Archive for Joe Dante

The Character Actor

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 26, 2014 by dcairns

Bucket of Blood

THAT GUY DICK MILLER is, as you would expect, what is called an affectionate tribute to character player DM — and why would you want it to be anything else? A lot of the talking heads use the expression “that guy” to describe their first impression of Miller — if you see af American movies, you will sooner or later see that guy turning up again and again in various guises, generally consistent — down-to-earth, laid-back yet intense, REAL — yet able to impersonate a wide variety of types, binding them together with the instantly recognizable air of a guy doing a job. My best pal Robert and I spotted him in AFTER HOURS, where he gets to say the title, then started noticing him in Joe Dante films and all over. We didn’t call him that guy, and we didn’t call him Dick Miller because it was too normal a name to remember. We called him The Character Actor.

All Hail Dick Miller!

Guests at EIFF tonight will be treated to a special live interaction with Mr M via Skype. Still, in his ninth decade, the epitome of no-nonsense muscular affability, a firm handshake in human form.

That Guy Dick Miller still 2

The Chimp of the Perverse

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2012 by dcairns

Revisiting the works of the late Richard Franklin, which I remembered as being pretty good. They are! But alas he perhaps never quite achieved a totally satisfying film… still, agreeable oddity, a likable spirit, and some camera panache counts for plenty.

Franklin was an Australian Hitchcock fan who studied film in America alongside John Carpenter. He was certainly the right guy to make PSYCHO II, from a smart Tom Holland script. If you’re going to do such a criminal thing, at least do it with respect and humour.

After a couple of softcore exploiters he didn’t much like to talk about, Franklin made PATRICK, a comatose telekinetic kid thriller, then the enjoyable ROAD GAMES, which we also watched. After PSYCHO II and CLOAK AND DAGGER (haven’t seen it) came LINK, his psycho chimp thriller with Terence Stamp, made for the late unlamented Cannon Films –

What most of the best Franklin films, and most of the best weird Australian films, have in common, is a script by Everett De Roche. Check his credits — besides the Franklin films, he wrote HARLEQUIN (Robert Powell as a modern Rasputin) and LONG WEEKEND (when everything attacks!) and RAZORBACK (JAWS in the outback with a wild boar!). Apart from the Peter Weir and Rolf de Heer Festivals of Strangeness, he seems omnipresent.

LINK is set in the UK (locations on the Scottish borders) but de Roche’s script makes Terence Stamp’s nutty primatologist an honorary Ozzie, with his matey, classless, no-frills manner. It’s a great way to take the curse off the scenario’s more fantastical elements — have them explained by a casual (yet intense) ordinary (yet impossibly handsome) bloke. Stamp is blocked on his latest opus –

“I was gonna call it Out On A Limb but Shirley MacLaine beat me to it.”

It’s actually one of Stamp’s nicest performances, and nobody appreciated it because it was in a killer chimp film. If A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE had a homicidal ape in it, we’d never have heard of Marlon Brando.

Stamp is joined at his isolated clifftop manor by a young Elizabeth Shue, who’s better than the average girl-in-jeopardy, although the script doesn’t do her as many favours as it does Terry. There’s a blandness in the role, and a bit of 70’s bloke sexism — I’m surprised the actress didn’t mutiny when called upon to answer the question “Can you cook, clean?” with “Well, I’m a woman, so I guess I have some kind of genetic aptitude.” The role, and the film, ultimately devolves into a lot of running around, rather as HOLLOW MAN would years later.

But what we were really watching for was the APES, and here LINK satisfies fully, if bizarrely. At the time, there was a certain amount of critical incredulity about the idea of chimpanzees as horror movie menace. The world is a bit better informed now about the dangers of apes run wild — a chimp is pretty much the most dangerous escaped zoo animal you could hope to meet. Stamp tells a charming story over dinner about one ape who savagely dismembered his human owner to try and sell us on this idea. “What had he done to the chimp?” asks Shue. “Oh, nothing. The chimp was just glad to see him,” smiles Stamp.

This is one of the few primatology-based movies to show signs of real, intelligent research. All of which is nearly overshadowed by the bizarre casting of the titular ape, a chimp played by an orangutan in blackface. Presumably because no adult chimp of sufficient training was available, some poor orang has been given a close-cropped haircut and a dye-job, then dressed as a butler (his character is a former circus artiste). It’s the simian equivalent of Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, an embarrassment to modern sensibilities. We were also shocked that none of the apes (three appear) were accorded a screen credit. I mean, that’s just good manners and good showbiz.

Whoever the anonymous ape is, he acquits himself well, aided by a few bits of prosthetic trickery, most of them well concealed. Unfortunately, orangs are pretty sluggish compared to chimps, so he’s not as adept at moving in a threatening way, but he sells the moments of sexual tension well, eyeing Shue’s body double with the sly lechery of a primeval George Sanders. It might seem like the movie’s most B-picture exploitation angle, but Link’s attraction to Elizabeth Shue (this is the same year as arthouse monkey-love epic MAX, MON AMOUR) is perfectly accurate in terms of simian behaviour. Captive apes often have crushes on humans. Lucy, raised as a human child, liked to relax with a glass of gin, a copy of Playgirl and a Hoover attachment.

Orangs, even in the wild, are known to be sexually rapacious. The name may mean “old man of the forest,” but it ought to be “dirty old man of the forest.” as Julia Roberts nearly learned to her cost.

“Pretty human!”

LINK is good fun — lots of problems, but only the score seems truly wrongheaded — Jerry Goldsmith has been encouraged to rip off his own GREMLINS theme, and it doesn’t work — although it gets better when he adds the timpani from Marlene Dietrich’s Hot Voodoo number in BLONDE VENUS, which Franklin quotes at the film’s start, in a bit of sub-Joe Dante pop culture referencing.

I love to see their little faces light up…

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , on January 2, 2012 by dcairns

Burning, severed gremlin head in the original GREMLINS.

It’s one of those movies we catch a minute of on TV and we end up watching the whole thing. There are a number of movies like that, and Joe Dante is responsible for a disproportionate number: GREMLINS II, INNERSPACE… if MATINEE, THE ‘BURBS and SMALL SOLDIERS turned up more regularly, they’d probably have a similar effect.

And each viewing turns up more details, like the wonderful puppetry of Gizmo falling asleep to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS on late-nite TV: fear, sleepy fear, sleep… And a trip to the IMDb turns up more in-joke casting that eluded me, like the fact that the town minister is the guy from The Trouble with Tribbles. Demented gag where he casually encourages one of his parishioners to insert a hand into a mailbox he knows is gremlin-infested, just so he cans see what happens…

At any rate, I’ve contributed a short appreciation of Dante to La Furia Umana, the excellent bi-lingual online movie magazine, and you can read it here.

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