Showing posts with label bad movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bad movies. Show all posts

27 September 2018

Nostalgia Bites

by Eve Fisher

BalthazarNovel.jpgAs a bookaholic from my early childhood, I can assure you that I have read my way through shelves, yards, perhaps miles of books.  (That is not a complaint.)  And I have no problem with that.  I've also gorged on music, movies, television shows, and every other entertainment that is made available to me.  Some of this is because I'm greedy, and some of this is because reading is so much easier than writing:
"Will you be writing a novel?" "If denied every other form of physical gratification." - Pursewarden, in Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell
Good old Lineaments of Desire.  Seriously, if you've never read The Alexandria Quartet, check it out.  It rivals Roshomon as far as technique, complications, and amazing reveals.  And it definitely has atmosphere.  I'm not sure that Durrell's Alexandria still exists, but I'd love to see if it does.

BTW, Alexandria, Egypt is also the hometown of the poet C. P. Cavafy.  He's best known for Ithaka, and Waiting for the Barbarians.  (The latter has spawned eponymous novels, songs, paintings, an opera, and an upcoming movie.  Seriously good.  And timely.)  My personal favorite Cavafy poem is The God Abandons Antony:
When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who proved worthy of this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.
Anyway, along the line I have noticed that my tastes have changed.  Thank God.  For one thing, when I get totally bored by a novel, or it's really, really bad, instead of plowing through I quit reading it. (With non-fiction, I apply my grad school skills and gut the boring ones because knowledge / information doesn't always come in a nice candy coating.)  Even when I was reading novels for the Edgars, there were two books that I just gave up on.  One I called "Fifty Shades of Green" because all the sex took place out in the wilderness.  (Presumably a statement of some kind, but I started laughing about page 15 - for all the wrong reasons - and didn't stop until I tossed it onto the pile and reached for the next book.)  And another book that was absolute torture porn.  The first 10 pages gave me nightmares, so I stopped.

Plan 9 Alternative poster.jpgThis is not to say that there's no place for trash.  I still think that an evening of Plan 9 From Outer Space can be very fulfilling, as well as almost any Joan Crawford movie.  And if you've got Bette Davis fighting with Mary Astor or Miriam Hopkins, I'm front row seating.

And there are some things that are like a train wreck.  You just can't take your eyes off of them:  Ancient Aliens.  Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision (did you know that Venus is actually a comet?  Ha!).  Pink Flamingos.  Richard Wallace's Jack the Ripper, Light Hearted Friend (did you know that Lewis Carroll was actually Jack the Ripper?  Ha!)

And I would not have survived grad school without a stack of really cheesy romance novels for mental popcorn.

A couple of summers back I went through a fit of nostalgia and re-read a bunch of books from my tween/teen years.  Some held up.  Marjorie Morningstar is pretty damn good; so are The Once and Future King (which I still know almost by heart), Ship of FoolsThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold, etc.  

But a lot didn't hold up, mostly the books I'd read for the sex, like Frank Yerby novels, because, in the 60s, it was him, Harold Robbins, or Ian Fleming for an educational experience.  (Harlequin romances barely went beyond a kiss in those days.)  Besides, my mother read Yerby, my father read Fleming, and I simply snuck off with their copies when they weren't looking.  (Even as a teenager I couldn't stand Harold Robbins.) 

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress coverBTW, teenaged Eve was so glad to find Robert Heinlein.  Tunnel in the SkyHave Spacesuit, Will TravelStranger in a Strange LandThe Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and many more.  It was my first exposure to strong, intelligent women, and got me ready for Emma Peel.

My two favorite Heinlein quotes are both from The Moon is a  Harsh Mistress:
TANSTAAFL  and  "Is no rape on Luna.  Men won't permit." 

And not, I might add, by curtailing women's freedom to dress, work, walk, jog, speak, behave, and live any way she damn well pleased.

Still, be careful giving in to nostalgia:  sometimes it bites.

Back when Netflix first came out I watched a bunch of 1960s movies that I loved when I first saw them, and while there were a lot of great, great, great movies made back then, there were also some that made my jaw drop.  I liked this crap?

Billy Jack:  I'm embarrassed to say how much I enjoyed it back in 1971, even though even then I knew that the dialog was really bad.  And that they'd all have ended up shot to death in real life.  I mean, this is after Kent State, folks.  Idealism was long gone.

And Blow Up turned out to be a big wad of nothing.  I still think it's main reason for success was that it was the first time that a major actress - Vanessa Redgrave - showed her bare breasts on screen.  But then, I've found I can't stand any of Antonioni's films.  If I'm going to do slow-burning moody atmospherics, give me Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock any day, or Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris or Andrei Rublev.  

Five easy pieces.jpgFive Easy Pieces.  Jack Nicholson in youthful full form.  I loved the scene with him playing the piano on the back of a pick-up truck, and the restaurant, searching for toast, both then and now.  But you know something?  The rest of the movie sucked swamp water.  The women were all basically sexual fungibles, with no intelligence or purpose other than to cling to a man like a limpet.  And Nicholson's character was about as much fun as a razor blade.  In fact, Bobby Dupea was the exact [male] embodiment of the description Jack Nicholson's character gives of Michelle Pfeiffer's character in Wolf twenty-four years later:
"You know, I think I understand what you're like now. You're very beautiful and you think men are only interested in you because you're beautiful, but you want them to be interested in you because you're you. The problem is, aside from all that beauty, you're not very interesting. You're rude, you're hostile, you're sullen, you're withdrawn. I know you want someone to look past all that at the real person underneath but the only reason anyone would bother to look past all that is because you're beautiful. Ironic, isn't it? In an odd way you're your own problem."
(There's a lot of it about.)

But back to books.  I reread a couple of Yerby novels, and, while I still can't help but like The Devil's Laughter (we all have our guilty pleasures), I nominate An Odor of Sanctity as one of the Top Ten Worst Books of all time.  Set in the time of the Crusader Kingdoms of Outremer, every single scrap of dialog is thees and thous, until certes, when I didst reach XXIV, I didst no longer giveth the rear end of a yon black rat.  Not only that, but the hero, the girlishly fair but apparently extremely well-endowed Alaric, like James Bond, suffers from the Dick of Death:  he can't keep it in his pants, any woman he marries dies, and half the women he has sex with die as well.  And plot?  What plot?  From Goodreads, Jackson Burnett writes:
"At one point, Alaric gets on his horse to ride to Cordoba to rescue his one-of-many true loves. Along the way, his horse stops, refuses to go forward, and turns to take Alaric off on a side story to fix an unresolved plot problem. When the hero's horse makes the calls on a novel's narrative arc, you know you are in trouble."
But I will give it credit:  it's still [marginally] better than:
  • The Playboy Sheikh's Virgin Stable-Girl - no, I haven't read it, but, thanks to Smart Bitches/Trashy Books, I don't have to, and you don't either - what a hilarious review!  
  • The Lair of the White Worm - author, Bram Stoker.  BTW, Ken Russell made a movie of it in 1988 starring Hugh Grant.  I wonder if he's managed to buy up all the prints of it yet? 
  • The entire Left Behind series. 
  • Anything by Ayn Rand. 

18 December 2012

Christmas Stories: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

 by Dale C. Andrews 
     Most years around this time I settle down to a re-read of Ellery Queen’s The Finishing Stroke, a 1957 mystery that I consider one of Queen’s best and that takes place during the course of Advent in 1929.  Building a Christmas mystery for Ellery to solve was a temptation that even two Jewish cousins from Brooklyn, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, could not resist.  The temptation has also lured virtually every other classic mystery writer.   Agatha Christie gave us not only Hercule Poirot’s Christmas but also a Miss Marple short story Christmas Tragedy.  Rex Stout contributed the 1957 Nero Wolfe novella Christmas Party and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle jumped into the fray with Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.  (The Holmes story is now available to Audible subscribers this month as a free holiday download.)

    Christmas stories are not the sole province of Golden Age mystery authors.  Our own Elizabeth Zelvin has contributed such a volume, to the holiday shelf Death Will Trim Your Tree.  The temptation to offer up Yuletide tales is also apparent from the works of other modern popular authors.  John Grisham has Skipping Christmas, and David Baldacci has The Christmas Train.

    Christmas stories have also provided the backdrop for many memorable movie classics.  Last year at this time of year I wrote of the many adaptations of my personal favorite, Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and our family’s Christmases usually are not complete without at least one screening of Irving Berlin’s 1954 musical White Christmas – this year my wife and I even attended the stage version at the Kennedy Center here in Washington – and we also always manage to find an evening to devote to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

    My family has always celebrated the Yule on Christmas Eve – when my brother Graham and I were kids that was the evening Santa visited our home, just after dinner.  The same was true when my own two sons, now well ensconced into their twenties, were kids.  And now, with my immediate family having dwindled down to four (all adults), six including my brother and his wife, we gather at Graham and Nikki's restored Victorian home near the St. Louis botanical gardens each year for the holiday.  We do all of the expected things – listen to carols, open presents, dine in front of the tree.  But we have a darker side to our Christmases as well.  When the presents have all been opened, and the room is a hopeless clutter of torn metallic papers and ribbons, we pour ourselves a couple stiff ones and turn on the TV in search of bad Christmas movies.

    With on-line movies, YouTube and obscure DVDs readily available, finding almost any given movie is not that difficult.  But finding the right one is not always an easy task.  Not just any bad movie will do.  Just as you can get too much of a good thing, it is even easier to get too much of a bad thing.  What we search out each year are movies that, while failed, offer something camp; something so awful that it is funny but not so awful that it is unwatchable.  We have been laughing “with” all evening; now it is time to laugh “at.”

    Candidates for this year, together with some that have already been rejected, include the following:

    Santa Claus Conquers the Martians This incredibly cheesy 1964 movie makes every list of “ten worst Christmas movies” as well as “ten worst movies ever.”  The premise:  The Martians kidnap Santa Claus because there is no one on Mars to give presents to the Martian kids.  Apparently no one cares about the rights on this one, so if you are tempted you can see the whole debacle, including the original title song "Hooray for Santy Claus," at this YouTube site.  (Watch closely -- an eight year old Pia Zadora plays one of those mini-Martians.)  Special effects include what charitably  appear to be five dollar masks and action sequences where everyone leans to the right when the spaceship veers left.  We’ve seen this one before.  I’m still looking for the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode featuring the movie.  Score; Watchable, but two or more scotches will likely be required.  

    Santa with Muscles Hulk Hogan stars in this 1996 film about an evil millionaire who gets amnesia, hides from pursuers by donning a Santa costume, and then believes that he is Santa after seeing himself in a mirror.  Ed Begley, Jr. also stars as an evil scientist intent on taking over an orphanage for some obscure reason.  Movie critic Joe Leydon wrote “John Murlowski directs with all the enthusiasm of someone going through the motions to pay off a debt.”  Score: As yet unseen, but a candidate for a two scotch watch.

    Jingle All the Way Yet another 1996 Christmas movie that consistently makes the “worst 10 Christmas movies” list.  More money was spent on this film than on any other in the list but, by all accounts, it still does not work.  Arnold Schwwarzenegger in his pre-governator days stars as a harried parent trying to secure the hottest toy of the year.  Comparing this movie to the Hulk Hogan opus discussed above, film critic Chris Hicks said that the Hulk’s movie "makes Arnold Scwarzenegger seem like Laurence Olivier.”  I have yet to see this movie, but it is a favorite of our kids and a likely watch this year.  Score:  Sight unseen, but a candidate for watching with the first scotch of the evening.

    Santa Claus aka Santa Claus versus the Devil  This 1959 Mexican production has garnered several critics’ nomination for worst movie ever filmed.  (An awesome feat – that means it defeated the horrible -- but non-Christmas -- Plan 9 from Outer Space, starring Bela Lugosi and his chiropractor, who filled in for Bela after he died in mid-filming.)  Anyway, this Mexican entrant in the Christmas sweepstakes tells the story of Santa and his best friend Merlin the Magician who are off to thwart the Devil’s plan to kill Santa and, in the words of the film’s promo piece, “make all of the kids in the world do evil.”  Apparently no one cares about copyright protection on this Christmas turkey either -- the whole film is a click away on YouTube.  Score:  sight unseen, but we will likely take a peak this Christmas.  A candidate for a two and a half scotch watch.  Also a film where one senses the remote should be kept handy just in case.

    Christmas Vacation 2 – Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure  This 2003 TV movie sequel to the classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was apparently shown once, and only once, on network TV.  The sequel, as the name implies, jettisons the Griswold clan, leaving us only with Cousin Eddie and his . . . “brood.”  What were they thinking?  The WebSite DVD Verdict calls the film a "bedsore of a movie" and suggests that any copy should be "thrown into a burlap sack, weighted down with rocks, and tossed into the closest body of water."  Score: I’m not going to even try it.  

    A Christmas Carol – the Musical  Not to be confused with Albert Finney’s very passable 1970 musical Scrooge, this 2004 made-for-TV film stars Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge and has Jason Alexander playing Marley’s ghost. And – worse – the movie is not just a musical, it is virtually an opera – almost everything is sung.  I mean everything. One reviewer summed up the film as follows: “Never in all my days have I ever seen such a turgid remake of what can only be described as one of the most heartwarming Christmas events.” Score:  As noted, I’m a huge Christmas Carol fan (I even liked Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, which, by the way, featured better music than this version.) I tried to watch this film when it aired in 2004 and turned it off within 10 minutes when it became evident that no one was going to (1) stop singing, or (2) sing adequately. Score:  Unwatchable.  Cannot be saved even by scotch.

    An American Carol  This 2008 film played in theaters for about a week. It is hard to classify it strictly as a Christmas movie since it takes the Dickens premise and then shifts the underlying holiday to July 4 and re-invents the story as one involving a liberal movie producer who, in all but name, is Michael Moore, and who has forgotten the meaning of patriotism. He is visited by three ghosts including (see above) Kelsey Grammer as General George Patton, a re-invented “ghost of Independence Days past.”  If that were not enough, Leslie Nielsen, in one of his final films, appears as Osama Bin Laden.  Film critic Sam Graham had this to say about the movie: “It’s been suggested that An American Carol wasn’t screened for reviewers prior to its theatrical release because the predominantly left-leaning critics would pan the film merely because of its conservative subject matter, thus torpedoing its box office potential .There’s some justification for that belief, but there’s another reason that certain films aren’t pre-screened: because they’re not good . . ..” Score: I have yet to watch this movie, but am likely to give it a try this Christmas. Having said this, I will be surprised if I get through more than 10 minutes. Three scotches and keep the remote well in hand.

   The Star Wars Holiday Special  Although not truly a “story,” this 1978 television special at least has a story-line that attempts to tie things together -- Chewbacca and Hans Solo visit Kashyyk, Chewbacca's home world, to celebrate “Life Day.” The special featured all of the actors from the original Star Wars trilogy and is universally (in a galaxy not that far away) judged to be one of the most horrible television programs ever aired. Some of the cast members have at times denied that the program even existed. George Lucas has spent a great deal of effort ensuring that it will never be re-broadcast. To quote Lucas, "if I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it." In similar tone, David Hofstede, author of What Were They Thinking?:  The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History, ranked the holiday special at number one, calling it "the worst two hours of television ever."  While the show was never re-broadcast and never released on tape or DVD, if you want to see just how bad a film can be, there are original copies (recorded off the air in glorious VHS) that are available on YouTube. Full length versions are relentlessly blocked by "the Federation," but the smaller snippets persist.  This one contains the first ten minutes, which, in truth, is all you need.   Score: Unwatchable. But having said that, you should try just the first few minutes, scotch firmly in hand, to see how a group of talented people can come up with something this totally wrong-headed. Jaw dropping is the only response to the overly long and totally incomprehensible segment set in Chewbacca’s home near the beginning of the film. As actor and critic Ralph Garman observed, “it's so bad that it actually comes around to good again, but passes it right up.”

Happy Holidays!