Friday, February 29, 2008
The feature film was the cage fighting masterpiece Cage 2. I didn't even know there was a Cage 1, but here was the sequel playing to a half-filled theater. That afternoon, I became a Reb Brown fan, for better or worse. As I left the theater, I thought, "A Reb Brown-Lou Ferrigno flick playing in a real theater. Cynthia Rothrock movie posters lacquered to telephone poles all over town. What a country!"
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
While Hardcore is more cerebral, Vice Squad is a more visceral look into the Hollywood sex underworld, specifically pimps and prostitutes.
Season Hubley plays a sex worker in both pictures. In Vice Squad, she plays a surburban mom who for some reason goes to work as a freelance Hollywood street hustler -- named Princess. The premise turns out to be unnecessary as the film really isn't about her having a dual life, but rather about her helping the police catch a brutal pimp who has murdered one of his girls. The problem is, because of the premise, Hubley is never really dressed like a hooker. Still, Hubley gives a fine performance.
The other obvious flaw in Vice Squad is the pimp. Ramrod is a white Cowboy with all the trimmings -- western shirts, boots, 4x4 with custom paint job. Now asking an audience to believe in a white Cowboy pimp is a lot for a film or an actor to overcome. But Wings Hauser actually makes it work, turning the unlikely Ramrod into a truly intense and frightening villian. Unfortuantely, I don't know if giving a great performance in a low-budget exploitation movie as a white pimp is something you can add to your demo reel. But Wings Hauser can act, damn it!
Good pacing and the performances of the two leads will help you get past the way Princess the hooker dresses, the Cowboy-style pimp, and the uninteresting supporting cast, because once the battle between Ramrod and Princess is on, it's on like Donkey Kong.
Vice Squad list:
- Ramrod vs. Princess
- Pimp Stick (and you thought Mommie Dearest was the master of the wire hanger)
- Fred Berry as a Sugar Pimp
- Black male undercover cop with braided hair with beads in it, like Venus Williams.
- Rich old man with weird marriage/funeral fetish
- Extremely painful comic relief
- Bit by Stack Pierce
- Blink and you'll miss Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith in one of her last film roles
- No Reb Brown (unlike Hardcore)
Monday, February 25, 2008
Hardcore and Vice Squad are two gritty looks at West Coast vice realesed three years apart. Hardcore is a cerebral look at a conservative midwesterner searching for his runaway daughter in the underworld of the seventies LA porno scene, plus you get Calvinist theology! Vice Squad is a classic sleazy, violent 1982 exploitation film that, although flawed, is genuinely dramatic with some great performances.
Hardcore writer-director Paul Schrader drew upon his own background growing up in the Dutch Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. George C. Scott plays Jake, a pious middle-aged businessman with no wife and a teenage daughter. His daughter disappears on a church trip to a Calvinst youth convention in Southern California.
The film contrasts the simple piety of the Grand Rapids church members with the seedy world of Hollywood (the city, not the industry). Scott travels to SoCal to meet with the police, who are of little assistance. He hires a low-rent Private Investigator (Peter Boyle), who is as coarse as Scott is refined, and openly contemptuous of Scott's midwetern values. Boyle refers to his client as Pilgrim. After several weeks, the PI brings the news home, suddenly appearing in Grand Rapids to show Scott a porno reel featuring his missing daughter.
Scott returns to LA and slowly begins edging himself into the porn world. He meets a stripper/porn actress/prostitute (Season Hubley) who he pays to help him find his daughter.
While Hardcore sure is gritty, it has some light comic moments, especially with Scott and Hubley together. The Calvinist background really develops Scott's character, who seems to have gone through a metamorphosis when relative Dick Sargeant tracks him down in LA.
- Scott calmly explaining the tenants of Calvinism to porno-stripper-whore Hubley
- Scott going undercover with toupee and designer jeans
- Scott beating up the guy from RoboJox
- Strippers doing Star Wars light sabre routine in club
- San Francisco's North Beach porno area circa 1979
- Reb Brown is the bouncer at a massage parlor
Season Hubley, convincing here, would also play a very different kind of prostitute in 1982's Vice Squad, which I'll get to next ...
Thursday, February 21, 2008
From the AP--
O’Neal says he has no desire to be a star with his new team. Those roles belong to Nash and Amare Stoudemire, he said.
“I’m more like a senior adviser so I don’t like to come in here and try to take over,” O’Neal said. … “Just like your basic karate movie where the young guys come to the old guys with beards who have them do weird stuff to get to the other side. That’s who I am, the old guy with a long beard.”
“You like that analogy?” he said, obviously pleased with himself. “That was pretty good?”
Nash was a willing sidekick.
“I think this is his 73rd Asian martial arts film,” he said. “We’re excited to learn from the great master.”
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Dr. Laura Miller, Professor of Anthroplogy at Loyola University Chicago, is author of the books Beauty Up and Bad Girls of Japan, and admitted avid fan of Korean TV drama Dae Jung Geum . Miller focused on the cultural impact of the successful Korean TV shows Winter Sonata and Dae Jung Geum in Japan. Since I'm reporting from the audio, I didn't get to see the slides and examples of Hallyu inspired products that got a big response from the audience.
In 2004 “Japanese newspapers were full of denigrating reports of Bae Yong Joon's reception by fans of Winter Sonata" at the Tokyo airport. The fans were portrayed as a “horde of hysterical nymphomanic old biddies” who were said to swarm the airport. “Estimates grew from 3,500 in early news reports like in the Japan Times, to 5,000, and then yesterday I found a source that 6,000 women were there.”
“The old girls were reported on with much contempt for buying expensive memorabilia and for doing things like holding group birthday parties” in honor of Winter Sonata star Bae Yong Joon. "The Winter Sonata boom is important for many reasons, besides the juicy opportunity for journalists to poke fun at female fans.” “The Korean Wave also put a formerly denigrated and neglected market segment, women over thirty -- and by the way, whenever the news accounts say middle aged women, they include women right at thirty -- into the public limelight and presented them as active cultural agents.”
“If it were only female fandom that was at stake, interest in the phenomenom would have passed quickly." However, “in Japan, the Winter Sonata machine alone generated billions in revenue,” from sales of DVD sets, soundtracks, novels guide books, photo books, Korean language texts, biographies and testimonials. Also from items such as a $291 teddy bear, hand cream, socks, treats and chocolates, tours, Korean food and theme restaurants.
“Scholars have pointed out that there was already an increasing interest in Korean popular culture among young people prior to the Winter Sonata explosion,” evidenced by World Cup soccer mania, travel to Korea, interest in Korean food, and a 1990s fad of aesthetic travel to Korea for “mug work“ and sauna treatments. The term Korean Wave, thought to originate in Taiwan or China, predates Winter Sonata in Japan, appearing in a newspaper in 2001.
While travel to Korea has fallen from its peak, in January 2004 through October 2004, 2 million Japanese traveled to Korea, up 40% from the previous year. Many of these tourists flocked to Korean drama locations.
Other cultural effects of Winter Sonata include influence on fashion, hair, and glasses. There were also Winter Sonata style weddings, and specualtion of Winter Sonata inspired divorces “due to women who suddenly became disenchanted with fuddy duddy husbands who didn’t compare well with Yon-sama (Japanese honorific name given to Bae Yong Joon and his character by the fans)."
Yon-sama “also changed Japanese willingness to give donations, not a normal part of Japanese culture," by giving 300 million Won to tsunami victims. Former Prime Minister Koezumi said ”I will make great efforts so that I will be popular as Yon-sama." The New York Times speculated that Yon-sama had qualities lacking in the average Japanese man: “sincere , pure, giving, passionate and soothing.”
In the book Japanese Style Korean Wave, Japanese sociologist Mori Yoshitaka, Interviewed many Japanese fans (including his own mother -- how's that for sourcing) and was unable to “find any easy generalization that could characterize why fans were drawn to the series.”
The Dae Jung Geum series “offers even more ideas for why Korean dramas are popular in Japan.” A historical drama about the first female physician to the Korean court. The story involved not only her rise, but Korean cuisine and herbal medicine. “The series generated a lot of interest in Japan in traditional Chinese medicine and in Korean cooking.”
“It had great historical interest for Japanese viewers of all ages, both male and female. They recognized a shared continuity in ancient East Asian cultural flows, and Chinese cultural elements suchas a writing system, Confucian norms, and herbal medicine.”
“The story appealed to Japanese self-help ideology as well. The inspirational tale of personal struggle and success was presented in an imagined world of fair competition in which Jung Geum succeeds by studying and working hard.”
“The series portrays modern gender models that many found redeeming.” Strong female characters who combined traditional traits ("Hard-working, obedient, pretty, cultured"), with modern traits ("professional, focused,scientific, innovative, self-reliant, and independent").
“Optimists have expressed the idea that this new Japanese fascination with things Korean might help ease political tensions between the two countries. However, most scholars haven’t found evidence that the political situation has changed very much.”
“Even so, the Korean Wave has had a very positive effect on people’s general image of Korean and their interest in Korean culture and history."
The Chicago Hallyu event featured other speakers including Robert Cagle, who contributed some fascinating analysis to Cult Film Confidential via a recent interview.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Windprints is an interesting film that tells a story of a black serial killer in rural Namibia during the last years of Apartheid. The killer's identity is known, but he is able to disappear into the wilderness and escape capture. He only kills local blacks, and some of the locals believe he has magical powers.
Two journalists, an Englishman (John Hurt) and a white South African cameraman (Sean Bean) from Johannesburg, arrive to make a documentary film about the murders. The tension between the city-bred cameraman and the rural whites who are hard-core apartheid supporters is palpable. Is there more to the story of the murders that just a crazy man in the bush?
An intriguing crime drama that makes great use of an unusual location, and gives a rare look into life in rural South Africa during Aparthied.
This film is not available on DVD, but has aired on the Encore cable channels.
Also, someone has posted it in chunks on YouTube.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Man-Sung Son, head of SMS Productions, was one of the speakers at a recent event in Chicago on the Korean Wave or Hallyu (the recent surge of Korean culture, especially film and TV, throughout Asia).
Film was “once thought of as an undignified field,” by Korean parents, who were more likely to encourage their children to become doctors, engineers, or lawyers. "Currently in Korea, it is more difficult to get into film school than medical or law school”. Sung added that many young Koreans come to the US to study film, returning to Korea to direct or pursue cinematography.
Noting that Korea has been attacked from outside 931 times, Sung addressed the concept of Han, "a gross wound to one’s soul," a longing for unfulfilled desires. According to Sung, repressed emotions of many generations are now pouring out in Korean drama. "Oppression breeds artistic talent," Sung explained.
As a film producer, Sung feels that Korean cinema has vastly inproved, but lighting and sound still have a way to go, with low wages impacting quality.
On Hallyu's economic impact, Sung pointed out several examples:
- Yong-Jun Bae, star of internationally viewed Korean TV drama Winter Sonata is worth about $2 billion, and replicas of the sunglasses he wears on the show sell for over $200.
- Restaurants in China suddenly serving Korean food is similar to the expansion of Japances cuisine in America after the 1980 US miniseries Shogun.
- Incidents of women seeking expensive plastic surgery to look more like the star of a Korean TV show.
- Some Asian women are looking for Korean husbands, seeking "strong men who express emotion."
On what is next for Korean film:
- Some Korean dramas will be produced in US, in English, within two years.
- There are many Korean-Americans in Hollywood, as actors, directors, distributors, producers and animators.
- There will be more US adaptations of Korean films.
- In Japan, Korean TV episodes are being turned into theatrically released films.
According to Sung, "excellent storytelling, romance, strong yet emotional characters, and most importantly, old fashioned moral values are worked into Korean drama."
The Hallyu event featured other speakers including Robert Cagle, who contributed some fascinating analysis to Cult Film Confidential via a recent interview. Full audio of the event is available thank to Chicago Public Radio's Chicago Amplified series.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
Popsy Pop (AKA Queen of Diamonds) is quite possibly the best Franco-Italian co-production shot on location in a Venezuelan mining town -- ever.
If you're a fan of low-budget international action, you will probably enjoy it, as Popsy Pop maxes out on its assets: Claudia Cardinale, Stanley Baker, a controversial author, and locations, especially the mining town.
The 1971 film was written by and co-stars Henri Charrière, then world-famous for writing Papillion, about his supposed escape from the notorious Devil's Island prison, located in nearby French Guyana. Like Mickey Spillane starring in I, The Jury, this movie features a famous author/character who probably has no business acting. Henri plays an old man out for one last score. He's not as bad as Spillane was -- the old man part is definitely convincing. Charrière is the main supporting player here, as Baker and Cardinale star.
The film opens with a voiceover intoning that the region at the Northern tip of South America is where most bad men go. Did not know that. A map of the region is next, with an animated arrow that shows the action taking place here (E. Venezuela), then here (Santo Domingo, aka Dominican Republic), and lastly here (Haiti). Just so you know, in advance. Will there be a quiz at the end of the movie?
The diamond mining town is lively, with hundreds of residents mixed in with Cardinal, Baker, Charrière, and a few supporting players. Baker is in charge of security for the mining company. Cardinale and Charrière arrive on a boat together, but pretend not to know each other once they arrive. Cardinale is brought in by the mining company to enterain the workers. She ingratiates herself immediately with Baker, who guards the diamonds.
Cardinale sports all kinds of ridiculously flashy outfits, whether working or not, at this filthy remote jungle outpost. When she performs at the local bar, she gives a three-minute Parisian show girl routine, with costumes and a song which regales Popsy Pop as the toast of Caracas. I kinda think the miners would have preferred a stripper, but since it's a movie they all go nuts for it. Then a fat lady comes out to sing and flaunt her huge ass, to even wider acclaim.
Aside from the catchy Popsy Pop theme, there is also a nice presumably Venezuelan theme, that is repeatedly "played" by two guys in blackface, wearing tuxes and carrying mandolins.
The mining town is suitably gritty and the hundreds of locals onscreen add some real atmosphere. Being a low-budget effort, much of this film is shot in natural light, and there is some nice location work here. The few interior scenes look they were either not lit or very poorly lit.
When we eventually get to Santo Domingo and Haiti, we also get an intersting new character, a preacher/voodoo/huckster who might also be a diamond fence. He leads a strange cult that seems to only attract women. Plus he sings spirituals in a rich baritone, and plays the organ.
The print I saw (retitled "Queen of Diamonds") had a rather abrupt cut in the ending scene. I'm thinking there is probably another version with a different outcome.
This is a pretty minor entry for Cardinale, who worked with Fellini, Leone and Herzog. Having entered the business after winning a beuaty pageant, she's custom-made for the role of Popsy Pop. My favorite outfits: the yellow sundress, the Popsy Pop costume with the male backup dancers sewn into it, and the electric blue glam mini-dress with matching leg-strapped boots. While eye candy is part of the role, Cardinale is a capable actress who get the best role as the clever Popsy Pop easily outwits man after man.
Baker, a respected British star who mainly played villains, really isn't given much to work with here, but plays his role with authority. He doesn't get to wear any kicky outfits.
Definitely worth a look if you can find it.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
The one-shaky-camera approach obviously is a budget saver, although it may cause problems for anyone prone to motion sickness. Will this film actually cause someone to have a seizure? It's a definite possibility. Some theaters have reportedly warned their patrons that the film may induce motion sickness!
Aside from the low-rent camera work, the film uses unknown actors. There are a variety of set pieces in "canned" locations: a party in an apartment, a journey through subway tunnels, searching in a badly listing high-rise. The high-rise scene is inventive, reminiscent of the upside-down sinking ship in The Posideon Adventure.
They saved their money so you could have a bit of CGI, but even that is doled out in brief snippets. You don't really see the monster a whole lot, but that's OK. The simple plot of a group of friends searching for another friend is delivered with such rapid pace and real urgency that the monster is really a bit player. Cloverfield definitely is more of a disaster movie than a monster movie. Since it's not about terrorism, it can't be accused of direct 9-11-sploitation, but scenes of Manhattan destruction certainly do evoke familiar 9-11 images.
The fact that our cameraman/character is so annoying also is a simple way to lend some dramatic tension, as you can't help wondering what, if anything, will make him finally stop filming his friends in the midst of a calamity.
The casting is also smart. Talented but relatively unknown leads. Lizzy Caplan steals the show as Marlena Diamond. She can look forward to decades of signing stuff at Sci-Fi conventions just for this role. But I think she'll be pretty busy acting for the foreseeable future. Michael Stahl-David looks like a movie star and turns in a good performance as the male lead. T.J. Miller is extremely annoying as cameraman/best friend Hud, and that's what he was supposed to do, right? His largely off-camera performance really holds this film together. Caplan and Miller get the best lines and run with them.
The PG-13 Cloverfield is definitely in line with the current media trend of objectifying the young wealthy, as our early-twenties hero lives in a unusually spacious Mahanttan apartment (condo?), and his damsel-in-distress abodes in a fancy high-rise. Our Prince must save his Princess, after all.
Cloverfield is an entertaining box office hit that I enjoyed. That doesn't happen too often. Can you say sequel? It's already in the works ...
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
A unique feature of an evening show at San Francisco's Castro Theater is the introduction and intermission music provided most nights by David H. Hegarty, played on a beautiful pipe organ that rises from below the stage during the first song. For the finale, the organ is lowered to the ground while San Francisco is played, the audience clapping along.
Do you make any special preparations for Noir City or other festivals?
I try to choose appropriate repertoire for whatever is playing at the theatre, although it's not always possible. I try to stay in the right time period, and make some gesture of recognition of nationality. But for the most part, the organ interludes are just independent mini-concerts. Of course, if the movie is a musical, I play music from the show--sort of an organ overture. And I often can play themes from the classic films--those from the Golden Age of Hollywood ('30s through the 50's).
Can you give us a brief tour of the organ, (keyboards, drawbars, pipes, etc). Also, how do you make it go up and down?
This Wurlitzer console was originally built for the State Theatre in Detroit in the '20s. The pipework (21 ranks) has been garnered from several Wurlitzers and integrated as though it was a new organ--totally authentic, as it would have been built by the Wurlitzer factory. This is the work of the organ's owners, the Taylor family of San Mateo -- particularly Dick Taylor and his partner in the organ business, Edward Millington Stout, a nationally recognized authority on Wurlitzer and Skinner voicing.
The pneumatic scissors-lift is triggered by a button to my left on the console. I get a signal from the projectionist when it's time to play "San Francisco" and bring the console down.
That castanet sound is great on Latin tunes. Is it synced to one of the keyboards? Are there other unusual sounds you like to use?
The percussion instruments are triggered by the keyboards and the pedalboard when the appropriate stops are engaged, and are actual instruments that are struck pneumatically. The tambourine, castanets, and wood block are particularly effective. There are also several tuned percussions that I use frequently: harp (like a marimba), chrysoglott, xylophone, glockenspiel, and chimes.
Is there a slight delay from when you press the keys until the sound emerges from the pipes?
There is no perceptible delay in this installation. It is very responsive. Some of the bass pipes, played by the pedals, are installed behind the screen, so they speak directly toward the organist. (The opposite is true of the Skinner organ at the Legion of Honor, where I play Pops concerts every month. The pipes are located two rooms away, in the attic, so the sound gets to the organist AFTER we've played the notes. It takes considerable experience to maintain the proper tempo in that environment; the natural inclination is to slow down as you wait to hear what you've played.)
Do you practice in the theater when it's empty?
This is my 30th year as the Castro organist (the first few were on a Conn electronic organ before the Wurlitzer was installed in the early '80s), so I know the instrument well and don't generally need any rehearsal time, although I do come in and prepare for certain special performances. I also do some teaching on the Wurlitzer. Students come from as far as Reno to take lessons on that instrument.
You are known to adapt film music for the organ. What are some of your favorites?
My specialization as a concert organist, particularly on "classical" organs, is the music of the Golden Age Hollywood film composers: Korngold, Waxman, Steiner, Tiomkin, Herrmann, Raksin, Newman, and others. I am particularly fond of Korngold's scores, and especially like his themes for Kings Row and The Adventures of Robinhood. I'm particularly interested in the Hitchcock films and the composers who wrote for him. I am also very fond of Angela Morley's music. She's a British composer who began working in Hollywood in the '80s. (She also wrote much of the underscoring for Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Dallas, Hotel, and the like.) She's now living in Scottsdale, AZ., and I am her personal archivist--organizing and catalogueing thousands of her manuscripts that reside at her house. Of course, I love playing her music: Snow Ride, Kehaar's Theme from Watership Down, etc. Check out her web site: www.angelamorley.com.
Any plans for a CD of you playing the Castro organ?
No immediate plans for recording on that organ, although I have a couple of symphonic organ CDs available online at "CD Baby."
What new projects are you working on?
I'm working on a recording on a big symphonic organ in San Francisco. Details to be revealed later.
What question do you wish someone would ask you?
Just happy that you were interested enough to ask ANY questions!
David also appears weekly at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, and presents monthly pops concerts on the Skinner organ at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. For more info go to www.davidhegarty.com
Monday, February 4, 2008
In The Face Behind The Mask, Peter Lorre arrives in America as a naive immigre watchmaker. Practicing his English on the deck of the ship sailing into New York harbor, he asks a man "Do you have a match?" The man lights a match. Lorre says "Thank You. I do not smoke." Dependable character player Don Beddoe is an NYC cop who befriends him. On his first night in America, a fire starts in his cheap hotel, and Lorre's face is badly burned.
After a montage of job interviews that go nowhere because of his ghastly visage, Lorre is down at the docks, about to throw himself into the river. A chance encounter with a friendly criminal leads Lorre into a life of crime, in which he proves to be a genius.
When he learns of plastic surgery, he goes straight away to a clinic. But the doctors tell him it's is too late to fix the damage. What they can do is make him a life-like mask to wear. So we have Peter Lorre wearing makeup to make it look like he's wearing a mask that looks like Peter Lorre.
Of course, the man with the unsightly face meets and falls for a beautiful blind girl, Evelyn Keyes. Complicating matters is the release from prison of Jeff, whose gang Lorre has taken over.
The Face Behind the Mask is maybe a transitional film, a little early to the Noir party in 1941, but sporting 1930s-style cliches like the impossibly good and virginal female lead, and the small-time crook with a heart of gold. Lorre's character is almost a super villian, leaving no clues at the crime scene, easily overpowering a much bigger man, and masterminding a fiendish plot of revenge.
The story would have easily fit into a formulaic detective series like the Falcon or Boston Blackie, except that Beddoe's cop is barely in the movie. However the quality of the script, Lorre's performance, the cinematography and direction raise this film to a much higher plateau.
The Noir City crowd almost didn't get to see this entertaining obscurity. Sony Pictures, owners of the Columbia catalogue, had doubled-booked the only print, sending it to an Austrian film festival held the same week. When someone from Sony apologetically broke the news to Noir City founder Eddie Muller earlier in the week, they asked if they could do anything to make up for their mistake. Muller requested that they strike a new print. It arrived at the Castro Theater on Sunday at noon, just a few hours before that day's first showing.