Wednesday, 31 March 2010

FLORID (22 min)


Florid from Rob MacDonald on Vimeo.


In the early 90's, Rob MacDonald and I made a short film called "Florid". It details the attempts of a group of homeless people to leave their freezing cold home in P.E.I. on Canada's East Coast for the warmer temps of Florida.

Recently, we had it digitized. Revisiting it, I can see all kinds of things I'd change (I'd move the camera more... at least once, I'd use more close ups and cut more during conversations, I'd emphasize the winter weather, I'd have the talent show winners we see at the beginning come back for a showdown during the second talent show, I'd change our protagonists' talent [sorry, Rob], and I'm not sure about the ending, though Rob and I agreed it had to be happy). And I'm not sure about those cuts to black we used as transitions. All I can say is that we were all fans of Jim Jarmusch's stuff like "Stranger in Paradise" and "Down By Law", and that was our influence there. Having said all that, I'm fond and proud of "Florid". I think some of the jokes/situations work well, I love the story and the characters, and most of all, I love what the actors brought to their roles. And my dad, Russell, hand lettered the opening credits and some of the signs used as props in the film.

We also shot some stuff that didn't make it into our final cut. My favourite piece that didn't make it was a montage of three of the main characters completing their assigned tasks: Lawrence stealing a shopping cart, Millie phoning Florida for some information and reaching Burt Reynolds, Jimbo trying to get into the library, but not being able to operate the door.

Since we finished the project, Rob and I have toyed with the idea of turning it into a stage musical, which I think would work beautifully. The short as it is was very positively reviewed by Hank Stinson in the late great Arts Atlantic Magazine, and it won the Viewers Choice Award at the 2004 Reel Island Film Festival. Two of my favourite comments that "Florid" has received are from filmmaker Mille Clarkes who called it "a PEI classic if there ever was one", and the other is from Darrin Dunsford who said it was "like 'Goin' Down the Road' with a happy ending." And I'll take that, with thanks.


Thursday, 25 March 2010

A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS (1976)

Directed by Jack Starrett, with Timothy Bottoms, Susan George, Bo Hopkins, and Art Hindle.


I love "trouble in small Southern town" movies... "Macon County Line", "Jackson County Jail", "The Great Texas Dynamite Chase", you name it. So it was with some eagerness that I tracked down the as-yet-unavailable-in-North-America-on-DVD "A Small Town in Texas". I mean, hell, its director helmed the fantastic "Race With the Devil", right? And this stars Timothy Bottoms whom I love in "The Last Picture Show", Susan George from "Straw Dogs", "Die Screaming Marianne", "Fright", and “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry”, and Bo Hopkins who's the man!

Bottoms is Poke, just released from prison and hoping to take off to California with his wife (George) and their young son. Hopkins (imposing, unpredictable) is the sheriff who put Poke away for five years on trumped up charges of pot possession. When Hopkins kills a mayoral candidate for cash and is witnessed by Poke, the chase is one.

Not a bad Southern chase flick, “ASTiT” (sounds dirty) suffers from a somewhat unlikable main character in Bottoms’ arrogant Poke, and an underwritten role for George in which she’s also underused. She can be quite good as this type of character. See “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry” for proof. Audience sympathy for Poke may suffer even further when, as a result of a car chase, one of the cops is seen fleeing and screaming in flames and then later dies. Picture "Eat My Dust" with Ron Howard being responsible for the death of a deputy, and you'll see what I mean. It's just incongruous with this type of flick. The chase scenes in “ASTiT” are pretty decent, however, and there’s a good Southern small town atmosphere and an impending sense that something bad is going to happen at any moment. A bit of a disappointment, but I do love me that poster.


Thursday, 18 March 2010

THE PSYCHOPATH

(1975) Directed by Larry G. Brown, Starring Tom Basham.



I... um... I...Okay... Tom Basham is an insane man-child who hosts a kids TV show under the name of Mr. Rabbey. He kills abusive parents.

"The Psychopath" is odd. It's shoddy and well made, unintentionally funny and weirdly effective. Mr. Rabbey is one of the strangest characters I've ever encountered in a film. Imagine Pee-Wee Herman in "Death Wish". Suspend your disbelief and accept that this man could have managed to make it to, what.. 30(?) in the real world without ever having been diagnosed with a serious mental disorder, and just go with it. Mr. Rabbey is obviously out of it, yet he has his own TV show. People in the medical profession praise him for his hospital work. His producer makes excuses (and dinner) for him when others criticise him. I guess we can add this flick to a short list of films about "simple" souls passing among us and changing lives in the process. You know, "Being There", "Forrest Gump"... and now "The Psychopath".

This movie is worth checking out because, in all likelihood, you'll never see another like it. Whether that's good or bad depends on your taste. Mine says, "Give Mr. Rabbey his TV show back!"


TWISTED NERVE

(1968) Directed by Roy Boulting, with Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett, Billie Whitelaw and Barry Foster.



Spoiled psychopath Hywel Bennett charms his way into the household of daughter Hayley Mills and mother Billie Whitelaw by pretending to be "simple". Solid performances all round highlight this decent Hitchcock-style flick that's worth seeing, but is dated by some then-current and uncomfortable chat about chromosomes and "Mongols" and plenty of, ummmmm... jokey references to Salmaan Peerzada's Indian house guest. A couple of standout scenes. This is the kind of flick "Twisted Nerve" wants to be...



...but more often than not it's more like this...



"Twisted Nerve" memorably features a terrific Bernard Herrmann score with a whistling theme that's perhaps a bit overused. Tarantino also used this effective tune in "Kill Bill Vol.1", whistled by Elle Driver as she makes her way down the hospital hall to assassinate Beatrice Kiddo.




CRY OF THE BANSHEE

(1970) Directed by Gordon Hessler, Starring Vincent Price.



Another flick in the "burn the witch" cannon that was semi-popular in the late 60's/early 70's (Witchfinder General, Mark of the Devil, et al). Price is a vicious magistrate fixated on ridding the countryside of witches. When he makes the mistake of letting Oona, the mistress of the old religion, live, she curses his family and the death of each member is preceded by... the cry of the banshee! A mostly entertaining flick that sometimes sags under Hessler's somewhat limp direction and an unconvincing (though wisely just glimpsed) monster that actually resembles an art project I did in Grade 7.



And there's cool, unexpected, though maybe not 100% appropriate Terry Gilliam opening credits.



A final thought: Were these "burn the witch" flicks popular during their release in reaction to the then-burgeoning Women's Lib movement?




SHUTTER ISLAND



...is Martin Scorsese's Val Lewton movie. And that's a good thing. Just sayin'.







Wednesday, 10 March 2010

KATHRYN BIGELOW (and HAWKS & FULLER)


I have been a fan of Kathryn Bigelow since I first saw her 1987 horror flick "Near Dark" in those heady VHS days. Here was a movie that was exciting, visual, unpredictable, and funny. Hell, its best set piece even features The Cramps simmering through "Fever" on the jukebox while spurs slice though jugular veins. Sharing three key players from future husband (and future ex-husband) James Cameron's "Aliens" (Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Jenette Goldstein), the only disappointment about "Near Dark" is its resolution that feels like studio interference.

A friend of mine felt, at the time, that "Near Dark" was about accepting yourself for what you are. A fair enough interpretation, but one that's belied by that damned resolution. It wasn't until Bigelow went on to release more films that more obvious themes reveled themselves in her work. Though it's somewhat unfair to compare an original filmmaker like Bigelow with those who have come before her, the classics of both Howard Hawks and Sam Fuller surface in a very positive way.

My DVD collection is peppered with Bigelow's flicks.. "Near Dark", "Blue Steel", "Point Break", "Strange Days"... and I'm fond of each of these movies in their own way. It's after reflecting on these films as a whole that I began to see that Bigelow seems to share Hawks' interest in the way small groups of (usually) men function both among themselves and as a whole against a common enemy; with Fuller, it's his choreographed and striking violence as well as his compassion for his characters. All of this seems to culminate in this year's Best Picture winner, "The Hurt Locker", a terrific film that is now obviously going to find the audience it deserves --- I love its take on the addiction to the thrill of war. It's a theme both Hawks and Fuller would have loved to tackle, and I'm sure "The Hurt Locker" is a film either of them would have been proud to have made.


Kathryn Bigelow Filmography
The Miraculous Year (2011) (TV) (pre-production)
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Mission Zero (2007)
Karen Sisco" (1 episode, 2004)
- He Was a Friend of Mine (2004) TV episode
K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
The Weight of Water (2000)
"Homicide: Life on the Street" (3 episodes, 1998-1999)
Strange Days (1995)
"Wild Palms" (1993) TV mini-series (unknown episodes)
Point Break (1991)
Blue Steel (1989)
New Order: Substance (1989) (V) (video "Touched By The Hand Of God")
Near Dark (1987)
The Loveless (1982)
The Set-Up (1978)


Monday, 1 March 2010

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)



"The House of the Devil" is an 80's-centric breath of fresh air (as contradictory as that sounds) amidst the over-edited and mega-processed PG-13 horror flicks that have been pooped out of the test-marketed movie anus in the last few years. In fact, director Ti West has wisely set "THOTD" firmly in the 80's, before cell phones ruined many a good horror movie premise.



College student Sam (an easy to like Jocelin Donahue) needs cash to make the down payment on an apartment so she can leave the shambles of a dorm room she shares with her messy and frequently fucked roommate. Finding photocopied posters advertising a babysitter position, Sam eventually snags the job, and against the pleading of her best friend Megan (an awesome Greta Gerwig), she's dropped off at a creepy home far from the comfort of the shopping mall. There she meets the Ullmans played by the always welcome Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov. Mr. Ullman admits that the babysitting job is somewhat of a ruse as it's actually his wife's elderly mother that needs care taking. He explains that it's difficult to find people who are willing to shoulder the responsibility of caring for the elderly, while childcare seems a comparatively attractive proposition. And anyway, Sam's elderly charge will spend most of the night asleep (shades of "Burnt Offerings"). Sam agrees to stay, but for a greatly inflated fee that will more than take care of the down payment on her must-have apartment. Landlady (the great) Dee Wallace will be pleased. Cue the "babysitter alone in a creepy house" atmospherics.

Aside for the cast, the great strength of "The House of the Devil" is the way in which the story unfolds. It's a simple premise, simply told, and for patient viewers, the film's atmosphere (both that of the 80's and that of a horror film) and slowly growing sense of unease are a winning change of pace; never boring, never less than engaging. Unfortunately, when we DO reach the climax, it's a bit of a letdown. Here, West has to put his cards on the table and stop playing subtle. Not a terrible ending, mind you, just not on par with the rest of the flick. It would be interesting to see how it would have played with a more "Blair Witch"-style ending.

"Talk on the phone. Finish your homework. Watch TV. Die." How can you say no?