Sunday, September 30, 2018


The first film critic weighs in on Mondo Cane

An immensely popular documentary that problematizes the boundaries separating fiction from non-fiction filmmaking practices. Mondo Cane created a subgenre of "mondo films" or "shockumentaries." It also created a wave of imitators and has proved formative for such diverse pop and pseduodocumentary traditions as "mockumentaries," "snuff films," hard core pornography, execution videos and reality television.-Steven J. Schneider, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

My first thought when I hear someone refer to a "Mondo" film is a Russ Meyer sexploitation epic like Mondo Topless. Going by the description above by Steven Schneider, the Mondo films and it's many imitators show many aspects of unusual behavior and not just sexual ones.  One of the first movies I ever rented on my VCR in 1987 was Faces of Death (It wasn't my idea!) which depicted people actually dying of film in various ways. You can't get much more "mondo" than that.

But what about the original Mondo Cane (It's a Dogs Life)? This film goes around the world depicting seemingly endless examples of unusual behavior. We see Americans mourning their dogs at a pet cemetery and trying to get a piece of actor Rossano Brazzi (not at the same time).  We see Malaysian fisherman torturing sharks. We see Nepalese beheading bulls in a very gruesome fashion. We see some underdeveloped countries continuously praying for goods that never seem to come. We see Catholics in Europe rubbing their legs with broken glass. There's also a post atomic scene with a turtle that I don't even want to talk about. And so much more!!!

There has been some criticism of these films that some of it is staged. Maybe so, but it clearly took a lot of work to put this together in any form.

Obviously, films like this are going to elicit a wide range of opinions, but it is in the 1001 book and was on the top ten movies of the year list in the 1962 New York Times. Judge for yourself.-C. Cox, 1001: A Film Odyssey

Original poster art for Mondo Cane

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


The trapped houseguests plan a revolt against...themselves?
in The Exterminating Angel

I've enjoyed going through the Luis Bunuel films on the 1001 list. Going in blind, you just never know what to expect when you see his name in the opening credits. The Exterminating Angel was his follow-up to Viridiana, which was a rather straightforward narrative (for Bunuel) though chock full of symbolism. With The Exterminating Angel, Bunuel lets his surrealism flag fly high.

The Exterminating Angel opens at an opulent home where a elaborate dinner party is being held for twenty or so people. Problems arise when many of the servants and cooks want to leave the home before the party begins. During the serving of the food, one of the servers falls down while holding a plate of food. Everyone laughs inappropriately and you've just entered the Bunuel Zone.

After dinner, everyone sits around and talks, drinks and listens to one of the guests playing the piano. The party is over and everyone is about to go home. But they can't leave the house! "Why can't they leave the house?," the logical part of your brain may ask. The spoiler answer is "Who the hell knows?"

The guests have to spend the night. They have breakfast and...they still can't leave. They complain to each other. They begin to fight with each other. They blame each other. More of their dark sides come out. They stay in the house for a long time. Days? Weeks? They run out of food. Luckily, there are sheep and a bear in the house! I guess that's lucky? There is also a disembodied hand moving along the floor of the house.

We get occasional glimpses of the outside. The military knows they are in there and nothing is stopping them from coming in and performing a rescue, but they can't manage to go in after them. No need to ask why.

After an unspecified period of time, one of the guests notices they are sitting in the same position the first night they were in the house. They recreate the scene and are now able to leave the house.

The epilogue shows the same party guests now in church. After the sermon they all go to the door. They can't leave. Luckily the sheep can roam freely and the military seems to be out in force in the streets.

What you get out of The Exterminating Angel is probably up to you. I'm struck by the fact that the workers had insight to leave the house while the rich did not. Is this a class issue? Could the whole movie be a comment that we are trapped in our world with our own self made prisons? The fact that the movie ends with the group being trapped in a church (One of Bunuel's favorite targets) might add some credence to this theory.

And what about the sheep? Are they just lambs to the slaughter? Or will the meek indeed inherit the earth? What about the disembodied hand? I think that's just Bunuel just screwing with us. Of course, you might say that for the whole film in general. It's hard to say when you see a film like this to answer questions like "Did you enjoy it?" "Was it good?" Let's just say that I appreciated the experience (I watched it twice) and am looking forward to seeing more Bunuel, though I know what to expect from him even less than I did before I watched this film.
 "Don't ask us why we are here. Make up your on mind!"
The sheep in The Exterminating Angel

Why won't these people leave my damn house?
Jenifer Lawrence in Mother!

The 1001 updated list for 2018 came out recently. One of the movies on the list was Mother! All I knew about this film was that it elicited very strong opinions...many of them negative. But it did make the 1001 list and despite the fact that it is directed by Darren Aronofsky, it couldn't possibly be an odder viewing experience than The Exterminating Angel. Could it?

The plot: (Mother) Jennifer Lawrence and (Him) Javier Bardem are a married couple living in a isolated house. The first scene has Mother wondering where Him is. He is a once famous writer trying to get his muse back. She's a resourceful spouse who has spent much of her time refurnishing and renovating the house. Their isolation is interrupted by a man (Ed Harris) who is a fan of Him who comes to their house and later brings his wife (Michelle Pfieffer). They are different degrees and intrusive and obnoxious and even break Him's precious crystal object. The man and wife leave only to return with their sons who fight over the dying man's will and the older brother kills the younger one.

A funeral wake is held at the house to the chagrin of Mother as the guests prove to not respect the house at all and cause a lot of damage. Mother finally kicks them all out. Mother and Him finally manage to have sex and conceive. Him's Writers Block ends and he finishes his book that Mother loves, his publisher loves and the public loves. All these things appear to happen at the same time.

Mother plans a celebratory dinner with Him, but is interrupted by several adoring fans of Him that intrude upon their house and trash the place as many try to take away anything owned by Him as a souvenir.

All going on in the house gets out of hand. The military arrives to restore order. It becomes like a third world coup complete with executions. Mother escapes to the attic and has her baby. Him takes the baby from her when she is asleep and passes it around to the fans. The baby is torn apart and eaten by the fans. An enraged mother lashes out at the fans with shards of glass. The fans strike back at mother only to be saved by Him. Mother blows up the place. Him finds a dying Mother and removes a new precious crystal object from her chest.  The last scene shows a new Mother wondering where Him is.

Wow! Just wow! That's a lot to take in! The whole Genesis biblical allegory is clear (I admit it took me awhile to pick up on it). There are many times I was watching this that I was confused, but when I let my mind relax and float downstream, I began to appreciate it greatly. It's not a traditional film in the least, other than having some noted actors in it. On the one hand, I understand people flipping out over it and even ridiculing it (The Philistines!). Personally, I found it a riveting viewing experience that I can't seem to shake (Though I think I need to!).

Jennifer Lawrence was nominated for a Razzie, which was very undeserved. I'd have nominated her for an Oscar and maybe would have even voted her to win.

In the extras, Darren Aronfsky talked about directors that influenced him. One of them was Luis Bunuel. I should have figured.

It's not nice to fool Mother!

Thursday, September 20, 2018


 Sergio Corrieri is the observer in
Memories of Underdevelopment

One thing that really gets me mad about people is how they can't seem to sustain an idea or a feeling. Elena proved to be totally consistent. She doesn't connect things. That's a sign of  underdevelopment.

Legendary Cuban director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's 1968 film is set between the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The film intersperses documentary footage of the era and the revolution around a story of a playboy named Sergio who tries to cope with the change of his status and of his surroundings.

The film doesn't lend itself to any obvious plot points. One of the main storylines features Sergio's involvement with a teenager named Elena, who he promises to marry and proceeds to get in trouble with her family when he backs out of it. But this film is more about coping, observation and changes in ways that are less obvious. Sergio was part of the upper class and this film traces how he is going against the tide (literally in one scene) of his society after the revolution. A film with many new wave qualities that is worth seeing and studying.

The Criterion Collection put out a Blu-Ray/DVD disc of Memories of Underdevelopment in August, 2018. The second disc includes interviews with actress Daisy Granados and an old audio interview with director Alea. A documentary on the life and career of Alea is also included. We also hear from original novelist and screenwriter Edmondo Desnoes, who liked some of the changes that he and Alea made for the film from his novel so much that he went back and re-did his book and incorporated the changes!

Daisy Granados as Elena, one of the objects of Sergio's affection
in Memories of the Underdevelopment

Saturday, September 15, 2018


Klaus Kinski as Aguirre, the Wrath of God

At the center of the Herzog narrative is a single character who follows his single-minded determination to an inevitable and irreversible end. The Herzog characters are driven by compulsions from within that can neither be softened nor averted.-Gerald Mast, A Short History of Movies

Imagine Heart of Darkness if Kurtz was on the boat. That's the feeling I got watching Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God, as the wicked and mad Agurirre (the one and only Klaus Kinski) leads his band of Spanish explorers down the Amazon river (circa 1560) in search of the gold of El Dorado. Imagine a journey to the wrong place for the wrong reason with the wrong resources under the wrong leader and you have the narrative of this mesmerizing and absurdist trip down the river of no return. Imagine a must-see film.

Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune The explorer party is cut down by their own internal struggles, lack of supplies and illness. However, the most frightening part for me is the arrows that come and cut many of them down from the natives throughout the trip. We never seem to see the natives, just their handiwork. It feels like the true Wrath of God spoken.

How  long is this movie, anyway? On my Hoopla service, I saw they had this movie divided into two parts at about 95 minutes apiece. I thought I'd watch the first part and save the second part. I was struck by the end of the first part that it seemed most of the characters had pretty much vanished or died off. I realized the second part on Hulu was just Aguirre with an English dub. I can't imagine watching this movie without listening to Kinski's voice, but that's just me.

 Reverse evolution? The monkeys take over the boat
during the last scene of Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Monday, September 10, 2018



Hair gel? Cameron Diaz 
in There's Something About Mary

One of the must see films of 1998 was the Farrelly Brothers's comedy There's Something About Mary. The plot involves one man's (Ben Stiller) obsession with the girl he had a crush on in high school (Cameron Diaz) and his attempt to find her years later. Of course, all the guys in this film fall in love with Mary, hence the title.

This movie often delves into over-the-top hijinx that is reminiscent of a Zucker brothers movie, but is still wrapped around an actual romantic comedy underneath. Somehow all this works just fine and is still pretty funny. Anyone who likes this movie can probably point out some of the same go-to parts: Ben Stiller's zipper, the leathery-skinned Magda, several scenes with Magda's pooch, the seven minute abs serial killer, anything with Mary's mentally disabled brother Warren, the odd cameo from Brett Favre and of course, "the hair gel scene."

Dylan Baker in Happiness

On the other end of the commercial viability spectrum is Todd Solodnz's extremely dark film Happiness. It is a multi-layered drama/comedy that hits upon a lot of very uncomfortable themes. The fine cast in the film includes: Ben Gazarra, Elizabeth Ashley, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Lara Flynn Boyle. The one character that will probably stick in your mind the most (even if you don't want him to) is family man Bill Mapplewood (Dylan Baker), who is secretly a pedophile. 

Even if you find this to be a good film (understandable), beware recommending it to someone who might be mad at you for doing so (frankly, also understandable). I've mentioned this movie in passing to my wife a couple of times since we saw it and all she can say is, "Yeah, I hated that movie."
Here are some of the movies I've seen that were released in 1998 that I've seen that didn't have the There's Something About Mary or Happiness stuff to make the 1001 list. 

I've divided these movie into a few categories:


Dr. Doolittle-One of my favorite childhood movies (Ill-advised though the choice may be) is the 1967 Dr. Doolittle with Rex Harrsion. In this updated version, Eddie Murphy takes the reins for a movie that has very little to do with the original Hugh Lofting book, and features Eddie as a veterinarian with the ability to talk to animals and have them talk back. Murphy is always good for a few laughs even in something rather silly.
Eddie Murphy and a squirrel in
Dr. Doolittle

Godzilla-"That's a lot of fish" is a line from this movie that my son likes to quote. I think of this ill-advised remake of the Japanese monster films as being a pretty big bomb, but apparently there are some people that must have liked it based on the world box office figures. Somehow the one-two punch of Godzilla and Inspector Gadget didn't end Matthew Broderick's acting career.
Matthew Broderick spots some fish
in Godzilla

Psycho-If I had the directorial clout and resources to make a color scene for scene remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho with a strong cast (Anne Heche, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, etc.), I'd probably make it, too. That doesn't mean I should.
A miscast Vince Vaughan as Norman Bates
in Gus Van Sant's Psycho

Sci-Fi TV hits the Big Screen!

Lost in Space-Another of my childhood favorite shows gets the big screen treatment. This version of the lost Space Family Robinson...accompanied by the more annoying than evil Dr. Smith and their Robot actually starts out okay. However, someone must have thought they had to put some kind of plot that didn't make sense in it and the wheels really come off the Jupiter 2 during the second half. This plot thread has to do with Will Robinson confronting a future version of himself or something like that. Not a success overall, but does have its moments...and you got to like Gary Oldman as Dr. Smith. I will be looking to see the new Netflix Lost in Space show when I get a chance.
Mimi Rogers and William Hurt
lead the Robinsons in Lost in Space

Star Trek: Insurrection
The Next Generation's time on the big screen was winding down here. This was their last one, wasn't it? Still a fan TNG, but not so much of Insurrection.

Data, Picard and Worf prepare
to kick ass in Insurrection

The X-Files-The truth is still out there! I watched The X-Files some back in the day, but wasn't really a die hard on this one. Interesting that they seem to keep bringing this one back in some form or another every few years.

 Mulder and Scully trying to get to the
bottom of some conspiracy in
The X-Files

Cinema Politique

Primary Colors-Based on Joe Klein's (or Anonymous's) novel about a politician who is obviously a thinly disguised Bill Clinton. Was the movie going public ready for a version of the Bill Clinton story in the middle of the Monica Lewinky scandal? Not really. I did like the movie more than the book and it's a pretty nice Clintonesque characterization by John Travolta.
Bill and Hillary...I mean
John Travolta and Emma Thompson
in Primary Colors

Bulworth-I actually prefer for this category Warren Beatty's film about a politician with no shits left to give who starts telling the people the truth and begins to resonate with them. I wonder how this film would look in today's political climate. Note to self: Re-watch Bulworth
Halle Berry helps Warren Beatty obtain some
street cred in Bulworth

Antz/A Bug’s Life
In the tradition of the Harlow movies of 1965, Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove in 1964, and Turner and Hooch and K-9 Cop in 1989, comes the 1998 battle between Dream Work's Antz vs. Pixar's A Bug's Life in 1998. I don't remember who won, though. It seems like A Bug's Life might have been a bit more clever, but Antz did have the long awaited teaming of Woody Allen and Sylvester Stallone.

or Bug's Life?
The Rugrats Movie
The Nickelodeon cartoon about talking babies actually got the big screen treatment this year. It was clever show, but  did it really need a theatrical version? It turns out it did quite well and even had a couple of shows what I know.

Nicktoons on the big screen
in The Rugrats Movie

Mulan-Pleasant Disney film about a Chinese girl who dresses up as a man to go to war, has a smart aleck dragon and sings songs with Donny Osmond.
Mulan and her dragon sidekick

The Robin Williams section
Patch Adams-Seems kind of like piling on to rag on Patch Adams at this point. It was one of Robin's most panned movies, yet one of his most financially successful. Let's just say it's good for a doctor to have a light-hearted bedside manner and leave it at that.

Robin is Patch Adams

What Dreams May Come-Well deserved Oscar winner for visual effects was less lauded for the plot of Robin dying and joining that heavenly band of colors. One that might be worth another look.
Robin goes to heaven in
What Dreams May Come

Date Movies

Stepmom-My wife wanted to see this one because she was a new stepmom at the time. Fair enough and I tend to like Susan Sarandon in anything.
Julia Roberts bonds with her husband's ex
in Stepmom

You’ve Got Mail-A little more Sleepless in Seattle than Joe vs. the Volcano in this romantic re-teaming of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It is loosely based on the Lubitsch film, The Shop Around the Corner. Note to self: I need to get my wife to watch The Shop Around the Corner.
Bookstore romance with dog thrown in
in You've Got Mail

A Little Bit Sexy

Wild Things
Sexy noir featuring scheming young things Neve Campbell and Denise Richards. Lots of plot twists her. But are there too many?
Those girls are planning something
in Wild Things
Out of Sight
George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez star in Stephen Soderberg's sexy thriller that I liked very much. My wife's less that enthusiastic review does knock this one out of this year's date movie category.
Clooney and Lopez in Out of Sight

Critics Choice...Yet Not Choice Enough
To make the 1001 list

American History X
At times terrifying account of young men in the Neo-Nazi movement. Edward Norton was nominated for Best Actor for his strong portrayal.
Edward Norton in American History X

Toni Morrison's bleak and supernatural look at a family before and after slavery. Despite the critical reception and the influence of star Oprah Winfrey, this expensive film did very poorly commercially. The only Oscar nomination the film received was for costumes.
Oprah in Beloved

Gods and Monsters
Dramatization about the last days of Frankenstein film director James Whale. Star Ian McKellan received an Academy Award nomination and the film actually won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Brendan Fraser and McKellan
in Gods and Monsters

I found this story of two modern day teens becoming stuck in a 50's TV show rather delightful. The film received three academy award nominations, but is considered a box office disappointment.
Reese Witherspoon and Toby Macguire go
back to a safe place in Pleasantville

Shakespeare in Love
The romance of the Bard of Avon and his muse was a surprise hit and an upset Best Picture winner (over Saving Private Ryan) for 1998. It didn't make the 1001 list, but I'd put it on mine.
Shakespeare (Joseph Finnes) eyes his muse
in Shakespeare in Love

The Truman Show
What if your whole life was a TV show and your whole existence was a setup just to entertain the masses? Ah, I've had that paranoid fantasy myself. One of my favorite movies from this year. It received Academy Award nominations for Supporting Actor, Screenplay and Director, but oddly not one for star Jim Carrey.
Don't we all feel like the main character
in The Truman Show occasionally?

That's Armageddon!*

Michael Bay's improbable story of oil drillers being sent into space to stop an asteroid from hitting the earth is actually rather entertaining. It didn't make any 1001 movie list, but proved to be an unlikely later release for the Criterion Collection.
That's Armageddon!
Deep Impact
Some oil drillers are sent on a mission to stop an asteroid from hitting the earth...Wait, did I see this or did I just see Armageddon twice?
Deep Impact
That's also Armageddon! Sort of.

*The seventy-fourth reference on this blog to Kentucky Fried Movie

Friday, September 7, 2018


The year is 1975…and…

I hearken back to that time when I cut out and pasted movie advertisements in a spiral notebook during that transitional movie year all those many, many movie years ago...

Looking at my notebook now, much of the print from the faded pages has yellowed, but yes, I still have it! Not surprisingly, I was able to find several entries from these pages of movies from that 70's icon, Burt Reynolds.

1975 Movie Scrapbook (The Burt Reynolds Section)
Whether or not you were a fan of good ol' boy epics like White LightningHooper or Cannonball Run, you got to admit that there was no bigger star during the 70’s than Burt Reynolds. I found five ads for Reynolds movies in my scrapbook.

1. Man-Eater
All I can say about this one is…I was had! After Jaws came out in the summer of 1975, there were some copycat films, but the one called Man-Eater was just a renamed re-released version of the 1970 Burt Reynolds movie Shark! And yes, I did see go to see Man-Eater at the theater when it was re-released. The ad has a large picture of Reynolds superimposed over a picture of a shark. The caption reads, BURT REYNOLDS is the bait…and a killer shark is stalking the waters! Man-Eater-It will rip you apart! More BITE than JAWS.

I do give the ad some credit, as I have never forgotten the More BITE than JAWS tagline. (And for the record, it did NOT have more bite than Jaws.)

2. The Longest Yard
One of the best of the 70’s Reynolds flicks was certainly the prison football film The Longest Yard. The ad features Burt and his hairy chest (of course) and states, The audiences Don’t Just See It-They Cheer It! They Love It! An unnamed quote also states THE LONGEST YARD is a fierce, funny movie. For men, for women, for everyone. Still can’t believe they remade this with Adam Sandler, but that’s another story.

3. Hustle
In this ad, we have sleek and sexy Catherine Deneuve looking beautiful in a backless dress and has a hand on the hairy chest of our man Burt! The ad promises They’re hot. She’s the call girl. He’s a cop. They both take their jobs seriously!

I do have to admit that the combination of the star of Umbrellas of Chernbourg and the star of W. W. and the Dixie Dance Kings still feels a little strange, somehow.

4. Lucky Lady
This film probably looked good on paper. Recent Oscar winners Gene Hackman and Liza Minelli teamed up with Burt and Singin’ in the Rain director Stanley Donen. The ad has no blurbs and just relies on a big picture of the three stars in prohibition era garb with the promise of lots of thrills and action underneath it. However, this film didn't make much of a dent in 70's cinema. You win some, you lose some, I guess.

5. Clockwork Orange/Deliverance
“The two most controversial movies of our time! the ad in my scrapbook proclaims. I’m not sure about that, but this is a helluva a good double feature in my book, and it reminds us of those days of yesteryear when we actually had double features, kind of like major league baseball had scheduled double headers. (Waxing nostalgic about both) I will say the picture in the ad of Malcolm McDowell does not look like it is from A Clockwork Orange, though that is probably a small quibble for a double feature I’d like to see.

And today’s 70’s Burt Reynolds movie experience is...Deliverance

I wonder if Burt is going to hit his target?

Deliverance is a film I see every few years and is still one of my favorites. And, yes the sodomy “squeal like a pig” scene is usually the first thing people bring up when they talk about Deliverance (that and the Dueling Banjos duet). But this movie has much to say about male bonding, urban vs. rural, right and wrong and when it is necessary to take the law into your own hands. It’s definitely a guy picture in that women are something “out there” or “back home.” Women are just a thing far, far away and men are freed from their domestic shackles to go canoeing and be men...away from the ball and chain! Though you never know when a hillbilly sociopath or two may be lurking around the river bend. Nothing is perfect, I guess.

Directed by John Boorman and based on the excellent book by James Dickey.

And Burt is at his best in his breakthrough role as the macho adventurer with seemingly no fear of anything.

Yep...Straight through the heart

Thanks, Burt