Rock Hudson discovers his new life isn’t so much better than the old one in ‘Seconds’
In the 1960s, as the old Hollywood studio system started to fall apart, an increasingly paranoid style started creeping into the era’s thrillers. John Frankenheimer’s films like The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May made a point of undercutting trust in just about every American institution in sight.
The most terrifying of Frankenheimer’s ’60s paranoia-noirs, though, was 1966′s Seconds, which I wrote about for PopMatters:
A bleak and noirish Frankenstein thriller whose DNA is threaded with zeitgeist-heavy satire, Seconds attacks a cherished American myth: the belief that everybody can start over. It takes a science-fiction concept—advanced surgery transforms somebody’s appearance so they can live life as an entirely new person—and turns it into both terrifying existential drama and black comedy. While those earlier Frankenheimer films channeled the anti-establishment distrust gnawing at the postwar American consensus, Seconds tweaked the pretensions of the post-Beat, proto-hippie self-awareness movement that promised to wipe away all the problems of modern life in a blaze of enlightenment and spiritual rebirth…
Seconds was just released in beautiful new DVD and Blu-ray editions from Criterion.
Check out the trailer here:
Not sure where that knife is destined to go.
All appreciators of the great and usually unsung character actors who make so many good movies great and so many lousy movies watchable took a hit last week when news came out of Dennis Farina’s passing.
My piece on Chicago’s own Farina (Get Shorty, Crime Story, Saving Private Ryan, and others) ran today at Short Ends & Leader:
Farina, who died on July 22 at the age of 69, was a detective in a Chicago Police Department burglary unit when he was introduced to Chicagoan Michael Mann, who was making his first feature, 1981’s Thief. Farina was hired as an advisor for the film and even got himself on screen for a few seconds; he gets shot rather unceremoniously at the film’s end along with some other anonymous henchmen. He worked some small roles for the next few years, mostly TV, but also polishing his craft on the Chicago stage with the likes of Steppenwolf vets like Terry Kinney. Supposedly, he even left the CPD a couple years before making his pension in order to pursue acting. It was a gutsy move, but one that paid off long before he ended up donning a trenchcoat and storming the streets of Manhattan on Law and Order…
And now, Crime Story:
Emilio Estevez gives his best punk-rock face in ‘Repo Man’
At first it might seem strange that the folks over at Criterion would bother putting out an edition of Repo Man. After all, isn’t it really a film meant to be watched on a bad $2 bargain-bin DVD or a miserably grainy VHS tape from a decades-old cable broadcast? Possibly, but on new viewing, this is one of those cult films that actually deserves getting this treatment, brand-spanking new transfer, deleted scenes and all.
From my review at Film Racket:
The scuzz-punk doom comedy of Alex Cox’s 1984 underground touchstone makes for a creepy visitation from a fracturing society. Released at the midpoint of the Reagan era’s celebration of suburban consumerism, it had a gutter-level view of Los Angeles’ bleached-out sprawl and social entropy. Its characters tend toward the feral: repo men who hunt the cars whose owners can’t pay up, shotgun-toting punks, cold-eyed federal agents, or bugged-out cult followers. Hints of an oppressive police state are everywhere, and the scent of nuclear apocalypse is on the land. In the middle of all the science-fiction-tinged end-times bleakness, though, Cox mines a catchphrase-studded seam of absurdist humor that’s one of the film’s most durable qualities…
Here’s the trailer, in all its grotty gloriousness:
Even though we’re arguably living in a time of unprecedented leaps in graphic design, that boundary-breaking often fails to trickle down to the book world. Like any other creative industry, book covers tend to group together by trends—now minimal, then not; and always the unspoken rule that genre fiction covers show people and more literary fiction does not.
In any case, freelance designer Sharm Murugiah had an awesome idea: Why not take the aesthetic of classic Penguin paperback covers from the 1950s and ’60s, with their standardized type treatments and focus on one or two iconic but abstract images, and see what would happen if he designed book covers for Quentin Tarantino films? This is what:
They all pretty much make sense, though it takes a minute to get some of the references (anybody remember the significance of Pop Tarts in a toaster for Pulp Fiction?).
(hat-tip to GalleyCat, once again)
Back in 1962, the 36-year-old Mel Brooks was watching an avant-garde film when an old man behind him wouldn’t stop with his grumpy and frustrated running commentary. Brooks turned this experience into his own short film, The Critic, in which he ad-libbed over some abstract animation; borscht belt meets the downtown art scene.
The result was a three-and-a-half-minute piece of genius that won the 1963 Academy Award.
You can watch the whole thing here:
(hat-tip: Open Culture)
Every 7 years since 1964, director Michael Apted has been checking in on the same group of 14 British subjects he first interviewed for the groundbreaking (though it didn’t seem it at the time) documentary 7 Up. Now, everybody is 56 years old.
My full review is at PopMatters:
Eight films on, director Michael Apted (who worked as a researcher on the first film) has created something for the ages. The Up series is like a living, breathing cinematic experiment. (More than a few of the people appear to feel they are being watched under a microscope, and resent it.) But after each seven-year delay, when Apted and his crew returns to interview those of the original 14 still talking to them, the drama of it increases in small increments almost scientific in tone. We see person turn not just from children into adults, but from characters into people. By the time that 56 Up comes around, most involved have left so much of themselves on the screen that the impending clouds of sickness and mortality begin to carry an almost unbearable weight…
56 Up is playing in limited release right now, and should be available on DVD later in the year. It’s best to catch up on the earlier installments first.
You can see the trailer here:
Back in 1982, when Tim Burton was an animator at Disney and directing a movie with Pee-Wee Herman was still years away, he wrote a little poem called The Nightmare Before Christmas. Years later, long after the stop-motion animated film version became an alt-parental favorite for pre-goth kids everywhere, this video was made of Christopher Lee (i.e., embodiment of stern-voiced evil as Saruman, Count Dooku, and many iterations of Fu Manchu) reading the poem itself.
The holidays are nearly upon us; enjoy:
As anybody who has gone to a movie in the theater in the last few decades can attest, the whole “no talking” thing has never been completely adopted by the larger population. Some people, in fact, seem to view exercise of going to the movie theater as no different from watching TV at home with family and friends. Different strokes.
All theaters make some pretense of telling people to be quiet and turn off their phones. But nobody is as hardcore about it as the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. The Alamo (which is now starting to expand around the country) has long been an oasis of film fandom, with their mix of deep repertory selections, cult classics and smartly curated second-runs—not to mention a great menu and beer selection.
They also really don’t like talkers and texters, bless their hearts. As can be attested to here:
In between penning scabrous satiric novels about the soul-crushing pitfalls of modern life, Martin Amis tends to return to his original job as newspaperman and would do the odd newspaper or magazine feature piece. Sometimes those pieces would also feature the soul-crushing pitfalls of modern life. Write what you know.
Back in 1990, the now-defunct Premiere magazine sent Amis to Houston write about Robocop 2, the best-forgotten Frank Miller-scripted homage to cinematic overkill. It’s a scathing piece (collected in the anthology Visiting Mrs. Nabakov), but particularly memorable for this reflection on the modern city:
The main precincts are deserted after 6pm — for this is a modern city, and no one is seriously expected to live in it. You work in it. Elegantly alienated youths rollerskate through the empty malls. They aren’t sullen or simmering or smashed; they are just not interested. Later, the night sky will contain the faint reports of gunfire: the crack wars of the crack gangs. Driving through the more depressed areas the next day, you will find the streets littered with beercans, hookers (“Hey, white boy!”), undergarments, human wigs-and the nomadic poor, clustered in the steel and concrete crevices of the city; soon, the police will come and briskly pressure-hose them out of there, and they will be obliged to regroup somewhere else. But not downtown, where the future is contentedly going about its business. Look into the magenta glass of the looming skyscraper, and what do you see? The reflection of another skyscraper — and another, and then another.
Technically, the film was set in Detroit, but clearly what Amis saw could stand in for any number of post-residential American downtowns, new theories about the return of the urban center notwithstanding.
Alfred Hitchcock had his issues, no question about that. But although his obsessions with guilt, control, and particularly various of his leading ladies have been well documented in print, outside of the cineaste world those proclivities are not well known. That might change somewhat with the release of The Girl.
Premiering in late October on HBO, The Girl is about the legendary campaign of intimidation that Hitch waged against his star Tippi Hedren on the set of The Birds. Hedren herself has talked about what a miserable experience it was, calling him an “unusual, genius, and evil” filmmaker.
The film about the film stars Sienna Miller as Hedren and (applause) the great Toby Jones as Hitch himself. The director is Julian Jarrold, who directed the first and best of the Red Riding films back in 2009.
Check out the trailer here: