Saturday, February 25, 2023

Cocaine Bear


I was really hyped up about this film. I expected it to be ridiculously violent and full of bad puns and jokes about a bear being high. There was some of that but not nearly as much as I wanted. If you have read this site in the past you know I have a weakness for cheesy, violent movies. "Smokin' Aces", "Seven Psychopaths", "Piranha 3D" and "Piranha 3DD" are good examples of the sort of nonsense I was looking for. It's not that this did not deliver, it did, just not in spades like I was hoping. We get caught up in a couple of stories that are supposed to structure the film, but they are just not that interesting and I kept hoping the bear would do some more damage to more people and property.

A movie like this has to be self aware of how over the top it is. In the best sequences, you do get that sort of malicious nastiness that we come to this for. The opening sequence with the European tourists sets us up pretty well. They are a little too self involved, but their dialogue was fun. I'm all for naming a kid Texas, I think they would both love it and hate it. The old joke about not needing to be faster than the bear, just faster than the other person, gets tossed aside pretty quickly. The dismemberment image is just enough without going too far in the intro. The problem is, it takes a long time to get back to this sort of thing. Even though there is an amusing sequence with the plane that drops the cocaine, it turns quickly to some issues that ought to get out of the way a little quicker.

Kids in jeopardy is a trope that also undermines the story. We know that the film maker is not going to have nine year olds ripped to pieces in front of us. That would undermine the enjoyment of the bear attacks. The victims need to be idiots, scum, or something else we can enjoy seeing brought down. This is not a horror film but a thriller comedy.  Now the drug smugglers, the muggers, the smug do-gooders, that's the stuff we are looking for. So there should be more of that. The problem is that the national park setting is not as target rich an environment as the river locations in the Piranha movies. There is also no gratuitous nudity to enhance the cheesy nature of the movie. The closest we get to characters who fulfill that need for our voyeurism, is a middle age ranger and a nature crusade. That don't work.

My favorite death moment in the film is not really a bear attack but an accidental moment by people who are so hyped up by fear that they act stupidly. The sequence at the ranger station and the ambulance is the high point of the bear mayhem, and it occurs halfway through the movie, and we need something a little stronger at the end. This is Ray Liotta's last film and he put in some effort, especially in the section where he confronts the detective in the story. The problem is he never gets hyped up the way the other characters do about the bear, and it makes this part of the story feel too much like it is from another picture. Director Elizabeth Banks, makes the sequences with the bear work well enough, but the pacing of the rest of the story seems off and a little slow.

Don't get me wrong, I had a good time with this but it is not the perfect realization of the high concept premise that I wanted. My standards may be low when it comes to a movie like this, but I need to be honest, some good laughs and disturbing deaths were not quite enough to make it a classic. If you are intrigued by the idea, and you understand the approach the story is taking to this, you too will have some enjoyment. You may not however feel a need to ever return to the film, and a movie with this sort of promise should always be re-watchable. 


Thursday, February 23, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 "The Hindenburg"


Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

The Hindenburg

This was another of the few 1975 films I am covering on this year long project, that I missed in theaters when it opened in December. As a freshman  debater at USC, we were expected to participate in and help out in the major National Debate Competition held on our campus"The Alan Nichols Invitational". So I was preoccupied at the holidays and never got a chance to catch up. Also in December we had "Lucky Lady","The Killer Elite", "The Black Bird", "Hustle", "The Man Who Would be King", "Barry Lyndon", and  "Sherlock Holmes Smatter Brother". Many of these were released the same day as "The Hindenburg". The reviews on the film were not promising at all. Many reviewers called it a "disaster" of a disaster movie. Some said it was the worst film of the year, and called the acting and dialogue laughable. So it was no wonder that it slipped passed me at the time. 

Many years later I caught up with the movie on a subscription service and my opinion was not nearly as negative. I remember thinking it was a little dull but I did not hate myself for having watched it. Today, I am going to stick to that opinion, the film is serviceable, not great, but certainly not the dregs that were suggested by Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert and Vincent Canby. The movie was made by Robert Wise, no slouch as a director,and meticulously integrates the real world events in with the fictional story that structures the movie. Several of the characters and the manner in which they escaped from the flaming crash of the Zeppelin, are accurate if dramatic re-creations of those events. I can't say that the acting was excellent but I can say that the cast was. George C. Scott was one of my favorites in the decade of the 1970s. He is trying to play a sympathetic German Colonel who is resistant to Nazi control of the military. He obviously needs the part to be written that way because we would be unlikely to root for a Nazi as our hero.  Anne Bancroft is a passenger on the trip, given a plot line just to justify having the female lead of the film portrayed by a star. William Atherton, who will become the default prick of so many 1980s films, is playing against type here as a crewman with a somewhat heroic but dangerous agenda. 

The rest of the cast was filled with familiar faces:Roy Thinnes, Gig Young, Burgess Meredith, Charles Durning, Richard A. Dysart, Robert Clary, and René Auberjonois. Young had been fired from "Blazing Saddles" a year before  because he was incapable of performing while withdrawing from alcohol. He was typecast as a boozer for very good reasons, and his ultimate tragedy is something you might wan to read about if you are in the mood to be depressed. Meredith and Durning both had two Academy Award Nominations in their careers, Meredith in fact was nominated this year for his performance in another 1975 film, "Day of the Locust" (which also featured Atherton and Dysart). While performances from this film were not honored, the special effects were, two wins for Special Achievement in sound effects editing and visual effects, and three nominations for art direction, cinematography, and sound. 

The best things about the film are in fact it's handsome production. The elaborate reconstruction of the interior of the Hindenburg is impressive. The metal frames and catwalks are intricate and provide lots of opportunities for the actors to run through, climb on, and ultimately fall off of them. The dining hall and lounge areas might make you wish that travel by airship still existed. The luxury of a cruise ship, combined with a view of the Earth from several hundred feet above the surface, is very appealing. The cabins look a little small but they could work if you spent most of your time looking out the observation ports. The manner of loadings, docking, and operating the ship seems to be pretty accurate, and if the plot does not suck you in, at least you can enjoy the details that are provided from the era.  

Basically, we know from the get go, that the Zeppelin explodes at the end of the movie. The story speculates on political intrigue because the Nazis used the Hindenburg as a propaganda tool, and it is still a mystery as to what really caused the explosion. This story postulates that there was a conspiracy to sabotage the airship as a way of indicating that there was a resistance effort at work in the Third Reich. The technical effectiveness of the film is tied up in how the actual film footage of the real disaster is integrated into the filmed sequences depicting what happens to the characters we see in the story. Except for some mild variations in the film stock and lighting, the results are very solid. Anyone who has watched the newsreel footage from 1937 will be amazed to learn that two thirds of the passengers and crew survived the conflagration.

The characters in the film represent a passenger list of 36 and a crew of 61. There is a fun sequence where the Broadway impresario plays a satiric tune on the piano as a vaudeville clown acts out the concepts. The mocking of the Führer was funny but unlikely to get as far as it did with the audience on board.  The movie is filled with red herrings about the plot. There is a clairvoyant, diamond smuggling, drafting sketches, and coded messages which are there to create intrigue but really have nothing to do with the threat to the vessel. Scott is a special security expert, brought on board to respond to a rumored threat, and Thinnes is the Gestapo counterpart who has methods that Scott's Luftwaffe Colonel objects to. 

I did find the film a little dull because of the pacing, but the whole point of a film like this is to build up to the conclusion. I did not find it objectionable but I would suggest that if you decide to watch this, you make sure you are fully caffeinated. I saw the Laser Disc version of this film many times but never pulled the trigger on that so I watched this on a bare bones Blu Ray release. There was literally no menu options except for subtitles. There were no extras, chapters, or other languages available on the media I had. I will say however, the picture looks fantastic and the images of the ship in the air combine the model effects with matte paintings very convincingly and in a beautiful composition. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

We are eight films past Avengers: Endgame and the MCU continues to stumble around looking for a coherent way for their stories to proceed. Aside from two Spider-Man movies and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the universe has been a mess, filled with meandering new threads, new characters that no one is particularly interested in, and established characters looking for something to do. The Multiverse seems to offer endless possibilities but so far, they do not seem to have been compelling or building a new narrative for everyone to follow. The scattered trajectory of the new Marvel films has suddenly doubled down on options by taking a deep dive into the quantum realm, which when layered alongside the Multiverse, ought to render all the storylines meaningless. Let's face it, if you have billions of possible outcomes at any given time, why should we care about the particular one we are watching now?

Additionally, the television shows are starting to cross pollinate with the films, so that if you haven't been watching and re-watching the shows, you may have no idea what is going on in the films. This is exactly what I was worried about when the Disney+ started adding new series to their inventory of superheroes. There have been eight new series there in the last two years. I have watched four of them, all of which finished their initial run almost two years ago. The villain in the new Ant-Man and the WASP film is Kang, the Conqueror , who was apparently referenced in "Loki" which I saw once, and do not remember all that well. His expanded role in this film did little to tell me why he is important, how he threatens the Universe or what his powers are. It's as if he were a DC Villain, slipped into the MCU for filler. There may be a rich vein from the comic books to mine here, but unless the stories do a better job at updating movie fans who are not also comic book readers, the future seems bleak. 

"Quantumania" in particular has a few things going for it, but largely wastes them by the end of the film. There are domestic issues between Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton). Those troubles need a bit more development so we can care about a resolution in our adventure. In this movie, they barely qualify as an incident much less a plot thread. The failure to build this dynamic more effectively, makes what comes later in the film feel perfunctory rather than meaningful. Scott and Cassie bonding over a shared fight against a compelling enemy would mean more if their relationship was at stake, but it never felt to me like it was. Hope and her parents have a little more going in because we know there has been a big gap in their relationship. The failure of Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) to elaborate on her time spent in the Quantum Realm, is an artificial plot point that does not make much sense. Her continued reluctance to reveal information, once all the principles have been sucked into the world, just feels arbitrary to stretching out the story. Michael Douglas's Hank Pym, feels like he is just along for the ride, although there will be ants at some point and that is fun once we get there.

When it comes to the worldbuilding of the Quantum Realm, much of it reminded me of the Cantina scene from the original Star Wars, only enhanced with CGI so it feels like the casino planet sequence from "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", and that is not a compliment my friends. The sub-atomic worlds of the Quantum Realm, are populated with a variety of organic and inorganic, living creatures, subsisting on no apparent source of food or water, and some of them have been conquered enough to exist in a mass city that looks like every futurist location you have seen for the last twenty years. Since there is mostly no sun in this world, the corners are dark and the sets seem to hide any number of enemies, friends, weapons or anything else that will be needed when the script calls for it. The one creative variation that works and has a comic effect is a gelatinous creature, who provides a liquid that allows the visitors to understand and be understood by the residents. I say that it is the one humorous element that works, and that is in spite of the fact that Bill Murray turns up for an extended scene. Usually, if Murray is allowed to improvise and riff on his lines and the characters, that would be gold. Either he was not adequately inspired or he was required to stick to the script, because his dialogue falls flat and barely gets a smile much less a laugh. It feels like they have wasted the opportunity to give him a role comparable to Jeff Goldblum's in Ragnarock. It is stunt casting that did not pay off.

The villain Kang, is played by Johnathan Majors, who I last saw in "Devotion" where he was a much more interesting character. If you stick around for the mid-credit sequence, you will get to see the wholly dull variations of the character that are coming up in future storylines, it does not look promising. Corey Stoll, who was the villain in the first "Ant-Man" movie, sort of returns here as M.O.D.O.K,   Mechanized Organism Designed Only For Killing. The threat from this character is that you will bust a gut looking at how his face has been implanted in this mechanism. Maybe it is based on a comic book character but it adds to the carnival nature of the production design. If James Cameron's Avatar films are the Disney Imagineering group, then this MCU picture is the Dark Ride designer for a traveling carnival, like the Funhouse in "Funhouse".  

Paul Rudd continues to be a great Ant-Man, and when he is given a chance, the character can be heroic and fun. This movie puts most of the jokes in the visuals of the new world they are playing in, and Rudd has to make due with substantially less material. There was one great sequence that almost gets to his potential. The multiple Ant-Man variations that show up do get in a concentrated bit of what they hired Rudd for in the first place, but it is not enough. I still had a good time at this, and it is at least as good as the last Doctor Strange film and Love and Thunder, but it is not moving the wider plot forward and it is clunky in way too many places. 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 "The Man Who Would be King"


Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

The Man Who Would be King

One of the treasures of the year 1975, was a film I experienced in early 1976. "The Man Who Would be King" opened in late December 1975, but it was not until my birthday in February that my father took me down to Hollywood to see it. I knew Michael Caine thru a few films I'd seen on television, "Zulu", "The Ipcress File" and "The Wrong Box" to name a few. I'd seen "Sleuth" and "The Wilby Conspiracy" in theaters, but it was this film which cemented me as a lifelong fan. in part because he was so great but also in large part because he was playing opposite of one of my favorite actors, Sean Connery. This whole vibe of British adventurers in India and Afghanistan during the time period of colonial rule of the late 19th century just held a huge allure for me. I loved "Gunga Din" and this felt like an update of the kind of swashbuckling adventure story that made me a movie fan in the first place. 

This highly praised film did get a little criticism for the performance of Michael Caine, in the Variety review in 1975, and on the "Lambcast", this past week. The suggestion was that Caine was exaggerating his working class accent and doing a bit of a caricature in his performance. As I said on the show and will say here now, I think Caine was channeling the character of Peachy Carnahan, particularly in those spots. Peachy is a bit of a con man, given an outsized personality to gain trust, or present an image to the world of someone more in command than he actually was. To me, it was all set up in that opening sequence where Peachy steals the watch, and then noticing it belonged to a fellow Mason, tries to return it without getting caught. When the Kipling character reveals that he had missed the watch earlier and that Peachy's mask has slipped, he smiles and becomes an even grander version of the larcenous character. 

Sean Connery is clearly having the time of his life with his role as Caine's partner Danny Dravot. His wink and nod to Kipling when he reveals their blackmail plans is just the start. When his character is disguised as a mad priest, in the caravan they travel through Afghanistan with, he gets to mug with his facial expressions and dance joyously on a hilltop. The character moment between the two when they are trapped by a collapsed snow bridge is also a meaty slice of acting, and the fact that these two good pals were getting to act together in the scene is just gravy. 

The theme of the film is hubris on the part of the two leads. The mendacity of the two characters leads us to doubt their true intent, but then it turns out they really do have an audacious plan to conquer a nation. Their colonial superiority seems justified at first because their military skills are far superior to those of the tribes that they are gathering as followers. We know as observers however, that they are imperfect men with an outsized appetite for adventure and that it will lead them to trouble. When they latch upon the ruse that Daniel is the long lost son of Alexander and the tribal people treat him as a deity, it is not had to see the fall coming. Danny gets so caught up in playing the role, he gets taken in by their own deception. Peachy gives good counsel but still did not see where the downfall would be coming. John Huston, the director of this film, also made "the Treasure of the Sierra Madre". That 1948 film , almost feels like it was the template for this movie. A trio of adventures, seeking wealth, battling natives and losing it all in the end from greed and exaggerated self importance. 

The only other reservations I heard on the podcast had to do with the tone of the film. The light hearted adventure takes some dark turns and that seemed hard to accept. I'm not sure why anyone would have a hard time moving through those alternating tones, that has been a standard emotional wave from "The Adventures of Robin Hood' and "Gunga Din", all the way up to Indiana Jones. When you have monkeys giving a sieg heil in one scene and then implied torture in another scene, we know this is how adventure films work. Drama is interspersed with comedy throughout the adventure. Iron Man makes quips as worlds collapse and characters die. Maybe the fact that Peachy and Danny seem real, is the thing that made some people have a harder time with the tonal shifts. 

Everywhere you look in this film, there are moments to relish. The incensed attitude of the two Brits when being offered the daughters and sons of their first manipulated tribal chief, is traded off by the two, each one getting a moment of indignity followed by a lesson from the other, the second one smugly mocking the first. 

Billy Fish: Ootah say take your pick. He have twenty three daughters.

Danny: Those are his daughters? Why the dirty old beggar!

Peachy Carnehan: Now, now Danny. Different countries, different ways. He's only being hospitable according to his lights. Billy, tell him one's as pretty as the next and we cannot choose.

[Billy translates; Ootah replies in Kafiri]

Billy Fish: Ootah say he also have thirty-two sons if you are liking boys.

Peachy Carnehan: [angrily] Tell him he makes my gorge rise; tell him!

Danny: Now Peachy, different countries, different ways. Tell Ootah we have vowed not to take a woman until all his enemies are vanquished.

When they are holding up the gems in Alexander's treasure room, and Peachy one ups Danny with a bigger ruby, you want to laugh. The military demeanor they take with the commissioner is funny and reveals Peachy's character playing again. Connery tells Peachy and Billy to stay back, as they are mere mortals.  Everywhere there are sly bits of humor. 

To me, the key line that sets up the fact that this is an incredible story being told by one of the participants, who has learned a lesson the hard way, 

Rudyard Kipling:

Peachy Carnehan:
The same - and not the same, who sat besides you in the first class carriage, on the train to Marwar Junction, three summers and a thousand years ago.

That phrase, "Three summers and a thousand years ago" tells me I'm going to get a fantastic story. and we get just that. 

Friday, February 10, 2023

Knock at the Cabin


This looks like a home invasion horror film, but it has a different take on that genre, one that is not quite given away by the trailer, and it is a pretty good turn. That said, the biggest spoiler that is possible is to say that M. Night Shyamalan leans into the concept of the story, and there is no big twist ending. It plays out in a very straight forward manner, generating all of it's tension from the impossible choice that is being given to the family. 

Without going into too much plot, the family is tasked with making a sacrifice and the four strangers who have captured them in the vacation cabin, attempt to convince them that the prediction of the apocalypse is real. Most of the dramatic elements of the film revolve around this attempt at persuasion. The strategies used seem to de-escalate instead of building. Force and threat is the first approach, conveyed by Ron Weasley himself, Rupert Grint. Since this approach dissipates quickly, you might think that the tension level would drop, but instead it actually increases. 

The emotional plea is very effective if you can empathize with Adrienne, the cook played by Abby Quinn. She is sincere and seems motivated by her desire to save her own child from the horrors that the visions hold for the four heralds who have invaded the house. One of the reasons that her empathetic pleas fail to register with one of the two dads in the story, is that he dismisses even the existence of her child. In a strange quirk, one of the reasons he doubts any of the people who have shown up is a prejudice he has built up in reaction to an attack on him many years earlier. He has associated the homophobic assault from earlier, with religious beliefs, and since the four people presenting this scenario seem to believe that this is a divine message, then the whole thing appears as a plot to Andrew, played by Ben Aldridge. The other dad, Eric, played by Johnathan Groff, has some religious background and he seems more open to at least listen to what has been said. 

Another element that keeps the tension up is that the two das and their little girl, respond exactly as you would think a rational person would to this kind of approach. They are fearful, convinced that the four people are delusional fanatics who have met on a message board and are playing out some social contagion of end of times beliefs. They fight in any way they can when given the opportunity. The irrational beliefs of the four invaders overwhelm their rational explanations and approaches to the embattled family. Apart from one character, the other three all seem sincere and even tempered. One is a little desperate, but all of them are trying to find convincing ways to influence the family to choose. 

Dave Batista as Leonard, the apparent leader of the four, is calm, even tempered, and approaches the little girl Wen, in as non-threatening a manner as a man of his looks could come up with. There are a couple of action moments, but Batista is not here to exert control through his physical power, but rather, his level even toned voice and his demonstrable regret at what he feels they are compelled to do. It is a very good performance from an actor that is going against type to make the story work. 

I have a few reservations about the interpretations that get offered in the climax of the film. I think that the flashbacks of the family are fine, but I also think some history of the antagonists would have made this more understandable. The effects found at the end of the film, are not quite enough to explain how it all came together. The cryptic drawings and doodles in the opening are not much help either. This was a pretty effective thriller, if you can buy into the premise. It is easy enough to do, most of us have played "would you rather" a couple of times in conversations. This just gives us the ultimate version of that party prompt.  

Thursday, February 9, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"


Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

I have been an apologist for this movie since the very first time I saw it, which unfortunately was not during it's original theatrical run. My friend Dan had recommended it, I have no idea why he had seen it and I had not, but it was not until two years later, when it was becoming a cult phenomena, that I discovered the joys of "Rocky Horror". I have heard people say that the movie is terrible and stupid, it's my opinion that those descriptions apply to those critics rather than the film. This is a perfect satire of the culture, science fiction films, and musical theater, all wrapped up as a filmed entertainment. 

I will get to the cult audiences in a little bit, I want to start with the film itself. Brad and Janet are like all young couples in horror movies like "The Blob" from the 50s, they get stranded in a rainstorm and end up asking for help at the nearest house. Hysterically, Brad says "Didn't we pass a castle a castle back down the road a few miles?"  How can you not be in on the joke at this point? We have already had a corny song about their love, with a deadpan chorus of future characters in the background, and the narrator has pontificated in solemn tones with a melodramatic pause in just the right places. I was laughing at every second glance, cliché, and sly reference to sci/fi horror films. 

The title sequence is famous for the close up of the red lips and mouth, this image was used on much of the promotional material as well. When you listen to the lyrics of the song, you should be doing an inventory of all those old movies from RKO, Universal and others that are being referenced so cleverly. The Dana Andrews line should make you plotz. This film version of the stage play was my chance to see the story that had been a popular live show in Los Angeles in 1973. I remember seeing a billboard sized ad on the Shrine Auditorium, for the show that was playing in Hollywood at the Roxy Theater. In the summer of 1973, I attended a workshop for a month at U.S.C. right across from that ad and I thought it was intriguing, but I was too young to be driving over to Hollywood on my own to see the play. 

I have always been a fan of musicals, and having seen "Jesus Christ Superstar", I was especially entranced by the Rock musicals of the era. The year before this opened, I'd seen Brian DePalma's "Phantom of the Paradise", which has only a little bit of the tongue in cheek attitude of this film. When Riff Raff points out that Brad and Janet are wet, and she says "Yes, it's raining", the on the nose sarcasm is amusing as heck. And then "The Time Warp". Director Jim Sharman, who had done the play, took full advantage of the film formant to shoot this sequence in interesting Dutch angles, over head Busbee Berkley inspired shots and a cast of background dancers that is demented and dressed to suit that dementia. Having the Criminologist describe the dance and lead us through the steps in inserts during the song is additional icing on the humor of this movie. 

When star Tim Curry is slowly revealed as descending in an elevator, the shots are nicely matched with the rhythm transition to his introductory song, and when he throws off his cloak, revealing his get up, if you are not all in at this point, you better just give up, and I pity you. This is a performance that is fully committed, exuberant and just plain old fun. Maybe these days it would not seem shocking, since there seem to be drag performers everywhere, but in 1975, it was audacious. The juxtaposition with the straight laced Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon in their square cloths is another way we are being let in on the outrageous joke that everyone is involved with here.  

The creepy old house has the requisite living room for our dance sequence, but there is a delightful shot of the laboratory from the elevator perspective which focuses on a color change nearly as dramatic as when Dorothy arrived in Oz. The pink tile floors and walls assault our sense of what a "lab" should be, and the red instrumentation is flashing out at us as a production design made to draw attention to the color scheme.   As Brad and Janet step into the scene in their charming underclothes, their sense of alienness is exacerbated. Curry's Colin Clive style delivery of his speech to the conventioneers and the guests, is another salute to the old style of the classic Hollywood horror films. Sarandon and Bostwick are terrific in their uptight, wooden mimicking of the innocent bystanders. 

Almost every number is a showstopper, but it never feels like they are trying to outdo themselves from one song to the next. The progression of songs feels organic to the weird nature of the story. Meat Loaf shows up in a spotlight performance which is maybe the one segment that feels a little inorganic, but who cares "Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul" is a smoking solo number that gives us a motorcycle sequence, an axe murder and a chorus line dance, all in a short order and we get saxophone solos. The fifties sensibility with "Eddie" the greaser biker played by MeatLoaf reinforces the rock and roll roots of the musical and the time period of films that are being saluted here. 

Several sequences feature musical instruments being used in unusual ways. There is an organ pumping out gothic tunes at first in the scene where Riff Raff is teasing Rocky. Then there is a drum machine and an electronic organ to follow up. The guitars and piano in so many of the songs are more reflective of older style rock songs. The guitar plucking during "Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me" reminded me of Elton John's Crocodile Rock. Rock and Roll Porn!  

The Experience

When I finally caught up with the film, it was in the Midnight Screenings that happened at the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena on Saturday Nights. In the summer 1977, my then girlfriend and future wife, would drive down to Hollywood for "Star Wars" at the Chinese Theater, and then on Saturday Night, go up to the Rialto for Rocky Horror. The audience participation there was full of the call outs and props that were probably found in other venues around the country. The Janet Umbrella was accompanied by showers provided by squirt guns. Cards and Toast were tossed at the right moments, and the swaying matches during "Over at the Frankenstein Place" probably violated a hundred local codes, but we did not care.  When we ventured to the Tiffany Theater in West Hollywood, we were surprised that there was cosplay and that the people dressing up acted out the movie in front of the screen. There was a guy who sold supplies to people in line. He would walk up and down the line with the refrain "Rocky Rice 25, Rocky Matches 10", and he had little bags with the logo filled with rice and matchbooks with the title on them. So for 35 cents you could participate too. 

This was a soundtrack that we played in Dolores's dorm room and in the car on a cassette player. The first MeatLoaf album also came out that year and we paired those two together on a regular basis. Oh to be young and in love with the movies.

Monday, February 6, 2023

All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)


Once upon a time, I saw all the nominees for Best Picture before the Oscar ceremonies. As time as gone by in the last few years, I have become less and less interested in the Awards. The expansion of the Best Picture Category was done to include more popular films and keep audiences coming to the theaters and the TV ceremony, but the effort has largely resulted in the inclusion of more independent, specialized films. Sure this year a couple of big movies have been included, but there are at least three films on the list that would not be there if the category had not been expanded, that very few people know or care about. This film would not be one of those. This is a large scale historical epic that is compelling and deserving of attention, however, in the past it would have stayed contained in the "International/Foreign Film" category. Even beyond that classification, it might have been excluded because it was not a theatrical release. This is a Netflix film that probably got a token theatrical exhibition in order to qualify for awards, in spite of the fact that Netflix's model is almost exclusively streaming.

By waiting to see this, I was lucky enough to find a theater that would play the movie on a big screen because of it's award nominations. People who experience this at home are missing out on a very immersive experience, and probably the whole reason that the story is being told in the first place. The film makers want you to share the horror of war, especially the meat grinder that the European Conflict was in WWI. In the past couple of years, there have been a number on movies that featured the horrors of the trench warfare of WWI: "1917", "They Shall Not Grow Old", even "Wonder Woman", "The King's Man" and "Death on the Nile". All war is horrible, but the environment and conditions in this first of the modern wars was particularly brutal.

It has been almost a hundred years since the first version of this story was brought to the screen. It is not as visually brutal as the new film is, but it was emotionally powerful nonetheless because of our ability to empathize with the young men who had excitedly volunteered for the war. Their disillusionment  does not take long, and in this modern version it is accompanied by extreme fear, violent dismemberment, and the gruesome duty of collecting the bottom part of the dead soldiers dog tags, as a way of inventorying the casualties. One element I did not remember from the 1930 film, is the negotiations for a ceasefire and the insistent resistance of some of the German general staff to making such an arrangement. Neither side was able to achieve a military victory, but the war of attrition took a toll on the homefront, which is largely ignored in this story. 

The structure of the film is roughly the same, as we follow the schoolfriends from enlistment to battlefield. The local politics from the first film, where a postman becomes an authority and abuses his power, is missing from this version. The relationship between the veteran Katczinsky and the newbie Paul is developed substantially, and there is a well told moment when the two men share a latrine, where we see that each of them has something that is being lost by the continuation of the war. The final resolution of their friendship occurs not in combat but in the sort of savaging that is typical of a war and with an unlikely antagonist being responsible for the end. I'm not sure if this expansion of the dangers of war improves the film's message or dilutes it.

Production design on the film feels authentic, with the trenches being a miserable puddle for most of the time the soldiers occupy them, and the bunkers being a claustrophobic nightmare, especially with the arrival of tanks on the front, One of the memorable segments from each film is the period when Paul is trapped in an artillery crater, with a French soldier he has brutally overcome, but who takes so long to die that Paul apologizes, attempts to rectify and then suffers from guilt by the experience.  The one famous moment from the 1930 film, which ends the story, is not present in this film. Instead we get an end card that totals up the dead, measures it by the territory gained and losses, and makes a final case for the futility of war through the text rather than the visual. 

"All Quiet on the Western Front" may be a more difficult film for American audiences because of the use of German and French. The authenticity is meritorious, but the need to read the words does add a layer to the experience that can distance the emotional investment we make with the soldiers. It is not the sude of the war that they are on, or their cultural differences that might impede us, it is simply the fact that we may not be as in synch with each moment as we might be if it were in our own language. Still, I mourn for Kat, Tjaden, Franz, Albert and Paul, for the humanity that they lost and the needless sacrifice that they made.