Apr 30, 2009

The Third Floor Drive-In: Season 5, Episode 2

Tonight's film: 10 Violent Women (1982)

(preceded by trailers for The Doll Squad and The Corpse Grinders)

Tonight, The Third Floor Drive-In ® honours the eightieth birthday of the legendary Ted V. Mikels, who has tirelessly been offering micro-budgeted genre fare for over forty years. Many of them, such as Astro Zombies or The Doll Squad have become midnight movie favourites. And God bless him, he's still at it-- as we speak, he is preparing the third installment to Astro Zombies!

And to be certain, each financially challenged project has had liabilities both technical and thespian, but more often than not he has succeeded in delivering entertaining fare. In many cases, the films have a disarmingly childlike playfulness to them despite any sordid subject matter. In honour of tonight's occasion, I felt it appropriate to give another look to 10 Violent Women. Years ago, I had submit an IMDB review, more of derision than delight, prior to my "re-appraisal" of the canon of Theodore Mikacevich and have always meant to give this one another chance.

Well in all honesty, this film bewilders me even on a second viewing. That feeling begins even with the title: there are not ten violent women- only eight! Did two ladies drop out or was the arsenal shortened due to budget cuts? Heck, even if this was called Five Violent Women, it wouldn't have hurt its box office potential.

Anyway, after a still-stupefying opening, when the girls get even with some pervert who tries to assault one of them while they're all working together in a mine (or something), these gals decide to strike out on their own, by plotting an intricate jewel robbery, and then attempt to fence the goods. One by one, the octet dwindles in numbers until the remaining few are arrested, sent to a women's prison, and plot to escape.

Presumably, the actresses in this epic came from Ted V. Mikel's fabled castle, in which he lived with ten women. And as for the acting, well, the most controlled performances ironically come from Mikels himself in a fun cameo as the criminal whom the girls try to sell the jewelry to (and gets a spiked heel in the chest for his trouble), whoever plays the kindly prison guard Miss Robbins, and the other anonymous lady who plays the traditional butch lesbian warden (in fact, she may remind you of Selma Diamond in TV's "Night Court"). As for our heroines, their thespian skills come off best when it seems that they're not rehearsing from a script in those moments of overlapping freeform dialog which suggests how comfortable these castle ladies are with one another off camera. But the overacting award goes to the effeminate jewelry store owner who should be out appearing in Andy Milligan Dinner Theater.

But still, the juvenile charm of the picture wears thin real fast. The film plods along once they get into prison, and since the movie seems to have been shot with one light, the numerous night-time exteriors and scenes in jail cells are hard to view.

Anyway, here's a trailer for tonight's movie, which in the true tradition of the drive-in, makes this tawdry exercise very enticing. That's the exploitation business for you!

Apr 28, 2009

The Third Floor Drive-In: Season Five, Episode One

Tonight's Feature: Play Misty For Me (1971)

(preceded by the Casper Cartoon "Boo Moon", and the trailer for From Noon Till Three)

Play Misty For Me is Clint Eastwood's first feature as a director, and after all these years, it remains one of his most enjoyable films, before or behind the camera. In this thriller, he plays DJ Dave Garber who hosts a groovy radio show "with a little verse, a little talk and five hours of music to be nice to each other with", who begins a casual affair with a fan who soon reveals her psychotic tendencies. We've seen the plot for this film mirrored in later pictures like The Fan or Fatal Attraction, but still for my money, this remains the best of the "psychotic admirer" franchise. And as each year passes, this little gem becomes more enjoyable, especially because Eastwood has seldom been so vulnerable onscreen, and it is hilarious to see this iconic macho man constantly befuddled by nearly every female in the cast- not just the psychotic Evelyn. He is kept in check by his old flame Tobi, and even is put in line by his cleaning lady! (And by the way, Jessica Walter is excellent as his number one fan.)

At the age of 41, Clint made a "student film" with the game energy of a precocious filmmaker a generation younger- lots of interesting camera work, ambitious visual ideas, and of course, a couple of indulgences that would become typical of his work behind the camera (need I say more than the interminable scene with the Lady Chablis in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil?) In this case, before the third act, Clint films a love scene scored by Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", which runs for the complete four minutes of the track, thusly offering more shots of waves, leaves, pull focuses and soft dissolves than you'll need. And of course, we see two acts at the Monterey Jazz Festival when one would suffice (but since the second is Cannonball Adderley playing "Country Preacher", I'm glad it's in there.

As solid as the thriller plot is, truthfully I've seen this flick a dozen times more because I like the ambiance of the coastal Carmel setting, and back in my college broadcasting days, I wanted to be Dave Garber! I really dug his bohemian lifestyle, driving along the California coast in a hot car, and spinning all that groovy music at the station. It truly is a relic of its era. (And upon seeing Dave's swinging pad, I kept wondering how much his job paid!)

It was a lovely evening at the Third Floor Drive-In. The "you-are-there" feeling was high, with the breeze blowing through the ozoner, complimenting the atmosphere onscreen.

Apr 7, 2009

Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006)

I have to admit- at first I wasn't too crazy about this movie. Not because I didn't like the music- I mean, it's Neil freaking Young, man! But this document of Neil's performance in Nashville's Ryman Auditorium (where he debuted the songs of his "Prairie Wind" album) gradually warmed me up like a ray of morning sun climbing over the horizon. What most irked me about this movie is that it felt more like an "Austin City Limits" episode than a film, with its clinical shooting style being neither obtrusive nor terribly adventurous.

However slowly, Neil Young: Heart of Gold worked its charms. By its finale, an aching rendition of "One of These Days" (after his band of old friends, including Emmylou Harris, had spent a half-hour playing some old favourites), I couldn't move. The tone of this performance is as autumnal as the yellow-brown pallettes that dominate the background: the lyrics explore themes of passing time, faded dreams, empty nest syndrome, and death (the film is dedicated to his father who passed away two months prior to filming). It's an older, wiser Neil Young onscreen this evening, and God bless him, forty years later, he's still doing his thing, with a loyal curtain of friends who have remained with him over the decades.

Ultimately, this film is about the bond that exists between its players; in the opening, his bandmates humourously reveal how they ended up with Neil all those years ago. Despite that this is the only interview footage in the movie, this document succeeds over all the other many Neil Young concert films by portraying him as a person: in between numbers, he is reflective and dryly humourous. As this movie slowly builds to its crescendo, we better understand the strong ties that keeps these musicians together, as the filmmakers become more passionate about capturing the knowing glances that are exchanged among the chords.

Where Were You on April 7th?

2009 marks a silver anniversary of sorts. It was 25 years ago, where yours truly had officially proclaimed cinema as his primary interest. As superfluous as it may sound, it was indeed January 1, 1984 where I began wearing my newfound devotion on my sleeve, commencing with logging in notebooks every movie I had seen from that date forward. In a series of Hilroy 3-ring workbooks, I would devote one line per film: its title, year of release, rating, and primary leads, all preceded by date said film was viewed... and I was adamant about using only one line per title. So on July 21 1985, when I jotted down Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, I hardly had room to fit Dustin Hoffman.

This practice was kept continuously up until some time in 1999. It is a routine I wish I still kept. Not only was writing down the title a good way to commit to memory what one has seen, but more importantly, these pages turned into a veritable diary. Over the years I had always meant to write diaries, but thank my lucky stars I didn't, for fear of them being read by others and a greater dread of reading back about whatever now-trivial problems I would have whined about in those pages all those years ago. Instead, these movie entries act as a surrogate diary, made only accessible to me, just like one should be. Each line acts as a hitching posts to a more vivid memory. Leafing back through these pages for the first time in years, it easy to recall what was going in my life at the time I had viewed whatever film. For example, a 1987 entry for a Saturday afternoon viewing of The King of Marvin Gardens helped me remember that that was the day I was caught in a flash rainstorm earlier that day while driving on Highway 3, and developed an ear infection. Okay, not a pleasant thing to remember, but you get the idea.

Since 2007, I have been writing titles of films I had viewed down in the bottom line of each day in my planner, but still have to prod myself to remember to do it. But when I flip through these old notebooks, it is interesting to see the different patterns of my viewing experiences, based upon what was made available at the time. For example, one cluster of lines would have a lot of titles I would have viewed while "Six Gun Heroes" was still on WQLN, or on CBC Saturday morning, and of course, those many entries made possible by the rich programming of "The Cat's Pajamas" on TV-2. And naturally, these thin workbooks indirectly chronicle my progression from aimless teenager to a twentysomething existentialist, from university to college, from being friendless and single to being in love... quite the epic graduation from teenage misfit to, well, adult misfit.

Let's see now, April 7....
1984: San Francisco / In Old Chicago / Stalag 17
1985: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
1986: Grand Hotel
1987: Kentucky Fried Movie / Now Voyager
1989: Bloodsucking Freaks / Maxiumum Overdrive
1990: W.C. Fields shorts / The Snake Pit / Hangover Square / Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism / The Perils of Pauline
1991: Hellzapoppin
1995: A Child is Waiting
1996: The Ten Commandments
1997: Unhook the Stars