Monday, December 28, 2009

Profiles in Greatness: Jessie Todd

Characters and quotes to live by.

Jessie Todd
Paul Morrissey's HEAT (1972)

At her sun-baked Los Angeles dive motel, Jessica Todd (Andrea Feldman), daughter to esteemed game show regular and one-time film star, Sally Todd (Sylvia Miles), finds herself back in the sanitarium of sorts. The dregs of Hollywood society (recovering addicts, performance artists and child stars) flock to the seedy motel to swap sexual favors, sunbathe, and mooch off those who still somehow bask in industry success. Jessie's addition to Heat is that of an entitled and deranged celebrity daughter, who's a self-pronounced lesbian (self-pronounced as "lez-bin"), unfit mother and health food advocate.

Defining characteristic: Emotional problems

  • Money
  • Sunbathing
  • Inappropriate sexual advances

Oh, Joey, I feel so sexy now! Just to have this big boot between my legs!

  • Lesbianism for childcare
  • Health foods (favorites include: sunflower seeds, nuts, artichokes, avocados)

I'm very healthy. There's a health food store right around the corner here. I go down there every night to get some nuts. D'you ever try nuts? I'm into ecology -- health foods and all that great stuff. Avocados, artichokes... You should see the way I make artichokes. Olive oil, salt, peppa... Fabulous. They come out delicious. Wish you could come over one night for some artichokes and avocados. I'll cook on my hot plate. I like all the health foods. You name it, I eat it.

  • Chlorine in her cigarette burns
  • Lesbianism without childcare
  • Her baby Mark when he's off his sedatives

Jessie: Joey, would you take this for me?

Joey: What're you carrying your baby in a bag for? Didn't your mother tell you to cut it out?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I Thought Nought: Hit Me, Baby, One More Time

The decade's almost over. Me talking about it? That's only just begun!

Moments and Thoughts on the Best of the Noughts...

Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Marion: Anybody wanna waste some time?

Addiction has never been this addictive. Darren Aronofsky's exquisite descent into human misery and despair is like shooting up and snorting some truly potent sort of powder; you're emotionally desecrated but everything is so sensory and sensational that you're content to take just one more hit... then another... and another.

Requiem for a Dream is an unparalleled and unrelenting look at the perils of addiction: from heroin, to caffeine, to television, even love. It's the harsh but healing story of four lives unraveled in the wake of achieving one's deepest passions. Ellen Burstyn's monumental performance as Sara Goldfarb is the stuff of cinematic legend: a mother and widow succumbing to her loneliness, seeking emotional and social connections while burrowing deeper and deeper into a hellish disconnect. "Purple in the morning, blue in the afternoon..." and complete mental breakdown in the evening. Harrowing, painful and ultimately unforgettable.

I'm somebody now, Harry. Everybody likes me. Soon, millions of people will see me and they'll all like me. I'll tell them about you and your father, how good he was to us. Remember? It's a reason to get up in the morning. It's a reason to lose weight, to fit in the red dress. It's a reason to smile. It makes tomorrow all right.

What have I got Harry? Why should I even make the bed or wash the dishes? I do them... but why should I? I'm alone. Your father's gone, you're gone. I got no one to care for. What have I got, Harry? I'm lonely. I'm old--

Harry: You got friends, Ma.

Sara: Ah, it's not the same. They don't need me. I like the way I feel. I like thinking about the red dress, and the television, and you and your father. Now when I get the sun, I smile!

Jennifer Connelly, also in one of her finest moments, similarly extracts every ounce of distraught decadence - allowing a fix to become the fixture that would replace the love of her life. Each of these characters use their addictions to temporarily disguise their true feelings, and the film, which is both devastating and wholly consuming, is just as raw as the emotions they're trying to subside.

Requiem for a Dream pulses and pounds like the best buzz you've ever had, pure visual and auditory bliss.... Before that moment of brutal clarity and consciousness of course - which taps into a truly dark place, yet somehow still draws us back - just one more time, I swear.

Sara: In the end it's all nice.

-- More I Thought Nought (Best of the Decade) entries here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"You're tearing me APART, LISA!!"

To one of my favorite discoveries of the year, Tommy Wiseau's tour-de-force The Room. Not only does Wiseau understand delicate human relationships, he knows that women are evil, financially-focused temptresses, and men just like to toss the ol' pigskin!

And in response...

Cult Oddities: The Sweet House of Horrors (1989)

Two orphans stricken by the grief of their parents' vicious double murder try to conceptualize the afterlife and learn to live by their own devices. A poignant tale of innocence shattered and new maturity formed in the wake of devastating circumstance... is devolved and putrefied into this Italian TV splatter movie from gorehound Lucio Fulci! Hence these kids are grating beyond belief, dubbed poorly by middle-aged women, and their parents return from the dead in the form of toy insects and shiny, illuminating rocks. It's all in the execution, and this one has several.

The Sweet House of Horrors comes late in Fulci's madcap career. From his stylish and frantic giallo classics like Lizard in a Woman's Skin, The Psychic and Don't Torture a Duckling, to his deranged deathdream The Beyond, Fulci is rightfully regarded amongst the Italian horror legends alongside Dario Argento and Mario Bava. But for every bloody and surreal bit of cinema splendor he created, he's also capable of slapping together some of horror's more embarrassing moments: girls threatened by snails and a Top Gun poster in Aenigma, slaughter-meets-Flashdance in Murder Rock, a nipple-collecting Donald Duck in The New York Ripper, countless threatening eye zooms, and gore effects that wouldn't look out of place on a Kindergarten arts and crafts table. Not that this lessens Fulci's fanbase by any means. Much like Argento's films of late, Fulci has mastered the form of drivel as art. His films can be sloppy and senseless, but their occasional ineptitude serves far more laughs than most genre-based comedies. Infinitely watchable for the very same reasons they're infinitely unwatchable. There's a childlike innocence to his excessive gore-mongering, and perhaps its what led him to the childlike perspectives behind his hailed/maligned House by the Cemetery, and this complimentary film about kids, haunted houses and slapdash dumbfuckery.

American TV movies find their horror in the likes of Tori Spelling or Tracey Gold, while the Italians prefer detached eyeballs or melted limbs. As Sweet House of Horror's savage intro suggests, they're far less timid when it comes to TV violence. We instantly witness a home invasion turned double homicide in the most explicit way imaginable, and we witness it twice -- the second time for those who couldn't wait for the commercial break, or those who just wanted a little more time to comprehend how a forehead looks when it's being caved in. Mary and Roberto, aka. Mama and Papa, are bludgeoned with kitchen instruments, poked with fire irons, have their skulls smashed and eye sockets burst -- all before they're sent barreling down a cliff in the family car. The killer is soon revealed to be the family gardener, Guido, who hopefully trims his roses with a more delicate touch. His vicious ways would lead one to believe that the two now orphaned children, Sarah and Mark, are being placed into the clutches of a very sick and dangerous man. Lucky for them the serial murderer flees in terror once they chase him, shouting, "Scaredy cat, scaredy cat!"

The kids themselves are pretty cavalier about their parents' demise and the likely grim future that awaits them. While popping bubble gum and attending a funeral, Sarah and Mark discuss their misery with a lighter touch, "I bet it's just about over, he was just looking at his watch." "Father O'Toole has flat feet." "I'm famished..."

The kids return to their home with their new caretakers, oblivious to the fact that they're living on the very scene of the heinous crime. Hungry and lonely, the children are quick with their judgments, "Uncle Carlo and Aunt Marcia aren't bad people, they're simply idiots." Problem is, they're too young to get irony, "I wish (Mama and Papa) would come back, too. Only they're on the moon now." Kids...

But "Mama and Papa" do eventually come back (either from the moon, the beyond, or a land of shoddy visual gimmicks), and their methods for haunting are admirably abstract. First they appear as tiny flickering flames, floating over the children's beds in tiny fits of gleeful laughter.

They've made contact... Just not eye contact.

Next up, an inexplicable haunting of rocks in the backyard... that glow... with menace! These parents are still new to this whole "apparition" thing.

Just when you thought you were safe...
Ghost Rocks!

Guido the Gardener is nevertheless terrified of Ghost Rocks. That and he still can't live with the crimes he's committed. While touching up paint on the home/crime scene, he relives his brutal acts blow-for-blow -- as does the film in order to pad the runtime. Whilst losing his mind, Guido flees the home and is inexplicably attacked and killed by what he thinks is a dog -- but is actually a giant four-wheel truck. Now that the parents deaths are (confusingly) avenged, all that's left is to (confusingly) secure their home and make it safe for their family once again. Sarah assures Mark, "You know what Mama said. This is our house and no one can take it away from us."

After all that pseudo-haunting, the dead parents finally get the nerve and skillset to show up in (undead) person. They give the kids hugs and a few supportive words, before teleporting to the other side of the room to continue their conversation. Still working out the kinks, those two. Impressive though that they've learned to control the weather. They send powerful gusts of wind after the handicapped Mr. Colby, and send evil fog after Aunt Marcia and Uncle Carlo to prevent them from leaving the premises.

Levitation and Ghost Fog are easy.
Special effects are hard.

And apparently being a ghost is communicable.

In the meantime the family spans the bridge of the afterlife to partake in picnics and slow motion running.

But not everyone finds their undead outings so wholesome. Disturbed by what they perceive to be Sarah and Mark's psychosis, Aunt Marcia and Uncle Carlo invite in a famed German parapsychology medium. Together they perform a seance to rid the house of its evil supernatural energy -- the kind of horrifying spirits that shout professions of love for their kids, "We came back for the love of our children... Our children need us! Our children need our love! The power of love is greater than yours, greater than anyone's! And love is something you are totally ignorant of."

Rather than deal with spirits that speak so candidly about love, Aunt Marcia and Uncle Carlo decide to demolish the house entirely. Fight as they may, Mama and Papa are weakened by their attempts to stop the encroaching bulldozer brought on by the crazed medium. Becoming ever-so-slightly more transparent as they lose strength, Mama and Papa revert to their most effective trick to save their home and the lives of their beloved children: Ghost Rocks!

Turns out Ghost Rocks are not only menacing in appearance, they also melt flesh.

The Sweet House of Horrors
is saved once and for all... at least until something else completely random happens. In the end, the family that plays together stays together, and love (with a little help from Ghost Rocks) conquers all.

Here's to you Lucio Fulci, with your childlike spirit AND approach to screenwriting.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Embracing Broken Embraces

"Films have to be finished. Even if you do it blindly."

I pity the blind who will never see Broken Embraces. Pedro's latest is a ravishing, opulent ode to filmmaking as a collective of transcendent imagery and holy moments captured in time. Love, passions, desire, secrets and lies are all filtered through Almodóvar's glorious lens and rich tapestry of characters experiencing emotional paralysis as a way to disguise their beautiful bleeding hearts. Broken Embraces is an art film about the art of film -- one that etches its feeling and imagery into the memory like that of a past lover. Exquisite and painful, but you'll want to return to that time and place again and again.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Thought Nought: Te Adoro Pedro

The decade's almost over. Me talking about it? That's only just begun!

Moments and Thoughts on the Best of the Noughts...

Bad Education (2004)
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar

"Forgive me Father for you have sinned,
and I've sold it as a screenplay."

Dark material such as child sexual abuse, murder, drug addiction, suicide, the rape of the unconscious... it's all somehow loftier and luxurious in the hands of Pedro Almodóvar. He deepens his characters and situations to the point of moral suspect but finds in each a poignancy and fresh, provocative angle. His themes are often circular, his fascinations a constant, and somehow his work still evolves effortlessly and unexpectedly. Sexy, soulful, eye-searing cinema with a hefty dose of Spanish seasoning.

Three of the decade's finest films from one of our finest auteurs. With Talk to Her (2002) Almodóvar breathed life and cinematic language into the story of two comatose women and the men who cling to them. With Bad Education he found all the buried guilt and bubbling homoeroticism in both the cinema and the Catholic church. In Volver (2006) he unraveled the ties that bind women as they seek to reconnect even after death, and clear out their deep freeze to make room for the corpses of dastardly men. Each of these show new levels of maturity and technical marvel, remarkable nuance and filmmaking at its most passionate. For vivid emotions and visual splendor, Viva Pedro!

--more I Thought Nought (Best of the Decade) entries here

Thursday, November 19, 2009

All the Ladies Like Retro Posters!

"The dream house that becomes a nightmare..."

When you burst into song and through your picture window.

(Sweet Suzy)

"...She ain't no lady!"

...But Russ Meyer will still exploit her breasts.

(Lady Street Fighter)

A real lady street fighter would
curtsy before using her lead pipe.

...And yet she still bothers to cover her eyes?

You can't get that through customs.

(Splatter University)

"Where the School Colors are Blood Red..."

And you have even less a chance at a post-graduate career.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Thought Nought: Social Progress and Secret Pudding

The decade's almost over. Me talking about it? That's only just begun!

Moments and Thoughts on the Best of the Noughts...

Far From Heaven (2002)
Directed by: Todd Haynes

All That Heaven Allows are stifled suburban housewives. Written on the Wind are racial epithets and gay slurs. For Cathy Whitaker it's all but an Imitation of Life.

I've learned my lesson about mixing in other worlds. I've seen the sparks fly. All kinds.

Amidst Todd Haynes sumptuous Technicolor tragedy lies a melancholy truth about the limits and lies of progress. Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore), a homemaker and the Mrs. to Mr. and Mrs. Magnatech, strives to greet her surroundings with a quiet wisdom and sympathy for her fellow man. Praised for her "kindness to negroes" and homosexuals, Cathy's caught amidst a slow changing tide -- one that has her longing for her gardener and mourning her husband's late night walks. Her lovely and manicured life lays waste to untapped passions and an unsettling silence to underpin all of those stirring orchestral melodies.

Melodrama, a mostly dead genre in its classic form, is given soulful new life through Haynes, who manages to invite truth and heartache into the accepted artifice in which the genre so often soars. As much as it works as a lost Sirkian melodrama, it's also an ornately constructed ode to said films in all their cinematic purity. Key to this is Julianne Moore's exquisitely balanced performance -- one of hers and the decade's absolute finest. Masterfully and vividly she breathes life into a a character that could so easily be another stylistic element. Hayne's collaborations with Moore have yielded some of her most haunting and beautiful performances. Her careful construction of the fragile but forward thinking Cathy shows each ache and crumble behind her brilliant facade.

Matched with Edward Lachman's eye-poppingly lush visual palette and Elmer Bernstein's pitch-perfect score, Far From Heaven is about as close to cinematic heights as it gets.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

I didn't ask for a shrink -- that must've been somebody else. Also, that pudding isn't mine. Also, I'm wearing this suit today because I had a very important meeting this morning and I don't have a crying problem.

Punch-Drunk Love is PT Anderson's "secret pudding," if you will. Bizarre ingredients underplayed and overshadowed by Anderson's more grand and far-reaching masterworks like Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood (another of the decade's best concoctions). Its eccentricities and technical innovation swirl about the lonely existence of the enraged Barry, whose life is spent selling toilet plungers and stumbling through phone sex lines looking for a love connection. Once he finds that connection with the lovely Lena, their romance plays to the offbeat tune of a harmonium dropped from the heavens.

Anderson finds in Adam Sandler an oddball splendor unexpected in his days of Happy Gilmore, and a perfect muse in the tender sweetness of Emily Watson. While Jon Brion's score plunks and symphonies with each manic moment of Barry's morose existence, Anderson's visuals take on an otherworldly quality -- blinding light gives way to streams of color, echoing Barry's newfound passion and a reason for collecting all those Healthy Choice Frequent Flier Miles. Modern love stories rarely feel so unique and so genuine. Punch-Drunk Love leaves one dizzy, seeing stars -- overcome with a strange sensation to quell those years of silent rage. Anderson continues to be a director I'll follow just about anywhere.

Barry: I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I left you at the hospital. I called a phone sex line -- I called a phone sex line before I met you, and four blonde brothers came after me. And they hurt you and I'm sorry. And then I had to leave again because I wanted to make sure you never got hurt again. And I have a lot of pudding. And in six to eight weeks it can be redeemed -- so if you could just give me that much time, I think I can get enough mileage to go with you wherever you have to go -- if you have to travel, for your work. Because I don't want to be anywhere without you. So could you just let me redeem the mileage? If you just give me six to eight weeks I can redeem the mileage and I can go with you wherever you have to travel.

"Here we go..."