Thursday, July 31, 2008

Deserters, Cutthroats and Thieves

The line was already well down the block when I showed up for Enzo G. Castellari night at the New Beverly on Wednesday. His 1977 World War II opus INGLORIOUS BASTARDS was being shown and with Quentin Tarantino about to go into production on his own World War II film of the same name (although, as far as I can tell, it’s in no way a remake) the Castellari film has been receiving extra attention recently, with a 3-Disc DVD recently released. Tarantino, surprisingly, did not show up, even though he’d done a q&a with James Toback just a few nights before, but the packed house was instead treated to appearances of Enzo Castellari himself along with the film’s stars Fred Williamson and Bo Svenson. All three men looked in good spirits and very happy to be there. Before the film we were treated to a long run of trailers for films involving Castellari and Williamson like WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND, 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS and others I’ve never seen—what in the name of all that is holy is FIST OF FEAR, TOUCH OF DEATH? Best of all was the trailer for the long-buried GREAT WHITE, a JAWS ripoff which allegedly came so close to the original that Universal had it legally withdrawn from circulation. The jaw-dropping trailer even seems to be narrated by familiar voice Percy Rodriguez (you’d know it of you heard it) who also did the legendary JAWS trailer and it obviously comes so deliberately close to the original that it seems like nothing less than a version of JAWS from an alternate dimension. We were told later that the New Beverly had wanted to screen it on this double bill, but Universal immediately clamped down on them. At least we got to see the trailer.

And we got to see INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (actually, there should be a THE in there), shown in a brand-spanking new 35mm print. American soldiers being transported off to prison take advantage of a massive ambush to escape and as they attempt to head off to presumed freedom in the neural territory of Switzerland they soon find themselves mistaken for a real squadron by the French underground. This of course brings us to the guys-on-a-mission plotline, leading the men to have to act like a real squadron as they are forced to try to be the heroes that they clearly have no interest in being. Svenson and Williamson, very cool of course, are the leaders of the group and Ian Bannen plays the Colonel parachuting in for the big mission who doesn’t get the squadron he was expecting. The film was obviously made on a budget and period detail is at a minimum—Donald Sutherland in KELLY’S HEROES was nothing in comparison—but the movie obviously wants to be nothing more than a fun romp and pretty much succeeds. I’d list all the movies it is reminiscent of, from Aldrich to Peckinpah, but you could probably name some of them just from the synopsis. It’s funnier than expected, with my favorite moment being when Williamson checks his dog tags when reeling off his name and number like always happens in these movies. The plot is really nothing more than a bunch of stuff happening leading up to a big climax, but the actors are fun, the action is pretty constant, there’s lot of gunfire and other methods of killing Nazis with many people shooting up into the air after grenades go off. Also, Fred Williamson actually jumps onto a train from a bridge (he’s too cool to need a stuntman) and naked girls fire machine guns. What else do you need? It played great with the crowd.

The post film q&a had Williamson, who doesn’t look like he’s aged a day, talking about that jump—with the steam from the train he couldn’t see what he was doing so he wasn’t able to ‘jump cool’. He also went into how the comedy from the film came out of Castellari continually trying to get him to add his own ideas to scenes. Bo Svenson talked about the difficulties of post-synch dubbing while still adding that he loved working over in Italy and Castellari, celebrating his 70th birthday, looked thrilled at the response to his film as both actors spoke glowingly of him (this is all on Youtube, for anyone interested). Williamson pointed out Larry Cohen sitting in the crowd and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to Enzo. As they broke, off to the side some of the people running the event began selling the new DVD of the film which came with an INGLORIOUS BASTARDS t-shirt and you can bet that I made sure to get one.

By the time the second film, BATTLE SQUADRON, finally started it was about eleven, so it was too late for me to stay. Many others left as well but the feeling in the air was that everyone was clearly very glad that they had been there for this. Would more people have stayed if the New Beverly had been able to screen a 35mm print of GREAT WHITE? Sadly, we will never know.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sufficient Probable Cause

Looking back, I guess I can now see why my parents were upset that they let me go see SUDDEN IMPACT in the theater when, after I'd already gone, they went to see the film themselves. It is, after all, a pretty sleazy, adult, violent film and not really like the standard cops and robbers thing I may have expected. But in my defense, they should have known what the film might be like based on the earlier Dirty Harry films which, of course, I hadn’t seen yet and there’s no logical reason why I should be held responsible for the violence in a movie that I was allowed to go see. I’d ask my mother about this but somehow I have a feeling that she’s gotten over it by now. I hope she doesn’t get upset that I watched it again.

I don’t know why Clint Eastwood chose this entry, out of the four sequels he made to DIRTY HARRY, to be the only one he would direct but it’s possible that he felt that this was the one story which warranted a little extra attention. Amidst the sleaze and general unpleasantness it does feel more like a real movie than the other sequels, mostly because of the added weight the story has. It’s not one of Eastwood’s best films, and it’s certainly no DIRTY HARRY, but maybe it belongs in the upper half of the middle section of the ones he directed.

As Harry Callahan deals with his usual concerns of trying to put away mobsters and having hired killers come after him, the more central storyline follows well-known artist Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke) who at the start of the film is beginning to seek out her revenge of a long-ago gang rape that she and her sister, now practically catatonic, were victims of. The first killing, with the victim’s genitals blown off, happens up in San Francisco on Harry’s watch. After one attempt on his life too many, Callahan is sent down to San Paulo to investigate a lead, although it’s clear that his superiors just want him out of town for a little while (“You’re a walking friggin’ combat zone! People have a nasty habit of falling dead around you!” shouts his Lieutenant) Of course, Jennifer Spencer is in San Paulo as well, officially to restore the local boardwalk carousel, but really looking to complete her revenge on a few of the locals. As everyone knows, “Go ahead, make my day,” came from this one. Warner Bros. must have known they were onto something with the catchphrase since the trailer makes sure that we see Clint say the line twice in under a minute.

Like the other sequels, SUDDEN IMPACT, especially the first half, feels cobbled together with elements from what feels like different scripts written for possible Harry sequels (three different writers are credited). All the mobster stuff never really amounts to anything except for some good action scenes—well, that’s why we’re watching it, after all—but it does work in convincing us that Harry Callahan hasn’t been resting during the seven years since THE ENFORCER. The most goofily enjoyable sections of the movie come out of this—Harry Callahan seems to stumble onto crimes in progress like Jessica Fletcher stumbles onto dead bodies—and these scenes keep SUDDEN IMPACT from getting too overwhelmed by the seriousness of the rape-and-revenge plotline. Harry is also given a dog when he gets to San Paulo for an attempt at a little comic relief. There’s no one great action sequence in the film but the ones we get are all well-engineered enough that I don’t have any complaints. And when the movie focuses more and more on Sondra Locke’s story in the second half, allowing Harry and Jennifer to interact with each other it correctly finds its focus and ultimately works well as a very adult action film. One that, yeah, I guess I shouldn’t have been seeing then. I vaguely remember Clint’s TIGHTROPE, which came out the following summer also having a sex and sleaze storyline, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that one. Lalo Schifrin is back doing the music after being absent from the last entry and it’s a very good score, my favorite track probably being “The Road to San Paulo” which reminds me of “On the Way to San Jose” from the BULLITT soundtrack. Schifrin wrote great driving music.

This was of course the period where Sondra Locke was the Jill Ireland to Clint’s Bronson and this was the last of the six films they appeared in together. I’ve always kind of liked her, especially in THE GAUNTLET, and while she may not be the actress Tyne Daly was in THE ENFORCER, she does project the conflicting emotions burrowing within pretty well. Maybe because the two leads were so familiar with each other it means something to have an actress in this part who you could tell was very willing to challenge Eastwood with her eyes in scenes ("You want to be alone tonight, Callahan? Neither do I."). It also says something about Clint’s ego that he was willing to give her what was clearly the best part in the film. He does say ‘swell’ a lot, though—how many times does he do that in the Harry movies? Michael Currie makes his first of two appearances in the series as Donnelly, Harry’s superior, Bradford Dillman gets great billing for one scene as Captian Briggs—essentially the same prick desk jockey who yells at Harry he played in THE ENFORCER but strangely given a different name. I guess you could do that sort of thing more in the pre-video days. Pat Hingle, also in HANG ‘EM HIGH and THE GAUNTLET, is the San Paulo police chief and Albert Popwell, who played different bad guys in the first three films, this time plays a buddy of Harry’s (Harry Callahan has friends?). Michael V. Gazzo appears uncredited as a mob boss in the fondly-remembered wedding scene and Audrie Neenan, then a star of HBO’s NOT NECESSARILY THE NEWS (anyone remember that? I was probably more familiar with her than anyone else in the cast) plays the meanest lesbian in the history of the world. When fully aware that her number’s up she takes a last sip of Coors it’s one of the best moments in the movie. And I guess that really is Camryn Manheim standing behind Harry in the early elevator scene. She’s hard to miss.

SUDDEN IMPACT is nasty, yet no classic, so I may not want to watch it as much as DIRTY HARRY or even one of the goofier entries in the series (I promise, I’ll get to THE DEAD POOL soon). But it’s ambition and fairly solid story makes it easily the second-best in the series and it very clearly is a step forward in Eastwood’s career leading him towards the even better films he would eventually make. By then, he wouldn’t have to worry about providing Warner with Dirty Harry sequels anymore.

But would somebody please tell me, what exactly is wrong with putting ketchup on a hot dog?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Still Wanting to Believe

I watched THE X-FILES on a pretty regular basis back in the day but I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that the show was allowed to go on several years too long. I’m pretty sure I watched the final episode when it aired but don’t remember a single thing about it. I know I couldn’t explain the mythology of the conspiracy to you and I’m not sure anyone could. I’m not sure that people who actually worked on the show could. This has caused episodes that focused on the mythology to be pretty unwatchable in reruns while the standalones, whether they were the darker stories or some of the more lighthearted ones the show did more of as it went on, have usually played just great when I’ve flipped by them in the middle of the night. Not that I’ve done too much of that lately. I haven’t thought about the show much at all for a while and I still can’t quite remember exactly where the show left everything when it finally ended.

The solution THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE offers to this problem is to present the characters as having been active in their fictional universe but clearly focusing on other things. By ignoring the wide-ranging issues the movie almost seems to be saying that what Mulder and Scully were uncovering was never really as important as how what they uncovered affected them. This at least meant I didn’t have to go read up on things to refresh my memory before seeing the movie but it also is the somewhat surprising move in that the resulting film is much moodier and character oriented than you would expect from a big-studio franchise movie released in the middle of summer. The plot—Mulder and Scully, neither seeming very happy these days, are brought back in to the FBI fold to assist in a case involving missing women and a pedophiliac former priest who claims to have visions of what has been happening—feels surprisingly small-scale at times and even more serious than you’d probably expect. Along with the overly dark, downbeat nature of some of the plot (even, it should be said, for THE X-FILES), the film is set in what looks like the most immensely cold and snowy West Virginia winter possible (shot, of course, in Vancouver) and it’s hard not to feel like the film would have been more at home in theaters in, say, February than during a hot summer. It feels daring to make a summer movie which is more interested in characters discussing concepts of faith and belief than in wall-to-wall action, quite a surprise when compared to how THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE, ten years old this summer, hopped all over the map. At a certain point when a foot chase breaks out I was almost relieved at the opportunity to get some actual movement going and was a little sorry that the chase wasn’t better than it was (for a really good foot chase, go see TELL NO ONE. As a matter of fact, just go see TELL NO ONE anyway). Much of I WANT TO BELIEVE, directed by series creator Chris Carter and written by Carter and Frank Spotnitz, feels too murky in its plotting, maybe partly the result of a script going into production during the writers’ strike, and while this is at times frustrating, the film does become better and more involving as it goes along. Certain plot elements do begin to come together, with some of what occurs actually reminding me of Gordon Hessler’s cult classic SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (if you haven’t seen it, give it a try) and even that film ultimately feels more like a work of science fiction. But what works best in this return to THE X-FILES, and what the film ultimately seems most interested in, is how it presents the characters of Mulder and Scully and where they’ve gotten to in their journey by this point. Someone I know asked me, “Are they a couple now?” but that turns out not to be the issue at all. Their relationship is presented as being refreshingly, believably complicated on an adult level which makes the romance angle irrelevant. Of course they love each other, that much is very clear, but there’s still lots of messiness in their past and it’s something they still have to confront. It’s as if before fighting the greater threat of the conspiracy in any sequel (not that there’s much chance of that now with the box office figures coming in) they first have to settle the conflicts within themselves.

David Duchovny is the best thing here, giving the film the right amount of energy and making us believe this is Fox Mulder several years later. In contrast, you can feel the effort Gillian Anderson is making as Dana Scully a little too much and the less assured nature of her characterization gives the impression she’s having trouble figuring out how Scully may have changed. As some of the other FBI agents who figure into the story, Amanda Peet feels slightly let down by the thin role she’s given and Alvin “Xzhibit” Joiner is, it has to be said, flat-out bad with his role feeling truncated to allow for a late-in-the-game surprise appearance by a very familiar face. As the disgraced priest, Billy Connolly in what is really the main guest star role is excellent, with the scenes he has with Anderson being some of the best stuff in the film when Duchovny’s not around.

As already stated, the box office on THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE feels dead in the water so prospects of another sequel feel slim (never say never, of course). But while people may be turned off by the grim storyline here I suspect the film might pick up additional admirers down the line when they watch it at home and are able to go with how the film mainly focuses on the two iconic lead characters. It’s probably not what people want—hell, it may not be what I wanted—but at least it tried to be something more challenging than many such films these days would attempt. If this is going to be the last screen case for Mulder and Scully, at least it’s with a film where we get to be once again reminded of who they always were and who they will be, even if we won’t get to see it.

But is Scully really immortal? I guess we’ll never find out the answer to that one.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Whether Or Not You Face The Future

For more 80s films that I don’t feel bad about liking, Diablo Cody brought DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN and PRETTY IN PINK to the New Beverly for the final double bill of her Mondo Diablo Festival. Hey, I clearly remember being there at the Lowes 34th Street on opening day for PRETTY IN PINK and I definitely remember that feeling of excitement in the air. It was the time when John Hughes and Molly Ringwald had us in their grip. My first viewing of SUSAN isn’t quite so vivid but considering how many times I must have seen the “Into the Groove” video on MTV it definitely holds a special place in my memories of the decade. Even better, it’s a very special New York movie and is a nice glimpse at a lower Manhattan that isn’t really there anymore.

Directed by Susan Seidelman and written by Leona Barish, DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN holds up surprisingly well, giving us a female lead who figures out how to take control of her life for the first time but refreshingly doesn’t make too big a deal about it. The plot gimmicks of murderer-after-the-emeralds and amnesia are of course old hat, but are wisely presented in the most matter of fact way possible. The amnesia subplot gets discarded surprisingly early, giving the lead character a chance to drive the plot forward instead of getting dragged along and it’s a wise decision like this that the script makes which keeps things consistently moving. But what Seidelman, who had previously directed the ultra-depressing SMITHEREENS in the same environments, brings to the film is an interest in focusing on the funky nature of free-wheeling mid-80s New York (those were the days), especially lower Manhattan, combined with characters who feel like the natural modern equivalent of classic Hollywood screwball comedy. The film was sold at the time as a Madonna vehicle and Susan does in fact seem like what we imagine the pre-stardom Madonna was like, but Arquette is very good, pulling off seeming flighty but never stupid, na├»ve but never dumb. She goes well with Adian Quinn in their scenes together too. Mark Blum is especially funny as her hot tub salesman husband Gary Glass, but Laurie Metcalf, Will Patton and Steven Wright (“I guess we’re not gonna see Tony Bennett in this place”) all get their moments as well. I particularly like Anna Thomson nee Levine, who had a bit the following year in SOMETHING WILD and played the cut-up whore in UNFORGIVEN, as Susan’s friend Crystal.

In addition to the fantastic main cast, familiar faces seem to pop up every few minutes in small roles that feel oddly ornamental, suchas Ann Magnuson, John Turturro, Richard Edson, Victor Argo and many others. When a barely-visible saxophone player is briefly seen behind a window I thought to myself, “That has to be John Lurie,” and of course it is. It feels similar to the sort of bit roles that would turn up in films that Jonathan Demme would make for Orion over the following few years and there doesn’t seem to be any real connection between SUSAN and the Demme films aside from that there are a number of interesting names in the crew list, especially some who worked for Woody Allen at this time, on films also made by Orion. It’s easy to forget just how good that studio was for a while. For hip filmmakers, there was no better place and it’s hard to imagine how the likable, free-wheeling movie that SUSAN is could have come from anywhere else. Of course, the film’s director helped to bury Orion and her own career when she directed the terrible SHE DEVIL a few years later and Barish only has a few other credits including, um, BASIC INSTINCT 2. It’s too bad and the movie is so likable that I hope the characters in it wound up with happier endings. What did happen to Roberta and Susan anyway? For that matter, what happens to the characters in any of these movies?

DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN was fun to see again, but the main event of the night was of course the appearance of Jon Cryer before the screening of PRETTY IN PINK. The actor seemed very happy to be there and the Q&A with him and Diablo Cody before the film, which touched on all spoiler topics people wanted to know about, covered his casting as Duckie, how Molly Ringwald wanted Robert Downey Jr. in the role and the controversial issue of the ending, which in its original version had Ringwald’s Andie ending up with him instead of Andrew McCarthy's Blaine. Cryer said that while it was cut together, they never really got the right amount of coverage for the scene and it was felt by those who saw it that it didn’t work. It’s always seemed to me that Ringwald had more romantic chemistry with Andrew McCarthy, which may have been connected to her not wanting Cryer in the role and the movie does seem cut to favor McCarthy in the romance department anyway. I also wonder if they went back later to do more with that. The riding stable scene, even though it is referenced elsewhere, has always felt to me like an addition after the fact designed to bolster that romance and it doesn’t really seem to go with the scenes that come before and after it. Either way, Diablo Cody, along with other girls in the audience, let her long-festering displeasure about the ending they went with be known. For his part, Cryer seems to have gotten over it. The reshoot of course included Duckie locking eyes with bit player Kristy Swanson across the room and he revealed that the look he gives to the camera here was something he just happened to do on set as a way of expressing to director Howard Deutch how ridiculous he though it was. One of the most interesting things he mentioned was that during the last week of shooting he was given an early version of the script for SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, to possibly star in, which he described as being a more FERRIS BUELLER-type comedy with the same basic premise. The script then went through several directors and revisions before winding up back with Howard Deutch to make it essentially PRETTY IN PINK with the sexes reversed. Though Cryer didn’t say it, I’ve always looked at the ending of that film as John Hughes trying to make up for how PRETTY IN PINK turned out. Even if he does get Emmy nominations for a second banana role on a sitcom, Duckie is probably going to be the role Jon Cryer is remembered for and he seems ok with that. He came off as a very nice guy who I half-expected to go around the theater shaking hands with everyone who had shown up.

As for the film, well, it’s PRETTY IN PINK. It’s not my favorite John Hughes film and I don’t get quite so emotionally invested in films that revolve around going to the prom anymore but it’s a nice bit of nostalgia for me and it’s especially fun to see James Spader slink his way through all of his scenes. It’s a sweet, earnest movie and, fashions aside, there’s very little about it that makes me want to cringe. I even still like a lot of the music. I think I’ll be more interested in seeing SUSAN again down the line, but it was still an enjoyable flashback to the decade sometimes best left forgotten. Diablo Cody did a very good job hosting the festival, especially with the Cryer q&a, and it’s nice to see her helping to support the New Beverly. She thanked me from the stage when I called out the title SHADOWS AND FOG which she was having trouble remembering while going through Madonna's filmography but I never actually went up to meet her. Oh well. Maybe another time.

SUNDAY UPDATE: Well, that didn't take long. While shopping at the Target on La Brea, I spotted a tattoo on a female arm out of the corner of my eye and thought, "That looks familiar." Sure enough, it was the tattoo belonging to Diablo Cody. This time, I made it a point to go up to her to say that I had enjoyed the festival very much and that she did a great job with the q&a's. She was very nice, thanked me, we chatted about things like how great the New Beverly is for another moment and that was it. Sometimes L.A. really is a small town.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Better Class of Criminal

As far as THE DARK KNIGHT goes, I may as well start with the actor everyone has been talking about lately: Nestor Carbonell. Why is the Mayor of Gotham City wearing eyeliner? What’s up with that? Doesn't anyone else find it distracting? Checking out Google I see other people asking about this very subject, not only for this film but also for roles like Carbonell’s recurring character on LOST. I don’t remember ever noticing this on the show, but maybe the big screen caused it to stick out to me this time. Oddly, I’m pretty sure I saw the guy the other week at a bagel place over on Larchmont. Presuming it was him, he looked pretty normal.

This distraction aside, I have very few problems with THE DARK KNIGHT. Yes, the whole thing is very big, dense and long that I’m kind of glad that I saw it early in the day on Saturday (as always, I'm lucky to have the Vista nearby) as opposed to late at night. But even though I feel like I’ve been so bombarded with this movie that it’s going to take some time before I can really sort out how I feel about it and all I can offer now are a few brief initial thoughts. Suffice it to say that as big as it is, the movie is fully satisfying in ways that go beyond spectacle.

It occurs to me that this is set in even less of a dystopian-science fiction world than BATMAN BEGINS was. There’s next to no inkling of the grime and filth seen there, the “depression” that the Katie Holmes-version of Rachel Dawes spoke of. And if that massive subway system which played such a key role in that film is ever seen here, I must have missed it. Instead, we get what feels like an brightly gleaming Gotham, looking more like the Chicago it was filmed in this time, with many extremely wide views outside windows to make it all seem ultra-larger than life. This is just as stylized, of course—hell, HEAT, obviously a big influence here, is pretty stylized as well. But it signifies to me how much Christopher Nolan was trying to solidify the tone and wipe out anything that could veer into the realm of fantasy. Even the effects are staged and shot as if they were done live on set—certainly some of this stuff was achieved digitally but I’m not always sure exactly what. And while after the first act of BEGINS, which I love, the rest of the film always feels slightly off in a way that’s hard for me to pin down, like maybe in the way it’s paced. But as long as THE DARK KNIGHT is and even if maybe some stuff could have been trimmed, I don’t feel that way this time. There are some points of basic confusion, especially in the action near the beginning and Nolan does the trick of cross-cutting from various locales, building up to a Big Event a few too many times, but nothing that bothers me too much. I didn’t even always mind the staging of the action, something some people seem to have a problem with. In all honesty, there were points where I was pleasantly surprised how well I was able to follow the geography of certain action scenes. If anything somewhat negative occurs to me, it's the undeniably chilly feel Nolan brings to it, just like each of his other films, almost as if the film were being directed by a Vulcan. How much this really matters, considering what he is going for with the film, is open to debate.

So yes, it’s better than BATMAN BEGINS. Hell, it’s possible I can’t think of many comic book movies that I might prefer over it, outside of the first SUPERMAN and DANGER: DIABOLIK. I hate the idea of comparing it to the two Burton films. BATMAN RETURNS has, after all, aged especially well and even if the story becomes so top-heavy that it can’t sustain all the elements, at its best it is so potent that I feel like it’s been underrated through the years. At the least, the various ways it is allowed to be more of a pure Tim Burton film makes it better than the 1989 film.

Nolan’s obvious interest in his actors continues and I was particularly struck by how Gary Oldman is putting together such a memorable portrayal of James Gordon as this saga continues. Fifteen years ago, I don’t think anyone ever imagined that one of the best roles of this actor’s career would have been such a decent, upstanding person. I always like Christian Bale but did find his Batman voice this time distracting in ways that it wasn’t in the first film. I half expected him to ask Alfred for some hot tea with lemon, but no dice. It feels like Michael Caine has less screen time this entry, but at least he’s allowed to make every moment he gets count—I especially like his speech about Burma. Aaron Eckhart does a terrific job as Harvey Dent, making him an interesting contrast with Bruce Wayne, taking what is again someone who seems merely decent and honorable and bringing to it an array of shadings. Eckhart deserves much more attention for his performance than he’s getting. Points to William Fichtner for his role during the opening heist sequence, which has to be a nod to HEAT.

Unlike a lot of people out there, I didn’t particularly want to go see THE DARK KNIGHT again right away after seeing it. To me, the movie feels too exhausting to do that and I wanted it to simmer in my head for a few days. By now, I’m at the point where I’m looking forward to that second viewing. But just from that one time it seems so superior that it puts all the other would-be blockbusters of this summer to shame. I can imagine a headline in The Onion reading “Studios Mad at Warner Bros. for Making Good Summer Movie”. Just because it’s the summer, just because it involves superheroes, doesn’t mean that these films shouldn’t be given to the best filmmakers possible, the ones who want to raise the bar higher than we once thought possible. That’s the triumph of THE DARK KNIGHT. Heath Ledger’s pretty good in it, too.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Virtue Has Everything To Do With It

The American Cinematheque has been running a Blake Edwards series at the Aero in Santa Monica which is very nice and all, but I haven’t gone to any of them mostly because I’ve already seen what they’re showing in theaters too many times already. Sadly, his 1979 classic “10” is not among the selections which is too bad since, for all the times I’ve watched it on DVD, I’ve never seen a 35mm print of the film. So I did the only thing I could do, which was watch my DVD again.

“10” is of course mainly remembered today for the iconic appearance of Bo Derek, even if she is in it for barely fifteen minutes. Dudley Moore plays George Webber, “well-known composer, playwright and winner of four Academy Awards” who, feeling adrift at the onset of middle age as he reaches his 42nd birthday, is struck by the sight of the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen (Bo Derek, of course) on the way to her wedding. As his relationship with famous singer Samantha Taylor (Julie Andrews) quickly begins to fall apart, he finds himself doing anything he can to track down this new bride, who he dubs “an eleven” out of a scale from one to ten. I can remember watching it on video years ago, long after it had already been a huge hit and thinking it was funny, but maybe a little hollow. So it’s a surprise how it’s become such a favorite of mine over the years. I watch it once or twice a year and am forced to admit that some elements from in there have turned up in a few scripts I’ve written over the years. It is funny, at times hysterically so, but it never goes too far off compass that it forgets about the maturity of its characters, which is really the reason for the film in the first place. There’s an element to it which feels like that Blake Edwards fantasy of Los Angeles, with creative types who mostly live in Malibu and Beverly Hills and tunes by Henry Mancini wafting out of every nearby speaker. It has an elegance to it which feels sadly lost in comedies today.

The script by Edwards is extremely tight, especially in the first half, which allows us to follow Dudley Moore’s character George Webber as he makes the decisions he needs to make to track down this perfect ten he has spotted, at times giving us the credit to figure out what he’s doing as he’s in the process of doing it. He never states outright what he’s doing, partly because his obsession is something he can’t rationally put into words. Being a neurotic writer, I’ve of course never experienced anything like this. The psychiatrist played by John Hancock he sees just makes him frustrated, his gay best friend and lyricist Robert Webber seems to be living a life of pre-AIDS luxury and with nothing but Bo Derek on his mind he can’t tell current love Julie Andrews what’s bothering him, choosing to get into arguments instead. Hancock and Webber’s characters clearly know what’s going on with him, even without knowing the specifics, but that does him no good. He can only find it out for himself.

The film may be dated but at least it’s become dated in an interesting way. Even though there’s the occasional reference to things like watching Dinah Shore, the lead characters really do seem to be part of a different world than the one we know. It’s not just they’re rich people in Blake Edwards’ version of 1979 Southern California but that their points of reference and colloquialisms are simply of a different mindset. Of course, the movie and even the characters are aware of that, with George Webber being a composer of what Bo Derek’s Jenny calls “elevator music” and his own drunken musings about his dislike of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road”. Though Edwards must have written the script from some sort of experience of his own, I’ve long figured that there had to be a certain amount of Henry Mancini in the character as well.

The first hour is, to me, extremely well-paced and consistently hysterical, with the round-robin from George’s house to the orgy across the way and back again particularly good. After this, the movie settles down slightly once George takes off for Mexico. This feels correct for the more laid-back vibe of such a resort yet is still feels like there’s not a wasted minute as the lead character finally takes some serious action. As he plays his new composition with Bo Derek running through his head, it’s a touching moment of the character trying to express something he can’t possibly say to anyone around him. It’s to the film’s credit that it never makes Bo Derek’s character a simple airhead or even unlikable. She’s educated, but has no real idea of the world around her and while she may be naive in a way that George can never relate to, she is at least given the intelligence to express her own point of view. She doesn’t know what George is talking about (“That’s your problem”) but the final time we see her indicates to me that someday she will. If Bo Derek had gone on to become a real actress and Edwards were still working, she would be an interesting character to revisit thirty years later. Interestingly, I found myself reminded of “10” earlier this year when I went to see FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, another film about a Hollywood composer who when going through romantic troubles takes off for a tropical resort and makes certain decisions about his life there. That film may play better in today’s world but since it doesn’t try to confront any genuine pain it never feels like it comes close to being about actual relatable emotions. And it’s nowhere near as funny.

Dudley Moore, famously a last minute replacement for George Segal, is still amazing in the lead role and is the sort of comic actor who can perform outlandish physical bits, like that huge fall down the hill, without ever crossing the line into seeming idiotic. Julie Andrews, in her first film role since Edwards’ THE TAMARIND SEED in 1974, is essentially playing a Julie Andrews-type. She’s presumably representing whatever she was for Blake in their own relationship and she deserves some sort of credit for being okay with how the film sometimes does a hard cut from a beautiful object of desire like Bo Derek to herself, looking as virginal as Julie Andrews ever does. Bo Derek looks as perfect as she is supposed to be and even if she was strikingly shot and carefully directed by Edwards in every single line reading, which I could believe, it certainly works. There’s also a terrific supporting cast in here which no one ever seems to remember—Dee Wallace as the woman who can’t seem to attract any men is instantly likable and sympathetic, yet still slightly needy in a way that seems like a believable turnoff. Brian Dennehy is one of the great bartenders in all of film—it should be mentioned here that “10” has to be one of the great drinking movies of all time. He and Moore play their scenes together beautifully. The unsung Don Calfa is very funny as George’s neighbor across the canyon and a pre-FLASH GORDON Sam J. Jones is pretty funny as Jenny’s husband, even with next to no dialogue. I’ve always figured that Edwards directed him to be as wide-eyed as literally possible in every single shot.

Along with my fondness for the film I also like Henry Mancini’s score very much. The soft track “Something for Jenny”, heard as Moore and Derek sit down for their first conversation is a particular favorite. Unless I’m mistaken, “Nothing to Lose”, featured in THE PARTY, can be heard in this film’s opening party as well. It remains entertaining, and even if this film about people dealing with how they are becoming obsolete is itself becoming obsolete, that doesn’t make me like it any less. For me, “10” does what the great films do, including the great comedies, which is to change and grow as I return to it over the years. I think I like it more every time I see it.

About ninety minutes after viewing this time to write this, my friend called me and said, “They’re remaking “10”!” “But I just watched it!” I exclaimed. It was announced it Variety. There’s not any point in getting worked up over it and I’m not going to bother asking how much this is related to the release of FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and maybe even last year’s lousy redo of THE HEARTBREAK KID, but I have very few expectations that such a remake will even attempt to get near the heart of the comic anguish that the original goes for. It won’t have Dudley Moore, it won’t have Bo Derek and most importantly, it won’t be written and directed by Blake Edwards. Simply put, it doesn’t have a chance.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Mellow Mass Hysteria

I have fond memories of seeing A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS and FRIGHT NIGHT in the theater, both coming pretty early in my own interest in horror films. WARRIORS was the first ELM STREET I saw theatrically—I suspect that my have been the case for a lot of kids at the time—and I wouldn’t have seen FRIGHT NIGHT at all if it hadn’t been for my dad, of all people, recommending it after going himself. Having grown up in the 80s, there are plenty of movies from that decade which make me want to jump out the nearest window if I catch twenty seconds on TBS but these two have held up pretty well and my fondness for them remains. I guess Diablo Cody likes them too since she programmed the pair for her series at the New Beverly and with a few very special guests announced, there was no way I was going to miss it. THE DARK KNIGHT could wait. Both films were preceded by various trailers for horror films from back in the day, some that I never need to remember (that would be DR. GIGGLES) but fortunately we were also shown that great MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE trailer featuring director Stephen King pointing at us saying, “I’m gonna scare the hell out of you!” And we all know how that turned out.

DREAM WARRIORS was of course the movie that burst the NIGHTMARE series into the mainstream, moving away from the hard-nosed scares of the first film, justly forgetting the second movie entirely and bringing in a more fantastical approach to the nightmares. This isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes you revisit an older film you remember and are surprised at how slow it sometimes moves. That is very much the case here. Fortunately, this does allow us to get to know some of the characters more than we otherwise would. It’s hard to imagine that a genre film would ever allow a plot point like teen suicide, even if it is minor, to be used today. And even though the teen characters are all obvious Freddy fodder, the sensitive way they are presented, comic relief aside, makes them more likable than the cardboard caricatures who populate the later sequels and it’s still kind of a bummer when a few of them are killed off. If the film has a flaw it’s that the script can’t seem to make up its mind if the lead character is Patricia Arquette’s Kristen, Craig Wasson’s sympathetic doctor or the returning Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy. It’s not a deal breaker but it does make it feel like finished film isn’t as tight and focused as it could be. Wasson, who doesn’t seem at all different from his BODY DOUBLE character—not that it bothers me and more on that in a minute—is immediately likable while Langenkamp, it has to be said, isn’t much of an actress and the wardrobe she’s given to presumably make her look older than she really is just comes off as awkward. Fortunately, the kids (some of whom she’s probably the same age as) pick up some of the slack, especially Arquette in her first film and Jennifer Rubin, who I’ve always had a fondness for, also in her debut as tough chick Taryn. Laurence Fishburne, still credited as ‘Larry’ and billed third, manages to make something out of his nothing role as Max the orderly and John Saxon, reprising his role as Nancy’s father in an extended cameo, pretty much kills in his brief screen time. And yeah, there’s the Dokken song over the end credits and I could hear people singing along with the lyrics. At least, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t just me.

The post-film Q&A was with co-writer Frank Darabont and, unannounced but very welcome, co-writer and director Chuck Russell. The two men, laughing as in disbelief about being asked about this movie but clearly loving every minute of it, talked about how they rewrote the script together up in Big Bear in eleven days, with Russell suffering from a 104 degree temperature part of the time. Apparently during this fever Russell came up with the famous line, “The bastard son of a hundred maniacs,” with Darabont figuring that it was either the best or worst line anybody had ever written. Of course, it was a little of both. Russell also seemed to agree with the slow pace, saying he felt he could easily cut it down to eighty minutes. He may be right but even if the film may not be the best of the series, for me it’s the most endearing. Easily the best part of the session was the revelation that the Edgar Allen Poe quote which opens the film—“Sleep. Those little slices of death. How I loathe them.”—is complete bullshit. Chuck Russell made it up. Sadly, I didn’t get to ask my own question about the movie, which was the story behind Craig Wasson briefly being buried alive, an odd little BODY DOUBLE homage which happens during the climax.

FRIGHT NIGHT may be a slick studio film in comparison, but it’s a pretty modest studio film, with much of it taking place on a street that is an obvious backlot with a cast that consists of a mere handful of characters. Maybe it’s part of this modest, yet focused, scope that allows it to hold up extremely well, with a tight script and the line between comedy and horror correctly balanced. William Ragsdale and Amanda Bearse are sort of the Zach Galligan-Phoebe Cates equivalents, both likable while letting the others have the showier roles. Chris Sarandon is so good as Jerry Dandridge that it’s surprising that he didn’t appear in more things even at the time. When he offers to give Ragsdale “something I don’t have—a choice” it’s a nice inkling of depth which automatically keeps him from being just a one-note bad guy. Maybe this was just the great role in the 80s he was meant to have. Roddy McDowall and Stephen Geoffreys are both extremely memorable in their roles which seem designed to be scene-stealers and the movie fortunately never lets them be simply comic relief. I suppose I’m thinking of the one big scene the two have together late in the film and it’s that sort of odd emotional touch which is probably one of the reasons the film has always resonated for some people, making it more than just a horror-comedy. And the exciting climax, from the fantastic effects work to moments like McDowall expectantly proclaiming “You’re out of time,” seems to do everything right which is refreshing after seeing so many finales that make me want to zone out. It’s a terrific movie.

As a contrast to Russell & Darabont, who remembered their film as a total blast, Tom Holland earnestly expressed how he always regarded FRIGHT NIGHT as an expression of his own love for the genre. The genesis of the film came from his own script for the 1984 CLOAK & DAGGER, a remake of THE WINDOW. Thinking about its relation to Cornell Woolrich’s REAR WINDOW Holland tried to develop a similar idea about someone living next door to a serial killer, but couldn’t crack the idea (“And then last year they made DISTUBIA,” he added. Good to know I’m not the only one who saw the FRIGHT NIGHT resemblance) until he hit upon the notion of instead doing it with a vampire—a story idea he still couldn’t solve, until he hit upon the concept of the Peter Vincent character. He was fortunate to have very little interference from Columbia, since they were mostly preoccupied with what was expected to be their big summer movie, PERFECT. When asked about Sarandon’s habit of eating apples in scenes, Holland said that it was a touch Sarandon came up with, also offering the rationale that the character was “cleaning his fangs”. As for Geoffreys, Holland said that all the lines were on the page, but everything Geoffreys did with them was the actor. Holland revealed that the late screenwriter Colin Higgins took part in a surprisingly long two-week rehearsal period (“We could have done it as a play,” said Holland) and tried to convince him to reign Geoffreys in. Happily, the director didn’t listen to that piece of advice. Holland stressed that he was constantly trying to add subtext to every scene, whether it be losing one’s virginity or the homoeroticism element and while it could be argued that trying to toss anything into the mix makes the movie feel a little all over the place, it does give it a lot of the meat that it has, one of the reasons it still plays pretty damn good today.

Only one of these two films, FRIGHT NIGHT, actually played during the summer, but the double bill was a nice reminder when summer movies seemed more fun and less like, well, ordeals. It’s a credit to the people involved that they are still so enjoyable. And it’s great that Diablo Cody recognizes this in them and was able to engineer such a terrific night. Maybe if I go again I’ll have to tell her this.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Double Coffin For Double Deaths

The American Cinematheque ran Dario Argento’s 1971 giallo FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET a few years ago which was my first viewing of this impossible-to-see film. I was unimpressed. I can’t exactly remember my thoughts at the time but maybe the thriller element seemed a little too light in tone for my tastes. Why I thought this I couldn’t really say. Fortunately, I decided to give it another try at the Egyptian this past Saturday night as part of their Italian Grindhouse series and with this viewing I found myself thoroughly enjoying the movie. Go figure. I’m not sure why and I know it wasn’t my mood but this time it wound up clicking for me. Yes, I’ve taken a look at more giallos in the past few years but this film feels considerably different than many others so it can’t be due to an increased familiarity with the form. I suppose it’s possible that I just found myself more open to the uniquely idiosyncratic tone it projects throughout. Maybe you always need to remember to keep an open mind.

Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon), a drummer in a rock band, begins to notice a strange man following him everywhere he goes. One night after a recording session he spots the man again and after he chases him down into an abandoned theater, a struggle between the two men results in the stranger being stabbed to death by his own switchblade. At this point he realizes he is being watched by a mysterious masked individual who has photographed the entire incident. Keeping the secret from his wife Nina (Mimsy Farmer), Roberto, who begins to experience a recurring nightmare about decapitation, soon finds himself terrorized by the masked stranger as people around him begin to turn up dead.

It’s certainly one of Argento’s most eccentric films, populated by an array of individuals who seem oddball even for him. It’s a strange character to have as a lead since his feelings about killing somebody, even accidentally, don’t extend much further than worrying whether the police will learn about what happened (some of this gets explained, some of it doesn't, but I'm delibertately avoiding spoilers). Many of the people on-camera come off as off-kilter, particularly the ones who seem to be continually invading Roberto and Nina’s swank pad for their endless parties, but few of them seem all that compelling. They’re just slightly sleazy in that good old seventies way. It’s how these bland characters are framed by Argento’s eye which makes them as interesting as they get to be. The strong stylization in the Techniscope imagery indicates a great deal of confidence on Argento’s part with this film, moreso than even his classic directorial debut THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, which screened second (hey, I’d only seen it 27 times before so I stuck around to see that as well). PLUMAGE is more successful and has the stronger story of the two, but in that film Argento’s use of the camera still feels like its being developed. Here, the plot has its strong points, but is still a little hazily constructed at times—someone suggests to Roberto that he go see a private detective and he does…about twenty minutes later. Maybe more than any of his other films, it’s the extremely striking suspense sequences throughout which manage to attain a true sense of a nightmare in their essential illogic. At times they make extremely little rational sense but in the context of this film it somehow winds up making them more effective (I noticed that this isn’t the first time that an Argento character is seen sitting on a bench, observing daily life, only to soon meet a bad end). Frankly, some of these sections are so good that it really makes me wonder what I was thinking a few years ago. That being said, it is still at times a strange movie tonally. It’s hard for me not to wonder about the English dub job with at times a total-lack of any real ambient sound, extreme even for one of these dub jobs, only adding to the genuinely unusual feel. Is this intentional? Is there another version of the film in the world where the soundtrack is altered to the point where it could feel like a considerably different experience?

Part of the interest around FOUR FLIES has been its near-lack of availability. Released by Paramount here in the States and by others elsewhere in the world, the film has never been released on video (again, at least here in the states) and certainly isn’t available on DVD, at least not legally. The fact that this seems to be a worldwide issue makes me think there’s more than just disinterest on Paramount’s part going on, but that’s just guesswork. At the least, the fact that the print screened by the Egyptian contained a British rating certificate at the top indicates that maybe Paramount doesn’t even have any 35mm prints of the title readily available. Happily, there was a big crowd at the Egyptian for the screening and the amount of applause that was heard during the explanation for the film’s title (You know, the old last-image-a-person-sees-before-death-caught-in-their-retina trick. Makes sense to me) indicated to me that this was an audience of the faithful. Maybe not everyone there had seen it, but they knew what they were there to see.

The bulk of the cast is a little too colorless, although Mimsy Farmer does have a genuinely interesting screen presence. Francine Racette as Cousin Dalia is pretty fetching as well (love that bathtub scene). But the most memorable performance in the film easily comes from Jean-Pierre Marielle as private detective Gianni Arrosio. Introduced to surprise the lead that the detective he’s hiring is a homosexual, Arrosio is a mincing stereotype (“You’re thinking that this fairy is going to jump on a chair and scream bloody murder if he sees a mouse”) who knows he’s a mincing stereotype. It’s one of the surprises of the film that the character, who tells our hero that out of 84 cases he hasn’t solved a single one, proves to be more capable than he lets on and in doing so turns out to be the most human individual in the entire film. It occurs to me that structurally the character might be inspired by the detective played by Walter Matthau in MIRAGE but in this film it feels like one of those occasional characters in Argento films who, in how the actor clearly does more with the part than what is on the page, turns into something genuinely unexpected. This might be one of the best examples of that.

What’s interesting is how maybe the last time I was turned off by some of the more comic elements of the film—the running gag with the mailman, the scenes with Roberto’s vagrant buddy “God” played by Bud Spencer—and true, some of these bits don’t work so well. But this time it occurred to me that FOUR FLIES may work best as a very dark comedy of manners, an examination of the near-impossibility of communicating with others, even those who are closest to you. The more I think about it, the movie seems very personal, possibly indicated in how much lead actor Brandon actually resembles Argento. I was struck by the black humor of the exposition scene set for no obvious reason at some sort of funeral convention with many different coffins on display. One salesman hawks a special one for two, saying that it’s “a double coffin for double deaths”. Within the eccentricities of the film I get the feeling that Argento is trying to ask if it’s really possible to know and connect with a person you want to love. The final moments set to that haunting Ennio Morricone music seem touching to me because of this notion, not because of how it affects the plot, but because of what it possibly says about the film’s director. The shocking method of how the final scene prolongs what is inevitable seems to acknowledge this impossibility. Ultimately, there’s nothing that can be done about those feelings and maybe that’s the film’s ultimate position on such relationships. Or maybe I’m just in a mood these days. Either way, I find myself thinking about this film, this badly dubbed, freakishly plotted Argento film from the seventies more than I ever thought I would when I walked into the Egyptian for this second viewing. There’s something great about that.

You have just read the Mr. Peel’s Sardine Liqueur review of FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Invading Czechoslovakia

A number of years ago I worked on a DVD project related to a film produced by Ivan Reitman. The interviews conducted included one with Reitman associate Danny Goldberg and at one point he made a comment that they had been working on the film we were talking to him about “at the same time we were writing STRIPES.” At that point all I could think was, “I’m in the same room as one of the guys who wrote STRIPES?” For some reason, the moment had a particular effect on me. Danny Goldberg seemed like a great guy, a true mensch…and he wrote STRIPES. Some films just cause you to stop in your tracks that way.

Opening night of Diablo Cody’s Mondo Diablo festival at the New Beverly, where STRIPES was showing with Jason Reitman’s THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, kicked off in a rambling style. A few minutes late, Diablo made her introductions, told us there would be a Q&A after STRIPES (SMOKING was scheduled to run first), then after several comedy trailers from another time (WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S, COMING TO AMERICA, PARENHOOD and Reitman Sr.’s DAVE) THANK YOU FOR SMOKING began. About two minutes into the credits, the film stopped and we were informed that STRIPES really was going to run first. Fine with me, since that was the one I really wanted to see anyway. It was my first theatrical viewing of the film and the 35mm print looked beautiful.

STRIPES feels like the talents involved are still being developed. The narrative isn’t much to comment on, it peaks too soon and the whole thing feels choppy, as if it was cut to the laughs, which it probably was. None of that matters. STRIPES is still a hysterically funny movie, one of Bill Murray’s best “Bill Murray” performances and at its best remains scrappy, likable and never forgets how funny it’s supposed to be. Yes, the whole third act where they take the souped-up EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle to invade Czechoslovakia is forgettable to the point that you almost forget about it while it’s happening, but you can’t help but feel good as the soldiers march off, singing “Doo Wah Diddy” one more time as the credits roll. Elmer Bernstein’s score, easily the best of all the ones he did for eighties comedies, adds to this likability a great deal and in many ways acts as the glue holding the film together more than anything.

Bill Murray really is a force of nature here and there’s no point in listing all his best moments in the film but his pep talk to his fellow soldiers (“We’re American soldiers. We’ve been kicking ass for 200 years—we’re ten and one!”), while obviously this film’s version of the “It just doesn’t matter!” speech from MEATBALLS, is right up there. Some of the other actors, like Harold Ramis and John Larroquette, still feel like they’re developing their comic styles but it’s consistently enjoyable to see Ramis amusing himself at the edges of the frame and Larroquette blurting out “Where the fuck’s my truck?” makes me laugh out loud. John Candy’s comic persona, in comparison, already feels fully formed and he gets laughs from his very first moment onscreen (“Stewardess, is there a movie on this flight?”) which is just the start of how much his presence makes the movie even funnier than it already is. Also managing to stick out in the large cast with a fully-drawn character is John Diehl as the idiot Cruiser, who gets some great bits with Candy. P.J. Soles and Sean Young may not be very believable as Military Police, but considering how cute they are, who cares. Ramis and Young have particularly good chemistry, making me think that someone should cast them as husband and wife in something now. Warren Oates, as Sgt. Hulka (“Lighten up, Francis”), is a great rock to have at the center of the movie and it’s to Reitman’s credit that he resisted making the character a simple cardboard bad guy. Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty have cameos, a very young Timothy Busfield is “Soldier with mortar” and according to the credits Bill Paxton is in there somewhere as a soldier but I haven’t spotted him.

The film was followed by a Q&A with Diablo Cody and Ivan Reitman, with Jason Reitman hanging out off to the side for no particular reason. Along with discussing the challenges of directing Bill Murray, Reitman Sr. talked about how the film began life as a Cheech & Chong vehicle, but their manager made ridiculous financial demands and Cheech apparently never knew about it until years later. Much of the drug humor written for that version survived in the form of Judge Reinhold’s stoner character, but a lot of what they shot for him wound up getting cut out. Most of the film, including all the European stuff, was shot in Kentucky with some additional photography in L.A. Reitman also acknowledged the film’s structural problem in that it really climaxes with the graduation ceremony and what follows isn’t as good as the first half. This was something they were aware of even while they were writing the screenplay and he said that based on this issue, for years afterward when in developing the scripts for his films, he would always allude to STRIPES in terms of trying to plot out the climax by saying “How are we going to invade Czechoslovakia?” I guess it’s this line of thinking that leads to Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men. Of course, the subject of the amount of casual topless nudity came up as well. For his part, Jason offered that his earliest memory is being on the scoring stage for the movie as Elmer Bernstein worked and pointed out something that actually occurred to me while watching the film, which was a very slight structural similarity to FULL METAL JACKET, then still six years in the future.

I didn’t stay for THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and I also didn’t try to go up to Diablo Cody but at one point I did find myself standing next to Edgar Wright and I brought up his recent VENOM commentary at the Trailers From Hell site (I could have mentioned fifty other things to Wright, but this was what came to mind. Hey, at least it was current). After talking about VENOM with him for a few minutes I ended by saying that SHAUN OF THE DEAD is the best film of the decade. He waved that off dismissively but, well, it is. I’ll probably wind up saying it if he find myself talking to him again. Which, considering how many times I’ve already seen Edgar Wright at the New Beverly, could be very soon. To quote a character from another well-known Ivan Reitman film, I love this town.