Monday, April 27, 2015

david robert mitchell's "it follows"

 credit: Radius-TWC

David Robert Mitchell's commanding sophomore effort, "It Follows," is a superior sex thriller anchored by what should be a breakout performance by a singular young actress named Maika Monroe and by Mitchell's unstinting focus on his material.  The director and his star never flinch.

While this kind of movie is open to any interpretation, it was immediately apparent to me that "It Follows" is an unusually unforgiving cautionary tale about first-time sex, particularly when the participants are young and unformed.  Teenagers.  In their efforts to protect teens from sex, disapproving adults (who essentially want to selfishly keep sex all to themselves) create a web of guilt. Actually, they conveniently invented it.

And in "It Follows," this guilt is personified by visions of horrific stalkers intent on tormenting the foolish young fornicators. The assorted visions that haunt Monroe's character, named Jay, resemble post-coital zombies.

They are the naked undead (full-frontal naked).

And they all look as if they've just had sex and then died horribly.

Jay is advised by the guy who took her virginity that the only way she can rid herself of these guilt-produced demons is to have sex with another person, passing on the curse.  That's what he did in order to keep his sanity and pursue future intercourse. What follows makes sex look creepy, accompanied by a terrifically offbeat, discordant music score by Richard Vreeland/Disasterpeace which, at one point, includes some artistic static.

"It Follows" astutely indicts the hypocrisy of a confused, sex-addled America that continues on its unsuccessful, puritanical journey.

Note in Passing: The time in which “It Follows” is set is enticingly vague, never made clear.  It feels contemporary.  The kids look like budding millennials. However, none of their homes have flat-screen TVs.  There are several scenes of the kids watching television and all the sets are old-fashioned “box” sets.  Also none of the kids seem to have cell phones, although one girl plays around with a gizmo shaped like a seashell.  So is the film set in the present – or possibly as far back as the ‘70s?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

indelible moment: "north by northwest"

Cary gets punk'd by Hitch
April Fools!

Friday, April 10, 2015

façade: howard zieff

Howard Zieff (1927-2009) emerged as a filmmaker of some promise in 1973, just as the exciting New Wave in American filmmaking was hitting its peak, an exciting movement that started in the late 1960s with such titles as "Bonnie and Clyde," "Medium Cool," "The Graduate," "Midnight Cowboy" and "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice."

Consequently, he became something of a footnote to the movement, unjustly forgotten when critics rhapsodize about the movies of the late 1960s and early '70s.

One could speculate, I guess, that the neglect he experienced had something to do with his age.  He was 46 when he made his first film in 1973 - the new-style caper-comedy, "Slither" - while Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were all in their late 20s when they officially advanced the movement with such films as "The Rain People" (1969), "The Sugarland Express" (1974) and "American Graffiti" (1973).  Of course, all three would inevitably abandon the cutting-edge of the New Wave for the glories (and financial security) of studio blockbusters.

And I should hasten to note that Zieff wasn't the only middle-ager making movies directed at the youth market.  Robert Altman (age 45),  Arthur Penn (also 45),  Hal Ashby (41) and Paul Mazursky (39) are just three Zieff peers who were no longer ambitious puppies of the movie business when they each hit it big (at the ages given here), making vital films.

It's more likely that Zieff's history was problematic with the influence peddlers.  He made his feature debut after an incredibly successful career in advertising, specifically making memorable TV commercials for such products as Alka-Seltzer and Hertz.  But it was exactly the elements that he learned from making commercials - a feeling for speed, brevity and short-hand - that make his handful of movies so exhilarating.

Case in point: "Slither," a scattered, free-form lark that plays like a Godard film shot in the most unlikely California locations.  (Anyone game for visiting Susanville?)  James Caan and Sally Kellerman as Dick Kanipsia and Kitty Kopetzky, reluctant traveling companions, are like a weirdly zoned-out Bogart and Bacall, and they keep bumping into an assortment of eccentric characters, gamely played by Peter Boyle, Louise Lasser, Alex Rocco, Allen Garfield and Richard B. Shull.

It always amazed me that Zieff managed to make a film as shaggy and as studio-unfriendly as "Slither" for James Aubrey during his tumulative reign at MGM.

Zieff made only nine films over a 20 year period and each one is a gem of comic economy.   The title that followed "Slither" two years later is, arguably, his smoothest and most refined - "Hearts of the West," which played the 1975 New York Film Festival and became an instant critics' darling. It appealed to obsessed cinéphiles, too. A love letter to early filmmaking, "Hearts of the West" is something of a companion piece to Peter Bogdanovich's "Nickelodeon," which curiously came a year later.
Jeff Bridges plays the hayseed author of dime novels about the old west who finds himself a reluctant star of movies about the old west ("reluctant" seems to be a word that fits Zieff films and characters) and the actor inhabits the role completely - as does Andy Griffith as his (reluctant) mentor. Blythe Danner is the winsome female lead and there's nice work here by Alan Arkin, Herb Edelman and, from"Slither," Rocco and Shull.

Following "House Calls" (1978), a mature rom-com with Glenda Jackson and Walter Matthau (with a script to which Max Shulman and Julius J. Epstein, no less, contributed), and "The Main Event" (1979) which offered a terrifically appealing reteaming of Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal, Zieff enjoyed his biggest commercial hit in 1980 - the inspired feminist romp, "Private Benjamin," with Goldie Hawn in her most emblematic film performance as a Jewish American Princess who is swayed by disreputable recruiter Harry Dean Stanton (yes!) to join the United States Army.

Hawn is delirious fun as the clueless Judy Benjamin who does her Army maneuvers with limp wrists and no coordination whatsoever and who, with a straight face, asks her drill sergeant (a perfect Eileen Brennan) exactly where are all the beach condos that Stanton promised in his pitch.
Zieff was absent for about four years before he did his 1984 remake of the 1948 Rex Harrison film, "Unfaithfully Yours," with Dudley Moore in the reimagined Harrison role and Nastassja Kinski filling in for Linda Darnell.  And then came the Michael Keaton comedy in 1989, "The Dream Team," the least of all his films. But the endearing "My Girl" (1991) came next.

A winning film about coming of age - in this case, a rare one about the coming of age of a girl - "My Girl" is a warm but also alert and rather eccentric look at family and friends and the passing of time and ... life.  Thanks to Zieff's adroit touch, the film is as comfortable as an all-embracing, overstuffed chair (with an ottoman, natch) - and that's probably the exact kind of place you'd want to sit while watching it.

The  movie introduced the remarkable Anna Chlumsky, a little girl with a huge face, as the young heroine, a motherless kid named Vada who lives in a funeral parlor with her father (Dan Aykroyd) and uncle (Richard Mazur) and who finds a fleeting soulmate in Macauley Culkin and a soul sister in the beautician (Jamie Lee Curtis)  hired to make the corpses look, well,  lifelike.  His last film was the unnecessary '94 sequel, "My Girl 2."

The crucial eccentricity (by now a Zieff trademark) of "My Girl" is underlined by Chlumsky's unusual name, Vada, and also by the film's original (and more singular) moniker, "Born Jaundiced," a title which Vada explains in a voiceover.  The film's producer Brian Grazer reportedly came up with the banal "My Girl" (with its convenient music tie-in) and I've a hunch that the change was made much to its director's chagrin. I mean, how could Howard Zieff, of all people, not prefer "Born Jaundiced"?

Zieff was 67 when he decided to retire.  He died, at age 82, some 15 years later in 2009 - of Parkinson's disease - and his vision is much missed.

Monday, April 06, 2015

harvey's pseudomemory

Our favorite modern movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, is making his debut as a Broadway producer with a musical staging of his hit 2004 film, "Finding Neverland," starring Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer.

He  took time out from his busy prep work for a quick Q-&-A, titled ”What Harvey Weinstein Learned in ‘Neverland,’ with The New York Times' Lorne Manly. For the session, which ran yesterday in the Times' Arts & Leisure section, Weinstein opened with this reminiscence of his childhood encounter with a certain Julie Andrews movie musical from 1965. 

“When I was a kid, my mom and dad took me to see ‘The Sound of Music’ and the minute the nuns came on, I always say I fell in love with theater — the Rivoli Theater, where James Bond’s ‘Goldfinger’ was playing. The nuns came on, and I just flew [makes a whooshing sound] out of the theater. And my dad kind of had a sense that I was going to Bond, and he found me two hours later in the balcony of the Rivoli.”

This could not be.

”Goldfinger” opened December 22nd, 1964 at the DeMille and Coronet Theaters, while ”The Sound of Music” opened several months later in 1965 – on March 3rd  – as a roadshow attraction. It opened at ... the Rivoli.  It was “The Sound of Music” that played at the Rivoli Theater.  Exclusively.

The Bond film that was released in 1965 was ”Thunderball” but it didn't open until the end of the year, on  December 22nd, and it played at the Paramount, Sutton and Cinema II Theaters.

If Weinstein’s father found him in the balcony of the Rivoli in 1965, it was most likely during a performance of “The Sound of Music,” not “Goldfinger” (which was no longer playing in New York) or any other Bond movie.

But if that’s how Weinstein remembers things, well, to quote the famous newspaper line from John Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962): "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Note in Passing: I urge you to click on the above links for the three Times' reviews.  Bosley Crowther's take on "The Sound of Music" is priceless - and quite representative of the film's critical reception.

Friday, April 03, 2015

doris' day

Doris turns 91. Happy Birthday!