Friday, October 31, 2008

Hatred and Hunger (1994)

Nearly impossible to find now, episode seven of the acclaimed PBS documentary The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century entitled "Hatred and Hunger" features the voice of Nastassja Kinski as Rosa Luxemburg. Information on this hard to find series that Nastassja lent her voice to can be found here.

Terminal Velocity (1994)

Released in 1994 to almost universal critical disdain and poor box-office receipts, Terminal Velocity is exactly the rather lame and mindless failure most people considered upon its original release. Unfortunately it would also be the highest profile American film Nastassja Kinski had made since the disastrously received Revolution nearly a decade before. Coming on the heels of a such an ambitious and well meaning film like Faraway, So Close, Terminal Velocity seems even all the more vapid and lifeless and it remains among the worst films Nastassja Kinski ever appeared in.
Of course, little of the blame for Terminal Velocity’s failure can be placed at the feet of Nastassja Kinski. Poorly scripted David Twohy and blandly directed by Deran Sarafian with a weak lead performance by Charlie Sheen (who seems to be here just to pick up a paycheck), Terminal Velocity feels like a doomed production all the way through with only some good stunt work and a couple of decent action sequences distinguishing it.

Nastassja Kinski, Terminal Velocity

Astonishingly, Sheen and Kinski weren’t the only talented and high profiled actors attached to this limp work. Everyone from future Sopranos star James Gandolfini to legendary filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles to Brooke Langton are featured and wasted in the film.

Nastassja Kinski, Terminal Velocity

There is some hefty talent behind the scenes talent as well who do some of the most un-noteworthy work of their careers including BAFTA nominated cinematographer Oliver Wood and usually reliable composer Joel McNeely. Everyone working on Terminal Velocity, outside of the stunt crew headed by Buddy Jo Hooker, just seem like they are on autopilot.

Nastassja Kinski, Terminal Velocity

Charlie Sheen had hit a bad spot in his career in 1994 and was caught between his earlier fine dramatic work with the likes of Oliver Stone and his current status as popular television comedian. He’s at his worst in Terminal Velocity and sleepwalks through the role, plus he has less chemistry with Kinski than probably any male lead has had in a film with her before or since.

Nastassja Kinski, Terminal Velocity

Like in the previously lame action flick she had just appeared in, Crackerjack, Nastassja isn’t given much to do here and there isn’t really a part for her to elevate. She’s simply the girl in the film and as in Crackerjack (or any number of unfortunate films she has shot since) she is simply too big for the role…to say it is beneath her is an incredible understatement.

Nastassja Kinski, Terminal Velocity

Terminal Velocity limped into theaters in the fall of 1994 and it disappeared soon after. Budgeted at a whopping 50 million, it only grossed 16 and was one of the biggest disappointments of the year. A minor hit on home video and TV, it is still in print on a barebones widescreen DVD.
Deadly Friend

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Down Those Deserted Hallways Again.

Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II commits the cardinal sin for a suspense film, in that it just attempts to explain too damn much. This mistake is one of the main problems that have plagued so many sequels and remakes throughout screen history. Why is ambiguity such a problem for mainstream American filmgoers? Why do so many feel like unanswered questions are such a bad thing?

Despite it’s many faults and failings, and there are plenty of them, Halloween II has survived and has had an effect. Michael Myers’ role as not only Laurie Strode’s lost brother but also as some sort of ‘lord of the dead’ comes directly from Rosenthal’s frustrating follow up to John Carpenter’s delightfully minimal and mysterious first film. Of course, one can’t blame Rosenthal completely as Halloween II was indeed penned by both Carpenter and producer Debra Hill. One can see the effect of the film in not only its sequels (particularly 4, 5 and 6 that took the ‘Samhain’ idea to finally ridiculous extremes) but also in Rob Zombie’s remake that unfortunately embraced the whole ‘Laurie as a lost sister’ concept.

The many missteps in the film’s script are especially unfortunate when one considers the fact that there are moments in Halloween II that are actually quite effective. Why more horror films haven’t been shot in seemingly abandoned hospitals in the dead of night is a mystery, because Rosenthal uses its empty and long hallways to great effect. At its best, Halloween II manages to build not a small amount of suspense, despite its script that seems to want to spoil all the mysteries the first film had created so terrifyingly.

Rosenthal’s film also benefits greatly from the work of returning cinematographer Dean Cundey, who lights and photographs the film with an eerie clarity. The film is indeed the only one of the sequels that manages to recreate at least partially the look of the stunning original, even though the larger budget actually seems to take away much of the freshness Carpenter and Cundey had come up with originally.

It is, of course, unfair to hold Halloween II up to its legendary predecessor. Perhaps it is more fitting to compare it to the other dozens upon dozens of slasher flicks that were populating American screens in the early eighties. In this respect it carries itself quite well. With Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance and a couple of other key players back on board, Halloween II is one of the best cast slashers of the period. The new additions redeem themselves quite nicely as well, especially Pamela Susan Shoop and Gloria Gifford. Compared to many of the Slasher films of the period, Halloween II is actually pretty top notch, although finally it cannot be considered among the best.

Personally speaking, I have a lot of memories tied up in Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, and despite its problems I find myself watching it each year. I’m especially drawn towards the television version, with the alternate ending, that seemed to play endlessly throughout my teenage years. While it is mostly just nostalgia that keeps pulling me towards it, I have always suspected that somewhere down those stretched and shadowy hospital hallways that a great film could have emerged. When asked my opinion on the film, I typically just reply, “It has its moments” and perhaps that is all that should have been expected from it…but I have the feeling it could have been so much more.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Those Seventies Horror Remakes (Final October Poll)


As promised, there will be quite a few Halloween related posts coming up here in the next week to celebrate the holiday and the thirtieth anniversary of John Carpenter’s legendary film. I thought it might be fun to also have one more semi-related poll and, with the remake of Friday the 13th coming soon, the seventies horrors remakes that have filled our theaters in the past decade seemed like a pretty good subject.
The poll is simple. I have chosen ten of the more high profile remakes of seventies classics that have been released in the past decade for the poll. Simply pick your favorites and ignore the ones you can’t stand. I think a few of these are really solid films in their own right, while some are okay, and some are just plain garbage so the results should be interesting.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I only focused on remakes of American films, and by only picking ten I obviously left out some, but this will hopefully prove an interesting poll to close out October with. Enjoy and vote away…

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tess Wallpapers (Set One)

Images From My All Time Favorite Films: David Cronenberg's Videodrome (1983)

I am posting this special Friday edition of Images From My All Time Favorite Films to not only salute my favorite David Cronenberg film, but also to alert anyone who might not know that Tim Lucas' long awaited behind the scenes book on Videodrome is out. Signed copies can be ordered directly from Video Watchdog here and Amazon also carries the book. Congratulations to Tim for his new book, I can't wait to give it a read.

Videodrome 1

Videodrome 3

Videodrome 6

Videodrome 7

Videodrome 8

Videodrome 9

Videodrome 11

Videodrome 13

Videodrome 14

Videodrome 15

Notes on Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience

I continue to be extremely pleased with the way my Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience tribute is going. I am nearing the end of my look at the incredible Le Frisson des Vampires and am very excited to start my salute to the stunning Requiem For a Vampire, one of the crown jewels in Rollin's career. The link is above and over to the right for anyone who might like to stop by and visit.

Released just in time for Halloween in 1957...Jailhouse Rock

You can take all of the great scenes and moments from the American films of the fifties and few would measure up to the thrill of seeing Elvis Presley burn up the screen in Jailhouse Rock. Playing the most bad ass character of his life, Elvis is simply stunning in Richard Thorpe’s expertly rendered 1957 film and even after fifty years the picture and performance still seem as fresh, potent and alive as ever. Jailhouse Rock is not only one of the best musicals of the fifties, but one of the best films of that undervalued decade in general.

The incredibly prolific Thorpe made nearly 200 films in his four decade career. Starting out with some silent film work in the early twenties, the Kansas born Thorpe became known for his sure handed and economical filming techniques and was well liked and admired by his peers and the many actors he directed.

The tireless Thorpe had just worked with another one of the great icons of the fifties, Dean Martin in Ten Thousand Bedrooms, when he came on board to direct MGM’S Jailhouse Rock. Working from a script by Oscar nominated Guy Trosper (from a story by Nedrick Young), Thorpe’s fine and well thought out direction gives Jailhouse Rock a real solid and distinguished feel. Jailhouse Rock might not be the best Elvis Presley film but it is one of the best directed and the performance Thorpe helped bring out of Elvis is startling.

The film, concerning a young punk named Vince Everett who hits the big time as a singer after being released from prison, is one of the ultimate Rock ‘n’ Roll films…bristling with energy and intensity with an absolutely killer soundtrack (including the title track which would have an overwhelming impact later on both heavy metal and punk), Jailhouse Rock is timeless and will stay so as long as the sound of a buzz saw guitar remains dangerous.

Elvis is surrounded by one of the best casts he ever worked with, including the tragic Judy Tyler (who was killed in a car accident right after the filming wrapped up), the great character actor Mickey Shaughnessy, future Disney favorite Dean Jones and pretty starlet Jennifer Holden. All give very solid performances and they are captured well here under the lens of Robert Bronner, whose black and white cinematography is one of the films biggest assets.

Adding to the film’s quick pace and ferocious energy is Oscar winning editor Ralph E. Winters, one of the unsung heroes of the film. Winters had just wrapped a couple of great Bing Crosby features, including High Society (1956), when he lent his talented editing skills to Jailhouse Rock and his cutting methods serve the film incredibly well, especially in the smashing title number sequence.

Shot beautifully in the 2.35 ratio and later hailed by Martin Scorsese as one of the key films to ever use the format, Jailhouse Rock caused a huge stir when it was released just before Halloween in 1957. One of the year’s biggest money makers, Jailhouse Rock would have been notable without Elvis but it wouldn’t have become an instant legend like it did.

Elvis is quite astonishing in the film. Building on the momentum of his performance in Loving You, Elvis is clearly relishing playing a flawed character like Everett. Taking a cue from his acting idols Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and James Dean, Elvis plays Everett with a snarling intensity but gives the role an added dimension of humanity due to his overwhelming warm screen presence. Even when Everett is being the biggest jerk in the world, you want him to be okay simply because of the goodness nestled in the heart of Elvis himself. It’s a remarkable performance on many levels, especially in the musical sequences (where Elvis shows his incredible natural grace and skill as a performer) and in the smoldering love scenes with Tyler and Holden, which have a real erotic intensity to them that hold up to this day.

The film would prove to be a major hit throughout Europe as well, especially in France where the French New Wave was emerging as the most important cinematic movement of the decade. Known as Le Rock du bagne in France, Jailhouse Rock (despite being a major studio production) would fit in surprisingly well with the youthful and chaotic energy of the New Wave and would be embraced by many young teenage film goers and young future filmmakers in that country as well as in Italy, Sweden, Germany and the rest of Europe. It would have a big impact in Asia as well where it would prove equally successful.

Jailhouse Rock, one of the triumphs from Elvis in the fifties, would be soured for the young singer after Judy Tyler’s death and he was said to have never watched it again. Pity, as it contains some of the best and most bruising work he ever gave in front of a camera.

The film has never been out of circulation since it came out in 1957 and it can currently be seen on a nice special edition DVD which features a crisp widescreen presentation, a critical commentary and a documentary. A bastardized colorized atrocity pops up occasionally and should be avoided at all cost.