Monday, June 28, 2010

Mutant Salmon

Where was this story last week when we were recording our podcast about Humanoids from the Deep?
According to a news article that I read on yahoo (which you can find here), the basic setup for that movie is actually underway for reals!
Now that Doug McClure has passed away, who is going to save us when the inevitable fish-men start to rise from their watery homes?

Black Caesar from 1973

For a long time I have wanted to watch some of Larry Cohen's blaxploitation films and finally over the weekend I saw his second one, Black Caesar. Some of you may know Larry Cohen as the man behind such diverse titles as Q the Winged Serpent, It's Alive and the under-seen God Told Me To. One check of his filmography will reveal the vast array of films he has written, produced, and directed. The man has long been a legend to me. The first blaxploitation film that Cohen directed was Bone from 1972 but I have yet to find that one.
Black Caesar is the story of Tommy Gibbs, played very competently by Fred Williamson, whose life in Harlem is fraught with turmoil. The hardships he faces steer him into a life of crime as he first starts partnering with the mafia to become a sub-boss of the Harlem area. There is a non-stop, twisty game of political intrigue and blackmail that is always behind the scenes. There are betrayals, deceit, and pathos throughout. The character of Tommy Gibbs is not necessarily a likable guy, but he has been through so much that I really found myself pulling for his version of corruption over the various public officials who had turned bad. There is some amazingly grim moments as people frequently play more than just the "race card", they throw the entire deck of 52 "race cards" into the mix and the result is still impactful 37 years after the initial release.
The denouement was appropriate, and heavy and it sets up the sequel that came out later in the same year Hell Up In Harlem.
If you're a fan of movies like Shaft, Truck Turner and Super Fly, then I would say you should check out Black Caesar as it establishes many of the tenets that we have come to expect from the genre and has a more complicated storyline and better performances than most of the rest.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bay of Blood

Bay of Blood or Twitch of the Death Nerve is a 1971 film by the original maestro of Italian genre cinema Mario Bava. The plot concerns the titular bay, an unspoiled rural piece of property and the various factions who have designs on the future of this prime real estate. The Countess Donati, a strong willed matriarch who is determined to preserve the bay's remote charm, as well as Donati's illegitimate love child, Simon, who lives a secluded life in a cabin on the bay and fishes for his dinner and an eccentric entomologist, Paolo, represent the status quo I suppose. They want the bay to remain un-sullied by the encroachment of development. Donati's husband Filippo and lantern jawwed, swarthy architect Frank Ventura have different ideas. When the count's daughter, Renata, and her husband get involved, things get even more complicated. Stir in a group of libidinous teens and you have the perfect recipe for a nice darkly comic Giallo. One of the things that struck me the most about the film were just how kinetic the feel of it all is, due to some really interesting camera work, done on a shoestring budget from what I have read. Many of the tracking shots were accomplished using a child's toy wagon. Add in some far out angles and the film manages to have a slightly surreal off kilter atmosphere that really works. The other word I would use to describe the film is vibrant. Bava always had an artist's eye when it came to the use of color and design in his films, and this is on ample display here. Even having much of the action taking place outside, Bava acting as his own cinematographer, manages to bring a slightly unnatural vibrance to the shots. The sky at dusk looks just ever so slightly bluer than you would think it should. The performances too, reflect this vibrancy, everyone in the cast is just on the verge of over-playing their roles, yet it all works quite well in concert. This is what adds to the black comic undercurrent in the movie. I will say that, although all of the characters in the movie are somewhat cartoonish, Bava's female characters seem to all fall somewhere between trollop and harpy. There are some structural elements to the film that any one who has seen many stalker films will recognize as almost cliche, however, Bava did many of these things first. There are also many touches that became staple elements in Giallo cinema. If you are a fan of Giallo or slasher films, or just like a good gory black comedy on occasion, you could do much worse than giving Mr. Bava ninety minutes of your time.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Episode 2...Finally!

Episode 2 is now available for download!
We ramble a bit in this one and, even with judicious editing, there is still a fair bit of aimless banter. We are still searching for our groove. I asked Stella how she got hers back, but so far she hasn't returned my calls.
In this episode we talk about two films from the 80s, Humanoids from the Deep and C.H.U.D. We discuss how the plotlines of the films coincide with the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the overall culture of corporate greed that leads our species closer and closer to oblivion...but other than that, it's a laugh-riot. We dedicate this episode to the small people.
Enjoy, and keep the emails coming in.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Psychedelic Crater

For any of you who happen to have listened to an episode of the podcast, you may have taken note of our theme music Psychedelic Crater composed by Kevin MacLeod. We found this great music, royalty free, on a site called Kevin is obviously an altruistic individual to make his talents freely available to his fellow denizens of the internet in such a fashion. I would encourage any of you reading this who are in need of some music for a project that you are working on to go and check out his website. Hell, just go and check it out purely for fun.

Getting Even aka Deadbeat aka Tomcats

For some reason, last night I watched the movie Getting Even from 1977. It stars an extremely young Chris Mulkey who has been in a lot of great movies but this might be the only one I have seen where he played the lead. It was a grim and nasty affair that waded hip-deep through a pit of misogyny from the first scene and through most of the rest of its runtime. One reviewer on IMDB commented specifically on the amount of rape that is in the movie, and I could not agree more. To the filmmakers credit, the rape and mistreatment is never presented as anything other than abhorrent. Clearly inspired by Death Wish which had come out 3 years prior, the story is of an older brother, played by Mulkey, who wants to "get even" with a group of four unrepentant scumbags who raped and killed his sister. He is forced into his vigilante role by a justice system that turns the confessed killers out onto the street due to a procedural error. The biggest problem for me was that when the time for revenge comes, it does so at a level that is far below what is deserved. Justice is served, but the same way that you might serve a lukewarm hot pocket, with embarrassment and a vague sense of culinary impotence.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Survival Run...aka Spree

Over the weekend I watched the movie Survival Run from 1979. It starred a Van Patten, of Dick fame, and a fabulous van ( not SuperVan fabulous, but fabulous nonetheless ). The story essentially is that a goup of high schoolers are heading out in the desert to camp and things go awry. They bring a guitar for making music, and a veritable crayola box of multicolored condoms for the making of whoopee.
Things start with standard high school stuff, the kids making plans, the boys talking about the girls and their intent to get busy, and then they are off and on their way while a really badly fantastic theme song plays. It is on their trip into the hinterlands that chaos ensues and down the side of a cliff tumbles the van and its occupants. Now, without transportation, the merry sextet decides to hike to civilization. It is on this hike where they encounter a man named Kandaris, played by Peter Graves, and his associates. One of his associates is a man who I think is only referred to as The Professor, played by X-The Man with the X-Ray Eyes ( Ray Milland ). Milland brings a real classiness to his role and a genuine, if understated, level of menace.
Initially the kids think they have been rescued, but the viewer is privy to the fact that the kids are, in fact, in grave danger. Nastiness occurs and it is at this point where the title "Survival Run" kicks in as the kids flee from their "rescuers". It is also at this point that the film implodes into a fairly stupid and standard "action" movie. It reminded me, in it's setup, of the movie Wolf Creek from 2005, but much more pedestrian. I had read some reviews of Survival Run that had me prepared for much more edginess but it never materialized for me. There were moments that were impressive, and uncomfortable, but nothing that will stick with me for long.
Thanks to Wrong Side of the Art for the poster, which might be the best thing about the movie.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Character Analysis

One possible topic that Marty and I had discussed as a potential episode of the podcast was a tribute to veteran character actor R.G. Armstrong. As this episode did not, or at least has yet, come to fruition I felt compelled to give the man an honorable mention of sorts here on the blog page. The more I thought about what accolades to bestow upon R.G. the more I thought about how much I and probably most fans of genre films appreciate character actors on the whole. You know the actors I’m talking about, the ones who won’t ever be leading men (or women for that matter) but who always seem to be able to rise above the material they are given to work with. So bearing that in mind I will endeavor to bestow the aforementioned accolades on the the entire class of actors who never seem to be the ones who get the girl or get that final kill shot at the villain, but who invariably lend a level of authenticity to even some of the most low budget productions by bringing that earthy naturalistic style of acting to the party. Without question the list of actors who fall into this category is a long one and I could never, in the space available here, be able to give the much deserved kudos to every one of them, so I will try to narrow my focus by concentrating on a few of the actors who have always impressed themselves upon me through the years.

I am sure that Warren Oates would probably be considered a character actor by Hollywood standards, but he is an example of exactly what this post is meant to reflect. If you go back and watch some of the films that Oates was the lead in, the performances he gives are as complex and multi-layered as anything that Jack Nicholson or Robert DeNiro have done. In frequent collaborations with Sam Peckinpah he always invested his roles with the tough macho core that was the staple of Peckinpah's thematic universe, yet he also was able to allow the character he was playing to have a certain humanity, frailty even. For me the definitive Warren Oates performance is in "Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia" although his portrayal of G.T.O. in "Two Lane Blacktop" is pretty damned impressive too.

While we are on the subject of "Two Lane Blacktop" I would be remiss not mention Harry Dean Stanton, in which he plays the hitch hiker that apparently follows the book that George Carlin refers to in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back". I can so clearly remember the first movie that I took real notice of this fine actor in, it was one of my all time favorites to this day "Escape From New York". Stanton plays Brain a.k.a. Harold Hellman, an ex-associate of Snake Plisken's who had bailed on Snake and Fresno Bob in the middle of a robbery to save his own skin. This is an example of how an actor can take what would have been a throw away part in other less capable hands and craft it into a character that you remember long after the movie is over.

In the realm of actors who have labored in the low budget trenches even further from mainstream success, a couple of names come immediately to mind. Sid Haig and Dick Miller both appeared in indie films from the likes of Roger Corman and Jack Hill and in episodic television appearances throughout the sixties and seventies. Although neither of them are really household names (well maybe in Marty's or my house they are) they have both turned in so many memorable performances through the years that they surely deserve more praise than either of them has ever received. Haig's turn as Ralph in Jack Hill's manic bizarre "Spider Baby" is hugely entertaining. I have very fond memories of "Galaxy of Terror" which also had Sid Haig although Marty has assured me that memory does not serve me correctly on that one. Dick Miller is such a staple player in the genre that Joe Dante, director of "The Howling" and "Gremlins", has said that when he receives a new script, the first thing he does is read through and figure out which role Miller will play. Starting in the mid to late fifties Miller fell in with fledgling director Roger Corman and it was indeed a fruitful collaboration. The pair worked on many films together including future classics "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Bucket of Blood" the film in which Miller acquired the character name that he would portray in at least four more films over the following years, Walter Paisley.

R.G. Armstrong started acting when he was attending the University of North Carolina, performing with the Carolina Playmakers. After graduation he moved to New York to pursue his career and was met with great success. His ability to use his physically imposing stature to convey a kind of quiet stoic strength, or alternately a menacing threatening presence quickly garnered him a string of roles in both film and television westerns. He, like Warren Oates, became a part of a group of actors that Sam Peckinpah respected and would use in many of his films. Armstrong's appearances in genre movies are almost too numerous to list. He played Sarge in 1981's "Evilspeak", a grossly underrated little movie I think. He was Doc Schoonmaker in "The Beast Within" which I revisited recently and feel that it totally held up after all these long years since seeing it in it's initial release. It has a wonderful sense of place, that small oppressive southern town environment, which lends the proceedings a real feeling of tension. As a side note, "The Beast Within" is filled with many other great character actors who absolutely belong on the long list mentioned previously.

As the list is so long, I am going to end here for now. If any of you who may read this have a favorite actor who you feel doesn't get the notoriety he or she deserves, shoot us an e-mail. Maybe we can compile a list of the 10 greatest character actors in cinema history. We would love to hear who your nominees would be.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Slowly I Turn

There is a clear, steady, uphill slope to this whole endeavor. With each little step though, it feels more like the sort of thing that can have some staying power, and ultimately a purpose beyond just rambling about movies. We got our first email from a listener who offered some really helpful pointers and suggestions. There are angles that Mike and I see things from that we want to convey more clearly. Those viewpoints are the very reason we started this blog and podcast. I guess I can't say that we're getting our "sea legs", perhaps our "pod legs" or even that we have opened the "pod bay doors" or some such thing. Either way, thanks for listening, we are getting the next episode together for posting soon and we hope to continue hearing from you.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Fury from 1978

Over the weekend I rewatched Brian DePalma's 1978 film The Fury. It had been decades since I last saw it and I wonder if I ever saw it fully uncut. I do recall reading the novel upon which it is based after I saw the film on TV in my impressionable youth.
As usual with most DePalma movies, there are fantastic camera angles, interesting little editing tricks, and the story clips right along. The acting is good throughout, with a few wonderfully hammy bits from Kirk Douglas. Gordon Jump is fantastic in one brief scene as an exasperated Chicagoan taking care of "Mother Knuckles" ( which sounds more than a little dirty ). See if you recognize a thin, and hirsute Dennis Franz in one of his first roles. Perhaps it was "The Fury" that first typecast him as a big-city cop.
One of the things that surprised me about the movie though is the soundtrack by none other than John Williams who's mostly known for doing the soundtrack for everything ever. In "The Fury" though, his score is decidedly cheesy and almost laughable at times. I am not familiar with his entire body of work, but it makes me curious to see if some of his lesser-known works would also veer towards the cheese. Apart from a couple of special effects that were probably good for their time, the whole film really works. It is about two hours long, but it feels closer to a standard 80 or 90 minutes, with little fat or unnecessary exposition. Oh, and Amy Irving is smoking hot in it too, which was a wonderful surprise to me. I guess when I watched it before I was more concerned with how the SFX makeup looked. Ah youth....