Saturday, November 23, 2019

THE SWARM INVADES THE ASTOR!

Was wonderful to see my "Queen Bee" Marneen Lynne Fields receiving a rosuing reception when she joined the hosts of Cinema Fiasco to introduce their screeing of Irwin Allen's THE SWARM at the Astor Theatre on Friday evening. Marneen of course worked on the film as a stunt-actress, playing the screaming female train passanger sitting behind Fred MacMurray and Olivia de Havilland, as well as doing an amazing stunt where she is flipped out of the burning train carriage window as it derails and falls down a cliff! Filming of the stunt itself can be seen in the excellent vintage making-of featurette INSIDE THE SWARM. 
Marneen shared some anectodes about working on THE SWARM and with Irwin Allen to a packed Astor crowd, and the hosts made mention of her other work, with co-host Janet A. McLeod being particularly envious of Marneen getting to work very close to hunky Patrick Duffy on THE MAN FROM ATLANTIS television series. Co-host Geoff Wallis also noted that Marneen had barely changed in the 41 years since the film was released 
This was the first time I have attended a Cinema Fisaco screening at the Astor. I have to admit that this format has never been my preferred way to watch a movie....I am not a fan of the whole Mystery Science Theatre 3000 thing and always hated those old "Golden Turkey Awards" and "Worst Films Ever Made" books that were popular when I was first becoming a seious young film buff. Having said that, there is no doubt the format is popular with many people (there was a crowd of around 250 for THE SWARM), and Janet and Geoff were incredibly nice to Marneen, as was the audience, who gave a rousing cheer when her scene came on the big screen, and many of them stopped to compliment and chat with her in the lobby after the movie (if anyone missed out on one of the signed mini-flyers Marneen had available on the night, feel free to message her via her FB page). 
A fun evening at one of the best places in the world to experience the magic of movies! And wonderful to see Marneen there to preovide a tangible connection to the movie, as well as to represent the spirit of the "Master of Disaster" himself (not to mention the King of 60s sci-fi television), the amazing Irwin Allen.









Thursday, November 21, 2019

AUDIO COMMENTARIES

My first two Blu-ray audio commentaries for Kino Lorber, recorded in tandem with fellow Melbourne film historian Lee Gambin, are now out an available from all the usual sources. Watch for BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA and ZOLTAN, HOUND OF DRACULA to soon be joined by my third Kino Lorber commentary, for the 1970 musical SONG OF NORWAY starring Florence Henderson!




MARNEEN FIELDS TO INTRO "THE SWARM"!

Those Melburnians looking for some film fun on Friday evening can check out the Cinema Fiasco screening of Irwin Allen's cult 1978 disaster epic THE SWARM on the huge Astor screen. Marneen Lynne Fields worked on THE SWARM as an actress/stuntwoman, playing the terrified train passenger who gets flipped out the window as the train derails thanks to a deadly bee attack! Clips of Marneen filming this scene, and being praised by Irwin Allen upon completion of her stunt, can be seen near the beginning of the great making-of featurette INSIDE THE SWARM, which can be found on the Blu-ray and some DVD releases of the film. 
Marneen will be joining the hosts on stage at the Astor on Friday evening at 7:30pm, to share some anecdotes about the film's production and working with the famed "Master of Disaster", Irwin Allen (whom Marneen would later work with again on BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE). She will also be giving out a free signed souvenir card to those who attend the screening (limited stock while they last). 
Should be a buzz!!!



THE PULP OF JOHN CARPENTER

Have submitted my guest essay for Troy Howarth's much-anticipated upcoming book on the films of John Carpenter. My piece deals primarily with my own introduction to Carpenter's work, not through film but via the paperback tie-in novelization of HALLOWEEN by Curtis Richards (aka Richard Curtis) and the impact it had on me as a 14-year-old. Look for the book in early 2020 (will post links once they are available).


Saturday, October 5, 2019

WILDCAT! SNEEK PREVIEW

A peek at a few sample pages from the Marjoe Gortner book WILDCAT! - almost there!






THE JOKER'S WILD

Having thought about JOKER for the past couple of days after seeing it, I think Joaquin Phoenix's incredibly immersive, almost painful performance as Arthur Fleck/Joker is fully desreving of the high praise it has been receiving, even from many of the people who hated the rest of the movie. Phoenix's performance is certainly the lyncpin of Todd Phillip's standalone comic book movie, but unlike a lot of people I had no problem with the story being an obvious amalgam of 1970s cinema classics like MEAN STREETS (1973), DEATH WISH (1974), ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and, of course, TAXI DRIVER (1976). Not to mention THE KING OF COMEDY (1981). If JOKER leads some younger (or even older) viewers to go back and discover these films for the first time, all the better. I'm also not buying into the controversy that the film may inspire real-life violence or copycat behaviour. Ultimately, I don't believe that the contents of any art form - be it film, television, writing, painting, music - should be dictated by the potential response of a few lone sociopaths (who if they are going to act upon their violent urges are going to be triggered by one thing if not another). 

This isn't the Joker that I necessarily want to see square off with Batman in any future films, but as a portrait of one man's descent into complete madness, I found it as gripping as it is depressing, and yes I felt sympathetic at times to Arthur Fleck's plight, and have no guilt over feeling so. Mental illness is something that can attack and destroy any of us at any time, and JOKER effectively displays how those stuck at the bottom rungs of society find it particularly difficult to get the proper help they need. The film's screenplay (by Phillips and Scott Silver) also has some interesting parallels to Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), in the way in which it depicts the gap and the struggle between the entitled rich and the deprived poor. I haven't seen a whole lot of new movies this year, but JOKER so far is right up there with ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD as the best of them.


Friday, September 6, 2019

THE EXPLOITATION OF SHARON TATE

Like CHARLIE SAYS, THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE is another in a slew of films and television shows put out this year, capitalising on the 50th anniversary of the crime. Based on the trailer and hostile reviews, along with my own disappointment in director Daniel Farrands' previous THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS (2018), I wasn't expecting much out of THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE. It's badly miscast and terribly acted, lacking in any sense of visual flair, and shows little respect for the memory of Sharon Tate herself, but I didn't find it the complete waste that so many others have. A tacky, tasteless and violent low-budget mix of speculative supernatural horror and true crime tabloid fact, THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE at least seems proud to wallow in its exploitative roots. I liked the opening credit sequence (utilising archival news footage) and the film does have quite a nice and effective ambient score, but it's really one just for the die-hard completists, or any masochistic Hilary Duff fans.


DO WHAT CHARLIE SAYS

This latest film from longtime indie fave Mary Harron (I SHOT ANDY WARHOL, AMERICAN PSYCHO, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE) was released in Australia last week by Defiant (DVD or digital download only), and seems to have slipped onto the market with considerably less fanfare than some other Manson-related film and television productions from this year. It's a pity Harron didn't have the budget to make it look a bit more aesthetically pleasing and stylistically accurate, because in just about all other respects CHARLIE SAYS ultimately emerges as one of the better, and more grounded, cinematic renderings of what is by now a quite familiar (though no less shocking) tale of events.
Based on Ed Sanders' notorious 1971 book THE FAMILY, as well as Karlene Faith's THE LONG PRISON JOURNEY OF LESLIE VAN HOUTEN (2001), CHARLIE SAYS tells it's tale from the anchor point of three years after the horrific 1969 crimes, when the convicted Family members had their death sentences overturned, and the California Institution for Women suddenly had to consider how Manson girls Susan Atkins, Patricia Kwenwinkle and Van Houten were going to occupy themselves for the rest of their lives. Still loyal to Manson and his beliefs, feminist professor and rights advocate Karlene Faith is brought in to spend time with the girls, teaching them classes on society and empowerment and encouraging them to read and make decisions and observations based on what they themselves think and feel, not what they believe Manson would feel of want them to say.
Interspersed of course with flashbacks to life in the Family and the inevitable descent into Helter Skelter, CHARLIE SAYS becomes quite effective at drawing the viewer in to an interesting and often neglected side of the story - that of the deprogramming of the three girls and just how hard it was to wash away the indoctrination which Manson had psychologically forced into them, and their slow re-acclimatisation to the real world and acceptance of their responsibility in the horror.
One-time Dr. Who Matt Smith is surprisingly impressive in the Manson role, understated but with a genuine edge of menace and charisma, and great eye movements. I liked that a lot of his character was based around his musical ambitions as well, as Smith pulls off the singing, strumming and groovin' Charlie particularly well. The onscreen violence is limited but effective - there are a couple of startling shocks heading into its climax - and Herron does build an effective atmosphere of growing tension throughout.
Definately worth a watch if you are into true crime-based cinema, it's probably one of the most surprisingly engrossing films in the genre I have seen since David Jacobson's DAHMER (2002), starring future Marvel hero Jeremy Renner in a terrific performance as the notorious cannibal killer.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

MAGNIFICENT MINDHUNTER

MINDHUNTER season 2 has been mind-blowing, in particular the episodes helmed by David Fincher and Andrew (CHOPPER) Dominik. There is a coldness to it that is completely absorbing and frequently chilling, but this time around we are also given a much more harrowing insight into the personal lives of two of the show's main protagonists, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Wendy Carr (Anna Torv).
Like the first season, a big part of season two's gravitas is provided by the supporting actors putting in turns as some of the world's most infamous and reviled serial killers. Cameron Britton returns as Ed Kemper and is joined this time by Oliver Cooper as David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, Christopher Livingston as Wayne Williams, Robert Aramayo as Elmer Henley and Australian Damon Herriman in his second onscreen performance as Charles Manson this year (having also played him in ONCE UPON A TIME IN...AMERICA). All of them put in terrific, skin-crawling performances, and Herriman's Manson is much more developed and effective than his (very brief) appearance in the Tarantino flick.
Having the horrific Atlanta child murders of 1979-81 as its main backdrop was a good dramatic move, allowing the writers to deal with subtexts of racism and political agendas. I love the way the series is leading to what seems inexorably towards a confrontation with Dennis Rader (BTK), though since Rader was not caught until 2005 I imagine there will still be at least one more season before then. A likely backdrop for season three would be the Green River killings, which would make sense as they started not long after the Atlanta killing spree stopped, and FBI agent John Douglas was also involved in the case. It would also give the filmmakers the opportunity to weave Ted Bundy into the series if they wanted, since Douglas consulted Bundy about the Green River case.


ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD


Programmer Zak Hepburn has done a terrific job in bringing ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD in 35mm to the Astor Theatre in Melbourne, ensuring the walls of its beautiful art deco interior are adorned with era-appropriate one-sheets (though some party pooper had spoiled part of the fun by stealing some of the faux Rick Dalton one-sheets during last night's screening). I caught the Saturday morning session of ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD with the sad passing of Peter Fonda still bouncing around in my head, which I think helped put me in a more melancholy mood as the film swept over me (after all, the film takes place in the Hollywood of Peter Fonda's prime, and EASY RIDER is one of those films whose one-sheet posters line the Astor lobby at the moment).
ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD is sure to be one of those movies that will take some time and a couple of viewings to fully appreciate and digest. My initial thought are that as a piece of drama or storytelling it is no masterpiece and nothing particularly special. There is little of the kinetic dialogue that made Tarantino's earliest films so quotable, but it is easily his best film since JACKIE BROWN (1997) in my opinion, as well as being amongst his most restrained and romantic work. As a love letter to 1969 Hollywood and the film and the television industries of the time, it is impeccable and a veritable gourmet feast for the eyes (especially in 35mm on the giant Astor screen).
What the story lacks is more than made up for by the plot twists and surprises, as well as the wonderful characterisations and performances from Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, both playing men staring down the barrel of career irrelevancy as they age, while living next door to them is Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, the symbols of current Hollywood glamour, youth and success. Margot Robbie doesn't have a lot of dialogue but doesn't really need it, bringing Tate to life with her physicality and aura. Some of the supporting roles and bit parts fall flat, though I did love Bruce Dern as George Spahn, Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen and, especially, Nicholas Hammond as Sam Wanamaker. Dakota Fanning also brings an effective level of menace and creep as Manson girl Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme.
As its title eludes, ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD is a fairytale, one man's own vision of what once was and what might have been. The Manson Family element is just one thread which weaves its way in and out of the story, but it is always not far off and constantly building an atmosphere of tension and gloom as it moves towards the climactic confrontation which we all know is coming.
The Astor will be screening the film in 35mm several times a day until next Thursday (August 21st). Definately worth the effort to get along to see there (and get there early to enjoy the pre-movie selection of classic snack bar ads and movie slides). I managed to score one of the cool little promotion souvenir booklets for the film, a great nostalgic momento that even contains faux vintage cigarette, automobile and fast food ads ($1.25 for a Big Kahuna burger!). One of the things I always loved about seeing movies as a kid was buying the souvenir booklet from the box-office - some of the earliest ones I recall buying (and reading over and over) were for THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, STAR WARS, SUPERMAN, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, ALIEN, Langella's DRACULA, MOONRAKER and STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. Still have all of them and have collected some other favourites over the years.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

SNAPSHOT

An essay I wrote on the 1979 Australian exploitation film SNAPSHOT (aka THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN) has now been posted over on the Diabolique website. Click the link below to check it out!




SAY THE MAGIC WORD!

David F. Sandberg's SHAZAM! happily delivered the most fun I have had with a comic book/superhero movie in a long while, bringing a welcome whiff of fresh air to a genre getting burdened by the weight of its own overwrought, grandiose sombreness.
SHAZAM! reminds us of the sheer basic wish-fulfilment that comes with being a superhero. The film certainly follows the standard origin story template, but does so with a real sense of humour and heart, a few genuine surprises and even manages to inject some moments of atmosphere and fright without having to go all serious and dark (as the director of LIGHTS OUT and ANNABELLE: CREATION, Sandberg's horror roots certainly take hold in several spots). Comparisons to Penny Marshall's BIG (1988) and the Spielberg/Amblin' Entertainment films of the 1980s are certainly accurate, it's Christmas-time setting and amusement park action set-piece dripping with classic Americana. Nice performances throughout but especially from Jack Dylan Glazer as Freddy Freeman and Zachary Levi, who brings such an appealing blend of humour, innocence and slowly-developing sense of maturity and responsibility to the character of SHAZAM! (originally called Captain Marvel in the old DC comics before Marvel Comics trademarked the name for one of there own heroes). Will be interesting to see how Levi's Shazam will be incorporated into the larger DC cinematic universe, which is bound to happen sooner rather than later.
A perfect Friday evening date movie with Marneen Lynne, the whole audience broke into spontaneous applause as the end credits rolled, something you don't see enough of these days, where most multiplex moviegoers are desperate to get to their mobile phones and find out what they have missed as soon as the screen fades to black.


Friday, March 15, 2019

CAPTAIN NOT QUITE MARVEL-OUS

Marneen and I took in a Saturday afternoon screening of CAPTAIN MARVEL. Overall I'd probably rank it amongst the lower rung of the Marvel movies, Goose the kitty was one of the genuine highlights and I thought he had more personality than the film's star, Brie Larson, who is OK in the role but rather bland and certainly not as fun or charming as the likes of Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) or Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow). The film does have some nice moments, including Samuel L. Jackson as a much younger Nick Fury (de-aged via CGI) and its 1995 setting gives it the opportunity to not only utilize a soundtrack featuring tracks by Hole, Garbage and No Doubt (as well as Heart and Lita Ford) but reference the likes of Blockbuster Video and slow-speed dial-up. It was also nice to see the late Stan Lee get one of his better and more amusing cameos (I figured this would likely be his last appearance in the Marvel movies but apparently he filmed several cameos prior to his passing that are still yet to be utilized).



AUDIO COMMENTARY ANNOUNCEMENT!

Very excited to announce that fellow Melbourne-based film historian Lee Gambin and myself will be providing the audio commentary for the upcoming Blu-ray release of this infamous 1966 horror western hybrid from the notorious William "One-Shot" Beaudine, one of the most prolific, interesting and misunderstood directors in Hollywood history. Arriving in June from the fine folks at Kino Lorber Studio Classics!





Friday, March 1, 2019

MANSON MOVIES

Now posted over at Diabolique, my look at Ian Cooper's excellent new book, a study of films and television shows directly about, as well as those clearly inspired or influenced by, the infamous Manson Family cult crimes of August 1969.