Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Samuel Snoek Brown's "Hagridden" is Bone Rattling.

Several years back, a man I greatly admire, film critic Roger Ebert turned to the internet to explore how others reacted to a film. He described their quotes as "dealing with their feelings"


That's what Hagridden will do.  Make you deal with your feelings.  

Hagridden is a simple construct wrapped in complexities built around two female primary characters, who by being victims of circumstance, have to do horrible, reprehensible things to survive in the Louisiana marsh as the Civil War is flaming out. 

And Sam Snoek-Brown makes you feel empathy, even sympathy for them as they murder without restraint. 

It takes a hell of a writer to do that. 

Much like the Japanese horror film, "Onibaba", the story centers on a woman, and a girl, and they go by no more for names than that, living alone and like feral animals.   This after the loss of both their husbands, one in the war.  They are mother-in-law and daughter-in-law which complicates things as "the girl" wants to shirk loneliness with a returned soldier.

Things get darker as they struggle to survive, drowning in fear, paranoia, and hatred, particularly the woman, who's only real tie to the world and reality is the girl.   Characters with malicious intent and dripping hatred wander this landscape, and Hagridden really makes you come to terms with the concept of "the lesser of two evils" as you try to hash out your understanding of these poor souls while they do what you would never consider.  Snoek-Brown's book creates a nature of lethal violence becoming as easy as you or I would buy something we take for granted.  

You become immersed in the Hagridden world as you are repelled by it and one of the reasons that is so easy is Snoek-Brown's attention to detail.  He's steeped in his knowledge of individual locales as well as real characters and battles of the back end of the civil war.  Equally as sharp is  his vivid and detailed, yet at times wistful descriptions of the day to day minutiae of surviving the unforgiving beauty of delta swamp life and second nature gruel of existence in this time and place, that seems alien to us now. 

Just as real is his grasp of human loneliness and sadness and how they tie to desperations within.  Snoek-Brown details how quickly those emotions lead to free-wheeling lust and need, and just as quickly to greed, suspicion, betrayal and murder. 

Hagridden isn't just a story, it's an experience. And as Ebert described "Halloween", you're not just reading it, it's "happening to you."  Sam Snoek-Brown has created a quietly violent world, enhanced by the lack of quotation marks in it's dialogue, where the silence of it's brutality is just as unsettiling as it's reality. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Where All That Stuff Comes From

I know way too much about Lombardi's Packers for never having been there for their glory, or for that matter, not even having been born yet.

 I know a ton about Milwaukee Brewers players and teams that I never watched.  My favorite all time Milwaukee Brewers bubble gum Card is of a guy I never got a chance to see play, The Boomer, George Scott.  I remember seeing another kid on the schoolyard who had it in his stack of gems and being jealous as hell.  He would accept no trade offers for it..


 It would be years before I was able to get it.

I have too much working knowledge of recording artists that were before my time or before I discovered the power chord and Blue Oyster Cult.

 I know who it was that starred in and the release years of flicks that came out when my parents were kids.

How?

TV Guide, Reading the backs of Baseball & Football cards, (yes, kids, there once was more to them than air-tight sealing, prospecting, grading and getting maximum value for them!!) borrowed library books on film history devoured as a kid, and too much time spent reading (and absorbing) the backs of album covers.

I still remember before the days of cable and non-stop ESPN media-blasting, being shocked by reading on the back of Frank Taveras' 1982 Topps card that the dude somehow stole 71 bases in a season?

71!!!

Or that Bill Kenney passed for over 4000 yards for Kansas City once!

Really?  To Who?

Did you know (back of a Dokken album cover) that Juan Croucier played for Don's boys before Ratt?


Was there a trade worked out there?

It's amazing where all that clutter came from, let alone that I remember learning it.

Hope I have some GB left....

Anyway, there's some comfort drawn from that old stuff from which I gleaned my knowledge. A simpler time, indeed.  Information gleaned from hard work, microfiche, a library card, and memory instead of a lightning fast Google search.  Old dusty cardboard baseball cards and comic book pages that yellow with time, not the high gloss, freaky bright stock that blasts at you today.  Giant lyric sheets and musician rosters that were readable without needing to squint to see on the opposite side of some pretty dynamic (or cheesy, better yet) artwork on the front of an album cover as opposed as to the less tactile jewel case and inlay card of a CD.

Or worse, in all cases, just a computer download you never actually prove exists other than a e-receipt and a cold icon on desktop or mobile device.

As I'll point out in a future somewhat related post, are we moving too far too fast?  Technology for even life's minutiae has grown far more in my lifetime, or even last 30 years, than it did in the previous 70.  There's something scary and impersonal in that.

I like where my trivia came from.  


Friday, July 25, 2014

Back When Cartoons Scared the Crap Out Of You.

Being terrified as a kid is not difficult. But cartoons aren't supposed to do it, damn it.

Two culprits:

One is hard to find. An episode of "Cool Cat" that featured a character needing to be bodyguarded known as "Smilin' Ed Solvent"

This is all I can find.
 The Next is a bona fide animation legend, a Porky Pig cartoon called "The Case of the Stuttering Pig"

I remember it being in color for some reason, but the damn thing marked me. The commentator on this video feels the same way.


The Case of the Stuttering Pig (Commentary) by CarlStallingEnthusiast

Anyway. One is from 62, the other from 37, and it's proof positive that in the old days they knew how to lay on the Jeebs.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Movies I Stayed Up Late For: The Fury


As a kid without cable there were quite a few movies of the week, and they were what we had.

These were the limits of our lives.


Quite often, the CBS Saturday Night movie, capper of the weekend, kept me up at night because I couldn't wait to see what the hell happened next....

I have pontificated on many of these celluloid diversions right here on my very own corner of the internet.

There's one that I still have tons of rock solid memories of seeing some 30 years ago.

Let's discuss early Brian DePalma. And "The Fury".

He made the incredibly faithful Stephen King adaption, "Carrie" two years prior, and seemed the man for the job here.  I remember this movie blowing my doors off in the very early 80's when it was being run on over-the-air TV, and the lovely Frani and I sat down to take it in off of the DVR just the other evening.

Well, it's a bit uneven.  There's a story to be told here, make no mistake, as a very young Amy Irving and Andrew Stevens are two teens with powerful telekinetic abilities that The Gubmint (led by a greasy Mr. Rosemary's Baby, John Cassavetes) wants to possess and make more dominant.

Kirk Douglas, looking svelte and strong for his age, is the lead as Stevens' father and I get the feeling the studio liked that he was in it. Unfortunately you can really feel that fact, as his character is on screen almost constantly for the first hour, on the hunt from the second scene on to find Stevens and that becomes the onus of the film.  The scenes with Douglas, many that do not accomplish much when factoring in screen time, suck running length from what should have been more exposition into the potentially interesting link between Irving and Stevens, as well as what was being done by the shady Goverment Agency to the latter kiddo.  Instead there's overextended comic exchanges between Douglas and Gordon Jump's family and a pair of cops, one of which is a young and somehow still-coiffed Dennis Franz.

The action and visual effects, on the other hand, are top notch.  A young Rick Baker did the FX, and DePalma was not suffering from a lack of need to create slow-motion set pieces either, as there are a few.  The closing moments are pretty slick, and put the money shot from David Cronenberg's "Scanners" (which came later, and is much more ballyhooed now) to shame.  Cronenberg's film told a better story, and that's why it's deservedly more fondly remembered, but it shouldn't be forgotten that this little pic here tread the ground first.   That said,  Michael Ironside is intimidating as the heavy in "Scanners", while you just feel like slapping Cassavetes with a brick and telling him to shut up in this one.

Overall, it wasn't as good as I remember it, but it still elicits fond memories of the living room floor, that old Sylvania console model TV, and the Late Movie.  It's neat to see "then unknowns" like Franz and Daryl Hannah, Kirk Douglas being Kirk, some nicely done DePalma camera tricks, and to remember when Andrew Stevens was gonna be "big".

Friday, March 28, 2014

Movies I Stayed Up Late For: MAGNUM FORCE



Yeah, I'd need both hands to count how many times I stayed up into the fog of pre-dawn for the second film in the "Dirty Harry" Callahan film series, "Magnum Force".  Many nights I sat in front of the age-old Sylvania console television, rubbing the sleep out of my overworked peepers. I forced myself to stay alert with the single minded purpose of catching good old Clint himself as he blows away half of the crooked San Francisco police force, a single-handed, one man walking death warrant for the corruption that had infiltrated the SFPD, under the evil guidance of one Hal Holbrook.

Hal's soldiers included a then unknown Tim Matheson who went on to some fame in "Animal House", "Fletch", and as a side note, I believe I've caught his name on the small screen once or twice as a director of an episode or two of "Psych". Here we find a young David Soul, a few short years before "Starsky & Hutch" and the mini-series that had me defecating in my pants, "Salem's Lot". Mr "Don't Give Up On Us" was also one of the "dirty" cops that spent much of their time pulling over known pimps and drug dealers for one reason, and one reason only, and that was to shoot them in the face.

You might question why 'ol Harry, a damn-near vigilante himself, would have a problem with this sort of thing. That gets answered succinctly late in the film in a dust-up with  a spiteful Lieutenant Briggs, Mr. Holbrook's character.  He  asks Harry about his "hypocrisy" and the Inspector's frequent "bucking of the system".

His response is genuinely twisted and hypocritical: "I hate the goddamn system! But until someone comes along with changes that make sense, I'll stick with it."

Kind of clunky spoken and thought out logic, there, Harry. I prefer a quote from earlier film:
"Nothing wrong with shooting, as long as the right people get shot."  That's honesty.

Actually, "Magnum Force" is an infinitely quotable movie.  After all, it's where I learned the life lesson that "a man has to know his limitations."

....and how to spot "salty lookin' dudes".

Ah, the 70's....We all love David Soul, despite his character's evil nature, and here's a reminder of why....






Monday, March 24, 2014

MOVIES I STAYED UP LATE FOR: Silent Rage

Mad Scientists. Mad Slashers. Kung Fu fury.

Chubby Comic Relief.

"Silent Rage" has it all. It also boasts examples of all 4 of what I feel are the 4 integral ingredients of a great "B" movie.

1."What the Hell?" dialogue: "Look at that cell structure!!!"

2.Out of Place Martial Arts mayhem: Chuck Norris takes apart a bar full of bikers and the antagonist at the end of the film with his high kicking antics.

3. Hey, It's that guy!!!!: Steven Keats, Stephen Furst (Flounder from "Animal House"), and Ron Silver (!), who sadly passed away early.

4.Overacting alert!!! Steven Keats in his mad scientist rage of cellular and biological superiority spews venomous f-bombs at eventual Oscar winner Ron Silver (in an early role for him)

Ron Silver's patient, Brian Libby (referenced in "Hot Fuzz", Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright are geniuses) is on the edge and medicated at the beginning of this classic.
His landlady's noisy children drive him over the edge and he murders two people with an axe before Mr. Norris and Silver show up. After much violent struggling and a temporary handcuffing in brief police car incarceration, our soon to be slasher, John Kirby, is gunned down.

After he kicks the squad door off from the inside.  Roll eyes here.

Shortly thereafter in a Texas hospital, biological scientist Keats, for reasons unknown to the audience works as a surgeon with psychiatrist Silver. They try unsuccessfully to save the life of Kirby, played well nearly worldessly by Brian Libby. Keats then tries to play God by injecting an experimental chemical into Kirby, (who is an excellent choice for such a thing by the way, to the film's credit, Silver's character DOES make that point), turning him into an indestructable version of the psycho he already was.

The rest of the film is a generic slasher movie, although skillfully executed to some degree with the use of some tension, and an eerie synthesizer created soundtrack. The odd addition of Norris as the hero (this was post indy-"A Force of One", "Octagon" Norris, but pre-Cannon--"Missing in Action" Norris.) is truly weird, and Furst as Norris' silly sidekick doesn't really work for the most part. I kept expecting him to ask "So, you guys playing cards?"  Chuck doesn't act here as much as "exist", while the pros around him being Silver, Keats, Furst and Toni Kalem, as his love interest, do the heavy lifting.

 If you can call it that. Give them credit, they do well with what material they have.

"Silent Rage" obviously is a mess, but an entertaining one, however, with a decent genre climax. Norris was obviously an excellent cinema martial artist, and it shows here. He doesn't do much else right. When he's not throwing his trademark standing spin kicks and jump crescents, he's cringe-inducing.

But overall, it is what it is (I hate that phrase).  A good "B" grade horror/sci-fi/karate move.

Friday, March 7, 2014

MOVIES I STAYED UP LATE FOR: The Food of the Gods


My current foray into "Movies I Stayed Up Late For" is the 1976 drive-in late night TV staple, "The Food of the Gods".

It's an absolute Godawful piece of claptrap that did nothing upon it's cinematic release but induce projectile vomiting and groans of disdain. It starred former child-evangelist (you read that right) Marjoe Gortner.  There was even a wide-release documentary made on that topic entitled "Marjoe!" At one point, je was being ballyhooed by some in the cinematic press in the early 70's as "the embodiment of cinematic masculinity" (!) but never amounted to much more than a B-movie semi-icon.

This cinematic achievement was a quaint little story about chemical corruption. It seems there's these jars labelled "FOTG" sitting on the shelves of some elderly farmer's barns. (elderly farmers barns in 70's movies, always seem to have great things hiding inside them) Some animals and insects start to eat some of the mystery juice that was accidentally spilled causing them to grow awful damn huge, develop nasty dispositions and wreak general havoc all over the rural area. (You know, eating people and stuff).

The movie was forgettable (and regrettable) beyond this great cliffhanger ending: The final shots show some of the dumped compound running off into a river. Through snappy editing, the river flows downstream (where else does a river flow, Rob?) and (gasp) some cows drink from the river. The next shots are composed in a dairy, then show a child (hold on to your butts!) drinking from a milk carton in her school lunch. Oh My God! Wait a tic, what's gonna happen? Is she gonna be a pro wrestler or an NBA player or what?

Not to mention they forgot to take the hyper-complex scientific theory of dilution into consideration. How effective would the substance be when broken down into parts per million, and several miles of riverflow? Not well thought out, boys, but yet again, how well thought out was the concept of this movie?

Wait a minute, I'm the guy who stayed up late for it.
 Heh, I was a kid, right?......right?

I'm sticking by that.


ADDENDUM: In 1988, I remember breezing through the daily information colossus known to those "in the know" as THE WAUSAU DAILY HERALD, and seeing the cineplex, if it could be called that, down by the mall showing (probably on the screen downstairs that's no bigger than my living room TV where I saw "Good Morning, Vietnam" in it's 347th week of release) "Food of the Gods 2", a Canadian opus trying to cha-ching in on the 12 year old success of the original.

Wait a minute here, the first did absolutely nothing. This makes no sense. How did this North-central Wisconsin theatre manager get horranged into carrying this stupid movie anyway?
Did the distributor offer him a "Food of the Gods 2" baseball hat?   These filmmakers tried to pull of the cinematic equivalent of a sequel to oh, say, "Frogs",  (I'm sure Sam Elliot is proud) or "Grizzy"....

....wait, that was attempted.  Sorry, there,  George Clooney, Laura Dern, and Charlie Sheen. (Were you winning then, Mr. Estevez?)

 Go figure. I should fund and release a sequel to "Satan's Cheerleaders". It would be as intelligent.