Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Passing of Bill Landis

Word has just came to me of the passing of an old friend and inspiration: Bill Landis, writer and film connoisseur. If one article can be said to have changed my life, it was his "From Tack to Gore: A History of the Exploitation Film" in the old New York Rocker magazine. At the time, he was publishing Sleazoid Express, a manual-typed newsletter which would inspire a generation of Zine publishers ( I still have some back issues). I'd been a film buff for years, but Bill's article opened up a whole new world of films to many of us. Within the first few months of reading it, I was checking out the local Drive-Ins for lost classics. Within two years I would found the print version of this blog after starting a film society. I was privledged to bring Bill to Ohio for a lecture and got to know him via letter and phone.
Sometime in the mid-90's Bill vanished into the netherworld of 42nd Street cinema and it was difficult to get back in touch with him. He managed to author a biography on filmmaker Kenneth Anger in the 90's and get a book of his film criticism published in 2002.
Memory Eternal, Bill. I may have been critical of you and your research sources over the past few years, but your place in film history is secure.
In honor of Bill I've posted a picture of The Deuce in it's glory days. It was his favourite haunt.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Confessions of a Superhero (2006)

Slow and sad documentary about people who impersonate all kinds of popular movie characters on Hollywood Blvd. The catch is that they want the tourists to get their picture made with them. Of course, nobody has to give them a tip, but they need that cash to survive.
The film follows many of these people around, talking to them and finding out why they do what they do. Most have traveled to Hollywood to get into the movies and are doing this impersonation gig just to pay the bills.
Christopher Dennis, who does a good Superman, has a vast Superman collection. His mother was famous film actress Sandy Dennis. Then there is the homecoming queen from Tennessee who plays a killer Wonder Woman on the street.
You come away from this film impressed with these people and the difficulties they face with their chosen roles. Perhaps some of them will make it in Hollywood. Most seemed doomed to exist just once step above panhandling. But at least they provide some entertainment.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise (2001)

Viscous, brilliant movie from Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later). A very British take on the Hollywood "Salesman" movie, where a poor chump gets recruited into the world of high-pressure sales to his own demise.
Poor Pete is a young man with a nasty girl friend, no job, and little future. All he wants to do is be a DJ and mix his own tapes. One day he's accompanying his girl friend to one of her gigs as a stripagram when he meets the head of a vacuum cleaner sales company. He's given a job as a trainee and stuck with Tommy Rag (Timothy Spall) as a mentor.
It's here, early in the film, where Vacuuming deviates from your traditional Death of a Salesman story. Tommy Rag is a totally repulsive human being who has a bad haircut and worse teeth. He belittles poor people in low income housing to buy clunky vacuum cleaners and leaves once he's got their signature. He drives like a maniac and screams "I'll do anything to make a sale!" at the top of his lungs. Poor Pete follows him around in horror.
The supporting characters are something to behold. Retired welfare mothers who dream of doing porn shoots, support staff who are over-worked; it's hard to find a likable person in the entire movie. The one item which links them are their teeth: hideous.
A black comedy that is hard to quit watching.
One warning: the dialogue is mostly in British slang. And there are scenes of sexuality when you'd least expect them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Countdown (1968)

Here's an interesting premise:
Just suppose the Soviet Union had gotten real close to putting a man on the moon before the USA. Suppose they were almost ready to launch and the US, still a year away from the Apollo launch decides to sent one astronaut ahead in a tricked-out Gemini/moon lander hybrid to live alone until the Apollo mission shows up to relieve him. All it would take would be a shelter sent up in advance, gung-ho, and good timing. But suppose Moscow jumped the gun by launching first, forcing an unprepared NASA to make the go/no go decision.
This whole scenario is the plot of Countdown, which stared James Caan and Robert Duvall as rival astronauts for the Pilgrim space mission. Only one of them can go and mission control chooses Caan because he's a scientist and the white house wants a civilian up there first. Naturally, this leads to a lot of tension because Duvall, an air force officer, who feels it should be him.
I don't think this received a lot of play when it was first released. After Apollo 11 got there, the whole plot seemed dated. But Countdown did play on late night TV a lot in the 70's.
It has a number of good scenes. In one of them, Caan is nearly killed when a hose in his environmental suit fails in a vacuum chamber on Earth. Duvall refuses to stop the simulation, arguing "Who'll be there for him on the moon?"
A good and over-looked movie from the space race.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Hamiltons (2006)

Creepy vampire movie with an original plot. "The Hamiltons" are a group of emo young adults who live, argue, cause problems, and generally act like any other dysfunctional family. There's younger brother Frances, who mopes around with a video camera and tries to avoid attending high school. Older brother David tries to keep the family intact (both parents have died) while goth girl Darlene and her twin Wendel cause a lot of grief. Youngest brother Lenny is particularly a bother.They also have to deal with social workers.
There's just one problem with this party-of-five: they're vampires. They don't burn in the sun, but they need a lot of blood to survive. Human blood.
Although I get sick of movies which try to present the vamp's viewpoint, this one impressed me. It sucks you into it's own twisted world and attempts to answer the question: Just how does a family of serial killers justify what they do?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Ugliest Woman in the World (1999)

Amusing little film from Spain by director Miguel Bardem. Some one is killing off former Miss Spain winners right before the 2010 contest. It's up to Federal Police investigator Teniente Arribas to find the killer before they strike again. With a little bit of Blade Runner influence tossed in for good measure, the movie takes the whole concept of "beauty" and smashes the audience in the face with it.
Early in the movie, Arribas discovers that the super model Lola Otero was born as a hideous baby. Treated cruelly by those around her, she soon finds a radical doctor who treats her with a secret chemical to make her beautiful. But the Otero has had a life time of hurts and plans to pay the world back for each and every one.
Worthwhile to watch.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Forrest J Ackerman: November 24, 1916 - December 4, 2008

I am saddened to report of passing of Mr. Forrest Ackerman, AKA F4J, AKA Uncle Forry. He was the man whom millions of us monster kids turned to for providing us with humorus and insightful information in his Famous Monsters of Filmland, which he edited for many years. Forry's health hasn't been the best these past few years and many of his fans were preparing for the worst. An avid collector, a brilliant literary agent, Forry defined fandom in both SF literature and monster movies for generations. He will be missed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wet Kiss (2007)

Proving that my opinion does count.
Some time ago, I did this review of the movie Wet Kiss on my other blog before I split them up. I sent the mention to the film's producer (whom I met at Monster Mania) and she returned with a thank you.
Now it looks like they've used my quote on the general release cover for the DVD.
The people who made this flick are in the Reading, PA area. In other words, just up the road. Perhaps this will spark a revolution in SE PA filmmaking.