Tuesday, August 19, 2008

SOME PEOPLE (CHUCKY: 20) JUST AGE BETTER THAN OTHERS (ME: 48)


Here’s my personal strategy: As soon as I have a birthday, I immediately start telling myself in my head that I’m a year older than I actually am. By Christmas it’s received wisdom, by the Oscars if someone asks me my age I actually have to take a moment’s time-out to remember, and by the time the next birthday rolls around I’m so used to the idea of being a year older than I actually am that it takes what little sting there is left in the aging process completely out of the picture for me. So even though I actually only turned 48, I’m feeling like an accomplished and fairly mentally healthy 49-year-old. Let’s see how this works at the actual half-century mark, which is what, now less than a year away. (By my calculations anyway—confused yet?)

I deliberately didn't fly the flag or anything this year, but I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who dropped by either in person or on Facebook to wish the grizzled old man a happy birthday, and that means you, Matthew (Freebie and the Bean was waiting for me on my desk when I came in this morning—thanks a ton!), Ali (Seen Speed Racer yet? I await your verdict!), Ted (R.I.P., Manny), Aaron (I can’t wait to hear that Pauline Kael interview—thanks for sending it along!), Tom Sutpen (the man so good the Internet had to make room for two sites for him!), Erin (How 'bout those second-half Dodgers, huh?) and, of course, my all-time-BFF, Bruce. (Yes, I am prepared for an ass-whuppin’ for posting this link.) You are excellent friends all. And my wife and daughters certainly made this one (48th? 49th? I forget) as good as it could have been with some quality biking, swimming and general relaxing on the beach in Ventura, CA. in their precious company. I love you all very much.


Speaking of birthdays, I’m still very much in catch-up mode as I settle in on this Tuesday, so thanks to the Drive-in Dude and my friend Don Mancini for both clueing me in to an interview Don did with Ain’t-It-Cool-News’s Quint that was published today. The subject of the interview, conducted by phone with Don, producer David Kirschner and DVD producer Michelle Gold (who I've met a couple of times and who is delightful), is the upcoming (September 9) 20th-anniversary edition DVD of the original Child’s Play. The interview provides a natural segue into a discussion of what Don has in store for the upcoming “reboot” of Child’s Play, which is in development and will hopefully be in theaters no later than 2010-- see the interview for more details. In the interest of preserving the fear factor Don isn’t able or willing to give away too much about the new Chucky film, but there is much good discussion about what viewers can expect from the new DVD, including an appreciation of the contributions of cinematographer William Butler and why puppetry is still the preferred playing field for this series over the more fashionable temptations of CGI. (By the way, Don, I saw one of those Good Guys dolls in its original box in an antique shop in Ventura over the weekend—I should have bought it, shouldn’t I?) The interview itself could have used some tightening at the editorial desk—a little too much background on Quint’s Jaws obsession for my taste, and on separate occasions each of the three interviewees has to steer the talk back on course—- but it’s congenial and informative and fun, definitely worth a look on a lazy summer evening.

And to continue the birthday theme for one more short paragraph, I want to wish a very happy one to my daughter, who turns six tomorrow. She claims Chucky as her sworn "worst enemy" and cannot figure out how the nice guy who loves Speed Racer and took her to see Hairspray last summer could possibly have spawned that red-headed devil doll. Don and I look forward to that inevitable day when she suddenly finds Chucky cool.

47 comments:

Don Mancini said...

Happy Birthday, Mister C. Remember that 48 is the new 14 -- during the summer movie season.

By my tally, we still have ZOOLANDER, CHARLIE'S ANGELS, and the vastly underrated Dino De Laurentiis production of KING KONG from 1976 yet to watch.

Ain't nothin' but a thang.

Thunder on, dude.

Goin' off the grid now,
Don

Don Mancini said...

And give Noni a Happy Birthday from her Uncle Corny...and from Uncle Chucky, as well...

Don Mancini said...

And finally: Yes, you should have bought the damn doll.

driveindude said...

Don Mancini wrote:
"the vastly underrated Dino De Laurentiis production of KING KONG from 1976."

DAMN RIGHT!!!!!!

bill r. said...

I still haven't seen Child's Play (sorry Don, I'll be bumping that up in the queue very soon), but regarding puppetry vs. CGI, as it happens I just saw E.T. again the other night, for the first time in probably close to 20 years. Anyway, CGI could have never carried that movie. It would seen as a joke today. As a puppet/woman-in-suit film, however, it's sort of alarming how well it works.

bill r. said...

PS - That's me, Bill, in the post above, under my new guise!

PPS - Happy 489th birthday, Dennis!

Rick Olson said...

I gotta second the love for the 1976 "King Kong" So much better than Jackson's soulless remake.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Cozzalio, and many happy returns.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Don! Something tells me we should just put together a film festival, mark off a weekend, rent a popcorn machine and go! All this talk of Dino Kong and Charlie's Angels is going to have me digging deep in the DVD collection very soon, I think.

Nonie says thanks for the birthday wishes, but she won't look at my blog until that picture cycles off the front page!

And by the way, thanks for setting the stage so perfectly before Tropic Thunder last night. Your silhouetted presentation of that decapped peanut M&M as Ray Liotta from the end of Hannibal was an excellent lead-in to the hilarity of the trailers that opened the film. I need to spend more Tuesday evenings like that one!

DID, Rick: The 1976 King Kong really is terrific, although I have a lot of affection for Peter Jackson's version too. It's nice being a grown-up and not feeling, as I was told insistently when I was 16 by all my buddies, that if you liked the new version you were automatically rejecting the old one.

Bill: This is an interesting subject. The CGI Kool-aid has been swallowed so thoroughly by filmmakers and audiences that it'd really be interesting to go back and look at pre-CGI effects films to see which ones would have been improved (if any) by computer magic. We already know car chases are so much better rendered with the weight of reality (Speed Racer being the glorious exception, I'd say). But I think you're right-- movies like E.T. would look horrible 30 years later if CGI was used-- the human-rubber element, however, really helps that movie connect and endure.

bill r. said...

In E.T., the only thing that CGI would have helped was the scene with all the flying bikes. That looks pretty cheap now. But E.T. himself is completely believable throughout, and he would have been ruined by CGI. The hug at the end would get laughs.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Happy Birthday, I think. I'm not sure after reading the post to tell you the truth. But I think you had a birthday or had one at some point in the recent past and ... got younger? Or something. By the way, I'm 97 and don't feel a day over 93.

I like the 76 King Kong too, especially the opening as the ship goes into the mist when the credits start with the music.

bill r. said...

I guess I have to see King Kong '76 again. I have to admit, though...I'm dubious.

driveindude said...

Now, E.T. was reissued a couple years back with CGI elements that in my opinion really enhanced the scenes they were used in, but clearly Spielberg did not intend to replace the Carlo Rimbaldi animatronic "man in a suit" that we all remember.

That use worked for me.

Kong '76 quote: "Let him climb to the top of the World Trade Center"

Happy Birthday to the Cozzalio's. I am remiss and I apologize.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Well I can't speak for the others but I'm not calling it a masterpiece or anything so I guess I kind of disagree with Don to a degree ( I don't think it's vastly underrated - I think that's a bit of an overstatement).

But it's fun and Charles Grodin and Jeff Bridges turn in two fine performances. Jessica Lange truly sucks (please no one say her performance is underrated because she sucks, hard).

Also as is often the case with old optical work, you can clearly see where Kong is in front of a screen to make him look bigger.

But ... I think the music is great for the movie. It has a very omninous sound. And, I actually like that they're not going there to make a movie or find a giant gorilla but to find oil.

And, keeping in mind that the 33 original is not only my favorite but one of my favorite films of all time, I will give this Kong this: I think Kong's approach to the sacrificial alter, when he makes his first appearance in the movie, is the best, believe it or not, of all three. It's a great setup with terrific tension.

Jonathan Lapper said...

And yes, I saw it again about a year ago so it's still fresh in my mind in case you were wondering.

Headquarters 10 said...

You're welcome, Dennis, and happy birthday once again. And another KONG '76 fan! Our numbers are growing.

Let me know what you think of FREEBIE you you view it again. I watched large chunks again while taping it and I insist that it's better than most people think.

Don Mancini said...

Mr. Lapper: Jessica Lange's performance is underrated.

Pistols at dawn, sir.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Pistols at dawn it is. Say, can we do it at a doughnut shop, because I just can't duel unless I've had some coffee and a couple of crullers.

Don Mancini said...

Donut shop sounds good. And let's make it noon. Dawn is kind of early for me.

Seriously, I think Jessica Lange is great in the movie. For me, she just totally nails a very specific '70s archetype of a show biz climber, an ambitious careerist who isn't about to let her basic decency get in the way of whatever opportunities might come her way. A shade too classy for the Playboy mansion, but not above participating in the exploitation of the eighth wonder of the world (even if she's tortured about it). I find the ending really scary and tragic: Lange as "Dwan" at the base of the World Trade Center, standing beside Kong's dead body, sobbing helplessly as she's finally mobbed by the roaring crowds and flashing cameras she has craved for the entire movie.

blaaagh said...

It's so funny that I just caught up with these comments, since just this morning I was thinking (for some reason) that I'd like to give the '76 KONG another try. I am a big Jessica Lange fan, and I remember her bringing an interesting (also sexy) quality to her performance--AND I agree with Mr. Mancini that her performance is good and underrated.

On the other hand, I remember Jeff Bridges, who for many years was consistently described as an underrated actor, giving an irritating, slack-jawed performance--in league with Michael Douglas's long-haired, bearded, tough-guy environmentalist in THE CHINA SYNDROME. But hopefully another viewing will prove me wrong.

As for your equating yourself with Dorian Gray in the old/ugly picture, Dennis--no way!

And I have to say I still get a thrill--not to say a shriek or two, though I have to suppress them--from CHILD'S PLAY, and it definitely would also have suffered from CGI. I just don't accept so much of those effects as real.

Don Mancini said...

Hey Lapper -- my sister-in-law lives in Silver Spring, MD.

Another aspect of KONG's reputation that bothers me: the FX are now popularly considered to be terrible, a tacky "man in a suit" stomping around miniature sets. But the man in the suit is Rick Baker, whom we now know as the preeminent actor of ape roles. Kong is an emotionally effective character; Dino was right -- we DID-a cry when the monkey die! And let's not forget, back in '76, the Academy saw fit to give the FX an Oscar. Plus, these FX tie the film to its particular era, and I find that interesting and valuable. You can tell a lot about where cinema was at by looking at the man in the monkey suit, tossing the toy subway cars. It's so indelibly '70s, and therefore, to me, kind of thrilling.

And yes, John Barry's score is wonderful. I especially love the disco orchestration of the KONG theme when the ape is presented to the public. It's GLORIOUSLY tacky, a celebration/condemnation of the disco era, perfectly accompanying the giant Petrox fuel pump which comes gliding out from behind the wall, only to reveal the stiffly inexpressive, Carlo Rambaldi-designed, 40-foot Kong robot inside. Naysayers dismiss the sequence as MERELY tacky, but that's the point: Kong's exploitation by the uncaring, monolithic oil company (we were ALL exploited by such companies during the oil crisis) acquires an extra layer of outrage. It's as if these people have no awareness or appreciation for the true beauty and grandeur of this amazing creature. The coming-out party they throw for him is pathetically inadequate to the occasion, totally beneath him, and he outclasses it by his sheer size and power, which he uses of course to trash the joint.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Don, I certainly hope I didn't sound like I was criticizing the effects because I wasn't. I've stated over and over again on my blog (which has covered movies beyond the seventies like four times total) that I LOVE old school special effects. I was just stating that you could see them, see the optical effects. But I like seeing them.

As for Lange, she seems like she's half asleep in the movie, like she took one too many valiums. I think she's a fine actress and think she matured considerably but in this, her debut, she's not up to the task. That "half asleep" quality would be there for most of her early roles (she's even got it in "Tootsie" a little bit) where she believes saying a line kind of woozily makes it better. She grew out of that but in "Kong" it's on full display.

I love acting, got my degree in it, write about it all the time on my blog, even have a separate category for it due to the multitude of posts on it. Acting fills my head and I obssess with it in movies. I try to take in every performance for its merits, I really do. But I don't see much of a good performance by Lange in this movie.

But enough of Lange. Let's not disagree any more. Because like you said the ending is terrific. All the camera flashes, the paparazzi, the sick twist of the dream of Dwan finally coming true. It's perfect. And it's nothing like the original, NOTHING. And I say, if you're going to remake something, make it different, make it yours. I think that's why I'm not as enamored of the Peter Jackson one. I thought it had many fine qualities but in many ways it was just a more extended version of the first with more modern special effects.

Don Mancini said...

Re: the FX -- You expressed more succinctly what I was trying to describe: I like seeing the FX, too. (But more and more, I think that's a minority view.

Re: Lange -- I know what you mean about her half-asleep quality. It was the '70s; she may well have been! But I find that quality interesting, at least in this performance.

Re: the ending -- Totally agree. In fact, so many aspects of the '76 KONG represented a conscious, defiant left turn away from the original: oil expedition vs. filmmaking venture; World Trade Center vs. Empire State Building; Dwan loves Kong vs. Ann is always terrified; romantic-comedy tone vs. straightforward adventure; etc. I really love and respect that about the film.

I hope Dennis doesn't mind that KONG has hijacked his birthday thread!

ARBOGAST said...

Belated happy birthday wishes, Dennis. You've matured nicely and that speaks to your strong character, as growing older sure ain't, eh, child's play.

Your younger friend,
Arbogast

Jonathan Lapper said...

I want to see Kong again now. I saw it on cable last year but I'd like to see a nice DVD transfer of it.

And yes, in the original, Ann is afraid of Kong throughout. The audience feels for him, but she never does. When Jack comes out to the roof after Kong has fallen she seems relieved that it's over but not sad for Kong. But don't get me wrong, the original is still my favorite and I can watch it again and again. But I like that they made Kong sympathetic to his "bride" as well in the 76 version.

driveindude said...

Jonathan,
There is a rather nicely done DVD transfer that was released earlier this year or late last year. They were also kind enough to remix the soundtrack into a decent 5.1 surround which makes Kong's footsteps really thump and envelopes you with John Barry's luscious score.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Thanks DriveinDude. I'm going to look for it.

Don - Does your Sister-in-Law frequent the A.F.I. Silver Theater? If not she should. They have some great line-ups there but sadly, no 76 King Kong... yet.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Hi, Don, Jonathan, Blaaagh, all!

Something occurred to me as I was thinking about Jessica Lange’s performance in King Kong, which I would agree is underrated and perhaps misunderstood. There is a dazed quality about all of Lange’s work, I think, especially in Kong, and her Oscar-winning Tootsie (already well commented on her) and, of course, pointedly in her portrayal of Frances Farmer. I think she balanced the character’s confusion and intelligence in that movie with the necessary rage and fear that might come out of an actress like Jill Clayburgh looking more like strident self-righteousness or a more obvious attempt to connect with an audience’s sympathy.

But there’s another parallel with Lange and Naomi Watts beyond their work in the big hairy paw. I was thinking about Lange and how her performance in Kong was regarded at the time, and how it is still seen by many, like Jonathan, as inadequate. Courtesy of the benefits of time and hindsight, it’s possible to recognize Lange as an accomplished actress without believing that she did good work in her first movie—Jonathan, you clearly hold this view, and I wouldn’t question your intelligence and sensitivity as an assessor of good acting for a minute. But as I thought about Lange, and then Watts, I realized that Watts has a revelatory moment in her career that draws a parallel to Lange’s work in Kong and Frances that happens within the space of a single scene. In Watts’ case, the shift happens so that we realize that what we thought was bad, green acting was calculated and clever all along, and it casts a whole new light on her performance as a whole and the way we see her character as well. I’m referring, of course, to the moment during her audition with Chad Everett in Mulholland Drive when this woman, who has up to this point come across as a likably vapid, corn–fed hick completely out of her element in the carnivorous Hollywood environment, reveals herself as an actress of considerable emotional reserve and accomplishment. Had we the luxury of seeing the consciously vapid and ethereal quality Lange brought to Kong, in service of a character who seeks the glow of the spotlight without a lot of serious contemplation, compressed up against her searing turn in Frances in a single scene, instead of watching it develop and having to make the comparison over the span of six years (Frances was released in 1982), I wonder if we might have had a different perspective on Lange as Dwan. Of course, now we can watch the performances next to each other, and I’d love to take the opportunity to do so. However, I don’t think you need to see them together to make the case that Lange is terrific in King Kong. I think she meshes perfectly with the movie’s brazen artificiality, satiric leaning, carnival showmanship and surprising emotional pull. And I think that’s true of all the leads, even as they approach their roles from varying angles (Bridges’ amusing, and literal, shagginess that recasts the hero in ‘70s iconography without turning him into a conscious antihero; Lange’s dazed sexuality and her genuine emotional connection with the beast; Grodin’s barely-suppressed Snidely Whiplash sarcasm).

And hey, I don’t mind a bit about Kong hijacking this thread. It is to be hijacked! When some people hijack-a my thread, I no cry… (I won’t say “hijack” no more.)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

P.S. The other thing I meant to mention in connecting Lange and Watts, though it may be obvious as hell, is that in both cases we didn't know who either actress was when their movies (King Kong in 1976, Mulholland Drive in 2001) were released. I think that relative anonymity may have helped audiences identify the actress with the apparent transparency of the character, though as I said in Watts' case that was quickly understood to be a misconception, both for her and the character. The perception of Lange's frothy mindlessness in Kong has, however, prevailed even as she has been accepted as a fine actress elsewhere.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Dennis, I see where you're going, I just don't agree. And I'd like to say, "Maybe if I saw it again more recently" but I just saw it again last year and I don't remember having a revelation that Lange was good after all.

However...

I will take this back - "Jessica Lange truly sucks!" That was hyperbole. She's not as awful as all that but once that rake Mancini challenged me I couldn't just back down. She's passable but it still doesn't register as a good performance with me. Now Rene Auberjonois, who none of us have mentioned yet, was also excellent, but then, isn't he always?

By the way, Mancini and I had that duel. He was pretty nervous and misfired. To show him what a gentleman of honor I was I shot into the ground. Then when he was asked if this was sufficient he replied, "No, I have not received satisfaction." I couldn't believe it. At that point the bastard shot me in the leg.

I'm telling you right now, if we hadn't been using water pistols I'd be pretty steamed. But we were and the fact is, I was kind of hot so the water felt good. Thanks Don!

jim emerson said...

Hey, Dennis -- Belated (or is it premature?) happy b-day! Remember: Jack Benny was 39 for many, many years. Just pick a number and remember it! It's easier that way.

Andrew T. said...

Child's Play is an ace movie amongst ace movies. Half my friends think I'm some kind of weirdo for saying that to them, the others sat through it. Most thought it was merely okay. Posting a comment beneath Don Mancini's makes my heart beat faster. I'm not kidding. In fact, I had a weird dream about the Make A Wish foundation involving...forget it. Must interview... O_O

I watched the '70s King Kong long ago, and for some reason, the only image that has stayed with me is Kong taking lots of bullets and seeing blood flying. That and some of Rick Baker in a Kong Suit

Don Mancini said...

Posting beneath Don Mancini's name would make my heart beat faster, too, if my post pointed out that most of my friends think Mancini's first movie is "merely okay." I'd be a hysterical mess if I thought my comments might depress or otherwise upset the poor, insecure writer.

But that's just me! You go on and enjoy your day. I'm going to rip up last week's work -- it was "merely okay" -- and start from scratch. Hope I don't miss my deadline. But I'll be fine! Really!

Jonathan Lapper said...

True story (to make Don feel better): I didn't see Child's Play in the theater when it was released but when it came out on tape I was in a video store with my friend and asked him what he thought (he had seen it). He replied, "It changed my life."

I saw it and really enjoyed it. Now the movie didn't actually change my friend's life, that his way of saying he loved something. When you heard those words you knew you had just gotten the highest recommendation possible.

Andrew T. said...

If it's any consolation, my friends don't lean towards horror at all. My dad is a fan of Child's Play, and he introduced me to it when I was far too young. I slept with the light son due to the inability to shake the mental image of Chucky with a knife in his arm noting that he "hates kids".

My half-sister's dad loves it...he said they get better and better, though I think part of that might have to do with the fact that a lot more army guys and police die violently in 3 and Bride of Chucky.

In fact, a steward on Delta I'd never met in my life is a fan. Yea, wide recognition.

Now I'm embarrassed. But it might be because I haven't developed a sense for sarcasm.

On a last note, Child's Play is the only reboot I've seen that's honestly been welcomed with open arms. That might be because

No, no. I'm going to stop before I make an idiot out of myself again.

Or is it too late?

P.S.: I heard you reminiscing about BTS footage featuring everybody's nightmarish 1989 clothes on the set of Child's Play 2. That sounds like a sight to behold. The same Universal Studios that didn't release Phantasm II will probably never let that see the light of day. Please tell me I'm wrong, though. Or YouTube it. :X

Apologies from Salt Lake City.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Andrew T. - Don't worry about Mancini. Challenge him to a duel. It's the only way to make him understand things sometimes.

Don Mancini said...

Andrew T -- I was totally kidding. I've gotten so many bad reviews -- many from my closest friends (check out Dennis's original SEED review!) -- that I consider "merely okay" an accolade.

Andrew T. said...

Mancini - I searched but all I found was a picture of you with your Eyegore in the reddest shirt I've ever seen. Looking at the shirt is like trying to decipher a Magic Eye picture.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I've said it before and it bears repeating here-- Don has just about the healthiest attitude about criticism regarding his own work as any creative person I've ever met. I know my own skin is far thinner than his.

And it certainly helps when you have the talent to back it up, as Don does. But it is also true that working in the horror genre-- and especially being the one responsible for the creation of a popular horror icon that satirizes and otherwise flies in the face of popular notions of what's good for kids at playtime-- is not the quickest path to acclaim and awards. So it's definitely a plus that he understands and engages with the critical point of view while still remaining true to the vision that drives him as a storyteller. That's a rare thing, whatever the genre, and just because the Chucky films haven't yet led to his canonization as a writer-director doesn't mean his talent is negligible or that he won't someday get that kind of recognition. For someone who loves film to the degree he does, it's just a matter of time.

By the way, I'm really enjoying following this conversation. It come at a time when my own ability to post is slightly hampered, so I appreciate you all keeping the blood flowing, as it were. Please don't hate me! (Another insecure writer checks in!)

And for as much dueling as is going on here this week, I'm thinking of calling in Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel to warn them their act is on the cusp of being stolen! Lapper, you troublemaker...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

And thanks, Jim, for the birthday wishes! Jack Benny is my idol! Oh, Deeeennnnis...!

Jonathan Lapper said...

Lapper, you troublemaker... - Whaaaa??? Lord Mancini Bullingdon shot me in the leg! I had to move to America and become a gamester, far from my Irish roots. Although those checks from Mrs Lyndon each month are kinda nice.

Bob Westal said...

I'm obviously very late to this party -- and the restrictions of time (and my foggy memory) prevent me from entering the "King Kong" fracas, but Happy Birthday to both Poppa and Noni Cozzalio.

And, good birthday strategy. A bit more clever than my mother, who tried to argue that, after thirty-five, you start subtracting each year. (This rule, of course, only applied to women.)

Andrew T. said...

Hey, holy cow, that really is the picture of Dorian Gray, I had to look twice.

I'm sure you look chipper, though.

bill r. said...

What the fuck's been going on here? How did I miss all this? Thanks for the head's up, everybody! Man, sometimes I really hate you guys...

Jonathan Lapper said...

Bill - Such language. I challenge you to a duel! Wiffle bats at noon!

Dennis - Bill's profanity has offended me. What kind of a comment section are you running here anyway? I DEMAND SATISFACTION!

Don Mancini said...

Andrew T -- You can slag off my movie all you want, but as a gay guy, I draw the line at my clothes.

Andrew T. said...

I liked it. But my eyes water a lot as it is. O_o

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