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Judge Steve Evans's Blog
• Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
Syd Barrett and the Department of Odd Coincidences
Pink Floyd co-founder and guitarist Syd Barrett, as anyone who cares probably now knows, has died. The announcement was made today (July 11, 2006) via a spokeswoman for the band.
A bit of basic journalistic digging shows that Barrett actually died last Friday, July 7, possibly of complications related to diabetes, from which he long suffered, but then again maybe from cancer, as some news sites have reported.
What I find peculiar is the band waited until today, four days later, to make an announcement. Perhaps not coincidentally, the celebrated Pink Floyd PULSE concert from 1994 makes its debut today on DVD. I have waited for years for this concert to become available on DVD, having almost worn out an old VHS copy.
Although I am no conspiracy theorist, am I being too cynical to wonder aloud whether the delay in announcing Barrett's death is somehow related to the release date of a hotly anticipated Pink Floyd DVD -- even though Barrett had no involvement whatsoever with the concert or the production of the disc? Could it be a crass attempt to goose the sales of this DVD? I remember full well how Beatles and Lennon albums flew out of stores the day after John Lennon was murdered. And again, after George Harrison died of cancer. Or when Tupac Shakur was murdered. Or when Elvis dropped dead on his toilet.
Has the world reached a state where the news of the passing of a legend is keyed to commercial considerations to enrich the surviving members of the band and their label?
Or am I just a cynic at heart?
What does bad cinema share in common with strawberries covered in Belgian chocolate? Beer-simmered bratwursts cooked over hickory and served with peppers and onions? Tortilla chips slathered with melted Monterey jack, jalapeno peppers and spoonfuls of extra-hot salsa?
Hell, I dunno. But I do enjoy a guilty pleasure now and again. Here's a short list of movies that probably aren't good for you, but taste oh-so fine:
The Horror of Party Beach (1964) directed by the incomparable Del Tenney. Babes in bikinis go-go dancing. Bikers, Beaches. Radioactive sea monsters. And the great surf-rock band The Del Aires perform 6 rockin' tunes. One of the greatest movies ever made.
Point Break. Great action set pieces and the greatest football game ever filmed at night on the beach. Keanu Reeves gets so angry that a bad guy got away, that he leaps from a plane without a parachute -- he's just that square-jaw determined.
Jaws: The Revenge. A giant, rubber shark with frequently visible control cables dangling from its belly. And Michael Caine, who looks decidedly embarassed to be in this one. He has this expression in several scenes as though he just farted loudly and is hoping no one will immediately blame him for the crime.
Mesa of Lost Women. Jackie "Uncle Fester" Coogan plays a mad scientist (is there any other kind) who wants to infuse beautiful women with the strength and agility of tarantulas. WTF?! Several ding-dongs land a plane on his mesa and start snooping around. If you can endure the annoying-as-hell flamenco guitar and piano soundtrack that plays incessantly throughout this picture, then the first round of beers is on me.
Invasion of the Bee Girls. A blind-buy I purchased for $5 on the strength of the title, alone. Seriously.
I also enjoy everything directed or written by Ed Wood, especially Bride of the Monster and The Violent Years, which he wrote but did not direct. In the latter, a gang of delinquent girls run amok -- shoving desks at school, holding up gas stations and, in the scene that had me staring in mesmerized disbelief, they kidnap a guy in the park, drag him into the woods and "have their way" with him, despite his strenuous objections. This sort of thing never happens to me. That's why movies are such a sublime form of escape from this troublesome world.
And I confess to a great enjoyment of the Star Wars movies, especially the so-called prequels, which are well-crafted and fun to watch. It has become fashionable to look upon those pictures with a disdainful eye, but I say those who criticize mindless fluff like Star Wars are mere jackals of bourgeois self-absorbtion, nipping at the heels of those who just wanna have fun.
Seeing with fresh eyes.
I recently encouraged a friend to see Truffaut's Jules and Jim for the first time and she returned with a glowing, radiant, wildly enthusiastic response (http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/julesandjim.php).
While happy for her and pleased that she liked the recommendation, I felt a curious pang of jealousy that got me wondering: how many beloved films would I like to experience again, with fresh eyes, for the first time?
Surely, North by Northwest, Taxi Driver and O Lucky Man!
Chinatown. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. M. City Lights. Steamboat Bill Jr. Psycho. The Wizard of Oz. The Quiet Man. It's a Wonderful Life. A Clockwork Orange and 2001 and Dr. Strangelove.
Jaws, though it frightened me senseless 30 years ago.
Even Die Hard -- the last film I have seen that lived up to its tagline: "It will blow you through the back of the theater!"
What films would you wish to experience again, unseen, with all their secrets and surprises waiting to unfold and make you smile or think or cry or feel exhilarated?
Da controversy over Da Vinci Code adaptation
I'm less interested in the rantings of "literary geeks," Bible thumpers, bluenosed censors (or anyone else, for the matter of that) than I am interested in what Dan Brown thinks of the adaptation of his novel.
Word has it that Sony Pictures ponied up $6 million for rights to the book, so a fair inference can be made that Mr. Brown is mighty happy. In the unstable world of cinematic adaptations of literary sources, it doesn't get much better than a sweet payout for the rights, followed by the signing of an Oscar winning director and two-time Academy Award winning star, bolstered by the incredible Audrey Tautou and an A-picture budget with international locations and the kind of buzz that could only be a producer's wet dream. The more controversy whirling around this flick, the better the box office -- bet on it. Every time the pope opens his yap to blast this film, he'll fill 1,000 theaters with ticket buyers eager to see what the fuss is about.
Ultimately, though, whether the film is superb or silly, the novel remains the same. So if you like the book, go read it again. I think that often gets lost in the confusion.
Hot books become movies because someone sees a margin. Period.
And when a studio pays for the rights to a property, they can do whatever the hell they want in adapting it, unless the contract stipulates otherwise.
Wanna bet Brown took the money and ran, squealing with delight, straight to the bank?
Old King Kong/newer King Kong
Saw Jackson's remake in the theater over Christmas. Was impressed with the technical aspects and pleasantly surpirsed by Jack Black, who is ordinarily loathsome. Some of the CGI looked cartoonish, but overall an enjoyable film, albeit overlong at 3 hours.
Here's the rub -- picked up the two-disc special edition yesterday and rewatched last night. Here, truly, is a film that falls apart on subsequent viewings. What seemed exciting and novel three months ago came off strained, often ridiculous and disappointing on the second go-round. The first hour is a colossal bore. Skull Island has some nice set pieces, but ultimately defies the laws of physics -- examples include scenes of improbable stampedes and multiple T-Rex battles while plummeting into a chasm.
Jackson's efforts at poignancy between Ann Darrow and the big moneky come off creepy, instead.
The climactic battle atop the Empire State Building has no heft to it. Kong seems lighter than air, as CGI creations often do. There is never a sense that he occupies real physcial space, so suspension of disbelief evaporates as we began to mull how many gigabytes of memory he requires to live on somebody's hard drive.
The moral of the story is we see, once again, that when the initial luster begins to fade from memory and we see with fresh eyes, what initially seemed to dazzle is in fact a disappointment. In fairness, it's a $500 million international gross disappointment, but a letdown just the same.
Plan 9 From Outer Space
Like many of the bonafide classics in my collection, I find myself revisiting this odd little picture at least once a year.
Surrealisim on a budget, I've come to see this icture and other titles in Ed Wood's awful oveure as the work of a consummate confidence man who managed to churn out entertaining work in spite of himself.
Like Glen or Glenda? and The Sinister Urge, Plan 9 is compulsively watchable. And has there ever been a broader spectrum of weirdos, wannabes and hangers-on than the people involved in this picture -- in front of and behind the camera?
Plan 9 is not the worst picture ever made and Wood is certainly not the worst director (imagine what he could have created with Michael Bay's budgets).
Indeed, the only sin a film can commit is to be boring. Plan 9 is anything but.
Personally, I'm holding out for a director's cut with the Criterion treatment.
Mari-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! I just met a girl named Maria!
And suddenly that name will never be the same...
That boxed set of West Side Story with the screenplay tucked inside is one of the most aesthetically pleasing DVD packages I've yet to get my hands on. Simply stunning transfer. Glorious sound. Exhaustive extras. Makes me want to save the world. Or at least bring peace betwixt the Sharks and the Jets.
Boy, boy, crazy boy.
Which ones are your favorites, i.e., the most effective? But first, a caveat of danger: here they may be spoilers.
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari must be among the first narrative films to reverse itself with a surprise conclusion.
Psycho (1960) comes to mind as a classic of misdirection and manipulation.
The Crying Game (1992) is another.
Also The Sixth Sense (1999). Shyamalan has been making increasingly ludicrous films, with a growing whiff of desperation about them, ever since.
Se7en and The Usual Suspects were released within months of each other in 1995. Both have terrific twists. Both are committed by Kevin Spacey.
When will Spacey make another good film?
Speaking of twist endings, ever notice the Heidigger connection between Carnival of Lost Souls and Jacob's Ladder?
Criterion wish list
Let's start out with a compliment: I am an unabashed fan of The Criterion Collection, which is simply the best in the business. Period. I own a dozen titles from their catalog; every one is a gem, a keeper, beyond reproach.
I also find some of the titles selected for the Criterion treatment to be absolutely inscrutable. Still, knowing a bit about the realities of business, it's perhaps understandable that they would pick some sure bets to subsidize the cost of some of their riskier releases.
That said, since Criterion saw fit to release a tricked-out edition of Armageddon, then almost any film we could name should also qualify for what I affectionately refer to as "the Crterion treatment."
Here are two:
O Lucky Man! (1973) (for that matter, any DVD release of this title would be appreciated). Possibly the second greatest satire commtitted to film, after A Clockwork Orange. Both star Malcolm McDowell. Go figure. Then again, McDowell headlined Caligula...but let's leave this thesis for the moment and return to the wish list....
King Kong (1933) Ditto on the DVD release. C'mon Ted Turner (or Warners or whoever owns the rights nowadays) get with the program, already. I'll bet you a diddle-eyed Joe and a damned if I know that a release will hit the street before Peter Jackson's remake.
Thanks for reading.
Rules for Helicopters
If a movie features helicopters, at least one and preferably all of them should explode. This is one of the great pleasures of being a guy who loves movies: I can lay claim to a fondness for destruction -- the louder and more chaotic, the better. I did not drop $500 on a subwoofer in order to luxuriate in the dainty percussion of Cirque du Soleil. I want to rattle windows. Thor is a sissy. I am the god of thunder.
James Bond takes out a SPECTRE helicopter with spectacular results in From Russia with Love (1963). Sure, it's a ripoff of the cropdusting sequence from North by Northwest (1959), but it's a good ripoff. Note the revealing cable that lowers the exploding 'copter more or less safely to the ground. Note also the obvious stunt double for Connery and the inferior rear-screen projection. No matter. It's still the best of the Bonds, 42 years on.
Apocalypse Now (1978). Fantastic helicopter explosion during the greatest piece of choreographed mayhem in cinema history. Ultimate use of Wagner (and Robert Duvall), too.
Die Hard (1988). If this requires an explanation, then maybe you're reading the wrong blog.
Three Kings (1999) -- Ice Cube throws a Hail Mary pass, lobbing a Nerf football rigged with C-4 into the windscreen of an Iraqi chopper. Mayhem ensues. This is also a terrific scene to test the sonic-boom capabilities of one's subwoofer.
Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout (1992) pitches a fey assassin off the scaffolding at a football stadium and into the whirring blades of a helicopter rising from below; something you don't see every day. The helicopter does not explode. But the villain does. Crunch. Splat. Cool.
Thanks for reading.
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