A Note on Spoilers

I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?

Top 250 Tuesday – #195 Eraserhead (1977)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #195 on the list,  David Lynchs Erasehead. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

eh1David Lynch’s debut feature, 1977’s Ersaerhead is, at this point, a movie that comes with a certain reputation, and one that seems nearly impossible to come to cold. It’s a film that has been hailed as a surrealist masterpiece, while at the same time being called “murkily pretentious” by New York Times reviewer Tom Buckly. Variety, in it’s initial review, called the movie “a sickening bad-taste exercise”. Therefore any review of the film has to deal not only with the movie itself, but with that reputation.

It’s also a movie that, again, largely because of that reputation, Ive avoided watching rather purposefully up until this point. For whatever reason I tend to have personal issues with depictions of bodily deformities – other movies that I have avoided include The Elephant Man, Tod Browning‘s Freaks, and most of David Cronenberg’s films. Yes, I know, I’m probably missing out on some very good movies,  but they simply do not appeal to me, and that aversion would just keep me from enjoying them. And of course, that same kind of body horror is one of the major parts of what makes up this film’s reputation.

Nonetheless, Eraserhead is here on the list, meaning I’d eventually, if I were going to complete this little experiment, have to face it, and when my best friend’s daughter wrote to ask my opinion of it, I decided it was time to go ahead and give it a shot.

So, with all of the above stated up front, what was my reaction to the film? Put simply, though yes, it has its moments, and yes, I can easily see where it deserves both the positive and negative aspects of the various reviews it has received over the years, overall it mostly felt like Lynch was simply trying too hard.

eh2I mean, I get it. I understand that the movie is “supposed” to be, thematically, about Lynch’s aversion to and concerns about becoming a father. That’s at least one interpretation that most people seem to agree on, though the director himself, as far as I know, has never come out directly to either confirm or deny it. It also obviously deals with issues of intimacy and social awkwardness, along with the forging and breakdown of relationships. Yeah, I can go with all of that.

Also, Lynch being Lynch (and let me say here that though I haven’t seen all of his movies (again, note that Elephant Man is on the list of movies I’ve purposefully avoided) , I consider myself at least a minor fan – I loved Twin Peaks, and have at least enjoyed the rest of his films that I have seen – I understand that he is never going to approach anything straightforwardly, and that he is going to include shots and scenes that either work to obscure or even mislead the viewer, or that just occur to him and really have no meaning beyond “wouldn’t that look neat?”.

eh6Unfortunately, in this particular instance, too many of the scenes that are cited as examples of supporting the “surrealist masterpiece” verdict accorded to the film feel much more like a first-time film maker attempting to build a reputation for himself and at the same time feeling like he might never get to make another movie, so he’d better throw in everything he wants to so that he can get those things out of his system while he can, and they really don’t work to forward either the plot or the tone of the film.

For example, yes, I was initially jarred and taken aback by the insert shots of the mother dog feeding her pups during the dinner date scene. However, I am willing to accept them as supporting the “parenthood” theme, though it really seems an interpretive stretch. For that matter, I’m even willing to accept the infamous “little chicken” carving scene as a setup for the film’s climax and Henry (our protagonist)’s eventual decision of how to deal with his “child”. On the other hand, the sequence(s) with the “lady in the radiator” and the section from which the movie actually takes its name, where Henry’s head literally pops off of his body and is taken to a factory where pencil erasers are made from it, simply seem out of place and as though they belong in another movie altogether.

eh5In other words, obscurity for its own sake does not always make a movie “surreal”. Sometimes it simply makes it obscure.

So where does that leave me, as a viewer, finally reacting to this film? Well, I am glad that I’ve finally seen it. Do I think I’ll ever watch it again? Possibly. I can see myself eventually wanting to revisit it to see if a second viewing changes my opinion of it, but that won’t come anytime soon. Do I feel as though it deserves the label of “surrealist masterpiece”? No, not really. There’s simply too much in it that either doesn’t work or doesn’t actually fit the film to give it that much acclaim. On the other hand, did I find it “a sickening bad-taste exercise”? Well, again, no. That seems far too much of an overstatement and again gives the movie far more power than it truly deserves.

eh4Actually, the bottom line is that I was neither thrilled nor repulsed by the movie, and there came a point, really where I found myself simply watching it because I had started it and told myself and others that I would, which is never a reaction that I like to have to a movie, and is, I suspect, the kind of reaction that Lynch would hate the most, because what it really means is that after I’ve finished this write-up, I probably won’t have anything more to say about it, and certainly won’t be pushing anyone else to watch it either. Nor, for that matter, will I be emphatically telling anyone to avoid it.

Instead, most likely, the next time I’m asked about it my reaction will likely be a shrug of my shoulders and “Eh, sure, go ahead and watch it and see what you think for yourself.”

Which, I suppose, leads as well as anything into the usual trailer preview so that you can have a taste of it and see if you even want to give it that:

 

 

Knock Knock, Knock, Dook, Dook, Dook – Here’s The New Trailer For The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook is getting some of the same strong early buzz that The Conjuring (which, despite it’s flaws I wound up liking quite a bit) did before it came out, and if it actually lives up to the unsettling tone set by this trailer, then we just might have a winner here.

Of course, one might wonder why it’s not being released until after Halloween if it really has a much potential as it seems, but I’m really hoping that that’s a sign that the studio thiks it can stand well on it’s own, and doesn’t want it to be just another October horror film to get lost in the shuffle. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

Saturday Morning Cartoons #006 – Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids (1975 – 1982)

fa1Okay, yeah, I get it. Obesity is a nation-wide problem and not something to be laughed at. (Hey, this is coming from a guy who has lost, and kept off, somewhere between 80-100 pounds in the past few years and is still working on losing more. I know it’s a problem.) That, of course, is why Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids would never make network Saturday morning airwaves today, unless it was done in some ironic fashion. Because there is a certain segment of the population which has no sense of humor, and they would not be able to look beyond the title character and his depiction, and there would be immediate protests no matter what the actual contents of the show. Throw in the rest of the Cosby Gang, their personalities and depictions, and that would just make matters worse. They’d probably also condemn it on a basis of racial stereotyping.

Which is a shame, because it entirely misses the exact point of the show.

It seems to me ironic, considering what I wrote above, that the show reportedly almost didn’t make the Saturday morning airwaves in 1975 for a completely different reason. In its original incarnation, it was considered too educational. Which also probably accounts for the fact that through most of its run it was usually slotted in one of the latest of CBS’s Saturday Morning timeslots.

Anyway, the point is that the show wasn’t making fun of Albert for being fat, nor of Mushmouth for the way he talked, nor of Weird Harold for being clumsy, nor, for that matter of Rudy for dressing like a pimp and thinking himself generally slick. No, that was simply who these guys were. Sure, at times, especially early on, some of the humor derived from these characterizations, and many of them had nicknames that described them, but then, that’s why they’re called “characters”.

fa1Nor, for that matter, was the show based on its diversity or inclusiveness, making the point that “everyone, no matter how they look or seem, is a person who deserves respect”. Certainly that was part of the underlying theme, but it was never the point of the show, the way it would likely have to be today.

No, instead it was simply a show about kids being kids, playing together, hanging out together, getting into scrapes together, and learning from their adventures together.

And it was those lessons, the ones they learned from what they did or from what happened to them that was really the focus of the show. It was even right there in the theme song as sung by Albert himself: “You’ll have some fun now, with me and all the gang, learning from each other while we do our thing.”

Anyway, enough about all of that. Actually, it’s probably more than enough.

Unfortunately, due to copyright considerations, I can’t embed a full episode of the show as I usually like to do here, though they are available on YouTube for $1.99 each. Instead, just to give you a taste of it, here’s the first part of the first episode entitled “Lying”:

And just as a bonus here’s “Buck Buck”, the track from Bill Cosby‘s album Revenge, which introduced the character of Fat Albert. (Though this particular iteration is apparently taken from his Greatest Hits CD.) And yes, I’ll just go ahead and say if you’re one of those uptight super PC types I described at the top of the post, you might as well skip it. And that’s just fine, The rest of us will just have a really good laugh without you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sure It Looks Good, But… – Here’s The New Trailer For Jupiter Ascending (2015)

ja1Ever since the first trailer for the Wachowskis’ upcoming (as in February of next year) movie Jupiter Ascending was released, there’s been no doubt that the movie would look good. Actually, considering they built their reputation on the Matrix trilogy, there likely was no doubt even before that, because no matter how one might feel about the quality of those films (especially the latter ones) it’s hard to dispute that they know how to put together a good-looking movie. Instead the real question was about the plot and how it would play out.

So now we have a brand new trailer, (the third actually), and it finally seems to answer some of those plot questions as it actually spends some time showing us the characters and delving into the story.

The result? Well, at least we know it’s going to look good.

Maybe I’m missing something here. I certainly hope so. Because if you’re going to take one of the absolute oldest storytelling tropes, that of the hidden princess who doesn’t know that’s who she is but has to be told and then reclaim her throne in order to stop the bad guy from claiming it and doing something nefarious, you’d better be ready to do something new and different with it, and I’m sorry, but simply setting it in space and putting the Earth at risk really doesn’t qualify as all that new.

ja3Of course, considering the nature and purpose of trailers in general – at least the way they are put together by studios today – which is to grab the mass audience and put the maximum number of butts in seats, and the easiest way to do that is to appeal to the lowest common denominator viewer and give them a sense of the familiar rather than point out the things that set this particular movie apart from its predecessors it’s altogether possible that there’s much more to this movie than it so far appears and that this is yet another case of what has become known as the “trailer swerve”.

At this point I’m really hoping that’s the case, but then considering that really, once one looked beyond the admittedly innovative effects of The Matrix it also really was a very simplistic variation of the “the reality you see is not the true one” trope familiar to anyone with anything more than a passing acquaintance with the sci-fi genre and mostly brought nothing new to it either,  my expectation that that will be the case is not very high.

ja2For that matter, considering the fact that we’ve seen so many movies with similar looking space battles, ships crashing into buildings, and all the rest, there’s not even much here that looks like the effects are even going to push the boundaries beyond the already-familiar this time around.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that Jupiter Ascending will do, as they say, “boffo box office” on it’s opening weekend, and since that’s really all that the studio is looking for, it will have served its purpose. And yes, I’ll probably be a part of that opening weekend crowd just to see if maybe there is something more to the movie than what I’m expecting right now. And I feel sure that I’ll enjoy the experience on a “sit back, eat your popcorn, and just let it happen” level, which is fine.

I just wish I were looking forward to it more.

Here’s the new trailer:

Classic Television Thursday #006 – The Chevy Mystery Show: The Suicide Club (1960)

chev3Ah, the wonders of the interwebs rabbit hole. Just the other day I was relatively bored and decided to check out an episode of the venerable detective series Columbo. Noticing a discrepancy between the episode numbers as they appeared on Netflix and on a YouTube posting, (I was looking on YouTube because I was thinking about running one of the episodes as a feature here, which I’m certain I will do in the next few weeks) I decided to see if I could square the difference by looking at the episode list on Wikipedia.

Well, I did manage to clarify that little mystery, but I was at the same time surprised to find out that Peter Falk was not the first actor to portray the character on television, and in fact that the famed lieutenant goes back much further than I expected. I’m not going to go into the character’s literary origins right now (I’ll save that for the actual feature on his own show), but his first televised appearance was in the mystery anthology series The Chevy Mystery Show, which was created as a summer replacement for the The Dinah Shore Chevy Show.

chev1I’ll admit beyond that I didn’t do too much digging (the Chevy Mystery Show apparently doesn’t even rate its own Wikipedia page), but what little I did do turned up this: there were apparently 18 total episodes, and ran on NBC during the 9 – 10pm hour from May thru September of 1960. There was also apparently a 1961 run, but it appears that it likely consisted of repeats from the 1960 series rather than a run of new shows, but the details of that are unclear. Most of  the episodes were hosted by Walter Slezak, but at least a couple of the last episodes, including today’s feature, were hosted by none other than Vincent Price. One reference that I found listed this episode as having been produced by famed radio writer/producer/director Himan Brown, but it is not listed among his IMDB credits (though interestingly, another episode of the series is listed there).

chev2So why, considering the fact that all of this started with Columbo, am I not sharing the episode that featured him here? Well, there are two reasons, really. First off, it appears that that episode is only available for viewing in the archives of the Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles – I certainly wasn’t able to find it anywhere else. And secondly, not only is the episode hosted by Vincent Price, but it stars Cesar Romero. who most of you will of course know from his role as the Joker in the Batman television series of the 1960s, though his performance here is decidedly more restrained than his portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime.

So here, for your viewing pleasure, direct from 1960 is the Chevy Mystery Show episode “The Suicide Club”:

 

 

 

 

 

Never Leave Your Umbrella At Home – Here’s The New Trailer For Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

kss1I very much liked the first trailer for Kingsman: The Secret Service when it debuted a few months back. This new trailer has me even more interested in the comics-to film young-spies-in-training/Bond-at-his-most-gedgety flick if for no ther reason than it points out that besides lead actor Colin Firth, the movie also features both Michael Caine and Sam Jackson in supporting roles. Unfortunately, it looks unlikely that the two will actually share any screen time together, which seems a shame. It really is a pairing that should eventually happen.

The only real disappointment in this trailer comes at the end, when I’m reminded that the movie has been pushed back to February of next year. Ah, well, I’ll take it whenever it comes.

Blue Can Also Be Very Cold – Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013)

***Spoiler Warning: Let me just go ahead and state that I will at least in some ways be discussing the ending of this film here, because it is that ending that shapes a large part of my reaction to it, though at the same time, a large part of the film is more about the experience of seeing it, than about the actual plot, so I will leave it to the reader to decide for themselves whether to wait until after they have seen it to actually read this article.***

BWsBoWPCMAAuceT.jpg largeLet me just be very blunt up front. Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Colour (or, to use its original French title, La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 i.e. “The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 & 2″) is not a very sexy movie.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of sex in the movie. Some of it is definitely very graphic. There is a reason for the movie’s NC-17 rating. However, despite the near-constant emphasis on the sexuality of it’s young actors, despite the frequent display of the female body in various situations, despite all of the sweating, slapping, and bringing together of various body parts, in the end there is something very detached and almost clinical in its depictions both of nudity and sex.

27SUBDARGIS1-articleLargeThe film has been described both as a “coming of age” movie, and as a film about sexual awakening, and in a way, both of these descriptions are accurate. Blue definitely depicts the growing up of its main character, Adele as she advances from a 15-year-old high school junior through her years of struggling to find her place in life as (at least where the film closes) a second-grade teacher. It also takes her from her first sexual encounter through a number of various relationships with characters of both genders, ultimately leaving her at least more experienced, if not particularly either more self-aware nor more enlightened.

Blue AngelThere has, as is to be totally expected, been a lot of controversy around the film itself, from discussions as to whether the movie should be considered pornographic; to revelations about problems on set and with the director; to the author of the graphic novel upon which it is based, Julie Maroh, stating “As a feminist and lesbian spectator, I cannot endorse the direction Kechiche took on these matters. But I’m also looking forward to hearing what other women will think about it. This is simply my personal stance.” Personally, I’m not really interested in retreading that ground, and simply will suggest that if those are the things that interest you, then there are many other easy-to-find articles that you can read.

Blue-Is-The-Warmest-Color-2Instead, I really want to simply stick to my own feelings after having viewed the film, which, honestly, though I found it very interesting, in the end struck me as far too clinical to be erotic, and, in the end, far too lacking in any real growth for either of its main characters to be wholly satisfying.

One of the main problems I had with the film is that it is shot in a very much in-their-face manner. No, I do not mean in-your-face, I mean that it seems as though 75 percent of the film is shot from what seems to be a distance of no more than maybe eight inches from the characters’ faces. This emphasis on close-ups, while perhaps intended by the director to bring a sense of intimacy to these scenes, instead becomes by the end a source of distraction, and never really gives the audience a chance to see the bigger picture, in a way isolating the characters even in times when they are most trying, or at least should be trying, to become closer and relate more to each other.

Of course, it could be that that sense of isolation is intentional, as, at the end of the film, Adele is just as alone and lost, if not even more so, than she was at the beginning.

I noted at the beginning that the French title of this movie implies that this film is only meant to be the beginning of Adele’s life, and that there might be more “chapters” to come, and that is something I think I’d very much like to see, if for no other reason than to find out if Adele does ever find any true warmth.