Wednesday, December 25, 2013

By One, Get the One Three

(press play to get the full effect of this opening)

"On June 11th, 2013, Marc Edward Heuck was asked to remove himself from his place of employment. That request came from the corporate office. Deep down, he knew they were right, but he also knew it was a lousy deal after 14 years of service. With few 35mm venues to be found, he looked in on the friends whose dual-projection booths were intact, and sporadically gave them a turn. Can an untimely-job-divorced movie geek subsist in his apartment, without driving himself crazy?"

Yep. It was kinda like that this year, without the Neil Hefti score. My first summer as a free man in Hollywood was an event that was overdue yet still felt undue, but it did yield quite a lot of unique adventure in its wake. It's a most complicated knot of emotions, to have happy opportunity tied up in the hemp strands with frustration and loss, and it's always going to be there even as I theoretically go forth and get wished well in my future endeavors. But to paraphrase Penny Lane, when it gets lonely, you go to the movies and visit your friends. And while I'm not going to join the hype parade suggesting 2013 is another 1939, I gotta say that yet again, this year has had way more good movie experiences than bad ones. I dare say three years into this new decade and there's already an awful lot of bonafide classics stacking up.

A perfect lead-in, thus, for my special Jury Prize of the year: György Pálfi's overwhelming FINAL CUT - LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. Using pieces of 450 different movies and TV shows, it takes the familiar tragectories of the classic stories we've enjoyed on screen - courtship, conflict, and reconciliation - and takes all the many different ways, different faces, different genres that have been used in these endeavors, to demonstrate just how universal this human comedy truly remains. It can't be categorized as merely a clip reel, montage, or mash-up; it's everybody's love story about love AND about the movies. It will likely never get a home video release due to the insane clearances it would require, so if you are passionate about those flickery images on the screen as I am, and are lucky enough to find it in a festival or museum presentation (or, if you must, find it in a darkened lockbox on the internet that can be picked and torrented), let nothing impede you from taking a deep swim in its pool of cinema history.

I'm also throwing in a "Runaway Jury" Prize for my single-most enjoyable off-the-rails movie experience of the year: Tyler Perry's TEMPTATION: CONFESSIONS OF A MARRIAGE COUNSELOR. This is not a movie that was made with any kind of coherence, real-world experience, or understanding of human they say in the science community, it's not even wrong. But dammit, I went to see this THREE TIMES because no other movie could match it for sheer Martian entertainment value. It's like watching a Skinemax erotic thriller written and directed by a teenager at a Christian youth retreat who didn't actually get to see one, but had one described to him by an uncle who watched the scrambled signal from an old ON-TV converter box: you can't hate the sinner because he obviously has no idea what the sin is in the first place!

And seeing as how movies are my church, let's start with some indulgences.

Ten worthwhile films nobody saw but me:

A Band Called Death
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
From the Head
Gimme the Loot
The Silence
The We and The I

And with that out of the way, let us begin the Stations of the Crosscut: the Top 13 of 2013







7. HER







On a sadly somber note, I would like to dedicate this post to Jen Roach, a longtime friendly eager face that for years could be found at the New Beverly Cinema supporting all manner of screenings, be they high art, low comedy, or deep horror. Her visits became more infrequent in the last couple years, mostly due to raising a son, but also, unbeknownst to many of us, because of much harsher health problems that shockingly claimed her life this past Monday. She should have had decades worth of family time and return visits ahead of her. One of our other mutual regulars, Cathie Horlick, posted a wonderful memorial at her Tumblr.

When you are a hardcore cinemagoer like myself, you often see the same people at the same venues, and when that happens, they'll either reinforce your sense of community or make you feel even more alone and isolated. Jen fell firmly into the former camp: we rarely socialized outside of the moviehouse, but anytime we were in that darkened auditorium we were family. We can only pray that over time, her seat will be filled with someone else who loves the movies as much and as often as her.

So if and when you watch a movie in company with someone this holiday, give them an extra hug please.

Monday, December 2, 2013

It Is The Octopus That Eats Desperate Men

Much like its tortured protagonist and his journey, it could be said the American remake of the 2003 South Korean revenge epic OLDBOY was doomed from its initiation. While many were dismayed but not surprised when talk first surfaced of an English-language adaption of Chan-wook Park's breakout hit, it was likely a curious moment for those same fans when it was announced that it would be directed by longtime firebrand director Spike Lee. Thus, the already skeptical climate this project would have received under normal circumstances by being a remake became a downright minefield of bad press due to the controversial nature of its artistic captain - some of it rather overblown (the process of finding a name actor to co-star with Josh Brolin, the initial lack of a major studio attachment), some of it quite detrimental (artist Juan Luis Garcia calling out the producers' outright theft of his unpaid advertising prototypes and Lee's curt reply of indifference, likely due to his own displeasure with the producers' editing demands, leading to his removal of his longstanding "Joint" designation and well-known 40 Acres & A Mule logo branding). Its release on the Thanksgiving holiday carried a de facto albatross on its neck by opening on only 583 screens nationwide (compared to 1516 for the family drama BLACK NATIVITY, 2572 for the Jason Statham vehicle HOMEFRONT, and 3742 for Disney's FROZEN), resulting in a total opening gross estimate of just over $1 million, and for being the final release for distributor FilmDistrict, whose management and company apparatus are to be fused into rival distributor Focus Features. In short, almost all observers basically declared this film a failure before it even had its first public screenings this past Tuesday evening.

This write-off on the film, figurative and literal, upsets me not just in principle, but in specific to the merits of the finished work. Let me clearly state upfront that Park's adaptation of the otherwise lesser-known late '90's graphic novel is still the better film: its changes to the manga's storyline, its fevered pace of pursuit, its operatic levels of Roger Ebert wrote in his four-star review, "OLDBOY is a powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths of the human heart which it strips bare." However, and get your torches and pitchforks ready, I feel this new reinterpretation credited to screenwriter Mark Protosevich is the more interesting tale, even though it does not succeed as well as its predecessor. The majority of reviews that have surfaced for Lee's remake essentially carry the same argument for dismissal, saying that for all purposes, it's a note for note copy of the original. Well, to use the parlance of the jazz music that Lee has long championed, it's the notes between the notes you really need to pay attention to in this film.

Need I say we will be dealing in absolute spoilers for both versions?

What initially put me off while watching the new version was the rather extreme unlikeability of Brolin's protagonist Joe Doucett compared to the careless but otherwise nonthreatening air of Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su in the original. Both are alcoholics who behave irresponsibly in public and neglect their young daughters on their birthdays, but Dae-su is just a hapless dope, while Doucett is a raging asshole who gets drunk on the job, sexually harasses his assistant, and screams at his estranged wife. As such, the viewer is almost perversely glad to see Doucett get mysteriously imprisoned and isolated from society while they're shocked at the otherwise random jailing of Dae-su. Moreover, when Doucett is freed after 20 years (he spends an extra 5 years in captivity versus the 15 years Dae-su received, probably an appropriate douchenozzle bonus tax), while he has made positive changes like kicking alcohol, getting in shape, and acknowledging the pain he's caused his daughter, he still often behaves like the entitled jerk that he was before his mysterious imprisonment, while Dae-su, just as violent and driven, has a more sympathetic air during his quest. So I can understand if audiences don't feel as invested in his journey, or take any kind of excitement from his numerous battles with the hired hands that stand in the way of his discovery of the truth; it almost seems as if Lee himself doesn't like him either, leading many to suspect it's his passive-agressive way of declaring disinterest in the material.

However, once we finally meet the antagonist, Adrian Pryce (played by Sharlto Copley), I began to get a better inkling of what Lee was really interested in exploring by agreeing to helm this project. Much like his equivalent Lee Woo-jin (played by Yoo Ji-tae) in the original, Pryce seems to have limitless wealth, and is ready to offer a huge amount of it, along with exoneration for the murder of Doucett's wife previously blamed on him, and most importantly, his own suicide, if Doucett can tell him why he caged him for two decades. In both films, it is revealed that a thoughtless incident of youthful voyeurism and slut-shaming by each protagonist led to the death of the antagonist's sister and his desire for revenge. In Park's original, both boys were in high school, and Dae-su is unaware that Woo-jin and his sister were engaged in an incestuous relationship, or that she committed suicide soon after. In Lee's version, both boys (along with another friend, a character in the original manga but omitted from Park's film) are in a much more elite prep school, and this time Doucett unknowingly witnesses Pryce's sister having sex with their father, a moneyed alumnus. It is also revealed the father molested Pryce as well, and after the family relocates to Sweden in the wake of Doucett's rumormongering, the patriarch commits murder-suicide on the entire household, with Pryce as sole survivor. Of all these horrifying revelations, what is the most striking is that as he describes these circumstances, Pryce almost calmly accepts his father's abuse of himself and his sister as normal and acceptable due to the power and respect he commanded by his wealth. Thus, where previously, Woo-jin seeks revenge on Dae-su out of misplaced emotions for his sister, blaming him for the loss of his true love, Pryce, now living under an alias in the wake of his father's rampage, blames Doucett for the loss of his family name and the influence it had carried. And that was where it all clicked for me.

This adaptation of OLDBOY is not meant to be so much a tragedy about the quest for revenge, but a bitter jeremiad about the ingrained structure of white privilege. It's no accident that Doucett, during his captivity, is rankled at seeing the mocking grin of a black concierge on the sarcastic "hotel service" poster in his cell (which comes to life in a hallucination played by the director's brother Cinque Lee), or that the discovery phase reveals his captors to be almost all minorities (led by Samuel L. Jackson) who are ultimately pawns working in the service of an even more powerful white man in Pryce; these are direct confrontations to his pre-captivity image of himself and the world. Moreover, what little he can glean about the world during his 20 years out of it comes from television, and that's no way to have any kind of realistic education about the reality outside. When he's freed from his cell, he's left inside an archaic steamer trunk in an open park, like the artifact from another time that he both metaphorically and literally is. It's quite telling that Doucett drops a quip about THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, and not, say, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION; he doesn't see himself as an innocent man imprisoned, but as an aristocrat dethroned. Even the title gains a different meaning - rather than suggesting the aging of the protagonist in captivity as it did in its original incarnation, "Oldboy" now summons up notions of "the Old Boys Club," entrenched millionaires cackling like Jim Backus and saying things like "Have another martini, old boy!" And, in the icy sociopathy of Pryce, the incestuous nature of dynastic wealth is carried to the harshest possibility. Meanwhile, the two most sympathetic white characters in the film are Chuckie, the former prep school friend of Doucett who has fallen lower on the class ladder but seems much happier with his life, and Marie, a nurse specifically devoted to working with the underprivileged.

Not that this is a completely humorless story, though how much you laugh depends on your own mordant sensibilities. The ongoing references to Doucett's disconnect from modern progress - learning the internet, searching for a Yellow Pages - are effective not just as a tension-breaking aspect of his captivity, but also within the film's theme of affluent men who live in such a bubble they don't know the world has changed around them. While Doucett's surgical flaying of Chaney's neck for information is most gross and horrifying, I must admit I began to imagine this sequence as some sort of subconscious revenge fantasy on actor Jackson by director Lee in regards to the very public fracas over Quentin Tarantino that led to their longtime rift after multiple film collaborations, and chuckled to myself. ("THAT'S for telling Quentin it's okay to use the n-word in his movies! And THAT'S for you saying the n-word all those times in his movies!") And when Pryce reveals that even the television programs Doucett was able to watch in captivity on the ancient TV with the '70's "clicker" remote were often curated or even flat-out faked, my mind was instantly grateful for getting an answer to my wonky question of "How did they get around the analog-to-digital TV transition of 2009?"

A very effective change, in my opinion, is the elimination of post-hypnotic triggering that was a significant element in Park's film, for though it was very effective in bolstering the classical allusions of a hero and heroine unaware of their manipulation or their fate in that film, in this outing, it would have played like a convenient excuse, because Lee and Protosevich insist on Doucett taking responsibility for his bad choices pre-imprisonment, so it is only right that the all-too-predictable manner in which an Alpha male like him would solve his dilemma should create his ultimate downfall. The way in which Pryce has manipulated the lives of Doucett and Marie make hyponsis unnecessary - he has already planted the seeds by depriving one of human touch or kindness, and reinforcing a combination Florence Nightingale/daddy dependence in the other. For those who complain that how would Pryce know that they would fulfill the needs of his master plan, well that's easy: simple human nature. The impulse to help a rattled stranger with severe injuries, a quest for justice, trauma from unexplained attacks. And, of course, having enough money that if the scenario isn't playing as speedily as you would like, contriving some other details in your favor. (Fascinating that, for a story that is often remembered for a man devouring an octopus, few notice that it is the tentacles of a billionaire that, in effect, devours that man.) More important, what previously offered Doucett any sense of advantage over Pryce or his family, whom he didn't even realize existed during his brief interaction with them, were the choices he made, be it to tease and expose their daughter, or to piss away his oppotunities by his alcoholism, or his casual unappreciation of his own family. And Pryce wants to drive home what another ruthless billionaire once opined, that "most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they're capable of anything." Taking advantage of the fact that Doucett has lost 20 years of his life, but he still thinks that he can throw enough punches or dollars at the situation to get to the truth, Pryce lays out a series of moments where he could have done something differently, but chose not to. He could have taken the money that was left in the wallet and fled town, but instead he chased the girl with the yellow parasol and met Marie. He could have called the police on Chaney's bizarre prison/hotel when he found it, but instead he went on a hammer rampage. And he could have politely rebuffed Marie's advances in that hotel room, but instead he gave into his base impulses. As another movie about the framing of a guilty man observed, "Hell is the time you should have walked, but you didn't." Doucett has been manipulated by a man deranged, but he cannot take solace in being forced into bad choices under hypnosis like Dae-su; he made them clean and sober.

And the last major change this movie features from its Korean predecessor that, for me, makes it more interesting (if, keep in mind, not necessarily better), is its resolution. Park's OLDBOY, after the last heartbreaking revelation and the suicide of his enemy, leaves Dae-su self-amputating his tongue and seeking the same hypnotist who induced his fateful triggers to help suppress the memories of the experience, with a reunion between himself and young Mi-do leaving ambiguity as to whether the maneuver was effective. In Lee's telling, after his enemy's death, Doucett uses the significant fortune promised to him by Pryce to pay Cheney to allow him to return to his previous captivity, along with a financial provision for Marie, who will be spared the truth of their connection, but will never see him again. In the wake of everything he has learned about Pryce and about himself, Doucett has determined that he has no place in this society or in the life of Marie, and chooses to spend the remainder of his days isolated from it all, in the hope that things will get better by his absence. In effect, in contrast to Pryce, whose very name suggested all could be bought and controlled, Doucett is finally living in the peaceful gentility his name origin suggests. I can't say if this means that Lee's final statement on rich old white men is to spread the wealth among those who need it (working class, charities, etc) and then get the hell out of the way, but in the case of this one man, he has finally done one deed that, as director, Lee does respect and admire, and believe will finally bring him redemption after a lifetime of near unforgivable acts.

Spike Lee's OLDBOY does not and will never trump, transcend, or escape the shadow of Chan-wook Park's OLDBOY in the manner that, say, John Huston's THE MALTESE FALCON supplanted Roy Del Ruth's earlier production. However, as a stand-alone movie, as a different reading of a familiar story, and as a unit (if not a full-on "joint") of Lee's large body of work, it's a compelling film with something to say, even if for now, nobody wants to listen. I hope it doesn't take 20 years for it to find a hospitable audience.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sad Song on the Fourble Board

This past Tuesday, I performed two otherwise completely unrelated activities. I bought a CD of a legendary rock album, and I listened to a classic episode of an old time radio scary story. And in the middle of the night, I pondered on the spiritual link between them...

Most recently brought to light by a tweet from Patton Oswalt, "The Thing on the Fourble Board" from the series QUIET PLEASE is ranked alongside Orson Welles' adaptation of "The War of the Worlds," the "Sorry, Wrong Number" episode of SUSPENSE, and the "Chicken Heart" episode of LIGHTS OUT as one of the scariest, creepiest radio broadcasts ever performed. And after taking a listen to it at, oh, around 2:37 a.m. after a tumbler of Old Crow, I too was finding myself rattled by ordinary house noises as I attempted to go to sleep soon after. Like many who discover the tale, I'm loath to go into details until the reader/listener themselves have had a chance to experience it themselves. So set the reading aside for a half hour and listen to this, okay? I'll wait.

(or, if you'd rather listen on a uZuny or whatever device, you can download here)

Did you listen? Good. Are you rattled? It'll be okay. Let's talk it out.

On a surface level, this episode is effective because of the deceptively dry, matter of fact manner in which the narrator lays out what seem like tedious details of his life and job - his unattentive wife, how drill bits work, the length of oil pipe - and then applies that exact same ordinary tone to the ickier reveals he has in store for us, his unspoken houseguests. It's a narrative device that rarely fails, whether used to unnerve, as when Shirley Jackson states "Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones," or to amuse, as when Donald Barthelme opines "I also thought four hundred dollars for a [gallows], on top of the expense for the drinks, invitations, musicians, and everything, was a bit steep..."

But what I think really seals the deal for those who have embraced this story is the peculiar mix of abject horror and empathetic love the narrator develops and expresses for the titular creature whom he refashions into a, despite claiming the lives of his friends, nearly costing him his own freedom during police investigation, and its possessing a body that previously existed only in his nightmares, he is stricken with pity at its predicament in a world it has never known, of being maimed itself by a threat it never experienced, and sees humanity in its visage. This narration is punctuated by equally scary yet poignant wails from versatile voice actress Cecil Roy.

It stood there dripping with red paint, blood-red from head to foot, like some horrible dream. And it put its hand on my arm. Its hand was stone. Living, moving stone. And it looked into my eyes. And mewed like a lost kitten...I discovered many things about was invisible and couldn't see people when it was invisible; that if you sprayed it with mud or paint or greasepaint -- make-up -- then it could see people. And, believe me, I didn't want to see its body -- I can see that in my nightmares. But its face...I can't help wanting to see that pathetic, little girl face. I'm afraid maybe I've fallen-- Ah, but it's very beautiful. And when it's well made-up, it's...But making it up, rubbing greasepaint on a stone face that looks at ya and smiles and it makes sounds like a lost kitten yet. I can disguise the body in long dresses. She can’t hear very well and when she’s hungry, I have to stay out of her way. 

The album I picked up hours earlier that evening also involves a narrator dryly observing and accepting sordid behavior from a female partner and himself. One of the tracks even features similarly jarring cries of lost children.

They're taking her children away
Because they said she was not a good mother
They're taking her children away
Because of the things that they heard she had done
The black Air Force sergeant was not the first one
And all of the drugs she took, every one, every one

And I am the Water Boy, the real game's not over here
But my heart is overflowin' anyway
I'm just a tired man, no words to say
But since she lost her daughter
It's her eyes that fill with water
And I am much happier this way

The recently departed Lou Reed released BERLIN in 1973, his third solo album after the breakup of the Velvet Underground and the success of his previous record TRANSFORMER, which yielded his sole Top 40 hit, "Walk on the Wild Side." Conceived as a song cycle, it tells a bleak story of a quickly curdling relationship between two drug addicts in the decadent city, where mutual abuse and infidelity lead to tragedy and icy resignation. Even for fans of Reed at the time, who were well-versed in songs like "Heroin" and "Waiting for the Man" depicting all manner of outré living, and likely well aware of his participation in such activity in real life, this album initially proved too dark to embrace. It received poor reviews, and was considered such a disappointment that for years, Reed never performed the album in full; it was only in 2006 that he revisited it for a series of concerts staged and filmed by painter/filmmaker Julian Schnabel, by which time its reputation had so improved it was listed at #344 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of All Time.

While BERLIN is not a horror story in the conventional sense of what most would say the term suggests, it offers up an interesting convergence to the earlier tale of monstrous embrace from the radio days. What is scary about both situations are the depictions of someone not so far removed from ourselves to willingly be suborned into heinous acts in the name of misplaced affections, be they an oil-rigger luring human food to his mate, or a failed dilettante passively watching his lover prostitute herself to get them more drugs. Also scarily real, the relatability of how unhealthily co-dependent these relationships are to their storytellers -- the narrator of "Thing" likes the face of the creature, but not much else about her, and for all his pity, does likely enjoy being in a position of power as its caregiver, much like meth addict Jim expresses how happier he is to not be burdened with Caroline's children, leaving her to turn her attention fully on him. They are both Water Boys tendering and enabling wounded yet destructive lovers.

The thing on the fourble board lost a finger.

Of Caroline, "Somebody else would have broken both of her arms."

As such, this radio drama and this musical drama are effective kindred, tapping into our fears of how susceptible we could be to doing and accepting bad things for what seemed like rational reasons, and our skill at putting aside our consciences to live with the evil we've done. And consuming each of them for the first time on an ordinary Tuesday made an extraordinary impact for me. Do I recommend this caustic cocktail for yourselves? If you're ready to appreciate the beauty of bummer endings, by all means. Just keep a night light and a white noise machine at the ready if the quiet is too much to bear.

If you don't have a white noise machine, METAL MACHINE MUSIC will do.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

We'll Sing for the Sunshine

You have easily noticed that this blog has been very dormant for the sunnier months of this year, and not exactly jumping during the cold season either. So it was to my great and humbled surprise that despite my crumbling lack of inspiration sporadic updating, I was bestowed this blogging award by Dusty McGowan at Playground of Doom. Between this prize, and the hundreds (or at least tens) of you new readers I am enjoying today thanks to Patton Oswalt's generous retweeting of my THE PHYNX essay (putting him with Edgar Wright in the "Folks I Owe a Steak Dinner" Club), it's a good reminder of why coming back to this parcel of virtual estate is always vital.

As always, with great accolades comes great responsibilities, so here are the rules:

1.) Include the award’s logo in a post or on your blog.
2.) Link to the person who nominated you.
3.) Answer 10 questions about yourself (use these or come up with your own).
4.) Nominate 10 bloggers to pass the award on to.  (This is as much about sharing as it is about receiving.)
5.) Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.

1.) Favorite actor/actress who's not a household name yet?

One of the best performances I saw in 2011 by any actor, let alone one under the age of being allowed to rent a car, was Jacob Wysocki in TERRI, playing an overweight teenager who is surprisingly at ease with the manner in which he stands apart from others in his school, capable of both offering exceeding amounts of empathy and compassion while trying hard to downplay his own needs for the same kind of treatment. Just when you think you can peg his "type," he throws a curve. I've never forgotten that debut. He's also got a very funny Twitter feed, his comedy work outside of film is great (I loved his "BREAKING BAD Pizza Delivery Prank" video) - I'm looking forward to future instances of his versatility.

Actress-wise, there's a few to pick from, but I'll give the ink to Amanda Bauer. In 2011's wonderful THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER, amid a sea of intriguing first-time faces and overlapping stories, hers had the heaviest emotional and dramatic arc to carry, and stood out from the pack. Her one appearance on "MAD MEN" shows she's already capable of playing in the sandbox with established names.

2) Favorite animal

A study in contrast. I personally identify with dogs because of their loyalty and eagerness to play; I even grew my hair long because I always felt it made me look more like a large friendly pet, whereas the few times it was shaven, short, or pulled back, I would look like a menacing thug from a Leo Fong movie. That being said, I tend to prefer the company of cats; like to hold and pet them, hear their noises and mewlings. Realistically, I do a barely passable job of taking care of my own self, so I think I'm doing the animal kingdom a favor by not being entrusted with the life, feeding, and well-being of any domesticated creature.

3) Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drink?

I try to drink as much unsweetened iced tea as possible. When that's not available, usually diet cola. But what I really love - Moxie!

4) Favorite music?

I'm pretty much an omnivore, but I would say that my two strongest faves are power pop and doo-wop. The latter for it's eloquent simplicity and honesty - three-to-five guys with amazing harmony with just perhaps a bass or piano to back them up. Strip away the Velveeta stereotyping of  '50's culture and listen to the purity of The Moonglows "Sincerely" or the cold schadenfreude of The Velvetones "Glory of Love", and you might get it. Or, just listen to Art LaBoe's nightly dedication show, and in that standard mix of slow jams and lite rock, you will almost always hear some East Side homegirls in their '20's eagerly asking for a song their parents weren't even alive for the first time, Rosie and the Originals' "Angel Baby." (Branching further into general '50's-'60's soul, I was once asked what possessions I would retrieve in a fire, and the first reply was my Atlantic Rhythm & Blues '47-'74 box set) As for the latter, solid hooks and catchy lyrics will always put me in a better place. Lonely nights are made bearable by Badfinger, sunny days are made sunnier by Electric Light Orchestra, and I never travel far without a little Big Star.

Besides, anybody who doesn't like Cheap Trick just plain doesn't like fun.

By the way, did you notice that album by Chris Price I keep advertising off to the side of this blog? It's there for a reason. Buy a copy and listen to it, you'll understand why.

5) Favorite TV show?

In his questionnaire (within which I received his blessing), Dusty already picked "THE TWILIGHT ZONE," and since I don't like to be too immediately repetitive, I'm going to go with "HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET." A crime drama in only the strictest of TV Guide genre listings, this was possibly the greatest ongoing drama of souls trying to achieve nobility and avoid being haunted that ever survived the grinding obstacles of network television and its limitations. No matter how many ways people tried to screw up the show - changing time slots, demanding "prettier" co-stars, doing cross-overs with the more simplistic "LAW & ORDER" - every week this show delivered unique characters with rich lives beyond the office. "THE WIRE" may have the better Dickensian element, "BREAKING BAD" the better narrative evolution, insert whatever cable series you like here with your reason why it's tops. But I promise you none of those shows could have gotten past development were it not for what took place on location in Baltimore for eight seasons in the '90's, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you like you're Montel Williams.

6) Favorite sport

Honestly, my vast knowledge of useless minutiae takes up all the room that would normally be occupied by sports and the statistics therein. I will say there is always that first spurt of the fall when I follow the progress of my high school, college, and hometown football teams before I get diverted by the Oscar bait. I also take a particular pride in being in the stands for the infamous "Four Corners/24-11" game between the UC Bearcats and UK Wildcats basketball teams, the game that cemented the future of the shot clock. Look, if you're throwing a Super Bowl party or going to a sports bar, what the hell, I'll come join you. I just wish you could demonstrate the same participatory fellowship when I try coaxing you to join me for the Mods & Rockers fest at the American Cinematheque.

Oh yeah, I do really enjoy pro wrestling. But Vince McMahon insists on calling it "sports entertainment," so I guess technically that doesn't count.

7) Movie most people love that I dislike

JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS. I know I know, I sound like the kind of sourpuss that would hate Cheap Trick earlier in this piece, but this film is one of the most egregious examples of snark over substance I've ever suffered through. Rather than, you know, actually try and bring life to these beloved characters, the creative team showed their contempt for the whole franchise by shoving them into toothless commentary about corporate influences in pop music, demonstrating how better they were than to just do another cartoon adaptation, even trying to turn their lack of enthusiasm into a "meta" joke by having one character justify her inactive presence in the story because "I'm in the comic book." SEE??? WE COULDN'T THINK OF ANYTHING INTERESTING TO DO WITH A PIVOTAL ANTAGONIST FROM EVERY EPISODE OF THE SERIES, SO WE'LL JUST GET A LAUGH ABOUT HOW LAZY WE ARE!!! AREN'T WE SO BLOODY CLEVER??? IRONY!!! SATIRE!!!

8) Favorite short film


9) My passion (other than entertainment)

Preservation. Sure, that can be tied to my love of film, but it goes past that to other things, like classic buildings and architecture, letters, photographs, clothing styles, all totems of the past. I don't revel in ancient items as some form of Luddite rebellion - I love the advances of our new century - I simply feel that to truly appreciate all the wonder and potential of the world and our inventions within is to have that history within our easy grasp. As was written by Stephen Zaillian to be fictionally said by John Q. Adams in AMISTAD, "Who we are is who we were."

10) Favorite soundtrack from 2013

Tough call. I've just seen THE WORLD'S END, which has a terrific and smartly-arranged song score, as every Edgar Wright movie has featured, so I'll likely buy that CD very soon. Then there's the soundtrack to BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME, which has entirely different takes and mixes of songs I thought I knew inside out, so it's like finding old family photos you didn't know existed; however that's just part and parcel of any good documentary thus I feel it's too on the nose to choose. Lots of other movies featured songs I liked, but I've yet been madly driven by any of them to buy that album right away, so those don't quite count either.

Let me try a variation here. Earlier this year, the aforementioned Mr. Price, my frequent moviegoing companion, sifted through his massive and eclectic CD collection, found a number of duplicate albums, and gave them to me en masse. So I took a long journey through some really great music that I'd never had real opportunity to explore before. That then spurred me on to go on a spree of sorts - I've likely bought more CDs this year than I previously did in the last five. Most of it older stuff that I'd missed the first time, but some new material too. As such, I guess I'd have to say The Soundtrack of My Life is my favorite of this year. And that track listing would look a little like this:

Judee Sill - "The Kiss"
The Kinks - " Situation Vacant"
John Martyn - "I'd Rather Be the Devil"
Emitt Rhodes - "You're a Golden Child of God"
Linda Perhacs - "Paper Mountain Man"
Asia Argento - "Cheese and Eggs"
Sloan - "Money City Maniacs"
Lisa Mychols - "Don't Give Up On Us"
Secrets* - "Daddy's Girl"
Bleu - "To Hell With You"
Alex Chilton - "All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain"

And buying music means I'm spending time in record stores again, thus another exercise in preservation.

So this is where I pass this award along, hoping that you will visit these blogs if you have not already, and that perhaps the proprietors will also engage in the show and tell I've offered. Everything is voluntary.

My choices:

I've crowed before about the enormous intelligence of archivist/author/all-around asskicker Ariel Schudson, and her Sinamatic Salve-ation blog, and I'm going to keep crowing about her;

Next to my other former "BEAT THE GEEKS" dais companion Paul Goebel, nobody loves TV more than Amanda Reyes. And her Made For TV Mayhem blog will give you really unique thoughts about all those MOW's, mini-series, and Lifetime Movies for Women, that you didn't know you were missing;

And nobody loves horror with the wit and ferocity of Stacie Ponder, and Final Girl is a testament to why she's stays standing in this field for so long;

You'll find plenty of sites devoted to cult movies and strangeness, but you will not find those reviews so neatly sub-categorized and ingeniously dissected as you will by the delectable Yum Yum at the House of Self-Indulgence;

You will also be dumbfounded at the amazing oddities of exploitation film material - obscure newspaper ads, alternate campaigns, pressbooks, and the movies themselves - that Chris Poggiali manages to unearth in his Temple of Schlock;

And the simple mandate of Brandon L. Summers - reviewing films with less than 100 votes at the IMDb - makes his Film Obscurities irresistible to me;

Almost every entertainment website tries to lure you with lists, but none offer the deep focus and sprawling variety of voices as Brian Saur shepherds at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Aside from my year and decade breakdowns, I've always saved my listical pursuits for his presentation, and he's always received them with pleasure;

One of the first blogs I began to regularly follow before I even started my own here was Steven Thompson's Booksteve's Library. Mostly an excellent resource for literary pursuits both written and graphic, he also shines a light on hard-to-see films, TV, and other cultural curiosities;

If you enjoyed my "random tangent" review of Tyler Perry's TEMPTATION from a few months back, I have to acknowledge a little bit of inspiration came from the terrific stream-of-consciousness essays by Thomas Duke at his wild Cinema Gonzo site;

And finally, picking up on odd patterns during film periods, musing of beloved studio logos, and remembering truly great motion picture poster art are among the reasons Ned Merrill's Obscure One Sheet is special to me;

There they are: read, follow, or get out of the way.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I Phought Ptoo Much About THE PHYNX

THE PHYNX's epic saga of how our government manufactured a rock band to rescue celebrity hostages from a punishing dictator was too bizarre to even commercially offer in 1970, went on to flummox viewers like Steven Thompson during its days as a bootleg tape, and still leaves fellows like Paul Tabili of DVD Drive-In scratching their heads in its now wide availability. Perhaps the reason why Warner Bros. chose not to release a rock'n'roll espionage comedy called THE PHYNX - not in America anyhow - was because it seemed everything about it was unexplainable - from its title, to its use of relative unknowns in the leads, to its use of dozens of random cameos in its climax, to its point of view on its story and its audience. Was it supposed to be a riddle for the ages, as the title's homophonic cousin the Sphinx posed? Or was this riddle just a bad joke, and the title a deliberate misspelling to partially warn potential audiences that, much like the derided King from "THE WIZARD OF ID," that this collective was a band of finks?

In short, what the phuck were they phynxing?

Now, my close friend and longtime "BEAT THE GEEKS" dais companion Andy Zax could tell you the whole story, based on years of direct contact and conversations with people who were involved, and on his impressive collection of what little material from the film reached the public. Unfortunately for all of us, Mr. Zax and his luminous wife, The Lovely Lisa Jane Persky (yes, that is her official title), are incommunicado right now, no doubt blissfully relaxed in an undisclosed location taking the advice of Robert Fripp and watching the boring parts of Marguerite Duras' films until they are no longer boring. So, I guess it's up to me to attempt an explanation of this film, the better to prepare the hardy souls who either will be attending the highly-anticipated Los Angeles screening hosted by Patton Oswalt at CineFamily this coming Sunday, the 18th, or will later be inspired somehow to take the plunge and purchase the DVD released last fall by the genial fellows at Warner Archive.

It is impossible to talk about the origins of THE PHYNX (or, as William Ollier Jr. would have spelled it, "GHONX") without making the educated guess that Warner Bros. Records executive Stan Cornyn, credited as sole screenwriter of the film, was certainly trying to create a synergistic band concept for his label and parent studio in the same manner that Colgems Records (co-owned by Columbia Pictures and RCA) was able to exploit The Monkees on the three platforms available to them. Like the Monkees, the four members of Phynx were comprised of two nonmusicians - Ray Chippeway and Michael A. Miller, and two trained musicians - Lonny Stevens, a house songwriter for Motown, and Dennis Larden (nee Sarokin), founding member of Every Mother's Son, who released a popular single "Come On Down to My Boat", all four performing under their real names while creating caricatured versions of themselves. And as the Pre-Fab Four had assistance from respected songwriters and comedy writers for their series, Cornyn enlisted the legendary songwriting team of Mike Leiber & Jeff Stoller to write and produce songs for the band, and Bob Booker & George Foster, responsible for writing the #1-charting, Grammy-winning comedy album THE FIRST FAMILY with Vaughn Meader, to come up with a storyline to introduce the band. Notice these are the parties who get top billing in the opening credits, and not any of the cast.

Over the course of repeat viewings (and yes, to write this, I indeed watched the movie more than once), I have come to the conclusion that THE PHYNX is a movie that mirrors the evolving attitude of its creative process, in that it was conceived in cynicism but somehow stumbled into sincerity. The credits delineation of Booker & Foster recieiving only story credit while only Cornyn receives screenplay credit suggests that this may be less a philosophical shift and more of a studio salvage mission, but weirdly, these two conflicting ideas somehow do manage to flow into one another.

The cynical atmosphere kicks in quickly after the animated opening credits, as hapless Super Secret Agency operative Corrigan (Lou Antonio filling what years later would likely be called the Hamilton Camp role), failing in the prologue to infiltrate Communist Albania, is brought into a meeting of all field agents - dressed as Klansmen, Black Power activists, Madison Ave. suits, hookers, Boy Scouts, and others, suggesting that the Government has extended its reach to every fringe group in America, ostensibly in the name of the public good, but more likely just to keep its foot in the door. The newsreel declaring that novelty stars like Col. Harlan Sanders, Butterfly McQueen, Edgar Bergen, and others are "World Leaders" is the kind of over-the-top sarcasm you find and tire quickly of about every 17 seconds on Twitter. When the anatomically suggestive supercomputer M.O.T.H.A. declares the strategy of collecting four random youths to form a rock band to get invited into Albania, the longtime music snobs' arguments about how anybody can be made a teen idol if enough money is thrown into the effort (a trope beginning with Stan Freberg and continuing in the noughts with MTV's 2gether) is milked heavily, right down to the po-faced "raves" from Dick Clark and James Brown. A sequence where mercurial producer "PhilBaby" claims he's conceived a hit single for months but pulls the title from a nearby newspaper almost exactly mirrors an incident involving Monkees' songwriters Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart bluffing Don Kirshner over what became the hit song "Valleri," an artistic subterfuge that possibly stuck in Leiber & Stoller's craw as they wrote the score. The band's SSA-muscled success, bizarrely enough, found intellectual company in Peter Watkins' scathing 1967 mockumentary PRIVILEGE, depicting a future London where business, church, and state unite in backing a sullen pop star in order to keep youth diverted from any subversive activity, so in all likelihood "Phynx" indeed meant that our interchangeable heroes are no better than narcs. As critic Graeme Clark wrote in his recent review, "For all its wackiness, for all its attempts to be down with the kids, THE PHYNX was all about The Man, by The Man, and who knows, possibly for The Man as well. Maybe Warners [buried the film because] we'd see right through it."

But just when you're about to share in the depicted exhausted exasperation of the bandmates themselves and bellow, "OKAY, WE GET IT," we get a good-hearted, if ham-handed, moment of empathy. Bandmember Dennis has escaped their literal musical boot camp and snuck back to his hometown, now attired in stereotypical but arguably zeitgeist-accurate hippie garb, and is shunned by all the citizens he remembered as friends, while a deceptively cheery song "Hello" plays underneath his rejection. He reluctantly returns to camp, where the other three guys, as if knowing all too well what happened on the outside, say "Hello." Where previously it would appear the creatives in charge thought little of hippies as a collective, this sequence suggests that they deserved common respect as individuals, and understood that for many, the only place where a man who looks against The Man (even when secretly working for The Man) can be treated like a man is among the men who get him. Okay, yes, it's as toothless a gesture as Pope Francis' "Who am I to judge" remark about gay clergy, but these establishment fuds were at least trying to be open-minded. After this sequence, the movie returns to its seen-it-all cynicism in a very sexist interlude, involving first a government-approved orgy, followed by a search for pieces of an Albanian penetration map justifying multiple sub-Mad Magazine-level sex jokes, but once the Phynx finally make it to Albania, the tone significantly changes.

The band discovers that, contrary to the limited intelligence the SSA has possessed, the Albanian President and his American wife are in fact virtual captives themselves to his Colonel Rostinov, because "he owns the tank." Taking advantage of their waning popularity in the States, the First Lady has in fact lured all the disappeared celebrities to her country to ease her separation hurt from America, since she is under the Cold War travel embargo of her Colonel, and appreciating the accommodations, the celebrities are in no rush to leave; much like Woody in TOY STORY 2, they are tempted to accept a sterile existence in a collection, feeling left behind by those who loved them first. The Colonel takes an roughly dim view of The Phynx, using them as publicity bait to pander to Albania's youth for the next likely-rigged election, not too far removed from the SSA's opinion of them as useful idiots. And amidst all this back and forth about the nature of fame and its outreach to people beyond a performer's home, followed by an ungainly curtain call of every former household name that's been cooling their heels in the President's company, Michael Barrett of Popmatters understandably posits, "...none of these cameos would appeal to the college crowd this film is supposedly courting or lampooning, and yet the whole project would turn off their parents too, and it did. So to whom did this barely released fiasco appeal except the 17 viewers who wanted bragging rights of having claimed that it wasn’t a hallucination?" But, I think I may just have the answer.

Imagine that you're an ordinary under-21'er in America, circa 1970. If you're lucky, you have five TV channels available to you - three network stations, an indie, and maybe a PBS affiliate. For all the "new" shows you're watching, you're probably also idly watching lots of reruns of old sitcoms and lots of Mid-Afternoon Matinee and/or Late Late Show movie broadcasts. You've got your own favorite stars of the present, to be sure, but you are getting a steady diet of images and performances of the past, of the people your parents and even grandparents grew up enjoying. You may not be into them, but if you watch enough TV like a typical '70's kid would, you're gonna know the faces. It's a cultural familiarity and osmosis we don't have today, when with hundreds of cable channels and programmable home video and online options, we no longer need to watch anything we weren't otherwise interested in just because "it's on right now."

Now, consider what we mentioned earlier - the "World Leaders" that are disappearing from America in this tale are not our most august, valued artists. It's not Helen Hayes, Arturo Toscanini, or Norman Mailer that's gone missing - it's past-their-prime folks like Leo Gorcey & Huntz Hall of the Bowery Boys, Ruby Keeler, Andy Devine, Dorothy Lamour, Georgie Jessel, etc. Performers who subsisted for years off of one character role or their entertaining manner on talk shows, and whom were now considered "disposable." Just as disposable as handsome teen pop stars were being regarded, often by the exact same power brokers that were casting TV shows, making movies, and serving as our cultural arbiters. For that matter, how much difference is there really between a manufactured band of the '60's and, say, an untrained pretty girl in the '40's who got hired by a studio and received a new name and backstory and became, for a few short years, a movie star? If their intended audience ultimately takes pleasure in the work, does it matter if the performer's talent was organic or indoctrinated?

Thus, in its convoluted and schizophrenic manner, THE PHYNX is attempting to send an message of cultural rapprochement within the generation gap. Saying to that mythical bewildered teenager looking at the parade of has-beens, "These folks you've seen on the Late Show, that you don't get the appeal of? They entertained us once upon a time, made us forget our troubles for a while. Which is what I think you must feel when you listen to one of these bands that I don't get the appeal of." Saying to the parent stuck accompanying their kid to this movie, "Remember how much you liked these people you don't get to see anymore? That's how your kid will feel when the stars of their formative years are displaced. Their nostalgia is just as fond as yours, even if right now it's not nostalgia yet." Even to the performers themselves, most of whom indeed had not had any high-profile exposure in years until the stunt casting of this movie, there was a message - when the band opens their command performance to this audience saying, "America needs you," they're effectively saying, "We have not forgotten you. We're making our fans happy the way you did yours. We're the same." Whereas JFK spoke of "passing the torch" to the new generation, the filmmakers wanted to have the new generation say "Thank you. We won't let you down."

And after that big lovefest has taken place, naturally, we get to see our parade of guest stars eagerly sneaking out of Albania hidden in radish carts (Albania's best export hiding America's best export?), while the Phynx perform for the Albanian youth. No matter what their intended purpose was before, they have legitimate fans here now, and their sunshine pop takes on the quality that Sunday night's screening host Patton Oswalt so memorably admired about '80's heavy metal: it blows a hole in the walls surrounding the country so that our entertainment elders can get out, and the influence of future flavor of the month stars can come in. Of course it is naive to think that only killjoys with military hardware don't enjoy a good dog-and-pony show - after all, you should see the videotapes in Saddam Hussein and Idi Amin's collections - but this was made in a more innocent time. And they may have been on to something. Why was Deborah Raffin just another blonde on American TV but treated as a virtual goddess in China?

None of this admittedly way-too-deep analysis makes THE PHYNX a good movie, but almost every review I've read over the years wants to know what the point of this production was, and this is what I came up with. Perhaps if and when you decide to watch it, you will agree. After all, I managed to find one unabashed rave in my research. Or perhaps you'll phynk I'm a phlat out phoole. Whatever; I'd rather stick with my foolishly generous opinion. After all, if, say, I found my 1.5-game-show-years-of-fame self being absconded to Chechnya and forced to share living quarters with Stacey Q., Klinton Spilsbury, and that "Oi!" Jacko dude, I have the sad feeling nobody will be sending a rock band to retrieve my has-been ass.

So, for Lonny Stevens, mentoring under-the-radar actors in Studio City; for Dennis Sarokin, still making music somewhere in Nashville; and for Ray and Michael A., wherever they are: I'll gladly give a hand to the Boys in the Band. And say thank you as well, from one temporary solution to the leisure problem to another.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"You're not just a crazy child, are you?"

I don't know what specific instance was the changing point that transformed my relationship with Karen Black from a familiar acquaintance to a genuine friend. I suspect that by the time, during a repeat visit to my former workplace, she fixed my poorly-knotted tie and suggested that I not wear dark green, we were already there.

As you read through all the expressions of sadness and resignation that have come in the rather shocking announcement of her death, one day after her husband posted a blunt but still uplifting account of her cancer battle, there are roughly two dominant strains of fandom and memory for the great actress - the strain that recalls her period of stand-out performances in challenging '70's movies (CISCO PIKE, RHINOCEROS, YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW, and a few others you've already heard name-checked) and the strain that recalls her long association with horror films (TRILOGY OF TERROR, BURNT OFFERINGS, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES) - both of which used her unusual presence to maximum advantage. Both strains, however, also helped to forment a meme that stayed with her until the end, a meme that as early as 1976 she acknowledged in a Photoplay interview with the pull quote, "I truly am a bit crazy." 

From all my memories of Karen, abstract and direct, I could tell this was an identity that she wasn't always happy with, but deeply understood. There would be mercurial moments, such as reacting negatively to David Letterman's ostensibly good-natured ribbing over her then-recent appearance in the Italian-made JAWS ripoff KILLER FISH. Sometimes she could use it to upend convention: aside from the family connection of collaborating with former husband L.M. Carson and her son Hunter, director Tobe Hooper surely made a sly joke to the audience of his 1986 remake of INVADERS FROM MARS by casting Karen as the only adult not under the control of the alien invaders. But in the best moments, her "crazy" allowed all the people on the margins who normally did not get to command a movie watcher's attention to have a surrogate, someone who got them and cared about them, and insisted on presenting such characters with truth and empathy. Celestial happenstance even helped along the way: while her stage name of "Black" merely came from her first marriage, it almost prophesies her long association with dark characters, and considering that her birth name was Karen Blanche Ziegler, one not afraid of etymological puns would say that she literally transformed herself from white to black. It's easy to reason why so many disenfranchised souls...goths, gays, film geeks like me...all the "crazy children"...are feeling an extra sense of loss today.

And besides, if Kembra Pfahler had named her band "The Voluptuous Horror of Piper Laurie," would it have had quite the same appeal? I really don't think so.

I was friends with Karen for a decade. I helped set up her merchandise table at a horror convention. We talked on the phone about music. During a Q&A at UCLA after a screening of COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, I posed one of my usual arcane queries, and from the stage, Karen replied, "Marc Heuck, ONLY YOU would ask a question like that!" I was once late for work because I lost track of time helping her get a VCR up and running in her house, a comical episode which my supervisor failed to see any humor in as he bawled me out. 

She made me soup.

Most memorably, I convinced her to sit with me for a DVD commentary track on her very underrated 1973 thriller THE PYX. For years she was reportedly not pleased with the film, and it took a fair amount of creative talk and cajoling on my end to get her to agree to participate, then it seemed to take months to find a date when she was free to do it. But it was a great day when it finally took place. I picked her up to drive her to the studio, and offered her a bottle of Moxie soda I'd picked up for the occasion, in tribute to her own titular equivalent; she declined, not being a sugar consumer, but appreciated the gesture. It took longer than normal to get started, since the one engineer on duty seemed to be occupying some other chemically enhanced headspace, but once we got rolling...well, you can hear that for yourself on the DVD; aside from an embarrassing amount of "um's" and "ah's" that totally negate all the hard work I spent in that single Toastmasters meeting, it's a great chat that, among other things, brought her around to a new positive attitude on the film. This turnaround meant a great deal to me. It seems so often I meet a performer who, for whatever reason, has sour feelings for something they did that I personally find very good, and I set about trying to help them see it through my eyes and reappraise it. And I felt a very personal connection to THE PYX, because its heroine Elizabeth Lucy, a conflicted soul longing for reconnection with trappings of her lost home while in a downward spiral of sex work and heroin addiction, reminded me all too much of an absent friend of my own. I dare say, when I brought this up in my courtship for her participation, this emotional aspect is what made her decide to take another look at it. For obvious reasons I didn't discuss this in our commentary since we were focused on Karen and production stories, but I don't mind sharing that sentiment here

When we wrapped, we went to dinner to celebrate, and we opted for Mediterranean, a most posh, multi-course feast...which, when I discovered to my then-horror I had to pay the entire tab on it, made me wish juuusst a little that maybe I had chosen her second suggestion of Shakey's Pizza. But then I shrugged my shoulders and laughed and thought, well, how many opportunities does a fellow get to buy dinner for an Academy Award nominee? In retrospect, when I look back on her constantly accepting tiny film projects to keep working, and the recent crowdfunding effort to offset the enormous costs of keeping her cancer at bay and her family at bedside, I would have gladly bought her multiple Mediterranean dinners at the same price. It's not like I've done any better at economizing.

Despite all of those memories, for some reason, I couldn't bring myself to make contact with her or her family after yesterday's announcement, when there was still a chance to get a message to her. Maybe I thought there was still too much going on for them to be receiving messages, or that I wasn't a close enough friend to be chiming in on this family time. Naturally, I regret that. Our mutual friend Ronee Blakley, who has logged more years of friendship with Karen, thankfully did get in touch with her one last time, and received this reply:

"Thank you darling! Message comes at a good moment!"

The statement contains as many layers as her best characters.

Where normally, one would post in closing some classic glamour shot, I've chosen to offer this image her family made public when keeping contributors to her fundraiser abreast of her treatment. Look at her smile, her gaze, her pose, even her choice of clothes (She really did know people's colors): it's as elegant as any library still of her available. I was debating whether or not to crop the intravenous from this photograph, initially thinking it would intrude on the vibe, but as I listened again to our PYX commentary, she talked about her research into addiction, of how the woman she studied and interviewed talked of learning to love the needle. Now look at that smile again. If she hasn't learned to love that needle in that moment, she's damn well *acting* like she does. 

Which means Karen Black returned to the white on her own terms as best as possible.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Bolts From Above Hurt the Movie Down Below

Here is a glimpse inside all the random thoughts that ran through my brain during the midnight screening of Tyler Perry's TEMPTATION: CONFESSIONS OF A MARRIAGE COUNSELOR I just came home from:

Century City has apparently done away with their 3 hours free parking. Alright, I guess all the malls are now. Rates approximately 1/hr for shoppers and diners, AMC patrons up to 5 hours/$4. So let me get this straight: if I validate, then regardless of how long I was at the theatre, I'm paying $4? It would be cheaper if I didn't validate? Well, this may be the last time you see me darken your multiplex again. I sure as hell can't afford any other attraction in this mall. Why don't you just hang the sign INCOMES UNDER $50,000 KEEP ON DRIVING;

Any movie title that starts with CONFESSIONS but does not involve Robin Askwith inadvertently getting it on with posh birds in swinging London is automatically suspect. Thrill me, Mr. Perry, or at least give me someone without trousers when the vicar shows up;

Lionsgate has their white "Heaven" logo for their regular movies and their red "Hell" logo for their horror movies. Hasn't Perry made them enough money to get his own color-coded logo? Maybe mauve, like one of Madea's housedresses;

Oh, so this movie is going to be told in flashback? Aha, then instead of Gene Siskel's old question, "Is this movie more interesting than having dinner with the principal cast?" I'm going to be asking, "Is this movie going to teach me anything I didn't already learn from Charlene's 'I've Never Been to Me'";

Hey, it's the nurse from BUBBA HO-TEP playing Judith's bible-thumping mom. I guess if I had inadvertently given a happy ending to the King of Rock'n'Roll, that would have been a Come to Jesus moment for me too;

Vanessa Williams is the new Faye Dunaway;

Wait a minute, Vanessa...Faye...brainstorm: remake NETWORK with all-black cast! Oh no, that already happened in real life on BET. Speaking of, how ya livin', Debra Leevil?;

Renee Taylor here looks like Harlan Ellison in drag;

Husband promises Judith he's not going to take her to the $1.99 buffet. Does this mean he'll at least spring for a $2.99 shrimp at Long John Silver's?

Whoops, hubby forgot Judith's birthday, so he's going to lip-sync "Try a Little Tenderness" shirtless to cheer her up. Sorry, Brice, Duckie did it better;

Meanwhile, apparently, Harley has been learning his seduction technique from Positive K;

Okay, Tyler, I know you're sending the characters to New Orleans, and African-Americans invented the genre, but Woody Allen owns using Dixieland music in a romantic montage. I'm waiting for at least an appearance by Tony Roberts now;

No, the Jewish one;

Yes, him, the one who looks like Spike from COWBOY BEBOP;

Mama suggests Brice needs a whipping, claims it's from the King James edition. No, actually, sounds more like it's from the RICK James edition;

There are unseen people being discussed by the secondary players. Roger Ebert's rule of "economy of characters" has thus already told me the big reveal;

Uh-oh, it's the middle of the night, Judith's been bad, and now her mama is shreiking that the Devil is inside her. Please, please, let her start talking about her dirty pillows! Better yet, give Judith dormant psychic powers and let her levitate some kitchen knives!

Which reminds me - when I was growing up, we had BLACULA, BLACKENSTEIN, ABBY was basically BLACK EXORCIST, hell we even got BLACK SHAMPOO...why did we never get BLACK CARRIE? I would have paid an older kid to buy my ticket and sneak me into that movie!

All Judith wants to do is take a shower right now, and her mama and husband won't let her. I don't dare ask what would have happened if all she wanted was a Pepsi;

Harley also apparently has been taking points on how to set a party mood from Mr. Boogaloow in THE APPLE. Since Judith opening a counseling practice with Harley, does this mean Brice has to listen to Grace Kennedy sing first before getting her out of the contract?

Oh, no he didn't strike Judith's mama! Now I have proof the most famous Tyler from Georgia took some cues from the second-most famous Tylor in Georgia, because here it is dramatized in CinemaScope, folks - dick will make you slap somebody!

Whoa, an extra fillip upon the expected big reveal! "What's wrong?" the girl asks Brice. He should be replying, "What's wrong is I've never seen a Tyler Perry movie before; if I had, I would have known this was coming."

Conclusion: this is now tied with DEAD MAN DOWN as being a movie most likely made by someone from another planet, using the English language and dramatic structure in the same maladept fashion that ABBA wrote their first songs in English. I don't know if the African-American community was looking for their own version of THE ROOM, but they've got it now. Actually, one crucial difference: this was actually entertaining, I will go see this movie again. And thus if you're feeling the urge for bad behavior, go indulge. However, if you're pinching pennies and can't afford a first-run movie ticket, or you just don't believe in the whole outsider or camp principle of movie watching, but you do want to see an attractive woman learning about the pitfalls of Temptation from a rich suitor, with occasional interludes from The Big Book, here's a condensed version you can dance to:

Ye gods, Corina looks like a younger, hotter Madea. I'm not comfortable with that. Let's try this again:

Personally, I'd still rather see a full on Alexyss K. Tylor directed production in the future. Maybe she can get BLACK CARRIE made just in time to compete against that damned remake. That would be an onscreen depiction of some serious Vagina Power.  C'mon Hollywood: hit the bottom, work that middle, make this happen!