Sunday, December 18, 2005

DEAR SANTA CLAUS...


Dear Santa Claus,

I realize that I’m sending my letter rather late this year, but to paraphrase a certain roller-skating Olympian muse, I have to believe you are magic, that somehow this missive will get spirited straight from the blogosphere into your mailbox at the North Pole, and that you will be able to make a quick stop off at Best Buy before arriving at my house. I know, Santa, that you may not have heard of some of these titles, but really, don’t be afraid to ask that friendly associate, the one with the blue shirt and the yellow tag logo who’s loitering on the corner of the “anime” aisle with a bunch of his buddies, to help you out. He won’t know most of them either, but he is officially authorized to amble over to the house computer, take three whacks at typing the title(s) you specify, and then calling over a floor supervisor who may also be ignorant of the title(s) but who may at least be able to show his employee how to press “enter” to send the computer on its search. I’d send you to more of a specialty store like DVD Planet in Huntington Beach, or even the new Virgin Megastore next to Grauman’s Chinese theater, but Huntington Beach is too far out of your way to fly there and then swing all the way back up to Glendale, and believe me, even you don’t wanna spend any more time than is necessary in Hollywood on Christmas Eve. So Best Buy is fine—their selection will undoubtedly cover most of the stuff I’m shamelessly begging for here, and rooftop sleigh parking is absolutely no problem.

So what would like to see spinning in my DVD player in 2006, you ask? Okay, you asked!

Wong Kar Wai’s cluttered, delirious fever dream of love and longing will test any home theater’s capacity for reproducing, in high-definition, the director’s sensitivity toward a disorienting mise-en-scene and impossibly gorgeous brooding. Those who may have been put off by Ziyi Zhang’s struggle with English in Memoirs of a Geisha should look here instead to discover one of the year’s best performances.

The hypnotically static compositions of Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet’s formalist masterpiece often give way to unexpected life, not unlike a Magic Eye painting in motion, bursting the boundaries of the frame and drawing the viewer in to experience its tableaus from the inside out.

The first of Warner Bros.’ modern Batman series that I’ve enjoyed as a film, and not just as an “event” or as a garish regurgitation of the director’s perverse obsessions (be they grotesqueries involving penguins, or imposing nipples on the Batsuit). It has real dramatic weight, good humor, enviable action chops, Michael Caine as Alfred, and Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow.

Three attempts to catch up on Randolph Scott westerns I’ve not yet seen, including the new Warner DVD release of his first collaboration with western maestro Budd Boetticher, the subject of a new Turner Classic Movies biography entitled Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That.

Not to be forgotten, my favorite Anthony Mann-Jimmy Stewart western has a wagonload of great character moments, surprising dramatic turns and some of the most gorgeous scenery in any western not shot in Monument Valley.

Fritz Lang's literally scalding thriller, in which Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame suffer at the hands of mobsters (his wife is killed in a bomb blast meant for him, she takes a pot of hot coffee in the face from Lee Marvin) and become consumed with the pursuit of revenge. It's here, and in Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place, that Grahame stakes out her place as an indelible presence in the iconography of film noir.

Howard Hawks’ de facto sequel to Rio Bravo rehashes many of the same situations and characters (but, excepting the Duke, with different actors)—it’s not nearly as good, but it’s still a rousing effort by a director who only had one more left in him, yet another Rio Bravo riff, called Rio Lobo, in which the seams are definitely showing.

What a summer movie should be but is often not, due to bloated budgets and/or directorial hubris—an unpretentious, punchy delight. This is the most purely disarming and unapologetically fun movie I've seen so far in 2005, not at all the train wreck its detractors would have you believe.

The director’s cut of Peter Jackson’s 1996 box-office flop is in the happy tradition of his expansions of the Lord of the Rings movies—for the most part, the added material feels like it should have been there all along. Benefiting most from the new cut is cult actor Jeffrey Combs, never so creepy and hilarious as a special agent sent to investigate the mysterious “frightenings” who turns out to have more than a few skeletons in his own closet (and under his trench coat too).

The Fury, as a device to deliver plot, may be imperfect, but as hellish visual poetry there are sequences here as good as anything De Palma ever directed.

A great, overlooked western by Walter Hill, magisterial and muted. It’s also full of pain regarding the tide of American manifest destiny that is never hampered by Costnerian platitudes or oversimplifications, but instead enriched by the contradictions and contrary impulses found within both the culture of the aggressor and that of the native people. Robert Duvall, as a tracker sympathetic to Geronimo’s cause, has never, with the possible exception of Lonesome Dove, been better.

Three seminal sci-fi entries-- Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Five Million Miles to Earth and It Came From Beneath the Sea-- that cemented Harryhausen’s reputation as an effects master and laid the groundwork for genre classics like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, which were just around the corner. Within this box lie the seeds of a thousand Famous Monsters of Filmland-stoked nightmares, and just as many delights.

Again, catch-up time— Two new Kino Video releases of Fritz Lang classics that I have not yet seen. Depending on the kindness of Santa, that may not be a condition that lasts much longer…













This year’s hopefuls from the Criterion Collection run the gamut pretty much as the label itself does—Akira Kurosawa’s aching drama of a dying man’s attempt at one final, lasting act to leave behind; Mike Leigh’s searing, millennial nightmare; Robert Bresson’s near-documentary staging of a young pickpocket working the streets of Paris; Samuel Fuller’s nowhere-near documentary tale of a pickpocket who unknowingly lifts some hot microfilm and ends up a target of deadly spies; Kurosawa’s spectacular meditation on King Lear; and Kenji Mizoguchi’s ethereal ghost story.









Speaking of ghost stories, they don’t come much more unnerving than Jack Clayton’s unhurried, dread-soaked adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. And if it’s “Boo!” moments you crave, this one has got the Mother of All “Boo!” Moments tucked inside it, and I’ll be damned if I’ll tell you where.

In honor of Peter Jackson’s big monkey movie, Universal trots out a Toho double feature, including the greatest monster match-up ever filmed-- King Kong vs. Godzilla was the first Toho production I ever saw on the big screen, and no amount of common sense is potent enough to dilute the thrill of that moment. Whether a spiffy DVD version will perpetuate the delusion or pop my daydream balloon of hokum is a question yet to be answered.

The only way I’ll ever get to see this (or Histoire(s) du Cinema) is on DVD, and rather than have it clog up my Netflix queue, I’d rather own it and approach it in my own sweet time.

The L.A. Weekly, in a positive review when this movie briefly appeared in theaters in 1987, described it as Animal House meets Nashville. If you’re like me, nothing could have kept me away from the theater after a capsule review like that. And nothing did—I saw it that opening week, and then even endured Whoopi Goldberg in Fatal Beauty in a torrential downpour at a drive-in just to catch O.C. and Stiggs again as the second feature. Now it has very quietly snuck onto DVD, and they thought I’d never notice…


So sue me…










I have a vague memory of seeing either the first or the third Sabata film on TV years ago, and though I remember virtually nothing about it, those titles have always loomed fairly large in the back of my brain, naturally, due to Lee Van Cleef’s presence (Sabata was played by Yul Brynner in the first sequel), but also because they are very rarely talked about in the realm of the spaghetti western cycle. I hold out hope that there might be some unexpected surprises and pleasures—or at the very lest some spectacular Panavision cinematography—within this boxed set.

Don Siegel’s elegiac western, which would end up the capper to John Wayne’s career, has the iconic figure facing down a diagnosis of cancer, as well as villains from his past who rise up one last time to try to cut him down, all while he tries to pass on a little something to the son of a widow whom he has befriended before he dies. Sentimental, powerful work from the Duke is matched by his director’s straight-arrow, unflinching direction to stand as a fitting and final testament to a legend of cinema westerns.

Seasons six and seven are The Simpsons on an unprecedented roll—essential stuff.





And then there’s another icon-- Jet Li, in certainly his best English-language film, taps unexpected streams of emotion while director Louis Letterier and martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo Ping guide him through some of the most explosive and poetically realized fight sequences of his career.





I hope I’ve not been too greedy, Santa, and I certainly will understand if you’re unable to come through with all of these titles on Christmas morning, or any of them for that matter. Cinema is nothing if not a place where we can let our fantasies run free to get all the exercise they need, and if I must continue merely fantasizing about owning these titles, then so be it. Besides, there’s always Netflix and my Ever-Changing Queue. Even so, it’s fun to imagine a DVD library big enough to hold all these delights and 1,001 more. And, truth be told, Santa, I just wanted to see how quick you are on your feet with impossibly last-minute requests! The perpetuation of my childlike innocence and fragile belief system depends on your response.

Oh, and there’s a meat loaf in the fridge with your name on it, if you get hungry and you’re sick of all those treacly cookies the other houses set out for you. Just don’t touch my beer.

Merry Christmas!
Dennis

18 comments:

Roscoe said...

When I saw "Naked" I remembered how much I wanted to see it and like you mentioned its a little late to ask for but I immediately called the girlfriend and hinted around to wanting it. So i'm crossing my fingers.

I really want to see the Frighteners but I already asked for Meet the Feebles so I guess one Peter Jackson movie at a time.

Christmas list for me; Cinderella man, Sin City Extended, Meet the Feebles, How I won the war (john lennon)and Dead Man.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yeah, I highly recommend Naked-- it's a pretty grueling experience, but Thewlis' performance is just so good, so unique-- it's like no other performance I can recall-- that it's worth the general unpleasantness. And Leigh, with his cast, were working at the height of their powers to come up with this amazing script. My wife and I created the SDH subtitles for the Criterion disc, so of course I'd love to have it for that reason, but I'd want it in my library no matter what.

Thanks for the quiz answers, too, Roscoe-- first out of the gate! Impressive! I'll gladly deposit my top ten on your blog too, but I won't be able to until next week-- a real Christmas vacation is a-comin', and I think I might just get to see King Kong...

Roscoe said...

Timothy Thewlis is the reason i wanted to see it. He's very charasmatic in the way a flawed man kind of way. Dare I say Steve Buscemi?

Meh i'm not doing anything this week so i had alot of time to put it in.

blaaagh said...

heh heh...I've been working my way through "O.C. and Stiggs" for the past few days; I remember liking it pretty well when it was briefly released, but I've found it pretty shabby now. Still, not without its moments, and with plenty of good actors doing what they can with the odd material; it strikes a strange tone: sort of the anti-teen movie, with lots of jokes which fall flat (for me) and a bit of the mean spirit of "M*A*S*H"--the two leads are pretty good, and I wonder why they didn't go further (though maybe they would have if this had been seen by more people!). Very strange indeed!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yeah, it's been about 15 years since I last saw it, so part of the fun is, I guess, as it is with a lot of movies as they come back out on DVD, seeing whether they hold up or not. I like your word "shabby," though, which is probably a word I would have used to describe it back in the day when we first saw it. It seemed to capture, in Altman's very offhand kind of way, the spirit (and yes, it was a very mean one) of those old National Lampoon stories. So you rented it? You scamp! The tall kid with the curly hair, Daniel Jenkins (O.C.), did a couple more things for Altman-- he was the political worker who surreptitiously taped the candidate's off-the-cuff tirade that becomes the centerpiece of his campaign in Tanner '88.. As for Stiggs (Neill Barry), he didn't do much else of note in film-- oddly enough, however, he was in Fatal Beauty, with Whoopi Goldberg!

blaaagh said...

Yes, "O.C. and Stiggs" was one of the first movies on my Netflix queue, oddly enough (Mrs. B. had been slotting both of our choices until I finally got time to activate my own queue and come into my own, so to speak). I can't say I disliked it, but I found it hard not to fall asleep through the last four chapters, especially the long, LONG King Sunny Ade concert--still, I found it worth a look. However, I think someone SHOULD sue you for your inclusion of "Pret-a-Porter" on your Xmas list! ZZZZZz.....I, too, would like to see "Naked," though. Thanks for reminding me. I need a nice depressing movie for the holidays.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yeah, believe me, I've taken a pound or two of shit from several folks today already, just here in the office, for my unreasonable championing of this other "shabby" Altman movie! But I stand by my unreasonable affection for it. I saw it a lot more recently than I have O.C. and Stiggs and feel much more confident in my memories of it. And you're right-- that King Sunny Ade concert does go on quite a long time-- it always felt a little gratuititous too, like Altman was tapping for the same vein of cool that the titular characters were going after in their pursuit of this less-than-mainstream band.

blaaagh said...

All right, then: maybe in the spirit of holiday generosity (to Altman), I should put "Pret-a-Porter" on my Netflix cue, with resolve not to blame you if I find myself regretting it! I don't think I actually made it all the way through on first attempt, and as you well know, I've made it through some interminable Altman films!

Anonymous said...

wow.
you and armond white love all the same movies

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Well, I guess I've really arrived then! I've achieved Armond symbiosis! But I bet he'd have some nits to pick with Fantastic Four and King Kong vs. Godzilla, and my guess is he wouldn't settle for anything less than 100% Fury worship either! Oh, well, I can still dream...

Snake Plissken said...

I'm glad you mentioned that O.C. and Stiggs is finally coming out on DVD. It's been a long time since I've seen that movie. I remember thinking it was fairly entertaining.

Recently, though, I dug through the archives and found my cherished copy of the October 1982 National Lampoon, which features the original 30-some-page story "The Utterly Mind-Roasting Summer of O.C. and Stiggs". Oh, my God, that is SOOOO funny. It's one of my favorite written comedy pieces ever. It is also raunchy as hell. From what I recall from the movie, it wasn't anywhere near as funny as the story--but it wasn't anywhere near as raunchy, either. I wonder what someone like the Farrelly brothers would do with O.C. and Stiggs if they remade it today.

Anyway, thanks for the heads-up on that.

blaaagh said...

Wow--I saved my copy of that issue, too! It's hilarious, much funnier than the movie. I also recently found that the whole piece is online via National Lampoon's web site, pictures and all.

Snake Plissken said...

Hey, blaagh--

Thanks for that tip re: "O.C. and Stiggs" online. I can now share the comedy with friends who didn't squirrel that issue away!

I heard somewhere recently that whoever holds the rights to the National Lampoon catalog is thinking about releasing ALL of the classic issues on CD-ROM, in the same way that MAD magazine did a few years ago. I don't care how many pints of plasma I'd have to donate (I'm currently at $40-worth a week, and I walk around only slightly lightheaded), I would give whatever it takes to get my hands on a collection like that.

Merry Christmas and thanks again!

blaaagh said...

Hey Snake!

Thanks, and Merry Christmas to you, too. It's kind of nice to find someone else out there who's as enthusiastic about that piece as I was/am. Also, I knew nothing of either Mad magazine or the National Lampoon being (possibly)available on CD-Rom--very exciting! I always wish I had ALL the old issues so I could still pore over them.

Dennis, I just noticed the Harryhausen set on your list...I'm gonna have to have that for my own. (Man, I'm a nerd).

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Boys:

Merry Christmas from the Central California coastal town of Cambria, where the surf is pounding about 500 yards from the deck of my bedroom! I have that Mad magazine CD-ROM, and it's stupendous. So the news about the Lampoon project is really great news. I don't know if I even still have my old copy of the issue with the O.C and Stiggs story -- if I do, it's in an attic somewhere in Oregon, I suspect. But I absolutely agree with both of you-- as much as I loved the Altman film, it was its own beast, and it couldn't hold a candle, in terms of out-and-out hilarity to the original story. I think I'll go to the Lampoon site right now and print it out so I can read it to my entire family by the fireside tonight in lieu of The Night Before Christmas!

I haven't posted anything since last weekend, and I haven't had a chance to log onto the computer since Wednesday afternoon, and I'm experiencing sincere and severe withdrawal symptoms. I hope to post a picture or two that I took yesterday, plus some initial thoughts on King Kong, which my wife, my dad and I are off to see at the luxurious old art deco palace, the Fremont in San Luis Obispo in about an hour. Then I will start thinking toward the year-end lists and other stuff that has been on my mind. The only thing I've seen in the last week and a half is March of the Penguins last night, and the first half of 100 Rifles with Jim Brown, Raquel Welch and Burt Reynolds, at work. I'm due!

But for now, time to just relax and enjoy the sea air and the company of family. Thanks for keeping in touch over the break, and Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all.

nilblogette said...

I'll admit, I thought you were insane for including FANTASTIC FOUR on your Xmas list, but I just watched it and found it to be a real hoot. As I've never been a die hard comic geek, I'm most interested in the everyday life of superheroes, and this one had montages galore, with all but one fight being among the four instead of against an enemy. Even the climax was just a little test of their powers and their friendships, not end of the world stuff. It didn't aim as high as some, which means it couldn't fall as far, and that's fine by me.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, NB, for getting my back. Now there's TWO people my wife thinks are nuts!

Blaaagh, Snake, and everyone else, here's a link to the O.C. and Stiggs article. My family loved hearing me read it whilst fireside sipping wassail. It's the perfect holiday tale! Enjoy!

http://tinyurl.com/439qz

Dennis Cozzalio said...

By the way, NB, I really appreciated your observation regarding Fantastic Four and its relatively small scale. Not every big-ass comic book movie has to blow us through the back door of the cinema. To reiterate what you said: "Even the climax was just a little test of their powers and their friendships, not end of the world stuff. It didn't aim as high as some, which means it couldn't fall as far, and that's fine by me." Well said! Happy new year!