Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category
“Now something so sad has hold of us that the breath leaves and we can’t even cry.”
-Charles Bukowski, You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense
Grief incites people to all sorts of mischief.
People in films kill for a boatload of reasons. They kill for money, love, sex, power, a black bird, a tanker full of gasoline, a witch’s broom, Cornel Wilde, and even a penmanship medal. If you watch horror films, you’re used to watching people, and dogs (please stop) die in creative and horrifying ways. What you’re not used to seeing is the aftermath. Sure, horror sequels often begin with the hero or heroine recovering in a mental ward after an ordeal, but seldom do the filmmakers dwell on the survivor’s feelings. Generally, the protagonist must hot foot it out of the hospital to avoid ending the franchise prematurely. A handful of terrific new horror films and filmmakers break that mold. These artists focus on grief as both a reason to kill, and an actual entity.
The films in this piece portray grief in terms of horror. That makes sense because it’s something scary that no one wants to talk about. Grief gets buried, not unlike a victim in a premature grave, who pops out at the most inopportune times. You think you dug the hole deep enough, but the little bastard manages to crawl out and invade your Christmas by wiping his muddy feet on your carpet, or ruin a perfectly nice dinner party by playing that tune you’re trying so hard to forget. Grief is also something everyone expresses differently, but is supposed to express the same. Friends study your affect and project their own feelings there. “How can he laugh at a time like this?” Police observe the spouses of murder victims and decide whether they’re reacting correctly. “She’s not even crying. We’d better investigate.” You can also overreact. In the 1946 drama, The Razor’s Edge, Gene Tierney comments on Anne Baxter’s character, Sophie, who’s sunk into despair and drunkenness after the loss of her husband and child in an accident. “Of course, it was a shock and everyone felt sorry for her, but a normal person recovers. If she went to pieces it was because she was always unbalanced.” With the weight of so much emotion on your shoulders, it’s easy to lose your footing and fall into that newly-opened grave. The best choice is conversation. When the beast is out in the open, he’s easier to fight—or embrace. The players in these films choose different paths and it’s enlightening to see how those choices affect them.
In The Babadook (2014), writer/director Jennifer Kent creates a frighteningly claustrophobic world for her heroine. Amelia (Essie Davis), a lonely widow with a troubled young son, struggles to get through each day. Once, a vivacious writer in love with her musician husband, Amelia now simply goes through the motions of living. She works as an attendant at a nursing home and tries to care for her incredibly high-maintenance son. Aside from his behavior issues, her boy, Samuel (Noah Wiseman) has terrible nightmares so, of course, his mom gets no sleep. Samuel is such a handful, no one else will watch him, so Amelia is on the hook 24/7. Everything is a chore and she gets no peace. As if loneliness, drudgery, and lack of sleep weren’t enough, Amelia also battles depression and a sort of delayed grief. Her husband died on the day their son was born so she’s been too busy to grieve properly. After six years of this, her embattled psyche has had enough. A scary pop-up book, The Babadook, appears mysteriously in her house and the book’s protagonist, a combination of Dr. Caligari and Danny DeVito’s Penguin, begins to haunt Amelia and Samuel’s dreams and maybe even their reality.
The Invitation (2015) begins when Will (Logan Marshall-Green) accepts an invitation to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband in Will’s old house. Soooo many red flags there. Anyway, he and his new girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), along with the estranged couple’s old friends get together for a party complete with a gourmet supper, vintage wine, and weird oversharing. Throughout the course of the evening, we discover that Will and his ex, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), lost their young son a year or so ago. Eden tried to come to grips with her grief at a questionable retreat in Mexico where she met her present husband, David (Michael Huisman), who was there to deal with a loss of his own. The strange, incredibly tense vibe of the film is punctuated by the cringe-worthy stories the guests tell and Will’s occasional outburst questioning the goal of the evening. Director, Karyn Kusama does a phenomenal job of keeping you on the edge of your seat as Will vacillates between enjoying the lamb and suspecting the rest of the party-goers. The cast of lesser-known character actors works together well and includes the fabulously creepy John Carroll Lynch (Twisty!) as the guy you who you wish had RSVP’d in the negative. Despite the Jonathan Swift-levels of overcompensating for grief Eden and David learned at their slice of Spahn Ranch in the Mexican desert, The Invitation is a subtle, taut film that builds steadily toward a frightening end and dramatizes the lengths to which some people will go to avoid feeling that horrible ache.
Prevenge (2016) stars the most excellent Alice Lowe as Ruth, a very pregnant widow whose anger and grief mixed with a dash of hormones and a smidge of her already manic nature allow her to hear the voice of her unborn daughter. That sounds lovely. There’s just one thing; Ruth’s daughter is a sociopath who orders her to kill the people both blame for the death of Ruth’s husband. Like Look Who’s Talking meets Kind Hearts and Coronets, Prevenge follows Ruth as she assumes different identities to get close to her victims. At first, she’s energized by her mission, but later comes to question its value when she realizes all her efforts won’t change anything. Her husband is still gone. That sad fact looms in the background all through this darkly funny film. That Lowe manages to make her character funny, vulnerable, and a bit mad is evidence of her talent as an actress and a writer and a director. Yes, she did all three—while pregnant. Like in The Babadook, Ruth’s longing for her husband and her inability to cope with those strong, soul-crushing emotions create an autonomous life form. In Prevenge, that being’s sole purpose is revenge.
The Void (2016) mixes a story of grief with the supernatural, a weird death cult, and a siege, to create an original and referential horror film. Made by the same Astron-6 group that brought us The Editor and Manborg, The Void mixes Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, The Devil Rides Out, and Don’t Look Now and sprinkles it with a bit of The Mist. The fact that The Void pulls from all these films doesn’t lessen its impact in the slightest. It’s a terrific, edge-of-your-seat horror full of practical effects, characters you care about, and great scares. A small group of people defend a rural hospital against forces, both inside and out, they don’t understand. At the heart of the film is an estranged couple, played by Aaron Poole and Kathleen Munroe, who broke up after the loss of their baby. The ideas of loss and regret run through the film and it’s a testament to the filmmakers, Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, that they could make a poignant character study within their cracking good horror film.
Sometimes making it through a crisis is the easy part. All that fighting and strategizing and looking for weapons fills your brain so there’s no room for dread. There’s a famous phrase, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Perhaps it should read, “Dying is easy, Surviving is hard.” It is hard, but it’s good. You just have to keep telling yourself that.
In “Waltzing Matilda”, an 1895 song written by Australian poet Banjo Paterson, a jolly swagman drinks a cup of billy tea near a billabong, steals a jumbuck from a squatter, then runs from the squatter and a few mounties to another billabong where he kills himself and his spirit haunts it forever. Cheery, isn’t it? You have to love a country whose unofficial national anthem involves sheep-stealing fugitives from the law, suicide, and ghosts.
Well, I do, anyway. It’s true. I’ve wanted to visit Australia since birth. There’s something so untamed and brutal about it. It still has thousands of acres of wild country, places where people live underground, and a truckload of things that can kill you in an instant. Awesome.
“Lock the doors, Gladys. We’re in Australia.”
Based on all that and the whole former penal colony thing, I’ve decided to launch my 2017, Year of the Theme thing with Australia. Oh, I’m doing a 2017, Year of the Theme thing. I have no idea what films I’ll watch or how many. This will NOT be 31 Days of Marsupials or anything like that though because I have a kid and a job and I have to clean my bathroom and junk. I don’t have time to find, watch, and write coherently about 31 Australian films and still have time to buy groceries.
I’ve heard this is vile, but I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been to Australia.
Anyway, stay tuned to this blog for some fun Australian film reviews written by someone who has never been to Australia. I do have some stuffed Australian animals and a didgeridoo so I think I’m qualified.
Slim Dusty, AO MBE was an Australian national treasure. He sang a mean “Waltzing Matilda” too.
Some questions are hard.
Every once in a while, someone will ask me what my favorite films are. My favorite films? Do you mean my favorite films with large, radioactive insects? My favorite films about the mob? My favorite westerns? War movies? Heist films? Films where the main character paints with his girlfriend’s blood? That’s the thing. I like a lot of films and quite honestly, my favorites change from day to day. Anyway, I saw Jay from thirtyhertzrumble.com posting his top 5 and I thought I’d give it a shot. The author of the Classic Film and TV Café, a blog about classic film and TV (no kidding), came up with the idea for this blogathon, but I found out about it too late so I’m posting my favorites anyway and attempting to give him credit. Here goes!
THE WOMEN (1939)
I’m not sure why, but I love fashion shows in movies. HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE has a fun one too. Great stuff. I’m not even a clothes person. I am not the woman with 200 pairs of shoes or an outfit for every occasion…at all. It doesn’t matter. The wacky over-the-top couture fits the ‘I can get my nails done daily because the hardest work I do all week is hail a cab’ lifestyle.
The clever and often overlapping dialogue written by Clare Booth Luce, Anita Loos, Jane Murfin, David Ogden Stewart, and even F. Scott Fitzgerald makes fun of the wealthy consumers in this film while still allowing us to like them. I’m not sure if it would pass the Bechdel test because these women talk about men a lot. They also talk about themselves and their hopes for family and love. Not all ambition hangs out in the boardroom, after all. The women in THE WOMEN talk about things that still come up today. I’m your wife and the mother of your children, but I still have to look like a model and greet you every day with a negligee on and a soufflé in the oven. I also have to be a good sport about it and look the other way when you pinch the cigarette girl. Welcome to 2016, 1939. THE WOMEN is a smart film that holds up.
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935)
My teenager adores this film and the two of us sit on the couch and laugh like fools throughout the entire movie. If it’s on in the morning, she will get up. Let me repeat that. SHE WILL GET UP. Remember, she’s 18. I love this film. This is another movie with a ton of stuff going on. The asides and in jokes become clearer after each viewing and the physical humor is some of the best in film. The Marx brothers work so well together. The choreography and timing in the scenes in the ship’s stateroom and the hotel in New York are as complex as any dance number Fred Astaire dreamed up and the sarcastic put downs still crack me up. It’s worth seeing just for “Take Me out to the Ballgame” in the orchestra pit. Major smiles.
THE STRANGER (1946)
I’ve read that Welles didn’t care for this one, but he was wrong. There, I said it. First of all, it looks fabulous.
A gym has never looked so good.
Those shadows and chiaroscuro get me all hot and bothered. Also, Nazis. I love Nazis in films of the 1940s. It’s all black and white. There’s none of this police action/Vietnam/should we really be there crap. They’re Nazis. They’re bad. End of story. I also love films about the seedy underbellies of otherwise lovely places. SHADOW OF A DOUBT, BLUE VELVET, even THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and ROPE have that ‘Come over for a cup of tea, Aunt Clara. I’ll move the body out of the spare room.’ feel to them. Edward G. Robinson has a lot of fun with this one. Robinson takes his time ruminating over Welles and his possible ties to the death camps and insinuates himself into his life until it all goes pear-shaped for the murderer. Just terrific. Orson Welles makes a great bad guy too. I think Loretta Young is a bit shrill in THE STRANGER, but she unravels nicely.
While JAWS started the whole summer blockbuster thing, it wasn’t the first creature feature. Universal had THE WOLF MAN and DRACULA and the 1950s showed us what radiation could do to desert ants and crickets. In Japan, Godzilla and his cohorts/enemies (depending on which film you’re watching) destroyed and saved Tokyo countless times. Sometimes, the scientists found a creature in the ice. THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and THE DEADLY MANTIS defrosted the terrible beings and hurled them at an unsuspecting public. THEM! gave us the prototype for the modern creature movies and it’s wonderfully done. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Spielberg was a big THEM! fan. I digress. I love JAWS. There’s something about it that makes me so happy. The soulless leviathan threatens the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Amity Island and Quint, Hooper, and Brody band together to kill the beast and save the day. Here’s another black and white film. The shark eats kids and dogs. He’s bad. He’s the Nazi of the sea and our heroes are the allied troops tasked with taking him out. What separates JAWS from many of the other nature vs. man films are the characters and the writing. We get to know these guys and we’re worried about them. We want Brody to get home to his wife and kids. We want Quint to get his Napolean Brandy. We also want Quint to run him into the shallows so Hooper doesn’t have to get into that damned shark cage.
I got no spit either.
Writers, Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb, and the uncredited John Milius fleshed out these men so we’d give a damn about them. They even wrote in the island as a character. There’s so much going on in this film that I see new things each time I watch it. That newness would come in handy on an island.
For the last film, I had a hard time deciding between HIS GIRL FRIDAY and HARVEY. They’re both funny and full of terrific performances, but HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) edged HARVEY out by a whisker. I love the frenetic, overlapping Hawksian dialogue and the amazing cast of character actors elevate this film above madcap comedy status. I would argue that HIS GIRL FRIDAY and CASABLANCA use character actors better than any films ever did. Roscoe Karns, Regis Toomey, John Qualen, Billy Gilbert, Porter Hall and Gene Lockhart make this film.
Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant are the stars, but without the reporters and the pols vying for a byline or political brownie points, it wouldn’t be the same. The comments delivered from the sides of mouths in this film keep the viewer on his toes too. You can’t sneeze while watching this for fear of missing 14 punchlines. It’s whip smart and prescient and I’m out of breath at the end of each viewing. This film is coming with me if I have to smuggle it in my sock.
These are my 5 favorites…this week. Come back next week, and I’ll probably have a different list.
Last night, Friday the 13th, my teenager and I watched Kevin Bacon get an arrow through the throat under the stars. As a part of the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s After Midnite film series, the theatre, in conjunction with the Trustees of Reservations presented a double-feature in the open air. At Rocky Woods Reservation in Medfield, Massachusetts, cinemaphiles brought lawn chairs and blankets and gathered in forty-degree weather to watch FRIDAY THE 13TH and JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI in the woods. There were bonfires and hot cocoa and popcorn and Jason. Yes, I said Jason, and not just on the screen either. As a part of the transformation from a lovely park full of hiking trails and a pond (where I skated as a child) to Camp Crystal Lake, the Coolidge arranged for the big man himself to show up for photo ops and to menace the audience.
What a trip! A Boston Burger Company food truck made burgers and fries for the audience of Jason devotees who devoured them and the films. We laughed at the cutoffs and suspenders and jumped at the axes to the face and other creative bits of violence and had a great time. I’m impressed with how smoothly everything ran and with how well the film looked in an outdoor venue on a windy night with real leaves falling in front of the screen. Whoever came up with this idea needs a raise. What an entertaining night!
My teen getting a trim from the master.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to watch old movies. As a kid, I went through the TV Guide every Sunday to see what classic films would air that week. I’d circle the ones I NEEDED to see. Many of them were on way past my bed time. My dad, who knew what these films meant to me, made some sneaky moves so I could watch and Mom wouldn’t know. Well, I’m sure she had an inkling. Dad would maneuver the television so I could see it from my secret spot in the hallway. As I craned my head to watch James Coburn answer the phone in that café in occupied France, I was hyper aware of my parents’ movements on the sofa. One false move, or lack thereof, would mean a scolding along with the near certainty that I would have to go back to bed and miss the rest of the movie. So I crouched uncomfortably on the tips of my toes so I could spring up and sprint the few steps to my bedroom and jump under the covers if I sensed one of them getting up for a snack during the commercial.
I saw a lot of amazing things from my private theatre seat in the shadows. Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen saved a village from Eli Wallach. Marlon Brando and Karl Malden had a beer and foiled Lee J. Cobb. Paul Newman played some pool. Clint Eastwood and Donald Sutherland fought negative waves and the Germans for a fortune in gold. Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal tried to save the world. I witnessed all these momentous events from a hiding place a few steps from my bedroom. At night I’d watch Charles Laughton defend Tyrone Power and during the day, I’d look at my walls covered with posters of McQueen on a bike jumping that barbed wire fence and Harpo Marx holding up a swordfish.
Of all the things my parents gave me, and they gave me a lot, one of the things I’ll always be happiest about is that they encouraged my love of movies. Now that I have a child of my own, it thrills me when my teenager walks into the room and says, “Is that Joan Crawford? She looks so young.” I still watch a lot of movies, but now I do it from the comfort of my couch instead of squished against the wall in my parents’ hallway. Some things are nearly the same though. I still check the schedule for Turner Classic Movies every week to see what gems I NEED to DVR and I still look at my walls, but this time I see the faces of Robert Mitchum and Orson Welles looking back at me.
I still can’t get enough of this.
Weeeeeee!! I got a prize!!
The awesome and oh so versatile Barry P. of cinematiccatharsis.blogspot.com nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award! I appreciate that because it’s nice to know someone likes what I’m doing. I love writing about film and hate sticking to one genre. I’ve reviewed horror, science fiction, crime, comedy, and documentary films from every decade from the 1920s to right now. For me, that makes it fun. Aaaanyway, following Barry’s example, I’ll nominate other bloggers I think you should check out and tell you a little about myself.
Sulla Black and Johnny at Trash Tuesday trashtue.blogspot.com
Jay Patrick at thirtyhertzrumble.com
Nel (Smitty) at http://www.filmfixation.com/
Brent Allard at criminalmovies.blogspot.com
Salome Wilde at bnoirdetour.wordpress.com
Cinema Parrot Disco at table9mutant.wordpress.com
Jay Patrick (again) and a cast of thousands, er dozens at cinemashame.wordpress.com
This scene makes me smile so hard.
10 Kerry Facts
1. I have a terrific 17yo who can really write. She’s also hysterically funny.
2. In the 1980s, I toured Europe and the Caribbean singing with a rock band.
3. The first movie I remember loving as a kid is THE GREAT ESCAPE. The music still gives me chills.
4. We moved a lot when I was growing up. I went to two middle schools and three high schools in three different states and yet, my daughter goes to the same suburban Massachusetts high school from which I graduated.
5. Once when my family had to spend a week living in a hotel because our house wasn’t ready (another move) we watched WHERE EAGLES DARE about 792 times. I have it memorized.
6. I was prom queen.
7. When we were first married, my husband and I had a pet iguana named Frenobulax. We called him Dave for short.
8. I’ve wanted to see Australia since childhood. I think when I see a kangaroo just hopping around loose, my head will explode.
9. I am fascinated by true crime and have a library of books on serial killers.
10. I love to see They Might Be Giants in concert. I’ve seen Zappa, King Crimson, Paul McCartney, Steely Dan, U2 (in a tiny venue in 1981), etc… Nothing beats TMBG for me. Seeing them just makes me happy.
Officer Pete Malloy steps from his cruiser. Calm and self-assured, he approaches the harried shop owner, the speeder, the lost child with authority and understanding. You know that whatever problem arises, Malloy can solve it. His even, reassuring manner even puts me at ease and I’m watching a rerun on television. Behind the beloved Adam-12 patrol officer and a host of other characters, Martin Milner built a career in both film and television. Though the paparazzi may not have camped outside his door, he worked as an actor for fifty years precisely because he could play someone trustworthy and wholesome.
Martin Milner began his film career working with William Powell, Elizabeth Taylor, and Irene Dunne in Life with Father (1947) playing a boy younger than himself. His youthful face and wholesome good looks would serve him well. A bout with polio confined him to bed for nearly a year, but Milner recovered and won parts in The Sands of Iwo Jima, The Halls of Montezuma, Operation Pacific, and Fighting Coast Guard. Soon life imitated art, and after attending USC for a year, Milner spent two years in the Army at Fort Ord, California directing training films and emceeing shows for the troops stationed there. While at Fort Ord, Milner met David Janssen and Clint Eastwood. Different versions of this story exist, but the likeliest one is that Milner and Janssen talked Eastwood into pursuing a career in the movies. If they hadn’t, Eastwood might have remained the squintiest swimming instructor ever.
After the Army, Milner continued working in film, television, and radio. He made a number of A-list films in the 1950s. He played an Earp brother in Gunfight at the OK Corral and a small, but funny role as a southern shore patrol officer in Mister Roberts. Two of his bigger roles followed. As Steve Dallas in Sweet Smell of Success, we get to see Milner as a musician with strong morals pitted against slimy, underhanded J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Lancaster and Tony Curtis own the film, but Milner’s good man in a bad position shows he can convey integrity without coming off as self-righteous.
Compulsion, Meyer Levin and Richard Fleischer’s take on the Leopold and Loeb thrill killer case found Milner playing Sid Brooks, a poor journalism student and reporter who finds the key piece of evidence in the case. We see Sid, a member of the killers’ circle of friends, come to realize his spoiled rich kid friends, Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell, may have murdered a child. Sid is smart and idealistic, but not naïve. He never has an “I can’t believe it” moment. His expressions change subtly as the story progresses. It’s not a big performance, but that’s precisely why it works. William Castle’s fun 3-D spookfest 13 Ghosts allowed Milner to take advantage of his sincere boy next door looks and play a character with a hidden agenda.
All during the 1950s Milner appeared as a guest star in many of the most popular television shows including Dragnet, Rawhide, The Rat Patrol, Combat, and The Twilight Zone. He also provided the voices for a few radio shows during that era including the Jack Webb series Dragnet. Milner and Webb met during production of The Halls of Montezuma and Webb later hired Milner for his radio show. The 1960s brought more success with the series Route 66. In that series Milner’s character Tod Stiles roams the country first with George Maharis, then with Glenn Corbett. The duo travel from town to town in their Corvette entangling themselves in the lives of the people there. The series’ jazzy score and romantic vision of the unfettered bachelor made the show a big hit. Milner even produced a film in 1960. Sex Kittens Go To College stars Mamie Van Doren as a professor. It also has a monkey that plays piano and Conway Twitty…and a robot. I haven’t seen it yet, but with all that going for it, I’m in.
Next came the role that people associate the most with Martin Milner. Jack Webb based the television series Dragnet on what he learned about police work in He Walked by Night (1948). His love of police procedurals led him to produce the Dragnet series for radio, film, and television and Martin Milner performed on both the radio and 1951 television show in a variety of roles. In 1967, Officer Pete Malloy appeared on an episode of Dragnet and the following year, the Jack Webb produced Adam-12 brought the character and actor back. From 1968-1975, Milner played the veteran officer on Adam-12, The D.A., and Emergency. His partner, Officer Jim Reed (Kent McCord) also appeared in all four series. Milner’s portrayal of Malloy, the confirmed bachelor with the experience to move up in rank but the desire to stay on the streets appealed to me a great deal. I have to admit, I had a crush on the guy. His positive and enlightened portrayal of a police officer contrasted starkly with the general anti police mood of the era and made his character even more appealing.
After Adam-12 ended, Milner appeared in a number of guest starring roles in series like Fantasy Island, MacGyver, Life Goes On, Murder She Wrote and as patriarch Karl Robinson in the Swiss Family Robinson television series. Milner can also brag about being the first victim in the Columbo TV series. He even gets killed by Jack Cassidy! His last role was on the Dick Van Dyke series Diagnosis Murder in 1997.
An avid fisherman, Milner started a talk radio show in 1993 called Let’s Talk Hook-Up about fishing. He hosted the radio show until 2004 when his eldest daughter became seriously ill. His friend and TV partner Kent McCord appeared with Milner at various drives for bone marrow donors. Apparently Martin Milner, the man inspired the same loyalty as his most famous character did. I don’t know about you, but that makes me smile. Martin Milner lives with his family, happily out of the spotlight. Sometimes nice guys do finish first.
Rest in peace, Officer Malloy.
I wrote this piece for the Big Stars on the Small Screen Blogathon hosted by Aurora of aurorasginjoint.com fame. Please check out her site for articles about loads of other actors and actresses who made the jump from movies to TV or vice-versa.