Showing posts from 2006

2006: A Myopic Retrospective

Since everyone and his sister's best friend's tennis coach is doing a year-end wrap-up, I guess I'll do one, too. This despite keeping an admirable distance from most of the trends, mores, and events that kept pop culture in a lather over the last twelve months. It might be time to change the name of this Blog if I maintain this pace. I could barely count the number of first-run movies I saw in 2006 on both of my hands, watched relatively little television, read one fiction book (boy, does it hurt to pony up to that one), and heard less new music this last year than I had since I was a grade schooler, so this could be easy. Then again, with my propensity to windy meandering, it might not be. So be it; here go a few of My Favorite 2006 Things. Favorite TV: Heroes , NBC's revisionist superhero saga, was my favorite boob tube destination by a landslide. Sharply written, well-acted by an appealing and relatively unknown cast, and deft in its gradual (and still ongoing)

Passings: James Brown, my favorite Christmas Crooner

This started out about five days ago as a Blog about my favorite Christmas CD's--recordings that capture the essence of the season so sublimely that they often singlehandedly pull me out of the Stygian depths of Scrooge-ism. As research--but mostly as a truly welcome soundtrack to the whole litany of commuting, working, shopping, cleaning, and holiday cooking--I found myself listening to these favorites pretty ceaselessly over the last week or two. They include: Dean Martin's incredibly lush A Winter Romance (call me a blasphemer, but I think this 'un's every bit the Rat Pack Concept Album Masterwork that Sinatra's Songs for Swinging Lovers ever was); Billboard's Greatest Christmas Hits 1935-1954 (Ground Zero for the definitive versions of most of the standards, from Nat King Cole's gorgeous 'The Christmas Song' to Eartha Kitt's untouchably sexy 'Santa Baby'); Laserlight Records' Jack Jones Christmas (an ace mix of Vegas schmooz

Passings: Peter Boyle

There are a whole host of eloquent tributes to recently-departed character actor Peter Boyle , so won't rattle on much here. With deep set eyes that reflected all of the emotion concealed by a perpetually furrowed brow ridge, Boyle was never less than terrific, and almost always the best thing about the movies he appeared in. I'm, sadly, unexposed to Boyle's dramatic output (including his caustic star turn in 1970's Joe ), but like most of the world his sublime work as a comic actor looms large in my heart. To this day, I can't hear "Putting on the Ritz" without hearing Boyle's sad, sympathetic--and riotously funny--monster monosyllabically barking out the song's title in Young Frankenstein . And the wearily-tart repartee between him and Doris Roberts always represented Everybody Loves Raymond's comic trump card. I did want to give a shout-out to one of Boyle's less-ballyhooed comic triumphs. The modest but very funny 1989 comedy The Dr

Apocalypto: A Head-Lopping Celebration of Family Values

So let's get the whole 'How Can I watch Apocalypto when Mel Gibson's such an evil anti-semitic racist sexist homophobic rat bastard?' moral dilemma out of the way first. As I said in a comment on another intrepid film lover's Blog , If I avoided every movie, book, painting, or piece of music created by an artist who said and/or did loathsome things, the sum total of the works of art that would pass through that filter could be counted on Mickey Mouse's right hand. Some separation of art from artist is always necessary. And though I will concede that separating Gibson's work from his offscreen antics of late is a mammoth challenge to anyone who doesn't have the words 'Imperial Wizard' inscribed on his name tag, it's not gonna keep me out of the theater. Enough with the brouhaha. Divorced from its notorious architect, is Apocalypto worth seeing? Absolutely. Is it perfect? Not by a longshot. But it kept me glued solid to my seat, and I wan

Ten Movies That Ain't All That

Greencine Daily posted a link to Premiere Magazine's list of The Twenty Most Overrated Movies of All Time, and seeing as how most of us movie nerds love lists more than dogs love peanut butter, I couldn't resist cobbling together a response (I agree with a lot of Premiere's choices, but they missed a few). Stuff like this naturally prompts a need for a blanket definition of an 'overrated' movie. Is it the Absurdly Popular Box Office Hit? The Pretentious Masterwork that Launched a Thousand Critics' Drool Puddles? The Venerated Old Hollywood Classic? I figure it's at least one (or any combination) of the three. It can even be a movie that you like, just so long as the vocal huzzahs (critical, popular, or both) that surround said movie exceed the actual merit of the final product. Incidentally, Premiere's list of Twenty Most Overrated included rebuttal statements in defense of every movie. So if you think I'm on crack with some of my opinions, lemme

Passings: Gary Graver, Cinematographer and Director

One of the most important cinematic auteurs of the last 50 years passes away, and I'm woefully underequipped to expound. Go figure. Director Robert Altman's influence looms large over modern cinema, so much so that eloquent testimonials to the man's work can be found all over the Blogosphere (here are two of my favorites). But my Altman experience extends to just four complete viewings: The Player (so universally loved and pungently witty it'd be redundant for me to cluck on about it), Popeye (still one of the oddest comic-to-film adaptations ever made, with Altman's very free-form style constantly fighting with a very structured cartoon universe), MASH (overrated, but not without its moments), and Buffalo Bill and the Indians (an erratic but interestingly off-kilter western that had me scratching my head as a kid). This means I haven't seen Nashville or McCabe and Mrs. Miller , widely reputed to be two of the finest films of the seventies (make that ev

The Chronicles of Riddick, just 'cos I got nothin' else.

I was just looking over the list of a dozen unfinished entries on the Dish to see if any of 'em were close enough to snuff to merit posting (the answer, as you might imagine from this entry, is no). As I undertook this ritual The Chronicles of Riddick , director David Twohy's prequel to his enjoyable B flick Pitch Black , played on basic cable. It's pretty telling that almost all of Riddick unspooled before I took much notice. Contrary to its unceremonious descent into the waters of financial failure upon its initial release, it's really not terrible. Despite making more lousy career choices in the last five years than any twelve actors make in their lives, I still appreciate Vin Diesel's minimalist charisma, and flashes of blunt wit occasionally flicker through the grandeur, action, and special effects. But it's a pretty glaring misfire nonetheless, because its two principal architects completely disregard their strengths. Twohy (who frequently writes as we

Horrorfest: Old-Fashioned Fun and Frolic

Horrorfest--Eight Films to Die For hit multiplexes last weekend, and if you're among the throngs who regularly peruse this Blog (I have officially decided that six or more people qualifies as a throng), my attendance of said Fest should surprise you naught . Limits in funds and time prohibited a Full Monty of all eight movies offered, but I did manage to do a Horrorfest Triple Bill last Saturday night. Two enthusiastic co-conspirators joined me, and damned if a good time wasn't had by all. It's hard not to root for the success of Horrorfest's distribution company, After Dark Films, on principle alone. This independent company's roadshow-style marketing strategy hearkens back to a time before corporate megaliths and big studios exacted their death-grips on multiplexes, when true indies could still sneak entertaining B flicks of all stripes into theaters all over the country. Seeing movies in a theater or (gasp) drive-in in the seventies and early eighties was

A Blog about Borat: Bet you Won't See Many of Those

I saw Borat this weekend, and since everyone and their sister's best friend's tennis coach is already pontificating to the high heavens about it, I'll try to keep it brief. Yes, Sasha Baron Cohen's naively-twisted Kazakh brainchild offends with sawed-off-shotgun blasts of scatology and gleeful racism that assault everybody and anybody. And contrary to the deification it's been given by the nation's critics , it's not perfect: Sometimes it leaps off the chasm of Offensively Funny and splatters at ground zero of Just Plain Offensive. But it's a sharper critique on this country's foibles than damn near anything mainstream Hollywood's excreted since a certain fire-and-brimstone Texan galloped into office. And most importantly, Borat is the funniest movie I've seen in God knows how long. Those of you who've likewise seen it need only ponder upon these five words to break into stitches uncontrollably: The Mortgage Broker's Convention S

Sex and Fury: It's Art! It's Trash! It's Both!

Eleven minutes into Sex and Fury (originally released in 1973, now out on Panik House DVD) there's a scene which represents an amazing--perhaps even definitive--cinematic crystalization of sex and violence. I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but trust me: it's a mind-blower. The most astonishing thing about this moment isn't the high quotient of violence, nor is it the wall-to-wall nudity on display (how are those for hints?). No, the most shocking aspect of this scene is that it's shot, edited, and acted with the unbridled artistry of a Kurosawa flick. Were a typical US director prompted to bring this moment to cinematic life, he'd jam his tongue so far into his cheek that it'd rip out the other end. And that's what makes Sex and Fury so utterly fascinating: it juxtaposes base exploitive elements with the kind of craftsmanship customarily reserved for something a lot more respectable (this sub-genre, the Pinky Viole

The Innocents: All of Modern Horror's Promise, Held in its Grasp

For decades, I've known the hallowed reputation held by The Innocents , Jack Clayton's magnificent 1961 cinematic adaptation of Henry James' novella The Turn of the Screw . But I only caught up with it last week, and I could kick myself--repeatedly--for having let the movie elude my grasp for so long (Fox issued it on DVD late last year). As a horror tale, as a psychological study, and as a work of art, it rivals anything produced by any major studio at the time. Only Robert Wise's nigh-peerless The Haunting comes close. The basic storyline details the travails of Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), a quintessential proper Englishwoman who's accepted a job as governess to two precocious youngsters, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin). Giddens takes to her two bright and initially pleasant charges, until their behavior begins subtly--and scarily--changing with time. Those changes force the governess to dig further into the history of the house and its re

Give Give Give me More More More Horror on DVD

We horror fans are an insatiable lot, and video companies know it. Thus, DVD manufacturers have put out an astonishing amount of horror product over the years, so much so that you'd think a big nerd like me would have no need to create a wish list of horror flicks that have yet to make their digital bow here in the United States. You'd be thinking wrong. Enclosed please find a short list of genre movies that, as of yet, have not made their way onto domestic DVD. Some are sublime, some are ridiculous. Some have made the digital translation in foreign countries, only narrowly missing these shores; some are so embedded in legal quagmire that the only way to find 'em is on a crappy sixth-generation VHS dupe with Greek subtitles (I speak from experience, God help me). Most of these can be located on out-of-print VHS if you look hard enough, But all of the included films could really benefit from the DVD format's improved picture quality, capacity for extras, and penchant fo

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula: One Very Bad Doggie

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula : The title packs a fair amount of menace, but don't let it freak you out too much; this 1978 B flick, out on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment, also played theaters under a more straightforward name-- Dracula's Dog. And the latter moniker feels a lot more apropos. If anything, Zoltan earns bonus points for originality. The movie opens in The Old Country (probably Romania, despite the US Navy jeep driven by the soldiers of the region), where an earthquake opens up two coffins in the crypt of the Dracula family. One casket holds Veidt (Reggie Nalder), immortal servant of the bloodsucking clan, and the other houses plasma-lapping undead pooch Zoltan. Soon this duo finds their way to sunny California, where the final living member of the Dracula line, Michael Drake (hard-working character actor Michael Pataki , a frequent Klingon on the original Star Trek ), is heading into the woods for a camping trip with his family and dogs. Veidt and Zoltan, it seems

Petri Dish 101: Dario Argento, Horror Cinema's Most Gifted Savant

Some of the most flawless, seamless so-called cinema masterpieces evaporate from the mind the instant you finish watching 'em. But there are certain filmmakers who can nail you to the edge of your seat during even their lesser efforts. Dario Argento , for me at least, is one of those directors. I've always thought of Argento as a bit of an artistic savant--goofy script tangents and cardboard characterizations pepper nearly all of his films. If you don't take a glass-half-full stance with a lot of his work, you could get irritated. If you don't have a tolerance for extremely strong onscreen violence, you could get nauseated. So why bother watching any of his movies? Because--warts and all--he's one of modern horror cinema's greatest visual stylists. No, scratch that: He's one of modern cinemas greatest visual stylists, period. Warts, absurdities, and all. At their best, the Italian director's movies bypass rational explanation and imbed themselves dir

Random Fragments o' Fright and F@#kery

Damn Blogger. A server issue kept me from posting this last night, so my Blog-a-day deal with the devil has been effectively scuttled by the deficiencies of modern technology. Oh, well, I wasn't using my soul this week anyway. Random bits of goodness: My friend (and fellow Blogger) Sarah stumbled upon a fun little Zombie Quiz in her 'net explorations--go here for a look-see. Sarah knows well the value of a good sopping-gooey gory zombie flick, having braved a late-night showing of Lucio Fulci's Zombie with me a few years back (and take a look in the archives of her Zeitgeist blog while you're at it--her wry wit merits repeat viewings). The Fuse music cable channel aired the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards recently, and I caught about 30 minutes of the telecast this morning. It was an interesting, sometimes disheartening view at what's currently in vogue with horror culture (when Hollywood pretty guy Jared Leto wins the 'Prince of Darkness' award for fronting h

Shock Waves: Nazi Typical Zombie Movie.

Sometimes modesty becomes a horror movie. Not every fright flick needs to be the grandest, goriest, or most outrageous on the block. There's something to be said for a movie that economically, entertainingly gets the job (that's goosebump-raising here, folks) done. Shock Waves hit theaters and drive-ins back in 1977, and it demonstrates this truism nicely. This humble little horror thriller shows its seams, but its resourcefulness and imagination make for an entertaining hour-and-a-half. The movie opens like a sort of twisted Sunn Classics documentary, with an offscreen narrator spilling the setup (specifically, reputed attempts by the SS to create a squad of super-soldiers) as the camera pulls back on an archival photo of a Nazi squadron. It's a really effective intro (and it beat The Blair Witch Project to the mockumentary conceit by a couple of decades). The story proper follows a small pleasure-boat as it collides with an imposing hulk of a shipwreck just off th

Horrorpalooza 2: Electric BOOgaloo!

Yeah, yeah, I've been really lax on updates to the Dish lo, these last two (yipes!) months. Only the recent demise of the spellbinding Tamara Dobson (and the recent visit of the spellbinding Ms. Tura Satana) shook me outta my torpor. It's not like I've been slumped in the Barca-Lounger mainlining Cheetos and Old English for the last sixty days. Life's been pretty tumultuous at home and work, plus the missus and I just got back from an adventurous two weeks in England. Rest assured, I'll bore you faithful readers (all six of you!) stiff with the details on the latter in the coming days/weeks. But it's that time of year again, when even the most fair-weather film lovers glom onto all things frightful and when I get the hubris to attempt a sustained stretch of written productivity. I signed a pact with the devil in 2005 to do a Blog daily, for an extended stretch of October until Halloween, each entry devoted to that most cherished of my cinema mistresses--the ho