Friday, December 28, 2012

APPENDIX colon RIGHT BACK AT YA! More 'Favorite that's Not' questions from ZZC...

Below are my answers to my follow up questions inspired by the super-fun time survey / quiz offered by LERNER INTERNATIONAL ENTERPRISES here.

1) Favorite revenge movie that's not POINT BLANK, GET CARTER, or ROLLING THUNDER:

Revenge is indeed a dish best served cold, meaning the seeker of vengeance should remain calm, cool and collected as they carefully plan, and extract the most satisfying punishment possible. Revenge is also the impetus for so many spaghetti westerns, kung fu and other such action / exploitation films. It's probably one of mankind's most base instincts, right next to love. It's a formula contingent on catharsis. Certainly the slow boil of Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West is a masterpiece thesis on these concepts. 

But I'm going to proclaim what is sure to be an unexpected response as to one of my favorite revenge films. It is from a cold place, with a chillingly dry sense of humor, yet also exudes pathos that belies its characters' near-numbing nonchalance. In barely 70 minutes, Aki Kaurismäki's The Match Factory Girl (1990) tells the tale of a mousy female factory worker who leads a drab existence, is further wronged by life, and tries to get even. The fleeting moment of joy she enjoys when she wears a new dress and meets a mysterious man is soon shattered into tragedy. So what does she do? She quietly hatches a plan to avenge herself against the man that stole her last glimmer of hope. A large part of Kaurismäki's ouevere describes a certain temperament; characters bear a lackadaisical affect, perhaps partially due to living in a land that is sometimes almost without day, and sometimes almost without night, depending on the season. This is what comes across as particularly Finnish, the resignation towards one's fate in this climate. This attitude is reminiscent, conceptually at least, of the Japanese concept of mono no aware - 'to accept the passing of things.' Cold, as in 'a dish best served...' is a perfect way to describe a lot of Kaurismäki's work. And yet, his films derive much humor out of the desperate tedium his characters endure, surprisingly balanced with just the right amount of sentimentality (though some of his films are much more overtly predicated on playing our heart strings). Meet our heroine Iiris...

2) Favorite martial arts movie that doesn't star Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Lee, Sammo Hung, Gordon Liu, Donnie Yen, or Tonny Jaa (Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal films don't count):

My first response is a little tricky. I have claimed The Prodigal Son (1981) one of my favorite kung fu films for years. Yuan Biao is the star, though director Sammo Hung has a supporting role as a kung fu teacher. It's a great mixture of kung fu, comedy, and pastiche meets parody, the way it self-consciously comments on, and makes fun of the genre, while satisfying its tropes with glee. Yuan Biao, Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan were in a frighteningly rigorous Peking Opera school together where they honed their physical abilities and affinity for pranks that makes their movies so much fun. There were two kung fu flicks I caught late night on channel 5 (way back when they still showed such stuff) that instantly became perennial favorites. 5 Superfighters (1978) is one of the most stripped down, near existential Shaw Brothers fight flicks in my mind. A baddie goes from town to town ridding the land of what he calls 'bad kung fu.' This guy is evil. He just fights for the sake of fighting, much like Tatsuya Nakadai's amoral samurai in Sword of Doom (another favorite). It's also a revenge film, as he beats a kung fu master, whose serious loss of face causes his three young students to seek revenge, allowing for lots of training sequences and displays of different styles. It's a period piece, and the villain wears a cloak, so it's got that superhero / melodrama sort of feel. But basically it's lots and lots of kung fu.  Monkey Kung Fu (aka Stroke of Death) (1979) is a great kung fu comedy caper flick that gets off to an intriguing start with a small time thief learning the eponymous style from a mysterious old man in prison. It includes a great scene in a brothel, and is a generally rousing, funny adventure.

I really like The Loot (1980). With the twists and turns in its search for hidden treasure plot, it's like a spaghetti western transposed onto the kung fu paradigm. And great fighting!

Similar to how Tony Jaa and team revolutionized martial arts films with Ong Bak by showcasing a dynamic amalgam of Muay Thai and other styles, Welsh born director Gareth Evans, and star Iko Uwais brought us the exciting innovation of a fight film based around the Indonesian art of Silat in the surprisingly dramatic Merentau.

LIE was spot on in choosing Sonny Chiba's The Streetfighter for their answer to this question. It is great, and the first film to get an X-rating for violence. I really like another film in that series, klnown here as The Karate Warriors. Maybe they used an optical printer for that cool slow-motion kick suddenly goes fast motion technique? Somehow the overwrought melodrama involving a little kid works. Also gotta give serious props to Yuen Woo-Ping's The Buddhist Fist.

3) Favorite post-apocalyptic movie that's not part of the MAD MAX franchise:

I must have seen every Italian Mad Max rip-off there was. The moment one hit the video store, I rented it. A classic that still lingers in my brain is Enzo G. Catellari's 1990: The Bronx Warriors. It has the distinction of being Vic Morrow's second to last role, also features Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, a long haired Italian pretty boy modeled after Swan (Michael Beck) in The Warriors, motorcycles, roller skaters brandishing chains and mime make-up, and best of all, some real New York City locations. The Bronx is a perfect place to play out an end of the world fantasy.

I recently saw a big screen presentation of Cornel Wilde's No Blade of Grass, based on a novel about a posh Englishman who leads his family to survival in the wake of a sudden plague. Wow, talk about mean! The main character, brilliantly played by Nigel Davenport, maintains decorum, but does not hesitate to pistol whip, shoot or claw his way out of a treacherous situation. The alpha male wins, and instincts to fight to stay alive prove what true justice is really all about. And it's pretty action packed form start to finish. Gloomy prologue seems telling about the state of the real world...

I almost forgot to mention Escape from New York, the other big influence on the aforementioned Italian post-apocalyptic exploitation films of the 80's. In fact 1990: The Bronx Warriors is really a cop of that and The Warriors with a little Max thrown in.

I think I'll always have a soft spot for 80's teen reworking of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend story Night of the Coment, in which two sister figure the best place to go after the apocalypse is...where else? The mall!

Special question for those of us that dislike John Wayne but love westerns:

4) Favorite John Wayne movie, even though I hate him, that's not The Searchers:

I understand Wayne's presence being synonymous with westerns, but the big tall, tough guy is so reactionary right wing arrogant that it's hard to stomach sometimes. It's a contradiction of sorts. You want an individualistic hero in a daunting landscape, but then it so often stands for old fashioned, backwards thinking. The western is best when it's more manic and perverse. Think unassuming James Stewart as a crazed gunman in Anthony Mann's Winchester 73', or quietly righteous Randolph Scott who has to get mean in any of those Budd Boetticher westerns, the kind of stuff that informed Leone's no holds barred gritty western universe. But Wayne did have some merits, and he could play a tortured baddie whose internal conflicts underlined an often visceral drama. My go to is Howard Hawks Red River, in which Wayne represents the ultimately dysfunctional patriarch that may be at the core of all American idealism. It's not so much a gunfight movie, but a true cowboy tale, where the cattle drive holds metaphoric power. It does have the typical American Indian racism, but also boasts an unintentionally campy homoerotic gun competition between Montgomery Clift and John Ireland.

5) Favorite wacky musical that's not HEAD:

                                                                       I think a lot of folks I know 
would cite Rock and Roll     High School, which I too enjoy. But I'll take director Alan Arkush's other rock and roll paean, based on his own experiences as a Fillmore East usher, Get Crazy (1983). I guess it's not exactly a musical in the sense where characters inexplicably break into song and dance, but it is built around a series of absurd musical numbers, including Lee Ving of Fear as an uncontrollably feral rock star. Surreal and ridiculous good times, as rock and roll should be.  I'll also give a vote to Richard Elfman's deranged The Forbidden Zone. I don't really remember any of the musical numbers, but boy, what a picture. 

And then there's Takashi Miike's remake of Kim Ji-Woon's The Quiet Family:

6) Favorite soundtrack composer that's not Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herrmann, Lalo Schifrin or Henry Mancini (and no need to say John Williams either):

It was Riz Ortolani's soundtrack for Day of Anger (also one of my favorite non-Leone / Corbucci spaghetti westerns) that cemented the prolific composer as tops in my book..

Like Morricone (and most great soundtrack composers), Ortolani is an eclectic master of musical pastiche. But while Morricone goes for a wholesale interpretation of a film's essence, I feel Ortolani often goes straight for the jugular, usually in a jarring, crazed jazz-man on speed fashion. Take his theme for Lucio Fulci's appropriately re-titled giallo Perversion Story (Una Sull'Altra):

Riz is to Ennio what Toshiaki Tsushima is to Toru Takemitsu...

7) Favorite special effects make-up artist that's not Rick Baker, Lon Chaney SR., Tom Savini, Dick Smith, Jack Pierce, or Carlo Rambaldi (I think this one is really hard):

Growing up I was obsessed with all the monster and horror movies. I got a Dick Smith make-up kit as a kid and made scars and horrific faces, etc. But this question is near impossible for me. I haven't kept up with the craft, and don't know who's out there today worth giving a shout out to. So, I'm going to first cite Pierantonio Mecacci by default, since Suspiria is one of my all time favorite movies, and the effects on that first kill alone are very impressive. He worked on other Argento films including nonsensical mind-benders like InfernoTenebrae (Unsane) and Phenomena (Creepers). 

Gotta stay in Italy and give high praise to Giannetto De Rossi who did Lucio Fulci's Zombie among countless others. The look of the undead and the infamous eyeball scene in that moviealone prove that guy is a maestro.

De Rossi on the set of "High Tension."
8) Favorite Sam Fuller film that's not SHOCK CORRIDOR, PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET, or THE NAKED KISS:

Fuller was a consummate story teller who had worked his way up the ranks as both a newspaper reporter and a filmmaker. He was a salty dog and a true independent, who had the greatest credo for making motion pictures (I paraphrase): 'If the first shot doesn't give you a hard on, throw it out the window.' I'm gonna go with White Dog, a film that was shelved because the studio found it too controversial. Based on a short story, it stars Kristy McNichol as a woman who adopts a stray dog only to later discover it was trained to kill black people! It's a compelling indictment of racism, etc. Since so many people like Steel Helmet, I gotta re-watch it. Since I have a penchant for twisted westerns, gotta give props to Fuller's nutty Forty Guns. And I do like The Big Red One, which to me runs parallel with Full Metal Jacket, or at least the last time I saw it that's how I felt.


  1. Thinking about it, I really like Perversion Story, but can only recommend it on the caveat that I *hated* this movie until--literally!--the last minute, then everything turned around and I was like, "Lucio, you rule!"

    Get Crazy: Lee Ving sings a scorching punk rock version of "Hootchie-Cootchie Man," Lou Reed spoofs Bob Dylan (WTF?) and Malcolm McDowell as Mick Jagger. Unfortunately, young nebbish protag almost derails the show. But cameo by giant mice is nice.

    Winchester '73 kicks fucking ass! Saw this in a theater and seeing 40-foot-tall Jimmy Stewart busting Dan Duryea's face is wonderful: like finding out that your hen-pecked dad was a god-damn war hero (like Gen. Stewart of the USAF--really! He flew 'em all: B-17s to B-52s). Also a must-see: director Anthony Mann's Korean War flick, "Men in War," with Robert Ryan (as the nice guy!), Aldo Ray (almost feral, and bulldog-loyal to a comatose commanding officer), a cast of familiar supporters, and a mean streak a mile wide. In this flick, nice guys don't even get started; monsters thrive. (It makes sense having Ryan as the "nice guy," usually he's a nasty, tortured soul, so if he's the standard of "normal," you know this is a FUBAR world; like when Lance Henriksen is cast as a good guy.)

    No Blade of Grass is ferocious, but suffers from a lack of budget, and/or stunt expertise. Cornell Wilde's The Naked Prey is still his best, "purest" work and an Essential Film.

    Swell answers, bro, and some new flicks for me to feel bad about knowing nothing about!

  2. I really like "Perversion Story" too. It's so hackneyed on one hand that it becomes almost unwittingly the work of an auteur on the other. In a way he really wastes Ortolani's brilliant theme in the beginning of the film by having it play over what could have been stock footage of the Golden Gate Bridge. I mean, I'm sure that was shot for this production, but it's basically an establishing shot extended to a 3 + minute sequence. This opening, like much of the cinematic choices throughout, seem dadaistic, yet they keep you enthralled, plus the pop art trappings and foxy women, music etc. all add to the boiling pot of contrived madness that is Lucio in full on swinging 60's mode!

    I believe the nebbish in "Get Crazy" was played by Daniel Stern, who went to the same high school I did. I really liked him in "Breaking Away."

    Yes, Winchester '73 is brilliant! And I think it's got Tony Curtis as a Yankee soldier with a Brooklyn accent. Thanks for the tip on "Men in War." As for Robert Ryan (who also rules), put this in your browser:

    Lemme know which ones you haven't seen.