Friday, March 13, 2009


Perhaps it’s the two recent visits I’ve taken to the Los Angeles Zoo as a chaperon for my daughters’ first and third-grade classes, and the relative lack of man-eating carnage therein, but when I got an e-mail from Peet Gelderblom a couple of days ago recommending a little-known (at least to me) thriller called Rogue, I damned well sat up and listened. First of all, I like a good rampaging beast movie—of the post-Jaws variety I still hold Lewis Teague’s Alligator, from a script by John Sayles, as the crème de la reptile. Teague’s movie not only works as a crafty parody of the Spielberg classic, with Henry Silva standing in hilariously for Robert Shaw’s Quint, and a dandy riff on the worst-case-scenario urban legend of what happens when you flush a baby gator down the loo, but also as a clever metaphorical parody of raging subconscious. For policeman Robert Forster, and for us, the audience, the gator being pursued is nothing less than his own inner monster ripping loose and using the city sewer as its own personal underground subway system. (Some clever casting in the cameos department, like Sidney Lassick from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, reinforces this gator madness reading.) Rogue sounds closer to something like Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback (1984), which I found diverting but disappointing, but to hear Pete tell it it’s an efficient, funny thriller that more than gets the job done. A wildlife cruise through the Australian outback, headed by a cynical American (Michael Vartan) and a local boat captain (Radha Mitchell), goes horribly awry when a massive man-eating crocodile sets its sights (and its jaws) upon this unlucky band of tourists. Something like this can be just the ticket for a fun weekend watch, especially with it being Friday the 13th (again) and all. And frankly, staying out of the way of this slimy monster sounds a hell of a lot more fun than enduring the remake of the Wes Craven “classic” Last House on the Left, which opens today. Thanks to Peet, I do believe my weekend jolt quotient might be filled quite nicely by this very promising under-the-radar yarn. I’ll let you now how it goes.

Speaking of weekend options, there’s a couple of things going on here in Los Angeles, one of which can at least be tracked by your own home theater system, if you live somewhere other than Southern California. This weekend the Los Angeles County Museum of Art gets its retrospective of the late-period films of Howard Hawks under way tonight. My wife and daughters are taking advantage of the opportunity to see Rio Bravo (1959) on the Bing Theater big screen at 7:30 p.m. tonight. (You can see the trailer by clicking on Angie Dickinson over on the sidebar.) Tomorrow night you can indulge in a double feature of the lighter side of this famously masculine director with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in the delightful Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), co-billed with Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss in Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964). The rest of the retrospective is juicy too, and quite complete, with rare big-screen shots at El Dorado (1967), Land of the Pharoahs (1955), Hatari! (1962), Rio Lobo (1970) and even Red Line 7000 (1965). (For the entire Hawks schedule and more from LACMA in March, click here.) The nice thing is, if just reading about this retrospective gets you in the mood for the films and you can’t be here, most of them are available on DVD, so you can stage your own festival and be there in spirit. It’s no replacement for seeing them on the Bing big screen, but as anyone who has ever lived outside of a major urban center and had to hear about festivals like these second-hand can tell you, it’s better than nothing. And in whatever format, the movies are still great.

Our old friend The Mysterious Adrian Betamax passes along info on another rare screening this Saturday night, if Marilyn and Rock aren’t your cup of sexual innuendo. As part of the 14th Annual UCLA Festival of Preservation, Josef von Sternberg’s The Salvation Hunters (1925), a preservation undertaken by the Stanford Theater Foundation, can be seen March 14 at 7:30 p.m. According to the press notes, “Von Sternberg's first film--shot for less than $4,800 on location in San Pedro, Chinatown and the San Fernando Valley--was possibly Hollywood's first "independent" production. The gritty realism of its locations, the lack of artifice in its story and the lower depths of its characters shocked audiences and the industry alike. The film remains thoroughly modern. Sternberg's images thrive on composition and stasis. His ending resolves nothing and yet everything is different. The Salvation Hunters made a star not only of Sternberg, but also of Georgia Hale, who would play opposite Chaplin in The Gold Rush (1925).” The M.A.B. has more here.

More fun stirring over at Cahiers2Cinema that could entail some intriguing weekend watching: The M.A.B. informs us of the availability (until April 1, 2009, that is) of Phil Karlson’s A Time for Killing on Netflix’s Instant Play service. The movie, never available on DVD, is, like the Hawks fest, a late-period selection from a hard-boiled, unflinching noir-hued director whose best earlier movies, like The Phenix City Story (1955) and Kansas City Confidential (1952), are exemplary specimens of a specifically American nuts-and-bolts cinematic storytelling inflected with bitter passion and empathy for the faces hanging out in the margins of society. Get caught up Karlson via the M.A.B. and consider seeing A Time for Killing while you have the chance, and maybe even contributing to the M.A.B.’s impromptu, open-ended, blog-a-thon-style Phil Karlson-Time for Killing appreciation. (Only don’t call it a blog-a-thon—that phrase makes the M.A.B. simply furious!)

Finally, take some time this weekend to update your blogrolls and bookmarks and make note of Larry Aydlette’s new address. He’s still operating under the Welcome to L.A. shingle (easily the best and most succinctly perfect of all the titles under which his blog has been incarnated), but Larry’s a follower of WordPress now, and he swears by it (more often, even, than he swears at!) Currently Larry is running an excellent series on director John Frankeneheimer that really should not be missed. His piece on The Extraordinary Seaman (1969), long considered one of the director’s biggest follies, is a real delight. Larry’s got Frankenheimer interviews and RFK presidential campaign commercials as well, and I breathlessly await word on my favorite Frankenheimer titles, The Train (1964), Ronin (1998) and, for sheer stupid fun, the director’s misguided environmental beast-on-the-loose epic Prophecy (1979).

Which gets us back to the top of this post in a rather neat way, don’t it? Whatever you’re up to this weekend, have a wonderful couple of days off. I’ll return next week with some catch-up considerations of Watchmen, Synecdoche, New York, Convoy, Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience and God knows what else, plus a special surprise (as much for me, believe me, as for anyone else). Stay tuned!



Headquarters 10 said...

I second my enthusiasm for Welcome to L.A.'s Frankenheimer retrospective, and likewise can't wait for his write-ups on many of Frankenheimer's classic films. Everything thus far has been terrific, and it even convinced me to write up one of my favorite Frankenheimer's, 1986's 52 PICK-UP.

While A TIME FOR KILLING isn't all that great (saw it on cable a few year back), I can honestly say that it's worth watching as the only film to feature my two favorite actors, Dick Miller and (briefly) Harrison Ford. They share no scenes together, but it's great that they're both in there.

Enjoy ROUGE, Dennis. I've heard good things about it. Another quality giant croc movie from Australia, DARK AGE, will be hitting DVD from Synapse later this year and is well worth seeking out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up on A Time for Killing. Of course Dick Miller is in it, Roger Corman had a hand in directing the film.

I've been seeing some of the films on Netflix that are only available in instant viewing like Corman's Gunslinger and Delmer Daves' The Badlanders, as well as sometimes thinning out my always full queue.

The Film Doctor said...


If by that special surprise, you mean your interview in the Film in Focus Behind the Blog series, congratulations! I enjoyed reading your answers concerning not only the history of Sergio Leonie and the Infield Fly Rule, but also the growing importance of bloggers as a source of "regular film reading."

Ryan Kelly said...

Never the biggest fan of Hawks Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, especially the musical sequences, which feel constricted and, ultimately, lacking. I like Hawks on the whole, but several of his films feel kind of empty to me.

Your dedication to your area's revival screenings is touching and astounding.

bill r. said...

I can't wait for your Watchmen review, Dennis. I don't know if you saw my take on it, but judging by your star rating, you and I disagree once again. Ah well. Better start gearing up for another civilized argument.

Olympic Artichoke said...

I really liked Rogue. As far as creature features go, the only recent one that's better is The Host.

I was glad to see Greg Mclean play a giant aligator movie straight. I like Lake Placid, but obviously that one is camped up for effect. It's good to see a director ballsy enough to cut through the crap and not resort to a sort of meta fiction approach that a lot of horror and sci-fi movies have gone to.