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August 13, 2016


Your August Unrandom Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: She was a bride when the violence happened... Now she's a widow and it's going to happen again




French New Wave (cool obscure French word alert!) progeniteur Francois Truffaut wrote the book on Alfred Hitchcock. No, really. He wrote a book called HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT which is simply Hitch being interviewed by Truf about every movie he ever made. I ate this book more than once. It's my Happy Meal. Anyway, when Truffaut's interest in Hitchcock peaked, he went out and made a couple of tip-of-the-hat movies. One's called MISSISSIPPI MERMAID (1969), and the other is THE BRIDE WORE BLACK (1968), which we watched tonight.


Keeping with Hitch's ingredients, Truffaut selected a story by the great alcoholic/writer Cornell Woolrich, who had scribbled out the short story on which REAR WINDOW was based. Truffaut even used Hitch scoremeister Bernard Herrmann for the music. So, all the elements are there, and it's all cool and fascinating, and it all works...just not perfectly.

TBWB begins the way I believe every movie should, with an image of a topless woman being printed repeatedly on a press. Then, THE WEDDING MARCH, which sounds like it's being performed on a PHANTOM-y pipe organ.

Our anti-hero, Julie, is played by Jeanne Moreau, who Orson Welles once dubbed The Greatest Actress in the World (remember, Welles died before he was able to witness Melissa Joan Hart in action). But why's Julie so crazy? Why is she trying to jump out a window (not a rear one, however). We won't find out for a while. All we know is Julie seeks out a few men, and kills them.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out there's a method to her clinical madness. Somehow, these men have ties to each other. But how? And why is she offing them? The real mystery here is why the hell does her mother let suicidal Julie leave town on her own. But Julie does leave town. Well, not really.


At 40, she's an assassin armed with a little black book of five names. Why she would need a book to remember five names escapes me. Hell, when I kill five people I do it without writing their names down. Anyway...


Her first stop takes her to a high rise, where a guy in a beret is mopping the front patio as if he's a clown mopping up the spotlight. Dolled up, she attempts to bribe him for entry into a Mr. Bliss' apartment and fails. So Julie crashes his pre-wedding party. Bliss is a womanizer, so he takes the bait, even with his wife at the party. Those French are so romantic.

new balcony

Claude Rich (Bliss)


Her next stop is a loner named Mr. Coral, a man who owes back rent in his shabby apartment, a man who checks his hair in windows and mirrors, yet a man who is embarrassed to admit he's had fewer than 10 women in his life, which I suppose is sad for a Frog.

It's just so odd that she creates these elaborate ruses just to kill someone. Why not just kill them? Well, the answer may be that she likes cold dishes. She wants them to be caught off-guard, and then she wants them to know why they are being killed. But it's just not clear. In a way, it seems these schemes were invented because it makes it a more fun movie.

One of the conceits of her murders involves a mandolin song on a record she carries around with her, sort of her Soundtrack to Murder. Me, I'd choose something more aggressive like Metallica or even Gino Vannelli, but okay, it doesn't matter, as this device inexplicably disappeared after murder number two.

Another oddity is that there are no heroes in this movie. I hear this line all the time in Hollywood - "Where's the 'sympathetic character?'" Of course, this is 1960's France and Truffaut would often break film law, usually to his credit; but sometimes when rules are broken we're left unsatisfied. You don't see Hitch making a movie without someone to root for. In a way, I suppose Julie is a hero by default, as the murderees all seem to be extraordinary cads. Also, when someone is arrested for the murder of one of her victims, she calls the police to tell them they have the wrong woman. So, there's a heart in there somewhere, it's just as black as the bride's dress.

None of the performances really stood out for me. Moreau was already soaked from swimming in the French New Wave pool with Truffaut with her lauded performance in JULES & JIM (she played neither), made six years earlier (hey, I wouldn't mind living on the Island of Jeanne Moreau). But here, she didn't quite punch through that much. I never had the sense of motivation or emotion, though there were a few scenes where she breaks down. The men, all swine over swain, were, you know, disposable. You just don't care if they die.

Truffaut incorporates the Hitch vibe with a sweeping, suspenseful REAR WINDOW/PSYCHO/VERTIGO soundtrack and characters that look straight into the camera or point a bow and arrow at us. Though I certainly felt the joy in Truffaut's love of Hitch, most of the time it just seemed easy, weak and occasionally, borderline parody.

Although a revenge movie, TBWB shows us how men act when they're alone, or with their friends, or with women - when they think they can get laid. Years after the movie, Truffaut himself would poo poo (that's French, right?) this movie. Yet I'd say that THE BRIDE WORE BLACK is worth seeing. It just should have been a little more fun, or at very least, playful. That's what made Hitchcock movies work so well.


I love Bobby. Since 1990. But now "The Pitbull of Comedy" looks in the camera and calls himself "The Pitbull of Comedy," so I had a bit of doubt about this Showtime special that first aired in March of 2010.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, there's something charming about his aggressiveness. Because, just maybe, it's not that aggressive. He says he is, but he's really just a funny guy who tells it as he sees it, and in an authoritative and confident manner. But in truth, he's saying a lot of what comedians have been saying all along. There's nothing new in talking about the differences between men and women or making racial jokes. Bobby just dresses it up in a punk attire. And does it really, really well.

July 19, 2016


Your December Unrandom Movie Club Results Are In!


Pizza: Joe Peep's

Preshow Entertainment: None


Yep. It took four gay Jews to make one of the best (if not the best) modern musicals. Leonard Bernstein's score, Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, Jerome Robbins' choreography and Arthur Laurents' book have all conspired to create a masterpiece. Broadway and movie musicals have morphed (think MOULIN ROUGE) since the Golden Age (think OKLAHOMA), but boy, boy, crazy boy this film holds up exceptionally well for a 50 year old. And who'd have thought NYC gang members could get away with those terpsichorean moves. Imagine trying that in BOYZ N THE HOOD.

WSS opens with something you don't have too often in movie musicals these days - an overture. Hell, even Broadway musicals don't do much of that anymore. WSS's overture could win a rumble against any show, which means we hear Bernstein's genius at work before we see any characters. We're actually watching what looks like a UPC code transform into the Manhattan skyline.

And so begins the modern day (late 50s modern, that is) story, lifted from Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET. This version takes place in New York City, home of street gang the Jets, now led by Riff (Russ Tamblyn, Amber's dad and my future father-in-law). The Jets' territory is being encroached upon by the recently emigrated Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, and what starts off as a turf war (done in its new genre "tough guy ballet") becomes a love story. A love story that's doomed from the start.

Riff is just so cool. He was when I saw the movie when I was a kid and he is now. Riff in that jacket, speaking daddy-o lines, flicking that cigarette, balancing on that pole, he was the real Buddy Love. Riff tells us that you're a Jet "from your first cigarette to your last dying day." How cool is that?

In order to challenge rival Bernardo (George Chakiris) and his Sharks to a rumble, Riff must enlist ex-Jet top cat/now working-man Tony (Richard Beymer) to join him. Though Tony has hung up his street-gang ballet slippers, he agrees, out of their undying friendship. And it's at this dance that Tony and Bernardo's sister Maria (Natalie Wood) meet and instantly click. In the next two hours songs will be sung, dances danced and fights fought. And these violent delights will have violent ends.

Some changes were made when WSS transitioned from stage (1957) to screen (1961). Dialogue like "From sperm to worm" became "from birth to earth." And lyrics went from "My father is a bastard, my ma's an SOB" to "My daddy beats my mommy, my mommy clobbers me". And in the TONIGHT QUINTET, Anita's "As long as he's hot" became "As long as he's near."

Tame and almost laughable changes by today's standards (SHREK has more "offensive" language..."eat me!"), but I suppose they were needed. My favorite change is also in the TONIGHT QUINTET, when Riff and Tony are meant to yell out (once again) "sperm to worm", they now yell out "1, 2, 3!" I have to believe it was someone's "fuck you" to censorship.

A change that I'm wholeheartedly behind is the song order; moving the playful GEE, OFFICER KRUPKE from after the murders (why was it there to begin with?) to earlier in the film, leaving COOL in its rightful place. But all these structural and lyrical changes mean little when looking at the overall accomplishment.

Winner of ten Academy Awards, WEST SIDE STORY was directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. The show itself was Robbins' baby, having come up with the idea in 1947. At that time, it was a religious wedge (Catholic boy/Jewish girl) that made the love forbidden, and it was called EAST SIDE STORY. It took a full ten years to retool, regroup, and launch WSS as what we know today.

When it came time to make the movie, Robbins demanded directorship or he wouldn't sell. The compromise was to co-direct with Wise, who would do all the drama while Robbins did all the dance numbers. But Robbins was a workhorse and a perfectionist. He was notoriously tough on dancers, who he pushed until they were injured, and in one case, hospitalized. It's said that after COOL was wrapped, the cast burned their kneepads in front of Robbins' door. And because he kept changing things on the set, it wasn't long before they were over-budget and behind schedule (a two week location shoot took over two months). Alas, poor Jerome was removed a little over halfway into the shoot.

Wise, who edited CITIZEN KANE and would soon direct THE SOUND OF MUSIC as well as genre-hop with movies like 1983's STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (can you imagine McCoy doing that outstretched leap?), was more low-key. But who's to say that if Robbins wasn't there to drive those songs, WSS would still be what it is. Not me. Because the choreography is thrilling. Busting with energy ("Bust cool!"), it's really something special. Tamblyn tumbled (he was surely a gymnast), Chakiris was classy and Moreno a spitfire. And whenever the Jets and the Sharks were together (the winning prologue, the dance at the gym, the rumble), it was electric. ODD NOTE: Both Tamblyn and Beymer would appear three decades later in TWIN PEAKS.

I'm not sure any movie comes close to the number of showstoppers that WSS has. It's almost ridiculous to the point where you want to applaud your TV screen (audiences applauded in the theaters as well as at the box office, where WSS ran 77 weeks). Though it's hard for me to choose a favorite, COOL ranks way high, right to the very last note when the Jets are looking up and...right at us. But did they really break the fourth wall? After a cut, we see they're still looking up...at something. Us? Who knows? But it sure was COOL.

And now a word about the music: Wow.

Beneath Leonard Bernstein's jazz-soaked score you'll find lush strings, brassy mambo and melodic and emotional ballads, and you probably know most of them. Time signatures that fit seamlessly yet confounded the dancers. Memorable melody lines (when was the last time you saw a show and left humming one of its songs, let along all of them? I thought so...). Songs have been covered by just about everyone, from Barbra Streisand to Tom Waits, from Buddy Rich (whose live show often featured his WEST SIDE STORY MEDLEY, which I was fortunate enough to see a few times) to Todd Rundgren. From GLEE to prog rockers Yes. Hell, even Phil Collins tried but couldn't ruin SOMEWHERE.

After this viewing, I got such a bad case of Music From WSS Fever that I watched a DVD called LEONARD BERNSTEIN CONDUCTS WEST SIDE STORY. What a fantastic documentary. Yeah, so you've seen WSS and you don't want to watch it again (shame on you). Then at least watch this documentary (Netflix). It's thrilling. No joke. Thrilling. Perhaps the best thing I've seen all year.

When I was in 6th grade, we had an assignment to, well, I don't really remember what it was. All I remember was I read the novelization of WEST SIDE STORY and rewrote it as a science fiction story about two planets that didn't get along. There were the MontaSharks and the CapuJets. The planet was named Wesit, hence the story's title - WESIT STORY. I remember that novelization well. It was small and hard-covered and red. I wish I still had it. I wish I still had WESIT STORY. What happens to these things? In the trash with the now priceless baseball cards, I suppose.

If I had to find a weakness in WSS, it would be in the acting. With a few exceptions (Rita Moreno as Anita shines, and Ned Glass' Doc can make you whimper), it's all pretty flat. Save for Natalie "Meteor" Wood. Her performance in the last few minutes is killer. Metaphorically, of course.

Speaking of performances; though it's well known that singer Marni Nixon dubbed Wood's singing voice, I was surprised to learn that she wasn't the only one dubbed; Tamblyn, Beymer, even Moreno (only on A BOY LIKE THAT).

There are others to credit for WEST SIDE STORY, like lyricist Stephen Sondheim (don't get me started...I may not stop), storyteller Ernest Lehman (Really? This script and NORTH BY NORTHWEST?) and effects pioneer Linwood Dunn who worked with Wise on KANE (someone should name a theater after him). And the wonderful production design and colors provided by designer Boris Leven. Though most of the movie was shot on sound stages, many exteriors were shot where Lincoln Center stands today, before what was there was torn down (I think they paid the city to postpone construction so they could shoot freely on the streets).

You must be tired of me gushing, but the truth is you're getting off easy because WEST SIDE STORY isn't even my favorite musical. But it's up there at #5. And no, I didn't tear up this time. But when no one was around, I watched it again so I could work on this write-up and okay, it got to me. So yeah, I buggin' love WEST SIDE STORY. And if you don't, well then Krup you.

June 01, 2016


2012 by Random Movie Club
Your Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: We Were Warned.

PIZZA: Little Toni's


Because I couldn't decide on a headline for this write-up, I'll let you see all the contenders and choose for yourself:







For the 12th anniversary of Random Movie Club, we screened 2012, a big fat stupid effects movie. But that's okay, sometimes we want to see big fat stupid effects movies. But when your big fat stupid effects movie has characters who you have less-than-zero emotional investment in, then you're left with just the effects. And when your effects shots are always moving, like you're on THE SIMPSONS ride at Universal (but without the fun of actually being on the ride), you're in a world of trouble. This movie is an assault on the eyeballs, as we find ourselves constantly dodging falling buildings, lava flows, missiles, airborne trains, and pavement whose cracks follow us like bloodhounds on a scent, no matter which direction we're running in. And therein lies an additional, less visible problem; because this is yet another movie with countless first-person POV shots, we never, not even once, feel that the characters are in any jeopardy. Instead, we feel like we're playing...no...we feel like we are watching someone else play an 80's Atari game.


2012 begins with the (not quite Annette Bening) Columbia Pictures woman holding the torch...whose flame sort of becomes a supernova. So they got me. They played with a studio logo. Somehow they knew that this trick would put me on their side, like it did for RAIDERS, CAT BALLOU, MARS ATTACKS!, SERENITY and so many more. Oh, how I love when they do that. And oh, how I wish I would have shut the movie off when that logo shot ended and instead, nursed a pint of antifreeze.


Chiwetal Ejiofor as Adrian Helmsley
India, 2009, and Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) ("Say, what is a Chiwetel Ejio for, anyway?") a deputy geologist for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (which in real life has no geologists, yes I checked) is visiting astrophysicist Dr. Tsurutani (Jimi Mistry). Tsurutani takes Adrian 11,000 feet down into what used to be the world's deepest copper mine so he could show him...a video on his laptop?? Really? Okay okay, after that, he opens a 6,000 foot deep well to show him that solar flares are mutating the neutrinos (now with less sugar!) to act like microwaves and are heating the earth's core. And that's all the time they spend on the reason why. To be fair, that's probably a good move. We don't want science (especially if it's wrong) in a popcorn movie. We want to see iconic landmarks destroyed.

Oliver Platt as Carl Anheuser
So Adrian travels back to D.C. He hasn't slept in two days (he couldn't sleep on the plane?), yet he is compelled to interrupt Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), a government bigwig whose last name is a veiled Bush reference, during a fundraiser. "You have to read this now!" he yells. Because apparently, after the party will be too late!! That means the world's going to end any second!!! So when this scene is over, we better cut to...six months later? In 2010??? And we're where? In...Tibet? To either relocate people or put them to work on an oppressive government dam project that's not really a dam project? Hmmm.

Later that year, President Wilson (Danny Glover, who really is too old to be doing this shit) informs the other world leaders that the world will end.

President Wilson (Danny Glover)

And now...poof!...it's 2011. Here's where I would have liked to have seen a scene where Adrian is feeling foolish for interrupting Anheuser's fundraiser two years ago with his "you have to read this now!" moment. But instead, we travel to London where a sheik is informed that something he is interested in will cost him one billion Euros per person (and he's got a big family).

France is next, where we witness the heads of the Louvre and some Heritage Organization replace the Mona Lisa and tell us that the original will be placed in a bunker in Switzerland.

See if you can guess what happens next. Go ahead. Try. Nope. Wrong. Try again. Uh uh. Also wrong! Okay, geez, will you calm down? I'll tell you. Next, we cut to...the opening credits. And that should give you some idea on just how much 100% USDA Certified Crap they've crammed into this movie. At best, it's all just silly, but it's rarely at its best. I won't bore you with all the subplots and details. They bored me enough for all of us. But I will tell you a little about the main character, Jackson Curtis, played by John Cusack.

Jackson's a 33 year old limousine driver/struggling author. When we first meet him, he has fallen asleep on the couch, in his clothes, with a laptop and a pad resting on his chest (struggling author, remember?) and the TV on (which happens to be running a breaking news story on a Mayan mass suicide). Jackson's awakened by an earthquake, though I don't think he ever realized it. He's late to pick up his kids, who he somehow lost custody of to his ex, Kate (Amanda Peet). She's got herself a new guy, Gordon (Thomas McCarthy), and he's a plastic surgeon, and...what the hell am I doing? Who cares? The world's going to end!!

Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson)
And since the world is ending, there's really no need to tell you about bloated Russian billionaire Yuri (I bet they had fights whether to name him Yuri or Sergei) with two odd looking kids and his girlfriend, Tamara (more fights over Tamara vs. Svetlana?). Oh, and FYI - Jackson happens to be Yuri's limo driver. And I don't need to mention the cruise ship singing duo of Harry and Tony, played by Blu Mankuma (that's just too close to Blue Man Group) and George Segal. Tony won't speak to his son anymore because he married a Japanese woman, and they have a kid named, I shit you not - Yoko. I also won't tell you about the murders. Or Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), a conspiracy theorist who happens to be right...and as cliche-eccentric (he enjoys eating pickles) as possible.

But all that's nothing. Here are the real reasons 2012 sucks.


-Director/writer/producer Roland Emmerich: "We realized there was only one man who could play this part: John Cusack." Well, then how great is it for you that Cusack said yes? Because according to you, if Cusack turned you down, then you would have been forced to cancel your movie, since he was the only one who could play this part. Either that or say: "We realized there was only one man who could play this part - John Cusack. But he turned us down, so we got someone who stinks."

-Emmerich and co-producer Harald Kloser commented that their script was so good that people just signed on immediately. That means it had nothing to do with Emmerich's track record of multi-million dollar blockbusters featuring sky-high salaries. Do they really believe that cool, smart John Cusack would have done this movie for scale?

-Co-producer Marc Weigert: "We tried to do as much research as possible, so we watched the Discovery Channel shows."


-How does a geologist outrank security? Why would Helmsley, (who has the more pressing matter of saving the world) be in charge of someone who trespassed (Jackson)? Shouldn't he be looking at data and lava and a fissure or two? This man is clearly out of his bailiwick! (I finally got to use that word!)

-While the cruise ship is boarding, a large wave violently smashes the behemoth against the docks. Later, the ship is on its cruise. What the H? There was no damage?


-In one of the many getaway scenes, every single building and vehicle on the road is destroyed. Not one remains. Everything is either toppled or crushed. Except for the car that Jackson is driving. And because this is how they set the table, we're now sure that this family will be safe from anything thrown at them, except my pointed ridicule.

-QUESTION: If a 30 mile volcano was erupting, would you...

A) Stand in the danger zone with your family and watch it? or
B) Run the fuck away?
(Correct 2012 answer: A)


-And just how did the L.A. icon Randy's Donut roll 6 miles to El Segundo? That gives me an idea. This movie could have been this generation's AIRPLANE! (It actually did make me laugh a lot, when it wasn't angering me.) They could have used that Randy's Donut as a runner, popping up in China, Africa, wherever our players happened to be, and finally ending up as a giant life preserver that saves the world.

randy donut roll

-I'm no geologist, but the idea of the earth's crust shifting thousands of miles and staying intact seems a bit implausible. But it's a summer movie, so okay. I'll let them have China moving 1500 miles. But how did the people survive? Was it like a giant People Mover? Was it like...land surfing?

-They're on an ark (they actually do call it an ark) at the end! Too on the nose? Well then dig this;

-The son's name is Noah.

-On the way to the arks, we see helicopters dangling giraffes and elephants underneath. Hysterical!!

-An alternate ending provides us with one of the biggest laughs. It turns out that George Segal and Blu Mankuna survived the overturned/sunk cruise ship. At the end, they're on one of the arks. Somehow, someone had spotted these two in the ocean, plucked them, and put them on the ark. And to drive home the extreme peril they were in, Segal's arm is in a sling.



If there's one thing I hate in any movie, it's extraordinary coincidences. You know the kind; people bumping into people in weird places, like other states or countries. Sure, it can happen, so I always try and give a movie one or two passes. In 1985, I saw the movie REVOLUTION starring Al Pacino and Nastassja Kinski. That's the first movie that made me groan because of the coincidences. Pacino and Kinski bumped into each other everywhere, in different states, on battlefields, maybe even on the moon, I can't remember. From that point on, I've used the word "Revolution" to mean "far-fetched, movie-convenient coincidence."

I am here to tell you that 2012 wins for most "Revolutions Per Minute." Here, please sample but a few:

  1. Adrian just happened to have read, and loved, Jackson's book, even though Jackson only sold 422 copies.
  2. And if that's not enough of a coincidence, Adrian meets Jackson, who happened to be trespassing in the government restricted area of Yellowstone Park.
  3. Because they can't make it to China, Jackson and his family (along with Gordon) land in what's left of Vegas. And who happens to be there, standing right on the tarmac? Jackson's boss, Yuri! This is a Double Revolution, because it turns out Yuri's girlfriend Tamara had her boobs done by Gordon.
  4. On the ark, the crew turns on a monitor to check out the hydraulic gear shaft, and when it illuminates, who do they see? Jackson's family. In close up. "I know those kids!", says Adrian.
  5. People on the ark look out the windows to see Air Force One floating by. That seems a little impossible, no? Especially with the earth now covered in more water than before.
  6. With hundreds of thousands of people on the arks, Tamara and Yuri manage to spot each other.
  7. While stopping at a convenience store near Yellowstone Park with his kids, Jackson's daughter sees a TV. Lily: "That's Mrs. Birnbaum, my teacher...on TV!" This is another Double Revolution, because Kate and Gordon were in that very same supermarket at the same time as Mrs. Birnbaum.
  8. In Washington D.C., bodies are everywhere, covered in ash. But one guy manages to not die. He stands up. Hey! It's the President!


-Sample dialogue: "When they tell you not to panic, that's when you run!!!"

-There are so many scenes where people call someone, and while they are on the phone they hear that person die. Then they put on a sour face of disbelief.

  1. Laura (the president's daughter and head of that Heritage Foundation, played by Thandie Newton) talking to French Museum Director. (She gets to hear him die.)
  2. Adrian talking to his friend Tsurutani. (He gets to hear him die)
  3. Tony talking to his son (He hangs up right before he dies, so he doesn't have to hear it.)
-Then there's the hack dialogue-reversals, like:

  1. Person A: "We're taking on an increase of almost .05%." Person B (incredulous): Per day???" Person A: "No. Per hour."
  2. Person A: "One billion dollars is a lot of money." Person B: "I'm afraid the amount is in Euros."
  3. Person A: "You're telling me that the North Pole is now somewhere in Wisconsin?" Person B: "Actually, that's the South Pole now."
-When it's all over, and the arks are floating to the new world (Africa, actually), Laura is in her room reading Jackson's book. Adrian asks her out, and Laura delivers Cliche Movie Line #1: "Are you asking me out on a date, Mr. Helmsley?" Awwww, how adorable. But that's not all. She continues, coyly, "You know, my diary is pretty full." WHAT? What the hell does that even mean? Doesn't she mean her "dance card' is full? Now maybe that's an expression I've never heard in my life (nor has Google), but even if it is, shouldn't they have gone with "dance card?" Did none of the thousand people working on this movie point that out?

-In the beginning of the movie, Jackson is unaware that his daughter still wets her bed at age 7 and that she needs to wear Pull-Ups. So what's the last line of the movie? Lily: "No more Pull-ups." Jackson: "Nice." I suppose one can argue that life will go on as usual. It's also lucky for Lily, as there are no more stores to buy Pull-Ups from.


Out of curiosity (or maybe because of my abundance of masochism), I watched the knock-off movie 2012: ICE AGE. It was made by The Asylum, a production company that is defined by its intentional rip-offs of big budget tentpoles like TITANIC (theirs was TITANIC II) and SNAKES ON A PLANE (SNAKES ON A TRAIN). I'm here to tell you that as preposterous as the Asylum's version is, it's not any worse than the original 2012. It follows just one family (though the daughter is separated from them), instead of dozens of global characters and the attempted saving of the entire human race. We become more invested in this family unit, with one goal (meet up with the daughter and survive). Unfortunately, because of how insouciant the players were during the annihilation of Earth, it fell flat. But 2012: ICE AGE doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is - a low budget outing riding on the coattails of the movie 2012, whereas 2012 thinks it's not only a great movie, but an important one.


On the commentary, director/co-writer Roland Emmerich, no stranger to the disaster movie genre (INDEPENDENCE DAY, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW) and co-writer Harald Kloser seem like nice enough guys, though because of their respective German and Austrian accents, it's kinda like listening to Siegfried and Roy tell us about the end of the world. I can't really blame them for saying how great this actor is or that shot is (or even when Kloser, who also co-produced and scored the movie, started a sentence with - "As good producers, we..."). I mean, they did score three-quarters of a billion dollars on the theatrical run. So really, anything I say, and advice I give, would probably lower that number, perhaps by three-quarters of a billion dollars. But I just can't help thinking, What if 2012 wasn't a big stupid movie? What if it was a big smart movie? Or at very least, a big cool movie?


Okay, I know. We all work hard and sometimes when we see a movie, we just want to watch mindless stuff. We just want to see buildings topple, the Earth split, and giraffes dangle from helicopters. So if that's what you want, then that's what you got. But it saddens me that so many talented effects people did some amazing work on 2012, only to have it feel invisible, wasted on a movie where the characters are in the same amount of danger whether they are in the movie or at home watching it. What the filmmakers needed to do was watch some Irwin Allen and learn that putting heart into your movie (and a dash of schmaltz) will make you care about the people. Let them watch con man Fred Astaire get a cat handed to him, signalling the demise of the woman he was falling for in THE TOWERING INFERNO, or Shelley Winters sacrificing herself to save the others in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Siegfried and Roy were absolutely right when they reminded me on the commentary that "when you look through the character's eyes...the action itself becomes emotional." Now if only they'd go out and make a movie that does this. Or they can just make another piece of crap like 2012. And another billion dollars.

September 26, 2015

THE FLY (1986)

Your March Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Cool Dialogue: “The medicine cabinet is now the Brundle Museum of Natural History.”

Pizza: Royal Pizza



Random often has a sense of humor. At the last RMC, we got the movie WINGS. Now, we got THE FLY. What's next, CRAZY STUPID LARVAE?

David and Mel
Here’s something you may not know about the 1986 remake of THE FLY - it was produced by Max Bialystock, in a skewed way. It was, and I’m not joking, produced by Mel Brooks. Back in the 80s, Brooks produced dramas like 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD and THE ELEPHANT MAN, both wonderful movies. He also produced THE FLY. Though he made many decisions, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on set barking, “It’s good to be the producer!” Brooks was also responsible for the movie’s tagline, taken directly from its dialogue: “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” He’d suggested that “Veronica would be afraid, she’d be very afraid.” And it stuck. Used a zillion times since, including by yours truly in something I wrote years ago - Stephen: I destroyed a beautiful thing between two people! Something they had going for eight years. I feel like I did the wrong thing, and I'm afraid I made a mistake. Mother: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I love THE FLIES. There’s the 1958 original with Vincent Price (which screened at RMC back in 2002) and tonight’s entry, director David Cronenberg’s remake. They’re both wildly fun movies, but not for the same reasons. That’s a bit odd, being their wacky yet perfectly fine sci-fi premise is the same. But we’re here to talk about the remake, which is a rare bird in the Hollywood sky because it’s as good, if not better (depending on how I feel when asked), than the original. Apparently, scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) never watched the 1958 version, or he may have heeded its warning – “There are things Man should never experiment with.”

Brundle’s teleportation project goes terribly wrong, placing himself and others in peril. It’s a stalwart premise in sci-fi movies as well as every single ride at Universal Studios. But one of the things I love about THE FLY is that in spite of its majorly preposterous premise, we start feeling sorry for Brundle. Therein lies the skill of good characters and storytelling. In fact, everything in THE FLY makes sense, except for the fact that teleportation was invented before we all had cell phones. Also making sense, Cronenberg’s interest in the project, having been fascinated with insects since childhood. In fact, THE FLY was his biggest moneymaker and most accessible film, having previously made the films RABID, THE BROOD, the cult-y and cool VIDEODROME, THE DEAD ZONE (I keep forgetting that was before THE FLY) and SCANNERS (best trailer ever! http://go.shr.lc/1KUNeeI).

THE FLY wastes no time with set up. We enter a world where Brundle’s invention has been completed and is in test mode. He’s a cocky yet likable scientist who, within minutes of the opening credits, has seduced Particle Magazine reporter Veronica (Geena Davis). He wants her to come back to his lab to see his invention that will change the world (a pick-up line that often works for me). When they get there, he makes a beeline for an upright piano (a move that has never worked for me), and it sure sounds like he’s playing a version of LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING. Why?? Because although THE FLY is wearing Horror Film clothes, it’s actually a love story, you know, like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, KING KONG and KOYAANISQATSI. (Okay, maybe not KOYAANISQATSI.) Brundle shows her his teleportation devices – two ‘telepods’ that look like Gemini space capsules – makes sense, it’s Man exploring a new frontier (in actuality, they’re patterned after the Ducati motorcycle cylinder from Cronenberg’s bike). They sleep together, of course; he’s charming and ripped, and she’s Geena Davis. (Goldblum and Davis were already a couple when they were both cast in THE FLY. They’d marry a year later and divorce three years after that.)

Despite his protestations, Veronica is going to write an article on Brundle’s teleportation device. And to make matters worse for Brundle, Victoria used to date Stathis Borans (John Getz) (I went into the anagram maker to see if this name secretly meant something, and the closest I got was ‘Satan robs shit’), who is her boss at Particle Magazine. And boy oh boy oh boy do boys get jealous. And petty; Stathis runs the story on Brundle out of spite, behind Veronica’s back, and so Brundle, well…Brundle decides to run the test on himself. But this is no the-funders-are-going-to-pull-the-plug-on-my-project-so-I-must-try-it-on-myself trope. He does so out of very human traits – jealousy and anger (is Veronica going back to her ex?).

And then, something happens. And we are afraid, we are very afraid. The upside of this new Brundlefly (half man/half fly)? Brundle now has the stamina of a man on a steroids & Viagra cocktail, emphasis not on the ‘tail’ syllable. There’s something fascinating about Brundle’s transformation, besides the physical mechanics. Goldblum (and/or Cronenberg and/or his first draft writer Charles Edward Pogue, or any combo thereof) chose not to make Seth Brundle a mousy geek afraid of women (Peter Parker, Clark Kent). Or a dark soul tormented and damaged by events in his past. No, Brundle starts off kinetic and hyper, so when he transforms, he can only become hyperkinetic and, urrr…hyperhyper. And, against my better judgment had I only seen it on the page, it works really well.

Cronenberg’s pacing is something to be admired. It makes Brundle’s transformation easy to digest in a story that has a danger of getting unintentional laughs (I wonder if they worried about that). The arc of Brundle’s mental and physical deterioration is handled so adeptly that it feels we’re not asked to buy any of it – it’s more like we’re asking for it. Even when he’s past the point of no return, he somehow holds onto his humanity, and even his humor.

For a popular movie (people actually talked by the water cooler about this movie), it’s great to see how small the cast was. It just shows you what you can do with a great story, a great director and great actors. There was no CG budget because there was no CG back then. And let me tell you, some of the effects are beyond slick. All the stages of metamorphosis are smart and fun, and that regurgitation/breaking-down-of-the-hand-and-foot was more awesome than expected. And the arm wrestling scene? Wonderfully grotesque; memorable movie moments. The Blu-ray has a multitude of how-they-did-its worth your time, even if you’re not an effects geek. It’ll make you appreciate the movie even more. Included; the monkey-cat, a sequence that was cut after previews. Too bad, because I liked the monkey-cat death (Brundle kills it with a lead pipe). It was a mercy killing that foretells the ending. Those involved in the film said it didn’t test well, that once your main character kills an animal, even a hybrid monkey-cat, it’s hard to still like him. I wonder if it were directed differently (Yeesh, Rich, are you really giving Cronenberg notes? On a nearly 30 year old film?); if we saw the extreme anguish on Brundle’s face after the mercy killing so we’d feel for him, and show how hard it was not only to commit the act, but also his frustration that his experiment didn’t work. However, I’m very glad they cut the “butterfly baby” coda (Veronica dreams of her child as half baby/half butterfly). Not only that, but she ends up with Stathis, which just makes me hate her. I wasn’t alone on this. Everyone, including the producers and actors, didn’t want it. Not sure about Cornenberg’s thoughts. Damn, I just went on a little too long about this. Why didn’t you stop me?

Many see THE FLY as a parable of addiction or disease and the steps users or victims go through. And the relationship of their loved ones. Run with that or not, you’d have to admit that the stages of sickness are there; the infection, the symptoms, the denial, the acceptance. The tragedy.

Cronenberg, who has a brief role as a gynecologist, adds plenty of smart touches throughout. I love that Brundle bites his nails, a call-forward to what happens to him later. Also love the irony of Brundle having motion sickness when he’s in the car at the beginning. In a loft scene where he’s discovering his new strengths, Cronenberg and Co. choose to do it all without music, which ends up being very effective. It’s like you’re watching a gymnast live.

Nail biting

The Blu-ray is comprehensive and spectacular, with features that clock in over four times the running time of the actual film. Along with the original short story by George Langelaan (first published in Playboy in 1957), the first draft that was written by Charles Edward Pogue, and the very different script that Cronenberg rewrote from the Pogue draft, there are interviews from nearly everyone; Pogue, the editor, producer, production designer, effects, and Goldblum, Davis and Getz (my law firm). Everyone except Cronenberg himself. However, he is featured in test footage, on set, donning goofy fly wings and antennae, as he rides the cylinder gimbal that rotated the set for one of the shots.


“Help me!” If you’ve seen the original, you surely know those two words. Not only has "Help me!" been parodied in such things as THE SIMPSONS and THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE, but even Frank Zappa references it in his 1971 opus BILLY THE MOUNTAIN. The narrator says, “Soon the (telephone) booth was filling with flies,” as other voices respond in high-pitched screams of ‘Help me’.” In Cronenberg’s FLY, it’s winked at in a scene in a bar where a Bryan Ferry song is playing, a song called HELP ME. Though truth be told, the song feels more like a James Bond opening credits song. (It was originally meant to be THE FLY’s closing credits song).

The original 1958 film spawned two maggots; RETURN OF THE FLY was released minutes after THE FLY (you know how fast flies gestate!), and in 1965 - CURSE OF THE FLY. I loved them when I was a kid, but now I have no idea how good they actually are. I do remember they were a bit silly (in one, the scientist had guinea pig or rabbit paws). Even Cronenberg’s remake had a sequel, 1988’s THE FLY II. I saw it in the theater and remember nothing about it. Pretty sure there were no rabbit paws, though. In 2008, an opera version of THE FLY, directed by Cronenberg, was performed with music by Howard Shore, who did the original 1986 soundtrack (it’s so full sounding and elegant, with a mix of spookiness and triumph).

THE FLY is a fantastic movie. Yes, it’s got Geena Davis, a really good bad guy, a message, and all the stuff movies are meant to have. But let’s call it like it is; Cronenberg’s vision and Jeff Goldblum’s chops carry this movie on their tiny wings.

Housefly as seen through a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM).
Photo courtesy of the RMC Librarian.


Ladies Man Cast

Alfred Molina starred as Jimmy in this sitcom that premiered in September of 1999 and went on for 26 episodes. The title refers not to his male prowess, but to the fact that his household is distaff-centric; wife Donna (Sharon Lawrence), ex-wife Claire (Park Overall), their kids Wendy (Katie Volding, who was replaced after this episode with Alexa Vega, seconds before she broke big in SPY KIDS), Bonnie (Shawna Waldron), another daughter on the way, and Claire’s mom Peaches, played by Dixie Carter. And that scene-stealer Betty White as Jimmy’s mother Mitzi. Somehow, show creator Chris Thompson, who created funny shows like BOSOM BUDDIES and THE NAKED TRUTH, manages to get the entire cast into the bathroom while Jimmy is trying to shave. Molina is likable (not like he was when he stole the idol from Indiana Jones), and so was the show. And funny, too.

Of course we’re going to get Y2K and “digital phone” jokes, but mostly it’s about their impending baby two weeks away, and Jimmy’s inability to have sex with Donna. It’s a throwback sitcom, more of the RAYMOND ilk than TWO AND A HALF MEN (LM’s penis jokes are more classy).

Original commercials from 1999 included Saturn, Calvin Klein’s Contradiction for Men, and the Ikea ad on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. You can also take a poll on what you think of CBS shows by logging on to America Online, keyword CBS.

September 12, 2015


Your RMC II Results Are In!

Tagline: An Epic of the Air

Pizza: Numero Uno

Preshow Entertainment: TALES FROM THE WARNER BROS. LOT


Please don’t confuse tonight’s selection with McCartney’s post-Beatles band, or the 90s sitcom, or actor Wings Hauser, or the movie THE WINGS, about a gay sculptor. This is WINGS, the 1927 epic silent movie, famous for, among many things, being the first movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. What a fantastic movie choice the Gods of Random chose for us, especially after watching the preshow - TALES FROM THE WARNERS LOT. By accident, tonight was all about film history.

“Everything that I have, everything that I’ve ever accomplished, I have to credit a film called WINGS.” This was said by A.C. Lyles, Hollywood producer from the 1950s through his consulting work on HBO’s DEADWOOD (Lyles died at age 95, a few months before we screened WINGS). Lyles saw WINGS when he was 10 and was instantly thunderstruck. Not 10 years later, he moved to Hollywood and worked for Paramount, the studio that made WINGS. He worked in the movie biz for decades all because of WINGS.

I can see how in 1927, WINGS would hit anyone hard. It was an ambitious project, with thousands of extras, eye-popping acrobatic flying stunts and up-till-then unseen shots of planes and dogfights (to show perspective, they sometimes had to wait weeks for clouds to appear, rather than shoot against a clear blue sky). Of course today we’d hardly bat an eyelash because, let’s face it, we’re all CG-spoiled. But in 1927, moviegoers jaws must have hit the floor. Plus it had Clara Bow, the biggest star at the time. Bow was born in Brooklyn, on the other side of Prospect Park from where I was born, in 1905. I mean, she was born in 1905. I arrived later. She’s buried only miles from me here in California, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, resting with the likes of Forrest Ackerman and Billy Barty.


Though the backdrop of WINGS is WWI fighter pilots, it’s actually a love story. Okay, it’s a few tangled love stories. I’ll go on to say it’s even about the love that the two leading men have for each other. If WINGS had a Facebook page, under “Relationship,” it would have said “It’s Complicated.” Jack (Buddy Rogers, aka Mr. Mary Pickford) dreams of flying, while neighbor Mary (original It Girl Clara Bow) dreams of Jack. But Jack likes rich city girl Sylvia. (Fool! That’s Clara Bow you’re ignoring! She’s raking it in!) Meanwhile, wealthy David (Richard Arlen) is being wooed by, yep, Sylvia. Jack thinks Sylvia is in love with him, as Mary pines for Jack, and…yeah, it’s complicated. Toldya.

Jack and David, rivals in their town, find themselves at the same army training camp. There’s some cool stuff here, like machine gun target practice and mock cockpits that spin on gyros. And their bunkmate? Gary Cooper (Super-duper!), who is only in the movie for a short time. Also in training, Herman Schwimpf (El Brendel), a comic relief American soldier who becomes a punching bag, almost literally, when his loyalty is put to the test by nearly everyone he meets. Meanwhile, Mary answers a wartime ad for the Woman’s Motor Corps - “Those who can drive Ford cars are especially desired.” It’s almost 40 minutes before Jack and David even step foot in a plane.

There are a few great surprises in WINGS, like when one character makes a rash and fatal decision while thinking someone is dead. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it was done the exact same way 74 years later in that awful WWII movie, PEARL HARBOR. Rip-off? Perhaps. But it’s a story hook that’s been used forever. Can I get an amen, Juliet? WINGS goes on to feature a further twist which I will not reveal here. I will tell you that it’s wonderful storytelling and it may just break your heart. There’s also, despite its now outdated acting style prevalent at the time, a moment or two where you just may find yourself getting choked up.

Cockpit Selfie
I like the story a lot and love WINGS’s place in the history of film. But truth be told, I’m more impressed with the production itself. There are flashbacks, well-thought out match dissolves (one noteworthy one was from a parade baton spinning to a train wheel), and a zoom in and then back out (1927 also saw a zoom used in another Clara Bow movie, IT). And Wellman knew that if the audience wasn’t inside the cockpit with the pilots, it would look fake. So they put cameras inside the planes. Cinematographer Harry Perry used both cockpit seats of the plane - Perry in one/actor in the other. Other occasions saw the actors themselves flying and being their own cameramen, sort of like selfies. When cameramen weren’t in the cockpit, the cameras sometimes were activated by the pilot/actors themselves. They placed cameras on the wings facing into the cockpit and also outward to see other planes.

For a few months, in another lifetime, I lived in Oswego, a small town upstate New York. We got more snow than Buffalo yet, because Buffalo was the big town, they got all the news coverage. Makes sense, as the snow would impact more people in that region than in a small town. Similarly, because it was a high profile film seen by a large amount of people, WINGS often gets the credit for being the first to use flashbacks, cameras in cockpits, zoom lenses, nudity, etc. WINGS is like Buffalo N.Y. getting credit for the snow. But I assure you, there were plenty of “Oswego movies” (features and shorts) that employed these techniques before WINGS. All that said, their various uses here are wonderful.

Richard Arlen
Additionally, Richard Arlen learned to fly planes so it wouldn’t look cheated (Buddy Rodgers knew how, having been a pilot in WWI). The way they flew those airplanes is the way they were flown in WWI. Wellman, also a WWI fighter pilot (remember, WWI was only over for a few years when WINGS was being filmed), made sure that the way they flew the plane was the way they were actually flown in WWI. The aerial footage and stunts also featured some great crashes, sometimes with people crawling out of the wreckage.

Filled with action, WINGS also loads us up with melodrama. Take, for instance, the scene where Mary has apparently lost Jack to another woman. In the washroom (okay, it’s France, so it’s toilette), a female attendant takes one look at Mary’s sadness and knows it’s about a boy. Even as Mary denies denies denies, the attendant proceeds to try and help her. This scene (remember, it’s a silent film with titles) is beautiful. There are also some haunting images, like a soldier killed by a shell, laying dead on the side of the road as the troops, in shadows, walk past. Or a tank rolling over a foxhole, crushing its inhabitant. Wellman, in an uncredited role as a soldier, also dies in this movie.

But WINGS isn’t only, by a longshot, about planes and death and flying and stunts and crashing and cool footage. I said earlier that it was ambitious and I meant it. They sometimes had 19 cameras rolling at the same time in one shot. One moment saw hundreds of troops marching away from us at the bottom of the frame as a double exposure shows soldiers getting killed at the top of the frame. And then there’s the almost famous over-the-tables shot, where the camera moves “through” four tables before reaching our table. They used a crane, but even by 2015 standards, this is a wonderfully executed shot. But get this – I noticed that at one of the tables sit two women lovers. Who knew there were lesbians in 1927? I thought they were invented recently. Anyway, this segues well to:

Even though it was 1927, it was still a Roarin’ 1927. You’ll witness insert shots of a woman’s ass walking away, or one of a woman’s low neckline as she attaches a brooch. Not to mention two soldiers walking in on Mary, topless as she’s changing. Again, not the first instance of nudity in a movie. Certainly a scandalous moment at the time. And yes, you can find these precious images today on the Mr. Skin site.

There’s more to WINGS than its story, acting and production details. There’s what they did after the movie was made – both in 1927 and a few years ago, when they did a stunning restoration. There’s a playful use of tinting (amber, lavender, etc.), hand-drawn stenciled-in color (not terribly uncommon in silents) and animated champagne bubbles. Some of this was digitally replicated to match the original (they still had all the studio notes on what effects went where). They even recreated the score from all the original sheet music.

In 1926, Paramount (then still called Famous Players-Lasky Corporation) president Adolph Zukor didn’t want to put such a large amount of money into a movie about planes (the movie was shepherded by Zukor’s partner Lasky, who had discovered the story). It was a “roadshow” movie, slated to play in a few big cities. They were able to get the army involved - actually, it may have been the Army that approached them, as it was good PR for both sides - they got to use a Texas training camp, actual troops as extras, and, best of all, WWI planes that were not even a decade old. It’s estimated that WINGS received $3 million in men, goods, and services from the Army. I just looked it up and that’s $43 million by today’s dollar. On top of that, there was Paramount’s own $2 million (27m today). And while we’re talking pricing, a ticket to WINGS in 1927 cost $2. That’s $28 today. And though that’s a hefty price to pay for a movie, it was worth it for the moviegoer. It was a spectacle. Just the flying sequences alone were probably worth the ticket, as most of the world had never flown in a plane. WINGS was the highest grossing film of the year, and ended up playing in theaters with a live orchestra for two years.

Preshow Entertainment: TALES FROM THE WARNER BROS. LOT

I have my own tale of the Warner Brothers lot. I was walking around with my friend when we noticed that everyone on the lot stopped talking. And many stopped walking. It was, ironically, like a scene from a movie. A sci-fi movie. What was going on? Well, when we looked ahead, we saw a few studio suits walking with Clint Eastwood. Yup, Clint is the only one I’ve ever seen stop people in their tracks. Anyway…

TALES FROM THE WARNER BROS. LOT is a documentary that aired on TCM back in 2013. And it’s fantastic. Saluting 90 years of the studio’s history, the doc, along with some great stills of the lot being built, takes us on a tour of the studio that has more sound stages than any other lot in Hollywood. While actors, producers and directors like Martin Sheen, William H. Macy, Morgan Freeman, Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck, Steve Carell, Christopher Nolan, and my good buddy Clint Eastwood tell us what the studio lot means to them, I found the stories of current and past employees to be the most interesting. It’s here that we learn of fascinating beginnings, and how the four Warner Brothers (no sign of Gummo anywhere) got into the business. Sadly, no interviews with Yakko, Wakko and Dot Warner.

One employee, Dwayne Davis, is a 3rd generation Warners employee (his dad worked in construction, as does he, and his grandfather was a cameraman for Jack Warner). And Tour Guide Dean Ricca tells us a fantastic tale of Stage 16. I can’t tell you everything. You should watch it yourself. Look for it on TCM in its 53-minute version. There’s supposedly a 1hr 43min version, but that seems to be MIA. Love to get my paws on that.

Oh, by the way, also featured in TALES FROM THE WARNER BROS. LOT is Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. He was alive when we screened this, and died by the time I wrote all this up, proving once and for all that a man can die waiting for my RMC write-ups.

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