Cinema Penitentiary Dairy September 17-30

  1. Mortal Thoughts After the fall of the studio system, when directors were lost in the water without a producer to remind them how things were done, they scrambled for new ideas on how to assemble scenes. Most of their ideas were bad, but some were good, and resulted in movies that broke through convention far more effectively than did those of the French new Wave, as the French never knew the proper way of making a movie in the first place. But a new set of lame conventions were in place by the late eighties, and directors who did not comply with those conventions were ostracized.  Had it been make in the seventies, critics may well have christened Alan Rudolph’s “Mortal Thoughts” a masterpiece, but by 1991, such innovation was deemed mere foolishness.  Far superior to the more standardized “Thelma and Louise,” Rudolph’s film is a revenge drama that replaces diatribe with anecdote, a small, personal film with big stars.  Bruce Willis has since divided his  career between action tribe and hipster garbage, but in 1991, he was still trying to decide if he was a romantic lead or an action hero.  A sex offender was out of the question.  And Demi Moore had just broken free of the brat pack with the popular “Ghost,” which was still a far cry from playing a hothead on the cusp of criminality.  Neither had been in the position of a star who the camera barely caressed as it glided past their faces.  And audiences didn’t care much for a fluid camera either.  they wanted everything clear and still, like a television image.  so “Mortal Thoughts” was dismissed as a “Thelma and Louise” rip-off, when it actually had much more depth and originality than the original.  It’s fault was being either ahead or behind of tis time.     Donovan’s Reef  For decades, I have tried to watch this picture, but I never liked it and always walked away before it was over.  It is one of John Ford’s last pictures, and despite my feeling that Ford is America’s finest director, this unfunny comedy has always bored and irritated me.  Finally I decided to force myself to watch it through to the end.  Now I hate it even more.  It is a stupid, racist piece of crap that has John Wayne running a bar on a Hawaiian island where the natives are so backwards that they insist on playing a broken slot machine even thought they know it is broken, and a dozen native girls surround and paw every white man who approaches the island in a boat.  The story is predicated on the discovery by a rich white girl that the natives are human beings, even through the director treats them like animals.
  1. The Informer Dudley Smith’s screenplay, John Ford’s direction, and Victor McLaglen’s performance as the dimwitted rat who sold his best friend for twenty pounds lift “The Informer” well above its melodramatic contrivances, and place it right next to Fritz Lang’s “M” as one of the screen’s top manhunt thrillers. Kiss Me Stupid Would Billy Wilder’s despised comedy have fared any better had his dream cast of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Peter Sellers not been replaced by Kim Novak, Dean Martin, and Ray Walston? I don’t know, but I feel the moralists might not have taken the brazenly adulterous story so seriously had it been enacted by that cast. After all, this was 1966, and look at what Peter Sellers got away with four years earlier in “Lolita.” And the more vulgar Marilyn was, the more she was loved.  But maybe they just couldn’t bear to see their favorite Martian willing to let Dean Martin do whatever he wanted to with his wife as long as he recorded one of his god-awful songs. And maybe had the movie been in color, people may have found it more delightful. “Kiss me Stupid” came across as a stupid and cheap exploitation film, more suited to the drive in which, at the time, were showing trash like Russ Meyer’s “Mudhoney,” Herschell Gordon Lewis’ “Color Me Blood Red.” and David Friedman’s “A Smell of Honey, A Swallow of Brine.”  but the Hardtops were having success with such adult titles as “Blow Up,”  “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” and “Blow Up. ”  so why the beef over “Kiss Me Stupid?” Even in, in 2015, while some amateur critics are trying to make names for themselves by over-rating it, regularly people are still expressing their more sincere disgust.  What do I think?  Dean Martin is hilarious, Kim Novak is a washout, and Ray Walston is not quite as bad as was Tom Ewell in “Seven Year itch.”  But there are plenty of good jokes, most of them blue.  The one  terrible thing about the movie was the dreadful Cliff Osmond, but he was so over-cooked that even he was almost funny.
  1. Double Indemnity Billy Wilder’s famous noir is notable for its dialogue and the performances of Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyk, and Edward G. Robinson. Despite the appropriately gloomy cinematography, you can enjoy the movie without missing much if you close your eyes and just listen to it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a better movie with your eyes open, but you won’t lose tack of what is going on  if you close them.
  1. What Have They Done To Your Daughters? Massimo Dallamano’s follow-up to “What Have You Hone to Solange?” is a disappointment, but not in a big way. It isn’t much more than a police thriller with some sensationalistic aspects that are insufficiently exploited. Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key  is fairly routine until, in its final third,  the story mutates into Poe’s “The Black Cat.”  Not among Sergio Martino’s best, but there is nothing here to diminish his reputation as a top giallo director.
  1. The Black Cat One of the best adaptations of Poe’s story is also one of the most gruesome. Director Lucio Fulci is in top form here, with several set pieces among his best. The exception is the Hitchcock-inspired woman attacked by bats sequence that he did so much better ten years earlier in “A Woman in a Lizard’s Skin.” Roadie The last thing I wanted to see in 1980 was a rock and roll movie starring Meat Loaf. I ignored this movie so completely that I didn’t even notice it was directed by Alan Rudolph.  So glad to have caught up with it now, as “Roadie” is a delightfully anarchic road comedy  brimming with memorable cameos from rock stars and character actors.   It is a bit like a miniature “Nashville” thrown together by hurried juvenile delinquents. Oh, and Meatloaf is unexpectedly appealing as the truck driver who becomes the world’s #1 roadie in his pursuit of the girl with aspirations to the title of the world’s #1 groupie. Director Rudolph even manages to bring fresh ideas to that boring old warhorse, the barroom brawl.
  1. Bells are Ringing I rate Vincente Minnelli second only to John Ford in that pantheon of Hollywood directors. Although revered mainly for big musicals such as “An American in Paris” and “The Bandwagon,” I have always thought his dramatic films overwhelmed the comedies and musicals.   The interesting thing about his career is how he often directed something heavy and something light in the same year.  In 1955, it was “The Cobweb” and “Kismet.”  In 1958, it was “Gigi” and ‘Some Came Running. And in 1960, his masterpiece “Home from the Hill” and the last of the great MGM musicals, “Bells are Ringing.”  Starring Judy Holiday in her final role and Dean Martin in his post-Jerry Lewis prime, having just completed “Rio Bravo,” his first big hit after the partnership with Lewis ended, the film also included an unforgettable parody of Marlon Brando by impressionist Frank Gorshin. The dance numbers were skillfully woven into the dramatic scenes, with Charles O’ Curran’s unusual choreography bridging the stylized elegance of his 1940’s work with the more naturalistic approach he would later take in his Elvis movies. Like Frank Capra’s under-rated 1961 romp, “Pocketful of Miracles,”  ‘Bells are Ringing” was a movie out of time, coming a little to late to connect to the new audience while the old reliables weren’t going to the movies as often as they  used to. Still, it was far from being a bomb, making $4 million on a $2 million investment, while the Capra picture, coming a year later, lost half a million.   It was truly the end of an era for all the directors of Hollywood’s golden age, with commercial flops all around for the legendary directors who were going out of style.  This is why ‘Bells Are Ringing” has not yet been recognized for the very real qualities it possesses and the topflight entertainment it offers.  Oktober I don’t like this movie much because it is little more than a seemingly endless series of still photographs containing minimal movement.  Although praised for its editing, I don’t see any editing here at all.  How can you artfully edit shots together when there is so little movement within the shots?  This is a tiring slide show with a tedious message that is repeated over and over again until the brain becomes just as tired as the eye.
  1. Knock Knock the only time I go to the cinema to see a movie is to kill time while waiting to see the doctor. You see, here in Peru, you cannot make an appointment to see a doctor, because if you failed to show up, the doctor would be out that much money. So people start lining up at about noon on the cement outside the office.  The secretary shows up between 3:30-4:30 and takes the names of the people in the order of their arrival and lets them come inside to wait for the doctor, who arrives between 5:30 and 6.  After too many days sitting all day on the  cement, my wife and I devised a plan.  We started showing up at about one, then wait awhile before asking someone in the line if they would hold our place in line while we went and got something to eat, adding that if the secretary arrived before we returned, to please give her our name.  Then we went to the movies, and returned shortly before it was our turn to be seen by the doctor.  This is how we came to see “Knock Knock,” which is a really bad rip-off of “Hard Candy.”
  1. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Good high school movies are rare. Despite a tacky title that suggests a goony smart-aleckness, this is one of the good high school movies. It’s not great. “Fast times at Ridgemont High” was great, but it is right up there with “The Breakfast Club,” “Clueless,” and “Carrie.”
  1. Fantastic Four REVIEWED
  1. The Goob It certainly looks, sounds, and plays like a first feature. As such, it is a rather pleasant, if slight, portrait of an English geek. The Third Eye It is encouraging to find that treasures can still be found by scraping the bottom of the barrel.  I was completely unfamiliar with the work of Mino Guerrini, an Italian director who completed 21 films between 1965-86. “The Third Eye” was his second feature, and it bears some stylistic resemblance to Mario Bava’s 1963 film, ‘The Girl Who Know Too Much,” for which he wrote the screenplay.  There are also more obvious borrowings from “Psycho.”  Looking over Guerrini’s filmography, there is not much that looks promising.  But you never know.  He may well be a relatively unknown director worthy of further exploration.


29 Inside Out  REVIEWED Everything Will Be Fine Standard thriller from Denmark takes the tired route of following a man against whom all doors are being shut, as he carries proof of something the government wants to pretend never happened. Jens Albinus acts up a storm as the hit and run driver who finds some photographs showing prisoners of war being tortured by Danish soldiers, but there is nothing in the can to support his vertiginous performance.

  1. Divorce, Italian Style Pietro Germi’s sex comedy is as fresh, funny, and insightful today as it was when released in 1961. Marcello Mastroianni plays a middle-aged married man in love with a young girl. Since divorce is illegal, the only way to free himself from his marriage is to  covertly provoke his wife into a love affair so he can kill her. Mastroianni may well be the Europe’s greatest leading man of the 20th century.  He can win the sympathy of any audience whether he is playing an impotent Casanova (Bell Antonio), a lovesick loser (White Nights) or a  wife murderer. He is so funny and so charming that audiences cheer him on regardless of  whether his efforts are noble (The Organizer) or naughty (the Bigamist).  Germi was a master of the Italian sex comedy, and followed up this masterpiece in 1964 with the popular “Seduced and Abandoned,” which also features the lovely Stefania Sandrelli, who drives Mastroianni to such lecherous extremes in ‘Divorce, Italian Style.”

1 thought on “Cinema Penitentiary Dairy September 17-30

  1. I missed out watching Mortal Thoughts but wouldn’t mind watching it. Divorce, Italian Style sounds like a hoot. I’ve read a few reviews regarding Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Don’t know if I’ll get around to watching it, but won’t shy away from it if it comes around conveniently for me to see. I love your posts. You are such a graceful writer, Bill. I enjoyed your efficient way to pass the time in the doctor’s line. Hope you three are healthy and well!


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