Archive for Melinda Dillon

Flame-Grilled Whopper

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 6, 2017 by dcairns

The people in my neighbourhood — my neighbours, in fact — who have been setting off their bonfire night fireworks since before Halloween, are undoubtedly arseholes, but I guess they aren’t as big arseholes as the person in my editor friend Stephen’s neighbourhood who set off at least one big firework in broad daylight. So there’s that. Anyway, we are now properly approach Guy Fawkes’s night — time for some pyrokinesis.

I yield to no one in my admiration for the good Tobe Hooper films, and I’ll stick up, in a half-hearted and befuddled way, for the merely strange ones which can’t quite be called good. And now I must admit that even the bad ones are still redeemingly peculiar… like SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, which stars Brad Dourif and ought to be better than it is. There aren’t enough movies with meaty roles for this thespian.

Something about Hooper seems to need incoherence, and here he has plenty of it, despite a lengthy prologue and lots of exposition setting up and then unravelling a fairly clear conspiracy story in which an adorable ’40s couple are irradiated by the US army and give birth to a pyrokinetic offspring, who grows up to be Dourif. This structure was obviously too sane for Hooper’s liking, so he augments it with things like: Melinda Dillon as a German scientist who doesn’t visibly age from 1945 to 1990; a nuclear power station plot line, complete with miniature cooling towers, that doesn’t ever pay off or connect to the rest of the story; John Landis making a cameo appearance with his knee exploding; Dourif turning into a luminous puddle for no reason.

Pure liquid Dourif.

This crazy stuff is actually quite welcome — we need more of it — because there’s a creeping blandness to the characterisation and dialogue and settings, though a few lines stand out. “I heard you burned your finger. Are you OK? Should I come over?” is a great little telephonic speech. How come I never get attention like that? I’m not such a bad guy when you know me.

Hooper’s filming style is elegant and expansive as ever, despite some obvious budget difficulties — the first two key deaths happen offscreen, which seems odd for this kind of movie, and the opening desert scene is a terribly cramped and unconvincing interior set.

Question: is the worst Tobe Hooper film better than the best Wes Craven film? On the basis that Hooper is always at least dementedly distracting, always has stylistic surprises. Craven joints are certainly efficient and loaded with suspense and jumps, but never look very interesting, to my eye. His NEW NIGHTMARE strikes me as the only one with an actual idea in play, which it proceeds to worry to death. With Craven, the good stuff and bad stuff are oddly interrelated, and there are sometimes more ideas than the films can handle.

John Landis’s knee explodes.

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Riding the Rails

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2014 by dcairns

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I was amused by this in-joke in Hal Ashby’s BOUND FOR GLORY. Charles Mulvehill is the film’s associate producer (“An associate producer is anyone who will associate with a producer,” – Billy Wilder) and production manager. The churchman who has acquired his name is explaining to hobo Woody Guthrie (David Carradine) why he isn’t about to corrupt him by giving him a free meal out of charity. It might stave off malnutrition, true, but what would it do to his self-respect.

The horrible, smug priest isn’t the only ersatz Mulvehill. The big detective who pins Jack Nicholson down while Roman Polanski performs impromptu rhinoplasty on him is called Claude Mulvihill. Screenwriter Robert Towne knew CM from their collaboration on THE LAST DETAIL.

One has to wonder what it is about Mr. Mulvehill that inspires such backhanded tributes? I think the jibes are probably intended with affection, and anyhow we can say that CM got his own back for the character assassination by feeding info to Peter Biskind for his big gossip book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (or Hollywood Babylon Revisited, as I call it).

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BOUND FOR GLORY is quite a piece of work — if Biskind’s book had a positive effect, it was in spearheading a reappraisal of Ashby, and yet his biggest production still seems like the most neglected of his seventies films. It has epic cinematography by Haskell Wexler, with special effects by Albert Whitlock: new wave photography yoked to an epic theme, matte painted landscapes and Melinda Dillon all make this a kind of prequel to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

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And that’s a very endearing performance from David Carradine, who otherwise rather wasted his career doing trash — even after KILL BILL he plunged straight back into barrel-scrapers for the remainder of his days. Maybe because Tarantino didn’t actually give him any good writing on that one — his stuff felt lazy, derivative and wanky to me — but part of me suspects that Carradine actually liked doing filler, maybe because the expectations were lower? He’s wonderful here, anyhow.