Archive for April, 2012

Saved! (2004) Clerks II (2006)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags on April 28, 2012 by tom

It amazes me how two films from roughly the same time period can be so amazingly different, yet both make me laugh when I really need it.

“Saved!” came out roughly the same time as “Mean Girls,” and the stories share a lot: cliques, prom queens, stuck-up witches, the parent who tries to be cool. The difference is that “Saved” takes place in a Christian high school. Mary (Jena Malone) and her “good Christian boyfriend” Dean (Chad Faust) have this game they play. In the swimming pool, they’ll take deep breaths, then go underwater and tell each other secrets. Dean’s is a big secret: he’s gay. Mary tries to get out of the pool, and conks her head on the rail. Dean gallantly tries to save her, only to slip and fall. A man is doing some–what else–carpentry, and dives in to save Mary. Maybe it’s the head bump, maybe it’s a vision, but the carpenter appears as Jesus, and tells Mary to help Dean.

She takes this to mean, “Help Dean not be gay,” and so they have sex once. Dean may be gay, but he ain’t shootin’ blanks: Mary gets pregnant.

As school starts, Mary finds herself hanging with the most-popular, overly pious witch in the school, Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore). Also on the periphery of their clique is Tia (Heather Matarazzo), whose father is an alcoholic.

Hilary Faye has a paraplegic younger brother named Roland (Macauley Culkin). He’s cynical, and takes his big sis with many grains of salt.

The first day of school, a purple AMC Javelin (badass ride) comes screeching into the parking lot. The driver is the school’s lone “Jewish,” a rebellious misanthrope named Cassandra (Eva Amurri). She and Roland hit it off. As Mary’s pregnancy continues, she finds herself questioning her faith and her friends, and grows closer to Cassandra and Roland.

Dean is sent off to Mercy House, a Christian treatment center, for “degayification.” However, a cool new kid, Patrick (Patrick Fugit) catches Mary’s eye.

“Saved” could have been cruel and sacreligous, but it really wasn’t. I found it to be sweet, and that it played up that which unites us through our beliefs and humanity, not that which separates us.

Jena Malone and Mandy Moore are excellent in the two leading roles. What amazed me was the spectacular supporting actors, especially Eva Amurri (Susan Sarandon’s daughter), Heather Matarazzo (who’s always brilliant), and a brilliant Macauley Culkin. In many ways, he was the one who understood everything that was happening, and took it for what it was. Also, Mary Louise Parker plays Mary’s mom. MLP makes any movie at least 10% better with her presence.

There was nothing groundbreaking in “Saved,” but I think it’s a ..sweet, funny, well acted film, that never felt cloying or mocking.

“Clerks II”…oh dearie dear. If you saw Kevin Smith’s debut feature, “Clerks” last century, you recall that it was cheaply shot, and starred unknown actors. It told the story of Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson), who basically talk hilariously for 90 minutes while working in a Quik Stop. “Clerks” was in grainy black & white, and made with Kevin Smith maxing out his credit cards–even then, half the money went to music rights.

“Clerks II” starts a decade later, when Dante goes to open the Quik Stop, only to find it on fire. Randall observes, “I left the coffee machine on again, didn’t I?”

Pass two years, and the pair are working at Mooby’s, a typical chain fast food restaurant. Dante is on his last day–the next day, he’s scheduled to be off to Florida with his rich girl fiancee, Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith (Kevin’s wife)).

Complicating things is that Dante has a thing for the Mooby’s manager Becky (an excellent Rosario Dawson), who kind of has a thing for him as well, despite her fervent protestations that she doesn’t believe in romantic love.

Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) are back, after six months in rehab, and they are off weed. They have a beer or two, and they still deal, but they don’t smoke. They don’t need to. They’re wacked anyway. At one point, Jay does the creepy Buffalo Bill dance from “Silence of the Lambs” (yes, with the tuck).

I liked “Clerks II” better than the original. It had a few montage sequences that could have been shortened, but no big deal. I laughed my ass off. If you are offended by profanity, watch “Saved.” Trust me. “Clerks II” has, according to IMDB.com, 136 f-bombs in 97 minutes. It also has…um, something famous in Tijuana?? Oh, and IMDB also notes, “There are 16 uses of the term ‘ass to mouth.'”

“Clerks II” is definitely raw, but it got to my inner heathen, the same way “Saved” got to my small, creamy nougat center. I may have assembled an odder double-feature for myself at some time, but I can’t remember when. I recommend them both, but with “Clerks II,” caveat f***ing emptor, m**********r.

Saved: B+
Clerks II: A-

Rock & Roll Heaven’s a Little Fuller Tonight: Part One

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 22, 2012 by tom

Let me tell you what kind of man Dick Clark was. Here in the Tampa Bay radio market, there are two mentally challenged twin sisters, probably in their late 50’s now. They loved radio, and they felt like they knew their personalities. Their big question was always, “What color are you wearing?” They called every station I worked for, and had an encyclopedic memory of my former coworkers. They were like Rain Man that way.

So they’d call every month or two, and I was always nice to them. “Green shirt, and no, I don’t know where Steve Michaels is working now.”

Dick Clark was their favorite. Whenever he was in town filming a special or whatever, the twins would ride the bus over to see him. Every year, Dick Clark sent the twins cards on their birthday and Christmas.

I met Dick Clark one year when he was in town to produce a star-studded gala TV special at Busch Gardens. He also had two weekly radio shows: Rock, Roll, & Remember, and Countdown America. The problem was, the chart info wasn’t released till Tuesday morning. So, Dick Clark had to find someplace to record his parts for the show. He contacted my station, since we were Oldies, and made an appointment for 8pm. He got there at 8:02pm. I let him into the building, and we went back to get the 26 page script off our fax. Then it was time to record.

We called his producers in California, and Dick read his parts with the phone up to his mouth, as I recorded it on two-track and DAT. Every now and then, he’d stumble. He just said “sorry,” and took it again.

Heaven forfend, there was some kind of problem with the script for one of the songs. People in California argued amongst themselves, and Dick Clark looked at me, smiled, and rolled his eyes. “Hey, I’m sorry if I’m keeping you from your family tonight.”

“Oh, no problem. It’s just me and the cat.”
“I love cats, but my wife’s allergic. What kind is he?”
“He’s a South Tampa street stray named Hannibal. He looks like a giant cotton ball.”
“Great name. We have three dogs. They’re a handful, but I love them.” Then back into the phone, “Okay, so you’re sure it’s right now?”

When we got to the end of the script, he ad-libbed my name into the credits: “Countdown America is produced by Joe Blow and Tom Sanchez.”

His car was waiting for him downstairs. He shook my hand, thanked me for the millionth time, and told me to apologize to Hannibal.

A few months later, we were doing a special in honor of Elvis’ birthday. My boss said, “Since you and Dick Clark are best friends, why don’t you call and get some bumpers?”

I called Dick Clark Productions, and asked if I could speak to Mr Clark. The receptionist took my name and put me on hold. Ten seconds later, “Hey, Tom. How’s Florida?” A little small-talk. His dogs were barking at a squirrel in the backyard. “They wouldn’t know what to do if they caught one. How’s Hannibal?” He did the liners for me.

A few months later, I called him again. More chatting about pets & stuff, and more liners. “I owe you one, Tom. Call anytime if I can help you.”

No, Dick. You gave me an experience I’ll never forget. You showed that nice guys really can still be nice, even when they’re bajillionaires. You put black artists on your show, when that was a rarity in “white” TV. You sent Christmas cards to these two twins whom you could have just blown off. You worked with me for three hours one night, and always remembered my cat’s name.

And damnedest of all, Dick, you looked even younger in person than you did on TV.

Hannibal will be in a club somewhere listening to Chet Baker. Give him scritches for me.

And Dick Clark?

Your life was smart and inventive, had a great beat, and millions could dance to it. I give you a 100.

Requiescat in Pace.

Notorious (1946)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags on April 21, 2012 by tom

Imagine if Alfred Hitchcock made a film noir.

He did. It’s called “Notorious,” and it is near the top of the noir heap.

Cary Grant plays Devlin, an agent with some secret government agency. At a party, he meets Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of a German man convicted of treason. Devlin convinces Alicia to participate in an undercover assignment to get information on Nazis who’ve relocated to Brazil.

One of these Nazis is Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), who is quite taken with Alicia and marries her. One night, the happy newlyweds throw a party, and Devlin discovers that some bottles of wine are not filled with wine at all.

To cover his prowling in the basement, Devlin kisses Alicia, and allows Alex to catch them. Devlin passes it off as drunken misbehavior and leaves.

Alex investigates, and disovers he has married an American agent. He and his mother begin poisoning poor Alicia, who grows sicker and sicker. Of course, Cary Grant rescues her in the end.

But what a ride. There is real chemistry between Grant and Bergman, moreso than she had with Bogie in “Casablanca.” The two became lifelong friends.

Hitchcock shows a spectacular command of camera and lighting techniques. In a few scenes–including the introduction of Devlin–characters are in complete shadow. It’s disoncerting, as we’re so used to seeing our characters illuminated.

This isn’t the “noirest” of the films noir–the protagonists knew just what they were in for–but it still qualifies.

Funnily enough, our post-Hiroshima cold war bugaboos appear. What’s in the fake wine bottles? Uranium ore, enough to build a nuclear bomb.

This isn’t my favorite Hitchcock film, but it’s in the top five. “Notorious” is beautifully written and directed, with virtuoso performances from a most-excellent cast.

Grade: A

D.O.A. (1950)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags on April 20, 2012 by tom

My mental breakdown film noir series continues with “D.O.A.”, starring Edmond O’Brien as Frank Bigelow, a guy just off for a few days vacation, only to get incurably poisoned.

An aside: in the early days of Hollywood, many Jewish or otherwise ethnic-named actors changed their names to sound more mainstream. Thus, Emmanuel Goldenberg became Edward G. Robinson. The uninspiring Betty Joan Perske became the alluring Lauren Bacall, and Issur Danielovitch and his chin dimple became the immortal Kirk Douglas.

Edmond O’Brien was another of the name changers. His birth name? The horrifying “Redmond O’Brien.” I just thought that was funny.

Nothing funny about what happens to Frank Bigelow, though. He’s a CPA or similar, with a tough, sexy film noir dame as his secretary. She wants to go to San Francisco with him, but Frank is obviously not 100% committed.

Frank goes to Frisco, and checks into his hotel, which is swinging with Market Week revelry. His secretary, Paula (Pamela Britton), telephones to say that a man has called four times trying to reach him. Frank blows it off, heads across the hall, and starts drinking & dancing with a group of strangers. They head out to a club, and somebody poisons Frank’s bourbon.

Frank feels a little hungover, so he stops by the local hospital. Yup, he’s been poisoned with a “luminous poison.” There is no cure, and he will die within a few days.

Being in a film noir, Frank tries to unravel the mystery, which leads to femmes fatale, a creepy foreigner or two, and a sadistic bastard of a goon named Chester (Neville Brand). Best of all, Frank gets to participate in one of the all time best movie exchanges:

Frank: I’d like to report a murder.
Detective: Whose?
Frank: (dramatic pause) Mine.

D.O.A. is a good film. I wouldn’t put it up there with “Double Indemnity,” but it moves quickly, has plenty of action and intrigue, and it’s less than 90 minutes long.

Good as D.O.A. is, about 20 minutes in, Frank and his girl go to a bar. I was watching, and I suddenly exclaimed, “Holy shit! That’s Mr Drucker from Green Acres!” I stopped the film, opened IMDB, and sure enough: an uncredited Frank “Mr Drucker” Cady plays Eddie the bartender.

Edmond O’Brien gives a great performance as Frank Bigelow. There are a lot of characters who aren’t on screen very long, and he carries most of the film quite ably.

If you recall the “nuclear fear” element we discussed in “Kiss Me Deadly,” the “luminous poison” is made from–GASP–radioactive iridium.

My only complaint (a total film nerd thing) is that Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is a little overbearing at times. I’m not dissing him–he won four Oscars in 16 nominations–but I found the music a little heavy handed.

All in all, this is a fine way to spend 82 minutes some rainy day.

Grade: B

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags on April 18, 2012 by tom

Remember Ralph Meeker? The consumate badass?

Sadly, Ralph Meeker never achieved the stardom he deserved, if only for playing Mike Hammer in “Kiss Me Deadly.” This is another film noir, with a post-nuclear twist. It wasn’t the most seamless hybrid, but it works.

The film starts with Cloris Leachman running down the middle of a street, naked except for a trenchcoat. She’s escaped from a lunatic asylum, where she swears she was being held illegally, that she’s not crazy. Naturally, bad guys intercept the couple, beat the crap out of Mike Hammer, and torture-murder the girl.

Mike finds himself drawn into the mystery, breaking a few noses and a few hearts on the way.

As we reach the climax, we find that the sought after treasure was not jewels or money, but something far more sinister.

“Kiss Me Deadly” is revered as a classic film noir–everyone smokes, and there are lots of shadowy staircase shots–but it was also one of the final releases of the golden noir age. This is because Hollywood began focusing more on nuclear annihilation and/or the effects of the bomb (“Them,” for example, with its radiation-mutated giant ants)

Ralph Meeker was an awesome Mike Hammer. He had the attitude, propensity toward violence, and a “love ’em & leave ’em” attitude toward women.

The ending isn’t especially strong, but to paraphrase The Grateful Dead, “We may be going to hell in a bucket, baby, but at least we can enjoy the ride.”

Excellent film.

Grade: A-

Double Indemnity (1944)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags on April 18, 2012 by tom

I have to admit that I’ve never been a big Fred MacMurray fan when it comes to serious acting. When I watch “The Caine Mutiny,” I can’t help but see the dad from “My Three Sons,” or the “Flubber” guy.

“Double Indemnity” showed me just how good an actor he really was. Raymond Chandler wrote much of the dialogue, and MacMurray delivers each line perfectly. Check out this rapid-fire exchange between doomed insurance salesman Walter Neff (MacMurray) and putative black widow Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck, at her sharpest):

Phyllis: Mr. Neff, why don’t you drop by tomorrow evening about eight-thirty. He’ll be in then.
image

Walter Neff: Who?
Phyllis: My husband. You were anxious to talk to him weren’t you?
Walter Neff: Yeah, I was, but I’m sort of getting over the idea, if you know what I mean.
Phyllis: There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour.
Walter Neff: How fast was I going, officer?
Phyllis: I’d say around ninety.
Walter Neff: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Walter Neff: Suppose it doesn’t take.
Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.
Walter Neff: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.
Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband’s shoulder.
Walter Neff: That tears it.

“Double Indemnity” is one of the best examples of film noir, where nobody is good, and everybody smokes. Basically, Mrs. Dietrichson wants to get an accident insurance policy on her husband. Her husband doesn’t want it. A policy is forged, and–SACRE BLEU–Mr Dietrichson is killed a couple weeks later, killed in such a way that the policy’s double indemnity kicks in, and the payoff doubles. It’s almost like someone familiar with the insurance business choreographed the entire thing. Hmm…I wonder.

I especially love how the story is presented. MacMurray stumbles into his insurance company’s empty office one night, sits down at the claims adjuster’s desk (Edward G Robinson shines as the claims guru and Neff’s friend), and begins dictating a memo, his confession. He’s bleeding from a left shoulder wound, and he deteriorates as his narrative unfolds. He’ll describe something, and then we flash back to it. Then back to him dictating, then another flashback. In essence, the action starts and ends in 107 minutes, but the flashbacks cover a few weeks.

Raymond Chandler and director Billy Wilder wrote the screenplay, and it is as splendid in its brilliance as was the hatred between the two men. I don’t care whether they were lovers or Hamilton and Burr: this one-off collaboration is an absolute gem.

This is one of the best mysteries, and the best films noir, ever made. Beyond that, it’s a beautiful piece of filmmaking.

Grade: A
(Note: if you’ve ever seen the excellent “Body Heat” with William Hurt & Kathleen Turner, you’ll see a lot of that film in “Double Indemnity,” just without nudity and color film. It’s as if Billy Wilder somehow copied a movie 40 years before it happened. “Body Heat” is another Grade A noir thriller)

Diet Mountain Dew in Heaven: Requiescat in Pace, Lisa Olson

Posted in Uncategorized on April 6, 2012 by tom

Diet Mountain Dew in Heaven: Requiescat in Pace, Lisa Olson.

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