Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lucky Enough to Have Caught The M Word This Weekend

I was lucky enough to catch Henry Jaglom's The M Word at the State Theater this weekend. 
I have been a Jaglom fan since high school and have commented on all his previous movies elsewhere:

The M Word is about menopause. The film's plot allows for lots of candid and funny interview-type conversation about the topic. It calls to mind earlier Jaglom films Eating, Babyfever and Going Shopping (among others).

Going Shopping is the film Jaglom made before working with Tanna Frederick. Tanna is an exotic neurotic, a force we have never seen on film before, and we are all better for it.

Her best film, and Jalgom's too, is Irene in Time.  It's devestatingly dramatic and always feels true.  My fiancee  (V) and I watched the documentary Who is Henry Jaglom recently. When Tanna married Henry, V expressed concern because Jaglom in that film did not seem nice. He seemed to push people to capture some raw screen power, think Cassavetes, but I have the feeling that a) that documentary was not necessarily fair and b) Henry's film interests have changed some. Irene in Time being the exception, he seems more interested in a sort of filmed larger than life theater with Tanna (And since the next film is called Ovation, maybe it will be along those lines as well).  With Just 45 Minutes From Broadway, it was great. For The M Word, which to be fair is a cross between a theatrical outing and the taped confessionals of those earlier films mentioned, it is good.

With Venice/Venice, Jaglom showed he knew the world of independent cinema well. With Last Summer in the Hamptons, the Hollywood Dreams trilogy and this, he shows that the world of modern mainstream entertainment is unknown to him. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it reminds one of when Woody Allen writes for teenagers.  The TV studio in the M Word always seems sort of public access. The only show I could imagine watching is Michael Emil's science show, and that is because Emil is, as always, wonderful. The chldren's show where Tanna, as Moxie, plays a dog (despite how great I am sure she was playing a dog on Broadway) is scary. The sports show  is several years out of date. The M Word concept within the film could work as a TV show (wasn't The View like that before they brought in younger folks?) and probably should.  It is possible that the TV station was parody, but it plays earnestly so I am not sure, and its unrealness (if that is a word) takes me out of the main plot a bit. This is one of few movies that Jaglom did with a co-writer and co-editor. And I think the editing here is not as strong as it could have been. It is overlong. There are scenes that don't add much for me at least. Plus there are plot holes and confusions (particularly in terms of romantic motivations).  I think an 85 minute film without the embezzlement plot and with more on-camera interviews would have been a masterpiece. As it stands of course, there is much to like.

Besides Emil, Corey Feldman does some of his best work here. He is given a chance to do something dramatic and funny in a good movie and runs with it.  Everything said about menopause here is involving and usually funny. 

Tanna is funny and smart and sexy (that scene at Thanksgiving dinner). The real breakout star here though is Simon Jaglom.

Henry's son is hilarious here.  This picture is not him in the film. He plays a computer expert who moves the plot forward.  The rapport between him and Tanna is a thing of beauty.  He is the best part of this enjoyable film that I hope everyone tries to catch wherever they can.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Finding Vivian Maier And Finding The Film Unfair

I met my finacee yesterday at her work. I picked up a box of See's Candy and lunch from the Chicken Barn for her.

We went to the library to load up on books and then off to the beautiful State Theater

To see Finding Vivian Maier. I only knew that it was about a man who discovered a huge lot of artful photographs and set about giving the woman who shot them some recognition.

I thought, as V is a photographer at heart, she might like the theme. There are many reasons to like this film, and V did in fact like it a bit more than I. I am very glad I saw it though as it is the first movie I have seen in a bit that is worthy of discussion.

Vivian Maier was a nanny who took photographs all the time (She had hundreds of thousands of them found at the time of her death.). She took her wards to ever part of the city and snapped pictures of what she saw. The pictures are often beautiful. The way her camera was placed allowed her to shot up and get pictures where her subjects had real stature.

She took photos worthy of gallery attention and the man who bought her collection of photos is working on getting them a place of importance in the art world.

The first half of the movie is a lovely piece of propaganda.
It shows how Maier's photograph negatives were found. It shows what the finder did to try to get them seen and it shows many, many photographs.

The second half, though, is troubling. This is where we start getting into dark territory.

Maier did not actively seek fame or recognition. She was an obsessive photographer who, for the most part, seemed interested in taking the pictures merely for the act itself.

I did not need to know that she possibly abused some of the girls that were under her care.

A few moments, like the children having to wait for hours while she set up a shoot with mannequins or her ward who got hit by a car and how she stood there taking pictures, seem useful to the plot because they reflect the importance of her craft.

However, there are too many moments of unkindness. Since Maier did not seek fame, we do not need to know that she was downright violent about keeping newspapers or anything else negative that she might have excised or would not have happened if she had been as known as Man Ray at the time.

Still, the film is well directed and the scenes meant to be seen as troubling are very ominious.Plus the passion the director feels for the photos and the importance and thematic nature of Maier's work comes through.

If this film were more about the art and less about the artist, I would be raving. As it stands, I can still recommend seeing it, as it is interesting and well done.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Interview With James Felix McKenney

Writer, Producer, Director, radio host (of a horror film program about monsters including Bigfoot) and Seaborg maker

James Felix McKenney

In a genre full of workman hacks. He is a tremendous and unique filmmaker who has had a three picture partnership with horror icon Angus Scrimm: The Off Season (04), Automatons (06) and Satan Hates You (10).

These films have proved to be in my mind, the best work of these two men.  Season is a  claustrophobic thriller. Automatons is a surreal robot film and Satan Hates You is a commentary on religious education films made for horror fans. I have been lucky enough to see all of McKenney's films, including a monster flick Hypothermia starring Michael Rooker. I have also been lucky  enough to speak with Mr. McKenney on a few occasions. He is a nice man who has been very encouraging about horror scripts that I have written. He agreed to let me ask him some questions for this film blog, and I am very grateful.


 Since, from what I gleamed on your podcast, horror, you very much like low and even no budget horror films and with a few exceptions like Wolf and The Shining, horror tends to be low budget. Are you satisfied with the budgets you work on or would you like to make a bigger budget horror film?

James McKenney:
Well, I'd always like to have more money to work with and be able to pay people better, but the problem is that the big budget comes with too many strings attached. I had a taste of that with Hypothermia, and that was still a very low-budget movie. Working with small budget gives me and the team the freedom to be creative and do really interesting stuff. It also makes the process a lot more fun because you aren't dealing with dim-witted producers with over-inflated egos. Still, I wouldn't turn down a big budget. The paycheck would certainly come in handy and it would be interesting to see what that process is like. It's just not really a goal of mine.

I have this script called "World's Fair" which is sort of a dark fantasy with big dramatic parts for Angus Scrimm and Larry Fessenden. I wrote it in 2008 and it's the one script that all of my collaborators keep going back to and asking "When are we going to make that movie?" Somebody recently approached me wanting to make it on a shoestring budget and I just couldn't do it. I felt that the seriousness of the material and the people involved deserved a budget of at least what we had for Hypothermia in order for it to make it al that it could be. So I passed. The person who approached me ended up agreeing with me that it wasn't worth doing if we weren't going to do it right.


 Is the podcast coming back?

James McKenney

It wasn't a podcast, which is usually something that you can download at any time. "The MonsterPants Are On!" was a radio show that I had on Saturday afternoons on Cult Radio A-Go-Go which is a really fun internet radio station.

It's funny that you ask. I am currently working on a new podcast called "Before Nerds Were Cool" with my friend Laree Love, who is one of only two people who have worked on every MonsterPants feature. The concept is basically a nostalgic look back at fandom in the pre-internet age. I always love hearing people's stories about how they would obsess over photos in monster magazines for films they had to wait until they came on TV because there were no VCRs or quests for a particular comic book, VHS tape or other collectible. The show will mainly be Laree and I, but we will be having guests from time to time, including some of the folks who were on the radio show. It should be launching sometime in April. Information will be available on my website in the coming weeks.

Did you know Angus Scrimm prior to casting Off Season? His character seems very genuine and I wondered if that was from knowing him or was there simply an effort to take a scary horror iconic actor and humanize him, the way Vincent Price seemed sweet in some projects (Edward Scissorhands for instance)?
James McKenney
I did not. His character (along with many other things) in The Off Season was based on a neighbor I had when I was living in Los Angeles in 1996. When I was writing the script in 1997 and thinking about casting, I thought of Angus because I love Phantasm and always enjoy casting people against type. When we were finally in preproduction on the film in NYC in 2003, I happened to see an ad for a convention taking place on the East Coast the weekend before our shoot and Angus was the main guest. We figured we'd see if we could get him while he was out here, Tony Timpone put me in touch with his agent and we got him! We've been friends ever since. He's truly one of the sweetest people I've ever met.

Has there been a good Bigfoot movie?
James McKenney
Well, I'm not really an expert on Bigfoot films. That would be my friend Max Brooks. Max is obsessed with the genre and they guy who has been leaning on me to make one, which led to me writing the Bigfoot script that I've been shopping around. Like Max, I have a fondness for the 1970's films like The Legend of Bigfoot and Mysterious Monsters that took the approach of reenacting "real" Bigfoot sightings without showing the monster too much.

I know that you make your own figures that you sell. I also know that your films defy simple classification. You have claustrophobic horror, religious themed horror, cannibalistic horror and enviornmental message horror. What first captured your imagination with horror films: mood, monsters, gore effects or other things?
James McKenney
As a kid, it was definitely monsters. I was obsessed with the Frankenstein monster and that led to the other classic monsters. I have also always been a big fan of science fiction, ancient mythology and practical special effects. That's what did it for me. I later got into the more atmospheric stuff, which I love. Gore was never something I was really into. I never liked any of the 1980's slasher stuff. But I enjoy making gore effects in our films, because it's fun. But to me gore isn't serious. It's the punchline to a joke.
Is there room for improvisation in your films or is everything planned? Gina in Hypothermia, for instance, barely touches her lunch when she is out on the ice and might not eat all day, was there a specific reason for that?
James McKenney
Absolutely. I write everything I direct and the first thing I usually tell the actors is that the lines are not so precious and they should feel free to alter them in a way that makes them comfortable to them. I always encourage the actors to add their own thing. I probably give actors a lot less direction than most directors. I like to be surprised my what they come up with and then make adjustments if necessary. It's fun to see what other people discover in the script and how they interpret it. That's what makes the whole collaborative creative process interesting.

As for Hypothermia, that was completely something that actress Amy Chang was doing. I don't know if it was her character being nervous about the announcement that they were going to make to her boyfriend's parents or simply the fact that Amy was absolutely freezing out there and too cold to eat!

I liked a lot about Hypothermia. I liked the garbled dialog that the creature was listening to. I liked the fact that Rooker's character is so steady that, unlike the Steve character, even when his son dies, he never gets hot headed or does the wrong thing. Was this sort of old fashioned everyman hero what attracted Rooker to the part?
James McKenney
I have no idea what attracted Rooker to the part, aside from the paycheck! In real life he's a lot more like the Steve character than the character he was playing. He kept asking me, "Why don't they just hunt down that thing and shoot it?" Rooker's a hunter, a gun lover and a man of action, so he was definitely playing against type in that film. He's a great actor who really wants to just get through the conversational bits so he can get to the heavy emotional stuff and the action scenes, which he's really incredible in.

 I read that with Automatons, you set out to make a film like you remembered from earlier childhood, which is to say, half remembered or understood. This sort of reminded me of what Harmony Korine said about making Gummo. Basically, that he never remembers plot, only specific scenes, so he set out to make a film of scenes. Does what you were going for with Automatons still interest you and would you ever make another attempt to make a film like that?

James McKenney
I would love to make another movie like that. I dipped my toe into those waters this past fall when I attempted to make a web serial beginning with Chapter Four. After that first episode, it was going to go further into DIY effects and low budget sci-fi territory, very much like Automatons, but so few people downloaded the first one that we had to pull the plug on future chapters.

Some of my collaborators have been asking me for years to make another movie like Automatons. I have an idea for a sequel and a full story written out for a prequel. I'd love to do another low-rent effects movie like that again, but materials cost more than you'd think and you've got to feed people. It always comes down to finding the money to make the damn thing!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Re-Engaged (and a couple of Shirley Temple Movies)

I just got back from the State Theater. My favorite theater. I went with Vanessa, my favorite person to see Little Miss Broadway, the second film of a two film Shirley Temple marathon. I caught the first film, Poor Little Rich Girl, a few hours prior. V missed Girl because she was at work.
PLRG starred an 8 year old Shirley Temple. LMB was made two years later. Both films were directed by Irving Cummings; despite this, they are miles apart in quality.

Poor Little Rich Girl has a simple plot. Little girl (Barbara Barry) is lost, falls in with some show business people and becomes an overnight star. It is somewhat like Oliver Twist except its unsavory elements through the thing off balance. Barbara's, a rich girl with an overworked father that runs a soap company, is sent to school but on the way there her nanny who leaves Barbara alone for a minute to retrieve her purse is hit by a car. Barbara, not knowing what happened to the nanny, only knows she is without guidance and uses that as an excuse to pretend to be a character she read about in adventure books. Very little is said about the nanny after the car hits her. Some strange man throws her purse in the garbage then seems to have designs on Barbara. This is never quite explained, but the guy seems creepy and wants to give her candy a few times. The most successful aspect of the film is Temple herself. She is such a sunny persona that even if we don't understand why she pretends to be a character from a book when encountering the world and its problems, we do understand why all kinds of people are receptive toward her (in a healthy way) and want to help her. Actor Claude Gillingwater shows up as Mr Barry's rival and has great scenes with Miss Temple. There are no memorable songs in this one, and the songs that are played feel a  bit forced into the plot.

Claude Gillingwater also shows up as a judge in Little Miss Broadway. Jimmy Durante shows up too, and he is great as always. The songs in Broadway feel weaved into the plot a little more, perhaps because the plot involves a group of variety acts in a motel.  There are clearly defined good and bad people; all the actors are convincing; Be Optimistic is a catchy toon. And there is so much sweetness in the film, for instance the way the hotel helps acts get booked that are way behind in their rent and the way the acts pawn stuff to keep the hotel in business.  Loved it. And I am glad I was able to watch it with my gal.

We got re-engaged last Friday (2/28). This was followed  by  a few days in a hotel. The memories of that weekend will carry me through any dark days that are coming. And of course dark days will be rare with such a wonderful person in my life.


It was a low-key proposal. We ate at Tokyo Express in Modesto then walked down the street to the Gallo Center, and I proposed there before the Bill Medley concert.

Many of you know, I lost my best friend recently. A month before he passed, I brought this re-proposal up with him and we planned it, deciding that Medley was the right show for the evening.
He is a singer of romantic songs (Time of My Life, Unchained Melody). And Medley did not disappoint, bringing romance and a good deal of humor to his 2 hour set.

Here is what I said to V in the proposal. I think she liked it quite a bit:

As you know, this was Bill's favorite resturant. I talked this whole idea over with him about a month ago. He thought it was great. He thought very highly of you.
I started planning a sort of life change a few weeks ago, the clothes abandoning reviewing for the movie site. I made these changes so I could focus on the relationships I want to cultivate (more than even having lost a few recently) and the kind of legacy I hope to leave.

Bob Dylan said that destiny is the feeling that you know something about yourself and what's going to happen to you that no one else does.

I have been thinking a lot about destiny lately. I knew when I was very ill, if I got better, I would make films. Despite any and all set backs, I know it more today.

I knew that first month of meeting you, the day you could not make my reading and all I felt was your absence, that I loved you very much. I know it more today.

Stick with me. Our world's gonna be great.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Warren Beatty Did Charlie Rose Show 16 Years Ago....Here is What We Can Get From This Interview Today

Everyone who loves to watch films should probably have a favorite actor. Warren Beatty is mine.  I find he has two distinctive film personas: the cad (Roman Springs of Mrs Stone, Shampoo, All Fall Down), the dreamer (Heaven Can Wait, Reds) and a mixture of both (Bugsy). And with those personas he has done more than any great actor could hope to and with less movies: 22 films in 53 years.

It is somewhat heartbreaking to be a Beatty fan mostly because he has not done a film in 14 years. He has been raising kids and turning down projects.

He is 76 now!!

I purchased the Charlie Rose interview from 1998 from amazon because I could not find it elsewhere. The interview was made to promote Bulworth. Beatty mentions filming Town and Country so basically the interview covers everything but his inactivity. He talks about not liking to work and how children bring one into a present tense that is life altering and incredible so the inactivity is kind of promised at this time. There is much that can be gleamed from this interview.
Rose states at one point, "You have for many years been a passing reference on this program." Rose is a huge Beatty fan and has probably read the necessary Beatty books, including Desert Eyes by David Thomson.  Rose states that Beatty is most known for "his charm, his perfectionism and his late night phone calls." And that seems accurate.
The cad persona does not come out in the interview. He is a man who admires most his mother and father and his wife. Though Rose is very interested in Beatty's past with women, Beatty deflects most of those questions as he has been married for a while even in 1998.
Bulworth is discussed at length. A clip of Norman Mailer praising it to the skies is shown. I get the feeling Rose had not seen it because the interview questions are very general. As with in that film, the country moving toward uncertainty. Clinton was on his way out. Bush was coming. The film supposes an truthful leader taken with the black community and who thought socialized medicine was one way to serve societies ills. A decade later:
There is perhaps something to be desired here. Obama has said though that he needs to "go Bulworth" in his second term, not sure it has happened yet. He also talks of the marginallized poor that would later become the tea party. The funniest thing he says in regards to Bulworth and specifically the rap in that film. He says,
"The people that listen to rap music are getting older, maybe not so much my age."
The interviews end with a reference to Beatty's Howard Hughes project, a rumored project since the early 1970s.  Beatty says at some point "I will make it."
And reports suggest he is making it now.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

To My Friend William Bunker....All is Lost

My fiancee bought me All is Lost on Valentine's Day. I was sad because 4 days earlier, I had lost my best friend, William Bunker.

I am a pretty good friend, and he was a great one. I talked to him almost everyday on my walk to work and my walk home. I don't make calls on those walks anymore and I feel a bit of sadness everyday.

I am not even sure how to delete his number from my phone and am not sure I would even want to because it is a reminder of the great conversations though also a reminder that that kind of conversing may be over in my life.

We talked politics, everything from Bush to Plato's Republic. We talked music, particularly jazz.

We talked women and romantic schemes. He was quite old (75 when he passed), but I did not want to see him end up alone. It did not seem right as he had always had the confidence to pick up woman and knew a vast array of things.  He tod me about the law of averages, ask 100 girls out and at least one would say yes. Statistics, though, don't account for the lovely wife that passed a decade and a half before he did. He really cared for her, sometimes a tear would come to his eye in coversation, and he would remark, Man I miss my wife.

We talked a lot about movies. My obsession is Warren Beatty. His was Clint Eastwood. He was always quick to defend an Eastwood picture, claiming even Trouble With the Curb was a masterpiece.  But he was an enthusiastic audience, and that is a great thing. Movie houses and movie makers deserve no less.

I remember taking him to Transylmania, one of the dumbest comedies I have seen and we laughed all the way through.

Sadly, did not go to the cinema much with him, wish I had a little more. He tended to talk through pictures with got on my nerves sometimes.

Even the greatest people have qualities that can piss you off.

The last film he saw in a theater was All is Lost. He liked Redford's rugged, solitary figure almost as much as he liked Eastwood, and that character is probably best displayed in All is Lost, even more so than Downhill Racer or Jeremiah Johnson.

A good man with some things to atone for is on a sinking ship.

We know little about the man, but we care.  His troubles are immediate though the film has a deliberate pace. Many tragedies happen over  the course of days and within them we have a lot of time to think on them.

One thing not deliberately paced though is the storm sequence.

We can marvel that a man of Redford's age could be tossed around in tanks and under extreme conditions. It is a tremendous form of acting that he pulls off here. He toughs out everything ends up on a raft. He is not a perfect sailor. He manages to surivive for eight days.  The ending is ambigous. He seems as though he is about to end his life. He looks to the skies and jumps in the water. A small boat comes up and reaches in for him. This seems ambigous because the rescue boat seems too small. The hand that grabs him in the water seems too far in the water. 
I thought maybe he had died, and the hand of God came to grab him. I am no more a believer than William Bunker. He was an athiest of the highest order. He rejected my ending idea. He said the boat was fine sizewize and Redford was coming out enough to be grabbed .He added that he survived because it was a great hopeful ending. 
I, however, found some hope in the idea that God came to reach for him. And with my friend gone, I find this idea more hopeful than ever.
 I am not sure when my pal will be buried. His family is having a private memorial, and since I have never met his family, I am not invited. I wrote a eulogy and would like to share it here:
Bill was my best friend. We spoke almost every day.
The worst thing I could say about him was that he talked during movies
But at least he talked intelligently about them, point out, for instance,
scientific inconsistencies about Alien vs Predator.
I met him at Modesto Junior College where intellect is in short supply.
He was made for late in life education. He could argue well with teachers
and flirt with pretty freshmen, claiming, like Jack Benny used to, he
was only 45.
I knew he was not 45 but only because he made the mistake of showing
me his transcripts once that had his date of birth on them. Earlier this week,
I googled him and the site come up claiming he was ten years
younger than he was. He would have loved that.
After college, he was the one intellectual aspect of it I kept in my life.
I was in awe of him sometimes and honestly thought all the stuff he wanted to be
teacher, spaceman, cowboy was possible for him.
I think the best thing you can say about a person is that they seemed capable
of anything. Bill seemed capable of anything. I will miss him everyday.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Harry Basil Short Interview

In November of 2011, Harry Basil was nice enough to answer some film questions for me.
I did not, until now, have a place to showcase this interview, hope you all enjoy. Harry Basil was a comedian and best friend of Mr Rodney Dangerfield. He wrote some Dangerfield films and shows (Wally Sparks,  My 5 Wives, The 75th Anniversary Toast) before directing the last of the Dangerfield vehicles (Back by Midnight, The 4th Tenor) and doing an admirable job.

He later directed what may be the last high concept Burt Reynolds vehicle we will ever see (Cloud 9)and a few horror films. I sent him these questions on Facebook and he gave me a long response. I tried to break up the response to match the questions as best I could. One question that was not really addressed in his response was the following (  I notice in your films with Dangerfield you skew etablishments stuffy political families, uptight religious folks, the world of opera, but unlike in earlier films, Dangerfield makes more fun of himself and his failings. Wives is about Dangerfield not being able to satisy all his women. Was this shift a conscession to age?

Dennis Brian  Who came up with the idea of The 4th Tenor?

Harry Basil  Yeah, Rodney was awesome. He would have been 90 this week. Nov 22nd. The 4th Tenor was Rodney's idea. He was a singing waiter when he was young. We wrote it together right before we did Ladybugs in 92. Took 10 years to make it. Rodney financed it himself. It was his pet project. Too bad he was a bit too old to play the romantic lead by the time we did it.

Dennis Brian  My favorite film of yours and Dangerfield's is Back by Midnight. I think it is just pure fun. My only question is do you have any Nell Carter stories? I love her and think she was underused in Hollywood.

Harry Basil   Back By Midnight was fun to make. It was a bit cheesy and corny, but Rodney and I got to work with a lot of our comedian buddies. He was getting a bit frail on that one. Nell Carter was very funny. It was one of the last things she did. I had actually worked with her back in 1986, I starred in a TV pilot that was a spin off of her show Gimmie A Break. She was kind of mean and bossy back then. But on BBM she was sweet and a lot of fun. She Rodney and Tony Cox worked great together in one scene. I think it was Rondey's best scene in the movie, comedically.

Dennis Brian  I think you are the last person to make Burt Reynolds a movie star again. He had not been that charming since Breaking In. You seemed very attuned to his charisma, how did you achieve that when few others have in the last three decades?

Harry Basil  Burt was a blast to work with. I've been a huge fan since I was a kid. Our producer and co-writer on Cloud 9 was Albert S. Ruddy. Al produced The Godfather and Million Dollar Baby, which he's won 2 Oscars for. Al also wrote and produced the Original Longest Yard and the Cannonball Run movies. So Al was best friends with Burt and wrote the movie for Burt.

Thanks for answering those questions a few years back Mr Basil.