good as the film
Adam Rifkin's small-screen spin off of "Look", his brilliant 2007 film about lives in L.A. being filmed through surveillance cameras is more of the same. The stories are strong but not quite as compelling or as tight this time around. We follow various groups as they pinball around the city, stumbling into or out of trouble.
There are two teenage sexpots who shop obsessively and are privately torn apart by their mutual desire for the same guy, a lawyer whose nagging, cokehead wife cheats on him with a slimy auto mechanic, a group of stoners who monitor the security cameras at a mall and skateboard in their off-hours, a homeless man with a strange and tragic past, a taxi cab driving rapist, a mini mart cashier who dreams of being a rock star, a group of teens who do drive-by shootings with paintball guns, a cop with anger issues, and a young, hip television executive desperate to fire an aging weatherman who works at his station.
Some of the characters, like the two sexpots and the mini mart clerk are retreads from the big screen. The sexpots are also played by different actresses and were infinitely more believable as high school students in the movie (though Sharon Hinnendael creates one of the most odious teenagers in recent memory as the creepy and manipulative Hannah)
There is always the sense that danger is lurking just around every corner. The plot threads may feel random at first, but if you stick with it Rifkin brings the whole thing together full circle in an amazing way.
Big Business (1929)
I had the pleasure of seeing this Laurel and Hardy short recently at the Old Town Music Hall theater in El Segundo, Ca. Totally brilliant comedy has Laurel and Hardy as Christmas tree salesmen in Los Angeles going door-to-door trying to peddle their flimsy products. They come up against a particularly cantankerous older man and hijinks ensue.
The genius of this one is the way the situation builds upon upon a single small incident until things reach truly catastrophic proportions. When you think it can't get any worse, it does. And when you think they've gone far enough, they go even further.
Watching this with a large audience of all ages really was proof that great comedy is timeless. Everyone in the theater was roaring with laughter by the time it was through. Just wonderful.
Fascinating movie about a rather creepy guy
I found Surfwise to be a compelling watch. It's all about Dorian Paskowitz, a Stanford educated doctor who, after two failed marriages, decides to travel the world as an organic- living surf bum. With him is his wife Juliette, and their brood of nine (yes, nine) children. All boys and one girl. They travel everywhere in a camper, living poor and off the grid, going from wave to wave.
The Paskowitz family found some fame in the 70s and 80s, when their kids were young and winning surf contests. But as each child hit their late teens or early 20s, they wanted to go their own way, and this was considered treason by Dorian.
We meet each of the Paskowitz kids (now in their 30s and 40s) and Dorian "Doc" (in his 80s) and they each recount the adventures of traveling around like nomads and being the envy of normal, school-going kids wherever they went. That's the other thing. Dorian didn't send his kids to school. Whoops.
Bizarre as it may sound, this Stanford-educated guy actually rationalizes his unbelievably poor decision to not school any of his children. His attitude towards everything is self- serving. Did he never once pause and think "what if one of my children wants to become a doctor?". Maybe, but he didn't seem to care.
In fact, he rationalizes A LOT of self-serving decisions. Like trying to have sex with a 100 different women as fast as possible. Like having sex with his wife every night in the camper while his children were forced to listen.
As a result of the lifestyle they grew up with, the Paskowitz's seem fairly bitter. Like they were forced to stay on vacation for a decade. If you think about it, what would a childhood spent riding in the back of a camper with nothing but your siblings to keep you company be like? After the first few weeks, it would seem LIKE HELL!!!!!!!!!!
And Dorian's wife is eerily complicit with everything. The kids admit that they were beaten and that Dorian was basically a dictator. Did she say nothing?
I found the surfing aspect to the story fascinating as I can certainly understand Dorian's love of the sport and desire to drop out of mainstream existence. But in between his flights of poetic description in comparing surfing to "the jaguar, and the leap of the gazelle" (admittedly enticing) is his creepily propulsive swearing and messiah complex.
Frankly, Dorian just struck me overall as kind of a creepy weirdo who I wouldn't let near kids in the first place. Him and his wife. Their blank stares as they gaze at the cameras reminiscing about how they told their daughter to always thank someone for having sex with her. Bizarre.
Anyway, good surfing footage, and watch this movie for a good examples of how not to raise kids.
cheesy, but a lot of fun
I have a soft spot in my heart for Escapes, mostly because it was filmed around my hometown of Sacramento and also because it's a horror anthology (and what horror film buff doesn't love a good ol' cheesy anthology once in a while). I first saw it around the time it came to video and watching it reminds me of the countless happy hours I spent in mom and pop video stores (so sad they're all gone now!) where a curious movie lover could find the most obscure and wondrous garbage imaginable on those dusty video shelves. Especially horror movies.
Escapes is a wraparound tale (with intro and outro by Price) involving a young guy who gets a video tape in the mail, which happens to be exact same Escapes tape the viewer is watching (how meta!). Each of the stories is basically Twilight zone/Tales from the Darkside type stuff. There's one about a fisherman who gets the surprise of his life. Another about an obnoxious young deliveryman who ignores the advice of a local while trying to find his way home. And another about a jogger who is menaced by creatures that may have escaped from a scientific laboratory. I think there's one or two more but I can't remember.
Anyway, these are really good. But they have special meaning to me because when i watch the video it reminds me of where I grew up. Good times.
TV Funhouse (2000)
A very funny show. With some weak spots
I really love TV Funhouse. Love the format and the irreverent humor and the politically incorrect nature of the whole thing. However, I think the basic problem with this show and why it never caught on is because the anipals grow tiresome after a while. After the third or fourth episode their sketches start to blur together and none of them are that interesting. They always do the same thing: take drugs, hump other animals, act like idiots, get into trouble, etc, etc. It's decadence piled on top of decadence and the characters are so thinly drawn that it becomes easy to lose interest.
The real genius of the show is in the animated bits. Stuff like the Dennis the Menace take-off where the Dennis character torments his neighbors because they're Jewish, and "Stedman", where Oprah's boyfriend uses the ruse of being a secret agent to escape from having to make love to Oprah. Also hilarious are some of the live-action bits like the ad for the doll that acts as a surrogate parent for the little girl.
I think if they had found a way to move the show along a little quicker it would have caught on with more people. But too many of the anipals jokes fall flat and sometimes the moments are very static. And some of the characters are simply not funny. Like the out of water fish who is always gasping and the dog who spends every episode chasing his tail.
One of my other favorite shows is Wonder Showzen, which certainly borrows a lot from TV funhouse. It uses the same kid's show format and is very politically incorrect, although Wonder Showzen has a slightly nastier edge to it. But I think one of the things Wonder Showzen does do successfully that TV funhouse doesn't is keep the pace clipping along so things never become static or tiresome.
The Big Trail (1930)
An extremely impressive visual experience
Just wanted to add my two cents about this film and my experience viewing it. I've always been a big fan of Raoul Walsh and loved High Sierra and White Heat. I consider The Roaring Twenties to be his real masterpiece and one of the best gangster films ever made.
I was lucky enough to view a print of The Big Trail in the theater when it happened to be shown in the grandeur format in 1996 and could not believe my eyes. I had never seen anything like it. It presented such an incredibly vast and panoramic landscape that it was really breathtaking. At that time, I think the only way you could rent it was to see a chopped up pan and scan VHS copy.
To this day it remains one of the most beautiful things I've seen in a movie theater and I would jump at the chance to see it in the grandeur format again.
Sharky's Machine (1981)
One of the best (if not the best) films Reynolds ever made
Superb, brutal, hard-boiled crime drama starring Burt Reynolds as a burned-out Atlanta cop transferred to the absolute slime hole of Atlanta's vice department after a drug deal turns sour. He's assigned to watch a high-class prostitute (Rachel Ward) and eventually gets caught up in some political double-dealing.
Superb action and a serious performance by Reynolds make this one a winner. It's also a complete change from the silly, lighter stuff that Reynolds had been doing for years prior to this. His performance was waning somewhat and this was a great way for him to prove he still had it.
One of the things I love about this movie is the texture of grit and sleaze. It really feels like a brutal, hellhole world that these guys live in. At the same time, the film finds ways to interject humor at the coolest moments. Henry Silva's villain is another strong point. There is a moment near the end where you see his gasping and wheezing silhouetted form, rasping out Sharky's name. It's a hard image to shake from your mind.
Endangered Species (1982)
excellent and unorthodox film about conspiracy theory-type stuff
this is a fascinating film. I remember it vividly as my father took me to see it when I was about 12. Come to think of it, my parents took me to see some really odd films when I was growing up in the early 80s. Before I was even thirteen my parents took me to see such films as "Heavy Metal", "Eating Raoul", and "Blow Out". What the hell were they thinking? lol.
Anyways, this film is about cattle mutilation and delves into the world of conspiracy theories involving black helicopters, satanic underground networks, and all that other stuff people were starting to get worked up about in the early 80s.
Robert Urich plays an investigator from the big city who comes to the rural town where the mutilations are happening. With him is his delinquent teenage daughter (who is quite good. whatever happened to that young actress??). Urich also becomes romantically entangled with the local female sheriff played by JoBeth Williams.
I have to give special mention to a couple of things. This film (in my opinion) is easily the best that Alan Rudolph has ever done. He's always been somewhat of a cult director but I never found his films very impressive. But "Endangered Species" is just superb. If you're going to create a film about conspiracy theories, this is the way to do it, folks. By NOT spelling everything out for the audience. But suggesting a great deal. By NOT treating the audience as though they are idiots. The cinematography is also very impressive, as is the droning, disturbing score. A definite winner! I used to have a copy of this on VHS and I gave it away a few years back. I'm still kicking myself for doing that!
One of my favorite Barker stories makes a so-so film
I may be biased because "Dread" is the story that turned me on to Clive Barker originally. I love the story and was so blown away by it I actually made my girlfriend at the time read it (I probably should not have been surprised when she broke up with me soon after) and I still consider it one of his best. I was slightly hesitant to see the film because i knew the filmmakers would change all kinds of stuff around, which they did. Unfortunately, not much of it is for the better.
Basic setup is the same as in Barker's story: Quaid, a mysterious and wealthy young college student who suffers from recurrent nightmares enlists classmates Stephen and Cheryl to help him conduct a Kinsey-esque "fear study" to find out what people dread the most. Stephen and Cheryl have their own fears: Stephen is scared of driving ever since his older brother died in a car crash and Cheryl won't eat meat (for reasons that are revealed about halfway through the film). Another character, who isn't in the short story at all, is Abby whose face is half covered with a dark birthmark. Another character, Joshua, a student in the study, is fairly important as he fears what Stephen originally feared in the short story. The original story only had three characters whereas the film has many.
I think the basic problem with the film is one of padding. They've taken a simple story and padded it out to feature length but in the process they've made it a lot less interesting. Also, in order to cater to the blood and guts crowd they've taken the motivation behind the Quaid character and made it less fascinating. In the short story Quaid's recurring nightmare was of a clown with an axe slowly coming to get him in the middle of the night. Why he had the dream or what it represented remained a mystery. We knew only that it haunted him. In the film, Quaid's dream involves witnessing the murder of his parents by an axe- wielding psycho. We've seen that done a million times in a million movies. Who the hell cares about yet another run-of-the-mill axe wielding psycho? Boring!!
Additonally, in the short story Stephen's fear is going deaf (a fear transplanted to the Joshua character) and one of the most compelling parts is when that fear is realized. But the filmmakers botch this completely. They go for the easy way out. The only thing the movie gets right is Cheryl's fear of meat and the way Quaid exploits this. It plays out pretty much like it does in the short story and is very well done.
Other than that, I thought the cinematography was really nice. The direction is pretty decent. The acting is above average for this sort of film, particularly the girl who plays Abby. She has one scene where she comes on to Stephen that's heartbreaking. The guy who plays Quaid is pretty good as well, although it might have been better if he had been more sympathetic.
All in all, not bad. But I would still read the short story before seeing it.
Just One of the Guys (1985)
Surprisingly excellent teen comedy from the 80s
I saw this when it first came out and thought it was a laugh riot (I wasn't even a teenager yet) and just re-watched it again after many years. The screenplay is awesome. It's very funny. The movie's not nearly as funny as I remember. The acting is certainly a lot stiffer than I remember. But not bad.
Basic premise is that Terri, a gorgeous but brainy senior is convinced her teachers aren't taking her seriously because she's a girl. While her parents are away she dresses up like a boy ("Terry") and spends two weeks at a nearby school to prove her point.
It's mostly comedy of errors type stuff (nothing too raunchy) involving her sex-crazed younger brother, a hot-to-trot girl who falls for "Terry", and her superficial boyfriend who's oblivious to the fact that she's dressing up like a boy. She also meets a guy at the new school (Clayton Rohner) who she kind of takes under her wing and helps him get a prom date. Oh yeah, she also crosses paths with William "Karate Kid" Zabka as an iron pumping bully.
What really surprised me about the film was how easily I was able to accept the Terri character as a boy. And yet, she and the Clayton Rohner character have a chemistry that's undeniable and quite touching. You can see her character slowly falling for him. It almost makes you wish that the director had focused less on the younger brother's hijinks and more on the relationship between Terri and Rohner.
Quite a good movie.