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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Jack Lemmon Collection Coming in June

I am very happy to see that one of America's greatest actors is finally starting to get some love on Region 1 DVD. This set, coming in late June, is one of the first of hopefully several highlighting some of the long unavailable films from the late great Jack Lemmon. While the titles are perhaps minor, I am thrilled to see that the very funny Pffft (in which a young Kim Novak can be seen), and the underrated Under The Yum Yum Tree and The Notorious Landlady (also featuring Novak) are appearing. I'm also pleased that the six disc set will also include extras, like a documentary on the much missed Lemmon and an episode of the Ford All Star Theater. When asked to name my favorite all time actor, Lemmon's name is one of the first ones that come to mind and I can't wait for this if someone would just release The April Fools on disc.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Notes on the Decade's Greatest Albums: A Girl Called Eddy

Recorded at Sheffield’s Yellow Arch Studios in the early part of 2004, the self titled album from a A Girl Called Eddy is one of the great under the radar LPs of the decade, and stands as one of the best debut records in recent memory. The brainchild of New Jersey born singer-songwriter Erin Moran, the achingly triumphant A Girl Called Eddy recalls the best of Bacharach and David while successfully alluding to everyone from The Carpenters to My Bloody Valentine.

Released on the independent label Anti Records, an offshoot of Epitaph, in August of 2004, the meticulously moody and at times miraculous A Girl Called Eddy is made up of eleven masterful compositions all from the pen of Moran. Essaying heartbreak, loneliness, frustration and finally redemption, Moran and producers Richard Hawley (Pulp’s brilliant guitarist) and Colin Elliot’s collaboration is simply put the Dusty in Memphis for this decade but for some reason the album, despite no small amount of acclaim, failed to catch on in the fall of 2004, and Moran’s project remains sadly unknown by the majority of modern music fans.

Armed with kudos from everyone from Robert Smith of The Cure to Nina Persson of The Cardigans (not to mention Burt Bacharach himself), as well as four and five star reviews from nearly every British music publication that reviewed it in 2004, A Girl Called Eddy should have fit nicely among the big selling sixties pop revivalists who have carved such a niche for themselves this decade, but Erin Moran’s charms perhaps proved a bit too subtle for most modern music fans.

Opening with the gorgeous and heartbreaking “Tears All Over Town”, a song worthy of the best Brill Building classics you care to name, A Girl Called Eddy never makes a wrong move in it’s classic L.P. running time. “Tears All Over Town” sets the tone for the rest of the album perfectly, with Moran’s unforgettable vocals being balanced perfectly with Hawley and Elliot’s wonderfully effective production and side playing. The song, climaxing with the slyly bruising, “I know that I loved you, but I loved you in vain.”, is a classic opening and the perfect introduction to Moran’s musical landscape. It is no coincidence that it was this song that introduced A Girl Called Eddy to the music community (Moran had previously only played and sang background briefly for Francis Dunnery) when it was released as the title track on a 2001 E.P.

“Kathleen”, the first of half a dozen tracks offering up an exquisite string backing, reminds me a bit of one of Francoise Hardy’s startling creations from her early seventies period. Thoughtfully morose and slyly provocative, “Kathleen” is a masterfully moody track punctuated by a distant horn in the background and Hawley and Elliot’s wonderfully skilled and inventive production chops.

The lyrically striking “Girls Can Really Tear You Up Inside” recalls the savageness of Costello’s Imperial Bedroom period, and it’s relatively relaxed musical backing gives it an added layer of subtext and emotion…like a Sunday walk in the park with your lover just before you break their heart. The strings are again used incredibly well and Colin Elliot’s late use of the mellotron is just lovely.

The title of “The Long Goodbye” will no doubt bring a smile to both literature and film fans, but instead of a moody film noir sound, the track proves to be one of the noisiest on the album, recalling the shoegaze glory of both My Bloody Valentine and Lush. The Beach Boys like harmonizing offers up a perfect counterpoint to Hawley’s tough and at times savage electric guitar fills. The song also includes one of Moran’s best lyrical moments on the album with the great, “Take your records, leave me mine. You’re the one who said we lived it all on borrowed time.”

After the quiet and at times chilling “Somebody Hurt You”, the album’s longest and perhaps most stunning moment follows with the jaw dropping “People Used to Dream About the Future”, one of the great songs of the decade. Here Moran’s voice shows surprising explosiveness, with the stunning mid song question of “Where did it all go?” offering up the kind of go for broke moment young artists rarely have the skills to achieve. Recalling Karen Carpenter in her prime (with a nice nod to vintage Streisand as well) Moran’s vocal work on “People Used to Dream About the Future” is simply stunning, and the soaring string section is wonderfully orchestrated. It’s the kind of perfectly crafted pop song that artists sadly just don’t attempt anymore.

Opening with a snippet of Bacharach’s “Close to You” on Moran’s piano, “Heartache” is one of the most minimal tracks on the record, with Elliot particularly shining on vibes. “Heartache” is lovely stuff and probably could have been some sort of torch song standard had it been written forty or fifty years ago.

Sounding like a German Cabaret number played by The Bee-Gees circa Odessa, the eerie and oddly majestic “Life Thru The Same Lens” is the album’s strangest creation. It’s also one of the best, with Andy Cook’s drums providing a solid backing to one of Moran’s most off-kilter compositions. Moran’s own backing vocal flourishes are particularly well placed, and Simon Stafford’s closing horn playing is perfectly fitting for such a strangely moving off the wall song.

Things get quiet again on “Did You See The Moon Tonight”, one of the album’s most mysterious sounding tracks. With a wide-awake narcotic feel punctuated by Hawley's wonderfully dreamy Hawaiian Steel guitar playing and Moran's drenched in echo vocals, "Did You See The Moon Tonight" is simply mesmerizing.

“Little Bird” seemingly offers up a hope of escape from the heartbreak and isolation Moran has been essaying on the album’s first ten tracks, but lines like “I am trapped under the sea trying to understand what life wants me to be” shows that Moran will probably never run in any kind of top forty crowd. The song also contains one of the album’s most outward tributes, with the Brian Wilson nod, “Heroes and villains and old lovers walk by, they tip their hats but they never answer why.”

A Girl Called Eddy’s final track is its most hopeful. Clocking in at a near epic six minutes, “Golden” finds Moran reminding herself that she doesn’t “need to die just to see” that life is already quiet wonderful. Alternating between near silence and the band playing at full force with Hawley’s shimmering electric guitar out front, the song is an ambitious and masterful closing to an equally ambitious and masterful debut LP.

The album would be greeted by universal acclaim when it was released in Britain in 2004. Mojo’s four star review called Moran a remarkable songwriter and noted that the entire album was “steeped in 60s classicism.” Q applauded Moran’s “sweetly painful love songs” in their four-star review and Uncut noted that Moran exhibited “gorgeously gauged soul and shrewdness” in her singing and writing. The album was mostly ignored in its stateside release though and was unfairly lost in the shuffle, the fate of many great albums from the past by uncompromising and individualistic artists.

A Girl Called Eddy is still thankfully in print and Moran is reportedly at work on the follow-up. Whether she can top her debut remains to be seen but I can’t wait to listen to what she delivers next. In the meantime, search out the sublime and moving A Girl Called Eddy. Once heard, its best moments will rarely leave your waking thoughts and Moran’s voice will haunt your dreams.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Michael Mann Director's Poll

Since his debut as a feature length filmmaker in the late seventies, Michael Mann has been one of the most distinctive and fascinating directors in American cinema. His greatest films have endured long after many more critical and popular favorites by lesser directors have long faded away, and even his missteps have proven much more interesting than perhaps first imagined. In an attempt to try and kick Moon in the Gutter off auto-pilot, I am hosting a new director's poll that I'd like everyone to participate in based on Mann's feature length films. His newest, Public Enemies, is one of the most anticipated films of the year and the timing seemed right. So, vote for your favorites and we'll tally up the results in the next week or so.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Art of the Movie Poster: Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand

One of my favorite films from the early seventies is Peter Fonda's haunting debut as a director, The Hired Hand. The film starring Fonda with Warren Oates, in one of his best performances, remains quite a stunner and I was thrilled with its revival in the earlier part of this decade. I'm quite fond of both of these posters for it. One of which is the Italian version, with the other being an American one-sheet highlighting some of the film's critical acclaim:

The Hired Hand 2

The Hired Hand

Honestly neither one do real justice for the sometimes surreal and always moving film, but they are both still quite effective.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience Poster


For those who hadn't seen it yet, here is the very striking first poster for Steven Soderbergh's upcoming film The Girlfriend Experience. I am greatly anticipating the film and am continually impressed by the way Soderbergh manages to consistently balance his more high profile mainstream work with these smaller scaled projects...and by the way he manages to make both seem very personal.

The Art of the Movie Poster: Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast

The Great Video Store in the Sky: A Brian De Palma Double Feature


the fury

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Franka Potente in Blueprint (2003)

Thought provoking, consistently inventive and at times haunting, Rolf Schubel’s 2003 drama Blueprint is one of the most engaging German films of the decade, and its current unreleased status in the United States is extremely unfortunate.

Starring a knockout Franks Potente in a stirring double performance as mother and daughter, the set in the near future Blueprint tells the tale of the first human clone and it is the kind of smart science fiction film rarely seen in these days of CGI spectacles and bloated big-studio efforts.

The acclaimed and multi-award winning Schubel has been working steadily in German film and television since the early seventies. He is probably best known for 1999’s Gloomy Sunday, an award winning production released in the States as The Piano Player. Schubel has a really nice subdued and thoughtful style about him, and these qualities are on fine display in Blueprint, a carefully plotted and intriguing item that looks at the consequences of a man and woman each attempting to play God.

Working from a novel by Charlotte Kerner, screenwriter Claus Cornelius Fischer weaves a potent and heartfelt tale that works as a realistic future thriller, a family drama and a potent coming of age picture. Bristling with grounded dialogue and elatable human situations, Blueprint feels like the work of a very mature and experienced writer. The fact that it is actually just the second feature from the pen of Fischer makes it all the more remarkable.

Schubel surrounds himself with behind the scenes artists that he has worked with before including composer Detlef Peterson and cinematographer Holly Fink, both of whom deliver fine work for the director here. The whole production has a real classy and well-proportioned feel about it, even though at times it comes across as a bit too calculated.

Potente delivers one (or actually two) of her best performances here, and it equals the already iconic work she did with Tom Tykwer that brought her justified fame in the first place. As the selfish but still tragic mother Iris who can’t stand the idea of her fame as a world-renowned pianist passing even with death, Potente has never been so intense, and as the cloned daughter Siri she has never been so moving. It’s a fascinating double role for the extremely talented Potente that is deserving of a much larger audience. The role meant a lot to Potente who had this to say about it on the eve of the film's release:

"Of course you are always asking yourself whether you can pull it off. It’s as though the acting process were doubled. It’s not just a question of letting yourself go and taking on another’s personality, but taking on more than one personality at the same time. The copy of a copy. So... who knows? That is what attracted me. I loved the screenplay right away. For me, this was an experiment, a calculated risk I ran together with Rolf, Heike and the rest of the cast and crew."

While it is Franka’s show all the way, Schubel surrounds her with a talented cast of German actors including terrific Ulrich Thomsen and Katja Studt. Everyone in fact delivers fine work in the film with special notice going to young Karoline Teska as the teenage Siri.

If Blueprint suffers at all, it is from perhaps an over earnestness, although honestly it was so refreshing seeing a modern Science Fiction film that didn’t fall back on million dollar effects that I can forgive its perhaps too somber tone. It stands, along with Soderberg’s Solaris, Vinterberg’s It’s All About Love, and Cuaron’s Children of Men, as one of the most successful Science Fiction films of the decade dealing directly with the human condition. If it finally isn’t the masterworks those pictures are, it is at least worthy of being mentioned in the same breath.

After being shot in both Germany and Canada throughout the early part of 2003, Blueprint hit German screens just before Christmas in 2003. It played there and in various European spots throughout early 2004 before landing in Cannes in the summer where it failed to land a distribution deal for the States. The brave film, which spans a quarter of a century in its under two hour running time, is currently available on DVD in Europe. Thankfully the disc does have optional English subtitles, making it a nice grab for any American Franka Potente or modern Science Fiction fans who are willing to track a copy down.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Jean Rollin Posters: Douces Penetrations

Wow, this incredible rare poster just appeared at eBay. Here is the link to the auction.

Jean Rollin: The Collaborators (Philippe D’Aram)

Even though he isn’t the only composer to work with Jean Rollin in the past few decades, for many of us Philippe D’Aram’s music goes hand in hand with the entire second half of the maverick director’s career.
D’Aram’s evocative music for film has almost exclusively been delivered for Rollin with just a few exceptions, the most notable being Walerian Borowczyk’s striking 1979 production Three Immoral Women. D’Aram’s first film for Rollin would be Fascination, and with that inaugural score the composer would mark himself as a major talent. Rollin wrote in the liner notes of the CD collection The Films of Jean Rollin that he “had the closest working relationship” with D’Aram and that ultimately he found “magic” in the music the composer delivered for him.
Rollin recalled for Fascination that “from our work together came the idea for the musical to accompany ‘the death with its scythe’ so magnificently portrayed by Brigitte Lahaie.” Later for their collaboration on Lost in New York Rollin said that the film’s “theme kept coming back…each time in a different arrangement” and that it finally reminded him of “memories, true or false, real or imagined” and the score formed “the raison d’etre of the film.”

The Films of Jean Rollin mentioned that Philippe D’Aram is said to have been self educated and his career had included everything from Rollin’s films to “tv jingles”. Perhaps the highlight of the composer’s career came in 1992 when he “contributed the official music for the Olympic Winter games in Alberville”…impressive stuff.
D’Aram’s other scores for Jean Rollin include The Night of the Hunted, The Escapees, The Living Dead Girl, Two Orphan Vampires and The Fiancée of Dracula. It is impossible to imagine any of these poetic films without the D’Aram’s magical music.

A wonderful 15-minute interview with Philippe can be found on Encore’s impressive The Living Dead Girl box-set. Here the composer, who comes across as a very nice man, discusses his background, his influences and his working relationship with Rollin. That Encore set also comes with a CD of his score from The Living Dead Girl. The Films of Jean Rollin (which contains bits of several D’Aram’s scores) is sadly out of print but copies of it (or downloads) can still be located. D’Aram’s stunning score to Two Orphan Vampires can be found with copies of Virgins and Vampires, which is sadly out of print as well.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Mod Squad Episode #14: “Hello Mother, My Name is Julie”

Among the weakest episodes from the first season of The Mod Squad, “Hello Mother, My Name is Julie” suffers at nearly every turn and stands as one of the most ineffective hours of the series run.

Centering on an ill-fated reunion between Julie and her estranged mother, episode 14 of The Mod Squad takes the effectively moody melancholic tone so often found in the series and replaces it with a ponderous depressive mood that can finally be described at best as a total drag.

The second episode directed by veteran director Jack Arnold, after the solid “A Quiet Weekend in the Country”, “Hello Mother, My Name is Julie” finds the director failing to ever really connect with the material. Perhaps the main problem is in the script from Gwen Bagni and Paul Dubov, that tries unsuccessfully to bounce back and forth between the story of Julie attempting to reconcile with her mom and a rather uninteresting and underdeveloped undercover case involving Pete and Linc. Whether the blame lies on the script or Arnold’s wearied direction is up for question, but what isn’t in question is the flatness that dogs the episode from the get-go.

The episode isn’t a total disaster though, mostly thanks to Peggy Lipton’s convincing turn, in what is easily one of the most depressing episodes she ever had to play. Lipton is particularly good with main co-star Nan Martin, who does a nice job as her selfish mother Connie. The incredibly prolific Martin will be familiar to television fans, as she has managed to work steadily for the last fifty years.

Other co-stars include William Windom, Michael Harris, Joseph Mell, Phil Posner and Leonard Stone. All do the best they can with the limp material, but none are given much to work with. Even Billy May’s usually invigorating score is underused and much of the episode plays in silence, a factor that adds to it’s overly morose and nearly suffocating feel.

Thankfully the misfire that “Hello Mother, My Name is Julie” is would be remedied by a string of solid episodes, and it remains just a slight slip-up in an otherwise consistently great series.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Vintage Viewings

How do you keep track of what you’ve watched? You’d think that a person like myself that is so obviously in love with film would have figured out a good system by now, but I must admit to still using mostly my memory to catalogue the films I have seen. About the most advanced arrangement I have come up with is a notepad with a listing of discs I have burned with check marks next to the titles I have watched.

Lately, I have noticed that my memory (like everything else) isn’t anywhere near as together as it used to be, and I find more and more mostly minor titles kind of interchanging around in my head. I have decided to combat it a bit I would begin a new occasional series here focusing on short lists of older films I have recently revisited or watched for the first time. I hope these don’t prove boring as they are admittedly for my own benefit, and that a title in this post or a future one of these might even inspire a comment or two.

So onto some films (some of which might warrant their own posts here eventually) that I’ve recently watched starting with the best…

The Initiation of Sarah (1978): Out of sight TV movie from director Robert Day with a tremendous cast including Kay Lenz, Morgan Brittany, Tony Bill, Shelly Winters, Morgan Fairchild and, the best of the bunch, Tisa Farrow. A nice score by Johnny Harris and a terrifically tense atmosphere add greatly to the Carrie inspired tale and Farrow, seen here a year before appearing in Fulci’s Zombie, is really lovely and extremely memorable.

Sweet Hostage (1975): Another entertaining TV movie bolstered by a terrific cast, this time the powerhouse teaming of Linda Blair and Martin Sheen. This Lee Philip’s production isn’t perfect but it’s a more than a notch above your average TV production, and both Blair (just two years after The Exorcist) and Sheen are outstanding.

Curtains (1983): An odd and at times quite haunting slasher film from Canada starring Samantha Eggar, John Vernon and Linda Thorson. Uneven, but it has some seriously mesmerizing moments and a widescreen DVD is way overdue.

Freebie and the Bean (1974): I have some friends that swear by this strange 1974 Richard Rush buddy cop picture starring Alan Arkin and James Caan, but it’s going to take me a viewing or two more to really get captured by it. I did enjoy the frantic energy of the film and the photography by Laszlo Kovacs is terrific. I suspect I will appreciate the film much more when I revisit it down the road.

The Deliberate Stranger (1986): This two-part TV movie left a big impact on me when I saw it as a teenager when it first aired. I must admit that I was disappointed with the first half watching it again recently, but the second half was quite effective and chilling. Mark Harmon’s performance as Ted Bundy is disturbing stuff, especially when the cracks start to show on his all American façade.

Trip with the Teacher (1975): Earl Barton’s low budget revenge thriller has gotten a lot of attention in the past year or so as it is a clear precursor to Tarantino’s Death Proof (if memory serves me correctly this was mentioned in Video Watchdog’s Grindhouse Round-Table discussion), but it is ultimately a pretty disjointed affair. The cast, featuring a menacing young Zalman King, is solid for the most part but it never completely held together for me. Still, I admired how different it felt from most of its counterparts and it was never less than compulsively watchable.

Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976): The fact that it works best as a snapshot of mid-seventies Los Angeles in all its seedy glory shouldn’t take away from how good Eve Plumb is in the role of the title character. It has a bit of that old Afternoon Special feel but, again, Plumb is really very good as is co-star Leigh McCloskey, who would appear as the title character in the film’s follow up a year later.

Fire With Fire (1986): Well, it wasn’t very good in the mid-eighties and it still isn’t but damn it, it’s Virginia Madsen in her prime and that fact alone warrants this title some attention. Duncan Gibbin’s film is overblown and never comes together but Madsen, much like the title, just burns…

Death Ship (1980): Alvin Rakoff’s chiller from 1980 is credited to a Jack Hill story, and you can believe it would have been a better film had the great Hill been behind the camera. It’s effective in spots and you can’t fault a film with George Kennedy in full melt-down mode but it’s often a bit flat.

My Tutor (1983): George Bower’s early eighties exploitation comedy is as delightfully politically incorrect as you would hope it would be, but it finally just isn’t very funny. Look for Crispin Glover in one of his earliest roles, and one of the goofiest final shots I have ever seen.

The Godsend (1980): Atmospheric but very flawed Omen rip-off is at its most memorable in the few scenes Symptoms star Angela Pleasence appears in, but otherwise it never comes close to the transcendent creepiness of the film it’s aping. Morman Warwick’s photography is quite entrancing though and I would love to see a better quality copy of it.

Malibu High (1979): I typically love these kind of unapologetic exploitation offerings but I found this unappealing film from Irvin Berwick nearly unwatchable. An irritating cast and poor direction bring the film down at every turn, and this is truly one of the longest 90 minute films I have ever seen.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Great Video Store in the Sky: A Walerian Borowczyk Double Feature

My video store in the great beyond will have a full section dedicated to the complete works of Polish Master Walerian Borowczk, with a special shelf dedicated to the different versions of these two astonishing films:



Moon in the Gutter (Month By Month)

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.