Blow Out (1981) and Body Double (1984). Chez Scrubbles was abuzz this week with a mini film fest of Brian De Palma thrillers. Although I didn’t find either of these movies particularly great, they do stand as quintessential films of their time in all their lurid, sleazy fun. Dressed to Kill was the standout from this period (still haven’t seen Scarface, natch), but Blow Out was a cheesy blast on its own. John Travolta stars as a movie sound engineer who inadvertently records an auto accident which may have been a case of murder; Nancy Allen is the airhead hooker caught up in the conspiracy. Both actors are amazingly awful to behold, honestly, but it’s fun seeing them slogging through early ’80s Philadelphia and De Palma contributes several chilling, effective scenes. Body Double, from three years later, trods a similar path (De Palma even opens the film with a similar movie-within-a-movie). It’s even sleazier, more violent, and more blatantly a ripoff of earlier, better movies. In a Rear Window/Vertigo pastiche, doofusy Craig Wasson plays a struggling actor who gets sucked into spying on a beautiful woman from inside John Lautner’s Chemosphere in the L.A. hills (hats off to the set designer for making the place look like an ’80s cokehead’s dream palace, missing only a framed Nagel print). Before you can say “totally eighties,” he acts in a porno movie with Melanie Griffith and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and eventually unravels the mystery. Ridiculously entertaining trash.
Daisy Kenyon (1947). I remember seeing this a long time ago on American Movie Classics, with vague memories that it was a bore and a half that not even La Crawford could save. A recent DVD viewing confirmed my earlier view. Joan couldn’t have been more miscast as a bohemian Greenwich Village artist caught between a slick but married Dana Andrews and a single but wishy-washy Henry Fonda. All the cutesy peter pan collars in the world couldn’t hide the fact that she was too old for the part. I enjoy a good-bad soapy melodrama every once in a while, but this film doesn’t know what it wants to be, with a silly and dull script that takes a lot of unwarranted side detours (look, child abuse!). Oddly this does have the bones of a good film, and you can see the attraction director Otto Preminger had for these admittedly complex characters. It just doesn’t work — at all. For such an ignoble effort, Fox actually supplied the DVD with a couple of good “making of” docs that are more enjoyable than the film itself.
House (1977). Could this possibly be the weirdest movie ever made? This Japanese-schoolgirls-stuck-in-a-haunted-mansion romp plays like a first-season Facts of Life episode on crack. In the beginning it comes across like a frenetic comedy, with awful jokes and shallow characters defined by their English nicknames (Gorgeous, Prof, Melody, Kung Fu, etc.) — then it abruptly turns into a bizarre and gory fright fest. Apparently this was the debut feature for the director, whose background in commercials is readily apparent with all the “throw something onscreen and see if it works” tricks on rapid display here. Gaze in slack jawed wonder at the scene below involving a killer light fixture. I mean, wow. A must-see for weird-ass Asian film fanatics, others beware.
Let Him Have It (1991). A deeply compelling film about one of the most notorious executions in Great Britain. Derek Bentley (nicely portrayed by Christopher Eccleston) is a mentally challenged 19 year-old who falls in with the wrong crowd. In a robbery gone wrong, his friend accidentally shoots and kills a police officer — but it’s Bentley who got the more severe punishment of death by hanging. Not the brightest moment in British history, but this film has an excellent sense of a particularly austere time in the UK (and it’s not quite the overwhelming bummer I’ve made it out to be). Well acted and similar in tone to Dance With A Stranger (which was about the last woman executed in Britain). Christopher picked this from the IFC schedule, an excellent choice.
James Likeks’ tribute to the oddly named Gobbler Hotel in Wisconsin is a study in contrasts. Compare the space-age renderings (above) with the actual hotel in its prime — and the ’70s era structure with the sad, outdated ghost of a hotel shortly before it got demolished. Thanks to Lileks, now everybody can appreciate the Playboy After Dark grooviness of it all. The Gobbler’s architect, Helmut Ajango, is apparently still living and working in the same state as his own now-defunct creation.
Even if it’s not strictly a Thanksgiving cartoon, I always associate Friz Freleng’s 1940 Merrie Melodie The Hardship of Miles Standish with the holiday. An overlooked fave in the Warner Bros. canon, maybe because I just can’t resist a good Edna May Oliver impersonation. Keep an eye out for the cursing Indian:
Like many others, we at scrubbles.net are taking a little break during the holiday. Have a great weekend, people!
Bully: Scholarship Edition. I’ve rented and enjoyed this game before, but as an anniversary gift from Christopher it got added to the Wii library this week. Gamers play teenaged Jimmy Hopkins, a little hellion who gets sent to a dismal private school by his uncaring mom. As the school year proceeds, you help Jimmy advance in his classes, beat up the meanies, kiss the girls (and some of the guys, too), and perform various tasks for money, new clothes, better weapons and other stuff. I’m a particular fan of these unstructured “explore” games, and with that in mind Bully is one of my favorites. Try sending Jimmy to school wearing only a wife beater and tighty whities, heh.
Belinda Carlisle — Heaven On Earth. The kind of album that I wouldn’t pay five bucks for, but for 99 cents bring it on! This slick el-lay pop wasn’t the kind of stuff I was into back in ’87, but now it plays like cheesy but impeccably produced fun. Belinda can sing the heck out of even the most mediocre of songs. Circle in the sand, round and round …
Children of Paradise (1945). One of those films that is regarded as a masterpiece, year in and year out. The layman’s description of this as a French Gone With The Wind is surprisingly accurate — like GWTW, it deals with human relations on a grand scale, with a huge cast of characters and a sweeping milieu. Instead of the Civil War, what we have is a troupe of 1830s French theatrical performers whose distinctly fatalistic point of view mirror that of the 1940s French. I found it fascinating and lovely, but the extreme length and frou-frou flavor were like nails on a chalkboard for the s.o. Personally, just watching the subtle expressions on actor Jean-Louis Barrault’s face was enough for me.
The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season. Although I swore I’d stop buying the Simpsons DVDs after season 8 (heck, I swore to stop at season 7), I couldn’t resist when a used copy popped up at a good price on a recent shopping trip. This season contains a handful of still hilarious episodes, but it’s clear that 1997-98 was the year the show downshifted from classic sitcom to pedestrian Fox franchise. The revelation that Skinner was a fake in The Principal and the Pauper signaled a harbinger for the show’s current, desperate form — and listening to the ultra-smug commentary for that episode makes it clear that the writers have their collective heads up their own asses. On a different note: I absolutely love the package design on this volume, with each DVD designed to look like a cheeky vintage record label. Real classy.
Something To Sing About (1937). This fluffy and forgettable low budget musical would have vanished into thin air were it not for the magnetic James Cagney in the lead. As a bandleader turned movie star, he’s a joy to watch. Because he didn’t get to do many of the musicals he so craved, Cagney tears into this role with invigorating gusto. As for the rest, from shrill and boring Evelyn Daw as Cagney’s wife to a strange little shipboard catfight scene … well, it made for a pleasant diversion while attempting to wake up last weekend.
The Young In Heart (1938). I think it’s pretty cool that Turner Classic Movies did a prime time night dedicated to Janet Gaynor last week, don’t you? This one, a lush David O. Selznick production, served as Miss Gaynor’s last starring role before going into an early retirement. This is more accurately an ensemble piece, with attractive cast making up for the film’s ho-hum script. Gaynor plays the daughter in a family of con artists headed by Roland Young and the priceless Billie Burke as the parents and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as the brother. Salty Paulette Goddard and a gorgeous young Richard Carlson play love interests; stage actress Minnie Dupree is really good as the family’s victim, Miss Fortune. That cast and the wonderful production design by William Cameron Menzies almost make up for the predictable to the extreme story. Love that streamline moderne car.
The new Two Bunnies and a Duck posted today is dedicated to my loving partner. For it was fourteen years ago tomorrow that we first met. Thank you for entering my life, Christopher!
I’m thinking about starting a regular video post here every Wednesday — sort of like what Mark Evanier does, only with 1/100th of his audience. It makes sense, since I come across so much intriguing stuff on YouTube and elsewhere. Today we have a clip from what many believe is the nadir of Peanuts specials, It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. Somebody thought it would be a good idea having a breakdancing Franklin and Snoopy outfitted in headband and leg warmers trolling the disco like sleazy Euro-gigolos. A thumping, generic song plays on the soundtrack, but I believe buried in the mix you can hear the sound of Charles M. Schulz turning in his grave … which is amazing considering he wouldn’t die for another sixteen years. Check it out.