Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Notes on my Jean Rollin Project

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While I just have a handful of regular readers that I know of over at Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience, I must admit that I am quite proud of it so far. I will be finishing up my look at Rollin's second feature, 1970's La Vampire Nue, later this week and am greatly anticipating diving into arguably his first masterpiece, 1971's Le Frissons des Vampires, by the weekend.
The several regular features I have started over there include my own reviews of the works, notes on certain collaborators (in front of and behind the camera), offering any promotional material I can find, my own exclusive screenshots and wallpapers and even outside submissions (everyone should check out Jeffrey Allen Rydell's terrific piece). Fascination has been a blast so far and I appreciate the folks who have been visiting and commenting.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Halloween Tribute Poll #1: The Sequels

All through October, to go along with my sporadic Halloween Tribute posts, I will be conducting some polls for people to participate in. The first one has just gone active and it will hopefully prove interesting as there seems to be a lot of disagreement among fans about what the best and worst of the sequels are to John Carpenter's original. So cast some votes for your favorites and ignore the ones you hate if you decide to vote. I will post the results next Sunday when I start the second of at least four polls. Enjoy...

Exciting Happenings at the Twin Peaks Archive


One of Moon in the Gutter's best friends has just started an extremely special series of posts everyone should check out. Starting this weekend, the essential Twin Peaks Archive will be bringing fans many extremely rare stills and behind the scenes shots from the legendary series. Head over to this link to view the first bunch and make sure you stop by each weekend to see more. I can't wait to see the rest of them.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman: Ten For The Ages

A world without Paul Newman? I admit that I am not ready for it, are you? Even though he has been relatively inactive in front of the cameras for the better part of a decade he was never far from our thoughts, our dreams, our hopes for the kind of man we wished God would still make. During Earth's final days when someone struggling soul is looking to gather together a few final fitting films to watch, you can put good money down that at least one or more will star Paul Newman. He was truly one of the greatest film stars and actors of all time...and the two really rarely go hand in hand but Newman had it all. On top of the extraordinary film career, he was also by all accounts a wonderful human being who never stopped giving, caring and loving his fellow man.

I figured instead of recounting Paul Newman's many accomplishments in the way of a tribute I would instead offer up my ten favorite films from him. I don't mean to suggest these are the best ones (although I am sure several here will go without much argument) but these are the ones that have stuck with me the most. I think they are all great films with one thing in common...the extraordinary and totally original presence of Paul Newman.


10. Twilight (1998): No one seemed to know what to do back in 1998 with this low key and complex offering from Robert Benton, which features Newman giving one of his last towering performances. Unfairly dismissed at the time, Twilight is a really solid film that now, a decade later, seems like a deliberate return to the kind of low key filmmaking many American directors have forgotten how to deliver.


9. Fort Apache The Bronx (1981): Tough as nails Daniel Petrie film that finds Newman giving one of his most studied and wearied performances. He hits just the right balance, as does this underrated film.


8. The Drowning Pool (1975): Stuart Rosenberg's killer and superior follow-up to Harper finds Newman at his absolute coolest.


7. The Towering Inferno (1974): Two Words...Newman, Mcqueen.


6: Slap-Shot (1977): George Roy Hill's foul mouthed hockey film is one of the great sports films and, simply put, one of the best of the late seventies.


5. Absence of Malice: Had it been released just a few years earlier, this tight and paranoid Sydney Pollack film would probably have been granted classic status by now, but a lot of film fans just don't seem to know about it. Featuring one of Newman's greatest performances opposite a pitch perfect Sally Field, Absence of Malice deserves more attention than it has ever been granted.


4. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958): Has there ever really been a movie couple as steamy and beautiful as Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman in this film? The real juice in this Tennessee Williams adaptation though comes in the extraordinary scenes between Newman and Burl Ives as his father. Rarely has anyone ever portrayed loss and dis-satisfaction as well as Newman does here.


3. Hud (1963): I could go on and on about how great Martin Ritt's film is but just go back and watch that haunting final scene again to see for yourself.


2. The Verdict (1982): In my book this is Paul Newman's greatest performance and how he didn't win the Oscar for it will forever escape me. Sidney Lumet's moving film plays even better today than it did a quarter of a century ago as it just feels so crushingly relevant. Newman's performance as Frank Galvin is one of the cinematic heavyweights. Seriously, how did he not get the Oscar for this?


1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969): I'm glad I took the time to write a little tribute to this film recently as I wouldn't give anything for it. It's one of those films that never fails to move me, make me laugh, make me cry and finally just bow my head in reverence. I thought it was fitting that it was Robert Redford who released one of the first public statements about Paul's passing today, as there has never been a better screen team. Newman, like Butch in the film, thankfully always used just enough dynamite and he wasn't afraid to add a little more to get the job done if needed....God bless him.

Tributes to the great man are pouring from all over. A few of the best I have read so far are:

Kim Morgan's post at Sunset Gun.

Kimberly Lindberg's farewell at Cinebeats.

Tony Dayoub's tribute at Cinema Viewfinder.

I will add more as I see them and of course I want to extend my best to Paul's friends and family...he was a truly extraordinary man and one of our greatest actors.


Paul Newman

Friday, September 26, 2008

Starting Next Week at Moon in the Gutter: A Month Long Celebration of The Night He Came Home

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This October marks the 30th anniversary of John Carpenter's incredibly influential Halloween, and I couldn't let the celebration go by without something special, so starting next week at Moon in the Gutter I will be offering up some sporadic visual and written tributes to the film which will stretch throughout my favorite month of the year. Throughout October you'll learn about:

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My special regional connection to the film and why it still means so much to me all these years later.

My nostalgic feelings for the very flawed Halloween 2 and especially the television version of it.

Why I think Laurie Strode is one for the key female characters in all of modern American cinema.

How the seventies couldn't have happened without P.J. Soles.

My hatred for Parts 4, 5 and 6 and my admiration for H2O.

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Plus the usual number of screenshots, wallpapers, some Halloween related polls, and perhaps some surprises as well. I realize Halloween has been covered to death but I will try to bring a personal touch to a film that has haunted my memories for most of my life.

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The usual posts will continue here as well (and also at Fascination and Nostalgia Kinky) but I hope everyone will get a kick out of my upcoming special tribute to one of the greatest of all American films.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This Can't Be My Mater Lachrymarum

***I wanted to point out before my look at Dario Argento's Mother of Tears that several of my favorite online associates have written some excellent positive notices on the film, including Steve at The Last Picture Show and Mr. Peel over at Mr. Peel's Sardine Liquer. Everyone should check out their posts for a balanced perspective on a film that has split Argento's fan-base like no other...I wish I liked the film as much as they did. Another favorite post on the film, although a much more mixed one, comes courtesy of Tim Lucas at Video Watchblog, and I wanted to provide the link to that as well. Despite my extreme dislike for Mother of Tears, I am still greatly anticipating Argento's upcoming Giallo and have lost none of my faith in the man's ability to completely rock my world.***

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Among my favorite moments in all of cinema is when Ania Pieroni suddenly appears as the overwhelmingly beautiful and cruel Mater Lachrymarum, The Mother of Tears, in Dario Argento’s 1980 masterpiece Inferno. It’s a brief and hauntingly odd moment that only Argento in his prime could pull off, as Pieroni does and says nothing but somehow communicates all of the strange magic that is at the heart of the magnificent Inferno.

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As re-imagined 27 years later, The Mother of Tears has transformed into Moran Atias, a ridiculous silicone based adolescent fantasy right out of a bad mid eighties Goth Rock video. Atias, a beautiful and charismatic woman in real life, is just one of the many problems in Argento’s long awaited Mother Of Tears, a film that I rank along with The Phantom of The Opera as his absolute worst.
Mother of Tears is the first Dario Argento film I have failed to connect with at even the most basic level. Even the few films he has made in his remarkable career that I haven’t liked (the aforementioned Phantom and Do You Like Hitchcock) at the very least were interesting and I understood what he was attempting. Mother of Tears, on the other hand, just left me completely and totally baffled and finally very depressed.

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Argento’s final film in a trilogy that includes the astonishing one-two punch of Suspiria and Inferno, is a hollow, cheap and rushed feeling production that, minus a couple of really inspired moments, never works for me. The work, filled with many allusions to past Italian Horror productions from the likes of Bava, Fulci and Argento himself, might have been intended as some kind of culmination to more than fifty years of Italian fright, but instead it feels like a sad reminder that the once strong genre has been reduced to less than a shadow of its former self.

I found so much wrong with the film that I don’t know where to begin. Stylistically it is as far removed from the colorful extravaganzas that the first two were as possible. While I admire that Argento was attempting to make Mother Of Tears very much its own film, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the picture, as shot by Frederic Fasano, is a flat looking production that reminded me more of a television movie rather than one of the major films of Dario Argento’s career. Honestly I feel Asia Argento’s flawed but brave Scarlet Diva (2000), Fasano’s first feature, is a visually more imaginative and striking production than this one.

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Technically the film is just a mess. From some of the weakest visual effects (courtesy of a Canadian Company that worked on Argento’s superior Masters of Horror productions) I have seen in a long time to many instances of poor editing that manages to spoil most of legendary Sergio Stivaletti’s makeup effects, Mother of Tears just feels poorly conceived at best throughout its 102 minute running time. The film’s final confrontation is especially spoiled by a particularly poor visual effect that frankly looks like something out of a Troma or Misty Mundae production; only at least they would have had the intelligence to play it for laughs. Here, Argento doesn’t seem to realize how truly terrible many of the effects look, something downright tragic for a man responsible for some of the most unsettling imagery in film history.

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The film’s many tributes to other films typically only serve to remind lovers of the genre of much more powerful productions, and they lack any real visceral impact for the most part. Take for example an early murder sequence that is clearly inspired by one of Fulci’s more brutal moments, but as done here it feels like something out of one of Lucio’s later productions (like Demonia or Anigma) when he had run out of money and artistic steam to really mount it the way it should. All of the murder’s here in Argento’s film feel like he’s trying too hard and for all their gruesomeness, they lack any real punch.

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The cast is doomed as well as they really have nowhere to go here. Atias feels right for the part when you watch her interviewed on the disc’s documentary but in the film itself she is ill conceived at best. Her followers that reek havoc on Rome throughout the film are even worse in how poorly thought out they are, as they play more like a shoppers at a local Hot Topic rather than signals of a world coming to an end. Many familiar faces pop up from Udo Kier to Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni but they all just serve to remind the audience that they deserve much better material.
Particularly unforgivable is the wasting of Daria Nicolodi, who is forced to perform her entire role hidden behind one of the cheesiest special effects imaginable.

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Cast in the underwritten lead role is Asia Argento and even she struggles with the material. Shot in the midst of some truly stirring films like Breillat’s The Last Mistress and Assayas’ Boarding Gate, in which she gives two of the most powerhouse performances of her career, Asia looks exhausted here and just doesn’t have anything to work with. Compared to the miraculous performance she gave for her father in the masterful The Stendhal Syndrome more than a decade ago, the part written for her in Mother of Tears becomes among the most disappointing of one cinema’s most remarkable modern careers.

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The film thankfully has some positive elements that are worth noting. Claudio Simonetti’s score for the most part is a rousing operatic success (although the rap metal song that ends the film is an embarrassment) while Stivaletti’s effects that aren’t spoiled by amateuristic editing are very memorable. Overall though, Mother of Tears is the most disappointing Italian Horror production since Stivaletti’s The Wax Mask in 1997, a film that is a masterpiece compared to this one.
Mother of Tears, which amazingly got Argento some of the mainstream critical acclaim that has alluded him throughout his career, probably would have broke my heart if I had seen it before hearing anything about it. A year’s worth of many fans (and the revered Alan Jones) disappointment with it tempered my expectations. Seriously though, as someone who counts Sleepless as one of his favorite films of the decade and has great admiration for The Card Player, I was surprised by just how much I disliked Mother of Tears…and more than a little disheartened.

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There is one moment though that almost grabs some of the magic that Suspiria and Inferno had in nearly every frame. It is a touching little scene that sees Asia’s character going through a box of old family photographs. Argento’s die-hard fans will of course recognize these are real mementos from her life, and the tears she starts to shed feel just as real. It’s a splendid reminder of what a film obsessed by digging up the past could have been.

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Despite my dislike for the film though, I’ll never count Dario Argento out and I will view Mother of Tears as just a mistake. Curbing my disappointment last night after watching this, I whispered “oh well, it’s only a movie” and quickly realized it was the most damning phrase I could have muttered as the life changing duo of Suspiria and Inferno were oh so much more than that…I wish Dario had left Mater Lachrymarum as just that unforgettable vision of Ania Pieroni in Inferno, as cinema’s darkest witch deserved much better than Mother of Tears.

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