Thursday, September 21, 2017

MONSTERS A GOGOS

RIP to Basil Gogos, passed on at 78. The Egyptian-born Greek illustrator painted many covers for the  classic vintages of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, bathing his gruesome ghouls in vivid, indeed lurid colors. An example...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...is this week's honoree, a handsome portrait by Gogos of the title character...


...played by Robert Clarke in the 1959 shocker The Hideous Sun Demon.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

OUR VINES HAVE TENDER CREPES/RIP HDS

Check out the September issue of Phoenix Magazine, now on the stands...


...for Your Humble Narrator's "Four Corners" column on Valley creperies.

Still saddened by the departure, at 91, of Harry Dean Stanton.


I tend to remember him as the splenetic Bud in 1984's Repo Man--contrasting with Tracey Walter's serene, visionary Miller as the role models for Otto (Emilio Estevez)--but he was also Brain in Escape From New York and Brett in Alien and Asa Hawks in Wise Blood and Jerry in Straight Time and Travis in Paris, Texas and St. Paul in The Last Temptation of Christ and Molly Ringwald's Dad in Pretty in Pink and Richard Farnsworth's Brother in The Straight Story and Sam Shepard's Old Man in Fool for Love. And that's not to mention the earlier small roles he played in everything from Cool Hand Luke to The Godfather, Part II. And somehow, through all of these roles, what he really seemed best at was being his seriously one-of-a-kind self.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

WHAT A PRO(CRASTINATION)

This week...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...our honoree, from Matthew Inman's The Oatmeal, is allegorical...


...and highly recognizable to Your Humble Narrator.

Friday, September 8, 2017

A CLOWN WITHOUT PITY

Opening this weekend:


ItThat short title serves one of Stephen King’s longest and most ambitious horror novels. It’s about a group of pre-teen misfits who take on a fear-eating entity that lives in the sewers beneath Derry, their small town in Maine. This being appears to Its victims in the form of whatever scares them most—movie monsters, manifestations of phobias—but seems to default to the guise of a circus clown.

The novel runs to well over a thousand pages. I read it and loved it when it first came out in 1986, and hadn’t read it since, but the names, and nicknames, of the characters came back to me easily: “Stuttering Bill” Denbrough, the alpha male of the “Loser’s Club”—bereaved and enraged over the loss of his brother George—and Bill’s outcast pals, sensitive obese kid Ben “Haystack” Hanscom, bespectacled wiseass Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier, sickly kid Eddie Kaspbrak, Jewish kid Stan Uris, black kid Mike Hanlon, and the sole girl, Beverly Marsh, who has a (false) bad reputation. And of course, the nightmare clown Itself: Pennywise.

The book was loaded with King’s perennial themes: Childhood loss and mortality and alienation from adults, friendship as its balm, small-town life with its bullies and bigotries and sinister secrets from which a supernatural menace seems almost like a logical extension. The book is loaded, period—King, never one for austerity, seemed in that one to have allowed himself to indulge in every digression and tangent that occurred to him, and to have cut nothing out, in an attempt at a broad-canvas, shaggy-dog magnum opus.

As a result, King’s It is a bit of a mess—exasperatingly dilatory, full of ideas that don’t quite come off, and, because of the build-up given to the title character as the Ultimate Horror, inevitably a little anticlimactic. Even granting all this, however, it’s wonderful, one of his warmest and most engaging tales, and I think this has more to do with its depiction of adolescent camaraderie than with its ghoulish side.

There was a TV miniseries adaptation in 1990 that I remember as fairly well-done. Now comes this feature version which, though it runs over two hours, is still obviously a drastic compression of the story. To begin with, the book was a two-tiered narrative, alternating scenes of the Loser’s Club as kids with their reunion in Derry as adults, 27 years later. The film, directed by the Argentine Andy Muschietti from a script by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman, gives us only the kids’ story, presumably saving the adult side for a sequel.

The cultural references have also been readjusted. With the period pushed forward—the kids’ story now takes place in the ‘80s, when the adult story takes place in the novel—Pennywise no longer appears to his victims in Boomer-era shapes like the Wolf Man or the Creature of the Black Lagoon.

On the downside: Speaking as a confirmed wimp, I must say that I didn’t find this It very scary. There’s a scene or two—especially one involving a slide projector—with some chill factor, but overall the evil clown archetype, which King helped to develop with Pennywise, may have slipped over into cliché. I found Bill Skarsgard, who plays the role, skin-crawlingly repellent from our first glimpse of It—It’s evil bearing is impressive, but I saw no sense of wit or wonder that could draw a child in initially.

This may simply be because the use of the traditional clown by the horror genre over the last few decades has ended the era of Bozo and Clarabell. It may be that Ronald MacDonald is the last iconic old-school clown that can still unambiguously delight children—though the clock may be running for Ronald—and that even the Demon Clown is now overfamiliar.

On the upside: It is still quite entertaining, in the manner of an ‘80s-style youth adventure flick like The Goonies or Stand By Me or The Lost Boys. The young actors here are mostly first-rate, with charm and snappy comic timing, and Muschietti helps them to generate an ensemble hum in their group scenes. It’s oddly disorienting, in this virtual age, to see kids actually doing things in a movie—riding bikes, swimming, exploring—but it’s rather refreshing.

And, times being what they are, I doubt I’ll be the only person unable to resist a political reading of this It: A kid with a disability, a smartass kid, a fat kid, a Jewish kid, a black kid, a kid with health problems and a slut-shamed girl join forces against a clown who gains power from fear, and who grows stronger still when It’s able to divide them. Now more than ever, Losers: Unite Against The Clown!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

CLOWN TO THE WIRE

With the new feature version of Stephen King's It opening tomorrow...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...our honoree is the towering "Jojo the Klownzilla..."




...from the 1988 Chiodo Brothers favorite Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

Friday, September 1, 2017

VOW FACTOR

Opening this week:


I Do...Until I Don't--A noxious British filmmaker (Dolly Wells) shows up in Vero Beach, Florida, to work on a documentary about marriage. The institution, she thinks, is in need of reform. Florida being the divorce capital of the world, or so she says, she starts following three married couples around with her camera, looking for (and trying to engineer) evidence to support her theory that marriage should be a seven-year contract with an option to renew.

Longtime married couples are represented by Harvey (Paul Reiser) and Cybill (Mary Steenburgen), affluent, perennially combative New York expats. Harvey walks around in a leather jacket and helmet even when he isn't riding his motorcycle; Cybill mocks him for it.

Younger specimens are Noah (Ed Helms) and his creatively frustrated wife Alice (Lake Bell). They run his late father's window blind business, which is on the verge of failure, and despite this looming financial disaster are rather halfheartedly trying to get pregnant. Also a target of the documentarian's camera and agenda are Alice's younger sister Fanny (Amber Heard) and her husband Xander (Wyatt Cenac), hippies in a theoretically open marriage.

This is the second feature written and directed by the talented Lake Bell. The actress has kept busy with prolific voice work and supporting parts, and pulled occasional nominal leading lady duty in stuff like No Escape and Million Dollar Arm. But it was with 2013's In a World...,  a screwy, uneven but original comedy about envies and career barriers in the voice-over community, that she showed her behind-the-cameras promise. I Do...Until I Don't, though by no means without strong performances and laughs, suggests, alas, a sophomore slump for Bell.

Neither the critique nor the defense of marriage presented here is anything really new. This wouldn't much matter, if the specific storylines were surprising in some way, but the characterizations, as written, are sitcom-basic--the hippie couple and the comic-villainess filmmaker are particularly weak and stereotypical. And the interweaving of the various plot strands feels awkward and uncertain.

On the upside, there are many passages of bright, funny dialogue, and Bell gets good work out of her cast, down to minor players like Chauntae Pink and Rae Grey as massage parlor workers. Bell's own performance as the sweetly complaisant, melancholy Alice, is the strongest, but Reiser and Steenburgen also develop an impressive comic rapport out of their underwritten scenes that allows us to see the touching, almost reluctant bond beneath their distracted sniping at each other. There's real venom and acid in their bickering, but no real urgency; their marital resentments have a familiarity, a low-key domestic rhythm.

Performances like this allowed me to enjoy I Do...Until I Don't quite a lot, even as I recognized its significant weaknesses and limitations. Bell has ability and vision, and I hope she gets to continue to toll.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

TOBE OR NOT TOBE

RIP to the brilliant Tobe Hooper, passed on at 74. Hooper directed 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, one of the most harrowing of all horror movies. It was one of several films from around those years that helped to launch a new era of hardcore, high-intensity horror that I don't much care for or even entirely approve of, but the ugliness to which it led does not take away in the least from Hooper's cinematic skill, his pitch-black wit, even a certain grotesque poetry that comes through in that classic.

In Hooper's honor...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...this week let's acknowledge Barlow...


...the Nosferatu-esque vampire played by the ever-cadaverous Reggie Nalder in Hooper's TV-movie adaptation of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot.