Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Camp Crystal Lake at Rocky Woods Reservation   2 comments


A poster for Camp Crystal Lake at Rocky Woods by Mister Reusch

 

Recently, I had a wonderful horror film experience. I got to watch a couple horror films in the woods with a whole bunch of other reprobates and it was a gas.

Friday night, close to a hundred people gathered at Rocky Woods in Medfield, Massachusetts (my home town) to watch a double-feature of Jason Voorhees’ best efforts. The Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Coolidge After Midnite, in conjunction with the Trustees of Reservations presented a walk-in. Technically, it wasn’t a drive-in since we parked our cars a few hundred yards away and walked to Camp Crystal Lake, unfolded our lawn chairs, and planted our butts in front of a large, outdoor screen to watch art house favorites, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning and Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. The weather was pleasant and spring-like; the trustees cooked hamburgers and hot dogs and served craft beer; and Jason lumbered through the crowd wielding a machete. Ah…summer.


“Sure. Take my popcorn.”

The Coolidge has been showing horror films at Rocky Woods on various Fridays the 13th for a couple years now and I’ve only missed one. That night, it rained so hard, the animals would have refused to walk outside to get on the ark. When you live in the suburbs and crave cult, indie, horror, or just plain weird films, you either buy them (which I do—too often), or trek into the city, struggle to park, and creep back out toward home far too late on a school night. Whenever someone ventures out my way, I’m in.

I’ve enjoyed every showing. I go alone, but I usually go to movies alone. Oddly, my friends and even my daughter, who’s game sometimes, aren’t keen to hike down a dark path, sit in the woods, and commune with a guy dressed as a mute, psychopathic, but resilient murderer. The people I work with are convinced I have a screw loose. Maybe I do, but I have a good time.

On this Friday the 13th, we watched Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning and Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. It wouldn’t matter which of the Jasons played, I have a soft spot for each one of them.

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Tommy (John Shepherd) has seen some shit. He’s done some shit, too. As a child, when he was Corey Feldman, he watched Jason Voorhees kill some of his family and friends, so he killed Jason back. Since then, he’s been a bit…off. To help him recover from his post-Jason trauma, the state sends Tommy to a facility for troubled youth out in the sticks. With the help of Matt (Richard Young) and Pam (Melanie Kinnaman), who run the camp, Tommy will be back to his old self in no time, right? Not so much. Unfortunately, someone (Is it Jason?) starts killing the kids at the halfway house. Can Tommy make it out alive? Reggie (Shavar Ross) does a nice job and the main characters seem less stupid, and more, unlucky. I cared when some of them came to a sticky end.


Pam and Reggie made a good team.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

A class cruise to New York City goes pear-shaped when Jason (Kane Hodder) stows away and begins culling the graduating class. Rennie Wickham (Jensen Daggett), our star, has a problem. She’s afraid of the water. Naturally, she climbs aboard a boatload of jerks, including her class principal/uncle, Charles (Peter Mark Richman), who’s off-the-rails obnoxious. Will the boat dock in NYC? Will Rennie figure out why she hates the water? Will Uncle Charles get tossed out a window and drowned in raw sewage? Well, yes.


Ya think?

There are a few inventive deaths in this film and some characters no one will miss. I love when Jason stands up to the gang of toughs. The dog, Toby, played by Ace, was my favorite character.


Ace, as Toby

At the screening, Mark Anastasio, program manager of the Coolidge, announced their upcoming October feature, It. I’m excited! As long as the Coolidge keeps putting on these woodsy film festivals, I’ll be there.

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Freddie Francis: Reluctant Horror Icon   3 comments

Freddie Francis once said, “Horror films have liked me more than I have liked horror films.”

The director of more than forty films and television episodes, including twenty-five horrors and the cinematographer of nearly forty more, Freddie Francis may have been typecast as a horror director for good reason. He was good at it.

He started his film career as a camera operator. A friend and protégé of Oscar-winning cinematographer, Oswald Morris, Francis worked for and with Morris and Ronald Neame at Pinewood Studios until World War II broke out in 1939. Francis joined the Army Kinematographic Society, based at Wembley Studios, and spent the next seven years making training films. After leaving the military in 1946, Francis found work as a camera operator at Shepperton Studios, where he worked with Powell & Pressburger, John Huston, Tony Richardson, and a bunch of other incredibly talented directors. On the set of Huston’s Moby Dick, Francis asked if he could head up the second unit. Oswald Morris gave an enthusiastic yes, and Francis acted as director of photography for the first time.


“Call me irresponsible.”

From 1956 to 1964, Francis was director of photography on over a dozen films before beginning his directing career with the film, Two and Two Make Six in 1962. It didn’t fare well. After winning the Oscar for cinematography with Sons and Lovers in 1960, and acclaim with The Innocents, (Francis’ favorite film), his friends were surprised he made the leap to directing.


Don’t turn around.

His background in cinematography may explain why Francis directed some of the most visually stunning of the Hammer and Amicus films. In the early 1960s, Francis directed Paranoiac, Nightmare, Hysteria, and The Evil of Frankenstein for Hammer before making Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, The Psychopath, The Deadly Bees, and The Torture Garden for Amicus. In 1968, another terrific Hammer director, Terence Fisher was hit by a motorbike and broke his leg during post-production work on The Devil Rides Out. Fisher was set to direct Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, starring Christopher Lee, but Hammer replaced him with Freddie Francis. Throughout the 1970s, Francis worked for both Hammer, Amicus, Tigon, and other, smaller companies, making The Creeping Flesh, Trog, Tales from the Crypt, and an odd little nugget made by Apple films and starring Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr, called Son of Dracula. He also directed some episodic TV shows before returning to cinematography.


Ringo Starr is Merlin and Harry Nilsson is Count Downe. Yup.

In 1980, David Lynch hired Francis as director of photography on his disturbing and poignant film, The Elephant Man, and later his ill-fated, but gorgeously-photographed, Dune. Francis also served as DP on The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Executioner’s Song, Glory, for which he won his second Oscar, The Man in the Moon, Cape Fear, School Ties, and the beautiful and simply shot film, The Straight Story, again, for David Lynch.


Mr. Bytes thinks up his next good deed.

One of the reasons I chose to write about Francis for this blogathon was my love for Amicus anthology films and Freddie Francis directed three of them. In Amicus’ first anthology, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), six men meet on a train. Peter Cushing (Dr. Terror) pulls out a deck of tarot cards, claiming he can see what’s to come for each man in the car. Oddly, their futures don’t look bright. Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Donald Sutherland, and Bernard Lee also star in the five segments.


“Got anyyyy eights?”

In Francis’ next anthology film, The Torture Garden (1967), Burgess Meredith stars as Dr. Diabolo, a carnival barker who lures four unsuspecting victims into his cave-like back room where they learn about their less than rosy fates. Peter Cushing, Michael Ripper, Niall MacGinnis, and Jack Palance join in the fun. Robert Bloch, of Psycho fame, wrote the stories in The Torture Garden and many of the other Amicus anthologies. They’re literate, full of black humor and twisty endings, and a lot of fun.


“Lemme tell ya about the rabbits, Jack.”

Francis ended his anthology run with a bang. Tales from the Crypt (1972) stars Ralph Richardson as The Crypt Keeper, who leads five people through their terrifying stories. Peter Cushing, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Nigel Patrick, and the spectacular Joan Collins star in these dark tales, based on William Gaines’ EC Comics.


“Want to hear a story?”

Francis dug Peter Cushing, by the way. He said of the actor, “I think Peter is absolutely wonderful. There is not an actor in the world who can speak rubbish like Peter and make it sound real.”


“I can’t believe it’s not butter!”

Amicus producers, Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg borrowed the template of individual tales connected by a linking story, from the portmanteau horror film, Dead of Night (1945). Dead of Night was not the first anthology film or even the first horror anthology, but it aligned well with Amicus’ association with Robert Bloch and suited the repertory company of actors working in horror films at the time. It also made money for Amicus, who made seven of these films.


“Once, I picked up a squirrel and squeezed it until it stopped moving.”

While I love the portmanteau horrors Freddie Francis directed, I love two of his films more. In 1965, Francis took the Robert Bloch story, “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” and an all-star cast, including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, and Patrick Magee, and made The Skull. The Skull is awesome on so many levels, it’s hard for me to contain myself to write this. Cushing and Lee collect demonic art. They also play billiards holding brandy snifters and wearing smoking jackets while discussing pure evil. The oft-sniveling Patrick Wymark is a scuzzy seller of stolen devil memorabilia, who offers to sell Cushing the skull of the Marquis de Sade. He happens to have it lying around. Since Wymark already sold Cushing a book made of human skin, he figures it’s a cinch. Amazingly, the skull of the Marquis de Sade is no ray of sunshine. Let’s just say anyone associated with the skull in question better have his beneficiaries updated. Story aside, the effects in this film are killer. The evil skull floats all over Cushing’s well-appointed gentleman’s lair of evil stuff and the skull POV shots are fantastic. The Skull is so much fun.


“Have I mentioned I sell Amway?”

The second film worth highlighting is The Deadly Bees (1966). If you know me at all, you know I love skulls and movies with bees in them. The Deadly Bees is a movie with bees in it. Suzanna Leigh is a frazzled pop star recuperating from a nervous breakdown. Her doctor recommends that she rest on friendly, Seagull Island, where no one is getting killed by bees or anything. While Leigh relaxes, her hosts, who might have watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf too many times, fight about just about everything, including bees. Will bees attack Suzannah? What about Michael Ripper? The Deadly Bees also has a cool cameo. Ron Wood, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, appears on a Hullabaloo-like show, early in the film, as a member of The Birds. The bee effects lack sophistication, but it was the first killer bee film, after all, so back off.


Suzannah Leigh wears a bear before meeting the bees.

Freddie Francis may not have relished his career in horror, but I do and if you’re reading this, you probably do, too. Francis directed and filmed the biggest stars in Britain over a career spanning sixty years. He worked with Hammer, Peter Cushing, the Archers, Christopher Lee, Amicus, John Huston, and Captain Ahab. Not a bad record for this vicinity.

I wrote this article for The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon, hosted by Barry of Cinematic Catharsis and RealWeedgieMidget Reviews. They’re swell movie types and @Barry_Cinematic and @realweedgiemidge on Twitter.

 

Patrick Magee: Food? All Right?   7 comments

A Clockwork Orange

Perenially vexed and menacing with a gravelly voice that retained just a hint of his Irish roots, Patrick Magee played doctors, policemen, military officers, and the occasional psycho in films and television starting in the late 1950s. Though he worked most often on the British stage, Magee alternated theatrical roles with TV and film appearances, working with directors like Joseph Losey, Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, and Stanley Kubrick.

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Kubrick films Magee and Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.

Born in Armagh in Northern Ireland in 1922, Patrick George McGee, who changed his name to Magee, began performing Shakespeare and other classics in Ireland in the early 1950s. After coming to London for a series of Irish plays, he met Samuel Beckett and recorded some of Beckett’s plays for BBC Radio. Beckett and Harold Pinter, who Magee acted with in Ireland, remained close to him throughout his career and the two writers often requested Magee for pivotal roles in their plays and film adaptations. Beckett even wrote Krapp’s Last Tape with him in mind and said, while writing the play, Magee’s “voice was the one which I heard in my head.”

NPG x127341; Patrick Magee as Krapp in 'Krapp's Last Tape' by Ida Kar
These whale songs aren’t as calming as I had hoped.

After a handful of appearances in British television shows including Dial 999 and the BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, Magee started working in small, British crime films like Concrete Jungle (1960), directed by Joseph Losey. Stanley Baker stars in the film about the brutal lives of small-time criminals both in and out of prison. Magee has a small, but memorable part as a sadistic warder.

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Magee sizes up Baker.

Magee married another Armagh native, Belle Sherry about this time and later had twins, Mark and Caroline. Despite Magee’s bouts with alcoholism, the couple stayed married until his death in 1982.

His stoic, aristocratic manner often tinged with cruelty and/or wisdom worked well in his roles in Roger Corman’s The Young Racers and Francis Ford Coppola’s Dementia 13. In the modern gothic horror, Dementia 13, Magee is Dr. Caleb, a creepy physician who seems to live on the estate of the wacky Haloran clan during a series of grisly murders. Until the end of the film, we’re never sure whether Magee is good or evil, but he plays the part like he has a locked room in his house where he keeps his collection of femurs.

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“That’s right, little mouse. Just one more step and you’re in a sandwich.”

Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death (1964) came next. Magee’s evil in this one. Then, in Bryan Forbes’ phenomenal Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), he’s a police detective tasked with finding a kidnapped child. In Zulu (1964) Cy Endfield’s vivid retelling of the massacre at Rorke’s Drift, he plays a military surgeon. Sensing a pattern here?

Patrick Magee Seance on a Wet Afternoon
“I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV. I’m a detective? Oh. Nevermind.”

The wonderful Amicus film, The Skull, which, by the way, is awesome, has Magee as a police medical examiner and stars a couple nobodies named Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. It also features a malicious floating skull, so you should probably run out and watch it right now.

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The skull in question

In the 1965 film, Die, Monster, Die! Magee and Boris Karloff do Lovecraft and again, he plays a doctor. The film isn’t as good as the title, but it does involve radiation and large plants.

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Not the plant in question

The skull I mentioned earlier belongs or belonged, depending how you look at it, to the Marquis de Sade, who Magee played later in Marat/Sade (1967). The film takes place in an insane asylum in France and has the famous sadist directing a play about good and evil set during the French Revolution. Magee won a Tony for playing the role on Broadway.

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“You’re rushing it. Relax and follow through.”

William Friedkin directed the disturbing Harold Pinter play, The Birthday Party (1968) in which evil torturers, Magee and Sydney Tafler, team up against a vulnerable Robert Shaw. I’m sorry to say I haven’t seen this one yet, but after reading the description, it jumped to the top of my watch list.

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“THAT BOOK WAS DUE ON THE 14th!”

Magee got a chance to do some serious emoting in the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film. A Clockwork Orange. He plays the writer, Mr. Alexander, victimized by Alex (Malcolm McDowell) who exacts revenge using a little Ludwig van, big speakers, and a plate of pasta. Kubrick cast Magee in Barry Lyndon too. In the sprawling epic, he plays sympathetic gambler, the Chevalier du Balibari, who takes young Lyndon under his wing.

Patrick-Magee=Barry-Lyndon-1975
I love Barry Lyndon, but hahahahahahaha.

My favorite Magee performances are in the Amicus films The Skull, Tales From the Crypt, Asylum, and And Now the Screaming Starts!. I’m a big fan of the Amicus portmanteau films and Tales From the Crypt and Asylum, in which he plays a blind man pushed a bit too far, and a doctor in a mental institution, are two of my favorites. All of the films here were directed by Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker and they’re terrific.

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“I sat on my keys.”

Magee even shows up in a Charles Bronson classic, Telefon as a Russian KGB officer and in The Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, as Lord Cadogan, head of the British Olympic committee. His last film roles were in Roy Ward Baker’s The Monster Club with Vincent Price and Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat in 1981. In the Fulci film based on the Edgar Allen Poe story, Magee plays a psychic who converses with the dead and has a cat. When he has a bad day, Magee employs his cat as a hitman hitcat.

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Patrick Magee in disguise

Between the films in this article, Magee also acted in Antigone, King Lear, many television series, and a host of stage plays. He appeared in Krapp’s Last Tape, the play Beckett wrote with him in mind, in the theatre and on TV as a part of the British anthology series, Thirty-Minute Theatre in 1972.

king
“I’ll divide my kingdom up and give it away. It’ll be great. Trust me.”

Earlier this year (July 2017), the Ulster History Circle honored the life of Patrick Magee by placing a blue plaque in Edward Street, Armagh, Ireland where he was born. Fellow Irish actor, Stephen Rea unveiled the memorial.

Patrick Magee had a long, successful career in both stage and screen. Though he tended to play authority figures on the edge of sanity, he had the talent to play a wide range of characters. He’s even in two films with exclamation points in the titles, which can’t be bad. Next time you serve your family dinner, remember his patented method to stop unwanted chatter.

giphy

I wrote this piece as a part of the What a Character blogathon run by Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. Thank you, ladies, for organizing this for the sixth time!

wac2017

 

Bang the Drum Slowly: Grief in Modern Horror   2 comments

“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.

 

January Is Australia Month   2 comments

kan
Hi.

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.

banjo
Banjo Paterson

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.

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“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.

veg
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-bg_1
Slim Dusty, AO MBE was an Australian national treasure. He sang a mean “Waltzing Matilda” too.

5 Desert Island Movies #NationalClassicMovieDay   12 comments

swa
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!

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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.

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So practical.

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.

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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.

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“Peanuts!”

thestrangerposter

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.

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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.

Jaws-5

JAWS (1975)

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.

jaws10
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.

his-girl-friday-1940

SURPRISE!!!!!

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.

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“Hi, babe.”

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.

Jason-Sudeikis-devil-SNL

Friday the 13th: Camp Crystal Lake at Rocky Woods Reservation   Leave a comment

jasonlives
Hi, Mom!

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, cinephiles 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. As part of Rocky Woods’ 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.

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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 ever-fashionable 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 good the film looked at 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!

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My teen getting a trim from the master.

Since I wrote this in November of 2015, the Coolidge has held three (?) other screenings of different Friday the 13th films at Rocky Woods and I’ve been to nearly all of them. One may have been cancelled because of a rainstorm that would have made Noah consider postponing. They’ve all been fun, well-organized, and full of enthusiastic and congenial fans hanging together in the woods where they huddle under blankets to watch a psychopath kill some campers. It’s a sweet night.

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