Saturday, March 28, 2020

CITY ON FIRE



Sunday morning coffee and breakfast viewing. From the same director of the creepy underrated 1980 horror gem DEATH SHIP and with a screenplay co-written by Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY, FOXY BROWN, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS), CITY ON FIRE (1979) is a disaster film from late in that genre's finest decade, and one I have not peviously watched. The disaster here is man-made rather than natural (a disgruntled employee blows up an oil refinery, causing destruction and a massive blaze that sweeps through the city). The requisite all-star line-up cast includes POSEIDON ADVENTURE alumni Shelly Winters and Lelslie Neilsen, Henry Fonda as the retiring fire chief and Ava Gardner as an aging, boozing, tryanical TV host. Barry Newman makes an interesting choice for a male lead in this type of film, but he is pretty enjoyable in his role as a womanizing head doctor at a brand new (but under-equiped) hospital. Always loved watching Newman on TV in PETROCELLI.
CITY ON FIRE isn't up there with the classic disaster films that thrilled audiences earlier in the 1970s, but it's one of the better ones from its period (certainly superior to METEOR or Irwin Allen's WHEN TIME RAN OUT - though I do have a nostalgic soft spot for the former). There's a lot of the usual soap opera elements to stretch out the time between moments of excitement, but the film looks (and sounds) quite impressive for its budget (unlike the other big studio disaster films, CITY ON FIRE was produced by Avco Embassy for a pretty modest $3 million). The explosion sequence at the refinery is particularly gripping and very well orchestrated, highlighted by some pretty spectacular stunt work. The film's original R rating allows it to be a bit more graphic than some of its counterparts (particularly in the depiction of fire victims, as well as the use of some strong language).
Beautiful art by John Solie on the original film poster, also. Solie is one of the absolute giants of 1970s drive-in/exploitation movie art, with posters for PIRANHA, HELL UP IN HARLEM, DEATH RACE 2000, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY, THE SWINGING BARMAIDS and many more amongst his impressive list of work.



DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE

Last night's movie. Another very solid effort from writer/director S. Craig Zahler, following on from his BONE TOMAHAWK (2015) and BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017). DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE doesn't have the wonderful baroqueness that permeated BONE TOMAHAWK, and it is not as over-the-top violent as RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 99, though it shares more similarities with the latter than the former (particularly in the use of many of the same cast). Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughan are superb as the two desperate cops sidelined without pay after a home video captures their strong-arm tactics. A strong, downbeat character study driven by a superb score (co-written by Jeff Herriott and Zahler). Definitely one of my favourite younger filmmakers working today.




TED BUNDY: FALLING FOR A KILLER



Had a chance to catch-up with this recent original Amazon documentary series over the past few days. I don't think there is much new anyone can say about the life and horrible crimes of Ted Bundy, but TED BUNDY: FALLING FOR A KILLER makes compelling viewing thanks to the focus of the story being on Elizabeth Kendall, Bundy's girlfriend both before and during his early, prolific killing days, and her daughter Molly, both of whom talk about their experiences for the first time. Molly's tale is particularly heart-breaking, that of a young girl who loved and looked-up to Bundy as a protective father figure, then having to later reconcile with the reality of what he really was, a serial killer who preyed on young women not much older than herself.





PRAY FOR THE WILDCATS



A new piece I wrote for Diabolique on the superior 1974 TV movie PRAY FOR THE WILDCATS, starring Marjoe Gortner, WIlliam Shatner, Robert Reed, Andy Griffith, Lorraine Gary, Angie Dickinson and Janet Margolin. Read the piece at the link below and pick up the new Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber featuring a terrific audio commentary by Amanda Reyes and Bill Ackerman.





Sunday, January 26, 2020

IN SEARCH OF DRACULA Audio Commentary

Enjoyed recording my fourth audio commentary last night, with fellow film historian Lee Gambin for Kino Lorber's upcoming Blu-ray release of Calvin Floyd's documentary feature IN SEARCH OF DRACULA (1975), narrated by and starring one of the screen's most iconic Counts, Christopher Lee. So much to talk about and try to cram in, a second commentary track could have easily been recorded for it. Always better to have too much material than not enough, of course. During a discussion of Dracula's infiltration into all corners of pop culture in the 70s (via breakfast cereals like Couny Chocula and the GROOVIE GHOULIES cartoon show), I was hoping to cover a few more things like the narrated story records, Dracula in 70s comic books and pulp paperbacks, as well as of course the infamous Genuine Soil from Dracula's Castle amulet sold via the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. Maybe in a follow-up article following the Blu-ray's release later this year...










WILDCAT! INTERVIEW

Thanks so much to Simon Foster for interviewing me about my new book on Marjoe Gortner (WILDCAT!) for his terrific Screen-Space website! Check it out at the link below and take some time to explore the other great articles, interviews and reviews which Simon has on his site. Click on the link below to read.




Saturday, December 28, 2019

WILDCAT! NOW AVAILABLE!!

My new book, WILDCAT! - THE FILMS OF MARJOE GORTNER, is now out and available from Bear Manor! Check the links below for ordering details from the publisher, available in both soft and hardcover versions. Also available from Amazon. Will have details on signed copies and any in-store launchings early in the New Year.


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.