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Help, Help, the Globolinks!, and six more movies

The Neverending
Film Festival
#33

It's not about the 'artistry' of cinema, or anything hoity-toity or Cahiers du Cinéma. It's just for the joy of seeing a movie where the plot and dialogue isn't exactly what you expect. Something different, please, instead of always something the same.

Today it's a good haul — five recommendations: Calamari Union (2008), The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947), The Haunted Palace (1963), Help, Help, the Globolinks! (1969), and Late August at the Ozone Hotel (1967).

Also, two un-recommendations, no extra charge.

— — —

Calamari Union (2008)

17 men, all named Frank, embark on a dangerous mission — to cross the city of Seattle, and reach Ballard, "a place on the other side of the city." The group's first casualty comes almost immediately, when one of the Franks gets a call from his wife, who wants him to pick up some tampons. Will he acquiesce, and abandon the journey? "What kind of tampons?", he asks with a sigh.

The Franks smoke and drink a lot, wear sunglasses, and they're all the strong silent type, the better to let some excellent rock'n'roll commandeer the soundtrack. None of the actors are actors, they're all Seattle-area rockers, but the acting isn't a problem, and they chipped in on the soundtrack.

Self-financed by a punk performer named Richard Lefebvre, this is a remake of a 1985 Finnish film by Aki Kaurismäki, which I haven't seen but will. Lefebvre directs pretty good for an amateur, with some memorable shots and setups. In a nice nod, there's a scene where the cast of this remake goes to a theater and watches the original.

Though finding their way to Ballard is presented as an epic journey, locals would know it's only a few miles from downtown, where the movie starts. They could get there and back on a city bus in the movie's running time, and stop for coffee, too.

Filmed in luscious black-and-white, there's not much story here, and not much dialogue. It's mostly about the mood. When any of these Franks have something to say, it's bleak and abstract or absurd. The movie is only borderline coherent and the women are all only ornamental, but it's never dull. 

I'm from Seattle, and know my way to Ballard, but I didn't recognize much of the movie's scenery. Guess I never went to the right bars. My Seattle roots are irrelevant, though; I liked this movie simply because it's good. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)

Lawrence Tierney was one of the all-time great but underrated movie tough guys. You might remember him as the mastermind of Reservoir Dogs, or as Elaine's comically terrifying father on Seinfeld. In his younger years he was a B-movie baddie extraordinaire, and if you've never heard of Tierney, that's a problem we'll solve here and now.

Tierney has robbed a bank, and makes his getaway hitchhiking. He's picked up by a smiley, talkative, and slightly tipsy young man, and soon two ladies of questionable character enter the story, along with an observant gas station attendant, and a flock of memorably eccentric or oddball characters.

You can sense the danger in Tierney's every move and comment, and it jangles nicely against the driver's chatter about his happy home life. In addition to Tierney being capable of violence quicker than a hiccup, he's also shrewdly intelligent, able to manipulate everyone to his will with another clever snatch of glibness. 

The movie has great pacing and tough-guy/tough-dame dialogue, intrigue and death, gunplay and a dead body, and yes, it's simply a lovely evening. 

Verdict: YES, of course.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Edmond (2005)

William H Macy plays a business executive who visits a fortune-teller, and she tells him he's not where he should be in life. Taking this advice to heart, he immediately and nonchalantly leaves his wife, then inexplicably heads for the city's seediest area, where he tries and fails to purchase the services of several prostitutes, and gets mugged and beaten.

The first half of the movie is set in that squalid neighborhood. It's a world I've never inhabited, but I spent years within walking distance, and these scenes are kinda obviously fake. These are hookers and scam artists from a theater class, not from skid row.

Other problems soon emerge, not with the plot or characters or staging, but problems for me. Things happen that don't make sense, it all seems angry toward women, and the dialogue is more racist than a Tarantino movie. While I was wondering if there'd be a dramatic point to the movie's hardheartedness, suddenly there was an unexpected spurt of vicious violence, accompanied by more vivid race hate. 

I considered clicking this unpleasantness off, but kept watching because it's by David Mamet. The author of Glengarry Glen Ross wouldn't write something simply shitty, would he?

No, he wouldn't. The movie does get better toward the end — not good, just… better. Eventually there's a point to the story's overwhelming meanness and coldness, but it's a trite point, obvious and arguably offensive, and not worth all the cruelty it took to get there.

He's David Mamet, and I'm a nobody who writes a blog, but it feels like it was written by a playwright who's out of good ideas.

Verdict: NO

♦ ♦ ♦

The Haunted Palace (1963)

Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Jr, in a horror movie together, with a screenplay by Charles Beaumont (The Intruder), produced and directed by Roger Corman, and it's all based on a poem by Edgar Allen Poe.

That’s a fine pedigree, and the opening credits are dazzling, as a spider spins its web, gorgeously photographed. The spider has nothing to do with the story, but it's icky and fascinating.

The story opens long, long ago, as a pervy murderous warlock (Price, of course) terrifies and infuriates the locals until they rise up in rage, tie him to a stake, and cook him to death. As he smolders but before he screams, Price promises, “Each one of you, all of you and your children and your children's children shall have just cause to regret the actions of this night, for from this night onward, you shall bear my curse.”

After that, we jump forward several generations, to the town of Arkham, where Price's great-great-grandson (also played by Price, but as a good guy) has inherited his burnt ancestor's castle. He seems oddly ill-at-ease as he walks into into the Burning Man Tavern, and when locals warn of mysterious, spooky goings-on, it's uproarious to hear Vincent Price say, "I'm sorry, sir, but we don't happen to believe in the supernatural."

"Arkham is a strange community. You see, it's haunted, not by ghosts, but haunted none the less, by fear, by guilt, and by the memory of a particular night" — the night Great-Great-Granddad went up in flames, you see.

At the top of the page I prattled about something different, not always something the same, blah blah blah, and you could argue that The Haunted Palace is something the same. It's a genre film, and never breaks the rules of what a gothic horror movie should be. It's close to frickin' perfection, though, so even when it's something as clichéd and expected as, say, the next generation of townsfolk shouting and carrying torches through the woods, it's exactly right, and you can't look away.

Wicked and wrinkled Chaney plays the palace's caretaker, which begs the question: If he's the caretaker and handyman, why does he never oil the constantly creaking doors?

There’s a protracted battle between Evil Price the ancestor and Good Price the descendant, and of course Price is marvelous twice over in both roles.

Is it scary? Oh, a little, I suppose, but mostly it's the atmospherics that make it delicious — rats on the castle floor, perilous music, wide-screen and beautiful blue-tinted cinematography, creepy but marvelous music, damsels in distress, and Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Jr.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Help, Help, the Globolinks! (1969)

Subtitled "An opera for children and those who like children," this is not your a normal kiddie flick. It's a science-fiction opera, filmed on stage for West German television, and by opera I mean opera — the only spoken dialogue is an occasional newscast on the radio, informing us of the progress of an invasion of otherworldy monsters. Everything else is sung, burst-your-buttons forcefully.

Returning from a school field trip, a bus driver is befuddled when the engine won't start, and his watch has stopped, and there's no telling whether it's day or night, and what's that in the distance? Why, it's the dreaded Globolinks!

Music apparently soothes the savage alien invader, and young Emily has brought her violin, so she marches into the woods to musically slay the invaders. "Every note is an arrow, and the bow is in your hands."

The Globolinks are presented quite imaginatively, as oddly-shaped bouncing entities, and as dancers in wondrous stalagmite costumes, all augmented by 1960s camera tricks and acid-delicious sound effects.

You're thinking this might be laughable? There are a few intentional chuckles in the libretto, but surprisingly, it works as sci-fi, and as kids' entertainment that won't bore adults to sleep. This belongs on the same shelf as any good mid-century sci-fi, and it's better than most of the B-level stuff.

This is only the 3rd or 4th opera I've seen in my life, and it's not an art form I either know about or care for, but if opera this colorful and creative was the norm, I might be a fan. There's nothing on the soundtrack I'll be whistling tomorrow, but it's pleasant, engaging, every note is on key, and the sopranos didn't shatter my eardrums.

"Keep music anchored in your souls, or the chords of your heart will freeze."

Verdict: YES. Sing it.

♦ ♦ ♦

Late August at the Ozone Hotel (1967)
a/k/a The End of August at the Hotel Ozone

The nuclear holocaust happened years ago, and either the radiation, the disease that followed, or battles among the survivors left no males alive. The film follows nine women who hunt and scavenge in the scorched wilderness, with guidance from of the oldest, a forever sad woman named Martha.

She's earned that sadness. She's the only one old enough to remember what civilization was, and while the younger women accept her leadership, they're barely more than savages. Having had no exposure to any aspect of modern life except canned foods, and having no education, the women are bloody feral, and the elder Martha is the only one who understands that this will be the last of humanity. Played grimly by one Jitka Horejsi, her performance holds everything together, for the story and for the audience.

I will not soon forget the multilingual countdown to armageddon before the opening credits, nor the use of tree-rings to explain how one-by-one, everyone they ever knew died. It all feels all too real. There's no make-up on these women, and they capture and mount horses as they gallop, without any stunt performers. When they fight each other, it looks brutal. A cow and a dog are killed on-screen for food, and the camera doesn't shy away from the butchering afterwards.

The film is Czechoslovakian, black-and-white, short but also slow, resolutely unfunny, and for a long time very little happens — like the lives these women lead. The monotony amplifies the hopelessness, until a weathered old survivor wanders into their camp, and he's a man. 

There's a moment of amazement on his face, as the women look at him and he looks at the women. I would've said, or at least thought, "Every one of you women is gonna wanna boink me!" but needless to say, that is not the direction this movie is headed.

This is a thoughtful film that lets you do the thinking. To me, it's a rumination on the value of human civilization, and the futility of pretending anyone could survive without it. I watched it twice.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Thumbsucker (2005)

A high school boy still sucks his thumb, and everyone's concerned about it. The film treats this very seriously, but from the start I found myself squinting and wondering, other than being embarrassed, what's really the big deal about sucking your thumb? 

If the movie is to be believed, thumbsucking can cause dental problems, so today I learned something.

The kid's father is Vincent D'Onofrio, strangely aloof and never open, like every kid's father. His mom is Tilda Swinton, a nurse who's unduly fixated on a famously inebriated TV star, Benjamin Bratt, who says he never met a drug he didn't like. The coach of the kid's debate team, Vince Vaughn, is willing to break rules that would get any teacher fired. And the kid's orthodontist, Keanu Reeves, speaks woo-woo and even hypnotizes the boy to get him to stop sucking his thumb. (Starz.)

Reeves is only a supporting character, and that's a disappointment. His character is kooky, but the story sparks to life when he's on the screen. You can drop into Dr Reeves office any time, no appointment necessary. He'll set you up in the chair with no waiting, and no help from an assistant or hygienist. Then he'll light a cigarette and speak cosmic words of wisdom, and oh yeah, work on your teeth. 

The movie, though, is about that thumbsucking boy, and that story is… OK. Since it's a movie and he's in high school, he's required to have a beautiful girlfriend. She's quirky of course, and like Keaunu, she's also more interesting than the movie's main story.

An unseen choir sings on the soundtrack, sorta new age lyrics, breathy and to a meandering tune. It's not awful, but it sounds like church services led by the young, hip minister. (Starz.)

There's a cover of Cat Stevens' "Trouble," performed by Elliot Smith. The original is indelibly part of Harold & Maude, a movie far superior to this, and for both the movie and the song, if you're making something so-so maybe it's not a good idea to remind the audience of something so much better.

Between the all-star cast and the general polish and slickness of it all, the movie's quirkiness seems calculated. It's like the John Travolta remake of Hairspray, instead of the John Waters real thing. Or the movie equivalent of one of those new-fangled aluminum restaurants designed to emulate an old-fashioned diner. It's nice, but it's not real. (Starz.)

And also, it just seems like a lot of drama over a kid sucking his thumb.

Last complaint: The print I watched must have been burned off a broadcast on Starz, as their logo is blazed onto one corner of the screen, but not always. For a while it's there, then it's gone, then there are Starz upon thars again. I could get used to it if the Starz stayed, but it comes and goes over and over again, and brought me out of the movie every time. Some MBA no doubt thought this was brilliant branding.

Verdict: NO, on the edge of MAYBE.

 ♦ ♦ ♦
 


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02/10/2022 

Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  



10 comments:

  1. Some of their Star Wars spin-offs are great in my opinion (if you like sci-fi).

    https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=3a0tH0fkvW8&feature=share

    https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=xXp4GnC1Z3Q&feature=share

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Most movie/TV music works better if you've seen the show, I suppose. It blazes the music onto me. I've never seen those, and have no interest in any of the new Star Wars stuff.

      The music you linked is pleasant enough, but it's no John Williams.

      Delete
    2. Any topless scenes in Ozone Hotel?

      Delete
    3. With some easy Googling you can find barenaked ladies all over the internet, but that movie will be totally titfree.

      Delete
  2. >I considered clicking this unpleasantness off, but kept watching because it's by David Mamet.

    Do yourself a favor, and don't Google what this douchebag is up to these days.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've just laughed for fifteen seconds straight, because I ignored your advice and Googled to see what that douchebag is up to these days.

      There's a whole heckovalotta crazy there, but the last paragraph is all that's needed:

      Mamet has described the NFL anthem protests as "absolutely fucking despicable". In a 2020 interview, he described Donald Trump as a "great president" and supported his re-election.

      So the reason Edmond smelled troublesomely of racism to me is because its author is a shrieking racist. Sad news, but good to know, thanks.

      Delete

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