Archive for June, 2011

Better to Give

What I’ve Been Watching: Please Give (2010).

Who’s Responsible: Nicole Holofcener (writer-director), Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet, and Oliver Platt (stars).

Why I Watched It: Keener and Peet.

Seen It Before? No.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 7.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 4.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 6.

And? Once again, I embarked upon a film for other reasons, only to find that it was made by someone whose work I had enjoyed in the past, even though I didn’t recognize Holofcener’s name when it started. I see now that she previously did Lovely & Amazing and Friends with Money, both of which I liked, and I’m now very eager to see her first film as a writer-director, Walking and Talking; seems she even directed an episode of Parks and Recreation, one of the few shows I actually watch. I feel like we need some sort of term to describe the type of films she makes, something catchier than “ensemble-dramedy-character-studies,” of which Mr. Guns, Monsters, and Naked Women is a fan.

In this case, I was drawn in by the prospect of seeing two of what I consider our most appealing contemporary actresses, Keener—who has been in all four of Holofcener’s auteur efforts—and Peet. The latter did not disappoint with her performance, although her character, Mary, was abrasive and, ironically, ended up having an affair (something about which I feel very strongly) with Keener’s husband, Alex (Platt). Her motivation for entering into this affair is unclear, since Platt is, to say the least, hardly Peet’s equal in the looks department, and our brief glimpses of their trysts appear remarkably joyless on her part, but the film is nothing if not a portrait of people with lots of confused emotions.

It centers on the inhabitants of next-door New York apartments: Alex and Kate (Keener), who sell antique furniture while raising a daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), and sisters Mary and Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), who live with their cantankerous and elderly grandmother, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert). Andra’s imminent demise is of interest to Alex and Kate, not for the usual reason, i.e., to purchase the contents of her apartment for possible resale, but so that they can expand their own. Experiencing growing doubts over the nature of their business, Kate is constantly trying to do good by volunteering (with little success) and by giving to the homeless with a generosity resented by Abby, who feels neglected.

Rebecca is a radiology technician, and one of her mammography patients, Mrs. Portman (Lois Smith), talks her into a date with grandson Eugene (Thomas Ian Nicholas), leading to a leaf-looking road trip with the three of them and Andra. Mary, still haunted by the breakup of a previous relationship, is unfulfilled by her liaison with Alex, which she soon calls to a halt, and which seems paradoxically to strengthen his marriage to Kate. A kind of equilibrium is reached by the end of the film, which offers neither easy answers nor a strong storyline, but instead provides effective performances and characterizations, along with a host of trenchant, sharply etched, and thought-provoking observations about life.

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One of the things I’ve hoped to do with my new “What I’ve Been Watching” posts is to entertain readers with the eclectic nature of my viewing habits, and although I won’t devote separate posts to the individual items, this weekend’s programming achieves that objective admirably. Kicking off my research on a new project for Cinema Retro (which recently gave such a nice presentation to the William Peter Blatty interview I did with main man Gilbert Colon), I reread Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, on Saturday. While I was at it, I took another look at the 1954 adaptation done as an episode of the live CBS anthology series Climax!, even if it seemed a bit superfluous to watch the love-it-or-hate-it 1967 spoof, which I adore, for the umpteenth time.

Fleming’s primary narrative thrust is retained, as Bond survives several attempts on his life and defeats Le Chiffre (a subdued Peter Lorre) at baccarat in the eponymous gambling house, thus preventing him from replacing the funds he has embezzled from his Soviet bosses. The teleplay by Anthony Ellis and Charles Bennett (the longtime collaborator of Hitchcock and Irwin Allen) does monkey around with the characters and their relationships, e.g., Bond’s American friend, Felix Leiter, is now Clarence (Michael Pate). To accommodate the casting of the decidedly non-British Barry Nelson as “Jimmy” (!) Bond, their respective employers are reversed, with Leiter reporting to the British Secret Service and Bond to the U.S. “Combined” Intelligence Agency.

More important, they have conflated Bond’s Secret Service colleague and love interest, Vesper Lynd, and his French ally from the Deuxième Bureau, René Mathis, into Valerie Mathis (Linda Christian). Here she is an old flame rather than a new acquaintance, and instead of an unwilling Soviet double agent whose suicide ends the novel, she is a crony of Le Chiffre’s who is revealed as a Deuxième operative and survives to enjoy the final clinch with Bond. It’s easy to mock the casting of Nelson, but the novel was only published the previous year, so 007 was not the iconic figure we know today, and his final confrontation with Le Chiffre (restored in the video version hosted by Retro’s own Lee Pfeiffer) avoids Fleming’s long, and rather melodramatic, anticlimax.

More on Casino Royale.

Just for fun, Madame BOF and I have been slowly working our way though a budget 50-movie pack from Mill Creek Entertainment called Horror Classics, a misleading moniker if ever there was one, since many of the films fail to meet one or both criteria. On Saturday night we watched a film that I didn’t remember ever hearing about, Maniac (1934), and while it wouldn’t rank as a classic of anything other than Bad Cinema, it was certainly an unforgettable viewing experience. Unlike The Mad Monster, which I slept through in its entirety on Friday night (and although I did go back and watch it mostly in its entirety, I will direct you to the review by the ever-entertaining El Santo for that little lycanthropic opus), Maniac held me riveted—in jaw-dropping amazement.

Immediately following the credits, I realized why I’d never heard of Maniac, because its horrific goings-on are intercut with pseudo-scientific gobbledygook, which purports to explain that these scenes exemplify various types of mental illness. Yes, children, we’re in the realm of that special kind of exploitation movie in which all sorts of unsavory stuff is given socially redeeming value, so-called, by being “educational” or a cautionary tale, sort of like a sex-hygiene film without the hygiene. Suffice to say that director Dwain Esper and his wife, screenwriter Hildegarde Stadie, were also the perpetrators of Narcotic, Marihuana (“Weed with roots in hell!”), and the immortal How to Undress in Front of Your Husband, to which she presumably brought real-world insights.

Vying for the scenery-chewing honors are Dr. Meirschultz (Horace Carpenter), a Depression-era Herbert West who has invented a serum that can raise the dead, and his assistant, Don Maxwell (Bill Woods), an impersonator on the lam whose special abilities come in mighty handy. They revive and steal a chick from the morgue, with Don posing as the coroner, and then Meirschultz wants to go to the next level: he produces a gun and urges Don to kill himself with it, so that he can replace Don’s heart with one he has beating away in a jar. Perhaps understandably, Don is less than keen on this plan, so he grabs the gun and shoots the doc instead, but is forced to cover this up by assuming his identity after Mrs. Buckley (Phyllis Diller—no, not that one) barges in.

Seems Madame B is a bit distraught because her hubby (Ted Edwards) thinks he’s the orangutan from Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and if you think that’s the last we’ll hear of Poe, you have another think coming. Intending to give Buckley a harmless injection of “sedatives” (i.e., water), Don shoots him up with “super-adrenaline” by mistake, and Buckley joins the overacting derby as he goes totally off the deep end, carrying away the attractive revenant for unspeakable purposes. Don, meanwhile, gets a rude shock when he finds the lab’s black cat, Satan, nibbling on that experimental heart; taking a leaf from Poe’s “The Black Cat,” the incensed Don pops out one of Satan’s eyes (which he then eats), inadvertently walling him up in the cellar with the doc.

Things get really weird when Don’s estranged wife, Alice (Thea Ramsey), learns that he’s just inherited a fortune from a distant relative, and decides this might be a good time to patch things up between them. The increasingly paranoid Don hits on the idea of pitting Alice against Mrs. Buckley, who has her own poorly defined evil schemes afoot, and locks the two of them in the cellar, where they proceed to start beating the crap out of each other. All of this ruckus finally draws the attention of the cops, and the final resolution, if nothing else, is faithful to Poe, despite the fact that in his wildest nightmares, ol’ Edgar could never have conceived of anything like this film’s indescribably bizarre plot, impoverished production values, or over-the-top performances.

Interspersed among this other viewing, since my schedule often forces me to see films in bits and pieces, was The Informers, about which I knew little more than its stars, Billy Bob Thornton and Kim Basinger, and alleged genre (per the usual minimalist description in the satellite-dish guide), crime drama. In contrast to Did You Hear About the Morgans?, I would have been less likely to watch it if I’d known that it was co-written, and based on the book, by 1980s literary “Brat Pack” member Bret Easton Ellis. I absolutely loathed the adaptation of his novel Less Than Zero (thus permanently souring me on stars Andrew McCarthy, Jamie Gertz, and Robert Downey, Jr.), and although American Psycho made a slightly more interesting film, they both defied any empathy.

The Informers returns to the style and drug-soaked ’80s milieu of Less Than Zero, epitomizing what I call the “turning over a rock” film, in which we gaze at the vermin squirming underneath like some kind of alien life-forms. Hollywood mogul William Sloan (Thornton) tries to reunite with wife Laura (Basinger), despite having no intention of giving up newscaster Cheryl Moore (Winona Ryder). Meanwhile, Peter (Mickey Rourke in full slimeball mode, making us long for his wholesome international terrorist in Double Team) kidnaps a boy for unspecified nefarious purposes; Les Price (Chris Isaak) tries vainly to connect with son Tim (Lou Taylor Pucci) on a trip to Hawaii; the lead singer of the titular rock band behaves badly; sex is had; AIDS looms…

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Marvel Comics legend Gene Colan has left us at the age of 84.  Other than to mourn his passing, I don’t think I can really add anything to my recent birthday tribute, which may be found here.  Rest in peace, Gentleman Gene.

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What I’ve Been Watching: Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009).

Who’s Responsible: Marc Lawrence (writer-director), Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott (stars).

Why I Watched It: Grant and, to a lesser degree, the premise.

Seen It Before? No.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 5.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 8.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 6.

And? I wasn’t aware of it going in, but this film has people involved on both sides of the camera who would have made me even more likely to watch it if I’d known they were in it or who they were. Elliott has been growing on me since that fondly remembered guilty pleasure Road House, and appears in the BOF über-fave The Big Lebowski, while Mary Steenburgen memorably played Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (author of The Yearling) in Cross Creek. Lawrence, I’ve just learned, not only wrote several Sandra Bullock films, e.g., the delightful Miss Congeniality and its sequel, but also previously directed Grant in Two Weeks Notice—co-starring Sandy—and Music and Lyrics, which I have yet to see.

So, despite my usual aversion to its leading lady (good though she was in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!), it’s no surprise that I enjoyed this somewhat formulaic but well-mounted rom-com about a Manhattan couple who reconsider their separation when they are forced into the witness protection program. Having briefly strayed, lawyer Paul Morgan (Grant) is already trying to win back hotshot realtor Meryl (Parker) when they witness a murder, and after being targeted by the killer, they are whisked off to the relative safety of Ray, a small town in Wyoming. There they pose as the visiting Chicago cousins of the marshal, Clay Wheeler (Elliott), and his spouse, Emma (Steenburgen), who doubles as his deputy.

The viewer will be shocked by neither the inevitability with which the Morgans achieve a rapprochement by the final reel, nor the familiarity of the fish-out-of-water humor arising from their presence in a deeply conservative rural enclave. But I’ve always said that—if it is well executed—a film need not be breathtakingly original to be entertaining, a point proven by Lawrence’s good-natured wit, which mostly avoids lowbrow antics, and a real chemistry among its performers, even Parker. From Elisabeth Moss as Meryl’s control-freak assistant to Wilford Brimley as a crusty restaurateur, the supporting cast is game as well, and you could do a hell of a lot worse than to spend 103 minutes in their company.

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Tourist Attraction

What I’ve Been Watching: The Accidental Tourist (1988).

Who’s Responsible: Lawrence Kasdan (writer-director), Frank Galati (co-writer), William Hurt, Kathleen  Turner, and Geena Davis (stars).

Why I Watched It: Kasdan, Hurt, and Davis.

Seen It Before? Once, long ago.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 7.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 5.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 6.

And? I’ve already lamented Geena Davis’s multiple screwings by ABC and her recent relative scarcity onscreen, so the next step was clearly to take another look at her Oscar-winning role in this adaptation of Anne Tyler’s novel. It represents Hurt’s fourth and, to date, final collaboration with Kasdan after Body Heat—also with Turner, who I’ve never liked—and BOF faves The Big Chill and I Love You to Death. As such, I was puzzled by why I didn’t remember liking it more, with three of my personal pantheon involved, but I think the billing that reduced La Davis to Best Supporting Actress gets to the heart of it…

Since I am one of the bigger fans of the married state, it did not endear Turner to me any further when Sarah Leary leaves her husband Macon (Hurt) at the outset, stating that his stunted emotions have become unendurable since the murder of their son a year earlier. Mind you, this is after Turner betrayed fellow adulterous killer Hurt in Body Heat, which so outraged me that I conceived a five-minute sequel, Ned Racine’s Revenge. She would be seen lounging on a beach, as at the end of the original, whereupon Hurt would appear and pop her in the head, but sadly, I was unable to obtain financing for this masterpiece.

Sarah deems Macon’s eponymous travel guides, with their flying-armchair logo (“While armchair travelers dream of going places, traveling armchairs dream of staying put”), the perfect metaphor, letting business travelers feel like they’ve never left home. Continuing this rather straightforward symbolism, the vehicle for Macon’s emotional rehabilitation is Edward, the Cardigan Welsh corgi he clings to because it was a favorite of their son’s. In desperate need of a place to board Edward while he’s on one of his business trips, Macon stumbles on an animal hospital run by free-spirited single mom Muriel Pritchett (Davis).

Macon is finally brought out of his shell by Muriel’s son, Alexander (Robert Gorman), who needs a father figure, and her delightful kookiness, although she is no kookier than Macon’s siblings. Rose (Amy Wright) looks after their woolly-headed fortysomething brothers, Porter (David Ogden Stiers) and Charles (Ed Begley, Jr.), in the ancestral home and is courted by Macon’s publisher, Julian (Bill Pullman). After Macon moves in with Muriel, Sarah tries to worm her way back into his life, and seems to be succeeding until he travels to Paris on business and Muriel surprises him by appearing on the same plane.

This is basically a love story between Macon and Muriel, with Sarah a fly (sorry, Geena) in the ointment, one who is mercifully absent for the entire middle of the picture, so why in the hell Turner outranks Davis in the credits, I have no idea. Muriel quite rightly takes Macon to task for dropping her like a hot potato when the on-again, off-again Mrs. Leary decides to rematerialize, and although everything comes out in the wash by the fade-out, I presume it was this frustration with the third act that tempered my enjoyment. That said, this is an engaging dramedy from a fine filmmaker, and is eminently worth checking out.

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Parnassian Nights

What I’ve Been Watching: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009).

Who’s Responsible: Terry Gilliam (writer-director), Charles McKeown (co-writer), Heath Ledger and Friends, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits (stars).

Why I Watched It: Mostly Gilliam, plus that I’m Not There casting (see below).

Seen It Before? No.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 6

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 3

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 6

And? I always feel obligated to watch Gilliam’s stuff, mostly because he’s the only ex-Python to have become a real force behind the camera, but alas, I sometimes have trouble getting into them and/or following the storyline, as happened with this one. Offhand, the one I most remember enjoying was Twelve Monkeys, while the one I’d most like to see is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Sadly, although this was well-made and had some great people in it, it really didn’t grab me the way I had hoped, but it’s a miracle it got finished.

The plot involves a series of bets between elderly, immortal ex-monk Parnassus (Energizer Bunny Plummer, also seen in Matheson’s Somewhere in Time) and the Devil, “Mr. Nick” (a typically oddball role for singer Waits). The bets involve Dr. Parnassus’ immortality and the fate of his daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), who with assistant Anton (Andrew Garfield) and dwarf Percy (Verne Troyer) forms his troupe. At their carnival “Imaginarium,” visitors enter various Gilliamesque worlds, and some never come back.

Heath Ledger, fresh from his triumphant performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, plays Tony, a mysterious man who is saved from hanging by—and joins—the troupe. Or, at least, he started out to, but his premature death in 2008 led Gilliam, whose funding was predicated on Ledger’s participation, to believe the project was kaput. He then hit upon the innovation of retooling the film to let Ledger’s friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Ferrell play various manifestations of Tony inside the Imaginarium.

Of course, it’s impossible to un-know something, and I was to some degree aware of this when I started watching the film, but I’m betting that somebody who wasn’t would totally go with it. I mean, they would realize it wasn’t Ledger, but somehow, within the context of the story, it made as much sense as anything that happens in the Imaginarium, where some of the visuals quite powerfully evoke the Python-era Gilliam’s animation. If for that reason alone, the film is worth a look, and I will probably revisit it another time.

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Class Warfare

Warning: Semi-Spoilers Included

I knew when attending X-Men: First Class today with Drax and son Damian that I had to look at the film from two perspectives at once:  1)  Was it true to Marvel’s X-Men comics, or at least as I knew them until the early ’80s, and 2)  Was it a good movie on its own terms?  To which I would answer, respectively, not much and yes, if flawed; oh, they throw in plenty of the characters and situations from the comics, but in a kind of spaghetti-against-the-wall fashion, certainly not in any organized chronological manner.  They make mincemeat of the 1963 Lee/Kirby X-Men #1, of whose five original students (Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, Marvel Girl) fewer than two are seen here.

Angel is represented in name only, not as playboy heir Warren Worthington III, but as an erotic dancer (Zoë Kravitz) whose wings can be concealed much more easily than his.  The only actual holdover is Beast (Nicholas Hoult), although they conflate this tale with Hank McCoy’s change to his current blue, furry form in Amazing Adventures in 1972.  Supplanting his erstwhile allies in the film are Havok (Lucas Till)—with founding brother Cyclops nowhere in sight—Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, with a clever Rebecca Romijn cameo), and Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), all of whom joined the book in later years, as well as doomed, forgettable Darwin (Edi Gathegi).

The team’s rebooted origin involves struggles both internal, between optimistic Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and pessimistic Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), and external, opposing Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). The head of the Hellfire Club wants to trigger World War III, convinced that the resulting radiation will only make mutants stronger.  The fact that Shaw killed Erik’s mother to trigger his power gives the future Magneto a revenge motive, and the fact that Shaw’s Gal Friday is a fellow telepath, Emma Frost (January Jones), gives Charles competition until Hank, still a brilliant scientist, creates Cerebro to help him track down their fellow mutants.

The memory of his Holocaust trauma makes Erik suspicious of what the CIA’s attitude toward mutants will be even if Xavier et alia help them avert Armageddon.  The six credited scenarists (including director Matthew Vaughn and former franchise standard-bearer Bryan Singer) use the main story’s 1962 setting to turn these events into a backdrop for the Cuban Missile Crisis, thus providing a whole new set of nudges and winks for middle-aged fanboys like myself.  Too bad they bit off more than they could chew with the characters, introducing too many to do justice to them, like explaining why Shaw’s minion Azazel (Jason Flemyng)  is so much like Nightcrawler.

They’ve also juiced up Xavier’s Scottish scientist friend Moira MacTaggert into a CIA agent (Rose Byrne) who becomes a kind of X-mascot, working with the team to capture Emma and learn Shaw’s whereabouts, which at that point are with a Russian general (the ubiquitous Rade Serbedzija).  The climax consists of a face-off between Soviet ships and blockading American ones led by one “M. Ironside,” while Erik finally goes head to head with Shaw.  The film sets up a lot of familiar X-Men lore, if not always in a historically accurate way, and it is handled by a largely competent cast and crew, so I can recommend it to all but the most inflexible of purists.

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What I’ve Been Watching: Double Team (1997).

Who’s Responsible: Tsui Hark (director), Don Jakoby and Paul Mones (screenwriters), Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, and Mickey Rourke (stars).

Why I Watched It: Tsui to the world.

Seen It Before? Once, and was pleasantly surprised.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 7.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 3.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 6.

And? During the 1990s, three of Hong Kong’s hottest action directors—John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Hark—made their U.S. debuts, each with a vehicle for “The Muscles from Brussels,” kickboxer Van Damme; all had worked with Asian superstar Chow Yun-Fat, who has more charisma in his pinky. I’m a fan of Woo’s work in both East and West (e.g., The Killer, Bullet in the Head, Mission: Impossible II), but didn’t see Hard Target until years later, and while I’d enjoyed one of Lam’s films with Chow (I believe it was Full Contact), I found the generically titled Maximum Risk so disposable that I dismiss it as The-Ringo-Lam-Jean-Claude-Van-Damme-Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’am. That brings us to Double Team, in which CIA vet Jack Quinn (Van Damme) leaves retirement with his pregnant wife to try to capture his elusive nemesis, terrorist Stavros (Rourke).

Jakoby’s fingerprints are on an eclectic and interesting group of films, although it’s hard to assess his exact contributions because they were usually collaborations, most notably with the late Dan O’Bannon on Blue Thunder and two of Tobe Hooper’s bombs, Lifeforce (a guilty pleasure if ever there was one) and Invaders from Mars. So it’s no surprise that I found Double Team more interesting than Maximum Whatever, especially in the immediate aftermath of the botched attempt to scoop up Stavros, who turns out to be meeting his young son in an Antwerp amusement park. Presumably mindful of his own impending daddyhood, Quinn hesitates at the moment of truth, whereupon things go south real fast; the boy is killed in the ensuing melée, for which Stavros wrongly blames him before escaping, and Quinn is not only wounded and knocked out but also abducted.

Quinn awakens to find himself an unwilling resident of a remote, heavily guarded location called The Colony, filled with former operatives—who, like him, are believed dead—deemed “too valuable to kill and too dangerous to set free,” and if you think that sounds a lot like Patrick McGoohan’s masterpiece, The Prisoner, you’re not the only one. In fact, Prisoner fans know that its premise bore a marked similarity to an episode of his earlier TV series, Danger Man (aka Secret Agent), called “Colony Three,” although the inhabitants of this particular Colony are expected to join a kind of all-star anti-terrorist think tank. Quinn learns that Stavros has kidnapped his wife, and after putting himself through the kind of grueling tough-guy rehab that Clint Eastwood so memorably did in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, he engineers an ingenious, if implausible, escape.

The remainder of the film finds Quinn tracking down his wife and their newborn son, gearing up to go mano-a-mano (or perhaps I should say un-pie-a-otro) with Stavros, which he eventually does in a heavily mined Roman coliseum containing a tiger…and the baby. His ally in all of this, justifying the film’s title on multiple levels, is flamboyant arms dealer Yaz, played by then-Chicago Bulls wild man Rodman of the varicolored hair, who held his own in the testosterone derby and overcame my considerable reservations. In fact, Rodman’s surprising chemistry with Van Damme is one of the film’s biggest assets, along with the Prisoner pastiche and Hark’s high-voltage action sequences, while Rourke, it should be noted, looked to be in fabulous physical shape, although his career at that point was a long way from redemptive roles in the likes of Sin City or The Wrestler.

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The Unkindness of Strangers

What I’ve Been Watching: Never Talk to Strangers (1995).

Who’s Responsible: Peter Hall (director), Lewis A. Green and Jordan Rush (screenwriters), Rebecca De Mornay and Antonio Banderas (stars).

Why I Watched It: Sexy thriller with Banderas. Also, when I taped it, I thought Sidney Lumet might have directed it in his Guilty as Sin phase.

Seen It Before? God, no.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 1, if that.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 7.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 4, at best.

And? Police psychologist De Mornay, who appears to have some issues of her own, finds herself stalked while evaluating a serial killer’s competence to stand trial. This would-be thriller comes with three warning signs right out of the gate: 1) Relative unknowns at the word processor. 2) A score by Pino Donaggio, best known for oft conspiring with one of my least favorite filmmakers, Brian De Palma, to rip off Alfred Hitchcock. 3) De Mornay—never the mark of quality, and never as sexy as she thought she was since Risky Business—is also an executive producer. The film isn’t totally inept, but it is at once familiar, far-fetched, and cheesy, with the primary culprit being (as usual) the script, whose shortcomings can be illuminated by a look at the other main characters.

Banderas is De Mornay’s creepy new boyfriend, a misterioso guy who lives in One Of Those Lofts with a big freight elevator, rides a motorcycle, flings his hair around a lot and, per the title, picks her up while buying wine. The GREAT Harry Dean Stanton does his best as her creepy patient, who—realizing that she is skeptical of his claims to suffer from MPD—warns her that if she’s not for him, she’s against him (dun dun duh). Dennis Miller is her creepy upstairs neighbor, who has been dying to get back into her pants ever since a drunken one-nighter long ago, and seems to resent anyone else doing so, while ex-Sweeney Todd Len Cariou, unrecognizable behind bulky coats and facial hair, is her creepy widowed father, with whom she clearly has a very bad history indeed.

Are we seeing a pattern here? With all of these creepy guys orbiting De Mornay, it’s almost inevitable that bad things are going to start happening, and as we say in Plan 9, “somebody’s responsible,” although the twist ending ranks pretty damn high on the ol’ Implausibility-O-Meter. There are very few compensations along the way—well, okay, none that I can think of just offhand—with the tone-deaf direction of Hall (yes, the stage legend, clearly out of his element) a major debit, cross-cutting at one point between the lovers frolicking in the snow and frolicking in bed, which is more risible than arousing. I can, however, recommend this unreservedly to one very narrow constituency: if you’ve ever had a yen to see De Mornay bite Banderas’s naked ass, then this is the film for you.

Bradley out.

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Bombs Away!

As if I haven’t boasted about my daughter enough already, as a birth-/Father’s Day gift, she got tickets for me and Madame BOF to see the B-52s last night at the Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York.  Like many contemporaneous bands (e.g., R.E.M.), they came out of Athens, Georgia, in the 1970s, and for those of you who didn’t already know it, they are named indirectly after the ubiquitous Cold War bomber seen in such classics as Dr. Strangelove.  While researching them on Wikipedia, I learned that after more than thirty years, they officially dropped the apostrophe from their name in 2008, a move applauded by this professional wordsmith, as it isn’t possessive.

It’s interesting how our affection for some bands comes by a kind of osmosis, where you hear a song here and there and finally say, “Hey, those guys are pretty good,” while in other cases, like my first seeing Stop Making Sense, you can trace it to a specific event.  In this case, my entrée was having a certain, shall we say, somewhat disreputable former member of my wife’s family play “Love Shack” for me, which led to the purchase of my favorite B-52s album, Cosmic Thing, and a compilation of their videos from 1979 to 1989.  It’s one of the two things for which I will always be grateful to this individual (although I can’t really discuss the other one in this forum).

I haven’t been to a lot of concerts, so I don’t have much of a basis for comparison, but I found the Music Hall to be a small yet charming venue, well suited to the group.  Alexandra obviously had to take what she could get in the way of tickets, and we were literally in the last row, but even from there we had a pretty good view of the stage.  A Brooklyn band we’d never heard of called Living Days opened for the B-52s; I found them quite listenable, if that is a word, and although Loreen liked them less than I did, the fact that the lead singer was a leggy blonde in micro-shorts, betraying an evident Annie Lennox influence, may admittedly have been a factor.

The B-52s are one of my favorite second-tier bands, which as defined in the Bradley lexicon is anybody below the Beatles and Talking Heads, and as such, while I own most of their albums, I don’t know their work on what we might call the genetic level, the way I do with the Fab Four or the Heads.  Last night’s set included some B-52s old standbys (e.g., “Private Idaho”), some cuts from Cosmic Thing (e.g., the title track and “Deadbeat Club”), some stuff I was less familiar with (“Party Out of Bounds,” “Mesopotamia,” “Whammy Kiss”), and some stuff I didn’t recognize, at least one of them (“Love in the Year 3000”) from their 2008 album Funplex, which I don’t have.

Needless to say, if they had not played “Love Shack,” I would probably have stormed the stage, but in light of its popularity, I need not have worried, and they selected that to end their main set after a little more than an hour.  There were four other songs that I was especially hoping to hear (e.g., “Legal Tender,” “Song for a Future Generation,” “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland”), only one of which (“Roam”) they actually played.  Following loud and persistent applause, they encored with rousing renditions of “Planet Claire” and “Rock Lobster” (to which Madame BOF won a high-school dance contest), which brought the entire performance to about ninety minutes.

The one overriding impression I have always gotten from the B-52s is what a fun band they are, from the endearing loopiness of their videos to the obviously affectionate interplay among them (although, watching Stop Making Sense, I’d have said the same about the Heads, and look what’s happened there).  I always figured they’d be an awesome band to see live, and I finally had the chance to confirm that theory last night, with the band and the audience having an equally great time.  About 99% of us stood the moment they came out and stayed that way the whole time; my apologies to the woman sitting right in front of me, whom I hit in the head during “Love Shack.”

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