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

22 May 2024

Voyage to the Bottom of the Barrel:
Hillbillys in a Haunted House


VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL: HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE by Michael Mallory

If you ever find yourself striving to solve the mystery of what is the worst motion picture ever made, follow the trail no further than Hillbillys [sic] in a Haunted House. The film has everything a 1940s Poverty Row horror comedy should have: aging horror movie actors and no-talent leads; a story in which the creepy “haunted” house turns out to be a lair for foreign spies; substandard special effects, and college theatre production values. There’s even a gorilla in a cage in the basement. The problem is that it wasn’t made in the 1940s. Hillbillys in a Haunted House─ which is remembered today (if at all) for the casting of Basil Rathbone, Lon Chaney Jr., and John Carradine as the spies──was shot in late 1966 and released the following year.

Even if it had been made in the 1940s (with the same cast!) it would be a wretched film, but asking audiences to accept this antiquated mess it a year before Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead is simply insulting.

Produced specifically for the Southern theatrical circuit, the film was the follow up to producer Bernard Woolner’s 1966’s gem Las Vegas Hillbillys, which starred country singer Ferlin Husky, perennial starlet Mamie Van Doren, and novelty songwriter Don Bowman. Husky and Bowman returned for Hillbillys, but Van Doren was replaced by Joi Lansing, a road company Jayne Mansfield who never quite made it to stardom (for the record, the real Mansfield also appeared in Las Vegas Hillbillys).

While Husky was no actor, there is some entertainment value in his imitation of a werewolf transformation any time he goes for a high note. The dyspeptic Bowman is ostensibly the film’s comedy relief, and to be fair, he is funnier than Jack Lord. But only barely. As for Lansing, she can sing (if not act) and no one filled out a chambray shirt better.

Hillbillys in a Haunted House begins with these three Dixiefied “Bowery Boys” surrogates motoring their way to a Country Music Jamboree in Nashville, but before long they find themselves in the middle of a gun battle between two spies and the police─ literally in the middle. Their luxury convertible is the only thing separating the guns-a-blazin’ shooters. When the bullets stop flying, they move on and decide to shelter for the night in an old plantation house where “terrifying” things begin to happen, all orchestrated by the spies who work for a wannabe Dragon Lady named “Madame Wong” (played with Acquanetta-level incompetence by Linda Ho). The goal is to infiltrate a nearby missile factory (something every small town should have).

Having last worked together in the threadbare 1956 shocker The Black Sleep

, Rathbone, Chaney, and Carradine were by this point on the downslide, Carradine slightly less so than the others given his propensity for jumping from quality films to utter dreck and back again, stopping only long enough to cash the paychecks. Here he seems to be amusing himself by overplaying and mugging. Chaney’s stardom was over by the late 1940s, but he established a reputation as a reliable character actor throughout the ‘50s. By the ‘60s, though, he was in an alcohol-fueled descent. Still, he managed to contribute the movie’s sole dramatically effective moment by stepping out of the general silliness and into cold-blooded killer mode for a rather chilling murder scene.

The saddest part of watching Hillbillys in a Haunted House is seeing the great Basil Rathbone struggling through his last film (he died only two months after its release). Once the cinema’s top villain, then its preeminent Sherlock Holmes, Rathbone in later years found himself adrift in a changing youth-and-realism-oriented Hollywood. Always in need of money to support his wife’s legendary, extravagant party-giving, he was forced to accept roles in drive-in pictures, do spoken word records, and shill Leisy Beer on television just to keep going. Unable to muster up much energy or enthusiasm, Rathbone underplays his role and his trademark crisp speech is somewhat slurred with age and illness. But at least he appeared to have read the script, unlike Carradine, who at one point calls Rathbone’s character “George” when it’s supposed to be “Gregor.”

Once the spies are rounded up by a stalwart G-Man played by Richard “Captain Midnight” Webb, our three heroes get back on the road to Nashville, crooning the same lame song they started with (in fact, it’s the same footage). But before the viewer can thank the deity of their choice for the film being over, the action shifts to the Music Jamboree and goes on for another fifteen minutes. A parade of country “stars” take the stage, ranging from well-known Merle Haggard to somebody named Marcella Wright (maybe they knew who she was in the South). After numbers by Bowman, Husky, and Lansing, the film finally comes to an end. At least it stops.

Someone named Duke Yelton wrote Hillbillys in a Haunted House, making it a compendium of every hokey, cornball Halloween gag in the book, from the ubiquitous ape in the basement to flying a sheet around a string to simulate a ghost. Yelton never scripted another film (for which we should all be grateful). Jean Yarbrough, the picture’s director, on the other hand, was a prolific Hollywood hack whose most notorious movie is 1940’s The Devil Bat, featuring Bela Lugosi and a giant rubber bat wobbling around on wires. Yarbrough is best remembered for his work with Abbott and Costello, particularly in their television series, but here his clumsy staging and inability to elicit any convincing performances falls short of even the TV standards of the time short of even the TV standards of the time.

If nothing else, suffering through 86 minutes of Hillbillys in a Haunted House makes one realize that, despite his best efforts, the legendary Ed Wood, Jr. did not make the worst film ever. Reportedly, a 1969 epic called The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals, also with Carradine, is every bit as atrocious as Hillbillys in a Haunted House. But I have no interest in finding that out for myself.

05 May 2024

How the West has Worn


What defines a Western? Many argue it’s an American phenomenon although European filmmakers have left a sizable stamp. It’s more than six-guns and shootouts and Mama, fetch the rifle.

To me, their morality plays with clearly delineated rôles, good and evil, male and female, peace and violence. Good triumphs over wickedness and although we vicariously enjoy violence in pursuit of justice, peace eventually reigns. All becomes right with the world.

List of Lists

I was thumbing through my feed when it decided I needed more exposure to Westerns. The internet is loaded with articles about the 10 Best Westerns and the 20 Best Western Actors. More than most genres,  opinions differ wildly but not violently. An actor at the top of one list doesn’t appear on other lists at all. I was surprised one film list opened with WestWorld and The Three Amigos comedy on the list. Are those even Westerns?

So be it. When we were children, lists in no special order might include:

 1. Roy Rogers11. Richard Boone
 2. Gene Autry12. Jimmy Stewart
 3. Clayton Moore13. Michael Landon
 4. Jay Silverheels14. Dan Blocker
 5. Duncan Renaldo15. Hugh O’Brian
 6. James Arness16. Gene Barry
 7. James Garner17. Josh Randall
 8. Steve McQueen18. William Boyd
 9. Chuck Connors19. Lash La Rue
10. Clint Walker20. … and many more

Haboob has watched more Westerns than Sergio Leone’s film editor. Some of her favorites are obscure, some she’s watched many times. Her popularity list runs thus:

 1. John Wayne 4. Sam Elliot
 2. Walter Brennan 5. Barbara Stanwick
 3. Yul Brynner 6. Maureen O’Hara

Frankly, I’m not sure Haboob could be trusted in a room alone with Sam Elliot. Similarly, Sharon’s list goes like this:

 1. Kevin Costner 4. no one worth mentioning
 2. Kevin Costner 5.  
 3. Kevin Costner 6.  

To me, the mark of a good film is what we remember five or ten years after viewing it. Some blockbusters (i.e, The French Connection) have left few memory traces, but other less popular movies had scenes that stuck. My own list isn’t as well considered, but I’d hazard my favorite actors include:

 1. Clint Eastwood 5. John Wayne
 2. Lee Van Cleef 6. Charles Bronson
 3. Henry Fonda 7. Jack Elam
 4. Yul Brynner 8. umm…

Jack Elam had a wandering eye. No, not that kind, although he was once called the most loathsome man in Hollywood. Sadly, two of my favorites have been called Mr. Loathsome and Mr. Ugly. Elam injured his eye as a child and it became a kind of trademark, terrifying children with his bad guy portrayals in B-movie after movie Westerns. He appears so often, that he earned a kind of audience affection and went on to become a leading man and even starred in comedies.

I put Fonda on my list not because of his heroic rôles, but when he played a bad guy with chilling ice-cold blue eyes. Fans could easily believe the presence of evil. His interaction with Charles Bronson is memorable.

Since I was a kid, Lee Van Cleef fascinated me. When spaghetti Westerns emerged, Ol’ Squinty Eyes came into his own. He seconded Eastwood in a couple of man-with-no-name Westerns and starred in his own, once matched against a knife-thrower and a psychotic German bounty hunter. He also starred in a near-Western as a ferry operator facing off against an army.

My favorite of the man-with-no-name series was the middle one, A Few Dollars More. Many will challenge that, although I think John mentioned he agreed. The most humane of the films, it combines an intriguing plot with a poignant relationship between bounty hunters Van Cleef and Eastwood. We can see Eastwood doesn’t mind poking fun at himself and we discover Van Cleef is a better nimrod than Eastwood himself.

Train Spotters

I’ll end with a clip not of Van Cleef, but of Eastwood chatting up an old man in his shack by the railroad. The scene is unusual in that you simultaneously know and don’t know what’s coming, laughing when you least expect it.

 
   
  To Kill a Dead Man @ Portishead

 


In modern slang, nimrod means fool, but in traditional use dating back to Biblical times, nimrod refers to a good hunter, a good shot with gun or bow.

13 March 2024

The Roaring 20's


Raoul Walsh made some terrific pictures, some of them in fact great.  You can make a good argument for High Sierra, Pursued, and White Heat, but even the movies that aren’t obvious masterworks are pretty damn rousing: They Died with Their Boots On, Gentleman Jim, Colorado Territory, The World in His Arms, The Revolt of Mamie Stover.  He made four features with Cagney, and probably only Wellman, in The Public Enemy, had more to do with shaping Cagney’s screen persona.  He made ten features with Flynn, and while it’s safe to say Michael Curtiz invented the dashing Flynn swashbuckler most of us think of - Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk - it’s Walsh who gets more out of Flynn the actor. 

Another thing about Walsh is that he sets up bits of business that reverberate well past their actual time on screen.  There’s a throwaway gag fairly early in The Roaring Twenties that’s not only one of the coolest things in Walsh, it turns out to be one of the coolest things in the history of the movies.  (Since it’s a visual joke, I can’t really do justice to it, but here goes.)  Cagney meets Priscilla Lane and falls head over heels.  He squires her home on the late train, from midtown Manhattan to someplace out in the sticks, maybe Yonkers. Cagney mutes the trademark Cagney wiseacre, and delivers enormous yearning and charm.  In the end, she’s fated to wind up with the straight-arrow DA instead of the roguish bootlegger, but in the immediate present, you can entertain the same hopes he does.  The moment is suspended, a single note hanging in the air, like the chime of a wineglass, the two of them completely taken up with each other, a private physical space for themselves alone, but keeping a delicate distance, hoping not to break the spell.  They get to the last stop, where she’s going to get off, and he gets off with her, to walk her home from the station – because he’s still not ready to leave the moment behind – and here’s the kicker.  Cagney and Priscilla Lane haven’t been shot in close-up, i.e., a shot of his face, a reverse of hers, an alternating visual dialogue; they’re shot together, over the back of the seat in front of them, so you don’t get the feeling they’re opposed: they’re in the same frame.  Walsh also frames the scene, at the beginning and the end, in a longer shot, that shows the whole carriage, with Cagney and Lane about two-thirds of the way back in the nearly empty car.  Not entirely empty.  Toward the front of the car, closest to the camera, is a passed-out drunk, with his hat over his face.  When the train pulls up, and Cagney and Lane get off, the camera waits behind for a beat, and the drunk startles awake, realizing it’s his stop, and stumbles out of the carriage.  Your laugh breaks the spell.

This scene on the train prefigures Garfield and Beatrice Pearson in the back of the cab in Polonsky’s Force of Evil, and the even more famous scene between Brando and Rod Steiger in On the Waterfront.  You can see its influence in the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple, when the camera tracks along the bar, and bumps over the sleeping drunk, and then settles back down to surface level – instead of effectively dollying through him, because in the convention or conceit of movie-world, the camera takes no notice of such physical obstacles, a wall or a window, a speeding car, a piece of furniture.  The camera, first of all, is omniscient, and secondly, it doesn’t exist in the same physical space as an object or an actor.  It’s a ghost, it isn’t present.

Walsh doesn’t break the Fourth Wall, that’s not where I’m going.  And he doesn’t call attention to himself.  He’s not doing a Hitchcock, inviting you behind the curtain.  He’s very straightforward.  In fact, the story goes that he’d turn his back on a scene, and then turn around and ask his cameraman if it went right, as if he were embarrassed to be a grown man, doing something this stupid to make a living.  But look at the way he sets stuff up, the scaling, the intuitive balance between the epic and the intimate.  Ward Bond has an amazing cameo in Gentleman Jim as John L. Sullivan, the bare-knuckles heavyweight champ that Corbett knocks out in the ring.  He comes, literally hat in hand, to the door of the victory party, and when Corbett asks him in, Sullivan says no.  He’s the past, he tells him, an old punch-drunk palooka with cauliflower ears; Corbett’s the future, what the Irish can aspire to.  The most astonishing thing about it is that you can easily imagine this with Ward Bond, or maybe Victor McLaglen, in the hands of John Ford, and watch it get grossly oversold.  It’s sentimental, but Walsh has the sense not to play it for sentiment. 

Another example.  Custer leaves for the Little Big Horn, in They Died with Their Boots On.  (Even in sympathetic biographies, Custer comes across as a bully, if never a physical coward; Flynn, interestingly, plays him as ingratiating and thick-witted, exaggerating his own least likables.)  It’s the last time Libby Custer will see her husband alive.  (Libby devoted her widowhood to promoting the Custer legend, the golden-haired Achilles of the Plains; she was remarkably successful.  Olivia de Havilland is a sympathetic Libby, but the real woman had ice in her veins.)  The way Walsh shows it, Custer kisses her goodbye and steps away, out of the frame.  The camera draws back slightly, a medium shot, Libby in the lamplight.  She’s standing stiffly, as if posed for a daguerrotype, her eyes wide, her mouth barely parted, one hand resting on the dresser next to her, the other clutched to the front of her dress, and then she crumples, all of a piece.  I think there’s a sudden pulled focus, just as it happens, a quick trick of the lens, that underlines her abandonment, but I’m not quite sure.  It might be something my own eye added.

And the justly famous tracking shot in White Heat, in the prison mess hall, first from right to left - Cagney asking how his mom’s doing, passed down the line of cons to Edmond O’Brien – and then back from left to right – the word that she’s dead, all of it done in pantomime, and then Cagney, zero-to-sixty, batshit psycho in a tenth of a second.  Word is, the scene wasn’t shot as written, Cagney and Walsh set it up without warning the extras, and Cagney took it to the bank. 

The Roaring Twenties was released in 1939, which was one hell of a year for pictures, and you can make a case that it caps the Warner Bros. gangster picture.  It hits all the marks, with plenty of vigor, but the movie’s a swan song for the genre. Cagney personifies this.  The Roaring Twenties is one of his most physical performances.  Mark Asch, in his essay for the Criterion DVD release, points out that he seems to think with his body, that he expresses all his energies and emotions with it, his hands, the balls of his feet, the way his eyes change.  He’s always restless, in motion, checking the threat environment. And as the picture winds down, he loses that intensity, that muscular purpose.  He turns into an old soak, living on memories.  His last gasp, when he comes out of hiding – from the promises he’s made himself – is like watching somebody try on a set of clothes that don’t fit anymore.  In the end, he lives up to his promises.




The Roaring Twenties is out on a new DVD restoration from Criterion, although not available on the Criterion Channel to stream. There’s a halfway decent print on YouTube, even if the subtitles are strange.

26 February 2024

Room of Ice


I have a new story, Room of Ice, and it appears in the new SleuthSayers' anthology Murder, Neat. The alcohol reference in the anthology's title is on purpose. All the stories in the book have a finger, or other, in a drinking establishment. A glass or two of my story is set in a London pub.

Story settings aside, drinking establishments are excellent places to tell a story. The social atmosphere, comfortable seats, warmth, and alcohol invites (nay, demands) story telling. When the wine comes in, the wit comes out. I mean, if you're sitting there with a group of friends, you've got to do something while you're drinking. And pretty soon, someone will be off and running with a tale, tall or otherwise.

Our desire to gather with friends somewhere warm and convivial, and tell a story, is innate. And it predates drinking. Many thousands of years ago, our caveman ancestors sat around the fire on dark winter evenings. The whole clan. The extended family. They'd spent the day hunting and gathering, they'd eaten. They sat there sated and sleepy, nothing else to do – drawing pictures on the cave wall was so last era. Someone said, "You know, a funny thing happened to me today. There was this woolly mammoth…" And off he or she went, running with a tale, tall or otherwise.

The invention of alcohol meant there was now something to do while the stories were being told. And that swiftly led to the creation of places to do all of this in: pubs, inns, bars, taverns, and so on. The public living room.

I digress.

So, what's my story (Room of Ice) about? Well, no spoilers, it's about two things: Hammer Films and perception.

Hammer Film Productions is a British film production company that had its heyday from the mid-1950s to the 1970s. They specialised in horror films with a Gothic flavour (e.g., vampires, mummies, Frankenstein). Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were probably the studio's two biggest stars. According to Wikipedia, the studio made 295 films (between 1934-2019). In addition to horror, Hammer also produced science fiction, thrillers, noir, and comedies. I grew up watching Hammer Horrors (along with their American counterparts, the Vincent Price Edgar Allen Poe movies).

In my story, I imagine Hammer made a horror film in 1959 called Room of Ice.

My story is from the point of view of a middle-aged man – "Tim" – who, as a child, was an extra in that movie. Tim tracks down the movie's now elderly star, because he has, in later life, remembered something about the filming – something he saw. It isn't a spoiler to say that Tim is a blackmailer.

This is a story about perception. Something witnessed as a five-year-old, and then remembered at 45, with a now adult's perspective of the world (my story is set in 1999).

Room of Ice is about movies (I'm film mad, don't you know?). Making them, remembering them, worshipping them. And, as such, I made a trailer for the story to help promote it. And rather than do my usual, I made a "movie trailer" for an imagined re-release of the movie Room of Ice. You can watch the trailer here:


Well, I'm off to read all the other stories in the anthology. Should be a treat!


03 December 2023

The Spy Who Shunned Me


I was glancing at a not-so-recent Stacker.com ‘Best 100 Spy Movies of All Time’, thinking it was right up the dark alley of our spymaster, David Edgerley Gates. If you did something extremely stupid, he could make you disappear.

male spy in trenchcoat carrying smoking gun

And then I noticed something stupid.

Where was Ipcress File? And Day of the Jackal? Manchurian Candidate? Riddle of the Sands? Casablanca? And where the hell was 39 Steps? And why the Hail Freedonia was Duck Soup in the list? Hey, I love the Marx Brothers but it bears as much resemblance to a spy movie as Margaret Dumont does to John le Carré.

I had to stop because so many possibilities flooded my mind. The article should be retitled ‘100 Pretty Good kinda-Spy Movies of Small Time, Give or Take.’ I bet David could name many more.

So here is the core of Stacker’s list followed by a few unranked suggestions of my own.

100Body of Lies2008Ridley Scott 50Clear and Present Danger1994Phillip Noyce
99Salt2010Phillip Noyce 49Rogue One: A Star Wars Story2016Gareth Edwards
98Moonraker1979Lewis Gilbert 48Breach2007Billy Ray
97Never Say Never Again1983Irvin Kershner 47Spy2015Paul Feig
96Shadow Dancer2012James Marsh 46Eye in the Sky2015Gavin Hood
95Octopussy1983John Glen 45Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol2011Brad Bird
94The Man from U.N.C.L.E.2015Guy Ritchie 44The Bourne Identity2002Doug Liman
93The Informant!2009Steven Soderbergh 43Red Cliff2008John Woo
92The Eagle Has Landed1976John Sturges 42Emperor and the Assassin1998Kaige Chen
91Atomic Blonde2017David Leitch 41Flame & Citron2008Ole Christian Madsen
90Until the End of the World1991Wim Wenders 40Inherent Vice2014Paul Thomas Anderson
89You Only Live Twice1967Lewis Gilbert 39No Way Out1987Roger Donaldson
88Cloak & Dagger1984Richard Franklin 38Black Book2006Paul Verhoeven
87The Fourth Protocol1987John Mackenzie 37The Age of Shadows2016Kim Jee-woon
86RED2010Robert Schwentke 36Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation2015Christopher McQuarrie
85Mission: Impossible1996Brian De Palma 35The Bourne Supremacy2004Paul Greengrass
84Snowden2016Oliver Stone 34Europa Europa1990Agnieszka Holland
83Allied2016Robert Zemeckis 33Lady Vengeance2005Park Chan-wook
82The Matador2005Richard Shepard 32Dr No1962Terence Young
81Michael Collins1996Neil Jordan 31Inglourious Basterds2009Quentin Tarantino
80Eye of the Needle1981Richard Marquand 30The Imitation Game2014Morten Tyldum
79Horror Express1972Eugenio Martín 29The Man Who Knew Too Much1956Alfred Hitchcock
78Patriot Games1992Phillip Noyce 28The Quiet American2002Phillip Noyce
77OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies2006Michel Hazanavicius 27A Beautiful Mind2001Ron Howard
76The Front Line2011Jang Hoon 26Infernal Affairs2002Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
75Thunderball1965Terence Young 25Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy2011Tomas Alfredson
74The Hunt for Red October1990John McTiernan 24Ghost in the Shell1995Mamoru Oshii
73Spy Game2001Tony Scott 23The Constant Gardener2005Fernando Meirelles
72Mission: Impossible III2006J.J. 22Bridge of Spies2015Steven Spielberg
71Despicable Me 22013Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud 21Skyfall2012Sam Mendes
70True Lies1994James Cameron 20From Russia with Love1963Terence Young
69Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid1982Carl Reiner 19Casino Royale2006Martin Campbell
68The Falcon and the Snowman1985John Schlesinger 18Enter the Dragon1973Robert Clouse
67The East2013Zal Batmanglij 17The English Patient1996Anthony Minghella
66Official Secrets2019Gavin Hood 16Mission: Impossible: Fallout2018Christopher McQuarrie
65Lust, Caution2007Ang Lee 15The Conversation1974Francis Ford Coppola
64Sneakers1992Phil Alden Robinson 14House of Flying Daggers2004Yimou Zhang
63Fair Game2010Doug Liman 13Stalag 171953Billy Wilder
62Confessions of a Dangerous Mind2002George Clooney 12Goldfinger1964Guy Hamilton
61Charlie Wilson's War2007Mike Nichols 11The Bourne Ultimatum2007Paul Greengrass
60Kingsman: The Secret Service2014Matthew Vaughn 10Letters from Iwo Jima2006Clint Eastwood
59Three Days of the Condor1975Sydney Pollack 9Zero Dark Thirty2012Kathryn Bigelow
58GoldenEye1995Martin Campbell 8Le Petit Soldat1963Jean-Luc Godard
57Walk on Water2004Eytan Fox 7Barry Lyndon1975Stanley Kubrick
56Marcel Proust's Time Regained1999Raoul Ruiz 6The Departed2006Martin Scorsese
55Where Eagles Dare1968Brian G. 5Duck Soup1933Leo McCarey
54Top Secret!1984Jim Abrahams, Zucker Bros. 4The Lives of Others2006Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
53A Most Wanted Man2014Anton Corbijn 3Notorious1946Alfred Hitchcock
52The Spy Gone North2018Yoon Jong-bin 2Pan's Labyrinth2006Guillermo del Toro
51X-Men: First Class2011Matthew Vaughn 1North by Northwest1959Alfred Hitchcock
The 39 Steps1935Alfred Hitchcock Topaz1969Alfred Hitchcock
Day of the Jackal1973Fred Zinnemann Riddle of the Sands1979ony Maylam
The Ipcress File1965Sidney J Furie Casablanca1842Michael Curtiz
The Manchurian Candidate1962John Frankenheimer Dark of the Sun1968Jack Cardiff

male spy in trenchcoat carrying smoking gun

For worst movie, I seem to recall Our Man Flint (1966), directed by Daniel Mann, was embarrassingly awful.

What is your take? Enquiring spies want to know.




Check out Prohibition Peepers, a Michael Bracken anthology.

21 June 2023

This Film Rolls


 

 I'd like to tell you about a movie I saw recently, one which I suspect you have never heard of.

A funny thing about movies: Some of the best ones don't become immediate hits in part because the studio can't figure out how to market them.  And I'm not really blaming the studio. (Not for that, anyway. I'm happy to blame for a lot of other things.)

Consider three of my favorite flicks: Galaxy Quest, The Princess Bride, and A Christmas Story.  If you have seen them, ask yourself how to sum them up in one sentence (the so-called "logline") in a way that makes them sound irresistable or even appealing.  Well, a grandfather reads a sick child an old novel about a girl who falls in love with a farmboy, and there's a giant, and a Spanish swordsman, and Rodents of Unusual Size...

Eventually each of those movies became a cult classic, because of word of mouth.

I doubt if the  movie I'm about to describe is destined for cult status, but it is one that is hard to summarize in a helpful way.  Please don't reject it immediately when I describe it. One thing is for certain: the title doesn't help.

Kills on Wheels (2016) is a Hungarian movie (with subtitles) written and directed by Attila Till. The protagonist is Zoli, a young man who suffers from a birth defect which will kill him unless he has an operation.  He is tired of thinking about that and only wants to create graphic novels.  “Why am I always the cripple?  It’s someone else’s turn now.”

His roommate, Barba, suffers from a serious palsy condition.

Into their life comes Janos, who was a fireman until an on-the-job accident made him a paraplegic.  To say he is not adjusting well is a gross understatement.

Assassin and Boss

But now Janos is making serious money as a hit man for a Yugoslavian crime boss.  You may be saying: A disabled assassin? That's hard to believe.

And that's exactly what Janos' victims die thinking.

By this point you may be thinking this is a dumb exploitation flick: Supercrip shoots 'em up!  It isn't. There is a heck of a lot more going on than it may appear.  

The acting is very good but I especially want to take note of two actors who come to the field in unusual ways.  Zoltan Fenyvesi plays Zoli.  This is his first acting gig, after the director discovered him through his Instagram account, wheelchairguy.  And Dusan Vitanovics plays the sinister crime lord.  The actor's day job?  He's a neurosurgeon.

I saw the film on Kanopy.  I recommend it. 

23 March 2023

Associations of a TV / Movie Addict


An upstate friend of mine and I were talking, and she said, "Do you feel like we're living in a black and white 50s horror movie?  The Winter That Would Not Die?"  Oh, hell yes. This winter is like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction - just when you think you've drowned it, it comes back, with a knife in its hand.  And it's turning us all into pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, wandering around with vacant eyes and devoid of human emotion except an intense hatred of the weather forecasts.  

Movies & TV. You can't help but use them as analogies for almost everything. And the lessons we've learned from them!  

First of all, thanks to Stephen Leather for posting this GREAT list:


And I'd like to add a few more observations:

No matter how long someone is held tied up in a chair, room, or cellar, they never soil themselves and, when rescued, never mention that they need to go pee.  

When an assassin / spy / amnesiac and the woman who's helping him have sex, they do it standing up in a bathroom or hallway.  (see Maximum Risk.)

The star of the movie can always find a parking place, even in Manhattan.  (Referred to by Jerry Seinfeld as "the Jack Lemmon parking place".) 

After a month on a deserted island, men will have an advanced beard, but women will have neatly shaved armpits. - Judy Mudrick Colbert in comments section  

A car chase will always knock over a fruit stand, but if there's two car chases that knock over two fruit stands - and a comedian is not involved - it's a stinker of a movie.  (see Maximum Risk.)

A woman going to bed with full make-up on will wake up with same full make-up on, and there will be nary a trace of mascara or lipstick anywhere on the pillow, when in fact it should look like it was used for "Bloodfeast." 

Women can run for miles in high heels with no trouble - unless, of course, it's mandatory for the villain to catch them.  Also, from comments on the internet, "If necessary, a woman can break off her stilettos and have a perfectly comfortable pair of flats."  

A pair of horn-rimmed glasses is a perfect disguise for everyone from Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep) to Clark Kent.  No one will recognize you.

No matter how drunk a woman gets, when her lover calls, she will be instantly sober and ready to go out on the town with him. (Female on the Beach

It's easy to gun a car to ramming speed and jump out of it without anyone seeing you (and hide) before it actually goes over the cliff and explodes - unless you're Thelma and Louise.  

That leads straight to Soapland, which has its own set of amazing things:

You thought Glenn Close's character was never going to die? Well, NOBODY ever dies forever on a soap (unless they completely pissed off the producer / money people). It doesn't matter how many people saw them fall off a cliff, explode in a car, get shot, laid out on a slab or attended their funeral complete with open casket:  Sooner or later, they're going to come back from the dead.  

Also, plastic surgery.  And I'm not talking about the Botox school of acting (nothing moves above the eyebrows) which is ubiquitous.  I'm talking about villains who get plastic surgery to look EXACTLY like somebody else, and the surgeon can do it without leaving any scars anywhere.  And - this is the really amazing bit - somehow they ALSO now have the same voice as the other person!  Not to mention body scent and mannerisms!  No one can tell the difference!     

Whenever two people discuss something incredibly intimate or secret in a public place, they are always overheard by either their worst enemy or the snitch who goes straight to their worst enemy. 

Even at home, all women wear full make-up, designer clothes and high heels all the time.  What I'd give to just once see the heroine come home from work, reach under her top, and strip off her bra the way the rest of us do...  And go off and come back in a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt while she pours that glass of red wine.  

Slow learners all:  Nobody is EVER over their ex, no matter what kind of lying, cheating, etc., they were.  Indeed, they generally remarry their exes - multiple times.  

Oh, and those of us who have read pulp fiction, etc., know that all of these apply the detective and spy and thriller stories and novels as well.  

Meanwhile, exploding houses and an update from an old case here in South Dakota!

We've had a hell of a winter (remember land sharks?), and to cap it all off, two houses exploded in the Lake County area.  I always thought there were only two reasons why houses [unmaliciously] explode up here, (1) meth labs and (2) smoking while making ammunition in the basement (more common than you might think). 

But there's a third! Buried gas meters! "Officials are urging homeowners to check to see if their gas meters are free of snow. The City of Madison Fire Department says that in both home explosions, there was 10 plus feet or more of snow on the gas meter."  (KELO)  SO GO CHECK YOUR GAS METER, RIGHT NOW!!!!  And from henceforth and forever more!

And, remember Joel Koskan, former Republican candidate for the South Dakota Senate, who thankfully was not elected?  Now last year it emerged that he'd been arrested for "exposing a minor to sexual grooming behaviors," a class four felony. And it turned out that the minor was his adopted daughter, and that he'd groomed and then molested her for years.  Somehow, he got a plea deal (do not EVEN get me started on the old boy network), in which he agreed to "accept some responsibility for his actions, but ultimately would deny any sexual intercourse had occurred throughout the alleged abuse" and would not have to serve any time or register as a sex offender, or be separated from his other 4 children (who are still living with him).  (All the Cockroaches Coming Out)

Well, huzzah!  The circuit judge rejected his plea deal.  With any luck, there'll be a trial, and Mr. Koskan might actually have to face some REAL consequences for his actions.  (Argus)  

That's all for now.  More later, when hopefully I can find my lawn again.  At least I found my gas meter.