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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)

This week I bring you another "book into movie" review. Orwell's 1949 novel of the same title has had no less than four film adaptions over the years but this is the only one that really manages to get things right. It's not an easy story to handle and nobody expects much of a return on making one of the bleakest novels possible into a film that will actually make any money. This film is a brave and very artful endeavour and often gets a rather bad rap for its soundtrack (which I will discuss later) which is not totally fair. This is by far one of the most faithful book to film adaptations I have ever seen and it doesn't quite get the reputation it deserves with members of my generation.


While this is a bit off topic, it is interesting to note that the trailer above and the one for Giorgio Moroder's 1984 restoration of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (released several months before this film) share striking similarities in narration and music. Considering their quite fascist interpretations of the future it seems quite fitting.

I have included the trailer below for the sake of comparison:

I think this is the one time I will be able to dispense with a plot synopsis simply because this story is so broadly read and well known. Besides, I would basically have to type out the entire screenplay for anyone who managed to NOT know what this even is. Many plot elements are so universal that words and phrases from it have entered everyday language and thought (ex: Big Brother, Thought Police, etc.). Even mentioning the year 1984 can conjure images like the ones in this film. I think that fact alone proves what a benchmark it really is. With today's technology, it really does seem like Big Brother is watching us. Doubleplusungood indeed...

Casting John Hurt as Winston Smith is maybe one of the best casting choices I have ever seen in a motion picture, the range and depth he exhibits is astounding and as an audience we feel our souls crushed flat along with his every second he is on screen. Suzanna Hamilton appears as Winston's lover Julia. This film is her best known performance and the levels of strength and fragility she exudes goes well beyond measure. Richard Burton appears as the chilling and omnipotently threatening O'Brien. Nineteen Eighty-Four was unfortunately his last film, as he died two months before the premiere, but it stands as perhaps his absolute finest work in a career filled with memorable performances. And I nearly forgot the smallish part of Cyril Cusack as Charrington the shop owner. He appeared in so many films it's hard to pick one out for you to recognize him in but he presents the sudden menace of a member of the Thought Police with precise calculation.

Like I said in my introduction, this film has had four adaptations including this one. The first version was made in 1953 by CBS and reportedly has a length of only 50 minutes (it remains the only version I have not seen). The second version to be produced came along in 1954 via the BBC and stars Peter Cushing in one of his first major roles and also features a young (though still bald!) Donald Pleasance and proved quite controversial upon release. This version ran for roughly an hour and forty five minutes, but still didn't quite capture everything and featured quite a few changes. In 1956 came a feature film version which was one and a half hours which also features rather dubious and extensive rewrites (as well as Mr. Pleasance appearing once again). Like I said earlier, nobody quite managed to get it right.

The version filmed in 1984 has many things that previous versions lack. The chief thing in particular being a thin layer of filth everywhere. There's rubble in the streets and clothes are disheveled. The Director, Michael Radford, wanted the film shot in black and white but Virgin Films (the company in charge of production) said no, which wound up being a fateful decision. What really helps add to the filthy and dystopian look of this film was the use of a technique known as bleach bypass. During the processing of the film, the bleaching is partially (or even entirely) skipped over. This in essence leaves a black and white image over the top of a color one leaving things looking gritty and washed out. More recent DVD releases (like the European Region 2 release from 2004) have full color saturation and lack the benefit of this simple optical effect. Go on youtube and you can find clips which will show you a world of difference between how either print appears.

This version is also notable for its ready use of the Newspeak language. Older versions did feature the language yes, but only here does it get proper justice. No dialogue in this version feels forced or half hearted, many pieces are pretty much verbatim from the novel in fact. It seems little was missed by the team behind this picture, even down to such things as the bottles of Victory Gin that appear in much of the film. The atmosphere of gloom and dread that Orwell so deftly put into words was something I never thought could be put on film when I first read the novel as a youth. One day in the video store I was of course pleasantly surprised, and may I say after watching it in more ways than one.

Some scenes (one cannot be sure how many) were actually shot on the days that they occur in Winston's diary. This must have leant a rather eerie tone to filming which I will definitely make a point of asking John Hurt about should I ever be so lucky as to meet him. Atmosphere is important for films just as much as a strong cast, and thankfully this film got it right. One thing it manages to divide the audience on however is the musical score. Most editions of this (up until the North American Region 1 release which is now sadly OOP and rather expensive) feature a score written primarily by then top Virgin Records (this was released by Virgin Films, remember?) pop group Eurythmics. This led to a bit of controversy on the film's part that continues to be a hot topic among fans to the present day.

Michael Radford had originally commissioned an orchestral score by a composer named Dominic Muldowney. Muldowney was involved with the film from early on in production to provide source music for many of the Telescreen sequences and the anthem "Oceania, Tis For Thee" etcetera. Virgin seems to have felt the need to put a pop group on the soundtrack to make it a little more marketable. Putting pop or rock groups in charge of scores was rather hip in '84 it seems, and had had mixed success with such gems as the band Toto doing the score for David Lynch's film version of Dune and the rather mixed bag attempt by Giorgio Moroder on his restoration of Metropolis already mentioned earlier in this review. I (like many) feel the score is clunky and very dated. I have also heard rather mixed reviews of Muldowney's score- but to be fair those were of the CD release of it (it's first and only release besides on the US DVD's) as a stand alone item. I would like to see a review of the film with this score in place to see how it holds up. Not all scores can stand separate from their films, but that doesn't mean it's a bad one.

Have a listen to the Aria (heard during the opening Telescreen broadcast) below:

Back to the subject at hand- Radford was sufficiently furious about the Eurythmics score being placed upon his film by Virgin that he made a public statement about it at the Evening Standard British Film Awards and withdrew the film from BAFTA consideration in protest. According to a public statement issued shortly thereafter by Eurythmics, they had no knowledge of there being a score before theirs and had accepted Virgin's request on good faith. I don't find their statement hard to believe, considering the long history of missteps production companies have taken when they exercise their right of final cut over a director's wishes before and since. It's things like that that are the reason we have Director's Cuts.

Controversy about the score aside, I just choose to ignore the bits of the score I don't like and enjoy the film as best I can. With vhs you really don't have any other choice! I've pretty much said everything I can about the movie, so let me take the opportunity to talk about the wonderful early "big box" rental packaging of my copy. Most copies you see of this are in a standard (though heavily built, as was the standard of the time) slip case. Both the slip cases and this edition feature something I have not otherwise seen on vhs packaging: a debossed movie logo (which appears on every side of the box!). It's a rather trivial and probably expensive thing to do on a movie box but adding some tactile sense to the package is interesting. Something I cannot make head or tails of is the fact that any copy of this particular edition I have seen features a decal on front proclaiming that the cassette is made with TDK brand tape. TDK must have had a deal with USA Home Video as I don't really see the point of that announcement, as it's not going to influence whether I would rent the movie in the end. The back side of the box is pure rental copy too- there is only a cursory plot explanation and much of  the panel is taken up by editorial quotes proclaiming the brilliance of the film in question.

Have a look:

A lost art indeed, as there is no such thing as a rental copy of a DVD. This box harkens back to a day when the local Mum & Pop video store was alive and well, a time which I miss greatly. So it goes. As you can tell the front of my copy is also tremendously sun faded, meaning this one spent some time on the front lines of the video rental war. This rather amusingly reflects the bleach bypass used in the movie as mentioned earlier.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is in my opinion a tremendous film effort. It is not to be missed, dismissed, or taken lightly. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Man With The Golden Arm (1955)

When books get transformed into movies all sorts of things get lost in translation. The two different formats offer completely different forms of story telling and seldom do books light up the silver screen effectively without suffering to some degree. While this movie is pretty good, the differences between it and the novel of the same title by Nelson Algren leave them standing pretty well opposed to one another. This is not to say the movie is bad, but to make this film just like the novel would have been pretty much impossible in 1955 if you wanted the film to actually be released.


Plot: Frankie Machine (played to near perfection by Frank Sinatra) is a down and out heroin addict fresh out of prison, whose card dealing abilites are his star attraction. He comes back to his neighborhood where his disabled wife Zosch has waited for him for six months, with a letter from the rehab doctor assuring him a visit with a man who can get him an audition for drumming with a big band. The only problems in his life are everything and everyone. As his underworld connections gnaw at him and his taste for heroin knocks on the door he must make some tough choices if he's going to make out of the downward spiral of his nobody existence.

Like I said earlier, the plot of this movie differs significantly from the novel. Nelson Algren was initially brought in to write the screenplay (a move which made a lot of sense for a story like this) but was reportedly fired. Director Preminger was infamous for firing people left and right as his working style demanded near constant conflict to harbor his creativity. Needless to say, the final script displeased Algren immensely and he distanced himself, and who can blame him? Almost everything that made his novel unique were either changed around, removed, or completely replaced. Some of them that come to mind are switching Frankie's addiction from morphine to heroin, his age (Sinatra was 39-40 at the time of filming, the character is 27 in the novel), mode of dress, and the manner in which he became an addict which roughly equates to everything about him.

Despite the overarching differences, I think this film is actually very good. The cast is stellar, featuring Sinatra in one of his hands down best roles and some of Hollywoods better character actors/main liners of the day: including a great performance by Darren McGavin the low life drug dealer Louie, Kim Novak as Frankie's former love interest Molly, and Eleanor Parker as Frankie's delierious and manipulative wife Zosch. The care and precision with which the cast must have been chosen really comes through as there's so much tension going on you could almost scrape it off the TV and chew on it. Sinatra even spent time researching recovering addicts in hospitals before filming to get himself prepared for the role. He really got the whole attitude of the serious addict down pat, and as he's in almost every scene in the movie you get plenty of opportunity to view his hard work.

This movie was truly shocking when first released. As a matter of fact it almost didn't get released at all! This was before the now familiar Hollywood rating system had been adopted and instead the censorship board had to give a certificate of approval in order for a film to pass for release. In 1955 this was a truly shocking film and Hollywood had yet to deal with all out drug addiction in this manner, so the censors were somewhat less than pleased. Preminger refused to give in to their demand for cuts, (which would have completely castrated the movie) and the public got more and more curious. The film finally opened and was a huge hit, undoubtedly much to the chagrin of the censors and indeed caused by the hullabaloo that they themselves helped create.

I think it's the addiction angle and how it is done that might turn a lot of modern viewers off from this movie. One needs to keep in mind that in 1955 drug use wasn't commonplace in films and wasn't even hinted at on television like it is in countless police and courtroom dramas today. This was truly a brave film effort by everyone involved, and it paved the way for open discussion about drug addiction in cinema on a more realistic level. I've been yammering on and on about all the acting and story and I should really show you a clip from the film shouldn't I? I just get myself so excited sometimes...

See me put my money where my mouth is below:

See what I mean? Every character in this movie is a low life scumbag who wants to get away. Kim Novak's performance is especially terrific and she holds her own with Sinatra in every scene they have together. Her acting talent at age 22 is pretty astounding. Frankie's wife Zosch is one of the more interesting and tortured characters in particular. Frankie caused her paralysis shortly after their marriage in a car wreck. She holds her disability (which is much more real in her head than in reality) like a weapon to keep Frankie all to herself failing to realize that she only propels his need for heroin to greater heights.

The film is also memorable for its opening title sequence, which was designed by Saul Bass (who designed the title sequences for Vertigo, North By Northwest, and many others), who created an animated paper cut that slowly transforms from hectic lines criss-crossing the screen to a mutated rendition of a heroin addicts arm. The mood and tension of the film is set before you've seen one second of acting and it's true brilliance at work. Combined with this was a score by Elmer Bernstein featuring jazz sequences by Shorty Rogers And His Giants (I have one of their LP's from this era, it's pretty good). The score is just as frenetic and strung out as the characters are, only calming down here and there for Shorty's west coast jazz (of which he is a central figure in its creation) to come to the front.

The Man With The Golden Arm is a real piece of work, something which serious cinephiles like myself can get real excited over. Many people get put off by "old movies" a lot and that really bothers me. A film's age does not diminish the quality it holds or the workmanship that went into the production. I think people today in many cases lose touch with that, but thankfully people like you and me are still kicking to enjoy something like this because let's face it- they just don't make them like they used to. Just think, I found this in the $5.98 bin at a grocery store! Talk about a diamond in the rough...


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Disorderlies (1987)

Some people on Earth feel this is a film best left forgotten. I feel it's a film best watched while drinking grape soda. I find this film cringe worthy, laugh worthy, and terrible. I love this movie. Maybe it's best left forgotten and replaced by grape soda, I can't decide. I'm not really that sure I want to. One thing I will decide is that I am really surprised this even managed to get a DVD release. It doesn't even have the trailer as an extra, which makes it about as bare bones as one can possibly imagine, but with a movie like this what the hell do you expect?


Plot synopsis: Winslow Lowry (he played Philo in UHF!) is fucking broke. He's also the nephew of rich octononacentigenerian Albert Dennison (played by Ralph Bellamy, who's career stretched clear back to the 30's, and sadly ended with Pretty Woman). He's a gambling scumbag who owes a literal shit ton of dough to crime kingpin Luis Montana (played by Marco Rodriguez, who you may recognize as convenience store robbers in the films Cobra and Maniac Cop 2) and his ass is going to be grass unless Albert kicks the bucket. Seeing the orderlies he has hired are doing too good of a job at keeping him alive, he goes out in search of the absolute worst caregivers that sleaze can convince to work for him so he can get his inheritence. The logical choice (and due to likely budgetary constraints the only choice you see) are of coure The Fat Boys. Not wanting to get fired from yet another nursing gig (which according to them happens a lot) they accept Winslow's overly generous offer and via a series of cartoon like escapades somehow manage to reinvigorate Mr. Dennison, thwart a robbery, see boobs from far away, and eat a hell of a lot of food.

Let's get one thing straight here: this movie is completely fucking ridiculous. When I say cartoon like escapades I really mean it- each and every time something ridiculous happens (which is A LOT) looney tune style sound effects play over the top of shit. It's basically like Who Framed Roger Rabbit sans animation and alcoholism. It so closely walks the line between borderline retarded and total bullshit that only a very boring person will fail to see the ludicrous amount of entertainment rivaled only by the physical girth of the main characters.

Their introduction in the film alone is worth it, see what I mean below:

Absurdity at its very finest. It really makes me want to chug Nehi soda while watching it, but unfortunately I didn't have the foresight to find the nowhere in my town that sells it. Serious, I get the jones for serious snacking during this picture, it's like a total immersion technique. Enough about food though. One thing that surprises me is the fact that The Fat Boys are actually halfway decent actors. No really! It's a shame this caper didn't lead to any other films (as no more came out, I don't have to take that comment back) featuring them beyond a cameo, because the sheer shenanigan factor here is akin to the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby "Road To..." movies but with crasser dialogue.

Example at time signature of 1:50 below:

However many jokes unfortunately rely on the size of our stars. Like the hot babe insists that fat people aren't attractive and she likes a skinny healthy guy. I dunno, they moved around a ton on stage and for all intents and purposes seemed to be doing okay to me so what's with the chubby bashing? I guess it actually fits in with the bands music but on second thought their songs were more like "I'm fat and I don't give a sweet fuck what you think" rather than "I'm an unattractive loser because of my excessive weight". Also bothersome is the repeated use of a doberman attacking their legs. I don't think I have to explain that one beyond the phrase "civil rights activism", but the asswipe dog does get killed and gets shit talked to its stuffed ass corpse so yeah I guess it turns out funny anyway.

Speaking of shit talking, anytime one of The Fat Boys comes up with a comeback or an insult is basically golden all over. It's a shame they didn't get to do a comedy that was less wacky than this and a little more hard edged so they could lay that shit out actual style. But anyways, this movie isn't really for everybody. A lot of you probably fucking hate it. That's fine by me, but I just so happen to enjoy a good low brow lark like this every once in a while and if you are like me you will too. My one serious complaint is a serious lack of human beat boxing. It's slyly put in with the film score, but to actually see Big Buff Love do it would have been icing on the cake, I mean really- he shoulda been popping that shit out like every five minutes. If he had this might be my favorite movie ever.


- The Fat Boys are in it

- A BOING noise happens when the old dude gets a boner

- Ever so subtle human beat boxing happening in the background music

- Speaking of music, this movie has maybe one of the stranger appearances by a Bananrama song

- Perfect film for extreme snack attacking

- The Fat Boys are in it


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Attention one and all!

Due to the fact that I keep amassing collectibles for movies I have already reviewed or have some I forgot to mention, make collages, and like other non movie related stuff, I have set up a Tumblr page for all this extra stuff to go to.

Here is where you can find it:

Enjoy yourself.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuff Turf (1985)

The world of teen movies is equal parts strange, alluring, and also embarrassing. When we're teens we go "Yeah, this movie speaks to me!" while as adults we collectively slump in our chairs while doing a facepalm or laugh about how ridiculous it was over a pint at the bar. Either way most of them win as entertaining whether the reason is legitimate goodness or its cringe value. Lucky for you, this movie has both of these qualities.

TV trailer:

This film is interesting for having an R rating. For those of you outside the US this means that nobody under 17 is admitted without a guardian (or if you were me you knew everybody at the theater from school so they let you walk in for free regardless). This kind of movie really appeals to the 15-18 set (or as I prefer to call this age range- the tits and zits group), but giving it an R makes it sound more edgy and dangerous to mid eighties teens. Nothing spells teenage excitement like rock music, a social misfit, and girls right? Right? Thankfully this movie has nasty language, some violence, and various other mature situations to justify its MPAA grade. That being said there's still wacky "Really? They just did that?" moments befitting a teen action/drama too.

Plot synopsis: Morgan Hiller (James Spader) is a pretty smart cat. He's introduced in the opening credits in maybe the most 80's way possible, that is to say riding his ten speed bike through the city at night. He's from a formerly upper middle class family (his father lost his real estate business back east so they find themselves in LA scraping along like the rest of the people do). Morgan seems to attract trouble everywhere he goes, and when he messes with the local tough guy mini gang and starts making moves on the leader's main squeeze trouble is bound to come knocking, but will this be the end of Morgan's luck?

Okay a lot more than this happens of course but I don't necessarily want to give the whole thing away. When watching it one realizes pretty quickly that it is basically a western but set in mid 80's LA. The bad guys have a car, while our hero just has his ten speed (which they manage to ruin with their car pretty early on). This actually is rather reminiscent of the film A Fistful Of Dollars where Clint Eastwood's character rides into town not on a horse, but a mule. They ridicule him and chase off his mule. I know that is a rather tenuous connection, but if you watch it you'll see what I mean.

This movie is strangely cast. We get James Spader in his first starring role, we also get Kim Richards as the love interest (named rather androgynously Frankie). She's better known as the little girl who gets shot in the chest through her ice cream cone in John Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13 back in 1976 and is an odd casting choice considering the greater bulk of her work was for television. Robert Downey Jr. appears in a very early role (and very confusingly not using the junior suffix) and much to my surprise Olivia Barash (who we punks immediately recognize as Otto's momentary girlfriend Leila in Repo Man).  They seemingly picked these guys and dolls from the casting calls willy nilly but it actually somehow manages to work.

If one does some research on Mr. Spader, it is said he refuses to watch any film that he appears in. I wonder if he started doing it then stopped or just never has? Yet another question I can ask a movie person should I ever meet them. Though I could definitely understand why he might not want to watch this one, especially when you have to groan out this scene:

Please don't get me started. However, I'd do it if they paid me too so I guess Spader comes up in...well...spades. Unfortunately I cannot find a clip of the really hilarious bit where Morgan and crew sneak into a country club and Olivia Barash's character Ronnie is small talking with rich bitch ladies about giving head. It was really unexpected and remains a good reason why I keep this movie on my shelf. Also a really fantastic reason is not only a cameo by the man himself but no less than three songs on the soundtrack by the Jim Carroll Band. One of which is of course his titular track People Who Died in what I believe might be its very first appearance in a movie, which both excites and ultimately confuses the ever loving shit out of me.

See, there he is:

It's now way beyond rhetorical for me to ask you this but would I lie to you? That song rips, just admit it. So yeah this movie is REALLY melodramatic but what the hell do you want out of a movie like this? Sometimes being able to guess what is going to happen next but still knowing there might be a few wrenches thrown in isn't necessarily a bad thing. So basically don't be a chump about it if you watch this, take the good with the awful and wait it out.


Okay so after the shitty abusive gang leader boyfriend is dealt with after shooting Morgan's dad and almost killing Frankie there's a big party sequence. Am I the only person who finds this troublesome? I mean sure the guy was a dangerous jerkoff and attacked a lot of people but Morgan KILLED him by tossing him off a balcony in a warehouse. I don't know about you but if I were a teenager that had killed someone no matter the context I might not quite be up to partying shortly afterward. I know I should not allow this leap in logic to annoy me considering what kind of movie this is but gimme a break just for once.


I've seen several different artworks (if one can call them that) for this film depending upon the format. The DVD I saw a picture of makes it look kind of homoerotic, don't you think? Shame on you Anchor Bay I know you can do slightly better than this.

See what I am talking about below:

Now is a good time to mention the trouble with barcodes. Whoever did the graphic design for this release obviously forgot to put it on there or maybe nobody told them to. I say this because the barcode is covering a portion of a rather dramatic image of asshole loser gang boyfriend brandishing a pistol. You think that home video box art is supposed to attract viewers by showing the drama and tension contained in a movie like this but apparently I am woefully incorrect. And no it is not a sticker it is printed on the box!


This movie is even available on Betamax, Laserdisc, and to my surprise CED (or Videodisc, for those of us in the know)! Someone had really high expectations for this movie to release it on a format that was dead less than a year after this particular CED was even marketed. But alas I digress, what I am trying to say here is that this movie is available on just about any common (either now or once wasish) format for your home viewing pleasure.


-James Spader's spade tatto on his right bicep. Yes, it's probably real.

-Kim Richards being almost cute if it weren't for the fact that she's wearing one of those annoying real skinny headbands in almost every scene and has ass length crimped hair.

-Handsome shirtless boys for the ladieez to gawk at.

-Matt Clark playing Morgan's dad (you may recognize him as the Secretary of Defense from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension).

-The already mentioned Jim Carroll cameo

-Various embarrassing hairdon'ts/fashion choices befitting a film of this era.

-The fact that this film is known under the title of "Gang Tuff" in Poland.

Go ahead and watch it, if you think you're TUFF ENUFF.