3/12/7 - 3/21/7

christopher funderburg

In October 2006, Funderburg and Cribbs set out to watch at least 200 movies over the course of the next 200 days. They both watched a different slate of films and wrote about every single one; from epic high art masterpieces such as all ten parts of Kieslowski's Decalogue to instantly forgettable Hollywood crap du jour like A Perfect Stranger to cult classics like Sam Fuller's White Dog. In sections spanning 10 days at a time, The Pink Smoke is reprinting their writings about the grueling experiment in cinematic endurance.

<<click here for 3/2 - 3/11>>


3.12. Goldfinger.

(dvd) My vacation adventure begins: viewed on my grandmother's old tv at John Cribbs' luxurious Hudson, NY estate.

A true fact: before I saw Casino Royale back in the fall, I had never seen a single Bond film. I had seen the fight sequence in the sauna with Famke Jansen in Goldeneye on t.v. and that was virtually my only exposure to Bond (also, one shot of Bond flying in a tiny, single-man helicopter that I saw while flipping through the channels.) I never saw any of them growing up, so by the time I reached college it was a point of perverse pride that I had never seen any of them. How could someone on who had seen the everything from the complete works of Wong Kar-Wai to 95% of the films Joe Dante and Tobe Hooper have managed to have avoid seeing one of the longest-running, most popular blockbuster franchises in the history of the world? Wasn't I the man who saw films like Ben Affleck's Phantoms and Ivan Reitman's Six Days Seven Nights in the theater? Those movies couldn't possibly be any good! I'm not sure what happened – it's just one of those vagaries of the cosmos. And at a certain point it was more valuable me for not to have seen them, than it would be to have ingested some of their slick action blockbusterizing.

However, Paul Cooney and John Cribbs tag-teamed me with their love of the series and when Casino Royale came out, Cribbs had built up seeing it into an event: and seeing a movie "as an event" is something that's more valuable to me than having some quirky gap in my cinema knowledge. So, after Royale, I remarked that it mostly seemed designed for fans of the series. At that point, Cribbs decided to conduct my Bond education with valuable assistance from Cooney. We started with Goldfinger, but I can't remember why John chose this one – maybe it's the definitive Connery outing? The thing that struck me most about this film is how it matched up (or failed to match up) with my preconceived notions of what a "Bond" movie is: first off, I thought Bond was supposed to be suave? Connery is just sleazy. Also, I thought Bond was supposed to be the best at what he did? The bad guys get the jump on Bond at least three times in this film and is he really so stupid as to get suckered by a set-up as obvious as a seductive woman?

Of course, now that I've seen five Bond films, I know that those are two of the series' staples: Bond getting captured by the bad guys after botching a recon mission and Bond getting blinded to an obvious trap by a tantalizing vagina. I liked big, fat Goldfinger's plan to irradiate the gold reserve in Fort Knox, but the "surprise" ambush by the U.S. army was painfully obvious and essentially stupid. I mean, the movie doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense and Bond gets into a car accident playing chicken with his reflection in a mirror, but stuff like that clearly isn't the point.


3.13. From Russia with Love.

(dvd) Cribbs' house.

So, what is the point? After discussing the Bond films a bit more with Cribbs and Cooney, I realized they were unconsciously rating them on three things basic elements: the villain, the Bond girl, and action set-pieces. Fair enough. Bonus points go to quotable dialog. From Russia with Love features two of Cooney's favorite villains: the immortal Kronsteen (introduced winning what appears to be a very important chess match) and Robert Shaw (I think his character was named either "Red" or "Grant.") I personally really enjoyed Kronsteen the effete mastermind, the reserved and arrogant intellectual who even refuses to shake his opponent's hand after winning the chess match. "Who is Bond compared to Kronsteen?" And he’s right: his plan actually goes down exactly how he sets it up – it's Robert Shaw that fucks it up by getting all chatty once he has Bond right where he wants him on the train. But Shaw's "It won't be the first bullet that kills you. Nor the second " speech is great, even if it gives Connery's Bond (somehow even sleazier in this film than in Goldfinger) the opportunity to get the drop on him.

The woman is ok, she didn't seem to be a favorite of either Cribbs or Cooney. The action set-pieces are interesting, but at this early stage in the game (this was only the second film in the twenty film series) the world of cinema on the whole was strictly pre-Blockbuster; meaning that this movie resembles a Carol Reed or Alfred Hitchcock spy thriller much more than it does the brain-dead, effects-intensive spectacles that starred Pierce Brosnan or other films featuring modern Bond surrogates like Vin Diesel's xXx guy (ok, ok... Xander Cage) or Brad Pitt's Mr. Smith. A little hand-to-hand fight in the closed compartment of a moving train just belongs to a different world of "action," a world that has since been replaced with super-intelligent stealth-fighters and exploding historical landmarks. I don't remember too much about this one, other than a sexy gypsy fight and the parts that I knew were coming because Cooney had quoted them so much. I think everyone is trying to retrieve an encryption device, but I might be conflating the plots of a couple films. I do remember being outraged that Kronsteen takes the fall when Rosa Klebb is the one that fucked up – Shaw was her man! She hand-picked him! Kronsteen's plan essentially worked!


8MM 2

(dvd). Cribbs' house.

Ok, of course, there was no chance that this straight-to-video sequel to a faintly remembered Kevin Andrew Walker/Joel Schumacher collaboration was going to be any good. And it was understood that this would be an "in name only" sequel with none of the original characters, storylines, etc. being referenced. What I was expecting was a film that could at least be tangentially, thematically linked to the original 8MM's genuinely solid premise: I'm totally up for another film about an unsuspecting fellow who gets drawn into the seedy underground world of snuff pornography. I, mean, even Eli Roth's highly enjoyable Hostel is essentially an inversion of that premise. And Videodrome, too, now that I think about it.

But no, 8mm 2 is about a secret videotape (did we say "videotape?" because we meant "8mm filmstrip!") made of a young political hopeful having a steamy threesome with his bride-to-be and a Hungarian model. Blackmail ensues! Not exactly the world of snuff porn, but I tried to give it a chance. However, a shitty movie that is not at all the shitty movie you were expecting is impossible to sit through. I turned it off before the big courtroom showdown but after the lengthy dinner party scene in which the ensemble has a deep discussion about the current political situation. I have high hopes, however, for Road House 2, which also stars Johnathon Schaech.* It was written by Schaech as well, which is clearly the main problem with 8MM 2: it was not written by Johnathon Schaech. One final note: Cribbs seemed moderately excited that some t.v. actress was in this movie, but he misidentified her. It went something like this, "Hey, there she is! I love [t.v. actress]... Oh, I guess that character wasn't being played by [t.v. actress] because this woman that just came on screen is actually [t.v. actress]. Maybe. She looks old." Pause. "Yeah, that's her. That other woman wasn't her."

* In looking up the correct spelling of his name, I realized that it is fucking gibberish and must be some kind of a fake name, most likely an anagram. I was able to come up with "Jonathan Chochesh."


Fast Food Nation.

(dvd) Cribbs' house.

On the surface of things, Fast Food Nation is not unlike several other films Richard Linklater has made: a sprawling narrative that meanders amongst a diverse cast while engaging complicated issues on a thoughtful level. But in reality, it's not actually Linklater's style to tie a bunch of loosely connected stories together and bring out their narrative connections. Compare Waking Life to a film which came out the same year: Gosford Park. Robert Altman's particular skill is ushering an audience through a sprawling, loosely interconnected narrative. Altman's films more or less come together as a single story on some fundamental level – a straight line that moves through many pieces and joins them together. There is only the barest thread of a story in Waking Life or Slacker and the separate characters are not particularly interconnected: it is an episodic work that doesn't rely on juggling separate threads and bringing them together.

On the surface, those two types of films seem very similar, but they rely on two entirely different skill sets: the single story narrative relies on hidden focus (a filmmaker who can organize seemingly unrelated material in such a way that it suddenly snaps into focus: the seemingly unrelated eventually becomes related); while an episodic narrative needs a filmmaker who is at their most interesting when they are unfocused (one that can follow threads of ideas and open-ended pieces of ideas down blind alleys while never losing an audience's interest or testing their patience - a filmmaker that can get away with making a film that never "comes together"). Fast Food Nation's main, irresolvable problem is that it is the type of single story narrative that you can easily imagine Altman (or Jean Renoir or Spike Lee or any of those filmmakers who excel at that type of filmmaking) tearing into and working wonders with – it's a film that, unfortunately, proves one of the limits of Linklater's range. It's never bad, per se – Linklater is far too sincere and charming a host to lose the film completely – but it never snaps into focus nor does it turn up particularly interesting material in the blind alleys into which it meanders.

Linklater's most impressive and memorable virtue is his understanding of how people (and the world) reveal themselves through conversation; he innately understands a previously undiscovered cinematic notion: that there are certain ideas and communications that can only exist in circular, sprawling dialogues about nothing in particular: he uses conversation not as a conduit for drama (and, then, drama as a method for revealing character), but as a method for revealing something unique and interesting about human beings that is in no other way expressible. In Fast Food Nation, he's saddled with his most inarticulate bunch of conversationalists since The Newton Boys. Bruce Willis has a cameo as a guy who loves to talk and in that brief scene the film comes alive. It's not a particularly good scene or a show-stopping performance (it's not Alec Bladwin bursting into Glenngarry/Glen Ross), but for that short scene Linklater is back in his element. Once he wades back into that big, murky pond swimming with illegal immigrants, political activists, troubled executives, single mothers and disaffected fry cooks, he's not able to bring any spark of originality to material that would be better off in the hands of someone else.




3.14. The Spy Who Loved Me.

(dvd) Cribbs' house.

When the opening credits rolled for the first Roger Moore Bond I had ever seen, the following exchange occurred about the title song (which is most recognizable for the phrase "nobody does it better"):

Me: I didn't realize this song was from a Bond film.
Cribbs: What do you mean?
Me: I just thought this was some song. I didn't know it was a Bond song.
Cribbs: But she says the name of the movie in the middle of the song – what the hell did you think she was talking about?
Me: She says the name of the movie?
Cribbs: Yeah, listen.
[we listen to the line]
Me: I thought she was saying "this guy who loved me."
Cribbs: "This guy who loved me?" [singing] "This guy who loved me/ is keeping all my secrets safe tonight." That's ridiculous.
Me: [awkward silence].
Cribbs: When I saw Radiohead, they did a cover of this and Thom Yorke called it "the sexiest song ever written."
Me: I really can't believe this song is from a Bond film – are there any other famous songs from Bond films that I wouldn't know instantly?
Cribbs: You mean songs where they don't say the title of the film in the middle of the song, like The Spy Who Loved Me?
Me: Yeah.
Cribbs: Neil Young's "It’s Good to See You Again" was written for Goldeneye.
Me: Really?
Cribbs: That's why he says "It's good to see you again/ James Bond" in the middle of the song.
Me: Really?
Cribbs: [unsure whether I am actually that clueless] No.

So, this is probably my favorite of the five Bond films I've seen – it's basically a toss-up with For Your Eyes Only. Roger Moore is infinitely more likable than either Daniel Craig or Sean Connery as the man himself and his effortless air of refinement amidst improbably over-blown action set-pieces created the template for Bond that has allowed the series to continue for 21 films and counting: this film's version of the Bond universe is a "modern action blockbuster" in every possible sense of the phrase – the hyperbolic villainy, the emphasis on flawlessly rendered and highly ambitious special effects, the almost beside-the-point plotline, the only passing resemblance to any recognizable reality, the mixture of pure fun and mindless mayhem and sexy ladies. If this film were released "as is" in 2007, it would still be a giant hit.

So let's break down the three essential Bond elements: villain, Bond girl, action set-pieces. The main villain is probably the weakest part of this film – he's a Bond villain "type" that would be faintly ridiculous in any context (the over-funded super genius bent on achieving world domination from the comforts of his extravagantly weird lair), but that years of parody have rendered absolutely laughable. He's neither menacing nor intriguing: his plan to steal nuclear subs is fine, but he's just a bit of a cipher. However, his henchman, Jaws, is pretty great and the scene where Bond and Barbra Bach escape from him in a van is the best action set-piece in any Bond film I've seen, hands-down: it reminded me both of Indiana Jones and Jackie Chan, which is basically as big a compliment as I can give to an action scene.

Barbara Bach is pretty freakin' hot as the Russian spy torn between her love of mother Russia, the memory of her dead spy lover (killed by Bond in a early ski chase/shoot-out), and Roger Moore's hair-stylistics. I probably enjoyed Carole Bouquet's performance in For Your Eyes more overall (Bach isn't much of an actress); but for sheer slinky pulchritude, Bach is the most memorable early Bond girl I've seen (the incomparable Eva Green is clearly my favorite woman associated with the martini-swilling super-spy).

The action scenes are all pretty memorable and have a great mixture of humor, gadget-y mayhem, and overall inventiveness: there's the aforementioned van fight at the ruin and the ski chase, but there's also great car/helicopter chase that becomes an undersea pursuit once Bond utilizes the vehicle's amphibious capabilities. I'm glad that car has the ability to shoot a missile directly upwards. You know, just in case there's a helicopter hovering directly overhead. There are plenty of memorable sequences throughout the film – a witness stalked amongst the pyramids during some kind of a light-show, Bach and Bond's initial negotiations for some microfilm – and the final siege of the villain's tanker is a great bit of large-scale action set-piece filmmaking. Everything seems to come off exactly as it should; is there any reason why The Spy Who Loved Me shouldn't be considered the platonic ideal of modern Bond awesomeness?


Open Water 2: Adrift.

(dvd) Cribbs' house.

For some reason John Cribbs was really intent on watching this film. That's not a problem in and of itself. However, he steadfastly refused to watch the copy of Road House 2 which I picked up for $1.99 at Hollywood video. Honestly – what the fuck? "Open Water 2? Ooh, that sounds good! Road House 2? Get that shit away from me!" That don't make no sense! What makes even less sense is that Cribbs hated the original Open Water – just check out his 2005 Year in Reveiw if you demand proof of this trivial assertion. But, I must say that Adrift ended up being perfectly acceptable as far as straight-to-video sequels to pointless shitbombs go and it may have even been a better movie than the gimmicky original film that received an inexplicable theatrical release. I mean, I guess the plot for Adrift is kind of genius: six people (three young people and their three companions) take a big yacht out to sea, jump in the water for a dip, and can't get back on the boat because they forgot to put down the ladder.

There's one level on which it's hard to have sympathy for this hapless bunch of retards who botch opportunity after opportunity to get back on the boat; but the filmmakers at least have the good sense to make one of the characters forced into the water against her will (as part of a prank), so that lady is able to generate some sympathy. On the other hand, her constant, hysterical fear for the safety of her baby back on-board the ship undercuts some of that sympathy – lady, your crying baby is the least of your fucking problems; try dealing with the moron who pitches away a working cell-phone getting half-decent reception after it mildly malfunctions or the people around you who start freaking out almost instantaneously. At any rate, the most remarkable thing about this movie is how it skirts any nudity despite the fact that the characters are swimming naked for nearly half of its running time. Don't worry, though: there's a flashback that will explain the origins of the main character's fear of water. Because you were dying to know. Even that flashback is a little disappointing – I was hoping it would be an improbably horrific/ridiculous boating accident แ la Sleepaway Camp. That brings me to another disappointment: none of the characters in Open Water 2: Adrift are revealed to be monstrous hermaphrodites.



(dvd) Cribbs' house.

The mysterious reasons one film gets a huge theatrical release while another gets banished straight to video are nearly impossible to decipher: for what reason are films like Smokin' Aces, Crank and The Lookout given a significant theatrical push while Bandidas is chucked onto store shelves like a dirty diaper? A straight to video release for a high profile film means the damned thing stinks, you say – but surely the aforementioned list of theatrical releases aren't any good? Plus, the fact is that Bandidas is a perfectly acceptable film and delivered everything I was expecting from a Luc Besson-scripted action buddy comedy. Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek are absurdly hot and totally charming, the action scenes are competently executed, the plot is serviceable, the whole thing moves at a good clip (it's never boring), and there's a sexy scene designed specifically to pander to the audience's totally justified desire to see Hayek and Cruz romp about in fancy underwear. Surely that last bit has as much box office potential as the prospect of Sandra Bullock using her psychic powers to fight the future.*

At any rate, I mean it when I say that there is absolutely no reason that Bandidas couldn't have been a moderate-sized hit: the actors all bring a level of enthusiasm and effortless charm to the table that makes this awkward concoction of Western revenge drama, slapstick buddy comedy and Mexican nationalism go down smooth with absolutely no after-taste. You wouldn't remember it after leaving the theater, but you'd enjoy yourself while the projector is running. The plot follows unlikely allies Hayek and Cruz on their budding career as bank robbers who steal only from Dwight Yokam's greedy land baron. Trained by Sam Shepherd (who daringly plays against type as a grizzled authority figure) in the ways of noble larceny, the comely duo gets into hijinx, hair-raising situations and bosom-centric underwear (when they forced to disguise themselves as sexy prostitutes as opposed to realistically filthy Old West-style whores).

Yokam plays a role clearly written with Besson villain regular Gary Oldman in mind; his hairstyle is copped from The 5th Element and his scenery-chewing megalomania is a virtual replay of The Professional. Steve Zahn turns up as a forensic investigator famous for his "CSI"-esque methods. Incidentally, when did that character (the detective with anachronistic CSI-style forensic methods) become a clich้? Doesn't Johnny Depp play the exact same dude in Sleepy Hollow? There's nothing original or particularly striking about the film and it has the kind of pacing and editing problems that belie the studio's complete lack of confidence in the project and subsequent editing "improvements," but there's really nothing especially wrong with the film either. There's a heist on ice-skates late in the film that's an effective sequence and the final showdown works on a basic level – it's another harmless and enjoyable Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rip-off, but with the especially enticing bonus of Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz. You could do a lot worse. A hell of a lot worse.

* When I went to edit this for The Pink Smoke, I vaguely remembered that this was a reference to an actual movie, but I couldn't even slightly recall what it was. I looked it up: I was talking about an astoundingly forgettable film called Premonition.


3.15. Harsh Times.

(dvd) Cribbs' house.

This film walks a fine line between an aggressive, confrontational style and self-parody; really it belongs to a genre that probably doesn't exist: the "stoner drama." Two young chums spend the length of the film getting high, avoiding work and trying to get laid. Substitute John Cho for Freddy Rodriguez and SWS for Christian Bale, add in some fart jokes and you'd have a movie in a genre I cherish: the venerable "stoner comedy." As it stood, I approached Harsh Times wearily: first, it was the directorial debut of David Ayers, the writer of Training Day; secondly, it was a gritty tale about the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles. Before its release, I read a painful NY Times article about how the sycophants surrounding Ayers considered him to be "the new Tarantino" and the article further painted him to be full of the type of macho bluster one would associate with a filmmaker positioning himself to assume such a mantle. I don't even like the old Tarantino, let alone any of the many disciples that ape his attraction to the exhilaration of violence while forgetting any of the post-modern quotation marks that make Tarantino's films essentially harmless.

So, when Harsh Times burst out of the gate with drinking, whoring, and dick-swinging attitudinizing, I rolled my eyes – this is pretty much what I expected. However, Ayers' virtue is his dogged insistence not to shy away from anything. At first, this just means a lot of swearing and drunk driving; exactly the type of bullshit that one associates with a self-important depiction of hard life on these gritty streets – it's real out there, dog. There are stolen guns and casual drug buys and the filmmaker's visceral approach to the material makes the film feel complicit with Bale's raging psychopath: he feel positioned as a "hard as hell" anti-hero, the zero point of manly swagger and tough-guy decisiveness. But Ayers refuses to shy away from the implications of Bale's out of control behavior: people who can kill without remorse and who live in violence simply don't have a place in society, even when "society" is the lawless, drug-infested streets of South Central LA.

I don't buy Ayers' hyperbolic approach to either the plot elements or the characterization – I suspect the plights of destitute folks with no prospects for the future in South Central are at least as depressing or monotonous as they are exhilarating and crazy – but by the end of the film, he's unblinkingly revealed the essentially pathetic character of Bale's would-be Homeland Security Agent. By the time Freddy Rodriguez realizes that the bland inevitabilities of home, family and responsibility are not nearly as bleak as the prospect of living like Bale (this realization comes just after Bale holds a loaded gun to the throat of his pregnant girlfriend after she refuses to have an abortion. As I said, not hyperbolic at all), the film has assumed a certain moral agenda not that far from the underlying message of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle: life is not about accepting responsibilities you don't want, but seizing the ones you do. If only Neil Patrick Harris had snorted coke off of a stripper's ass in Harsh Times...


Thriller... A Cruel Picture.

(dvd) Cribbs' house.

This is one of those grimy exploitation cheapies most notable for what Quentin Tarantino pilfered from it: in this case, Daryl Hannah's colorful eye-patches and matching skirts in Kill Bill are a detailed recreation of this film's mute heroine's improbably stylish look. A Swedish movie known by several titles (including They Called Her One-Eye!), Thriller follows the icky story of a beautiful young farm-girl seduced by a sleazy stranger, kidnapped, forcibly hooked on heroin and enslaved in a prostitution ring. What Cribbs and I didn't know going into it is that it would also feature hard-core insert shots including anal penetration, cum shots and hairy, hairy balls.

The plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but that's really not a concern with this kind of revenge thriller. It doesn't matter that she seems to have more than enough opportunity to escape and alert the proper authorities – what matters is that she spends her downtime to become trained in martial arts, marksmanship and stunt driving. The best things about the film are some slow-motion action scenes that seem to have been shot on the same special camera Argento used to film the insects in Phenomena – the speed of the action is slowed to a speed normally used only to capture the fluttering of a hummingbird's wings or other such natural phenomenon otherwise invisible to the human eye. Here, they mainly capture the crudeness of the martial arts choreography and how cool fake blood looks flying through the air. Overall, the film wouldn't be that shocking or memorable or sleazy without the hardcore shots; it'd be another unremarkable grind-house throwaway inexplicably lionized by the world's most influential film geek.


3.16. Rollergator.

(dvd) Cribbs' house. The 154th film in this project.

This is my fault. But how could I pass up a title like Rollergator? Keep in mind that my dream project is to make a film about a mad scientist who uses airborne alligators to rain terror on and reign evil over a small bayou town. It would be called Gatorcopters. So, until that sweet fantasy becomes a beautiful reality, I have to make due with similarly titled straight-to-video monstrosities. And Cribbs also said that Rollergator was directed by the same guy who made the 1987 Rowdy Roddy Piper sub-classic Hell Comes to Frogtown. How bad could it be? The answer: it's barely even a movie.

First of all, upon further research, I couldn't find any evidence that the filmmakers had anything to do with Hell Comes to Frogtown. Whoops, strike one. Next, there's the small matter of its total cinematic worthlessness: it's a notch below Deranged in terms of technical achievement, artistic quality and acting competency. It's hopelessly incompetent even by the most lenient b-movie, low budget, straight-to-video standards: it's the type of film that would make Lloyd Kaufman blush with pity. The inane plot follows a sassy talking purple alligator in his efforts to escape a kooky female ninja (who wants the gator for reasons which I have already totally forgotten) as well as a sleazy carnie played by Joe Estevez (who wants the gator for the carnival sideshow). Think about that for a moment: it truly is amazing that there's an acting Estevez brother with even less credibility than Emilio.

The sound recording is so atrocious that the dialog is virtually inaudible, the female lead has the charisma and expressivity of a pile of hockey sticks, the cinematography is strictly hand-held vhs garbage, and there's an overly loud, omnipresent score that consists of aimless acoustic guitar noodling. But worst of all, the titular purple gator is a z-grade hand puppet made from a single inflexible piece of injection-molded plastic. Its eyes don't move, its speaking motion is exactly like that of a sock puppet, and it never for a second looks like anything other than a super-cheap extruded plastic dingus. And at no point does it wear roller-skates. The freakin' title, the film's sole source of intrigue, is straight-up false advertisement. As a bonus, netflix accidentally sent two copies of this film to Cribbs, holding up the next DVD he was supposed to receive. I'm sorry, John. I'm so, so sorry.


For Your Eyes Only.

(dvd) Cribbs' house.

I knew almost nothing about any of the Bond films before I started watching these with John, but what little information I did have came from an Entertainment Weekly article delineating their highly subjective estimation of the "Ten Best Bond Songs." That issue of EW (that I found on the floor of John's bathroom back in November) also had lists of things like "Ten Best Bond Villains," "Ten Worst Bond Girls," "Ten Sleaziest Connery Bond Moments," etc, but the only one that seemed like it wouldn't spoil anything about the series in general was the "Songs" list: that list wouldn't actually say all that much about the content or style of the films themselves. So, I knew that "For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton was supposedly one of the "Ten Best." Oh, Entertainment Weekly: must you be wrong about absolutely fucking everything? The theme song to this one really sucks hard: it's a kind of tuneless, meandering piece of garbage warbled weakly by one of Prince's lesser prot้g้s. It certainly cann't compare to the hilariously brassy Goldfinger title song or the genuinely infectious "Nobody Does it Better." It's probably better than "Die Another Day" or the Chris Cornell bullshit stinking up the beginning of Casino Royale.

Incidentally, Cribbs and I were at DiCarlo's (the strip club where we filmed part of my soon to be completed feature length magnum opus) and one of the girls came out dancing to Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill" song and I've never seen John more excited in a non-Pizza Hut setting.* Another quick fact: John informed me that Sheena Easton is the only title song performer to actually appear in a Bond film title sequence.

So, For Your Eyes Only: I liked it a fair amount. Carole Bouquet is dynamic (and dynamite!) as the main chicky-chick in this one and her rapport with Moore is probably the best pairing in any of the five I've seen: they have a genuine chemistry that's generated by a traditional "opposites attract" tension.There's a chase down a hillside amongst a chestnut harvest that's great and the final showdown on a cliff-top fortress is a nice bit of understated action filmmaking: it's not all just exploding oil refineries and helicopter crashes. Oh, I should mention the absolutely awesome/fucking retarded opening sequence in which Bond drops a wheel-chair-bound villain from a helicopter down into an industrial chimney. There's a level on which the scene couldn't be more stupid or nonsensical, but the helicopter stunts are great – it doesn't strike a good balance between silly and spectacular necessarily, but I would be hard pressed to say I didn't enjoy it. That's Bond in a nutshell, I guess.

* Other than, of course, the time he confided to me that he thought he was "really, truly falling in love with Jordanna Kalman." But he was really more sincere, thoughtful, and emotional (in a masculine kind of way) than excited that time. Also, for the record, Pizza Hut is the scene of my greatest excitements. The lunch buffet is basically on of the five greatest successes of Western Capitalism and undoubtedly the nexus of my most deeply held life philosophies.


3.17. Beerfest.

(dvd) Cribbs' house.

I don't have much to say about this film, really. I wrote about it as extensively as I could in my 2006 Year in Review and, while it's the type of low-brow comedy that encourages multiple viewings, it doesn't exactly lend itself to deeper analysis. It's funny. It's a nice rebound for Broken Lizard after the painfully bad Club Dread. That's about all there is to be said. Since I don't have t.v./cable at my apartment, I have a couple movies like Beerfest that function in the place of the mindless sitcoms or reality shows or Letterman or what-have-you that I'm missing out on by not having access to such programming. When I just need something to throw on while I eat dinner or before I go to bed, a movie like Beerfest is going to be a natural choice over Red Desert. Cribbs put this on in the morning before I had gotten up, so I missed the first twenty minutes or so, but it's exactly the type of viewing experience that wouldn't be harmed by such an omission. I believe we ate tacquitos as we watched the film, but that might've happened during Troll 2. I do know that we got pizza for dinner and played "Guitar Hero" later that day. It took us basically all evening to get five stars on "Institutionalized" and "Mad House." "Mad House" is an absolutely terrible song, by the way.


Troll 2

(dvd) Cribbs' house.

This is the type of film that just shouldn't be built up too much. When John assured me that it featured one of the greatest scenes in cinema history, I knew I was in for a disappointment. The appeal of films that - through a mixture of sheer awfulness and delusional ambition - achieve a jaw-dropping state of bizarre tonal imbalance is that they catch you off guard. Going in blindly, you have a pre-conceived notion of what you're getting into with a film like Troll 2 (a totally reasonable notion, at that), but the utter depth and breadth of its miscalculation strikes out of nowhere like a rattlesnake. You have a hard time believing what you're seeing and you rewind the tape to make sure what happened is what you think happened.

But if you're forewarned, if you have your guard up; you want to compare Troll 2 to the other bizarre cinematic abortions you have witnessed in your lifetime: how does it stack up in the overall scheme of cinematic miscalculation and incompetence in, say, Van Helsing? And, inevitably, it doesn't stack up that well. If you are mentally prepared for Troll 2's weirdness, the daughter's stylized, tin-eared delivery of dialog will cause you to shrug. If you know there is a sequence of demented magnificence, you will turn to Cribbs (the man who talked up the film) after the scene and ask "was that it?" I can understand how this film has blown some minds. But assurances that mine would be the next to blown left me with the only possible response: "was that it?"


3.18. Let’s Go to Prison.

(dvd) Cribbs' house.

Of course, the main point of interest for this film is it was directed by Bob Odenkirk, half of the duo behind the ultra-genius "Mr. Show." Having followed both Odenkirk and his "Mr. Show" collaborator David Cross since the show ended, I knew not to get my hopes up. They're like Outcast: it might've seemed like either one had individual genius within them, but their solos efforts have ranged from the "merely ok" to the "outright embarrassing." Each performer is less interesting without the other one to act as creative ballast. You might be aware of Cross' work in She's the Man and Curious George, but did you know that Odenkirk was one of the head writers on the Joe Rogan incarnation of "The Man Show?" I know some people love Cross' increasingly shrill and smug stand-up, but his angry hipster shtick has totally worn out its charm for me – he's far less appealing as an abrasive, self-important cynic without Odenkirk’s slyly ironic "industry-insider" persona to provide counterpoint. It's similar to how I just want to punch Andre3000 in the face when he doesn't have Big Boi's Southern-fried street hustler act to undercut his loopy New Age funkster ramblings. Also, both groups (Outcast and "Mr. Show") were the pinnacle of hipness at one point and have hit the steep downside of their credibility.

So, I didn't have my hopes up: what every "Mr. Show" fans dreams of is time reversing itself and everyone involved getting a do-over on Run, Ronnie, Run, so that it actually turns out good. As John Cribbs pointed out as we watched it, Let's Go to Prison's main problem is that it prison, if depicted with even an ounce of realism, is always more horrifying than funny. And Let's Go to Prisonhas a somewhat muddled agenda: it is seven-eighths low-brow studio-comedy/one-eighths satirical expose of America's extremely screwed-up prison system. That one-eighth of serious intent (albeit cloaked in satire) totally undermines the rest of the film. It's difficult to laugh when statistics about prison rape and recipes for toilet wine are tossed into the mix. Neo-Nazis ["Michael Shannon!" exclaims chris in 2010] threatening to inject you with cleaning fluid and corrupt guards taking bets on all the action rings a bit too true for the intended hilarity to ensue. It's supposed to be funny but it's mainly disturbing – listen, I'm sympathetic to a major release that actually has something to say about a real issue like America's horrific prison conditions, but Let's Go to Prison is kind of like if Linklater had decided to make Fast Food Nation a vehicle for Chris Tucker.

Aside from that misplaced seriousness, the film is really undone by an utterly charmless and annoying lead performance. If you think I'm now going to take the obvious opportunity to bash Ashton Kucher's "Punk'd" sidekick, Dax Shepard, you're sorely mistaken: the culprit in question is Will Arnett in an irritating, positively unfunny turn as a spoiled man living off of a sizeable inheritance. Dax Shepard blames Arnett's father for his misery in life, so he concocts a plan to set up Arnett and get him sent to prison. Arnett seems to have been cast primarily so that there would be someone in the lead role who resembles a young, "Ben Stiller Show" era Odenkirk. Shepard is actually one of the best things about the film and I kept thinking that he could actually pull off a serious movie about prison life – I haven't really seen him in much, but he's a perfectly competent actor: his ability to maintain a balance between the serious satirical concepts and the theoretical "comedy" is the only thing that keeps the film afloat. And Arnett's broad, Jim Carrey-esque mugging and total opaqueness (he's one of those comedic performers with utterly dead eyes) kept threatening to sink the film whenever it drifted out of Shepard's purview. All in all, it actually ends up being a moderately interesting little curio with a surprising amount of stuff that works and a somewhat satisfying trick ending amidst the rape, murder, solitary confinement and police brutality.  


The Short and Curlies.

(dvd) Cribbs' house.

In the long interview that prefaces the published screenplay for Naked, Mike Leigh mentions that he made this short film after spending a bit of time away from film directing (he focused on doing theater for a couple years) and thought of it as kind of a small warm-up to get back into the swing of things before he directed another feature length project. However, if Leigh was somewhat operating at less than total capacity this brilliant little ditty, it's not evident in the finished project. David Thewlis stars as a compulsive joker courting a sullen drug-store clerk whose life is based around getting new hairstyles. They at first seem like a hopeless mismatch with Thewlis' utter lack of self-confidence readily apparent behind the pathological one-liners and knock-knock jokes that keep slamming awkwardly into the clerk's utter humorlessness. As the film progresses, their interaction grows into an inexplicable rapport and by the end of the film it's not surprising to hear about their upcoming wedding.

Also central to the film are Alison Steadman (who seems like she might combust at any moment as the chatty hairstylist who provides the new hair-do's for the clerk) and her bitter daughter. The daughter is "the Mike Leigh special:" an irreparably miserable child who makes no effort to conceal her unhappiness or to avoid inflicting it on whoever crosses her path (usually a well-meaning parent). The achingly resentful expression on her face in the final shot conveys volumes about the film's basic theme: it is inexplicable why folks end up as a couple, why one person gets to be contentedly attached while another ends up alone and pregnant.   


3.19. No movie.

However, Allen did find the card that lets me get into movies for free (which got dropped in his couch, I guess), so that's quite a relief.


3.20. Slither. (commentary track)

(dvd). My apartment.

This commentary track features director James Gunn and star Nathan Fillion joking around as though they're great friends, but after a while it starts to sound a touch phony: both Gunn and Fillion seem like nice guys who genuinely like each other but there's a level on which Fillion (a regular, good-looking actor type) is clearly unable to connect with Gunn (the intelligent, self-deprecating horror film buff) – in short: Gunn passionately loves the splatter-film genre while it's simply where Fillion's journeyman career led him this time. When Gunn announces early on that he's not going to point out any of the horror film references peppered throughout Slither (he'd rather the audience discover them on their own), I couldn’t help but wonder if Fillion has even the faintest clue why the bar is named "Henenlotter's" or the mayor is named "R.J. MacReady" – two of the most obvious references in the film.

Of course, I don't hold any of that against Fillion (how could I begrudge a guy with such a likable screen presence?), but I do wish he weren't there on the track and that Gunn could cut loose in full-on gore-enthusiast mode – it's no fun to listen to him sheepishly defend Tromeo and Juliet after Fillion makes a crack about it during Lloyd Kaufman's cameo. Gunn's work on Tromeo and relationship with Lloyd Kaufman would be far more interesting to hear about in an uninhibited fashion than Gunn and Fillion endlessly droning on about standard commentary filler like how cold it was during a certain outdoor shoot or which day they had to work really fast because there wasn't enough time or what local quirk disrupted filming.

If they want to keep it interesting, there are three ironclad rules for subjects to avoid when recording a commentary track: 1) Difficulties with weather; such as how it was "too hot" or "too cold" or "raining when it was supposed to be sunny." If the environmental circumstances of your filming were really that remarkable, then just fucking let Les Blank make a documentary about it. 2) How much you liked everyone involved with the production. I'm just going to go ahead and assume you got along fine with Catherine Zeta-Jones and that the crew worked really hard and that your script girl was really a life-saver - unless you tell me otherwise. There are few things as boring as listening to empty descriptions of how someone is pleasant. 3) Problems with the marketing and/or critical reception. Lengthy asides about how the studio just didn't know how to handle the unique challenge of releasing your film just make you sound like a cry-baby. It's like bad-mouthing your ex-girlfriend: you just always sound like an asshole, even if you are right. The Gunn/Fillion team unfortunately speaks mainly about these three things: the actors were amazing, the crew was amazing, the shoot was hard, the studio didn't know how to capitalize on a film that went over great at its test screenings. I know Gunn is more interesting than this commentary.


3.21. Victim.

(35mm) tech at the JBFC.

Dirk Bogarde plays a respected barrister black-mailed over a homosexual affair and, if Victim is known at all, it is known for its ground-breaking approach to homosexuality: it was the first film in the UK to use the word "homosexual" outright. It was released in 1961 and it seems as though every year since there has been at least one film to break some kind of ground in regards to the depiction of homosexuality in mainstream media: as recently as 2005 a silly melodrama about cowboys on the DL rode a "ground-breaking depiction of homosexuality" all the way to box office success and massive critical acclaim (it was stopped short of Oscar gold by that other subject always ripe for ground-breaking: race relations). But honestly, that instance of Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger grunting heavily and pawing at each other doesn't feel light-years away from Victim's classy story of the love that dare not speak its name: it's nothing more than a standard blackmail thriller, only with homosexuality in place of, say, embezzlement or a heterosexual affair.

The film gets its charge from Bogarde's decision to take on the blackmailers and risk potentially outing himself: he wants to take a stand and show that he refuses to be cowed or bullied and that justice will be served, even it means the bitter irony of his own ruin (as homosexual activity was still a felony in Britain in 1961.) Bogarde is great (as always) and shit like "Will and Grace" (and even Brokeback Mountain) could take a few notes from its well-written, believable gay characters: there's virtually no novelty to their homosexuality, it's merely one facet of any of their personalities or lives – the only reason it even matters is the existence of unjust laws. The film doesn't really have much of a radical agenda beyond defiantly portraying the existence of likable, intelligent, non-depraved homosexuals, completely reconcoiled with their sexual orientation - and that's kind of a shame: you'd think a film like Victim wouldn't still be breaking ground in 2007.

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