Friday, January 25, 2008


Confessions of a Superhero (Ogens 2007) 

Let me say, I go to the Chinese Theater fairly often, saw Cloverfield the other nite (dug it), I like eating at that Mongolian Grill in the food court above it.  But I try to get by all the crowds on the Blvd as fast as I can. I usually find the costumed freaks just annoying and scuzzy.

That said, i was really taken by  surprise how charming documentary was. And not surprising, how rather sad as well.

It follows the scrawny Superman, a good natured fell who takes his ‘work serious’.  And comes off as a likeable oddball. There’s also the creepy Batman who feels that his “acting career” has been hampered by his strong resemblance to George Clooney (he delusionally mentions the former “Facts Of Life” star constantly). Did I mention he has some temper-issues. But the chubby southern Wonder Woman steals the flick. On a whim she marries some goon and later in a moving scene, teary-eyed, confesses to what a blunder that’s been. While the other would be actors seem to think the way to success (becoming “stars”) is to cross paths with producers and directors (who I presume would be hanging-out in souvenir shops), Wonder Woman is the only one who says she would settle for acting in plays for no money, because she just wants to act (as oppose to the others who want to be “stars” and desperately need attention). 

VIY (KropachyovYershov 1967)

A slight little Russian folk tale based on a story by Nikolai Gogol. It’s kinda a primitive almost kiddy ditty about an young drunken would-be priest who after an encounter with a witch is forced to pray over the corpse of of a young woman (Natalya Varley whom I must say, before she dies and even after, is one sexy lil’ Bolshevik minx).

With a running time under eighty minutes, What makes this flick notable and worth seeing are the crude special effect and images in the last half hour when the corpse comes back to life, some truly creepy moments.

Sahara (Korda 1943)

When I was young seeing the ‘classics’ for the first time, I became fascinated with Bogart and caught all his major films. Brando and the generation that followed were the actors I most revered, Bogart so different, was the anti-Brando for me. He was never in doubt, he never wavered, he seems to always be smoking and always so cocksure of himself (though that changed in the 50s as he started play more character roles). 

Recently seeing Sahara for the first time, I hadn’t caught a Bogart flick in a while. I was really struck now with how unattractive he was physically. He’s kinda weasely and has a lisp and overbite. Maybe that’s what makes him so compelling. He has the swagger of Gable but in the body of Steve Buscemi

In Sahara as a WWII tank commander, he leads a lost group of British troops in protecting a desert watering hole against a German attack. 

Standard stuff, but with a lot of style. It’s shoot very realistically, by the great Polish DP Rudolph Maté, who was Cinematographer on the great Carl Dryer flicks of the ‘20s. And most impressively it uses very believable locations (it looked like the Middle East as opposed to so many of WWII flicks of the 40s that say, used Griffith Park as a stand in for Burma). 

One interesting subplot, the allies mercifully take a couple prisoners, one a nasty Aryan Nazi, who proves to be very Nazi-like. The other a sweet simple Italian soldier (Oscar nominee J. Carrol Naish) who  shows pictures of his little ‘bambino’ back home and sides with the heroes. The contrast presented of the two American enemies is interesting. By 1943, they presented the Nazi as a true believer, while the Italian was let off easy as just a gullible schlep who fell for Mussolini's  jive, but now regretted it. 

In the Heat of the Night - 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition (Jewison 1967)

I’ve seen this over the top Southern Fried Pulp a couple of times before. I only took it home to check out the Making-Of Doc, which proved unspectacular.

But I ended up put putting the film on (while I spent an hour trying to figure out how to spell, Bolshevik). And I got sucked in to watching, again. 

Though, as a crime solving mystery yarn it’s about as credible as Scooby-Doo episode. And while, I understand that culturally, socially and politically in it’s day it was very significant, it feels very redundant. It’s does have a lot going for it,  it’s beautifully shot by Haskell Wexler (check out the documentary about him by his son, Tell Them Who You Are, 2004) and it acclaimed score by Quincy Jones is appropriately jazzy (another all-star behind the scenes, it was edited by Hal Ashby). What really sucks me in is the acting. And I don’t mean Sidney Poitier, True he was a trail blazer and deservantly, now iconic, but physically he feels awkward, he’s almost overly graceful and looks a little fay in the action scenes (or anytime he walks), though In The Heat Of The Night does hold up better then the heavy handed Guess Whose Coming To Dinner and the dull Lillie Of The Field

Nope. Whom I can’t get enough of, two of my favorite actors

Rod Steiger and Warren Oates.

Steiger is such fun to watch act. Like the best almost-over-actors he goes to the limits of ‘methodyness’ and walks a thin line, sometimes going over the limit (The Pawnbroker) but usually  he’s at just the right ham level, whether it was chewing the scenery  in Doctor Zhivago or having a mumble-off with Brando in On The Waterfront or just going insane as Mr Joyboy in (one of my favorites) The Loved One.  The guy loves to act and he shows it. Oh did I mention Sergio Leone's Duck You Sucker.

Chewing gum and brooding up a storm in In The Heat Of The Night focus is almost stolen from King Steiger slyly by the mumbly funny Oates. Another guy with a interesting career. During the seventies maybe only Bruce Dern rivaled him for playing a range of psychos, drunks, killers and good ol’ boys (Race with the DevilBadlandsCockfighterBring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia1941 Etc.

Interesting. In the Making-Of, Jewison say they wanted but couldn’t get George C Scott for the Steiger role. And I’ve read before that Steiger was the first choice to play Patton, but he turned it down and regretted it when Scott won an oscar for it. Imagine if Scott and Steiger had starred in a movie together (I don’t think they ever did) that would been an acting-off for the ages. There would be no room on screen for another actor to breath.

Death Sentence (Wan 2007)

Kevin Bacon’s yuppie family man dons the Charles Bronson role in this stupid ultra-vile, ugly Death Wish ‘re-imagining’. worked for me as a guilty pleasure. Though it’s incredibly unbelievable,  it passes muster as a guilty-pleasure thanks to some invigorating action sequences. There’s is a great steady-cam chase sequence, that’s worth the price of a rental.


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