The Cinema Penitentiary diaries July 22- 30 2015

  1. https://www.youtube.com/resultssearch_query=sabotage+bomb+scene  Hitchcock famously said one of the few things he regretted was killing the boy who carried the terrorist bomb in”Sabotage,” yet that scene gives this 1936 political thriller a contemporary realism that was far ahead of its time. Sure, he sacrificed suspense for shock, but so did “The Battle of Algiers.”  The boy was cinema’s first suicide bomber, although completely unaware  he was on a suicidal mission.  Also noteworthy  is Hitchcock’s reconstruction of a London street, the inclusion of a movie theatre, where much of the action takes place. One thing we can thank the bluray revolution for is the remastering of these old movies that have been in such poor condition for so long that the world had stopped watching them. Bonnie’s Kids Everything you want in  1970’s sex and violence drive-in exploitation is at hand in this fast-paced tale of two amoral sisters who will do anything to entertain an increasingly jaded audience.
  1. Macabro Lamberto Bava’s first feature remains his best, but whether or not this is due to his own talent or the help of others is arguable. Working on his father’s later pictures taught him the difference between a good film and a bad film. The problem is that he was never able to make a good film on his own, and everything after “Demons” outright sucks. Don’t let that keep you away from this one, as its horrific obsession with love and guilt will take you as far down that road as anyone could care to go. Journey to the Center of the Earth It is difficult to admit it when a beloved movie from one’s childhood turns out to be pretty awful.  Aside from a few underground catastrophes, the only notable thing here is the rolling boulder that Spielberg appropriated for “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
  2. V: The Final Battle In the eighties, what would have been considered a terrible movie played well as a 4 1/2 hour mini-series for television. It still does, which proves that television is the inferior medium, one that can make entertainment from the worst junk. Today, this  alien invasion soap opera plays even better. Compared to the lumbering ineptitude of  its progeny, The Waking Dead, it is a masterpiece. Head in the Clouds Charlize Theron’s acting is even stupider than her smile, more ridiculous than her name.  Her performance here is an encyclopedia, not simply of bad acting, but of the worst acting, the worst approach to acting, with the worst results.  If you want to know what  I consider bad acting, watch this movie.  Acting doesn’t get any worse than what Theron does here. Every expression, every gesture, every line reading, is wrong wrong wrong.
  1. Ryan’s Daughter I have never suffered such boredom at the movies as by what has been inflicted upon me by David Lean’s epic films. “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago,” in particular, transported me to realms of boredom I never knew existed. The appeal of these films to some was their cinematography, but the beauty was there before Lean’s cameras came and mummified it. His films no longer torment me a they once did, and the last time I saw “Doctor Zhivago,” I rather enjoyed several of its scenes. And so I was finally ready to see the whole of “Ryan’s Daughter,” a picture that has heretofore lost me before its first hour was out. What I found most irritating in Lean was his failure to integrate his foregrounds with his backgrounds into one cohesive cinematographic image.  Gorgeously unpopulated scenery is repeatedly unbalanced when the actors are plopped down in front of it.  Natural landscapes are intercut with scenes played in front of postcards.  The whole thing  becomes an ugly fusion  of splendor and artifice, a kind of on-location studio film-making that causes paralysis of the spirit. Until its intermission, “Ryan’s Daughter,”  which is a “Madame Bovary” with a less tragic ending,  plods along in typical Lean dullness, but its second half erupts with a surreal energy one would never suspect Lean of having concealed all these years.  The storm scene alone is enough to impel one to re-assess the whole of Lean’s oeuvre.  It is simply one of the grandest, most breathtaking scenes in cinema history.  And from that point on, I was mesmerized by each passing moment that flew by so furiously.   Stone This has got to be the best biker picture I have ever seen.  “The Wild Angels” doesn’t even come close.    I Drink Your Blood  Hippie Satanists on LSD are infected with rabies and go on a murder spree that leaves all of them dead and in Hell. Shanghai Express I dislike both Sternberg and Dietrich, his over-crowded sets and her pseudo-eroticism. People never stop running in front of a camera  that won’t calm down.  Watching this stuff tires the eye and agitates the mind.  And the silly story is as ludicrous as the idea that the mere uttering of the name “Shanghai Lily” is going to cause a sex riot in the dining car.

26 Prison and Port of Call Two early Ingmar Bergman pictures that introduce themes he would struggle with throughout his career.  “Prison” is a slight story about a prostitute that rounds out its short running time with a framing device concerning an idea for a film cooked up by an insane math teacher.  His idea that God is dead, Earth is Hell, and the devil rules, is more interesting than the story.  Bergman toys with Avant grade techniques, including a steal from Jean Cocteau, but cannot conceal the bent of naturalism that dominates his tale. “Port of Call” begins with an attempted suicide and continues the quest for meaning in a universe without God.  This time Bergman is rubbing elbows with the neo-realists, but only in the backgrounds.  The foregrounds are ripe with social issues dealing with the rights of women, particularly in their maternal capacity.  Both pictures include a film within a film that pays tribute to silent film comedy.

  1. Silkwood follows the aimless rhythms of working life in an Oklahoman nuclear plant, where Karen Silkwood is murdered because she threatens to expose violations in worker safety procedures.  Meryl Streep is at her best here as  a person with a casual approach to life who realizes how closely shadowed she is by the specter of death. The terror of that warning bell that tells her she is contaminated still rings in my ears, a reminder that we are all tottering on the edge of extinction.   American Mary The most sickening thing I have seen in a long time, not so  much for its overt grossness, but because it represents lifestyle trends that signify disturbing changes in our physical conception of humanity.  At one point, the rogue surgeon tells her rapist victim that the procedures she has planned for him will take about fourteen hours.  The prospect of witnessing those procedures nearly emptied the theatre, but the twin sister directors had the delicacy to cut away from the spectacle before activating the audience’s gag reflex.  The basic idea of the scene wasn’t that much different that what we had already seen in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but that film was made for entertainment.  This one seems to be a vendetta against all people who are not yet mutants. To Hell and Back  Amateur actor and real-life recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor does a fair job of playing himself because there is no one in the cast who is good enough to upstage him.  Of all the world war two pictures, this one is the closest to an all-out piece of nationalist propaganda.  One quality of the US is that Hollywood is allowed to make downbeat war pictures as well as the rousing kind.

28 Hot Pursuit This  female version of “Midnight Run” proves two things.  Reese Witherspoon is funny and Sofia Vergara is not.

29 Aenigma More proof that Lucio Fulci was among Italy’s finest directors.  It’s just too bad he worked during the giallo and zombie era.  “Aenigma” supports my belief that horror pictures are best when they don’t make any sense.  When everything is rationalized, the story is no longer a nightmare.   That doesn’t happen here.  Not by a longshot.  A girl in a coma projects herself into the body of a gorgeous student and kills everybody who once humiliated her.  It doesn’t sound like much, but Fulci doesn’t need much to link up some unforgettable images in a rush of spellbound terror. Night Tide Pretentious gerbers from demon lover Curtis Harrington. Aside from some vintage views of the Santa Monica pier, the whole mess is a cheat.  Witness for the Prosecution This adaption of Agatha Christie’s story is generally placed on the second tier of Billy Wilder pictures, but each time I see it, I return the box to the top shelf where it belongs.  The dialogue is sharp and the cast fleet on their feet.  There are so many twists at the end that it fools me every time.

30 The Whip and the Body Mario Bava must have been influenced by Roger Corman’s  “Pit and the Pendulum” when he was designing this S/M ghost story.  The castle on a cliff by the sea, the movement of the actors through the gothic furnishings, heightened colors, unusual lenses…..but Bava is Corman times Ten. He also poaches from himself…stealing that abrupt zoom to a face in the window that was so chilling with Boris Karloff in “Black Sabbath;” it is only slightly less effective here with Christopher Lee. The Beat Beneath my Feet A shy kid who likes to play the chords of Smells Like Teen Spirit on his acoustic guitar befriends a thrash/grunge guitar god who disappeared in 1993 and now rents a room from the kid’s mom, who hates music because her ex-husband was a musician.  Anyway, the kid wants lessons from the legend who, upon hearing the kid imitate him, tells him to find his own voice, and plays some Clapton licks for him.  Then the kid writes a blues inspired by the too-often recounted story of Robert Johnson, and later writes a hit song that sounds like Travis or Kean or Coldplay or James . It’s fun to see the ridiculous ways in which all these different styles of music are mottled together, and its also fun to see Luke Perry play the grunge god.  Its funny how musicians are always portrayed as if they were on the stage 24/7, even when just sitting around at home doing nothing.  this movie is stupid, but I enjoyed it, even the preposterous feel-good ending. The Wonderful World of Captain Kuhio Were the story not so   simplistic, it could be incoherent.  Real crapola from Japan’s failing movie industry.

  1. Short Eyes Miguel Pinero developed the play Short Eyes at a prisoners writing workshop while he was doing time for armed robbery at Sing Sing. It has the true feel of gangster improv, and plays more like a series of riffs than a carefully articulated play. It takes plays during a period of time in which a child rapist joins the general population of male rapists in prison. Ostensibly a study of the moral imperative one sexual deviate has towards the existence of another deviate, Pinero is more interested in the dynamics of a power structure based on rape than the lot of the child molester among men who will not suffer him to live. The film is an excellent adaptation of the play, with many small roles filled by non actors such as musician Curtis Mayfield and Pinero himself.  As the child rapist, Bruce Davison, best known for the homicidal rat-trainer Willard,  is so skin-crawling believable that the part probably ruined his possibility for a normal career. The chickens hit United States would never make a movie this candid about such a repellant subject today, so wee it while you still can. It puts the so-called “gangsta rap” to shame.
  1. Sabotage Hitchcock famously said one of the few things he regretted was killing the boy who carried the terrorist bomb in “Sabotage,” yet that scene gives this 1936 political thriller a contemporary realism that was far ahead of its time. Sure, he sacrificed suspense for shock, but so did “The Battle of Algiers.”  The boy was cinema’s first suicide bomber, although completely unaware  he was on a suicidal mission.  Also noteworthy  is Hitchcock’s reconstruction of a London street, especially the inclusion of a movie theatre, where much of the action takes place. One thing we can thank the bluray revolution for is the remastering of these old movies that have been in such poor condition for so long that the world had stopped watching them. Bonnie’s Kids Everything you want in  1970’s sex and violence drive-in exploitation is at hand in this fast-paced tale of two amoral sisters who will do anything to entertain an increasingly jaded audience.
  1. Macabro Lamberto Bava’s first feature remains his best, but whether or not this is due to his own talent or the help of others is arguable. Working on his father’s later pictures taught him the difference between a good film and a bad film. The problem is that he was never able to make a good film on his own, and everything after “Demons” outright sucks. Don’t let that keep you away from this one, as its horrific obsession with love and guilt will take you as far down that road as anyone could care to go. Journey to the Center of the Earth It is difficult to admit it when a beloved movie from one’s childhood turns out to be pretty awful.  Aside from a few underground catastrophes, the only notable thing here is the rolling boulder that Spielberg appropriated for “Raiders of the the Lost Ark”lamberto bava
  2.  V: The Final Battle In the eighties, what would have been considered a terrible movie played well as a 4 1/2 hour e mini-series for television. It still does, which proves that television is the inferior medium, one that can make entertainment from the worst junk. Today, this  alien invasion soap opera plays even better. Compared to the lumbering ineptitude of  its progeny, The Waking Dead, it is a masterpiece. Head in the Clouds Charlize Theron’s acting is even stupider than her smile, more ridiculous than her name.  Her performance here is an encyclopedia, not simply of bad acting, but of the worst acting, the worst approach to acting, with the worst results.  If you want to know what  I consider bad acting, watch this movie.  Acting doesn’t get any worse than what Theron does here. Every expression, every gesture, every line reading, is wrong wrong wrong.
  1. Ryan’s Daughter I have never suffered such boredom at the movies as by what has been inflicted upon me by David Lean’s epic films. “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago,” in particular, transported me to realms of boredom I never knew existed. The appeal of these films to some was their cinematography, but the beauty was there before Lean’s cameras came and mummified it. His films no longer torment me a they once did, and the last time I saw “Doctor Zhivago,” I rather enjoyed several of its scenes. And so I was finally ready to see the whole of “Ryan’s Daughter,” a picture that has heretofore lost me before its first hour was out. What I found most irritating in Lean was his failure to integrate his foregrounds with his backgrounds into one cohesive cinematographic image.  Gorgeously unpopulated scenery is repeatedly unbalanced when the actors are plopped down in front of it.  Natural landscapes are intercut with scenes played in front of postcards.  The whole thing  becomes an ugly fusion  of splendor and artifice, a kind of on-location studio film-making that causes paralysis of the spirit. Until its intermission, “Ryan’s Daughter,”  which is a “Madame Bovary” with a less tragic ending,  plods along in typical Lean dullness, but its second half erupts with a surreal energy one would never suspect Lean of having concealed all these years.  The storm scene alone is enough to impel one to re-assess the whole of Lean’s oeuvre.  It is simply one of the grandest, most breathtaking scenes in cinema history.  And from that point on, I was mesmerized by each passing moment that flew by so furiously.   Stone This has got to be the best biker picture I have ever seen.  “The Wild Angels” doesn’t even come close.    I Drink Your Blood  Hippie Satanists on LSD are infected with rabies and go on a murder spree that leaves all of them dead and in Hell. Shanghai Express I dislike both Sternberg and Dietrich, his over-crowded sets and her pseudo-eroticism. People never stop running in front of a camera  that won’t calm down.  Watching this stuff tires the eye and agitates the mind.  And the silly story is as ludicrous as the idea that the mere uttering of the name “Shanghai Lily” is going to cause a sex riot in the dining car.

26 Prison and Port of Call Two early Ingmar Bergman pictures that introduce themes he would struggle with throughout his career.  “Prison” is a slight story about a prostitute that rounds out its short running time with a framing device concerning an idea for a film cooked up by an insane math teacher.  His idea that God is dead, Earth is Hell, and the devil rules, is more interesting than the story.  Bergman toys with Avant grade techniques, including a steal from Jean Cocteau, but cannot conceal the bent of naturalism that dominates his tale. “Port of Call” begins with an attempted suicide and continues the quest for meaning in a universe without God.  This time Bergman is rubbing elbows with the neo-realists, but only in the backgrounds.  The foregrounds are ripe with social issues dealing with the rights of women, particularly in their maternal capacity.  Both pictures include a film within a film that pays tribute to silent film comedy.

  1. Silkwood follows the aimless rhythms of working life in an Oklahoman nuclear plant, where Karen Silkwood is murdered because she threatens to expose violations in worker safety procedures.  Meryl Streep is at her best here as  a person with a casual approach to life who realizes how closely shadowed she is by the specter of death. The terror of that warning bell that tells her she is contaminated still rings in my ears, a reminder that we are all tottering on the edge of extinction.   American Mary The most sickening thing I have seen in a long time, not so  much for its overt grossness, but because it represents lifestyle trends that signify disturbing changes in our physical conception of humanity.  At one point, the rogue surgeon tells her rapist victim that the procedures she has planned for him will take about fourteen hours.  The prospect of witnessing those procedures nearly emptied the theatre, but the twin sister directors had the delicacy to cut away from the spectacle before activating the audience’s gag reflex.  The basic idea of the scene wasn’t that much different that what we had already seen in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but that film was made for entertainment.  This one seems to be a vendetta against all people who are not yet mutants. To Hell and Back  Amateur actor and real-life recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor does a fair job of playing himself because there is no one in the cast who is good enough to upstage him.  Of all the world war two pictures, this one is the closest to an all-out piece of nationalist propaganda.  One quality of the US is that Hollywood is allowed to make downbeat war pictures as well as the rousing kind.

28 Hot Pursuit This  female version of “Midnight Run” proves two things.  Reese Witherspoon is funny and Sofia Vergara is not.

29 Aenigma More proof that Lucio Fulci was among Italy’s finest directors.  It’s just too bad he worked during the giallo and zombie era.  “Aenigma” supports my belief that horror pictures are best when they don’t make any sense.  When everything is rationalized, the story is no longer a nightmare.   That doesn’t happen here.  Not by a longshot.  A girl in a coma projects herself into the body of a gorgeous student and kills everybody who once humiliated her.  It doesn’t sound like much, but Fulci doesn’t need much to link up some unforgettable images in a rush of spellbound terror. Night Tide Pretentious gerbers from demon lover Curtis Harrington. Aside from some vintage views of the Santa Monica pier, the whole mess is a cheat.  Witness for the Prosecution This adaption of Agatha Christie’s story is generally placed on the second tier of Billy Wilder pictures, but each time I see it, I return the box to the top shelf where it belongs.  The dialogue is sharp and the cast fleet on their feet.  There are so many twists at the end that it fools me every time.

30 The Whip and the Body Mario Bava must have been influenced by Roger Corman’s  “Pit and the Pendulum” when he was designing this S/M ghost story.  The castle on a cliff by the sea, the movement of the actors through the gothic furnishings, heightened colors, unusual lenses…..but Bava is Corman times Ten. He also poaches from himself…stealing that abrupt zoom to a face in the window that was so chilling with Boris Karloff in “Black Sabbath;” it is only slightly less effective here with Christopher Lee. The Beat Beneath my Feet A shy kid who likes to play the chords of Smells Like Teen Spirit on his acoustic guitar befriends a thrash/grunge guitar god who disappeared in 1993 and now rents a room from the kid’s mom, who hates music because her ex-husband was a musician.  Anyway, the kid wants lessons from the legend who, upon hearing the kid imitate him, tells him to find his own voice, and plays some Clapton licks for him.  Then the kid writes a blues inspired by the too-often recounted story of Robert Johnson, and later writes a hit song that sounds like Travis or Kean or Coldplay or James . It’s fun to see the ridiculous ways in which all these different styles of music are mottled together, and its also fun to see Luke Perry play the grunge god.  Its funny how musicians are always portrayed as if they were on the stage 24/7, even when just sitting around at home doing nothing.  this movie is stupid, but I enjoyed it, even the preposterous feel-good ending. The Wonderful World of Captain Kuhio Were the story not so   simplistic, it could be incoherent.  Real crapola from Japan’s failing movie industry.

  1. Short Eyes Miguel Pinero developed the play Short Eyes at a prisoners writing workshop while he was doing time for armed robbery at Sing Sing. It has the true feel of gangster improv, and plays more like a series of riffs than a carefully articulated play. It takes plays during a period of time in which a child rapist joins the general population of male rapists in prison. Ostensibly a study of the moral imperative one sexual deviate has towards the existence of another deviate, Pinero is more interested in the dynamics of a power structure based on rape than the lot of the child molester among men who will not suffer him to live. The film is an excellent adaptation of the play, with many small roles filled by non actors such as musician Curtis Mayfield and Pinero himself.  As the child rapist, Bruce Davison, best known for the homicidal rat-trainer Willard,  is so skin-crawling believable that the part probably ruined his possibility for a normal career. The chickens hit United States would never make a movie this candid about such a repellant subject today, so wee it while you still can. It puts the so-called “gangsta rap” to shame.
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