Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Friedkin's Killer Joe

It's hard to watch a new Billy Friedkin flick because the guy's set the bar so damn high. He made The Exorcist for Chrissakes, a horror film that, after all these years, is still fully erect, and is still capable of deep brain penetration. I watched it again tonight and I was blown away by the precision direction, the pulverizing sound mix, and amazing special make-up effects by Dick Smith.

The film holds together like a concrete bunker and doesn't put a foot wrong. It's tight as teen vagina, never outstays its excesses, and builds to a superb climax. Its imitators are many, but none have remained as potent.

Then there's Sorcerer, the stupendously stellar remake of the French Wages of Fear, or, if you like, Friedkin's take on the original Georges Arnaud novel.   This is what suspense is all about. A bunch of outcasts haul a truck filled with bottles of nitro-glycerine across a mountain pass that you'd be crazy to ride a bike along, let alone gun a truck. The beauty of the piece is the way Friedkin layers the book's existential explorations into hair-raising suspense sequences. With Tangerine Dream throbbing on the soundtrack, we're plunged into a pitiless hell from which there is no escape. The film is Friedkin's Fitzcarraldo, and one can't help but compare its tone to that of filmmaker Werner Herzog and his best work. Any way you look at, the criminally neglected (on video) Sorcerer is, like The Exorcist, cinema of deep immersion.

Although celebrated (rightly) for his gritty The French Connection, an even better film, in my opinion, is his To Live and Die in LA, the surprising, stunning, and brutally unforgettable tale of LA criminals and the LA cops who become criminals in order to net them. Made as a $9 million indie production, it makes no Hollywood concessions to its anti-hero's fate and drops us into a totally believable world that is both attractive at gut level and repulsive. Featuring sexual intrigue, one of the greatest car chases ever committed to celluloid, Willem Dafoe as a villain equal to Dennis Hopper's 'Frank' in Blue Velvet, and enough double-crosses and wild plot turns to fuel a hundred imitators, it is the purest of cinema, a moving convention of invention and stylistic improvisation. Though often imitated, its mix of the gritty and the slick hasn't been equaled.

For mine, TLADILA signaled the close of a blazing chapter in the filmmaker's life. Despite captaining extremely interesting but flawed work such as Rampage, the 'Twilight Zone' entry Nightcrawlers, and the more recent The Hunted and Bug (a shift towards more intimate horror), Friedkin's strict adherence to structure, dedication to detail, and total cinematic immersion have been flagging for twenty years.

Fortunately, Killer Joe, based on a stage play I haven't seen or read by Tracy Letts, shows evidence of a Friedkin re-emerging fully from his comfortable Hollywood cocoon. Still, its joys are somewhat discounted by the expectations he's built with the above three masterpieces, in addition to other works of disturbing greatness such as Cruising and its thematic companion piece, The Boys in the Band.

Joe's straightforward plot gives Friedkin  room to let his character's breathe, and I didn't find myself thinking the film was stagey or too enclosed, even though the drama is close-up, intimate and bloody. Emile Hirsch, in debt to some unforgiving types, hatches a plan to pay off his debt by murdering a close family member. The sparks fly from this scenario. Mathew McConaughey, a dirty cop, also gets involved in the killing plot, but loses his focus when his dick begins pointing at Hirsch's little sister. It's a classic noir set-up, and, for me, it felt like the tonal sibling of last year's Jim Thompson thriller, The Killer Inside Me, a film I liked quite a bit more. Why? Immersion, brother. The Killer Inside Me buried you in its bloody womb. Got you all sticky and bothered. It was raw and ferocious cinematic intercourse.

Killer Joe, despite its grit and brutality and fine performances, remains strangely aloof. I was outside looking in. I had a good set of binoculars, but I couldn't touch it. Friedkin's positioning wouldn't let me.

It was impossible not to touch Sorcerer, To Live and Die, The Exorcist or Cruising. We were in the belly of those beasts. That's why I say it's hard to watch a new Billy Friedkin film: You're too aware of where he's taken you before. You're riding with him because you want him to take you there again. You're a little crestfallen when he doesn't. History's a bitch.


Comics That Didn't Rape Altar Boys

Adventures Into The Unknown is a pre-Code horror anthology from Dark Horse, and what beautiful pulp it is. 

As this couple approach an island, I'm reminded of early cover art for Enid Blyton's 'Island of Adventure'.

It reprints the first four issues of the long-running horror anthology that ran from '48 to '67.

As the clarity of the above scan attests, this is a loving assembly of pre-Code horror goodness, a collection of stories not yet the subject of censorship, derision, and political interference.

At US$50, this is not a cheap affair, but the volume is hardcover, full color, and handsomely presented.

A horror comic never invaded a foreign country for reasons not entirely transparent.

A horror comic never raped a pale-faced altar boy or incarcerated a man for having an opinion.

A horror comic never built jails so it could make money from placing you in it.

The people who support the censorship of horror comics did all that and then some... and still do.

This fine tome collects the stories that threatened to end civilization as we knew it... well, at least as some knew it.

Shame on them. Cunts!


Ad Mat Memories

The film's deceptive simplicity is captured in this wonderful poster art .

After That Sinking Feeling, Gregory's Girl, and Comfort and Joy, Bill Forsyth was on an incredible roll, each new film a stronger tasting concentrate of his unique elixir.

With a dazzling score by Mark Knopfler and superb performances from Lancaster, Riegert, and Jenny Seagrove as the enigmatic 'Marina', Local Hero perfectly captured a period in our history when it seemed the beauty of our world wouldn't be annihilated by corporations intent on profit at any cost.

It was a naive view that overestimated the role of government in protecting the environment.   

Always thought this was a strange and powerful "family movie" from the cinematographer of The House By The Lake, Eric Saarinen.

It has a great John Barry score and spectacular location work on the Aleutian Islands and Alaska.

Dramatically, it's a little forced at times, and the emotional resolution (father and son saved by a seal!) tests our tolerance for cheese, but the tone is serious and engaging.

A flawless alternative to a film with similar intentions is Carroll Ballard's Fly Away Home, a masterpiece; his Never Cry Wolf ain't too shabby, either.

One of many AMC Century City screenings I attended as sole patron.

There was something about certain Handmade Films that just didn't draw audiences.

Nobody went to see their How To Get Ahead in Advertising, either, or Track 29, or Powwow Highway, or the amazing The Wrong Guy.

Starring Jeff Daniels (now ultra-visible in HBO's The Newsroom), it's a caustic and hilarious piece about a hypochondriac on a mission to find a missing punchline, amongst other things.

It was written by Joe Eszterhas (!) and directed by David Leland. Two years earlier, Leland had directed the superb and subtly sensual Wish You Were Here.

Looks like they're trying to sell this Richard Gere production as American Gigolo all over again. Bad move.

UK title is The Honorary Consul, taken from Graham Greene's novel of the same name. The generic Beyond The Limit is plain awful.

Certainly an interesting watch (I caught it at the Gratiot Drive-in), but Gere defaults to robo mode here, perhaps imitating his American Gigolo character. 

The film is MIA on US dvd, but available in England.

I didn't like Gere too much until he appeared in Mike Figgis's Internal Affairs. When he plays evil, he comes across as terribly dangerous. When he plays good, he comes across too often as smug.

Ad Mats Not Seen Recently

I love that this '72 line-up from the Hoyts chain is described as "Holiday Films For All The Family".

How far we've fallen in forty years!

Can you imagine families today finding something of interest amongst this lot? No toy-inspired banality? Nothing from Disney? If only families today would attend films like Trinity Is Still My Name, Pulp, or Richard Brooks' '66  The Professionals, clearly getting a re-release here.

I somehow convinced my late dad to take me to see Pulp and The Mechanic on the same day. That was unheard of. Perhaps dad wanted some time away from mum.  I remember enjoying both immensely, and I recall dad speaking about Bronson in a reverential tone.

'72 sure was a good year for the cinema... and the drive-ins.

Hard to believe that Peter Medak's wonderful black comedy played at drive-ins in Melbourne.

It took some balls, but I convinced my mother to take me to see the film on a school night. We even stayed  for Baby Love, my first exposure to the delicious Linda Hayden.

In retrospect, it was Ken Loach with breasts and lesbians.

During the scenes that featured some mild nudity, my mother kept repeating "I don't think we need to see this" while playing with the car keys. I differed on her statement, and was sure I needed to see what I was seeing.

Fortunately, we remained until the climax.

I'd see Hayden a couple of years later when Satan's Skin (aka Blood on Satan's Claw) screened on TV. I recorded it on audio tape and listened often to the great score.

I never caught this one at the East End Two, but I always remember my parents coming home late after seeing it and me asking them what it was about.

My mum's answer: "It was a bit stupid really."

My dad's: "It was alright. Lots to see."


At least there was one Pasolini fan in the house.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Master, Gang-Bang Girls, and Hunchbacks

Just saw Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, but do I want to write about it? Not really. Why should I when this piece of art (above) is one of the greatest things I've even seen.

Check out the hunchback! He'll be getting his end in any minute. And get a gander of the bloke with the cigarette in the back of the room. His name's on the list, too. He seems a tad overdressed for the occasion. Probably has to be up early to catch a fish, too.

Found The Master disappointing.

Looks like the lass in the picture has shaved or been shaved for the occasion.

"She got what she wanted," the cover tells us.

So, she wanted a hunchback to thrust his business into her? What a gal!

Oh, yeah, back to The Master. Great first hour with some good performances. Second hour and a bit a little too unfocused for my liking. Still, an audacious effort, even if it doesn't fully resonate dramatically.

Unlike the above, which resonates until the cows come home.

So did Anderson's There Will Be Blood, his masterpiece.

Speaking of which... there might be blood in the scenario up top, too.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Current State of Mind

For the past few months, I've found writing about movies a difficult proposition. Only one film, Sion Sono's brilliant Himizu, has truly captured my head and heart; the rest -- and I'm talking The Dark Night Returns, The Campaign, Lawless, The Expendables 2,  The Master, and Samsara -- have fallen short.

Is good cinema in decline, or have I become jaded after hitting close to 5000 movies seen (!)?

I'm afraid I can't answer that one.

I'm looking at X-rated cinema with different glasses, too.

For the first time in decades, explicit depictions of sex are boring me to tears. In the past, I'd pick up special editions of Golden Age porn flicks like Inside Annie Sprinkle as soon as they hit the stands. Have I put money down for the same company's  The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann? Not yet. Does the upcoming restoration of Chuck Vincent's Roommates and Misty Beethoven excite me? Somewhat. And I'll pick it up eventually. But the thrill has diminished.

Then there's my recent reaction to another type of porn

My face hit the pavement two years ago when a good friend introduced me to a series of really harsh web porn segments going under titles like Facial Abuse, Deface Her Face, etc. I've always been curious to see everything I can get my hands on as a type of tolerance test, but these vids just depressed me. They depressed me even more than usual. I expose myself to a lot of traumatic material, and I never know how I'll react to it, but these vids made me sad for the "performers" who are paid probably next to nothing by asshole porn producers who get off on debasing these girls.

Yes, the girls are getting paid and are signing release forms, so I'm not saying that anything illegal is happening, although that could be debated, but I am saying I don't find it titillating or engaging to watch a bullying asshole belittle, verbally insult, and ruin a young woman's day (or month, or year) under the cover of a "professional job".  As a human being, I find it hard to watch such harsh treatment of fellow human beings. This stuff isn't "acting" -- it's mean-spirited reality.

I don't think most porn is debasing. The majority of it is pretty vanilla with little actual "abuse" content. The depressing part was seeing cute young ladies "abused" with no thought to their pleasure at all. These are not roughies like Forced Entry, Hot Night in the City, or Weekend Fantasy -- they're just cheap vids shot in a room with crappy production values, a single camera, and a single male hurling abuse, while having his ugly penis sucked by a crying girl.

What bothers me most about porn of the face-fucking variety is its totally one-sided construction. And most of the guys in these videos come across as bullying assholes, which they clearly are, and I never get any sense that they actually like women. Remember the late Jamie Gillis? He made some harsh movies, and many of them involved rape scenarios and brutal games. But one never felt that Jamie actually disliked the women. On the contrary, he was deeply into these women, and the scenarios always came across as even-handed, even when one partner was dominant and the other was submissive.

Yes, there's a market for this stuff, but that doesn't mean it's not depressing to watch, especially if you view sex as the most fun when its reciprocal or at least "controlled" by both parties.

The one thing I've never liked about porn of any kind is the emphasis on blow jobs. I hate porn blow jobs. I don't want to watch some guy's penis being sucked in a big close-up. I also don't want to see a close-up of another man's hairy balls swinging as he saws in and out of a lass's insides. I prefer the emphasis being on the women. That's probably why lesbian porn appeals to men. It's totally female-focused. We see the female body without some guy's ass crack obscuring the view.

Personally, I love seeing women pleasing other women with their tongues. It's super-intimate and the women usually love it if it's done right. For me, at least, it pushes the right buttons. I have no trouble deriving vicarious pleasure from the act of one woman loving another.

My current blah attitude to porn has a lot to do with the lack of true affection on screen. I want to see people who are really, really into each other. When a guy is hot for a gal, there are no limits, no boundaries, no excuses. That's true desire, true lust, true passion. How many current porno flicks reflect that? How often are deviancy and fun mixed together? How often is the passion out of control? Not often.

The Facial Abuse flicks are the opposite of passion for me. They're mean spirited. They're about hurting people. About dominating vulnerable women without her express co-operation or "permission". They're not even bad Sado-Masochism. They're just ugly and monotonous.

Even Max Hardcore had more style, game, and humor than these guys.

As my tolerance for seriously one-sided hard porn diminishes, my affection for classic porno novel covers, extreme art, guro, and Japanese erotica intensifies.


Context. And it's all in the imagination.

Perhaps I'm going full circle.

How about you?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pulpy Porn Flies Again

Having recently suffered through a slew of disappointing cinematic experiences, which I will discuss in the next post, I feel it's time to resurrect the ever-reliable pulpy porn paperback covers because nothing satisfies like these do.

At a time when I've become rather bored with explicit pornography, these take us back to a time when sex was fun, art suggested everything but showed very little, and pleasure could be found in reading, not just looking.

A shame that this era has past.

What's replaced it hasn't made for happier humans.