Sunday, March 29, 2015


Written and Directed by
Quentin Dupieux
Starring Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, Wings Hauser, Robert
IMDB Entry

I’m not a fan of modern film horror.* I find it more annoying than frightening, more formulaic than clever.  I think it was the strangeness of the premise that attracted me to Rubber, a horror film that turns out to be a metafiction about horror.

It starts with a group of people out in the deserted, being told by a policeman, Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) that they are about to watch a movie, one whose events have no reason.  The group take binoculars and starts watching.

And see a tire (Robert) comes to life.  We see it stand upright and start rolling through the desert, but it soon begins to crush things in its path. When it can’t crush something, it starts to vibrate and the object or person explodes.

The tire find Sheila (Roxane Mesquida) and is thwarted when it tries to blow her up and then stalks her into a run-down motel.  Meanwhile, the audience discovers that they are not just observers of the events…

It was the goofiness of the concept that drew me in. The idea of a sentient killer tire is too delightful to pass up, and the scenes featuring Robert are all nice combinations of funny and scary.  It also has a lot to say about horror films and their audiences.

Director Quentin Dupieux continued with further low-budget films that weren’t just horror.  Sadly,  Robert’s acting career never took off,**

*I do like  monster movies, which is usually classified as horror, but which is usually more interested in dealing with the monster than running up a body count.

*Though he reportedly has a cameo in one of the Fast and Furious films.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Rock Dreams (book, music)

By Guy Peelaert (art) and Nik Cohn (text)

Guy Peelaert was a Belgian artist who began selling his work in the 60s, and who was very attuned to the rock and roll scene of the time.  Based in Paris, he had a couple of successful comic strips, and in 1974, he produced Rock Dreams, a fascinating set of images of the rock and roll world.

The book was a series of painting, representing rock music from its roots to the time of publication. It showed the important artists of the genre – but rarely doing anything that related to their career or even to reality.  The images were all visually striking and portrayed the myths of rock more than its reality. 

And it was fascinating.  Stars were shown in situations that they probably had never been in, and yet they fit perfectly into their images, no matter how weird.  So you had the Rolling Stones dressed in black leather drag; the Beatles having tea with the Queen; Brian Wilson looking chubby and lonely in a cluttered room, picking out a tune on a piano; Otis Redding sitting on a dock; the Mothers of Invention as a motorcycle gang. 

Here are some examples:





The photos were accompanied by text by rock critic Nik Cohn, which was also evocative, but it was the art the caught everyone’s attention.  The book was a major best seller  and put Peellaert on the map.

As should be obvious, he started doing album covers, most notably It’s Only Rock and Roll by the Rolling Stones and David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs.  He also worked in movie posters and many other things until his death in 2008.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mary and Max

Written and Directed by
Adam Elliot
With the voices of Toni Colette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana, Barry Humphries, Bethany Whitmore, Renee Geyer
IMDB Entry

In the US, animated films are for kids.  Though there are often elements to entertain adults, that’s not their main audience, and the assumption is that it’s best to stick with children’s stories.  In other countries, though animation for adults is accepted and even celebrated. And there are few films more worthy of celebration than Mary and Max.

MaryThe film starts in a small dreary brown town in Australia, where Mary Daisy Dunkle (Bethany Whitmore) lives a dreary brown life.  She is an outcast, of course, teased because of a birthmark on her forehead “the color of poo.”  Her father is in a dull job at a tea bag factory and disappears each night to do his taxidermy; his mother is a shoplifter who takes a little too much sherry (well, a lot too much). One day, Mary finds a New York City phone book, and wondering about Americans, picks a name at random and sends a letter.

MaxIt reaches Max Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a fat 44-year-old Jewish atheist, who lives alone and can’t deal with other people.  The letter frightens him, but he eventually writes back when he sees that they both love chocolate and The Noblets, a cartoon show.  Letter follows letter and the two create a long distance friendship over the years.  But all is not well. One of Mary’s letter, asking if he’s “done sexy,” gives Max an acute anxiety attack, and he’s hospitalized for eight months and diagnosed with a newly categorized disease:  Arnsparger’s syndrome.

Mary grows up (Toni Colette) and marries the boy next door (Eric Bana), but all is not well both between them and especially between her and Max.

The ending is extremely poignant, but I won’t spoil it here.

The movie is certainly dealing with dark themes:  depression, Arnsparger’s, loneliness, death, and even suicide.  But it’s also extremely funny.  Max’s letters have a wonderful deadpan black humor.  Mary’s are filled with the misunderstanding that a young child trying to figure out the world. 

The story is narrated by Barry Humphries, best known in the states as Dame Edna Everege.  It’s also dry and funny and anchors the story.  Hoffman, unrecognizable in a New York accent, shows why he was so highly regarded as an actor.

The design is also wonderful.  First of all, it’s all made with the most painstaking of animation techniques, stop action.  All the scenes in Australia are done in sepia tones, while New York is black and white.*  Other than a few dashes of red, there are no other colors in the film which gives it a unique look.

The film opened the Sundance Film Festival – the first animated film to do so – but never got a US distributor.  I would think that was because of some of the dark elements and the fact that the story is really one for adults, not children.

It’s available on Netflix.  Watch it and get a real treat.

*Probably influenced by Woody Allen in Manhattan

Sunday, March 8, 2015


Directed by
George Cukor
Written by David Ogden Stewart & Sidney Buchman (screenplay) from a play by Philip Barry
Starring  Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Doris Nolan, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton, Jean Dixon
IMDB Entry

Sometimes a movie is a victim of bad timing.  Holiday was certain in that category:  it flopped, even though it was a successful Broadway play and had been a success in the theaters.  But a lot had changed by the time this remake came out, and the result was a vastly underappreciated film.

It’s the story of Johnny Case (Cary Grant) who is about to marry Julia Seaton (Doris Nolan). Meeting her parents for the first time, he discovers she is part of a rich banking family, a surprise for Johnny, who is successful, but not rich.  He father Ned (Lew Ayres) is surprised, but accepts Johnny and wants him to join him in the bank.  The family is conventional and conservative* to a fault.

Except for Julia’s a sister Linda (Katherine Hepburn), who is  lively and a free spirit, an embarrassment to her stodgy family.  Johnny takes a liking to her and confides that his plan was to stop working and try to see the world and figure out how to make his life meaningful. This doesn’t sit well with the family when the word gets out.

Katherine Hepburn fits the character perfectly – exactly the type of woman that understands Johnny and would love to go with him.**  She’s so full of life and so natural that she is a delight in all her scenes.

Cary Grant is Cary Grant, of course, with his famous charm on full display.  Also memorable are Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon as a couple of Johnny’s friends who are far more interesting than anyone in the Seaton family.

Despite the direction of George Cukor and good critical notices, the film flopped.  Most people thought that the theme of giving up a job didn’t resonate in the depths of the Depression, when jobs were so hard to come by.***

At the time, though, the reason was clear:  it starred Katherine Hepburn. She had had a couple of flops that year, and she was labeled “box office poison.”****  She was dropped by RKO and was on her own.*****

Even though it was a flop, the movie seemed to have a lasting effect.  Before the play came out, “Linda” was a rare name.  It got a jump in popularity when the first film came out, and an even bigger one after Holiday.

Now the movie is considered one of many gems in the filmography of Grant and Hepburn and of director George Cukor.

*In the 1930s understanding of the term.

**It’s not a spoiler to know that they end up together at the end; everything in the movie  points in that direction.

***The play was produced ten years earlier, before the Crash, and the movie came out in 1930, in the early days of the Depression when there were still people who believed that prosperity is just around the corner.

****The two films that seemed to bring on the epithet was this one and Bringing Up Baby, (now considered one of the best comedies of all time).  It’s interesting that Cary Grant, her costar in both those movies, never was named poison himself.

*****Of course, Hepburn was not one to take this lying down.  She went back to Broadway to perform a play by Phillip Barry, which was such a big success that Hollywood wanted to make a movie of it.  But Hepburn was smart enough to buy the movie rights, and insisted she star as a condition.  The Philadelphia Story was a hit and Hepburn never looked back.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Monolith Monsters

Directed by
John Sherwood
Written by Norman Jolly and Robert M. Fresco (screenplay); Jack Arnold and Fresco (story)
Starring Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Les Tremayne, Trevor Bardette, Phil Harvey, Linda Scheley
IMDB Entry

I always liked 50s monster movies, and even today the best hold up pretty well.  Oh, the science is often silly, but once granted the premise, it sticks it with logical solutions and results.  The monster are very similar though:  usually some sort of giant creature that runs amok.  Certainly the most imaginative threat in these shows up in The Monolith Monsters.*

It starts with a meteorite crashing into the desert near a small California town.  Geologist Ben Gilbert (Phil Harvey) finds one of hundreds of black rocks and takes it back for study.  When water falls onto one of the rocks, it starts to bubble.

The next day, Dave Miller (Grant Williams) returns from a business trip to find Ben, his body turned into rock.  Meanwhile, the schoolteacher Cathy Barrett (Lola Albright) takes her class on a field trip, where her kids find more of the rocks, and Ginny Simpson (Linda Scheley) take it home. Cathy recognizes the rock in the lab as the same one that Ginny took with her, and they rush to her house, only to find it destroyed and Ginny slowly turning to stone.

The black rock turns out to be a crystal that grows when exposed to water.  After a rainstorm, the monoliths begin to move:  they grow to immense height, then topple over, breaking into thousands of  pieces that grow when exposed to water, and repeating the cycle.  And they cannot be stopped.

The movie isn't perfect.  The biggest flaw is that to increase suspense the characters are slow on the uptake:  trying to find what causes the monoliths to move, they take forever to realize its water. 

The Monoliths attack!But the monoliths are the stars of the film.  They are a different type of threat:  mindless, moving only the way gravity takes them, and totally dangerous.  The shots of them growing and crashing, destroying anything in their path are impressive.

The story was credited to 50s movie great Jack Arnold, who I've discussed before.  You can see similarities to other of his films, most notably the desert locale and the attempt to make the pseudoscience believable.

The film didn't make much of a splash when it came out, released as part of a double feature and disappearing.  It's fallen into public domain and can be found in the Internet Archive.

Despite the fact that a sequel would be natural, the monolith monsters never showed up again.**  It's still one of the top examples of the subgenre.

*I had always loved the premise, but didn’t get a chance to see it until recently.

**Other than a cameo appearance in 2001: A Space Odyssey