The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) movie poster

director Peter Yates
viewed: 12/15/2014

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is the 1970’s era crime movie that lots of folks have been trying to make since the 1990’s.

I don’t mean “re-make” but “make”.  A lot of film-makers love themselves a period picture and while some of them are semi-biographical movies set in the 1970’s in which they happened or just trying to capture the drab style and unsentimental style of the era, there are some design templates like The French Connection (1971) or The Friends of Eddie Coyle that just embody the period, depicting at the time the present, that titillates and tempts movie makers that “I want to make a movie that looks and feels like THIS!”

Of course, The Friends of Eddie Coyle was a contemporary picture in its day.  Adapted from George V. Higgins’ novel of the same name from only three years before, the world of mouldering East Coast working class criminal life was a portrait of an existing present.  And the film, shot on location in and around Boston and outlying towns, captures a world with some straightforward veracity that film embodies: train stations, city centers, suburban banks.

And it’s a bleak world.

Eddie Coyle is played here by Robert Mitchum, an aging “stand-up guy” (maybe before that moniker was such a cliché.  He’s not exactly a cog in the criminal enterprise machinery since there is no one looking out for him but himself.  Caught up in transporting stolen merchandise accross state lines, he’s about to go to prison and is looking for a way to stay his stint without selling out anyone he really knows.  Only with a series of bank robberies that have escalated to killings and a kooky gang looking for machine guns to purchase, a lot is going down in the area.  And if you are the small guy, trying to play it straight, you’re chances of success are pretty piss poor.

I’d read the novel earlier this year.  Higgins’ book Coogan’s Trade had been made into a more contemporary film last year that I liked a lot, Killing Them Softly (2012) and I’d also read that novel of his (see, I do other things than simply watch movies!  I read 20th century crime novels, too!)  And Higgins’ world of working class crime isn’t as over the top as a lot of crime literature, not as pulpy anyways, but is quite compelling in its low-key drama and portraits of Boston and its boroughs.

Writer/producer Paul Monash and director Peter Yates (Bullitt (1968), Murphy’s War (1971), and Mother, Juggs & Speed (1976) to name a few) capture the time and place with drab, down at the heels realism.  Mitchum might seem a tad old for the role but the cast is pure character actor gold with Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Stephen Keats, and Joe Santos.  Realism is maybe a relative thing but from the locations to the fashions down to the automobiles, this film has an air of authenticity to it that sings.

Interestingly, if this film had been made today, perhaps, set designed and made to look as if it was actually 40 years ago, I think that there would be a lot more foul language, violence and maybe even racial epithets.  Maybe not the latter, but I was struck at the subtle limitation and casualness of such things here.

There is also a scene shot at Boston Garden, watching a Bruins game, starring Bobby Orr, which, again, captures a time and place and aesthetic of major American sports but also the crowd and the scene therein that is just so of the moment.  The footage looks utterly naturalistic, as shot at a real game, and the crowd looks like regular hockey enthusiasts, enjoying the fights as much as the scoring (if not more).

Great movie.  Not perfect, but great movie indeed.

Nurse (2013)

Nurse (2013) movie poster

director Doug Aarniokoski
viewed: 12/13/2014

“Hello, Nurse!” said I when first I saw the posters of Pas de la Huerta in fetishistic nursing gear, or alternatively nude and covered in blood.

Or some such thing.

I caught Pas de la Huerta in Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control (2009) (where she was cast as “Nude”) and also in Gaspar Noé’s mesmerizing Enter the Void (2009) and thought to myself that I had found another actress on which to focus my appreciations.  Only Ms. de la Huerta went onto television’s Boardwalk Empire and didn’t end up making a whole lot of movies since then.

So, Nurse looked like exactly the kind of thing I’d wanted to see: de la Huerta in a starring role, in a horror comedy of sorts, running around nekkid a lot.

Nurse is the story of Abby (de la Huerta) a nurse by day, serial killer by all times, whose focus is entirely on cheating men.  Really she is a sort of reverse misogynist.  And thusly also an anti-hero, I suppose.  She falls for a new co-worker named Danni (Katrina Brown) but after drugging her and taking advantage of her (including taking tons of blackmail photos), she is spurned and the plot has thickened into a more complex revenge.

The movie is not very good.  Which is not really surprising.  Abby is really a pretty nasty piece of work and though I think she’s meant to be somewhat sympathetic, she’s also really not sympathetic at all, but completely ruthless and evil.  Which I think falls on the writing and directing really.

It also features one of my personal pet peeves, digitized blood-letting.  I like a gory film but I like my fluids non-digital.  Digitized blood looks cheaper than it probably is to produce.

And as for Paz herself.  It’s hard to know how good/bad of an actress she is.  She’s certainly got a lot more screentime and dialogue in this film than the other two I mentioned, but her character is sort of inscrutable.  Sometimes funny, sometimes relatable, often just mean and cruel.

So, Nurse was a bit of a wash for me.  I’ve read they’re planning a sequel.

The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook (2014) movie poster

director Jennifer Kent
viewed: 12/13/2014

Original, strange, and cleverly creepy, The Babadook is probably one of the better and more interesting horror films of the year, maybe of some while.  The first feature film from Aussie director Jennifer Kent is a tale of a widowed suburban mother and her weird, semi-psychotic seven year old son.  And their evil shadow fiend, the Babadook.

The film has been building a head of steam on the “best of” lists for this year, even garnering a comment from The Excorcist (1973) director William Friedkin’s comment that The Babadook is the scariest film that he’d ever seen.  And that is great.  Seriously, it’s all great.  But hype and overhype can spoil a film viewing.

I watched The Babadook on Amazon streaming, the first film that was still in theaters that I’ve paid for like this.  And I watched it with my kids, with whom I’d viewed the trailer for the film.  My son, Felix, was particularly keen to see the movie.  And it was playing in town but across town at an inconvenient time slot.  I was a tad chagrined to do this as I don’t personally like to add to the hastening of the death of the movie theater, but circumstance is what circumstance is.

Widowed mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her odd son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) are going through a time.  Her husband died in a car accident at the time of Samuel’s birth and the boy has nightmares and builds contraption weapons to fend off his “imaginary” demons.  Only when a new storybook shows up on the shelf, “The Babadook” pop-up book (gonna be a best seller this Xmas, I tell you!), the imaginary becomes harder to distinguish from the real and the shadow figure boogeyman seems to have entered their house and hearts.

It’s certainly one of those metaphors for psychological dissonance that some fantastical horror embodies.  Is it the boy’s psychosis or the mother’s?  Or a shared psychosis?  Or is the Babadook a real thing?

The film’s real darkness is in its psychological horror, the isolation of mother and son from friends, family and society as distress and terror set in.  Like a lot of real, non-metaphorical psychological stressors and troubles, family services, friends, neighbors and loved ones are shut out or shut one out, that which should help you only further distances you, and whatever darkness there is exacerbates.

I think my kids enjoyed the movie.  I think it scared them a bit.  But I also think that they are a bit more literal in their interpretation, so the more metaphorical and psychological a horror, the more it might go over their heads.

Me, I think the film is very good and promising.  Probably like a lot of people, I look forward to what Jennifer Kent brings next to the screen.  Unlike William Friedkin, I don’t think it’s the scariest film I’ve ever seen, maybe not even the scariest film of the year.  But it’s interesting, original, and well-done and certainly worth seeing.  Maybe that’s not the endorsement that they’d be looking for, but hopefully it’s one that will not give you too much expectation to overcome if you do see it.

Annie (1982)

Annie (1982) movie poster

director John Huston
viewed: 12/12/2014

My ten year old daughter has been very excited to see Annie.  Annie (2014), that is.     Which opens this coming Friday in theaters and looks like it might be good or bad.  It’s hard to tell.

But she was also pretty interested in this 1982 version of Annie.  And as the 1982 Annie is readily available on Netflix streaming, I thought we’d give it a go.

I’d never seen it.  I was 13 in 1982 and I probably felt about the same about Annie as my now 13 year old son feels about the new Annie.  He wants no piece of it.  To be fair, I don’t know that I was that averse to the 1982 Annie at the time, but it cloyed and also didn’t get the best reviews.

One difference is that I knew who “Little Orphan Annie” was.  I don’t believe that the comic strip ever ran in our local paper but I still knew about Orphan Annie, Harold Gray’s classic American comic strip with the characters with the missing eye dots.  I knew more about it that the stage musical that had been adapted from it in 1977 by Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin and Thomas Meehan, of which I had some knowledge from whatever media of the day.

I knew “Tomorrow.”  And hated it.  I also didn’t like little redheads as a kid.

While the 1982 Annie didn’t turn out to be the mega-hit classic that it was pumped up to be and people may have their varying vicissitudes on what comprises a good musical or the specific shortcomings of this one, I have to say that I found myself enjoying it for the most part.  And Clara did too.  She enjoyed it a lot.  Will she enjoy the new one more?  Maybe.  But enjoyment is an important measurement in film-going, no matter how critical or objective you like to be.

I hadn’t realized til the opening credits that this was a John Huston film.  It may be Huston, a classic semi-auteurist American director’s, only musical but it does a decent job of trying for that movie magic and shooting the thing for the spectacle it is.

It’s also got Carol Burnett (I love Carol Burnett), Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, Geoffrey Holder, and Albert Finney.  Finney’s “singing” isn’t necessarily his strong point, but I still like Mr. Finney.  So whether it turned out to enthrall or disappoint, the whole thing is well-cast at least.  (Did I say how much I love Carol Burnett?)

If nothing else, in the end, I found myself liking it and open to seeing the new 2014 Annie, which was one of the films that I hoped my daughter would see with someone else, not having to show up on our movie schedule.  And you know?  That’s not insignificant.  My son will no doubt hold out his position that he’d rather be boiled in oil than having to sit through it.  But to each his (or her) own.

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979) movie poster

director Allan Arkush
viewed: 12/12/2014

It was only earlier this year that I finally saw Rock ‘n’ Roll High School for the first time.  But since Roku and Netflix Streaming, which features this film available for watching at any given moment, I’ve been tempted to watch it with the kids.  So, now I did.  At least, with Felix.

My son is 13 and has started getting into music.  One of the first ventures was to borrow my Ramones CD’s to burn.

I don’t have a lot to add to the things I wrote about the film back in March.  I mean, it’s not “squeaky clean”.  But it’s almost squeaky clean.

Felix liked it.  He thought it was “weird”, which isn’t too uncommon a comment from him on things.  But he laughed a lot.  He liked Paul Bartel.

The Lost Boys (1987)

The Lost Boys (1987) movie poster

director Joel Schumacher
viewed: 11/12/2014

The teenagers in Santa Cruz this year really suck!  Blood.  They suck blood.  They suck blood because they are vampires, yo!

Straight outta 1987, Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys is a comic horror paean to never getting old and being the rough and tumble rowdies of the boardwalk.  It was “When Corey Met Corey”, the first film to feature both Corey Haim (RIP) and Corey Feldman, launching an era of tween fantasies and Tiger Beat mini-posters.  Produced by Richard Donner, it’s a good sampling of the 1980’s teen movie, propelled by its comic elements and solid cast.

And the Santa Cruz (sorry, Santa Carla) Beach Boardwalk also adds to the film’s character.

It stars Jason Patric, Keifer Sutherland, the Coreys, Jami Gertz, Alex Winter (Bill S. Preston himself), Diane Wiest, and Edward Herrmann, which is a proof plenty of some timely and quality casting.  And they are all quite good.

My favorite part of the movie, from back in the day to today, has been the super-nerdy “Frog brothers” (Feldman and Jamison Newlander) and Corey Haim, the beleaguered damsel in distress younger brother who enlists the self-proclaimed vampire hunters.  And indeed, it’s the comedy that makes the rest of the unfolding plot lines worthwhile.

Haim, Patric, and Wiest show up post-divorce on the Santa Cruz (Carla) doorstep of Grandpa (Barnard Hughes) in the spray-painted proclamation as “the murder capital of the world”.  See, it’s the teenagers that cause all the trouble, raising heck down on the boardwalk.  Turns out they are deathless, death-dealing vampires.

But they’re cool.  And you know you want to hang out with them and join their club, right?

Patric falls for Gertz, a half-vampire, the only girl of the gang, which also has a little boy among their ranks.  She is the lure to bring Patric into the fold, to join the rowdies as they dangle from railroad bridges, race motorcycles to cliff edges, and kill punk rock bonfire partiers.  Who wouldn’t want to join them?

It’s good fun.  Really it is.

I had queued this up after Felix and I watched Batman Forever (1995), Shcumacher’s pre-atrocious superhero flick, in part to remind myself that he’d made some pretty good movies, too.

One thing stood out for me this time through the film (first viewing for me since the 1980’s perhaps): Corey Haim’s character’s wardrobe and otherwise Queer subtext.

This is an Eighties movie, if I haven’t driven home that aspect enough yet, so 1980’s fashion crimes shouldn’t be too surprising.  But Haim wears some of the weirdest outfits imaginable.  Felix even joked at one point “What is he wearing?” to which I could not accurately respond.  My clues lie elsewhere, when Haim’s character in one scene sports a “Shop Til You Drop” t-shirt.  Maybe it was in that same scene that I noticed that his bedroom walls were covered in posters of other teen male icons of the time like Rob Lowe.

Really, if there is a queer subtext either in Haim’s Sam or perhaps even in the Lost Boys mostly male gang, it’s pretty subtle.  The points around Sam’s wardrobe and his bedroom could be read as “quirky” and the subtext around the all-male (more or less gang) is muted possibly.  I’ve got to feel that there have been some more pointed analyses on the subject over the years.

The two Coreys honestly get the best lines and scenes.  Haim in particular is very good as the goofy little brother, but Feldman’s Edgar Frog is the film’s best invention.  It’s still funny, these comic book-inspired teen nutcases with their homemade vampire slaying equipment, riding the line of crazy or “crazy LIKE A FOX!”  It’s good stuff.

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (2013)

.Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (2013) movie poster

director Michel Gondry
viewed: 12/12/2014

I suppose if I had the opportunity to sit down with a preeminent intellectual and thinker like Noam Chomsky, I’d gladly take up the opportunity.  Filmmaker Michel Gondry stumbled on such an opportunity and took a movie camera and recorded his conversations with the intelligent, controversial octogenarian.  Gondry then took the footage home and animated the conversation in free-form line drawings, adding massive whimsy to the far-reaching conversation/discussion.

Gondry’s illustrations are fun and kind of cool.  Chomsky’s musings about linguistics, politics, and science in general are not uninteresting.

But Gondry himself isn’t exactly the most stimulating of interrogators.  His French accent is thicker than foie gras.  Even when he transposes his words in writing while he narrates, it takes a lot of effort to hear him out.  And Chomsky often misunderstands Gondry’s questions.  This could have been an interesting point of discussion, but it’s not addressed.  Instead, it’s a somewhat rambling series of discussions from René Descartes to Chomsky’s own childhood.

Frankly, as an intro to Chomsky, it’s probably not nearly as interesting nor compelling as the 1992 documentary/essay Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.

Gondry has one good film to his name, 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  So far, that’s all he’s got.

Taxidermia (2006)

Taxidermia (2006) movie poster

director György Pálfi
viewed: 12/10/2014

I guess I’ve found a new resource for film discovery: the internet list.

I “discovered” Taxidermia, a Hungarian film by György Pálfi, in musing through the internets over lists of “weirdest movies” or “most disgusting” or some such thing.  I hadn’t heard of it.  Didn’t know a thing about it.  I believe it was Flavorwire’s The 50 Weirdest Movies Ever Made, that might have started it.  Anyhow, it looked interesting enough to queue up.

Broken into three segments, Taxidermia is indeed quite gross, but it’s also quite an unusual creation.  It’s firstly more an art film, perhaps along the lines of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen (1991) with a surrealist camp aesthetic perhaps with a certain Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) but without the out-and-out sense of humor.  In fact, the humor is more morbid than mordant.

Its story is told in three segments, first via a sex-obsessed lackey in WWII, a post-war competitive eating champion in the Soviet era, and finally a socially awkward taxidermist in the modern piece.  I believe it’s meant to be metaphorical to Hungary’s role and identity plodding through those times, and if so, quite the disturbing criticism indeed.

Each generation is beget as bastards, raised by stand-in parents, for one thing.  And whether you father a child by raping the corpse of a slaughtered pig, you eat your gluttonous fill and puke buckets and buckets without actually ever competing in the Olympics, or you wind up taxidermying yourself in some bizarro post-mortem sculpture, there is probably endless fodder here for analyzing the critiques and social commentaries.

It’s quite good, in its way.  It’s also massively disgusting in its way as well.  Not for the weak of stomach, though all the grossness is done with practical visual effects and isn’t at all literally real.

Quite interesting.

That’s Sexploitation! (2013)

That's Sexploitation (2013) movie poster

director Frank Henenlotter
viewed: 12/09/2014

When That’s Sexploitation! showed up suddenly on Fandor, I was like “What!  A documentary about sexploitation?! By Frank Henenlotter?!”  I was pretty excited.  I didn’t know he’d even been working on a documentary.

In the documentary, he interviews longtime exploitation producer and longtime friend David F. Friedman, who has since passed away.  Henenlotter hosts and narrates the way through the the history of film and sexploitation from the silent era to the 1970’s when it more or less petered out as hardcore pornography made a lot of the titillation moot.

This could easily have been totally awesome.  Henenlotter and Friedman have keen knowledge and insight to the spectrum of time covered here, Friedman largely pretty firsthand.  But one of the film’s limitations is that it’s largely limited to the scope of Henenlotter’s own Something Weird distribution, which isn’t a major limitation.  If it wasn’t for Something Weird, who knows where all these films would have disappeared to.  Who would have cataloged all these nudist cuties, roughies, and the like?  They could have well been lost to time.  Really, they’ve done a major effort of preservation and history keeping.  So, limited as it is, it’s still a treasure trove.

But the movie ends up being a bit of a greatest hits clip show of Something Weird titles.  Which also has value.  But you kind of wish that there was a fuller picture not just limited to what they have available.

Even so, the film is still over 2 hours long.  Kind of verging on epic.

Henenlotter is entertaining and convivial and Friedman does paint an amusing series of anecdotes.  So, it’s still good and interesting.  I was just wishing for a little more.

Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985)

Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985) movie poster

director Philippe Mora
viewed: 12/08/2014

The Howling II sports one of the worst and most hilarious subtitles in movie history: “Your Sister Is a Werewolf”.  And oddly enough, it was almost as bad with it’s original subtitle “Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch”.  But to be fair, the line gets spoken at least twice in the film, and initially by the wonderful Christopher Lee.

Christopher Lee slums it hardcore here.  The main protagonist actors, Annie McEnroe and Reb Brown, are straight-up amateur thespians.

Sybil Danning and her fantastic bosoms are the only other notable stars.

The original The Howling (1981) was a pretty decent movie with great visual effects.  The Howling II is a hilariously bad movie with a lot less investment in effects, though there are a couple of brief visuals of gruesome note (in particular when one character’s eyes pop out and the sockets squirt blood – but it’s also maybe more funny than straightforwardly effective.)

The story sort of picks up where the original left off.  The funeral of the newscaster-turned-werewolf is attended by her brother and co-worker (Brown and McEnroe) but also by Lee, who is a werewolf hunter, and a couple of seedy werewolves in human clothing.  When it becomes clear to Brown and McEnroe that Lee is right, his sister IS a werewolf, they pop off to Prague to hunt down Stirba (Danning), the “Werewolf Bitch” of the alternative title.  The whole of Prague seems to have been turned into werewolves or werewolf sympathizers.  A battle ensues.

I have to wonder if I had ever actually seen this film, but I really don’t think I did.  I recall watching The Howling III: The Marsupials (1987) (also directed by Philippe Mora) and my roommate joking about Your Sister Is a Werewolf and honestly thinking that it was one of his own jokes rather than the actual title.

It’s a howler alright.  It’s seriously funny-bad.

One of the stranger qualities of the film is the recurring band from the movie.  It’s a new wave band called “Babel” who even wrote a title song for the movie.  The thing is that they’re really pretty good.  The scenes at the punk/new wave bar are kinda cool in a 1980’s sort of way.  And I liked seeing Christopher Lee don those “totally tubular” new wave specs for the scene.