Saturday, April 30, 2016

Announcing the Film Noir Blogathon Aug. 12-14

Attn:  The actual Blogathon link page is here if you want to check out the entries that have been posted.  Thanks!

Announcing the
Film Noir Blogathon!

hosted by The Midnite Drive-In

"Down these mean streets a man must go..."  Those words, penned by Raymond Chandler, serve as a backdrop to what I consider one of the best genres of cinema.  Film noir.  The term is French for dark film or black film.  It was coined by French critic Nino Frank to refer to (mostly) American films of the late 40's and 50's which shared a common denominator of characters with "cynical attitudes and sexual motivations" (quote from wikipedia article on "film noir").

I have always explained to others that in film noir even the good guys are not exactly saints.  No good guys in white cowboy hats, these.  Sam Spade was willing to do whatever was necessary, within reason, to avenge his partner's death in The Maltese Falcon.  Sometimes people are caught up in circumstances beyond their control and have to  do things the average person would hesitate to do.

If you are familiar with film noir, you know exactly what I mean.  Movies like Double IndemnityThe Postman Always Rings TwiceSunset BoulevardKey Largo: these were the typical film noir movies of the day.  Film noir movies were typically filmed in black and white and made extensive uses of shadows to highlight the film's theme.  The classic film noir period ran from about 1940-1959.  The movie that is usually acknowledged as the first film noir is Stranger on the Third Floor which was released in August of 1940 (hence the date of this blogathon.  It's kismet.)

For this blogathon you are encouraged to pick a film noir movie and write about it for your blog.  If you need suggestions, any movie in this link will most definitely be approved.  Film Noir  I would prefer to keep it in the classic noir category, but for those few who write on classic silent movies who would like to join the fun, there are a few proto-noir titles, (see the "precursors" section of the above link). If you think you can make a case for a particular silent film, then have at it.   Neo-noir movies will be allowed, but please, please try to find a classic one that appeals to you first.  

There are enough movies to go around, so please only one entrant per movie.  A remake is acceptable, however.  

How to enter this blogathon

Step 1:  Pick your movie (or movies) and post a message on this link.  Be sure to post your blog address in the message, since I may not be able to find it otherwise. 

Step 2:  Take a banner from below and link your blog to this post so others can join.    (Note:  I would like to profusely thank Connie over at Silver Scenes for her help in creating these banners.  Without her help, this would have been a dull blogathon indeed.  Visit her website frequently and often. ) 

Step 3:  Write your blog entry then message me again with the link so that I can counter-link to your blog from here.  You can write early, but I will only post links after the blogathon starts.

Step 4:  Have fun!


The Film Noir Blogathon Roll Call:

The Midnite Drive-In:  D.O.A. (1950) and The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
4 Star Films:  The Set-Up (1949)
Angelman's Place:  Gilda (1946)
"Anna, Look!"  Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Back to Golden Days:  Double Indemnity (1944)
BNoirDetour:  The Walking Hills (1949) and The Capture (1950)
Cabdrivers and Coffeepots:  The Lodger (1944)
Caftan Woman:  New York Confidential (1955)
Cinema Cities:  Kansas City Confidential (1952) and 99 River Street (1953)
Cinema Monolith:  Armored Car Robbery (1950)
Cinematic Frontier:  Suspicion (1941)
Cinematic Scribblings:  Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
Crítica Retrô:  The Reign of Terror (1949)
Defiant Success:  In Cold Blood (1966)
Define Dancing:  The Killers (1946) and The Killers (1964)
The Flapper Dame:  Laura (1944)
Great Old Movies:  The Treasure of Monte Cristo (1949)
Hamlette's Soliloquy:  The Blue Dahlia (1946) and The Glass Key (1942)
It Came From the Man Cave:  Christmas Holiday (1944) and Jail Bait (1954)
L.A. Explorer:  The Big Heat (1953)
Little Bits of Classics:  Sunset Boulevard (1950)
The Lonely Critic:  M (1931)  The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)  The Stranger (1946)
Mildred's Fatburgers:  The Small Back Room (1949)
Moon in Gemini:  High Sierra (1941) and After Dark, My Sweet (1990)
Movie Movie Blog Blog:  Cry of the City (1948)
Ms Lake:  Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Musings of a Classic Film Addict:  Criss Cross (1949)
Noirish:  Return from the Ashes (1965)
Old Hollywood Films:  Leaver Her to Heaven (1945)
The Old Hollywood Garden:  The Big Combo (1955)
Once Upon a Screen:  Pickup on South Street (1953)
Outspoken and Freckled:  Murder, My Sweet (1944)
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies:  Nobody Lives Forever (1946)
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies:  Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
Pop Culture Reverie:  Somewhere in the Night (1946)
Radiator Heaven:  The Big Sleep (1946)
Realweegiemidget Reviews:  John Wick (2014)
Shadows and Satin:  The Damned Don't Cry! (1950)
Silver Scenes:  My Name is Julia Ross (1945)
Silver Scenes:  Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)
Silver Screenings:  He Ran All the Way (1951)
Sleepwalking in Hollywood:  Niagara (1953)
Sometimes They Go to Eleven:  Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
Straw Cats:  Specter of the Rose (1946) 
Straw Cats:  Dementia (1955)
Thoughts All Sorts:  Memento (2000)
Vienna's Classic Hollywood:  The Enforcer (1951)
The Wonderful World of Cinema:  White Heat (1949)
Wide Screen World:  The Naked City (1948)
Wolffian Classic Movies Digest:  The Prowler (1951)

Update:  Response to this has been overwhelming and more than for which I could have hoped.  For your convenience (and mine) below is an alphabetical listing of the movies so far claimed.

99 River Street (1953)
After Dark, My Sweet (1990)
Armored Car Robbery (1950)
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)
Big Combo, The (1955)
Big Sleep, The (1946)
Blue Dahlia, The (1946)
Capture, The (1950)
Christmas Holiday (1944)
Criss Cross (1949)
Cry of the City (1948)
D.O.A. (1950)
Damned Don't Cry!, The (1950)
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
Dementia (1955)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Enforcer, The (1951)
Framed (1947)
Gilda (1946)
Glass Key, The (1942)
He Ran All the Way (1951)
High Sierra (1941)
Hitch-Hiker, The (1953)
In Cold Blood (1966)
Jail Bait (1954)
John Wick (2014)
Kansas City Confidential (1952)
Killers, The (1946)
Killers, The (1964)
Laura (1944)
Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
Lodger, The (1944)
M (1931)
Memento (2000)
Mildred Pierce (1945)
Murder, My Sweet (1944)
My Name is Julia Ross (1945)
Naked City. The (1948)
New York Confidential (1955)
Niagara (1953)
Nobody Lives Forever (1946)
Pickup on South Street (1953)
Prowler, The (1951)
Reign of Terror, The (1949)
Return from the Ashes (1965)
Set-Up, The (1949)
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
Small Back Room, The (1949)
Somewhere in the Night (1946)
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Specter of the Rose (1946)
Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The (1946)
Stranger, The (1946)
Sudden Fear (1952)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Suspicion (1941)
Treasure of Monte Cristo, The (1949)
Walking Hills, The (1949)
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
White Heat (1949)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bad Movie 101

Quiggy:  Today, class, we are going to look at the seamier side of cinema, and view what are arguably two of the worst movies ever made.

Blog Reader: (groans)

Quiggy:   Now it's not all that bad.  Think of it in terms of how NOT to do a movie.  The two movies in question are examples of low budget, both in effects and in script.  You've heard the old saying that if you gave a monkey a typewriter and an infinite amount of time it would eventually turn out the works of Shakespeare?  Well, these guys didn't have to wait near that long.  And they didn't even have to use a monkey.

Blog Reader:   So what are the movies?

Q:  The movies in question are Santa Claus Conquers the Martians  and  Robot Monster.

BR: I vaguely remember hearing about Robot Monster.  Isn't that the one where they were so cheap they used a gorilla suit with a diving helmet for the head?

Q: Yes, indeed, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  The first movie is Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  The first thing you'll notice is the title of the movie in the opening credits is actually rendered as Santa Clause Conquers the Martians. And the title song is a ditty called "Hooray for Santy Claus".  Why the discrepancy in name?  Possibly because the real Santa Claus threatened them with litigation...? So: Lesson #1 in Bad Movie 101:  Production values are unimportant.

BR: Cool.

Q:   On Mars,  Bomar and Girmar (Boy Martian and Girl Martian, get it?) are bored Martian kids.  They stare all day at television which gets good reception because the programs they watch are Earth programs.    Momar (Mom Martian) tells her husband...

Kids are the same all over

BR: (interrupts) I know! It's Dadmar!

Q: No, it's Kimar.  You see, he's the king.  It's good to be king.  He gets to make all the decisions.  So: Lesson #2 in Bad Movie 101:  You don't really have to get creative with the names.  Anyway, Kimar and his council, including Voldar, essentially the villain of the piece...

BR:  "Voldar"?  Why not "Vilmar"?  Like Villain Martian?

Q:  Like I said, names don't really matter in Bad Films.  Anyway, Kimar and Vilmar...I mean Voldar...

BR: (snickers)

Methuselah's grandfather, Chochem

Q:   ...go to visit Chochem, the ancient wise man living in a cave.  Chochem tells them that all the kids on Mars are suffering from the lack of being allowed to be kids, and that they need a Santa Claus to help them. Kimar and his council, rocket scientists one and all apparently, hop on a rocket ship to go to Earth to kidnap Santa Claus. Why not send soldiers or agents?   Lesson #3 in Bad Movie 101:  The less actors you have to utilize, the cheaper the budget.

Space travel on a budget

BR:  That rocketship looks like a trash can with a bowling ball attached to it.

Q:   Good observation.  Which brings us to Bad Movie 101 Lesson #4.  No need to spend money on props.  Just whatever you can scavenge from the store room will work.  There is a stowaway on the ship in the form of Dropo, a character who provides some comic relief (as if the movie needed any, but Dropo becomes important later).

Dopemar (Dropo)

Q: When Kimar and crew arrive to Earth, they use their search cameras to find Santa.  But it's Christmas time and there are hundreds of Santas on every street corner.  It seems the Martians didn't do any research before they left.  Voldar, being grumpy, probably because his mustache looks like a caterpillar crawled up his nose, exclaims...

"All this trouble over a fat little man in a red suit."

Q:  The Martians decide they'd better land and get more info.  Meanwhile the US armed forces have detected the spaceship.  They send out everything they've got: Essentially the movie uses free films of Air Force and Army maneuvers.   Bad Movie 101 Lesson #5.  To save money use any and all archived film you can to flesh out your story without actually having to spend money. The Martians activate a radar-proof screen to hide themselves, and land.  They capture two kids out all by themselves and force them to tell them where Santa is.  The Martians activate their robot to help them.  The robot makes Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet look positively space age.  See Lesson #4 above.

No, its not Robot Monster. It's....TORG!

Q:  Suffice to say, the Martians succeed in kidnapping Santa, despite the malfunction of their robot, which essentially becomes an oversized toy after entering Santa's workshop.  This Santa has to be seen to be believed. He looks like Santa, but has a weird laugh that can give you the creeps.  And he never says "Ho ho ho." (Here again, did the real Santa threaten to sue them if they made him seem like the real Santa?)  But Santa does end up captured and taken to Mars.

BR:  You mean there won't be any more Christmas on Earth?

Q:  Hold on.  The second half of the movie has Santa and the two kidnapped Earth  children on Mars.  They set up a workshop that's all automated.  Voldar makes several attempts to try to kill Santa.  Why, because he's the Grinch... (Didn't you notice?  They're both green and mean...)  Of course this would be a bad movie indeed if Voldar were successful in killing Santa.  But hold on to the end because there's a Three Stooges ending that as to be seen to be believed.  And Mars gets its own Santa in the form of Dropo, so the real Santa can go back to Earth.

Martian Santa

Q: OK, kiddies, off you go to lunch, but be back in time for the second half of the class.

Q:  Welcome back to class, kids.  Hope you had a good break because now we are going to talk about what many people consider the worst movie of all time, even worse than Plan 9 From Outer Space.  I'm talking about, of  course, Robot Monster.

BR:  Oh, goody, the scuba diving gorilla.

Beneath the Ocean of the Planet of the Apes?

Q:  Yes.  You will note that although nearly every person in the movie is just as unknown now as they were before the movie was made, There is one name that should be familiar: Elmer Bernstein, who did the music for this piece of schlock.

BR:   Elmer Bernstein?? You mean the multi-Oscar nominee Elmer Bernstein?

Q:  The one and the same.  This was early in his career, and if you watch, you'll note than not too much of his talent was needed.  Anyway, the movie starts out with two kids who are the most annoying little brats ever, playing games.  We are introduced in short order to two scientists who are examining caves for archaeological artifacts, and then to Johnny's mother and older sister.  They kids and mom are on a picnic, and after eating they take a nap.

"Mom, there any cole slaw left?"

BR:  A picnic?  In the desert?  Who would have a picnic in the desert?

Q:  Apparently the producers needed a cheap location, so they just used the outskirts of a place in Nevada.  Lesson #6 in Bad Movie 101.  Find the cheapest locales for your filming.  Saves on transportation fees. Anyway, Johnny wakes up from his nap and runs back to the cave, but the scientists aren't there.  While he is there there is a crackling noise and a blinding light and Johnny hits the ground, apparently re-enacting the "Duck and Cover" routine he was taught when a nuclear bomb is dropped.  And then some footage of a couple of dinosaurs fighting each other.  Remember Lesson #5?  Here's more cheesy archived films.  Not sure where they came from, but they look like they were salvaged from Ray Harryhausen's scrap bin.

Big smile for the camera

Q:  In the next scene Johnny gets up and and  at the mouth of the cave are two cheesy looking machines.  One is apparently what the credits at the beginning termed as the Million Bubble Machine. (at this point it might be pertinent to tell you the original movie was released in 3D.  I guess those bubbles made it look pretty exotic).  While Johnny hides, Ro-Man comes to the front of the cave and uses one of the machines to report to his superior.  Guess what?  His superior looks exactly like him.  In fact, I think it's the same actor in the same gorilla suit and the same diving helmet...  Which reinstates Lesson #3 of Bad Movie 101.


Q: Every time there is static in the neighborhood, you know Ro-Man is near.  Ro-Man learns  from his superior that, rather than all "Hu-Man" beings having been eliminated, there are still 8 left.  Ro-Man's superior berates him for being incompetent and tells him to find the remaining eight and eliminate them.  Meanwhile we discover that the scientist is actually Johnny's father....

BR:  Wait a minute.  Didn't Johnny ask his mother earlier when they were going to get a new daddy?

Q:  Very observant.  Lesson #7 in Bad Movie 101.  Don't let minor details like plot consistency get in the way of the story.

Q:  In the continuing story, we find that George, the older scientist, and Roy, the younger scientist developed some kind of vaccine that had a side effect of making the humans who were injected with it invisible to Ro-Man's detection machines.  which is why he is having to search for them by foot.  Meanwhile, Roy, the assistant scientist, whom everyone though had been killed by Ro-Man reappears.  Together with Johnny's big sister, Alice, who is a brilliant scientist in her own right, build a machine to try to contact people in a space station in Earth's orbit.  But Ro-Man finds out and destroys it, then taunts the remaining Hu-Mans.

BR:  It looks bleak for the remaining human race...

Q:  Well, there is hope.  Roy and Alice get married...

A match made on Earth

BR:  Adam and Eve?

Q:  Remember, this is the 50's.  Such sentimentality was common.  Plus Roy couldn't get his groove on unless he put a ring on it.  So the two go off on their honeymoon and little Carla, the younger sister follows, but she gets the brushoff and told to go back.  Unfortunately Ro-Man gets to her first.  Then it's one down and five  to go.  Ro-Man then comes across Roy and Alice.  He kills Roy and takes Alice back to the cave to get his own groove on.

A match made on Planet Ro-Man

BR:  Eeewwww!

Q:   Then Ro-Man's superior kills him because Ro-Man refuses to kill the girl.  And then Boss Ro-Man unleashes a lightning storm on Earth like you wouldn't believe, which includes some more footage of claymation dinosaurs (including the ones seen earlier in the film), but does have the ultimate effect of finishing off those pesky Hu-Mans.  Which leads one to wonder; If he could do that all along why did he need Ro-Man on Earth in the first place?  Then Johnny wakes up.  It was all a dream.... or was it?

Q:  Well that's it for this class on Bad Movie 101.  Time to toddle off to bed.  You need nap time in order to grow up to be Good Movie directors, not Bad Movie 101...


Footnote:  I had fun writing this piece, and I hope you enjoyed it, but I think I'll probably go back to my regular way of writing this blog after this.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

More, More, Moore: Roger Moore's Best James Bond

A fellow blogger,  Radiator Heaven recently posted a review in which he stated how Roger Moore was his least favorite James Bond, citing several things that were typical of the Roger Moore era as being the sore spots in his way of thinking.  I commented how much of the stuff he found irksome was the same stuff that I found endearing, and I have always considered the Roger Moore Bonds to be my favorites.

In addition, two of my favorite Bond villains are from the Moore Bond age.  Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun, and  Christopher Walken as Max Zorin in A View to A Kill.  (Is there a coincidence that both men were named "Christopher"?  I don't know, but I must admit they did a damn good job at it.  Especially Walken.  He gave new meaning to psychotic Bond villains)

 Being a child/young adult of the late 70's and 80's, I also found some of the Bond women much more attractive.  I mean, come on, what red-blooded heterosexual male couldn't be swooning over the likes of Tanya Roberts or Barbara Bach?  And Moore got to hop in the sack with both of them as Bond.

Anyway, not to disparage my fellow blogging compatriot's opinions, I felt a need to address the issue and, hence, re-watched both A View to A Kill  and The Man with the Golden Gun.  Both films serve as bookends to the career of the Moore/Bond saga.  View came at the end of the era, while Golden Gun served as the second outing for Moore and a stellar beginning to the same saga.

A View to a Kill (1984)

As with every Bond movie, the beginning was a teaser, to get your blood pumping before the opening credits.  While some Bond movies had opening sequences that were separate from the plot (in other words, just the end of a previous caper and had nothing to do with the main body of the film), this one had an opening that served to segue into the next caper.  Bond does some exciting skiing (and snowboarding) to escape Russian agents, after having retrieved a microchip from a dead British agent.  (The sequence with Bond snowboarding on what is essentially an unexploded part of a snowmobile, features one of those witty sequences I found so much fun, with The Beach Boys singing "California Girls" as background music)

Surfing safari

Back at MI6, Bond and company discover that the microchip that Bond found was an exact replica of a chip the good guys were making that could withstand a nuclear detonation.  (OK, I need to point out that much of the technology in View  will probably seem ancient by today's standards, but after all, this was 1984, when such stuff was still cutting edge or even futuristic)

Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), the head of Zorin Industries,  the makers of this new technology is thought to be above reproach.  He is supposedly "anti-Communist", and therefore would be averse to dealing with the Russians, even on the side.  Bond needs to get on the inside to check things out though, so he goes to a horse race and observes Zorin's horse win in an incredible come-from-behind victory.

Bond goes undercover as James St.John-Smythe, a wealthy man who is interested buying a horse to breed his own racing stock.  His helper in this endeavor his Sir Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick Macnee), a racehorse expert and agent.  But Bond's ruse is uncovered. Zorin's "henchman" in this outing is a woman, May Day (Grace Jones, in her follow up to appearing with Ah-nold in Conan the Destroyer).  She is an assassin who takes out Tibbett, and TRIES to take out Bond, all in the name of loyalty to Zorin.  Grace Jones is a pretty scary person in real life (or at least her stage persona is ) so she pulls off a pretty good henchman.

The basic plot, ridiculous as it may seem today, is that Zorin plans to dynamite the San Andreas fault at a critical juncture and time in an effort to flood Silicon Valley, the HQ of all microchip production in the US, thus making his company have the sole monopoly on microchip production.  The psychotic maniac even kills a whole boatload of his own henchmen to facilitate  this, and jeopardizes May Day's life in the process.  Unsurprisingly, she doesn't take this too kindly and helps Bond to foil Zorin's plot.

The final fight between Zorin and Bond takes place high on the support structure of the Golden Gate Bridge (as seen above in the movie poster and below).  I have a slight fear of heights, and this fight scene gives me the willies, even on the small screen.  It was even more dramatic on the movie screen.  It'll make you cringe.

There is a secondary part of this movie that is intriguing to me.  It is hinted that Zorin's mentor, Dr. Carl Mortner (Willoughby Gray) is a former Nazi who may or may not have been involved in genetic engineering, of which Zorin is a product.  It has the hints of other movies, including one of my favorites The Boys from Brazil in which Joseph Mengele, a real Nazi doctor, supposedly engineered a clone of Hitler to be produced to take over a future Reich.

Walken's Zorin is over the top on occasion, and the previously mentioned witty jokes can come off as stale sometimes (I'll concede that point to my fellow blogger), but I would take this outing over any of the current Daniel Craig Bond's simply because of those witty lines.  Also View has one of my top 5 Bond theme songs, sung by Duran Duran.  It makes Sam Smith seem even lamer than he really is.

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

This outing begins by introducing us to Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) and his midget henchman Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize).  {A note on the word "midget".  It is not my word.  In the movie he is called a midget, and in fact Villechaize preferred the word "midget" as opposed to "little person", according to the wikipedia entry on the actor}  Scaramanga and a hired gunman (Marc Lawrence) engage in a battle.  The scene plays out as if Nick Nack has hired the gunman to kill Scaramanga, but as the scene plays out it looks more like the gangster was a dupe to Scaramanga's desire for a chess match style hunt in his room of many mirrors.

Back at MI6, Bond is called in an informed that Scaramanga has sent a golden bullet with his agent number 007 on it.  M requests that Bond take a leave of absence to which Bond responds that his best action would to be to kill Scaramanga before Scaramanga kills him.

Bond goes to Macau, the scene of a recent death from one of Scaramanga's golden bullets and engages in a tete-a-tete with a belly dancer (Carmen du Sautoy) and a fight with a few brigands determined to kill him. Bond encounters Andrea (Maud Adams), Scaramanga's mistress and a go between collecting the specially made golden bullets he lover uses in his assassinations. Under Bond's influence, Andrea reveals where Scaramanga will be next.

 But all Bond sees is the next assassination that Scaramanga performs, that of a scientist named Gibson who has developed the "Macguffin" of the story, a device called a "solex agitator" which can convert solar energy to electricity.  (Ever on the cutting edge of the current trends, the energy crisis of the early 70's was the inspiration for this device).

With the help of an astoundingly stupid fellow agent, Goodnight ( Britt Ekland), who seems more interested in getting Bond in bed than in any secret agent stuff, Bond continues his pursuit of Scaramanga an the stolen device.

Bond tries to catch up with the stolen agitator.  He succeeds in finding the device when he meets Andrea at a fight, along with a dead Andrea.  Scaramanga has killed her.  Bond passes the device on to Goodnight, who subsequently gets locked in the trunk of Scaramanga's car.  The car is turned into a plane and flies off.  Bond uses another plane and the homing device that Goodnight had to track down Scaramanga on his island.

The evil genius part of the typical Bond movie (finally!) rears it's ugly head when Scaramanga reveals that rather than use the solex agitator for the good of the world, he plans on using it for a solar weapon, more powerfully than any old pistol or "golden gun".  In fact Scaramanga refers to this thing as his real "golden gun."

Though not quite as chock full of innuendos and double entendres as later movies, this one still has a few, and Britt Ekland makes an excellent eye candy especially in a bikini, even if she is pretty dimwitted to have made it very far in the MI6 organization.  The only other two Bond girls are not my type, but they do have what is required.  As far as theme song, Lulu does a decent job of the title song.  It would never replace Paul McCartney (from the previous movie's soundtrack Live and Let Die), but it is pretty cool.

The concession stand is about to close, so I'd better go get some more vodka martinis.  Drive home safely, kiddies.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Book Review: The Razzie Guide

Unfortunately, kids, I've been way over booked on my time this week and did not have time to watch any movies.  Which is a shame, because this is one of the first weeks in a while that I have not had a blogathon in the works and had time to review movies just for my own sake.  But in the meantime, to tide you over until the next review, I decided to do a review of one of the best movie reference books to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor ( alternately known as Warner Books).

The Official Razzie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst by John Wilson

John Wilson, in case you didn't know, is the creator of the Golden Raspberry Awards, affectionately known as the Razzies, which is an award given each year (since it's inception in 1980) to the worst movie, actor, actress etc. of the year.  Much like it's bigger brother, the Oscars, movies and personnel are nominated for the annual Razzie.  The awards are usually given the day before the Oscars ceremonies and celebrates, sometimes even revels in the worst that Hollywood has to offer.

In 2005, the Razzies celebrated 25 years with the publication of this book.  Divided into several sections which include such titles as "When Mad Scientists Go Bad", "Disasters in Every Sense" and "They Came From Planet Razzie", the book delves into movies over the span of history (or at least sometime before the inception of the Razzies).  While the book does spend a lot of space covering movies that were nominated for Razzies in the release year, Wilson also devotes time to some entries that came out before the Razzies were introduced.

One such movie is "The Ten Commandments".  A beloved tradition, especially among fundamentalist Christians, even this movie gets the Razzie treatment from Wilson.  Noting the over the top performances and sometimes ridiculous dialogue, the author sends the beloved movie to the showers, so to speak.  And he does the same for a couple of other movies that have a devoted following.  But mostly he spends time on such ridiculous (and acknowledged "worst") movies as "The Brain that Wouldn't Die", "Battlefield Earth", "Robot Monster", "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" and the two movies featured on a double bill that inspired Wilson to create the Razzies, "Can't Stop the Music" and "Xanadu".

Each entry includes a couple of excerpts from movie reviews, both contemporary newspaper ones and ones from fellow movie reference books.  There is a list of the major cast and crew behind the movie, and then an encapsulation of the plot ("Plot?  What Plot?") that is  at times both informative and hilarious.  Included in each review is also an example of "Dippy Dialogue", which even taken out of context of the movie is pretty freaking funny.

There are about 100 such reviews included in the book.  A great night time bedside reader.  The book, I might add, is also a preview to some movies you will see reviewed in future entries on this blog.

Quiggy says check it out.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Tolchocking to the Classics

This is my entry to Speakeasy and Now Voyaging's Beyond the Cover Blogathon.

***Note to the Fainthearted: A Clockwork Orange, the subject of today's post, is not a family-friendly book or movie, in even the most liberal of terms.  This post, while not openly glorifying the acts depicted in the book and movie, will also not be blunting the effects either, in an effort  to assuage sensibilities.  It is not my intent to get you to love the book or movie, nor it is it an attempt to send you screaming for the Alka-Seltzer, rather it is only to convey some of the aspects, many of which could be offensive.  You have been warned.***

When I was a lad growing up in small town in north Texas, the nearest thing to "gangs" we had was when some of the farm boys would get together and ride roughshod over the local pipsqueak (and I was one of the pipsqueaks).  The 1960's and early 70's were not all such blue skies and stable boy dreams though.   Sheltered as I was from reality, I still saw evidence of the violence and revolution in the world on the nightly news with Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley.

Anthony Burgess looked at the world as it was in the early 60's and postulated what would happen if the world kept on progressing at the rate it seemed to be progressing.  The result was a little novella called A Clockwork Orange.

Spoiler Alert!!:  This review does include the ending of both the book and the movie in an effort to compare and contrast.  If you would rather see the movie and/or read the book first, be forewarned.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962) and
A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Anthony Burgess, in his own words, stated that A Clockwork Orange  was not his favorite book that he wrote.  In the preface to the unexpurgated* American edition printed at it's 25th anniversary, he lamented that he was remembered for this book, a knockoff, while some of his better works, in his opinion, were ignored.

*Unexpurgated-  For those of you who are European readers, you may or may not know that American editions up until 1987 did not include the final denouement that European editions did.  Which is why the movie ended abruptly if you had read the European edition.  I, myself, thought it ended the same way as the movie, up until then, because I only had access to American editions of the book.

When I was a young lad, I read just about anything I could lay my hands on.  Mad Magazine was one of my favorite comics, because it introduced me to movies that I never got a chance to go see because I was too young.  It also gave me titles of books which I could seek out.  Of course, at the age of 10 (when the movie version came out), I felt like I was not allowed to go to the adult section of the library, so I didn't seek out this book until I was well into high school.

The book, needless to say, is very graphic.  And a bit hard to understand if you are not prepared for it.  The narrator is Alex, a young 15 year old leader of a gang of thugs who roam the night, committing various acts of violence and robbery.  But the most difficult part of the book is that Alex speaks in a dialect that is supposed to be common among teenagers of the time, but may be wholly cryptic to the average reader.

"What's it going to be then, eh?

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete and Georgie and Dim and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rasoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.  The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days...."

Now, many of you are probably wondering  "Wait! droogs?  rasoodocks?  mestos?  skorry?  What sort of language is this book written in anyway?"  The Nadsat language, (or teenage language, if you will) of the dystopian future Burgess imagines is filled with words of Russian origin, as well as Cockney rhyming slang, and other bits of fun with language.  It creates a surreal atmosphere that in my opinion serves to blunt the graphic portions of the book.  Trust me, if you are a little old lady who gets shivers reading Agatha Christie novels, you'll faint dead away from reading this book, even with the violence blunted by the strange language.

The book has three parts of 7 chapters each (which as Burgess says represents in some ways the age of adulthood {7 x 3 = 21} thus the reason for his consternation when the American version published only 6 of the chapters in the last section).  The first section deals with a two day window into the life of Alex as the leader of his droogs.  The four commit all sorts of crimes on the first day, but at the end there is a bit of falling out which manifests itself on the second day.  The droogs confront Alex with issues and he tries to resolve them in the only way he knows how, by using force.  This causes some resentment and in the end, after a failed robbery attempt, they leave him unconscious for the police.

In the second part, Alex is a convicted criminal, serving 14 years for murder.  (See, the victim of the failed robbery attempt was killed, so instead of robbery, Alex was convicted of manslaughter.)  He convinces the prison chaplain he would like to try this new Ludovico technique which supposedly guarantees that he will be a reformed man and back on the street in a fortnight.  Alex doesn't really want to be reformed, he just wants to see if he can con his way through this setup and get released early.  The Ludovico technique proves to be a conditioned reflex sort of training, however, so that even when Alex wants to be mean and evil he feels ill and sick to his stomach.

The third part deals with Alex as a free man.  But he is not the happy man he thought he would be.  His mother and father don't want him around.  Victims who recognize him from his gang days beat the crap out of him.  And his former droogs are now grown up and members of the police.  Although not the kind of police you'd find on Leave it to Beaver.  Everyone it seems is out to get him.  In the end he tries to commit suicide, but is unsuccessful.  He does however end up with the effects of the Ludovico Technique removed from him and as he pronounces "I was cured alright".

Now the original American version ended there, but as I stated earlier, there was a denouement that had been left out of the American version that most Europeans got to see.  In it Alex is back on the streets with a new set of droogs,  But as he has grown older he begins to see a certain pointlessness to his current state of affairs.  This is enhanced when a bit later he meets up with Pete, the one former droog who was not made a member of the police.  Pete has grown older and is now a respectable citizen with a respectable wife.  And he no longer uses the Nadsat slang that Alex uses.  This causes Alex to contemplate he needs a change in his life.

The whole book is a platform to contemplate what free will really means, and are people with no free will to make the choice between good and bad any better than those who do have a choice but choose to be good.  You can really get to know Alex from reading the book, as the character develops over the course of the novel.  Although, like Holden Caufield in The Catcher in the Rye, you probably won't feel much empathy towards him.

OK, now having read the book, if you feel adventurous, we can go watch the movie.  Be forewarned, however, it is a Stanley Kubrick movie and Stanley was notorious for pushing the borders of what is acceptable, both visually and language-wise.

The movie itself was rated X when it first came out, but it was not, as one might think, rated X for sexual content.  To be sure, there are a few scenes involving nude women, but the X rating was given due to the graphic violence in the film.

We start out with a voice-over narration by Alex (Malcolm McDowell), with Alex and his three droogs Pete (Michael Tarn),  Georgie  (James Marcus) and Dim (Warren Clarke) sitting in a milk bar.  The camera lingers on Alex's face and pans to reveal the rest of the bar, while Alex's voice over introduces us to a typical night of his gang.

The film then segues into a typical night which involves beating up a drunken homeless guy, interrupting a gang rape by a rival gang for a good old-fashioned gang fight, stealing a car and racing down the road recklessly, endangering both motorists and pedestrians, and ending up at the home of a writer (Patrick Magee) and his wife (the writer supposedly being the author of the book on which this movie is based.)  The four ransack the house and commit various unsavory acts upon the two householders, including the rape of the wife.

Alex does it all while cheerily singing "Singin in the Rain" (which foreshadows a later development.)  After their night of debauchery Alex goes home where he listens to classical music, specifically Beethoven (which also makes a significant point later in the movie).  Being still 15, his mum comes to wake him up for school but he professes a headache and shoos her off.  He is visited by his juvenile parole officer (Aubrey Morris) who warns him that he is on the verge of going to real prison if he doesn't shape up, but Alex ignores him.  He cruises the local record store and picks up a couple of innocent girls, taking them back to his room.

Later that evening he is met by his three droogs in his own apartment building and they seem to have issues with Alex.  Alex engages in a three on one fight with them and ultimately seems to regain control of his leadership.

They go to pull of a big heist of a rich woman who lives alone with her cats.  Alex, alone in the house, engages in a one-on-one fight with the woman and inadvertently kills her with an enormous plaster dildo.  As a result, Alex is sentenced to 14 years in the prison.

The film segues, just as the book does, to Alex trying to adjust to life in prison.  He thinks he has everyone believing he is a model prisoner.  He approaches the chaplain about this new "technique" that is supposed to reform a prisoner and put him on the street in a fortnight. (That's 14 days or 2 weeks).  Of course, Alex doesn't really want to be reformed, he just wants to wrangle his way through the system and get back to his old life.

His chance comes when, on a visit by a government bigwig, Alex spouts off some platitudes as to how he wants to be reformed.  He is transferred to a different ward where he is prepped for this new technique, which he finds is just watching videos of people getting the crap beat out of them and girls getting raped. The rough part is he is strapped into a chair with special efforts made to make sure he can't take his eyes of the screen no matter how hard he tries.

This isn't the worst part, however.  The worst part is just when he is starting to be disturbed by the images, he is forced to have it be accompanied by music from his beloved Beethoven.  The upshot being that he is not only gradually being stimulated to be repulsed by the violence, he is also being repulsed by the strains of Beethoven.

After he has been conditioned, somewhat like Pavlov's dog, he is presented to a committee where it is shown that he feels violently ill when confronted with thoughts of violence or uncivilized behavior.  He is then released.  He goes home to his mom and pop who aren't expecting him, and who have a boarder who threatens him, and he is unceremoniously sent back out to the streets.

The latter part of the movie deals with his encountering of people from his past, including a bum that he and his friends beat up, who, now with bum friends of his own proceed to beat on Alex.  He is rescued by police, but the police are former gang members who brutally beat him up and deposit him in the middle of nowhere.  "Nowhere" just happens to be near the house of the writer he and his friends had beaten up and raped his wife.  The writer does not recognize him as this gang member however, due to the fact that Alex had worn a mask.  But he does recognize him as the recently reformed criminal, and being an advocate of the opposing political party wants to use him as a tool for his party to regain control in the government.

What gives away Alex's complicity in the previous events in the writer's life, which included the death of his wife after the rape, is Alex singing "Singing in the Rain" while taking a luxurious bath.  The writer realizes just exactly who Alex is and plots revenge.  He locks Alex in a bedroom and pipes in Beethoven loudly into the room.  Alex, unable to stop the music, and feeling violently ill due to the conditioning, jumps from the window to kill himself.

The end of the movie has Alex, still yet a pawn in the government battle of parties, now cured of his conditioning and posing for photographs with a government bigwig.  With rapturous visions of bloody carnage and wild sex running through his head, he announces "I was cured alright".

As stated earlier the movie ends here without the denouement of the European version of the book.  The American audiences of the 70's, by this time, were used to such stark endings.  Were the actual ending to have been filmed in the Kubrick film, I can't say whether or not it would have changed how iconic the film became,  but it definitely would have been perceived differently.

Although Kubrick tried to stay faithful to the original work, there are several differences between the book and the movie.  Some had to be done, just on general principles, while others were done to either condense and combine events or in the name of the narrative.  One particularly obvious change that HAD to be done was the scene in which Alex picks up two girls in the record shop.  In the book the girls are 10 year old youngsters and the sex is not consensual.  In the movie, the girls are older and there is some indication that they are agreeable to the act.

Also, as stated in the book section, Alex was 15, but in the movie he is aged to at least 17 or 18.  THis was probably done to lessen the impact of the movie and reduce the possibilities of controversy.  As for the rest of the changes, none are very significant.

A Clockwork Orange  was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director (it lost both to The French Connection).  It remains one of  only two movies, originally rated X, that were nominated for Oscars.  (The other being Midnight Cowboy, which did win Best Picture and Best Director).  The movie continues to be popular, and ranks on AFI's list of 100 Years...100 Movies.

The film itself was and is not without some controversy.  It notoriously was credited with inspiring several incidents in the UK, which caused Kubrick to withdraw it from release in that country.  Only after his death in 1999 were you able to see it in theaters in the UK.  Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church also condemned the movie, and forbade it's congregation to see it.

Well, that's it from the back seat of the Plymouth this week.  Hope you enjoyed it.  Drive home safely.