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Tales From My Netflix Queue

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Tales From My Netflix Queue

Postby Marvell » Wed Feb 06, 2008 12:14 pm

So - by one of those freakish accidents of timing I signed up for Netflix right before I suddenly found myself with a lot of unexpected solitary time on my hands. It's given me an opportunity to patch some of the more glaring holes in my film education. Among the films I finally got to see: Barbarella; The Man Who Fell To Earth; Passolini's adaptation of The Decameron; 12 Monkeys.

Currently I'm crossing off the last of the early Robert Altman classics I've never seen - I just finished California Split, and I've got Thieves Like Us coming.

But of all the films I've seen so far, the one that I was most impressed with was Carrie. What an unbelievably great movie.

I got it at the same time as another 70's DePalma film about telekinesis - The Fury. I had heard that The Fury was one of DePalma's worst movies, so I watched that one first, and I'm glad I did; it's striking how so many of the same themes that are handled with such sensitivity and adroitness in Carrie are so ham-fistedly botched in The Fury.

Both are films about, ultimately, the horror of bad parents. In Carrie it's the mother; in The Fury it's John Cassavetes' Childress character, who presents a front of paternal concern to disguise his bottomless amorality.

But there's a clear difference in the quality of the source material. The telekinesis angle in The Fury is really just window dressing laid atop a tangle of tired international-thriller tropes - while there's a strong whiff of political criticism, the various spook agencies are too ill-defined to really give the film teeth (DePalma would have to wait until 1981's Blow Out to make a political thriller that feels fully realized). And there's just waaaaay too much 'comic relief' from Kirk Douglas (although he has a great line, talking about Childress's arm - "I killed it," Kirk says with a self-satisfied smirk).

Carrie, by contrast, is almost perfect in tone. It's a wickedly funny movie (John Travolta, in particular, gives himself over to playing a preening, oafish lout with palpable glee), and yet the humor doesn't distract from the gathering horror - quite the opposite.

A lot of the credit must go to Stephen King, for whom Carrie was his first novel published under his own name. While I went through a period in high school where I read most of King's books that had been published at that point, I never read Carrie - and I can't imagine I missed much. King has become a better prose stylist as he has gone along, but his real power as a horror novelist is not (god knows) his writing ability but rather his moral imagination. And Carrie dives right into the squirming, psycho-sexual heart of the beast - it's astonishingly free of pretense and clutter. And it seems to effortlessly present a multitude of aspects of abject human experience (religious mania; the fascistic element to so much of adolescent socialization; fear of female sexuality) in an immediately accessible narrative frame.

A lot of credit must also go to the cast. Besides Travolta there are impressive turns by Nancy Allen and Amy Irving, and William Katt is so perfect as Tommy Ross that you find yourself wondering why the hell he didn't end up a bigger star.

But the real stars of the film are mother and daughter, and both give peerless performances. Piper Laurie's Margaret White is right up there with Welles' Harry Lime and Michael Caine's Mortwell as one of film's great villains - it's a testament to the intelligence of her acting that Margaret, while indisputably monstrous, is also a figure of intense pathos.

And Sissy Spacek's Carrie is one of the greatest performances of the 70's, and one of the great characters in all of the horror genre - bested perhaps only by Peter Lorre's child murderer in M.

Ultimately, both The Fury and Carrie are about the same thing: the problematic relationship between wielding effective political/sexual power - imposing our will on others - and maintaining our humanity. It's a theme they share with another near-great film I saw recently - Polanski's adaptation of Macbeth. Jon Finch's Macbeth, by the end, has become King of Scotland by murdering his own humanity; in the last battle he's truly become a monster - a relentless killing machine, less than a man.

Recently my dad (the Rev) and I were talking about whether 'humanness' is an inherent quality of all homo sapiens, or whether our 'humanity' is a conditional quality/state that can be lost or revoked. Spacek's Carrie, desperately trying to be (as she says) 'a whole person before it's too late,' illustrates this existential conundrum as few film characters have before or since. It's a great film.
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Postby Marvell » Sat Feb 09, 2008 12:34 pm

When I was a kid I wanted to be Sean Connery's James Bond; that was my idea of what male adult cool should look like.

As I got a little older my calibrations changed - I wanted to be more like Bogie in Casablanca.

Last night I was watching Kurosawa's Yojimbo, and suddenly it hit me:

I want to be Toshiro Mifune. That's one cool motherfucker.

p.s. - Roger Corman's Gas-s-s-s-s, while objectively-speaking one of the worst films I have ever seen, seems to have been a major influence on George Miller's The Road Warrior. Who knew?
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Postby Marvell » Sun Feb 17, 2008 10:14 am

I thought John Phillip Law was terrible in Barbarella, but I just saw Danger: Diabolik! and he's surprisingly good in it. It helps that within the fumetti/comic book conception of the film he doesn't really have to act.

It's an odd movie, though - clearly in the Euro 'criminal mastermind' tradition that goes back to Dr. Mabuse, it also plays the spectacle of economic and social catastrophe for laughs (thanks, in a large part, to the impeccably fustian Terry Thomas). In that, it seems to anticipate Fight Club, which also encouraged the audience to applaud violent Nietzschean anarchy.

The production design is fantastic, and another clear influence on the Austin Powers films (especially the strategic positioning of frosted glass in the shower scene). The score by Ennio Morricone, on the other hand, has its moments, but I found the choral work reminding me of similar music in Erotic Ghost Story - not a comparison that works in either film's favor.

And there are a lot of cool vintage Jags.
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Postby depinmad » Sun Feb 17, 2008 10:33 am

i have a soft spot in my heart for the fury. saw it when i was a kid and loved it. checked it out again a few years ago and was thoroughly disappointed, though i do think it has a few great set pieces. for real laughs check out pauline kael's rave review of it in the new yorker.
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Postby buckyor » Sun Feb 17, 2008 11:07 am

Marvell wrote:I thought John Phillip Law was terrible in Barbarella, but I just saw Danger: Diabolik! and he's surprisingly good in it. It helps that within the fumetti/comic book conception of the film he doesn't really have to act.

It's an odd movie, though - clearly in the Euro 'criminal mastermind' tradition that goes back to Dr. Mabuse, it also plays the spectacle of economic and social catastrophe for laughs (thanks, in a large part, to the impeccably fustian Terry Thomas). In that, it seems to anticipate Fight Club, which also encouraged the audience to applaud violent Nietzschean anarchy.

The production design is fantastic, and another clear influence on the Austin Powers films (especially the strategic positioning of frosted glass in the shower scene). The score by Ennio Morricone, on the other hand, has its moments, but I found the choral work reminding me of similar music in Erotic Ghost Story - not a comparison that works in either film's favor.

And there are a lot of cool vintage Jags.


Isn't that the movie spoofed in the last episode of MST3K?
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Postby Henry Vilas » Sun Feb 17, 2008 11:13 am

The Fury - is that the one where Michael Ironsides head explodes?

Oh, I now remember. That was Scanners. Nevermind.
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Postby Marvell » Sun Feb 17, 2008 1:44 pm

Henry Vilas wrote:The Fury - is that the one where Michael Ironsides head explodes?


No - John Cassavettes.

And it's not just his head that explodes.

Also - Michael Ironsides' head does not explode in Scanners. Rather, he makes the other guy's head explode.
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Postby TheBookPolice » Mon Feb 18, 2008 3:27 pm

Relatively new Netflixer. Does everyone get pummeled with suggestions for every goddamn documentary if they rate one highly, or is it just me? I'm getting recs for documentaries on QUILTING because I liked Blue Planet.
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Postby Marvell » Mon Feb 18, 2008 11:18 pm

TheBookPolice wrote:Relatively new Netflixer. Does everyone get pummeled with suggestions for every goddamn documentary if they rate one highly, or is it just me? I'm getting recs for documentaries on QUILTING because I liked Blue Planet.


I don't know what algorithm they use for their 'if you liked this you'll like this' thing, but it pretty much sucks. I ordered the first couple of de Ossorio's Blind Dead films, and was suggested Freddy Vs Jason. Youch!

I had the best luck just digging into the genre listings. It took me a couple hours to get my queue up to 100 titles - and while I'm doing my damndest, there's no way I'm going to get through them all by the time my subscription runs out in May.

At which time it will be softball season, and I'll have better things to do with my evenings than plop my ass on the couch.
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Postby Marvell » Tue Mar 04, 2008 11:13 am

Last night I watched the Taviani Brothers' Night of the Shooting Stars / Il Notte di San Lorenzo. I've wanted to see this film ever since I read Pauline Kael's glowing review back when I was in high school, a mortifyingly long time ago (let's just say that the bloom was still on the Reagan Revolution).

Was it worth the wait? Well, I will say this - it's an awfully good film.

It bears more than a passing resemblance to Hope and Glory, John Boorman's autobiographical film memoir of the London Blitz; like Boorman's film, Night of the Shooting Stars sees World War II from a child's perspective, and explicitly aknowledges that the sheer synesthetic spectacle of war can seem magical to someone who doesn't understand the full moral implications of all that light and noise (in this it also anticipates Spielberg's adaptation of J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun). But what Night of the Shooting Stars adds is a visceral sense of the confused, tangled loyalties of people caught in a civil war - where the people you are killing, or watching be killed, are all people you know.

It's an astonishingly fair-minded film; while there is little doubt where the filmmakers' sympathies lie (and who would really expect an Italian film of the early 80's to be pro-fascist), and while the portrayal of the blackshirts at times comes perilously close to dismissive Keystone Kops low comedy, the Taviani's never quite lose sight of the underlying pathos of the situation. There's a father and son team of fascists who together have a Mutt and Jeff meet Snidely Whiplash shtick; just when you think the Taviani's have reduced them to villainous charicatures they are given a death scene that is so perfectly realized and feels so true to reality that, for a moment, we find our own sympathies confused - seeing his son shot dead before him the father drops to the ground and burrows in the dirt like an agonized, wounded animal.

It's not a perfect film. The subplot of the aging peasent and his long-time love (who was ennobled and, having risen above her class, deliberately obliterated her early history) is a little too obvious and didactic for my tastes, and their big scene - where, amidst the chaos of their escape, they pretend to be husband and wife and spend the night together - goes on a little too long, and overplays their tentativeness and emotional reserve. But the resolution - in the morning, they part and it's clear that it will only be a one-night stand - feels exactly right. A Hollywood film, recognizing that the union of this couple is the St. Lorenzo's Day miracle that the entire movie has been pointing towards, would foist a 'happily-ever-after' ending which might satisfy us on some childish level of wish-fullfillment but would feel false to the material; the Taviani's recognized just how far they can push their miracle without insulting the intelligence of an adult audience or cheapening their message.

And there are a number of truly great moments in this film: you watch the communion sequence in the cathedral and you're both grateful for the Taviani's restraint and painfully aware of how someone like Spielberg would trivialize and coarsen it by grabbing you by the lapels and thrusting your nose into the pathos and irony. There's a moment at the end of the sequence where the bishop and the mother of a fallen girl struggle to bear her body outside; clutching the body their eyes meet - the woman's changing expression conveys the gaining of a terrible knowledge and the abandonment of a betrayed faith, and the bishop's face shows he realizes exactly what she's thinking and reveals an agonized awareness of his own weakness and fatal pride. It's one of the most pitiless sequences I've ever seen on film, and shows a willingness to gaze, unflinching, into the most abject corners of human existance.

This is a great movie. See it if you can.

- Edited one time to correct my pitiful Italian
Last edited by Marvell on Tue Mar 04, 2008 2:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby MadMind » Tue Mar 04, 2008 11:28 am

Marvell wrote:I ordered the first couple of de Ossorio's Blind Dead films

My mini-review.
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Postby Marvell » Thu Mar 06, 2008 1:25 am

The DVD's I got from Netflix had most of the nudity excised - although in the 'Extras' of the second Blind Dead DVD there was a section of 'Prodution Stills,' where you could see a lot of the debauchery that you didn't see in the cut of the film.

Curious.

Can't say I ever miss a rape scene, though. But that's just me.
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Postby buckyor » Fri Mar 07, 2008 3:12 pm

Marvell wrote:Can't say I ever miss a rape scene, though. But that's just me.


A Clockwork Orange? Rosemary's Baby? Those are two that come immediately to mind.
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Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Fri Mar 07, 2008 3:19 pm

buckyor wrote:
Marvell wrote:Can't say I ever miss a rape scene, though. But that's just me.

A Clockwork Orange? Rosemary's Baby? Those are two that come immediately to mind.

Once Upon A Time In America always come to my mind first, perhaps because there are two.
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Postby supaunknown » Fri Mar 07, 2008 3:23 pm

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:
buckyor wrote:
Marvell wrote:Can't say I ever miss a rape scene, though. But that's just me.

A Clockwork Orange? Rosemary's Baby? Those are two that come immediately to mind.

Once Upon A Time In America always come to my mind first, perhaps because there are two.

C'mon, that broad in the jeweler scene was asking for it. Ah, Leone.
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