Saturday, May 11, 2013

Play Misty For Me

Year 5, Day 131 - 5/11/13 - Movie #1,422

BEFORE:  OK, so things didn't work out with the rape victim, and that TV reporter was pretty dull by comparison.  Maybe Clint Eastwood's character will find love tonight. 

THE PLOT:  A brief fling between a male disc jockey and an obsessed female fan takes a frightening, and perhaps even deadly turn when another woman enters the picture.

AFTER:  Oh, we got a love connection tonight - but the problem is, these things never end well.  Especially when you want them to.  The date here is very significant, this film was made in 1971, and it shows - everyone just barely made it out of the 60's in one piece, so they were looking to keep things casual, not make any big commitments, baby, ya dig?  Let's not let "the man" define our relationship, let's just let things be, and we said no strings, we were just having fun, and why are you holding that knife like that?  Oh, God!

Turns out there are groupies for every profession - I've seen them in the world of cartoons and comics, after all.  I know women wait in line for hours to meet famous authors, and obviously TV and movie personalities, so an obsessed fan of a DJ doesn't seem too far of a stretch.  Actually, do I need to say "obsessed fan" - isn't "fan" short for "fanatic"?  So some kind of mania should be automatically attached when people really like something.  As the language goes, so do people.

I think there might be a guy or two out there who, when presented with a woman who invites herself over to cook dinner on the 2nd date, even though he never officially invited her or gave her his address, might just see that as a shortcut.  "Oh, so we're at that stage now, that was quick."  And she's marked her territory and almost moved in, AND he gets to have sex with her - what a timesaver.  Even if he realizes that he can never, never look at or talk to another woman without her going ballistic, I still think for some that might be a deal worth taking.

I'm looking at the date and realizing that this movie falls on the anniversary of a very specific moment in my relationship history.  (Hint: it was about 3 weeks after my first real date.)  After no action with the fairer sex through high-school and 95% of college, I was ready - and I was so in the moment I think I overlooked a lot of signals, ones that manifested themselves about five years later.  OK, lots of people have starter marriages, but I can't help but wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn't been so damn eager back in 1989. 

Still, it's all about experiences, and if you learn something from them, then maybe it's all worth it.  Clint's character finds out the hard way that some women are just not right in the head - but it nearly costs him everything.  Some might find this film a little sexist because it suggests that 50% of young, available women are stalkers.  You can't deny they're out there, it's just the math that maybe seems off.

The film also doesn't seem to know exactly what it wants to be - cautionary romance, or slasher film.  Then, in the middle, no lie, a music documentary pops up.  Some of the characters go to the Monterey Jazz festival (it's set in that upstate California Monterey/Carmel area) and it's shot in a style very reminiscent of the famous "Woodstock" film.  Again, 1971, this could have just been the way they were doing things then. But Cannonball Adderley and his Quartet are a poor substitute for The Who and Jimi Hendrix.

I felt kind of nostalgic watching a DJ cue up a vinyl record - putting the needle down and moving the turntable back a quarter turn, so there would only be silence while the record came up to speed.  God, why didn't I get more into radio broadcasting, after taking some courses in it when I was a teenager?

(Probably because the only rock songs that I knew from the station's playlist were "Rock Lobster" and "Sgt, Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".  I remember getting freaked out while airing that one, and it transitioned into "With a Little Help From My Friends" - another song?  What should I do, let it play, or pick up the needle?  Can I DO that, play two songs in a row from the same album?  I let the record play - made the right call.)

I could've been a popular disc jockey by now - or like a station manager or something.  Ah, well, I guess it's a dying medium.  But it ain't totally dead yet - maybe I could've gained a following and transitioned over to podcasting or something, instead of being a burned-out animation producer.  Oh, well.  Life doesn't give you too many do-overs.

Also starring Jessica Walter, Donna Mills, Clarice Taylor, John Larch. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 station breaks

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Dead Pool

Year 5, Day 130 - 5/10/13 - Movie #1,421

BEFORE: I think it turned out that this film series slotted pretty well into my chain - I mean, a woman who kills her rapists is sort of a serial killer, just one with a focused list.  And tonight I visit the same territory as I cross another franchise off of MY list.

THE PLOT:  Dirty Harry Callahan must stop a sick secret contest to murder local celebrities, which includes himself as a target.

AFTER: Looks like Dirty Harry is single again, I guess he couldn't work things out with that woman.  I guess once she killed all of her attackers, she became less interesting.  Which leads to an interesting question, when is a serial killer "done"?  Do they get old and just stop, can they put their urges on hold for a while - or, once they develop a taste for killing, does it just become part of their routine?

What do you figure Harry does, he just places a personal ad or something?  "Must love spending time at the firing range, dispensing justice - dislikes include punks mouthing off.  The mob's after me, so please bring your bullet-proof vest."  Anyway, he meets a reporter after throwing her video-camera down the stairs - ain't love grand?

Harry Callahan probably deserved a better swan song than this - it's the equivalent of "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull" in that sense.  But the true legacy of this film is in the homages it created - like the character played by Bruce Willis in the "Sin City" movie, since Frank Miller created that character after viewing this film.  Also the Marvel superhero named Deadpool, seen briefly in the film "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", I assume his name may have come from this film, though it's also a spin on DC's character Deathstroke.  And one of the best features of the Grand Theft Auto video-games, the RC Toyz vans, which feature remote-control cars that allow you to blow up other cars.

That to me makes more sense - you get into a van and take control of the RC car, and then suddenly your perspective changes so that you're seeing the street through the "eyes" of the toy car.  In this film somebody manages to drive the RC car while they're also driving a regular car, and somehow they're able to steer both vehicles at the same time.  That's a pretty neat trick, also quite impossible.

It's one of the ways this film feels a little thrown together, also the major stunts are quite well telegraphed.  I don't know if I buy the killer's motivation, either.

Besides, everybody knows that if you're betting on a celebrity death pool, if you cause the death of the celebrity yourself, that's cheating.  Anyone setting up the pool should have created a rule against that.  We had a CDP for a while at one of my offices, and I made sure to include that rule.  It was a lot of work to maintain, though, and the novelty wore off pretty quickly.  Plus it looked like one of those projects that was never going to end, because there are always new celebrities popping up to replace the old ones.

But speaking of lists, where does this leave my watch list?  I've got 230 films left on my list - and that's pretty much where the number's been for the last two months.  Every day I cross a film off, and I find a new one to add, so I haven't been making much progress.  Ah, but there is a SECOND list, and that's a list of films that I don't have copies of, films which I would like to add to my list.  Even though the main list remains at a constant number, that second list has been slowly shrinking, and that's a form of progress.  Now that I've decided not to wait for more recent films to air on the premium channels and instead watch them via OnDemand or iTunes, there should eventually come a time when there are no more films to add.

Also starring Patricia Clarkson (last seen in "One Day"), Liam Neeson (last seen in "Les Miserables"), Jim Carrey (last seen in "Fun With Dick and Jane"), Evan C. Kim, David Hunt.

RATING: 4 out of 10 slasher films

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sudden Impact

Year 5, Day 129 - 5/9/13 - Movie #1,420

BEFORE: Dirty Harry movie #4 tonight, then just one more to go and I'll be back on topic, I think.

THE PLOT:  A rape victim is exacting revenge on her agressors in a small town outside San Francisco. Dirty Harry, on suspension for angering his superiors (again), is assigned to the case.

AFTER: I'm guessing this is the high watermark of the franchise - this is the film with the often-quoted "Go ahead, make my day!" line, delivered through clenched teeth at the stereotypical "punk" that seems to inhabit San Francisco.

Again, as with "The Enforcer", it's the opening gambit - Dirty Harry vs. the punks - that really shines, and I liked it better than the main plot.  The "A" story has no suspense, because the audience is clued in almost from the beginning that the killer is a woman getting revenge for a gang rape, and then we all have to wait for Harry Callahan to catch up.

This is the one where Dirty Harry goes on vacation, gets a dog and goes on a date.  No, really - but he does all of those things in his own style. His vacation involves traveling up (down?) the coast to check out a murder victim's background, and then more murders start to happen with the same M.O.  And when he starts to fall for a woman, he starts to wonder if she's got a dark secret - gee, what are the odds of THAT?  She ends up like a combination of Jodie Foster's characters from "The Accused" and "The Brave One". 

I was actually rooting for these two to make it as a couple.  He likes guns, so does she!  He works for justice, she's driven by revenge.  They like fancy restaurants, long walks on the beach (during the daytime, please...) and taking down scumbags.  And if these crazy kids can't make it work, then what chance do the rest of us have, really?

Once again, Dirty Harry bucks his superiors, uses too much force, and dispenses his insights on pop culture.  He gets at least one thing right - no one should ever put ketchup on a hot dog.

Also starring Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle (last seen in "The Quick and the Dead"), Bradford Dillman (also carrying over from "The Enforcer"), Albert Popwell (ditto).

RATING: 6 out of 10 carousel horses

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Enforcer

Year 5, Day 128 - 5/8/13 - Movie #1,419

BEFORE: I'm going to use this opportunity to drop in the rest of the "Dirty Harry" films, with Clint Eastwood carrying over from "Tightrope".  I watched the first two films in the series back in 2010, and now I can finish, thanks to the Encore channel, which ran them all a month or two ago.  Without ads - see, Fox Movies, it CAN be done.

It's easy enough to switch from serial killer films to cop films - since most killer films have cops in them, and vice versa.  Cinematically speaking, they need each other.  But there's a special connection here, since the first film in the series found Harry Callahan tracking a serial killer named Scorpio, loosely based on the Zodiac killer.  And Dave Toschi, one of the S.F. cops who worked that case, was sort of the inspiration for Dirty Harry as a result.

THE PLOT: Dirty Harry must foil a terrorist organization made up of disgruntled Vietnam veterans. But this time, he's teamed with a rookie female partner that he's not too excited to be working with.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Dirty Harry" (Movie #589) and "Magnum Force" (Movie #590)

AFTER: Harry Callahan is back, once again playing by his own rules and bucking the system.  Trouble is, that makes this film feel a little bit by the numbers, without the presence of a "Go ahead, make my day!" moment - guess I have to wait for tomorrow's film for that.

The closest it comes is when Harry stops a liquor store robbery and hostage situation in his own break-the-rules style.  After that, it's all pretty much downhill.  It's sort of sad that there was a time in film history when "Vietnam vet" was shorthand for "renegade gun nut".  That kind of sells a lot of people short, if you ask me.  Somehow the Vietnam vets, Black Panthers and gun stockpilers are all linked together here, but I'm thinking there might not have been too much crossover between those groups in reality. 

It's also hard to remember a time when women weren't an active part of the police force.  1976, the bicentennial year, firmly in-between the year the Equal Rights Amendment was passed, but a few years before it expired without ratification in 1982.  So clearly it was a hot topic - and no doubt some people hemmed and hawed about female cops the way that people do so now about gay marriage or gays in the military.

Women could be on the police force in the 1970's, but it seems like they were relegated to desk jobs or perhaps writing traffic tickets.  We couldn't give a loaded gun to a woman with PMS, obviously.  Women are irrational, hormonal creatures, after all.  God, it sounds so antiquated, it's not even humorous.

All these sexist and anti-hippie and racist sensibilities come together and form a very average piece of cinema.  Unless I'm missing something.  I liked the use of Alcatraz island as scenery - it reminded me that Clint Eastwood was also in "Escape From Alcatraz".

Also starring Tyne Daly, Harry Guardino, Bradford Dillman.

RATING: 5 out of 10 rocket launchers

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Year 5, Day 127 - 5/7/13 - Movie #1,418

BEFORE:  I had another Clint Eastwood film in mind, but then I noticed the similarities in the killers' victims between this film and "Son of Sam", so I moved it up on the list.  Linking became quite difficult as a result, but I finally found that Michael Rispoli from "Summer of Sam" was also in the film "To Die For" with Dan Hedaya (last seen in "Daylight")

THE PLOT:  Wes Block is a detective who's put on the case of a serial killer, whose victims are young and pretty women. The murders get personal when the killer chooses victims who are acquaintances of Block.

AFTER: If you thought New York City in 1977 was a swingin' place, what with Studio 54 and Plato's Retreat, and, umm, all those parked cars, it had nothing on New Orleans.  The Big Easy appears to be all sex shops and sex clubs, and there's like a Mardi Gras party every single night, or so it seems.  Maybe we just see one Mardi Gras and one Halloween, it's sort of tough to tell.

The title comes from a line in the film about how we've all got a dark side, and we walk on a tightrope between our personalities, or something.  The analogy is a little vague, like most of the film.  What's clear is that there's a killer, and he's targeting people close to the detective who's trying to track him down.  Which doesn't make too much sense, because you'd think a killer would want to stay away from places where his nemesis might run into him - or he'd probably not want to give the cop extra motivation to find and stop him.  But there's no telling how a crazy killer's mind works, I guess.

And this cop's got some pretty freaky friends - I guess that naturally follows, if you work the night shift and cover crimes in the sex trade.  Whatever else that job is, I bet it's not boring.  But once they've got a line on who the killer is and why he does what he does, it's kind of anti-climactic, and the film just sort of lumbers along until the end.

Pretty average all around.  Nice to see some good old-fashioned police work, though, combined with (relatively) modern forensics.

Also starring Clint Eastwood (last seen in "Kelly's Heroes"), Genevieve Bujold (last seen in "Earthquake"), Alison Eastwood (last seen in "Absolute Power").

RATING: 5 out of 10 handcuffs

Monday, May 6, 2013

Summer of Sam

Year 5, Day 126 - 5/6/13 - Movie #1,417

BEFORE: Supposedly Adrien Brody was somewhere in "Natural Born Killers", playing a cameraman, though according to the IMDB his role was uncredited.  A few years later, he got a much bigger role in this film, and got the screen credit for it as well.

THE PLOT:  Spike Lee's take on the "Son of Sam" murders in New York City during the summer of 1977 centering on the residents of an Italian-American South Bronx neighborhood who live in fear and distrust of one another.

AFTER:  This is a unique way of telling the story of a serial killer, by NOT telling the story directly.  Little was known about the Son of Sam while he was committing his murders, so in a way it makes sense to tell the story of the everyday citizens of New York City, and they way that they changed their activities with a psycho killer (Qu'est ce que c'est?) on the loose.  Once someone realized that all of the female victims had shoulder-length brown hair, for example, women supposedly started changing their hair color or wearing blonde wigs.  

The question then becomes, in the absence of a narrative about the killer, does what replaces it measure up or become more interesting?  I suppose that's a debatable point - a cheating husband questions his behavior because it puts him at risk.  An Italian kid from the neighborhood starts playing in a band and dressing all punk, even changing his accent.  A cop visits a mobster and asks for his help in tracking down the mysterious killer.  There's more, but you get the idea, it's a lot of slice-of-life stuff.  

For me it didn't really come together to form a coherent whole, big parts of the film feel like they were improvised, since the characters tend to say the same things again and again, or don't answer each other's questions directly.  Sure, the reactions may be more sincere, but they also feel evasive and half-thought out.  

Plus, the most interesting thing about the Son of Sam was not how people reacted to him, now, was it?  If the guy really was driven crazy by the barking of his neighbor's dog, who he believed to be a hound from hell, literally, then that's your movie.  Too bad the details are so sketchy when you get inside the mind of a crazy gunman.  

I watched an edited version of this film, one that ran on the Fox Movies Channel recently to promote the new serial-killer show "The Following".   The IMDB lists the running time as 142 minutes, but the version I watched was 2 hours and included commercial breaks, and replacements for the curse words.  I've tried very hard not to watch movies with ads or other edits into my project - so with that I have to remove Fox Movies from my line-up, along with IFC and (this hurts) the Sundance Channel.  All three were commercial-free at some point, but are no longer - so I guess times are tough, but "sayonara".  If you can't concentrate on showing movies uncut, you're as dead to me as AMC.

Also starring John Leguizamo (last seen in "Casualties of War"), Mira Sorvino (last seen in "The Final Cut"), Jennifer Esposito, Michael Rispoli, Anthony Lapaglia (last heard in "Happy Feet Two"), Mike Starr (last seen in "Billy Bathgate"), Patti Lupone, Ben Gazzara (last seen in "Anatomy of a Murder"), Michael Imperioli (last seen in "The Lovely Bones"), Bebe Neuwirth, Michael Badalucco, Spike Lee (last seen in "Mo' Better Blues"), with cameos from Jimmy Breslin, and the voice of John Turturro.

RATING: 4 out of 10 slashed tires

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Natural Born Killers

Year 5, Day 125 - 5/5/13 - Movie #1,416

BEFORE:  When I began this project, I didn't know where the path would lead me - I certainly didn't predict that I'd be focusing on mass murder or serial killers.  I certainly don't want to glorify it or condone it in any way - but I have to acknowledge that it does exist.  I'm sort of split on issues like gun control, since I don't think that violent films and video-games is a direct cause of real-world violence, but I also think that Hollywood could dial it back a bit. 

Linking from "American Psycho", Chloe Sevigny connects back via "Zodiac" to Robert Downey Jr., who appears in tonight's film.

THE PLOT:  Two victims of traumatized childhoods become lovers and psychopathic serial murderers irresponsibly glorified by the mass media.

AFTER:  Right, it's the mass media that glorifies serial killers - but since this film depicts the mass media doing that, it's really this film that's the problem.  Can we get a body count, here?  Because I think we might have a new record.  It's this sort of film that gives mass murder a bad name.  So when does kill become overkill?  Probably about 90 minutes in.

I had put this on a DVD with "Wild at Heart", and I think the two films have a lot in common.  Two lovers go on the run after one gets out of prison, and mayhem ensues.  So does overacting - they even somehow got Tommy Lee Jones, the industry's most stoic actor, to overemote with ridiculous gusto.  With the strange camera angles and the really fake rear-projection driving scenes, this looks like what a shoot-em-up directed by David Lynch might resemble.  I don't care if you're Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, or Steven Spielberg - fake is fake.  They can say it's a stylistic choice to use low-rent effects, but I think that's a cop-out - it still looks like shite.

So it's the parents' fault, society's fault, the media's fault.  Heck, even calling them "natural born" means that killing is somehow ingrained in their make-up, so it's God/evolution's fault as well.  Funny how the murders are the fault of everyone except the people pulling the triggers.  Whatever trauma happened to you as a kid, killing a diner full of people is never O.K.

And the film name-checks a bunch of other killers, from Manson and Ted Bundy down to O.J. Simpson - but there was never a time when mass killing was cool.  Interesting, perhaps, in a morbid way - some might even say fascinating, but never cool.  Maybe Court TV still makes a buck or two, but I haven't followed a major trial in quite some time.  I had no idea who Amanda Knox was until recently, and I don't think the shooters were left standing in the incidents last year.  For Pete's sake, if you're planning to kill a bunch of school kids and then yourself, do everyone a favor and skip right to the last step. 

I would like to get off this topic as soon as I can - for fear of becoming desensitized.  I've realized that the last film I watched without someone being killed in it was probably "Fitzwilly", back in late March.  But there ain't no way through it but to do it...

Also starring Woody Harrelson (last seen in "Game Change"), Juliette Lewis (last seen in "Due Date"), Tommy Lee Jones (last seen in "Captain America: The First Avenger"), Tom Sizemore (last seen in "Red Planet"), Rodney Dangerfield, Edie McClurg (last seen in "Oh, God! Book II"), Pruitt Taylor Vince (last seen in "Wild at Heart"), Arliss Howard, with cameos from Balthazar Getty, Evan Handler, Adrien Brody (last seen in "Predators").

RATING:  3 out of 10 rattlesnakes