Saturday, November 27, 2010

Larry Buchanan's Fractured Fairy Tales :: A 15 Vid-Cap Look at Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976)

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"That's the last cock I'll ever have to suck."
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According to legend, cinema schlockmeister Larry Buchanan was friends with the newly minted Marylin Monroe when they were both contract wage slaves for MGM in the early 1950's. And Goodbye, Norma Jean was the first chapter of his scathing indictment on the Hollywood machine that, according to Mr. B., forced her to sleep her way to the top, chewed her up, and then spat her back out with the follow up flick, Goodnight, Sweet Marylin. Truthfully, I'm not a huge Monroe fan, whose off-screen mystique tends to blot out and overshadow some real talent onscreen, or buy into the many conspiracies surrounding her life and death; but this film isn't really about Marylin and tries to tear asunder the manufactured and exploited image that has always rubbed me the wrong way.

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"Larry Buchanan's Goodbye, Norma Jean is more than a lurid celebrity biography. It shatters many illusions about the movie business, and attempts to demystify the cultural creation of Marylin Monroe, questioning the cultural mythology of which not only obscures but consumes the person (or its subjects, in both senses of the term). Her struggles show the entertainment industry as a callous, dehumanizing system, a conglomerate of ruthless individuals prepared to exploit anyone in order to produce more product for an insatiable audience [and] specifically seeks to lay bare the pleasant, preposterous banalities of how the public traditionally views a movie star's ascension to fame and fortune. In Norma Jean's case the road to success was not merely rocky, but criminally abusive..."

Rob Craig xxxxxxxx
The Films of Larry Buchanan x
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And thus, once more, Larry Buchanan has managed to suck me back into his static, no frills world of entertainment. (And for this I blame Mr. Craig and his excellent, critical study of our boy Larry.) But, You know what? As far as revisionist B.S. bio-Buchanan flicks go? This one wasn't half bad, but it has less to do with the guy behind the camera and more to do with an arresting performance by Misty Rowe as Norma Jean, whose combination of fragility and dogged determination will surprise a lot of folks who wrote this film off with a Hee and a Haw ... Now I just need to find a copy of the The Loch Ness Horror and I can finally put Mr. Buchanan away for good. Yay, me!

Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976) Austamerican Productions / EP: Mark Josem / P: Larry Buchanan / D: Larry Buchanan / W: Larry Buchanan, Lynn Shubert / C: Robert A. Sherry / E: John Buchanan, John S. Curran / M: Joe Beck / S: Misty Rowe, Terence Locke, Patch Mackenzie, Preston Hanson, Adele Claire

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Netflix'd :: Clearing Out the Instant Que : Who's the Hero Again? William Witney's Juvenile Jungle (1958)

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"Keep it purring, Kitten, and I'll bring you back some catnip."
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Though not near as hep and entertaining as The Cool and the Crazy, the apex of his juvenile delinquency trilogy from 1958 (-- the final third being the stolen car epic, Young and Wild), William Witney's Juvenile Jungle is still worth a look. Witney had already forever etched his name in Hollywood lore when he teamed up with the likes of Yakima Canutt and the Lydecker Brothers for a ton of barn-burning serials for Republic Pictures (-- Daredevils of the Red Circle [1939], The Adventures of Captain Marvel [1941] and The Crimson Ghost [1946] to name a few); and the director's notions on fight choreography and editing soon leeched there way into the majors. And if that wasn't enough, at the twilight of his career, Witney also gave us the whole six-pack of awesome known as Darktown Strutters (1975). 

Juvenile Jungle was one of the last pictures the Republic made before the studio went tits up in the late 1950's. The plot is fairly standard: a young, good-looking no-goodnik drifter (Allen) finds himself in a new town, where he woos the lovelorn and luckless waitress of the local greasy spoon (Welles); and, through her, wheedles his way into a gang of toughs (Di Rida, Bakalyan) and convinces them to stop their penny-ante stick-ups for one big score -- knocking off the local liquor store/check-cashing joint by kidnapping and ransoming the owner's daughter. Things get a little convoluted and contrived from there, as our scheming lothario's plan revolves around him first wooing and romancing said victim (-- a kidnapping without a kidnapping, dig?), drawing the jealous ire of his other girlfriend, and the wrath of the rest of the gang, when our boy starts to fall for the perky teenie-bopper and rapidly develops some cold feet...

Three things, I think, kick Juvenile Jungle up a couple notches from its standard Switchblade Pack'n, Vitalis Slick Sport'n and Rocket-Bra Clad brethren. First, Horman's script doesn't preach or rail against the loutish behavior of our kooky criminals but plays more like a standard hard-boiled crime drama of that era. Second, the stable of actors, including an extended cameo by the lovely and always welcomed Yvette Vickers (-- and somewhere, Robert Conrad is lurking but I failed to spot him), and anchored by the wily vet Bakalyan, and a strong turn by a pre-The Waltons Joe Conley as their inside man, helps smooth things out considerably when head thug Di Reda threatens to spit the bit and start gnawing on the scenery. Allen and Whitefield are likable as a couple and spark the old chemistry set -- you actually believe this idiot would straighten out for her; but the real star of the show is the spurned Welles, who, when things start to unravel, with nothing left to lose, is the one with the chutzpah to hold it together and push the others through to the bitter end, which brings us to the third thing I really liked and found interesting about this flick.

As I said before, Juvenile Jungle is more of a crime drama than a high school safety screed. Pretty pedestrian on the surface, yes, with a few flashes of brilliance, but what really makes this thing work is if you consider Welles' character as our protagonist and not Allen's malcontent with a misunderstood heart of gold. The film's promotional materials really do Welles a disservice, too, branding her as the pied piper out for kicks, who leads those around to her to a tragic end. Wrong. Dead wrong. (And to add insult to injury, all the promotional materials for Juvenile Jungle calling for Welles' head showcase Vickers instead!) Like most characters in these old hard-boilers, Welles is just another working stiff who throws caution to the wind when she falls for the wrong guy -- here, with the genders switched, she becomes prey for a homme fatal -- and buys into his cock-n-bull load about the big score and the easy life it promises. 

Of course these things never, ever work out. And after she gives it all up for him, emotionally, physically and financially, only to be double-crossed and dumped, with her eyes still firmly on the prize, and, yes, a little biblical payback on her ex-lover as an added bonus, Welles is soon barreling down the road to ruin. And when we reach the inevitable climax, with things falling apart around her, her dreams going up in smoke and bitch-slaps and a tightening police dragnet, Welles is left holding the smoking gun, while the real villain, Allen, who got her into this quagmire in the first place, will, for all intents and purposes, despite his injuries, get the (other) girl of his dreams, his big score by default, and basically gets away with it all.

And that, my friends, is some pretty screwed up shit, right there. 

Juvenile Jungle (1958) Coronado Pictures Inc. :: Republic Pictures / P: Sidney Picker / D: William Witney / W: Arthur T. Horman / C: Jack A. Marta / E: Joseph Harrison / M: Jerry Roberts / S: Corey Allen, Rebecca Welles, Richard Bakalyan, Anne Whitfield, Joe Di Reda, Joe Conley, Yvette Vickers

Monday, November 15, 2010

Movie Poster Spotlight :: Sword and Sandal, Sex and Spies, JAWS Knock-offs, and Big Monkeys : The Dino de Laurentiis Memorial Edition.

Dino de Laurentiis

By no means all the movies the Big D had a hand in,
but these are pretty much my favorites:

Attila (1954) :: Spanish One Sheet

Ulysses (1955) :: Spanish One Sheet

Five Branded Women (1960) :: Half Sheet

Goliath and the Vampires (1961) :: Italian Locandina

Kiss the Girls and Make them Die (1967) :: Italian Locandina

Barbarella (1968) :: Polish One Sheet

Diabolik (1968) :: Insert

A Man Called Sledge (1971) :: One Sheet

Death Wish (1974) :: Italian Locandina

Mandingo (1974) :: Turkish One Sheet

Three Tough Guys (1974) :: Turkish One Sheet

Drum (1976) :: Belgian Half Sheet

King Kong (1976) :: Japanese One Sheet

Orca (1977) :: Half Sheet

The White Buffalo (1977) :: One Sheet

Flash Gordon (1980) :: Japanese One Sheet

Conan the Barbarian (1982) :: German One Sheet

Silver Bullet (1985) :: Italian Locandina

King Kong Lives (1986) :: Italian Locandina

Army of Darkness (1992) :: Italian Locandina

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Trailer Park :: ROCK-N-ROLL! : Tetsuro Takeuchi's Whole Six-Pack of Awesome Better Known as Wild Zero (2000)

OK ... Try to get your head around this: Our hero, Ace, a pompadour sporting, moped-riding rockabilly groupie is on his way to see a concert. But this venture is rudely interrupted when aliens decide to invade the Earth. The sky is full of saucers, the dead are rising and begin their usual feast on human flesh, and humanity's only hope for survival is Ace's favorite band and the power of Rock-n-Roll...

2004 was a very good year for the living dead -- as opposed to 2003, which saw Herr Uwe Boll's gawd-awful, true, but hilariously inept
House of the Dead. A genre that had been relegated to low-budget, direct to video fiascoes like Children of the Living Dead and Zombie '90 Extreme Pestilence went through a renaissance in quality, quantity, and even returned to the big screen.

Zack Snyder's questionable remake of George Romero's
Dawn of the Dead proved to be not as bad as the original film's fans and zombie purists had feared. In fact, I think it was pretty darn good, and, go ahead and call me blasphemous but I found to be more enjoyable than the original version. Well, it was -- until it turned into a pedestrian episode of the A-Team for the third act; and what the holy-heck was that ending credit sequence all about, when it switched from Romero to Italian zombie master Lucio Fulci mode? But! At least there wasn't a pie-fight ... Then, from our friends in Great Britain came Shaun of the Dead, a brilliant film that worked on so many levels; it sacred you, and made you cry and laugh uncontrollably, usually at the same time. Heck, 2004 was such a good year for the not quite dead that Romero himself finally got the long promised fourth entry of his own franchise, Land of the Dead, into production.

2004 also saw the domestic DVD release of Japan's very own demented entry into the zombie oeuvre, Tetsuro Takeuchi's
Wild Zero (2000). (Which meant I could finally throw away my shitty VHS bootleg.) This movie -- well, this movie defies all rational explanations. A volatile brew, it's kind of like Dawn of the Dead mixed with Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space with a Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Fun Park chaser. Its got a Dead Alive mentality and an Evil Dead ferocity, with a paint-blistering soundtrack inspired by The Ramones, Gene Vincent and Link Wray.

Guitar Wolf :: Drum Wolf, Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf

And the film really is a showcase for Guitar Wolf, a real life Japanese punk/thrash-a-billy band, whose music is so over-modulated and distorted that you honestly fear for your stereo speaker's life. Again, have a listen:

Seriously. Double check your warranties before viewing. Armed with a lot of self-confidence, anti-matter guitar picks, and guns loaded with skull detonating bullets, our merry band must survive the UFO invaders, the munching zombie hordes (-- but they're not sure how because none of them have actually seen
Night of the Living Dead), a cat-suit-cladded, gun-running femme fatale mercenary, and a psychotic promoter with a thing for Dutch boy wigs and terminally short pants -- who can shot lasers out of his eyes! You just can't make this shit up, folks...

Anyways, any movie that has its own built in drinking game gets bonus points from me (and the Synapse DVD even provides a pop-up beer mug to help you along.) All you have to do is drink whenever someone drinks; someone combs their hair; anytime fire shoots out of anything; anyone says "rock-n-roll!"; something explodes; or a zombie's head "pops." And if you follow the rules, you'll be snockered by the end of the first reel. Trust me.

E'yup, Wild Zero is as insane as it sounds, but I'll curb your enthusiasm a little by warning you all that the film is completely, wonderfully, and unapologetically stoopid. (Even the film's director says it was meant to be unapologetically stoopid.) The sheer rawness of it works to the film's benefit but the pacing is maddeningly bi-polar, with spurts of action that just as quickly screeches to a halt, and honestly, when the film is in high gear, the dialogue is moving so fast it's impossible to keep up with the subtitles. Some things are definitely lost in translation. They have to be. There's no other possible explanation. Meaning the majority of the time you won't know what the heck is going on.

But, eh, I wouldn't even try make sense of it. For this movie is not meant to be seen, but endured! It's an assault on the senses, twisted and distorted, and wops you upside the head. And when it's over, after the dust settles and your ears stop ringing, you may not have a clue as to what you just encountered -- hell, you may not even like it -- but there's an uncontrollable urge to que it up and watch it again. Rock 'n' roll!

Wild Zero (1999) Dragon Pictures :: GAGA :: Takeuchi Entertainment / EP: Kazuhiko Tanaka / P: Kaichiro Furata, Katsuaki Takemoto / D: Tetsuro Takeuchi / W: Satoshi Takagi, Tetsuro Takeuchi / C: Motoki Kobayashi / E: Tomoe Kubota / M: Guitar Wolf / S: Guitar Wolf, Drum Wolf, Bass Wolf, Masashi Endô, Kwancharu Shitichai, Haruka Nakajo
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