Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

September 22, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jason Haas

US, 1995. 129 min. Universal Pictures. Cast: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt; Music: Paul Buckmaster; Cinematography: Roger Pratt; Produced by: Charles Roven; Written by: David and Janet Peoples (from a film by Chris Marker); Directed by Terry Gilliam.

It’s almost precious to say of a time travel movie, but Twelve Monkeys was clearly ahead of its time. When it was released in the US at the tail end of 1995, the country was entering the election year that would lead to President Clinton’s second term and the economy was sky high. All of the problems that now dominate pretty much all of our discourse in this country were around but minor and mostly unnoticed, waiting to spring on the country as a post millennial surprise party of doom. Now, in 2006, right after the 5th anniversary of 9/11, a terrorist attack eliminating the majority of the Earth’s population and driving the rest underground seems a little bit more real. Or maybe it will be Avian Flu. The truth of the matter is that the last five or so years have given our day-to-day reality a much more apocalyptic flavor. So how, in the early days of the Internet boom and a mostly sunny security outlook, did Twelve Monkeys manage to acquire such apocalyptic trappings?

September 22, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Kristoffer Tronerud

USA, 1982. 129 min. UA/ Dino De Laurentiis Pictures. Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Mako; Music: Basil Poledouris; Cinematography: Duke Callaghan; Production Design: Ron Cobb; Based on Stories by: Robert Howard; Screenplay: Oliver Stone, John Milius; Directed by: Milius

“I’m a Zen Fascist” John Milius once famously remarked, and, while his tongue was firmly planted in cheek, that description goes a long way in explaining the unique appeal of this very talented and likable rogue artist. While it may take courage to be left of center in the country at large, in Hollywood, the conservative is the true maverick, and, as a director and screenwriter, Milius has paid a price for his cheerful unwillingness to toe a politically correct line for Tinseltown convenience. Still, it is a big mistake to paint Milius with the broad brush of the political simplemindedness of, say, a John Wayne or a Jack Webb. From the start of his career, Milius’s projects have evidenced a complexity and thoughtfulness that make such easy classification impossible. His work embraces the reality that men and women are different and that courage and violence are sometimes unavoidable and necessary, in a way that makes knee-jerk liberals uncomfortable, but his work also betrays a tenderness and respect for women and a keen sense of the limits of the macho ideal that give lie to the stereotype that generally accompanies any discussion of his oeuvre.

September 22, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Kris Tronerud

USA, 1951. 115 min. Philip Waxman Productions. Cast: John Barrymore, Jr., Preston Foster, Joan Lorring, Howard St. John, Dorothy Comingore; Cinematography: Hal Mohr; Produced by: Philip A. Waxman; Based on a Novel by: Stanley Ellin; Written by: Stanley Ellin, Joseph Losey, Ring Lardner, Jr.; Directed by: Joseph Losey

One of the greatest pleasures of being a movie nut is the re-discovery of those long gone, lovingly remembered films which appeared to us in our youth, before we knew we were ‘aficionados’, before we even knew why we loved movies, when our reactions were primal and unaffected by critical sensibilities or intellectual preconception. These films take root in our memories with the vivid resonance of a childhood friend. Sometimes, of course, the rediscovery is a painful disappointment, as we realize that our fond recollection was based primarly on the bust size of the heroine or on a fantasy landscape that now reveals itself to be composed of monsters in suits with visible zippers lurking in papier maché lairs. Every so often, however, a film reappears on the cinematic horizon and holds up admirably to viewing by now jaundiced and demanding eyes, revealing that it burrowed into our young psyches for deeper and more substantial reasons. For me, the reappearance of Joseph Losey’s The Big Night on TMC (and now in theaters) was just such a happy reunion.

September 22, 2006 / / Film Notes

USA. 92min. 2002. Silver Sphere Corporation. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy, Larry Pennell. Music: Brian Tyler; Cinematography: Adam Janeiro; Produced by: Don Coscarelli & Jason Savage ; Based on a Story by: Joe Lansdale; Written by: Don Coscarelli; Directed by: Don Coscarelli.

Upon hearing a brief description of Bubba Ho-tep, one might assume that it was an intensely campy, irreverent B-movie that was pretty thin on characterization. The plot, can, after all, be summed up to some extent with the phrase, “Elvis versus a mummy.” It’s easy to imagine some caricatured version of the King of Rock n’ Roll taking on the monster. By now Elvis as an icon is as much a part of our collective subconscious—and as likely to be a Halloween costume—as any creature from the old Universal horror films. Elvis impersonators, Elvis on velvet, Elvis’ face repeated again and again like an Andy Warhol silkscreen; the idea of Elvis has become a vaguely tacky pop culture touchstone. Yet thankfully, Bubba Ho-tep is a more complex, and far more interesting, film than that phrase “Elvis versus a mummy” can convey. Writer-director Don Coscarelli, working from a short story by the idiosyncratic Joe R. Lansdale, succeeds in humanizing his Elvis and developing him far beyond a few rhinestones and a curled lip. As played by Bruce Campbell (himself a horror movie icon owing to his indispensable presence in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy), this Elvis becomes a hero to root for, not an object of ridicule.

August 28, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Christine Bamberger

USA, 1985. 90 min. Warner Brothers/ Aspen Film Society. Cast: Paul Reubens, Elizabeth Daily, Mark Holton, Diane Salinger, Milton Berle. Music: Danny Elfman; Cinematography: Victor Kemper; Production Design: David Snyder; Produced by: Richard Abramson, William McEuen; Written by: Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, Michael Varhol; Directed by: Tim Burton.

Living high up a mountain in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire in the late 1980s, I had no cable and absolutely miserable television reception, which meant that I began listening in earnest to National Public Radio and took to watching a few of the shows available on the two network channels I was able to get. Though I adored the quirky Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and The Wonder Years, I also watched a few shows to which I probably would not have been drawn had my selection been more diverse–I developed a Who’s the Boss? habit, once it was syndicated. Oddest of all was the show I’d occasionally switch to on Saturday mornings, when I was just returning from a grocery run and starting to put things away in the kitchen. Pee-wee’s Playhouse turned out to be a sort of cross between a live-action Warner Brothers cartoon–both fun for kids and zinging much of its humor straight over their heads–and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

August 28, 2006 / / Film Notes

(Mønti Pythøn ik den Høli Gräilen )

Written by Jill Silos. Jill Silos, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of History at Hesser College. In her spare time she volunteers with Confuse-a-Cat Ltd. and collects grail-shaped beacons. A moose once bit her sister. No, realli!
USA, 1975. 91 min. Python Pictures Ltd./ Michael White Productions. Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin; Animated Sequences: Terry Gilliam; Production Design: Roy Forge Smith; Produced by: Mark Forstater, Michael White; Written by: Monty Python; Directed by: Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam.

Monty Python is big business these days. In addition to all the calendars, key chains, refrigerator magnets, and stuffed killer bunnies with nasty, big, pointy teeth available at your local novelty store, the market-savvy Pythons have conquered the world of video games, websites, and now, the Great White Way with Eric Idle’s Tony-winning musical Spamalot. The once cult status of Python has given way to a media juggernaut, ensuring that even when Michael Palin travels the globe for the BBC and winds up in some remote village, someone will run up to him and say, “Ni!”

August 28, 2006 / / Film Notes

USA, 1953. 89 min. Stanley Kramer Productions. Cast: Tommy Rettig, Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy, Hans Conried, John Heasley. Music: Frederick Hollander and Nelson Riddle; Cinematography: Franz Planer; Art Direction: Cary Odell, Rudolph Sternad; Produced by: Stanley Kramer; Written by: Dr. Seuss and Allan Scott; Directed by: Roy Rowland.

I first rediscovered director Roy Rowland’s 1953 film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T years ago, tracking it down based on vague recollections from childhood. I remembered a very strange and very dreamlike movie, and, upon watching it again, I found my remembrances confirmed. In the years since it was released to relatively little acclaim, an appreciative cult following has sprung up around 5,000 Fingers, and It’s easy to see why. For lovers of unusual cinema, this is a real find. Right from the start it’s clear that 5,000 Fingers is something left of center, a more twisted take on standard Technicolor musical fare like MGM’s singing sailor flick Hit the Deck, which Rowland would a direct a few years later. Where did this oddity spring from?

August 25, 2006 / / Film Notes

Chelsea interviewed director Stuart Cooper in December 2005

U.K., 1975. 85 min. Jowsend. Cast: Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball, Julie Neesam, Sam Sewell John Franklyn-Robbins, Stella Tanner; Cinematography: John Alcott; Editing: Jonathan Gili; Music: Paul Glass Produced by: James Quinn; Written by: Stuart Cooper and Christopher Hudson; Directed by: Stuart Cooper.

Every cineaste worth their stack of Criterions has a list of “holy grail” movies – films whose titles have been lost to time or whose availability has been restricted due to pressing distribution or legal issues. Chief among mine was Overlord, a British feature from the 1970s that used archival footage from the Imperial War Museum to observe the story of a doomed British soldier. I’d first heard about the film from John Gianvito, an esteemed local cineaste who recommended it to me after seeing a dreadful short I’d made that incorporated found newsreel footage. Unfortunately, Overlord’s entire American distribution amounted to a few broadcasts on the esteemed LA pay cable station Z Channel, followed by a weekend engagement at New York’s Walter Reade Theatre in 1985. While bootlegs of the Z broadcast and British VHS tape existed, finding them on the cult-driven black market made for a challenge.

August 23, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Andy Dimond

UK, 1985. Rated R. 142 min Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm Michael Palin; Music: Kate Bush, Michael Kamen, Ray Cooper; Cinematography: Roger Pratt; Produced by: Patrick Cassavetti, Arnon Milchan; Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown; Directed by: Terry Gilliam

“8:49p.m., somewhere in the twentieth century.” A meek Ministry of Information file clerk named Sam Lowry sits at his desk and daydreams. In his mind he is a winged knight, charging boldly to the rescue of a beautiful blonde. By the end of Terry Gilliam’s zany 1985 chef d’oeuvre he will find that damsel in “real life” — which here consists of vicious corporate politics, grotesque plastic surgeries, even more grotesque food, propaganda posters, and mountains of paperwork, all taking place under the constant threat of government-sponsored torture, and punctuated by the occasional terrorist bombing.

August 17, 2006 / / Film Notes

THE BIRDS

Donald Spoto, in The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, traces the director’s long bird fixation, culminating in 1960’s Psycho (“You eat like a bird,” Norman tells future prey Marion Crane as they sit in a room full of taxidermized owls): that film marked the Master of Suspense’s first venture into outright horror, and his greatest popular success. Add to that two previous Daphne du Maurier adaptations–Jamaica Inn and his first American film (and only Best Picture Oscar) Rebecca–and it is hardly surprising that he would base his next project on du Maurier’s nightmarish short story “The Birds.” What is remarkable is that out of these familiar elements, Hitchcock would come up with the most experimental film of his career, both artistically and technically.