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Monday, December 31, 2007

A Theme Song For 2008

I hope everyone reading has a very safe and happy New Years Eve. I am electing the song below as my theme for 2008. Recorded over three decades ago it still retains all of the power, emotion and absolute relevance it did when Pete Townshend wrote it all those years ago. This is my particular favorite version of it.
I'm not much for new years resolutions but I know that 2008 will be a pivotal year for me, so I think the one I will make is to not sell myself short and to quote another Pete Townshend song, 'keep on working'.
Have a fun and most importantly safe night. 2008 is just a matter of hours away.

Artist and Muse #33

Director Fernando di Leo stands in between his two stars, Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati, on the set of the extremely strange and brutal TO BE TWENTY (AVERE VENT’ANNI).
This very odd 1978 film by di Leo is available from Xploited in a striking two disc special edition, which includes two versions of the film and a documentary on the making of it.
I'll be honest and admit that I am not sure what I think of the film, but I love its two stars and admire its director very much. Those who haven't seen it should give the film a look and this set is the best way to go right now.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Commedia Sexy All'Italiana (This Weeks Poll)

This weeks poll, focusing on actresses who populated Italian Sex Comedies from the seventies, is the smallest one I have hosted so far in regards to the number of choices. There are frankly many talented actresses that I left out but I decided to just go with five favorites who all seemed to define the genre. I will do one in the future focusing on the many great male comedians of the period, and perhaps even a volume two focusing on more actresses including the ones I left out who were more involved in comedies from the sixties. This was after all a very fruitful genre for several decades.
So vote away for your favorites between the five actresses I have selected. They all have strong fan bases and they all of course worked more than in just comedic roles, but when they did they always proved to be incredibly sexy, charming and most importantly of all funny. Beauty and Laughter seemed a great way to start off the new year so look for upcoming related posts all throughout the week.

Joe Dante Film Poll Results

Thanks to everyone who voted on last weeks poll focusing on the films of Joe Dante. This actually turned out to be my most successful poll so far, which surprised me since it was Christmas week. Here are the results for the poll, and a couple of shots featuring Candice Rialson from one of Dante's best, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD.

2. GREMLINS (32)
3. PIRANHA (26)
4. GREMLINS 2 (26)
9. MATINEE (11)
11. THE BURBS (5)

Thanks again to everyone who participated and thanks to Joe Dante for giving us so many consistently inventive and brilliant films. It is to his credit that one of his more recent films, THE HOMECOMING, ranked so high. Here's to many more years of great filmmaking.

This weeks new poll will be posted later today. Also, my look at Bob Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS should be appearing at The Amplifier soon, which is why I am not posting it here this weekend.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Spaak, Catherine Spaak

I don't really have any reason for posting these shots of Catherine Spaak, that appeared on eBay recently, other than I just thought they were great to see. It does kind of tie in though with the upcoming week here at Moon In The Gutter though. I feel like I have been posting too much on mainstream American cinema lately so this first week of the new year will be bringing in some more European delights.
So as I am preparing that, enjoy these two shots of Catherine. Also the Joe Dante poll, which has proved the most popular I have ever done, will be coming to an end soon so vote if you haven't already. Next weeks poll will be posted tomorrow, and it will have a more...Italian theme to it. Thanks to everyone who has been visiting. Moon In The Gutter has gotten more hits in the past few weeks than ever before.

Kinski on the Cover

Here are two very rare magazine covers that just appeared on Ebay. The lovely shot above dates from 1978 and the one below features a rare pic of Nastassja and Francis on the set of ONE FROM THE HEART.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Celebrating The Crazed Chaos Of Gremlins

One of the main things I love about the films of Joe Dante is how much they love cinema. Dante’s best films are positively drunk on the idea of cinema, and it is this addiction to film that makes his work so damn timeless and so infectiously fun.
GREMLINS is a celebration of cinema and chaos, or perhaps more appropriately a celebration of chaos in cinema. For all of the potent sweetness of the first half of the film, GREMLINS really becomes transcendent in that second part where an incredibly potent anarchy takes over as Dante gleefully watches over his little creations as they tear the building down.
GREMLINS was co-produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, two filmmakers who have tailor made many productions into custom made marketing schemes. For a while GREMLINS falls into this with its cute and cuddly Gizmo and ideal Americana aura, but Dante performs an interesting trick in the film and by the end of it, during a final Hammer Horror inspired climax, the young Turks have once again overtaken the corporate palace.

Dante shot GREMLINS just after completing his work on the Spielberg produced TWILIGHT ZONE film. The two seemed an odd combination; as it was Dante who after all had shot one of the most successful JAWS take offs, PIRANHA, just about six years before. GREMLINS would turn out to be a fruitful and incredibly successful venture for the two of them but thankfully Dante didn’t allow his film to become as neutered by the Spielberg touch as some other notable directors had. There might be some Steven Spielberg touches in GREMLINS but by the time the credits role, we know for sure we have watched a Joe Dante film.
Chris Columbus was a relative unknown at this time; with his only credit being the Daryl Hannah film RECKLESS in 1983. GREMLINS was a few years before he would turn to directing himself with such monumentally boring but financially successful films like the HOME ALONE series. His recent work on the HARRY POTTER films have thankfully served as a reminder of some of his talents, after all this is the guy who lensed the delightful Elisabeth Shue comedy ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING.
I quite like Columbus’ script for GREMLINS with its strong odes to everything from IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, THE WIZARD OF OZ and even old CHARLIE CHAN serials. Still, it is Dante’s direction, the beautiful photography of John Hora, the wonderful special effects and the talented cast that really makes GREMLINS special. Add on a spirited score by the great Jerry Goldsmith as a cherry on top and GREMLINS is one of the most alive and inventive films of the eighties.
It is remarkable that GREMLINS was really only the forth full-length feature Dante had directed as he handles the material like a seasoned old pro. The film is a perfectly constructed piece that never slips. Any other director might have faltered halfway through when the most idealistic of all towns is suddenly taken over by the most gleefully destructive monsters in film history, but just like he had in PIRANHA and THE HOWLING, Dante intermingles the comedy with the horror perfectly. It is an assured and confident piece of filmmaking by a very talented artist.
The amazing number of references Dante fills GREMLINS with could have easily dismantled the film but they never interfere with the story, which is in itself a major accomplishment. Being a film geek, spotting all the references can be incredibly fun, but the film is good enough to not lose its identity in them. It finally even becomes a better film than some of the more acclaimed ones it is paying tribute to, a feat Dante has managed several times in his career.
As previously mentioned, Goldsmith’s score is a charmer and the main theme is among his most memorable. The photography of Hora is really gorgeous and, even at its most artifical looking, the film still manages to maintain a level of realism thanks to his inventive lighting during the many nighttime scenes.
The cast is very well chosen with special note going to legendary Dick Miller who gives one of his most memorable and funniest performances as the paranoid Murray Futterman. Also extraordinary is Phoebe Cates who provides one of my favorite movie monologues ever in which she vividly details why she doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Hell, she is so good in the scene that it almost makes me believe there isn’t a Santa Claus.

The film’s second half in which the Gremlins hatch and take over the town is filled with some of the most delightfully crazed and over the top scenes Dante ever shot. He isn’t afraid to be ridiculous and it is that ridiculous nature that become positively transcending late in the film when a theater full of Gremlins suddenly start singing along to SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES. It’s like a narcotic filled late night joyride that you might not believe in the morning if you manage to get to it.
GREMLINS was a fairly shocking film back in 1984. It was hugely popular but it probably single handedly gave birth to the PG-13 rating. The Gremlins themselves are joyously nasty little creatures and nearly a quarter of a century later I still think the special effects in this film hold up.
The film inspired a really fine and equally subversive sequel that came maybe a few years too late. My favorite moment in that one has the Gremlins actually charging into the projection room and destroying the film as you are watching it…genius. Still, I prefer the original as it works for me as a sweet and nostalgic Christmas film in the first half and a crazed monster movie in the second. THE HOWLING is probably the film I would name as Joe Dante’s best, but GREMLINS might be my favorite.

My look at another one of my favorite Dante films, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, can be found here for anyone interested. GREMLINS and its sequel are both available on terrific special edition DVDS that serve both their anarchistic tendencies incredibly well.


I was thrilled to return home from Christmas to find my BLADE RUNNER five DVD briefcase waiting for me. I panicked for a moment as the box it was shipped in had popped open but thankfully nothing had been damaged or tampered with.
I got number 6,530 out of the limited 103,000 run. The packaging is beautiful (the case even has a handle!) and I am frankly blown away by how many hours of extras there are. So far I have just had time to watch Ridley's Final Cut which is breathtaking and I have just started diving into the documentaries.
I have so much to watch now thanks to Christmas gifts including the complete SEINFELD collection, Criterion's new BREATHLESS set and the TWIN PEAKS Gold Box that I am a bit overwhelmed. For the next couple of days though it is definitely this magnificent BLADE RUNNER collection. I am still amazed that it is actually out after so many years of waiting.

Writing For Kinski: Gerard Brach

Some of Nastassja’s best films from the eighties were the most visually stunning of the period. Films like CAT PEOPLE, ONE FROM THE HEART and MOON IN THE GUTTER helped set a new eye popping standard for the ways films could look. They also all came under fire from critics who claimed that the stylistic strengths of the film outweighed the narrative substance. With MARIA’S LOVERS, Nastassja got a chance to work on one of her most fully developed stories and scripts, so a tribute to one of her most important screenwriters seems in order.
Any fan of Roman Polanski will immediately recognize the name of Gerard Brach. The legendary director will always be connected to the late screenwriter as the late man penned so many of his films. The list of films that Brach wrote for Polanski is extraordinary. They include REPULSION (1965), CUL DE SAC (1966), THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (1967), WHAT? (1972), THE TENANT (1976), TESS (1980), PIRATES (1985), FRANTIC (1988), and BITTER MOON (1992). It is perhaps fitting that it would be the screenwriter for TESS that would deliver another one of Nastassja’s most resonate and haunting scripts for her, and Brach’s work on MARIA’S LOVERS is incredibly strong and noteworthy.
Brach was born in the summer of 1927 in France. A voracious reader growing up, Brach became interested in both writing and film as a young man. He began submitting French scripts in the early part of the sixties and his first paying job came as the dialogue writer on Jean Leon’s DO YOU LIKE WOMEN in 1964. Soon after he met up with a young Polish director named Roman Polanski, who had just scored a major critical hit with the powerful KNIFE IN THE WATER (1962). Polanksi liked Brach (he recalled they were immediately ‘inseparable’ in his essential autobiography ROMAN) and brought him on board to write his segment for an upcoming anthology film known as THE BEAUTIFUL SWINDLERS (1964). This would set off one of the most fruitful cinematic collaborations in film history.

Polanski wasn’t the only famed director that Brach delivered his beautifully realized scripts for though. Claude Berri collaborated with him soon after REPULSION on his award winning CLAUDE in 1967, and the two would end up working together several times throughout their careers. Other famed directors that sought out Brach were Michelangelo Antonioni, Marco Ferreri, and Dario Argento.
In 1970 Brach tried his hand at directing for the first time with THE HOUSE, a film that had a limited success. A year later he would try again for a final time with a more acclaimed work entitled THE BOAT ON THE GRASS starring the beautiful Truffaut muse Claude Jade. The film would garner Brach a Golden Palm nomination at Cannes and is at least notable as one of the only scripts Roman Polanski ever worked on for another director.

For MARIA’S LOVERS, Brach collaborated with the films director Andrei Knochalovsky mainly on crafting the script. Three American writers, Paul Zindel, Floyd Byars and Marjorie David, were also brought in to help with the more American specific aspects of the film. The screenplay would turn out to be one of the most beautiful Brach ever lent a hand to, and the character of Maria one of the most perfectly rendered.
After MARIA’S LOVERS Brach continued to work fairly prolifically. The final film he scripted that was released in his lifetime was Jan Kounen’s BLUEBERRY (RENEGADE) in 2004. Brach would tragically pass away in the fall of 2006 after a brave fight with Lung Cancer. Jean-Jacques Annaud filmed his final script, HIS MAJESTY MINOR, this past year to some acclaim in Europe.
Gerard Brach left behind an amazing legacy of films that will be celebrated for as long as people are watching movies. His work on MARIA’S LOVERS is an important part of that great legacy.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Look At The 5th Dimension's The Magic Garden Selected By Rare Albums Site

I am thrilled that my article on The 5th Dimension's mighty album THE MAGIC GARDEN has been selected by for inclusion at their fine site. This Jimmy Webb written and produced masterpiece was way ahead of its time and has always sounded to me like a clear precedent for bands like My Bloody Valentine and Lush. The album is becoming harder and harder to get, so I am glad to see my article on it reappearing.
This is the direct link to my article on the album and I hope everyone might stop over there and give it a look. Thanks to Martin at for selecting it.

The Mod Squad Episode #3 (My What A Pretty Bus)

The third episode of THE MOD SQUAD, entitled MY WHAT A PRETTY BUS, wisely adapts the more cinematic style of the pilot and corrects many of the stylistic and scripting mistakes the second one made.
Directed with flair by Gene Nelson from an entertaining script by the team of Gwen Bagni and Paul Dubov, MY WHAT A PRETTY BUS is firmly rooted in 1968 but is executed well enough to not be overly dated or campy.
The storyline this time has our squad infiltrating a counterfeiting gang headed by a sneaky old con named Herbert Milne (Mills) and his rather sinister silent partner. After befriending him the episode becomes a labyrinth of heists, double crosses and intrigue as our gang attempts to not blow their cover and bring Mills down.
The biggest mistake that the second episode, BAD MAN ON CAMPUS, made was separating Julie, Linc and Pete too much. Thankfully MY WHAT A PRETTY BUS doesn’t repeat that and the episode thrives on the chemistry between the three, especially Julie and Linc who share some really nice moments together.
Guest star Henry Jones is excellent as the backstabbing aging con Mills. Jones had an astonishing career in television and film that lasted well over four decades until his death at the age of 86 in 1999. His film credits include everything from VERTIGO (1958) to DICK TRACY (1990) and television fans will surely recognize him from guest roles in BEWICHED and THE TWILIGHT ZONE. His role here in MY WHAT A PRETTY BUS is really large and he is great as the crafty old thief who always seems to have another trick up his sleeve.
The episode also features noted character actor and stunt man Bud Elkins and stunt man Dick Ziker in a delightful cameo as a biker who helps Linc and Julie towards the end of the episode.
This would be the first of several notable MOD SQUAD episodes that director Gene Nelson would helm. The Golden Globe winning director had worked in both film and television with some of his major projects including a couple of Elvis Presley films and popular shows like I DREAM OF JEANNIE and STAR TREK. His work here is very nice and quite imaginative for a sixties hour-long television drama. Nelson was also an acclaimed singer, actor and dancer who worked in front of the cameras many time through his three decade long career.
The WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLE scriptwriting team of Bagni and Dubov would later also collaborate on THE MOD SQUAD’S 1970 episode JUST RING THE BELL ONCE and their script for MY WHAT A PRETTY BUS is a nice mixture of sixties slang and slightly clich├ęd crime melodrama.
This episode is mostly noteworthy for the final scene where the three embrace. Both Peggy Lipton and Michael Cole recall on the DVD supplements that the moment was very controversial but creator Aaron Spelling bravely refused to buckle in his vision of the show as a celebration of friendship between different sexes and races.
Finally also noteworthy is the trippy sitar soaked score, and possibly it marked one of the first times that LSD was mentioned in a casual non-judgmental way on a network television show. All in all, MY WHAT A PRETTY BUS is a major winner.

For more on this episode, please visit here.

Nastassja On Ebay #13

Here is a brilliant photo of Nastassja and Roman at a 1978 press conference that I haven't seen before. There is a common one available but this one is very rare.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx

More than any other decade in American film history, the 1970’s are filled with colorful, offbeat and quirky character studies. None fit that order more than one of the inaugural films of the decade, 1970’s QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX. While this odd and touching little film did in fact garner much praise upon its initial release, it is typically left out of discussions involving the more interesting works of the period.
QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX was the first screenplay credited to actor Gabriel Walsh, best known for some television work in the sixties and seventies. Walsh sold his strangely moving little script, concerning a lonely young Dublin man who helps support his family by picking up horse dung off the street and selling it as fertilizer, to the independent Scotia-Barber productions in 1968. The wheels were quickly set in motion to make Walsh’s touching little script a reality and director Waris Hussein signed on to helm the low budget project in late 1969.
Hussein was born in 1938 and had begun directing television productions in the early part of the sixties. After helming his debut theatrical feature, 1969’s A TOUCH OF LOVE, Hussein quickly began prep work on QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX in 1969. Key to the film’s success and resonance was the casting of the title role in the film, a part that would demand someone not only talented but also an actor with just the right amount of eccentricity to sell such an odd role.

The complex role of Quackser instantaneously fascinated legendary comedian Gene Wilder when he got the script in 1969, and he signed on to play the part immediately despite the film’s budgetary restrictions. The Milwaukee born Wilder had been on a role since his small role in BONNIE AND CLYDE three years earlier and films like THE PRODUCERS (1968) and START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME (1969) had cemented his status as one of the brightest and best young American actors in the world. He would give arguably his best and most moving performance in QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX, although he has never gotten his full due for it.
Cast opposite Wilder in the important role of Zazel, the pretty American college student who steals and breaks Quackser’s heart, was a charming young actress who had only appeared in one theatrical film before being given the part. Margot Kidder was just twenty-one when she stepped on the set to work opposite Gene Wilder, but her relative inexperience was unnoticeable as she matched him every step of the way. She gives a moving and multi-layered performance as a young girl still trying to figure out who exactly she is and it remains among the most finely crafted roles of her distinguished career.
With his cast in place, Hussein took the filming to Ireland and shot nearly all of it on location in and around Dublin. There were reports of problems mostly centering around budgetary issues and personality clashes, but none of that affected the film. QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX is one of the oddest and most oddly moving films of the seventies, and its virtually anonymity since is most unfortunate.
What makes Hussein’s film so incredible good, outside of the inspired casting of Wilder and Kidder, is that it is simply a story we have not seen before. There is something so lovably tragic about this poor small town man who travels the streets each day with a shovel and a wagon, literally collecting something that is by its very nature, waste. Wilder is astonishing in the film, and he injects the role with so much humanity and tenderness that it is impossible to think of another actor who could have played it. Kidder is equally rewarding, and the young beauty manages the near impossible task of creating a character simultaneously overwhelmingly inconsiderate and yet still loving towards our poor hero.
The supporting cast is splendid, and is made up of a cross section of American actors and Irish locals, with special note going to Mary Ollis and Seamus Forde for their performances as Quackser’s parents. The film’s strikingly dingy look is courtesy of famed Roman Polanski cinematographer, Gilbert Taylor, and his low-key approach fits the films tragi-comic atmosphere perfectly.
In the director’s chair, Hussein fills the role very nicely. None other than Jean Renoir was approached at one point to helm the film, so Hussein had some fairly large shoes to fill. It remains, sadly, one of the only notable films the clearly talented Hussein ever helmed, as he would return mostly to television after.
QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX opened in the summer of 1970 to so-so business but a strong critical backing. Walsh would receive a Writer’s Guild nomination for his lovely and original script but would end up not taking the coveted prize home.

Distribution problems plagued the film immediately and these continued up into the mid seventies when it gradually made its way across Europe, under the title FUN LOVING. It was released on VHS in the early eighties and then fell off the map completely before VCI issued a solid widescreen DVD of it in 2003. It is thankfully still available and can usually be found for under ten dollars.
While rarely mentioned among the best American films of the seventies, QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX is without a doubt one of the most original. Both Margot Kidder and the much missed Gene Wilder would go onto many more popular and well known roles in their long careers, but QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX remains one of the definitive works by both of them. It is one of the great under seen American films of the period, and a reappraisal is due.

***This is a slightly revamped version of my article that appeared in The Amplifier a while back. The original version can be viewed here. This particular article will always be special to me as it is the first one that ever appeared in actual print. I hope it proves enjoyable for Moon In The Gutter readers who haven't read it already.***

Passing Notes In Fifth Period History Class With Phoebe Cates

I knew a girl in high school named Allyson. We became friends in my senior year, and we would pass notes back in forth in a mind numbingly boring fifth period history class. Allyson played a relatively small role in my life but even now, well over fifteen years since I last saw her, there isn’t a month that goes by where I don’t stop for an instant and think about her and remember those funny little words that passed between us or the way she brightened up that fifth period class on a daily basis.
The film career of Phoebe Cates is a bit like that friendship I had back in high school. It is a relatively minor one, with a small number of films and only a couple of bona fide classics. She never won any awards and has all but completely retired now but something special still remains and, like Allyson, a small secret smile comes across my face when I think of her.

I don’t know a lot about her. I know she is from New York and she is just shy of a decade older than I am. Typically I crave to know the minute details of my favorite film figures but some I just prefer to keep on the screen. Phoebe has always been in that latter category, although of course her reputation as one of Hollywood’s best moms should be mentioned.
After some early commercial and modeling work she made her big screen debut before her twentieth birthday in 1982’s PARADISE. This rather weak little film is made memorable by the breathtaking young sun scorched Cates, and a DVD release would be most welcome.
She would quickly become one of the early eighties most interesting young stars with just her second film, Amy Heckerling’s legendary FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (also from 1982). This Cameron Crowe scripted work remains one of the best high school themed films ever shot and it introduced many film lovers to not only Cates but also Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Eric Stoltz,, and Forest Whitaker among others. Cates is delightfully moving in the picture and her scene arising out of the swimming pool in Reinhold’s fantasy is a moment frozen in many film lovers’ dreams. It’s an iconic moment that ranks, for people who grew up with it, with Marlon Brando stripping off his shirt in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE or Marilyn Monroe’s dress blowing up in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH.

Had FAST TIMES RIDGEMONT HIGH done better on its initial release Phoebe Cates could have probably become a huge star, but for two years after she was stuck in mostly youth oriented roles that were a major step backwards from Heckerling’s film. Noel Black’s PRIVATE SCHOOL (1983) certainly has its charms but it hardly broke any new ground for the talented Cates (or its impressive cast which included Betsy Russell, Matthew Modine and Sylvia Kristel), while the less said about her television films like LACE the better.
Phoebe got probably her greatest role though in 1984 with her charming turn as Kate in Joe Dante’s GREMLINS. She oozes charisma and a sexy wholesomeness that hadn’t been seen in American cinema since the early sixties in this role, and I still don’t think I have gotten over seeing her for the first time in this film back when I was eleven during its first release. Her reading of the film’s most controversial scene, where she admits why she hates Christmas, is one of the funniest and most moving sequences from the eighties and is for me the absolute highlight of the film.

Like after FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, the film career of Phoebe Cates should have took off following GREMLINS. She has never been what one would call prolific though and her roles since have been sporadic. She’s added spark to some disappointing films like DATE WITH AN ANGEL (1987) and BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG CITY (1988) and appeared in some good ones like the irresistible SHAG (1989) opposite Bridget Fonda and Dante’s own GREMLINS sequel in this period but she never regained the momentum she had in 1984.

After 1991’s irritating DROP DEAD FRED Phoebe Cates virtually vanished from the screen. Her slight returns have been especially sweet though. 1993’s BODIES, REST AND MOTION is one of the great forgotten films of the nineties, and her work with Bridget Fonda in the film shows her as an actress capable of a lot more depth than probably even her biggest fans had previously recognized. 1994’s PRINCESS CARABOO might not be overwhelmingly noteworthy but Cates is stunning in the film to watch and the fact that it is her last starring role makes it almost haunting.
Phoebe Cates retired from the screen after starring in PRINCESS CARABOO just past the age of thirty to raise her children. She has appeared just once since in a film, 2001’s THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY for her old friend and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH survivor Jennifer Jason Leigh. Nearing forty in the film, Cates is still breathtaking and for people who grew up with her and Leigh it is something special to see them together again. THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY is a fitting farewell to Cates, it’s a strong and personal film from first time director Leigh and Phoebe delivers a nice low key performance for her.
Occasionally I will do a search for Phoebe Cates to see what she is looking like these days, and pictures of her at Premiere’s with her husband Kevin Kline show her to appear seemingly ageless. Now in her mid forties, she still contains more style, sweetness and natural beauty than most actresses half her age could ever hope to. Whether or not she ever returns to the screen remains to be seen but the small legacy she left us is an endearing and potent one. Much like many of us might never recover from a secret crush or a lost friendship from high school, the film career of Phoebe Cates is not likely to fade anytime soon for people who grew up loving her.

For more on Phoebe please visit this rather wonderful fan site.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Spend The Holidays With Juno

I have finally given MICHAEL CLAYTON a little company in my five star films for 2007 section with the remarkable JUNO. This really special and insightful film is one of the best films of the year, and is probably the best acted. Since no one else seems to be giving her much attention, I'd like to nominate Jennifer Garner as best supporting actress for her beautifully nuanced and touching supporting role in this film.
JUNO is a great film and I highly recommend it (It also has one of the best Dario Argento nods I have seen in a film since MAY, which made it all the better).
I also saw the surprisingly strong I AM LEGEND today which despite faltering a bit in the last act was a terrific film with a great lead turn by Will Smith.
My tradition of going to the movies on Christmas day was very rewarding this year.

My posts here will start picking up in the next day or so as I return home from visiting family. Hope everyone is continuing to have a great Christmas. Thanks for all the comments, email and MySpace messages. Excuse my delay in getting back to everyone.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays From Nostalgia Kinky

I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe Christmas, and a great holiday season. Thanks for all the support, and my posts on MARIA'S LOVERS will continue later this week.

Merry Christmas From Moon In The Gutter

Thanks to everyone who has been so kind this year and I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas day and a great rest of the holiday season. I hope you all keep enjoying Moon In The Gutter in the upcoming year. Merry Christmas and my best to all of you and your families.

Yvonne Craig, sometime in the mid sixties.

Soul Still On Top

Tomorrow of course brings a lot to remember and celebrate. Stop for a moment if you will and think upon the soul of James of our great artists whom we lost one year ago. I know I won't let the day slip by without pulling out one of the man's records, and remembering an artist who always gave everything he had to give...
I was stunned when I heard The Godfather had been called home, and a year later the thought still gets me...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Celebrating Belinda Balaski

One of my favorite ingredients to some of Joe Dante’s best films comes in his continuous casting of the wonderfully warm character actor Belinda Balaski. Whether it was in just one memorable scene in GREMLINS or in a much larger role in PIRANHA, Balaski always brought such a genuine feel to her roles that it is surprising she didn’t become more of a major feature in eighties and nineties cinema.
Balaski was born in California in the late part of 1947 and acted throughout her childhood in variety of local stage productions. She maintained her passion for acting through her teenage years and early twenties and finally began her career in front of the camera with a series of early seventies television series like THE COWBOYS, BARETTA and SWAT.
Balaski’s first feature film was the underrated and stylish Fred Williamson vehicle BLACK EYE (1974). Balaski is featured in a small but noticeable role in Jack Arnold’s surprising modern noir and the role would lead her to even more work including the Television films FORCE FIVE and DEATH SCREAM (both 1975).
Her first major role came with the Linda Carter film, BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW (1975) which quickly became a fan favorite and it garnered Belinda some good notices.
Belinda next appeared in the rather unforgettable American International Production THE FOOD OF THE GODS for director Bert I Gordon. This giant killer animals gone amuck movie alternates between awful and hilarious but it is undeniably fun, and Balaski is one of the best parts of it. In a scene stealing smaller role, she is already demonstrating much of the warmth and charisma that would define her performances with Dante that were just around the corner.
A few more television roles followed before Belinda landed one of her best roles, as Maryann in Paul Bartel’s extremely entertaining 1976 production CANNONBALL. Balaski is great in this David Carradine rampaging and exciting road race film from the much missed director of classics ranging from DATH RACE 2000 (1975) to EATING RAOUL (1982).
Quickly emerging as one of AIP’s most promising actors, Belinda met young editor and aspiring filmmaker Dante around this period and she would feature in almost all of his feature films from that point on.

After a memorable role in a solid episode of CHARLIE’S ANGELS Belinda appeared in one of Dante’s great films, the John Sayles scripted PIRANHA (1978). This film has aged so incredibly well and Dante’s sparkling direction combined with Sayle’s sharp dialogue is an unbeatable combination. Balaski is lovely in the film and every one of her scenes is spiked with a real spark. PIRANHA is a blueprint on how to make an essential and great monster film. Fun, funny, alive and potent, PIRANHA is a real favorite.
The few years after PIRANHA brought more television and stage work for the undeniably talented Balaski and Joe Dante didn’t forget the young woman who gave so much to one of his first major directorial assignments. His next film would prove even more successful than PIRANHA, and would give the 35 year old Balaski one of her greatest roles.

THE HOWLING (1981) is one of the great American horror films of the eighties, and one of the best werewolf movies ever made. Working again from a clever self referential John Sayles script, Dante’s THE HOWLING is a major work. Balaski is one of the film’s major highlights and her death scene is terrifying and unforgettable. She is also very funny and charming in the film, and her scenes are among some of the best in Dante’s canon. One scene in particular where she gets a werewolf tutorial from legendary Dick Miller is particularly memorable.
THE HOWLING should have made Belinda Balaski’s career. Unfortunately the tragic tradition of undervaluing great performances in genre films has dogged many wonderful actors, and it continues to happen to this day. Balaski began doing more and more television work after THE HOWLING, and she also never lost touch with the stage that she loved so much. She would have a very memorable one scene walk on in Dante’s GREMLINS (1984), and the great filmmaker thankfully never forgot her in his later career. Her voice appears in his EXPLORERS (1985), and she acts in AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (1987), GREMLINS 2 (1990), MATINEE (1993) and her last big screen appearance is in his 1998 film SMALL SOLDIERS.

Outside of her work for Joe Dante, Belinda Balaski has appeared in dozens of television shows and movies, and stage productions. While she never got the film roles that she deserved, award winning Balaski has had a really wonderful and prolific career that has given fans many great performances and films. Her IMDB biography also reveals her as a teacher, painter and photographer. Horror fans will of course always remember her for her very memorable work in PIRANHA and THE HOWLING, but Belinda Balaski is much more than just one of our great overlooked scream queens. Her relatively small big screen legacy deserves celebrating.

Her official website can be found here.

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BLOG CREATED, EDITED and WRITTEN BY JEREMY RICHEY: Began in DEC 2006. The written content of all posts (excepting quotes from reviews, books, other publications) COPYRIGHT JEREMY RICHEY.