Archive for the weather Category

Monochrome Monsters

Posted in FILM, weather with tags , , , , , , on June 21, 2018 by dcairns

“After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in His wisdom, had put upon this Earth… Grant Williams and Lola Albright.”

For each film in my Tomorrowsday season I’ll be doing some follow-on viewing. In the case of THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN I figured it was weird that I had no memory of seeing star Grant Williams in anything else. Of course, maybe he was too small for the naked eye, or just hiding behind a barstool or something. I resolved to seek him out.

(I had forgotten about his brief turn in WRITTEN ON THE WIND, which I saw in Bologna last year in a Technicolor print — thanks to David E. for the reminder.)

THE MONOLITH MONSTERS was his follow-on film from TISM, and in terms of his role it’s a bit of a come-down. He plays a staunch geologist with a nice schoolteacher girlfriend (Albright), working in a small California desert community. Although his expertise is called on, and he gets to show a bit of bravery I guess, the film doesn’t supply the kind of destructive testing of character you get in his iconic earlier role. So he just plays it nice in the relaxed scenes and intense in the tense ones. You’d never know what a good actor he can be.   

TISM director Jack Arnold has a story credit on this, but for reasons I don’t know, it’s directed by John Sherwood, a former assistant director who also helmed the Arnold-derived THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US. (I nearly typed “AROUND US” which would make for a less confrontational movie I guess. It’s late.) Sherwood does a perfectly creditable job, especially with his “monsters.” Actually, the best thing about the movie is the unusual nature of the threat — it’s a Ballardian abstract menace, not monsters at all, but exponentially expanding crystals that can petrify human beings. Sherwood gives the meteor crater where the crystals originate its own signature shot — a menacing slow zoom, not used elsewhere. And the giant crystals are always shot in slomo, like Godzilla or Lou Ferrigno. They mimic icebergs in their constant crumbling, constant regeneration.

Crystals ARE kind of weird things, the way they grow like organic lifeforms. You can see why primitive societies of exotic dancers regard them with awe. These ones definitely don’t have any healing properties, which makes them just like the terrestrial kind. They differ in their Tribble-like propensity for massive population growth, which soon threatens the whole town.

Williams and Albright get able support from Les Tremayne as the town newspaperman — newsies help evacuate the town, proving their vital importance to civilisation. Bu the best acting scene is from B-movie supporting specialist William Schallert. You might say he phones in his performance, since his whole role is to play a weatherman consulted by telephone to find out how long the current rain will last and when it may rain again (the monoliths get nasty when wet — it’s all quite GREMLINSesque, and indeed Schallert would become a regular Joe Dante supporting player). And yet, what a masterclass! Schallert looks out the window to try to make his mind up about the precipitation, and his dithering is so entertaining that the movie doesn’t leave when he hangs up, but stays to watch, awestruck, as he takes a couple of antacid pills — or possibly sedatives. (His performance is so specific we can safely narrow it down to those two options.)

In the end, salt water proves to be the Kryptonite heel of these meteoric menaces, and Grant dynamites a dam in order to flood them with salt water. He has to get the governor’s permission, but the governor can’t be located. Leading to the best line — apart from “Look at the dog – he’s as hard as a piece of granite,” that is. Williams blows the dam and, looking out upon the destruction, muses, “I hope the governor makes the right decision.” I laughed like crazy at this, in genuine admiration at its nerve, but Williams betrays no irony. It’s the fifties. He really does hope the governor makes the right decision.

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Cut the Cheese: or, Dino’s Mighty Wind

Posted in FILM, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2017 by dcairns

A week of posts inspired by my recent reading. Here’s an excellent book by Sam & Bobbie O’Steen — Cut to the Chase: Forty-Five Years of Editing America’s Favorite Movies.

Sam O’Steen cut THE GRADUATE and ROSEMARY’S BABY and became Mike Nichols and Roman Polanski’s go-to editor. His book, “as told to” his wife and edit-room assistant, is full of good creative advice, often encapsulated in handy mottos — “Movie first, scene second, moment third,” — and also full of terrific gossip and anecdotes, as O’Steen was frequently on-set and witnessed the activities of a lot of very strange, talented, obnoxious people…

Some of the best stories arise from one of the worst films O’Steen was involved with, HURRICANE — Dino De Laurentiis’ epic turkey remake of John Ford’s group jeopardy potboiler, which was already not very good, despite sharing a lot of credits with Ford’s next film, STAGECOACH. The rehash was planned by Polanski but dropped due to his legal difficulties — it’s tempting to say that Polanski dodged a bullet, but you can’t really say such things, can you?

Jan Troell landed in the hot seat, with Lorenzo Semple on script, Sven Nykvist shooting, Danilo Donati designing, and stars Mia Farrow, Timothy Bottoms, James Keach, Jason Robards, Trevor Howard, Max Von Sydow and non-star Dayton Ka’Ne. And with all that talent, it’s deadly dull to watch. David Wingrove disagrees with me, and suggested that the film was a promising one that had been butchered in the edit, as evidenced by awkward jumps in the story and huge sets that are barely used. But O’Steen’s account makes it clear that many scenes were never actually filmed, and the imposing but underused sets are a regular result of Donati’s work — the crew on FLASH GORDON also complained that Donati never read the script, just a breakdown of scenes, so he would spend his budget freely on whatever interested him, building vast interiors for scenes that might only play for moments in the film, and skimping on others so you might find yourself shooting twenty minutes of action in a broom closet.

Many of the problems O’Steen was vexed by didn’t strike me as terribly serious — Mia’s hair and makeup may not be flattering, but I’ve seen worse. O’Steen had to create passion between the leads where none existed — Farrow eschewed any on-set romance with her unknown co-star, instead bedding Troell, then Nykvist, then (it’s heavily implied) Bottoms, leaving a trail of broken hearts in her wake. And they were all stuck in Bora Bora for six months while this was going on. There’s a big swimming scene which isn’t sexy or romantic (because it’s not there in the script or performances) but sure looks nice. It’s bloody looong, though. I guess O’Steen had to lay it on thick to compensate for the chemical inertia.

The crew arrived at a specially built hotel… that was still being built.

Franco Rossi was leading a second unit shooting waves, but they all got drunk and left their film cans to get flooded on the rocks.

Mia was seen at dinner with her beautiful son Fletcher on her lap… and all her adopted kids sitting on the floor, ignored.

Jan Troell’s love for Mia resulted in him ignoring the scenery and the story and shooting endless close-ups of his adored star. In the final film, O’Steen must have used every camera move he could find, because he complains Troell wasn’t shooting any.

Bottoms urinated on De Laurentiis’ shoes in a fit of pique, then hastily wrote an apology, in fear for his life.

Troell was promised final cut… then paid off with $25,000 to stay out of the edit room.

When Mia was feeding poor Dayton lines for his close-ups, she wouldn’t bother looking at him. She could read lines and do crosswords at the same time. Well, he’s no Jon Hall.

“Four down, nine letters, a mighty wind.”

She was also reportedly heard to refer to him as “the animal.”

Dino: “All directors are stupid. Anybody who gets up so early every day to say ‘Good morning’ to all those sons-of-bitches has to be stupid.”

Symbolism! God caber-tosses a crucifix at Trevor Howard!

With all this, and the drink and drug consumption, the VD outbreak (“You’d be surprised who has it,” said the unit nurse) and the malfunctioning toilets, plus all the grade-A talent, it’s amazing how dull the film is. The actual hurricane is good, especially as it wipes out a lot of the characters who have been boring us for two hours, but the natives are used as colourful cannon fodder, as usual, so it’s also kind of offensive. When our young lovers are left alone on a lifeless, flattened atoll at the end, it’s questionable whether we’re meant to expect them to survive or not, though we don’t actually care one way or the other.

Worse than KING KONG. But the behind-the-scenes action might make a good movie.

The Stove Killer

Posted in FILM, weather with tags , , , on October 26, 2016 by dcairns

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THE EXECUTIONER is now available from Criterion, with a text essay by me. The essay’s not online yet but you can read the original piece which got me the gig, here.

UPDATE: here is the new piece.

The disc just arrived and is pictured resting on our lovely old stove, but it’s quite safe from melting as the chimney sweep has just been and condemned the stove as unsafe. Not only is it presently unsafe, but it has apparently never been safe, and we’ve been using it for decades. Which means either we’re lucky to be alive, or maybe it IS safe. The expression “only time will tell is inadequate here: it seems to me that time HAS told, but the chimney sweep is refusing to listen.

It is an excellent film.