thehefner: (Venture Bros: Theatre People)
One of these days, I really need to work on a proper essay about Frank Oz's Little Shop of Horrors, to cover five topics in detail:

1.) Why it's one of the greatest movie musicals ever, even if the only time I ever hear it referenced in pop culture is via Family Guy (who've directly homaged it no less than three times)

2.) Why it's vastly superior to the stage versions, both the original and revival

3.) Why Menken and Ashman are perhaps the greatest musical writing duo of all time

4.) The brilliant Bill Murray scene, which adds absolutely nothing to the story

5.) Why it's a rare example of a studio audience being absolutely right in rejecting the dark original ending in favor of a re-shot happy one.

For now, I'll say this much. In the context of the original stage show, it fits to have the plant win. It's a Faustian bargain, and those never go well. But the film makes enough tweaks to the storyline, most notably with the brilliant new song "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space," that automatically make Seymour less of a weak-willed sucker who deserves his fate and more of an underdog who we WANT to win. Frankly, Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene put so much genuine emotion into "Suddenly Seymour" that I honestly can't imagine anyone really enjoying watching them lose and get eaten, as the original script warranted. But no matter how important and truthful it is to see people pay for the consequences of their actions, I find the original ending to LSOH too damn ugly, because Seymour and Audrey just didn't deserve their fates, especially since the film version pretty much absolved Seymour for Mr. Mushnik's death by outright making Mushnik an opportunistic, blackmailing thief. For those who haven't seen it, here's how the film originally ended, and it's the version preferred by Oz, Moranis, and pretty much everybody involved with the film:

It doesn't help that "Don't Feel the Plants" is the weakest song by far of all the songs included in the LSOH film. The film lost several songs from the original Off-Broadway version, and was better off for it. None of those songs were anything to write home about, and the same goes for "Don't Feed the Plants," which fails to convincingly sell the idea that the two characters whom you came to care about all died in the name of the film's overall message. It's a bad song and a bad ending that appeals only to critics who bend over backwards to betray character and emotion in the cold name of theme.
thehefner: (Norman Osborn: SNERK)
On Wednesday, I took myself out on a date.

I really should do this more often, especially when Henchgirl's not here, because otherwise I just sit around the house, staring at one of my three glowing boxes. Getting out and having a nice time alone is a small pleasure I always seem to neglect or minimize.

It's nice to get out, drift, linger, or flake off as you see fit. In doing so, the creative process is invigorated, ideas start popping again, and thoughts always seem to flow more freely. It's Drano for the soul.

I went to Silver Spring to see a film at the AFI, killing a couple hours beforehand by getting yummy delicious pho, and then a glass of grog at Piratz Tavern, where I ended up discussing how it's made with the bartender.

Hey, hey, guys, remember when I made grog? The grog I made based on what I could guess from Piratz' menu? That grog that many of you drank, and that gave everyone an amazing day-long hangover? Turns out, you're supposed to serve it only as a couple ounces, and fill the glass with ginger beer. You're not supposed to drink it straight. Ha... hahaha. Ha.

I don't care what Henchgirl says, I still think I have brain damage from that magnificent grog.

At AFI Silver, I went to go see The Steel Trap, a film noir starring Joseph Cotten from Citizen Kane, The Third Man, and Shadow of a Doubt.

I was surprised to discover that admission was free, and then I discovered why: this film is lost, with no reels known to exist and no interest by any studio to find and restore it, so all they had was a crappy bootleg version on DVD. We were told that we'd never see this film again.

Well, not entirely true, but true enough. The DVD version I saw is on ebay for fifteen bucks, so at least I know it's circulating in some format, however crappy. But damn, I sometimes forget just how many great films are just lost to time or lack of interest. Between Netflix and YouTube, you just sorta assume that everything is available these days.

But when it comes to the latter, the only evidence you can find of The Steel Trap is the first minute and thirty-six seconds, which can give you some indication of the quality I saw at AFI:

The film itself wasn't brilliant, but it was suspenseful and entertaining enough to warrant preservation. Here's hoping it gets it someday.

Also, I want to go back in time and get Joseph Cotten to play Norman Osborn.

thehefner: (Default)
Great news for movie lovers, bad news for their pocketbooks: all Criterion Collection DVDs 50% off at Barnes and Noble. I now actually have reason to go to B&N other than to kill an hour while waiting for a movie to start or a friend to arrive. Or, even better, I can just scour the entire Criterion catalog online and see what I want.

Massive filmgasm of movies I've already bought, movies I'm gonna buy, movies I'm waffling on buying, movies I'm tempted to buy sight unseen, out-of-print films I can't have, and the super-expensive box set of jaw-dropping erection-inducing awesomeness )

What about you guys? Will any of you be taking advantage of this sale? If so, take a look at the whole Criterion catalog and tell me which ones you'd want to own. Which films are so good or so precious to you that renting just isn't enough?
thehefner: (Hamlet: Monologue)
That other favorite film not even available on eBay is the 1971 King Lear, directed by Peter Brook and starring Paul Scofield.

Lear is my favorite Shakespeare play, and as anybody who has a deep abiding love for a particular Shakespeare play knows, I'm incredibly picky about which version I think is the best. The Olivier version is good but a bit too over-the-top and formal. The Ian Holm version pain stinks. The Ian McKellen version is pretty excellent, except for the fact that they apparently cast Dr. Byron Orpheus as Kent.

But by and large, I think everyone can agree that the greatest Lear in film is Kurosawa's Ran, a film that perfectly captures the scope, spirit, and heartrending power of the story while bittersweetly having not a shred of actual Shakespeare writing.

But the Brook/Scofield King Lear... this is side by side with Kurosawa's Ran for the greatest Lear I've ever seen. Even if it's only about 1/3rd of the actual text, all told. I should hate any version that slashes Shakespeare's beautiful text to its barest minimum. and in most cases that would be a disaster.

But Peter Brook is brilliant, and it takes a play so often done with overblown bombast and reduces it to a harrowing whisper. Scofield's Lear barely raises his voice, but he never needs to. I've never heard the "serpent's tooth" speech delivered with such quiet, ferociously chilling venom.

I saw this one more like fifteen years ago, on an old-ass VHS from my video store. I should have thought to buy it from them when they were phasing out tapes. It never occurred to me that they'd never make the DVD available for all regions, and I don't wanna shell out for a region-free player just to watch one film. Even if it is one of my favorite movies of all time. Even if it is the greatest version I've ever seen of my favorite play of all time. No, that'd just be silly.

In the meantime, I'll have to make do with this version with Spanish subtitles, which I hope and pray won't detract too much from the horrific minimalism of this film:

Oh yeah. Definitely making a date night with this and the Henchgirl sometime soon. Because I'm an idiot like that.
thehefner: (Hamlet: Damn I'm Interesting)
Two of my favorite films of all time are completely frickin' unavailable in the US.

One is The Brothers Karamazov, a worthy adaptation of my favorite book of all time. Purists might balk at that assessment, since it does away with most of the explicit existentialist theological philosophy (for some, the main purpose of the book), stripping it down to its main familial plot elements and murder mystery storyline. But I love stories of fucked-up families and relationships between flawed, humane characters with an ultimately hopeful conclusion, so I loved the movie so very, very much.

True Hollywood Story: according to Robert Osborne (can you guess where I first saw the film?), the film got made thanks to Marylin Monroe, who inadvertently popularized the idea of a Brothers Karamazov film when she expressed an interest in playing Grushenka. She was mocked, of course, but anyone who'd actually READ the book would tell that she'd have been fucking brilliant in the role. As it is, we have Maria Schell instead, but I ain't complaining. When I showed the film to my Dad nearly a decade ago, he said that Ms. Schell had a smile that just made a man melt. She certainly has that effect on me, even if apparently no one else sees the attraction.

Besides Schell, we have an all-somebody cast of Yul Brenner, Lee J. Cobb, Richard Baseheart, Albert Salmi, Claire Bloom, and an absolutely adorable William Shatner, all of whom absolutely rock the house. This is a three-hour film which I found completely engrossing each of the four times I watched it as a teenager, and I've been anxious to revisit it with Henchgirl, but it's been nowhere.

Recently, I found it all on YouTube, with Romanian subtitles, split in 22 parts:

... but it just isn't the same. It needs to be seen on a bigger screen, if not on the Big Screen (and why it doesn't get play at the AFI alongside other epics of the era is beyond me, as I'd much rather see this than Lawrence of Arabia).

Finally, I started thinking like a human being of the late 90's and went, hey, why not check eBay? Lo and behold, there's a decently-priced Korean version. Victory shall be mine. Soon, I shall sit down Henchgirl with some vodka and we'll have ourselves a grand movie night in.

Unfortunately, the other favorite film continues to elude me. I'll give that one its own post.
thehefner: (Darkplace: Dean Nodding)
Found via Roger Ebert's blog, The Rules of Attraction actors Kip Pardue and James Van Der Beek* beautifully parody Brett Easton Ellis:

Perhaps I only find it as funny as I do because I love The Rules of Attraction, a film which many people hate. But even those who do hate it all seem to agree that the one worthwhile part of the film was this scene, which the above video parodies and works well as a stand-alone piece. I think it's a stellar look at the blackly hilarious high-energy vapidness of Ellis' world.

That said, the first YouTube comment for the video reads "I'm so fucking doing ALL OF THIS when I get the money." I'm can't help but think they're missing the point a li'l bit.

*For all the crap he gets, I thought he was a fantastic force of nature in Rules, definitely worthy of being Patrick Bateman's brother.
thehefner: (Two-Face: TLJ "OMG!")
At Best Buy today, as we were buying a USB cord so we could finally start figuring out how to use the projector for the show I'm going to be performing in ten days oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck, we discovered they had a music section, with a synthesizer for anyone to try out.


Thing is, I've always wanted to play an instrument, but I've never been able to really make my brain/hands do what it takes. But a synthesizer, man, I don't even have to do much with it, and it already sounds like I'm composing the soundtrack to an 80's Michael Mann film.

Of course, that's where my brain is today, after I attempted a rewatch of Brett Ratner's RED DRAGON to see if maybe it wasn't as bad as I'd remembered. Or at the very least, to see if maybe, just maybe, I've been wrong in thinking that Bryan Cox's Hannibal Lecter in Mann's MANHUNTER was superior to Anthony Hopkins' return to the role in RED DRAGON.

Pshhh, no to both counts:

Y'know, I actually made my preference of Cox to Hopkins' Lecter a line in my show, THE HEFNER MONOLOGUES. I love how, every once in a while, an audience member actually knows what the hell I'm talking about and smiles. And here I used to be worried that someone would pick a fight with me after the show.

One of the few plus sides of RED DRAGON is Danny Elfman's soundtrack, which is the very few times in recent memory that Danny Elfman has sounded like classic Danny Elfman, music that makes you want to frolic in a graveyard:

Too bad that Brett Ratner is such a hack that Elfman's music completely overpowers any middlingly directed scene from that film. But even with classic-style Elfman, damn it, I so vastly prefer the soundtrack to MANHUNTER.

Not only does it help that Michael Mann--like Scorsese and Tarantino--is one of the ultimate masters of utilizing music in film, but it's pure 80's synth awesomeness from start to finish (well, except for "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"). How I wish I had a high-quality copy of tracks like "Graham's Theme," which might be one of my favorite pieces of film music ever:

If I had a synth, the first thing I would do is learn to play that. Which, from what I've seen, probably wouldn't be that hard. But who cares? I want one more than Buffalo Bill wants a pretty new dress.

Eh, I feel lazy ending it on a SILENCE reference, as I honestly don't get the huge appeal of that film/book. Clarice is so boring compared to Will, and Dollarhyde is both more sympathetic and terrifying than Bill. At least, when he's played by Noonan. Ralph Fiennes was one of the only actors in RED DRAGON who wasn't actively sleepwalking, so cred to him, but I'd still rate him beneath Ted Levine.
thehefner: (Applause)
So before we caught the great [ profile] tommx in DOUBT (one more this Sunday, assuming you're not going to the Faire like we are!), I dragged Henchgirl to the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring to catch a film as part of their Film Noir theme month.

Actually, truth be told we were going to see this:

I've already seen it, and it's brilliant. In fact, Devin at wrote a whole essay last week how the entire "Balloon Boy" fiasco is proof positive that ACE IN THE HOLE is sadly more topical than ever.

Quoth Devin: There are not many movies released almost 60 years ago that are completely, totally and brutally relevant to the world we live in today. But Billy Wilder's ACE IN THE HOLE is a film that is so of the moment it could come out this weekend and be considered timely, as today's Balloon Boy Brouhaha reminds us.

It's a dark, giddy, cynical little bastard of a film, and you have one more chance to see it at AFI this Thursday at 7:00. I plan to be there!

Or, if you like, you can watch it in its entirity here! A must for lovers of noir and biting satire:

So yeah, I've already seen it, but I wanted to see it on the big screen. In fact, we were running so late, we had to skip our first meal of the day (we slept in) just to see this, the other big noir feature playing today:

One of the great cult noir B-movies of all time. Look at that poster. That title. You think you know exactly what kind of film you're getting into with that. And just in case that one's not exploitative enough, shit, check out this one with the alternate title!

What we weren't expecting was to see one of the most goddamned romantic movies either of us have ever seen.

Thing is, this film is hailed as one of the greatest noir crime movies ever made--particularly the greatest Bonnie and Clyde type story--and I can see why. It's a film that's celebrated by critics and scholars, particularly for scenes such as the legendary bank robbery scene:

Director Joseph H. Lewis said: "We started a mile out of town. John and Peggy knew the intent and content of the scene, improvised their own dialogue and generally played it by ear. It so happens a car pulled out as they drove up. Otherwise she was going to double park. We made two takes and used the second take. Off screen there were people that yelled 'They held up the bank'. It was so real and none of the bystanders knew what we were doing. We had no extras except the people the policeman dircted. Everything--cars people--was there on the street."

Fucking. Awesome.

So yeah, I'm right there with the critics. For the most part. See, take this essay on GUN CRAZY written last year for The critic loves it, but he observes, "the two get together and it’s pretty clear she’s a horrible influence on him. Soon they are like a Bonnie and Clyde team, staging smart and small robberies, but her greed grows as their take does and she manipulates John Dall’s love for her for riskier jobs."

Well... not exactly.

I think many see her as a typical femme fatale, as those posters (and the alternate title) would have you think, and the genre itself would lead you to expect. Now, does she manipulate him? Hell yes! But she isn't like, say, Barbara Stanwyck in DOUBLE INDEMNITY or Kathleen Turner in BODY HEAT. Those are your classic femme fatales, the ones who wrap a sucker around their finger, make him do their bidding, sap them dry, and then double-cross them. Those women are only ever out for themselves.

But her manipulation is more akin to Lady Macbeth. At least, depending on your interpretation of Lady Macbeth. I'm sure many would see her as pure, classic femme fatale, but I've always preferred the school of thought that saw her manipulation not as a gambit to gain power for herself, but rather for them both. That her love for Macbeth was genuine, just as Peggy Cummins' love for John Dall was genuine. Genuine to the point of making them both schmucks, as love can do. It's what ultimately makes them shitty robbers but real human beings.

There's a point 3/4 of the way through where Henchgirl and I were totally expecting the typical noir femme fatale betrayal where she'd leave him in the lurch and he'd resemble an oversized-lollypop. Shit, I think even the character thought she was going to do that.

But that doesn't happen. What they do instead is something that I just can't bring myself to describe here, for fear that it just won't have the same impact out of context. All I can tell you is that Henchgirl and I weren't expecting it, and when it happened, we both had tears in our eyes. That scene is going on my list as one of the most romantic moments in all of moviedom.

Then again, we could be biased. These characters are what Henchgirl and I would be like as bank robbers. Honestly, it was delightful watching how often Henchgirl saw herself in the character.

GUN CRAZY is no longer playing at AFI, but you can catch it all right here:

Be warned: the first ten minutes make it feel like "REEFER MADNESS, but with guns!" And even after that, the movie is littered with moments of unintentionally hilarious hokum thanks to Dalton Trumbo (the blacklisted writer of the classic JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN). I still giggle at the thought of the line, "Two people dead! Just so we can live without working!" Heeheehee.

Ahem. Still! Stick with it at least until Peggy Cummins arrives, and tell me you aren't sucked in. Trust me. It's a magnificent film, and for me and Henchgirl, it's truly our (sick, strange) idea of a great date movie.

September 2012

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