Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) movie poster

director Susan Seidelman
viewed: 03/11/2017

For all the Eighties nostalgia over John Hughes movies and others, Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan seems somewhat overlooked. Though it’s far from perfect, it’s also quite enjoyable. And though it’s most notable for starring the young and still underpolished Madonna, it has quite a few other things going for it as well.

I’d watched Seidelman’s Smithereens (1982) only a week before, and it was interesting to see that film’s narcissistic wannabe Wren (Susan Berman) sort of matured and developed into Madonna’s titular Susan. Because Susan is cool and aloof, self-centered, uncaring of the people she encounters. Even her lover rocker guy, Jim (Robert Joy), has to track her down by posting to the classified ads in the paper (which is also how Roberta (Roseanna Arquette) gets mixed up in things too.)

It’s true that plotting-wise, with knock-on-the-head amnesia and stolen Egyptian earrings, is TV sitcom level stuff. But Seidelman manages to elevate this, maybe through her characters and castings, to a cut above the run-of-the-mill.

Like Smithereens as well, 1980’s New York City plays a key role. Here it’s not quite so gritty and tough, or maybe it’s grittiness and toughness are seen more through the prism of the New Jersey housewife Roberta, slumming her way to fun and freedom in the bohemian midtown and SoHo of pre-Giuliani Manhattan.

Apparently the film could have become many things, considering the various casting ideas. It’s probably quite good that Seidelman won out and got Arquette and Madonna, though the rising popularity of the latter among teens had this movie reconfigured for PG rather than the R it was initially intended to be. Numerous notable interesting actors appear throughout the film in a variety of roles: John Turturro, Laurie Metcalf, Steven Wright, to name but a few.

Whatever happened to Susan Seidelman? Maybe it was the poor commercial success of her follow-up Making Mr. Right that hamstrung her career? (Pure speculation sans research on my part there – she’s continued to make films, just not any big hits). Because between Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan, there was definitely something brewing in her work.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 03/10/2017

Poe-Corman-Price.

The Tomb of Ligeia is Roger Corman possibly sparing less expense than normal. The result is a very aesthetically pleasing film, nicely shot by cinematographer Arthur Grant, and using the English locations of Castle Acre Priory as well as Stonehenge and others to maximum advantage. Even the studio-based scenes are good-looking.

Vincent Price plays Verden Fell, a man hung up on his dead wife Ligeia so much that he really believes she could still be alive. When he falls for Rowena (a lovely and game Elizabeth Shepherd) who is also Ligeia as well, obsession, hypnotism, madness, and necrophilia are teased out.

For all that going for it, it’s not as compelling as some other Poe-Corman-Price pictures.

I was also struck by how many times that poor cat was obviously tossed at someone.

Seance (2000)

Seance (2000) movie poster

director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
viewed: 03/08/2017

Made for Japanese television, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Seance is derived from the same source novel that became the 1962 British film Séance on a Wet Afternoon.

A husband and wife Koji Yakusho and Jun Fubuki are living their lives, totally normally. That is if the husband is a sound engineer and the wife is a psychic with real powers who occasionally works as a waitress. Totally normal.

When a child victim of a kidnapping escapes and stows away in a case for sound recording, the couple find themselves with a problem. First the girl seems dead. Then the girl is alive. What to do? Call the police? That would be insanity! Right? Totally normal.

One thing leads to another, but there are lots of questions, for me at least. Like wouldn’t the case have felt heavier with a little girl inside? Why wouldn’t a normal person take a little girl to the police or hospital? Though later a plan emerges to sort of address the latter question, it troubles the story. Apparently in the British film, the kidnapping was planned by the couple, they didn’t accidentally do it. Which seems to make more sense.

All said, it’s a decent enough film. Well-framed and shot if full of weird plot holes.

Nukie (1987)

Nukie (1987) movie poster

directors Sias Odendaal, Michael Pakleppa
viewed: 03/07/2017

A couple years ago, I called Mac and Me (1988) “Probably the greatest, most terrible E.T.  knock-off ever made”. I believe I stand corrected.

Nukie at the very least is its equal.

Glibly, you might consider it almost Mac and Me through the prism of The Gods Must Be Crazy. Because like that ludicrous film, Nukie is an Apartheid-era South African film about not just one but two extraterrestrials, Nukie and Miko, landed to Earth, Miko in the U.S., Nukie in S.A.

You might have to pinch yourself to ask if you are dreaming. Or wonder if you are having an acid flashback while watching it. It’s so insanely bad, it’s brutal, absurd, and intensely hilarious.

Much as Mac and MeNukie deserves placement on the list of Worst Films Ever Made. Really and truly. I’ve given some credence to Wikipedia’s list, but more and more it’s a little too easy for most of the films from the last three decades. But as I often note, no list is a perfect lift.

Other than that, I can only fail to do it justice. Nukie is a marvel, one that must be seen.

Bloodsuckers from Outer Space (1984)

Bloodsuckers from Outer Space (1984) movie poster

director  Glen Coburn
viewed: 03/06/2017

Perhaps Glen Coburn should have heeded the famous saying: “dying is easy; comedy is hard.”

But he didn’t. And maybe for the best.

Bloodsuckers from Outer Space is low-budget regional horror-comedy that winds up being more charming that it seemingly has a right to be. Though the comedy angle is the film’s weakest point, there is something still appealing is its gleeful attempts.

Well, maybe not all of them.

And that theme song! Now, that is quality.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) movie poster

director Robert Aldrich
viewed: 03/05/2017

“Psycho-biddy! Psycho-biddy! Psycho-biddy!”
– sing to the tune of the Ramones’ “Psychotherapy”

Psycho-biddy? Grande Dame Guignol? Hagsploitation? Hag horror?

As a kid, I had all these movies mixed up in my head. “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, I’m trying to find out What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” Probably didn’t help that both starred Bette Davis and were directed by Robert Aldrich (though I would have been unaware of the latter fact, it probably is a tell in stylistics). I always liked Bette Davis. I always had issues with Joan Crawford.

Bette Davis is ON FIRE throughout the film. And Victor Buono! So good.

I had totally forgotten the opening part of the film, showing the grand dames as children. Baby Jane is like Rhoda from The Bad Seed (1956) with the shrill and saccharine amped up to 11.

Great stuff.

Logan (2017)

Logan (2017) movie poster

director James Mangold
viewed: 03/05/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

My daughter was very excited to see that Logan was to be released on her 13th birthday. And for her birthday, I took her and a couple of her friends to see Logan. It’s a small sample size, but based on my experience, 13 year old girls LOVE Logan. It even brought tears to their eyes.

Surprisingly violent and successfully gritty, Logan takes the Wolverine character as played by Hugh Jackman into the future, the year 2029, where Logan is ailing from blood poisoning, alcoholism, and the bitter, brutal events that led up to the elimination of all mutants. It’s only him and Caliban (Stephan Merchant) left, caring for the very ill Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart).

That is until his clone daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) shows up. She’s like him, with those claws, and when she’s unleashed, she’s a killing machine.

The story then turns to a run for the Canadian border, to some safe haven for Laura and her test tube mutant brethren. There is an amazing poignancy in this, with the current state of affairs and the plight of immigrants in the United States at the moment.

The film has some political commentary, but really it’s a character-driven film, with a lot of brutal dismemberment, slicing and dicing. And for my money, not just the 13 year olds in our party, it works well. Jackman and Stewart and Keen derive their pathos.

It’s a superhero film stripped of costumes and magic, humanized, or at least de-superhero-ized. Easily the best film in the series.

Smithereens (1982)

Smithereens (1982) movie poster

director Susan Seidelman
viewed: 03/04/2017

I’m pretty sure I first caught wind of Smithereens via the old USA Network’s great weekend show Night Flight. It’s another film on Rolling Stone‘s 25 Greatest Punk Rock Movies of All Time.

Directed and co-written by Susan Seidelman (who would go on to direct Desperately Seeking Susan a couple years later), offers views of early 1980’s NYC through the prism of a narcissistic hanger-on. Wren (Susan Berman) isn’t at all the nicest of girls. We first see her stealing a pair of sunglasses from an unsuspecting hand in the subway where she goes to paste her photocopies of self-promotion all over the place.

When newcomer Paul (Brad Rijn) spots her and tries to make friends with her, little does he realize what a bottomless hole of a person she is. Her eventual comeuppance takes the form of rocker Eric (Richard Hell), someone slightly above her in coolness and street cred (he’s got an album out), but who proves to be as much of a user and manipulator as Wren herself.

The portrait of Wren is interesting. As shallow and selfish as she is, striving for something of fame or notoriety, it’s not entirely unsympathetic. She finds herself at the end aimless and alone,  but perhaps her story still goes on somewhere.

Berman was a nonactor before the film and she gives a great performance as Wren. Seidelman populates the film with a lot of interesting small performances from characters like Wren’s friend or the prostitute who propositions Paul to even the cheap floozy that Eric has just tossed aside even after marrying her. These women are interesting in their own ways, even in their small roles.

Richard Hell is very good in the movie too. Which is interesting because only a couple years earlier he was pretty bad in Blank Generation.

My Degeneration (1990)

My Degeneration (1990) VHS cover

director Jon Moritsugu
viewed: 03/03/2017

Heralded last year in Rolling Stone’s “25 Greatest Punk Rock Movies of All Time” at #15, Jon Moritsugu’s 1990 My Degeneration is legit. The list, like any list, has its points, and it also has its failings. But My Degeneration is served well and has true punk cred.

It’s a rise and fall story of a band, not unlike Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984) or Lovedolls Superstar (1986) before it. But Moritsugu’s aims and aesthetics are far grungier, perhaps with a particular affront to art school, and featuring outre weirdness of a rotting pig’s head as a potential romantic lead/demon.

It’s got music by Government Issue, Halo of Flies, Vomit Launch and Poison Idea, too.

The gals of Bunny-Love, the band at the center of things, make a deal with the beef industry to promote and shill beef. So is selling out selling out if you did it from the get-go?

I have very few claims to fame of having known any filmmakers, but I did know Jon Moritsugu and even interviewed him for a class I had as an undergrad in the early 1990’s. He’s a cool guy and already in My Degeneration Amy Davis, his longtime love and muse and partner appears as the drummer of the group.

Low-fi punk rockness.

 

Man-Thing (2005)

Man-Thing (2005) movie poster

director Brett Leonard
viewed: 03/02/2017

In researching some other Marvel Comics movie thing, I stumbled on the fact that there was a Man-Thing movie, made in 2005. I follow along pretty well and have kept tabs on how Marvel has evolved its own productions, but I really hadn’t heard at all about this movie. Reading up now on it, it’s not surprising.

Produced by Artisan Entertainment, who had also made that era’s The Punisher (2004), and worked out a deal to license some of Marvel’s more minor characters (before Marvel realized that running the quality control was the key to success), Man-Thing was an Australian production, not keenly over-seen by the parent company, and was not released theatrically in the US.

For me, Man-Thing always held a point of fascination, possibly because it started as a comic book in 1974, when I was 5 and growing up in Florida, land of swamps. I always loved monsters. Especially sympathetic things that looked cool.

It might surprise you to know that the cinematic Man-Thing is a horror film, not at all a superhero movie. But it probably wouldn’t surprise you just how bad this movie is.

Australians may be good at a lot of things, but sounding like Cajuns and Creoles is not one of them. Throw in a lot of cheap camera effects that make this look like a SciFi Channel original of the era (it was released as such eventually), and you’ve got a big hunk of junk.

On the positive side, it’s R-rated so an a-typical flash of boobs tells you early on that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill Marvel outing. But even as a horror film it’s pretty terrible. And the creature itself, originally meant to be a physical costume enhanced by CGi, winds up being cheap CGi circa 2005, which is a sad fate for any character and far from interesting or terrifying.

But is it bad enough to be good? I’d say it’s close, but I don’t think it achieves even this rather low point of success. Perhaps it deserves its relative obscurity.