Archive for Innerspace

Explosive

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2013 by dcairns

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“What’s with the Frankenheimer kick?” asked Fiona. She’s a great fan of SECONDS, in particular, but even she was puzzled by some of the crap I was watching.

“I just think he brings a professionalism and a stylistic brio to anything he does,” I explained. “So I’m looking for the worst film he ever made.”

So far THE HOLCROFT COVENANT might be it, but even that was entertaining in a “was that meant to be funny?” way. I still have PROPHECY to enjoy. Given that it’s about a mutant grizzly bear, I have a suspicion it might be Frankenheimer’s most autobiographical work.

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99 AND 44/100% DEAD is such a terrible title, I’d always avoided watching the thing, but I think it was Glenn Kenny who mentioned its pop art credentials and that got me intrigued. It’s a queer thing, marrying said Lichtenstein visuals to an episodic, shambling narrative about warring gang lords, and throwing in lots of gratuitous grotesquerie along the way. Chuck Connors as a hitman with a steel claw that takes various attachments (bottle opener, cat o’nine tails) seems to have inspired a similar character in Joe Dante’s INNERSPACE.

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Irish people — please explain Richard Harris’s hair to me. I know the top part is a toupee. But that part’s practically normal compared to those weird flanges at the sides. He’s like a cross between an Elizabethan clown and a zombie Michael Caine.

Pointlessness hangs heavily over the thing, as with much of Frankenheimer’s expensive, explosive work, but much of it is amusing in a nihilistic sort of way — Bradford Dillman invents one of the screen’s most distinctive villainous laughs, sucking in air through pursed lips like a man whistling in reverse — Edmund O’Brien seems to be on hand to evoke THE KILLERS or D.O.A. but just makes me think THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT — Henry Mancini provides a great score, adding a lot of wit to the scenes that don’t feature sewer alligators, giant inflatable lady sculptures or crowds of bodies in concrete boots standing around the bottom of the East River.

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The cops and even the regular population seem indifferent to the mass slaughter being waged around them, and its strange to see the characters walking casually down the street one moment, just after being chased by machine-gun wielding assassins. Don’t they ever get nervous?

DEAD BANG seemed like it was going to be true shit, but it really wasn’t. Don Johnson is a cop on the edge, chasing neo-nazis… The story is rather televisual, especially how it ends (monologue from about-to-be-slain baddie, freeze-frame on shit-eating grin from Johnson), but the script adds surprising details and funny bits (a hungover Johnson throws up on a suspect) and Frankenheimer aggressively hurls production values at it. A car ride to investigate a white supremacist church rates a big crane shot AND a helicopter swoop.

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The Frankenheimlich manoeuvre.

Don Johnson may be a furious drunken maniac, but he gets results, damnit. Amusing to see his character intimidate, infuriate or repel virtually everyone he meets. In common with BLACK SUNDAY, the movie suggests that torture is really your best bet if you want to achieve anything good in this world. Odd that Kathryn Bigelow is picking up so much flak over ZERO DARK THIRTY when US cop movies have quite blatantly endorsed torture and the threat of torture for decades. DEAD BANG makes DIRTY HARRY look quite nuanced in this department.

Not, I have to say, a very good title. A friend suggests that having a title people are embarrassed to say is probably unhelpful. “You wanna go see DEAD BANG?” But I did like the idea of a drunkard cop who fights crime by puking on it. THE EMETIC DETECTIVE should have had a whole series of movies made about him. “Don Johnson is a cop on the edge… of nausea.” “Crime makes me sick!” It’s not too late for a sequel, in which Johnson (trailing glory from his DJANGO comedy turn) could come out of retirement/rehab to take on one last case and barf on it. “It takes guts to be a cop, and Don Johnson is going to empty them all over this city!”

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Mason jaws

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2011 by dcairns

Another scene from THE PUMPKIN EATER (see previous post here). What a pleasure to see James Mason outfitted with Harold Pinter dialogue. Beats playing a Chinese gangster.

Again, Clayton’s approach is a standard one in dramatic scene construction — he starts by establishing the space with a  mixture of wide shots and details (opening on a detail can become a tired trope if overused — note how tyro director John Sayles does it in every damn scene of RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN — also, has any director ever resisted opening a zoo scene with an animal close-up to take the audience by surprise?) before moving progressively closer as the scene builds in tension.

The difference is, Clayton goes a little further than is usual, until we’re weaving amid Mason’s crooked teeth like druids cavorting round Stonehenge. It’s not a subtle technique, although in Clayton’s hands its rather less obvious than Leone’s use of it in DUCK YOU SUCKER. What it does, of course, is dehumanize Mason, converting him into a giant mouth, spitting venom and vitriol, while adding to his power — the mismatch in shot sizes violates a tradition of shot-countershot filming, where usually each close-up is of a matching scale. The effect, if taken literally, would suggest that Anne Bancroft has sat down to lemon tea with the cyclops from SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Metaphorically, that’s not so inaccurate.

Anytime you start on the path of moving closer (by cuts, or camera moves, or leaning the actors in towards the lens…) you eventually reach a point where you can’t get any closer, so you have to break the tension for a moment and allow us to back off, lest the camera plummet through a skin pore and end up circulating round the thespian metabolism like Martin Short in INNERSPACE. Such breaks can easily be triggered by having an actor move, which is a dying art in modern cinema (Oh, they wriggle around in action scenes, but dialogue two-handers tend to the inert) — here, Bancroft’s panicked exit, in a riot of wildlife dissonance, resolves the fight-or-flight dilemma and allows us to escape the snarling jaws of Mason.

Control

Posted in FILM, literature, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2009 by dcairns

Or, Things I Read Off The Screen in IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE.

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Control.

In fact, the terror isn’t from beyond space at all, it’s from Mars, which I believe to be IN space. Nevertheless, this nifty little sci-fi monsterpiece may be the jewel in the cardboard crown of Schlockmeister General Edward L. Cahn, the nitwit behind THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (which had some nifty-ish images but moved like a slug). I have returned, after what seems like months but is in reality only… months… to my quest to see all the films illustrated in Denis Gifford’s seminal work, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, a quest I have named See Reptilicus and Die.

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Blower Motor No. 4.

The reason why IT! is so decidedly less-poor-than-most-Cahn-films may be found in its script, by respected genre scribe Jerome Bixby, author of It’s a Good Life, a blood-chilling little story about an omnipotent child filmed for The Twilight Zone TV show, and again for the movie (by Joe Dante, a guest at this year’s upcoming Edinburgh Film Festival). Bixby also plotted FANTASTIC VOYAGE (another Dante influence, since this was the original “inject a shrunken submarine into someone’s bloodstream” movie, and thus the inspiration for the entertaining INNERSPACE), and several classic Star Trek episodes.

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Landing Platform Controls.

This movie’s quite Trek-like, with its space crew jeopardised by a heavy-breathing man in a suit, and the suspense interwoven with a mild intellectual puzzle — how to kill the apparently indestructible monster. The other point of comparison is ALIEN, which follows the monster-on-a spaceship template pretty closely, only with better design, photography, acting, and man-in-suit. Both ALIEN and IT! may be influenced by a common source, AE Van Vogt’s novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle, which introduces the big idea in ALIEN of the creature that lays eggs inside human hosts. Both Bixby and ALIEN writer Dan O’Bannon seem likely to have been familiar with Van Vogt’s writing. Another influence is likely to be THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD — just change the antarctic base for a spaceship, and James Arness in a bald cap for Ray “Crash” Corrigan in a rubber Halloween cossie. The Howard Hawks-produced movie has his trademark group of professionals living and struggling together as its focus, and that holds true for the Cahn-Bixby flick also.

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Atomic Reactor No. 3. 

Hand in hand with the good points in this movie are the weaker ones, which are plenty entertaining themselves: the date is 1973 (the future!); everybody smokes in the spaceship; the female crewmembers double as cook and cleaner; when the airlock is opened, it blows lots of papers around, like a mild gust of wind.

But the film is really not excessively ridiculous, and the tension is generated and sustained nicely: by the situations, rather than Cahn’s pedestrian direction. His major contribution is to keep the monster shadowy, which is a smart choice. Scenes like the guy trapped in a confined space with a broken leg, fending off the beast with an oxyacetylene torch, have a real sweaty discomfort to them. “‘Good for up to three hours continuous use,’” says our man, reading the torch’s instructions. “It says to return it for your money back if unsatisfied.”

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Grrr!

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