My Month in Film: August 2015

The big news, if you don’t already know: I have a podcast again! Elwood Jones, who hosts Mad, Bad, and Downright Strange, runs From the Depths of DVD Hell, and writes for Channel: Superhero, wanted to start a new podcast focusing on cult television, and was casting about for a prospective co-host. I offered my services and, well, here we are.

Right now it looks like the default “format” is that we’ll both bring single episodes of different shows and discuss them (this month is Ultra Q and The Outer Limits; next month is Dick Spanner, P.I. and Mr. Show with Bob and David), but there’s room for “specials” focusing on a single show (not going to say too much in advance, but October’s episode might follow that format). Anyway, it’s great to have a regular podcasting gig again and I’m sure it’ll be a lot of fun.

In other news: I think written content might be a bit thin here next month, as I’m attending Fantastic Fest in Austin at the end of September (and the first day or two of October). I’ll finish off the current season of Hannibal, and have a couple of other reviews, but otherwise I’m planning on pulling back for a couple of weeks, to help stave off burnout. I do plan on publishing some dispatches from the festival while I’m in Austin, but haven’t decided how often I’ll write them.

This month’s content

Reviews of current or recent releases

Television reviews

TV Good Sleep Bad

For Cinema Axis

*     *     *

Other movies I watched this month include…

Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal (James P. Taylor, Jr, 2003)

This made-for-Game Show Network documentary is generally outside the field of stuff I cover for the Gallery but I found it so fascinating I had to share it.

If you remember the ’80s you probably remember one of the big game shows of the middle of the decade was Press Your Luck. Basically, the format of the game was you answered trivia questions to win “spins” on a big square game board whose spaces lit up randomly. Each space cycled between amounts of cash, various prizes, and something called “the Whammy,” an animated cartoon character who took all your winnings if you landed on him.

Actually I said those spaces “lit up randomly” but that wasn’t true; they cycled through a series of patterns that the producers figured nobody would ever be able to figure out–which meant, of course, that someone was bound to do that very thing. A guy named Michael Larson figured it out, made it onto the show in May of ’84 (a full 8 months into its run!), and racked up the largest cash prize ever won by a contestant on a single appearance on a game show.

Press Your Luck host Peter Tomarken first breaks down the pattern and how Larson broke it, then presents Larson’s episodes (his run was so long the game was broken up into two episodes) with commentary. Along with that, there’s the standard talking-head interviews of Larson’s family (Larson himself died in ’99) and associates, the Press Your Luck production office, and Larson’s poor unsuspecting opponents; also some dramatic re-enactments–it turns out Larson, something of a shady character, managed to lose almost all that money by the end of 1984.

It’s not the most compelling presentation in the world–it has a very late ’90s/early ’00s “Behind the Music“-type of feel, but it’s a great story and I really dug the behind-the-scenes bits.

H.R. Giger stars in DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER'S WORLD.

Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World (Belinda Sallin, 2014)

I probably don’t need to tell you who H.R. Giger is, but just in case: he is, or was (he died last year), a Swiss artist known for his “biomechanical” works which blend sex, violence, and grotesquerie. He designed the Alien for the movie of the same name, did album covers for Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Brain Salad Surgery), Deborah Harry (KooKoo) and Danzig (How the Gods Kill), and served as the inspiration for the Dark Seed computer games.

I always refer to him as a “legendary Swiss weirdo,” because you gotta admit, his work is pretty fucked up. But the point of this documentary, made over the last couple years of Giger’s life (and the footage shows him in very poor health), seems to be that he was actually this fairly cool guy who was great to hang around with.

Unfortunately for Dark Star, he doesn’t seem all that inclined to talk much about himself or his work, and director Belinda Sallin doesn’t do much to draw information out of him, and even when the topic turns to experiences that would have profoundly affected his work, the tone remains casual and somewhat shallow. When discussing the suicide of his on-again-off-again lover in 1975, Giger simply talks about “her” for a good four or five minutes before Sallin bothers to tell you her first name was Li.

It’s nice to get some glimpses of Giger at work, and hear the affect he’s had on people–Celtic Frost singer/guitarist Tom Gabriel Fischer, who also worked for Giger in the 2000s, has some very touching things to say. But it’s a largely shallow portrait that likely won’t satisfy devotées or the uninitiated.Mel Gibson stars in THE ROAD WARRIOR.

The Road Warrior (George Miller, 1981)

My dad keeps calling Fury Road a “remake” of The Road Warrior. It isn’t, of course, not in the strictest sense. But the two films share the same basic setup, same basic plot spine, and the same aesthetic. Just about everything you remember about Fury Road has its origin in this movie, somewhere.

The Road Warrior seems to be generally considered better than Mad Max and I can see why. The predecessor’s smaller budget makes it harder for George Miller to pull off “post-apocalyptic dystopia dominated by the deranged,” whereas Road Warrior looks like Miller filmed it on location in the future. And while Max is an actual character in his eponymous movie, here he’s an icon, an archetype.

I always tell people who don’t like 1981’s other near-future science-fiction action classic, Escape from New York, that it makes the most sense if you approach it like a western. The same goes for Road Warrior, with the added bonus that the Outback provides George Miller with those Sergio Leone-esque infinite spans of desert void that Carpenter didn’t have access to because he was filming in St. Louis. Mel Gibson understands this and gives us his take on Eastwood’s Man with No Name.

The drawback is that Kjell Nilsson’s Humungus isn’t quite as memorable as Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Toecutter, but Bruce Spence as the Gyro Captain makes up for it. Observation: Bruce Spence makes everything better.

Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone star in ALOHA.

Aloha (Cameron Crowe, 2014)

Aloha is about a man who sold his soul, and how he finds his way back to the path of righteousness or whatever thanks to a romance with spunky, excessively eccentric young woman about fifteen years younger.

In other words, it’s pretty much a typical Cameron Crowe film. It has some good bits, but otherwise it’s just as blandly agreeable as most of his other work.

Leslie Caron stars in GIGI.

Gigi (Vincente Minelli, 1958)

Early on in Gigi, Louis Jourdan catches his girlfriend stepping out on him. He breaks up with her; since he’s the most eligible bachelor in Paris or something, this becomes front-page news, because Lord knows the French news media doesn’t have anything more important to report, like the Dreyfus affair or the Entente Cordiale. In response, the ex-girlfriend attempts suicide, a source of casual mirth for the characters. I think Maurice Chevalier even congratulates Jourdan on “his first suicide” or something like that.

It’s the sort of film where almost all the characters are assholes in an objective sense, but within the context of the film, we’re supposed to see their behavior as positive and even endearing. The title characters’ guardians don’t want Jourdan to marry her because of the social scrutiny she’d come under, to which he retorts that the guardians are horrible people dooming Gigi to a hideous life being married to a tradesman (je suis le one-percent!). And we’re meant, for better or worse, to agree with him.

The songs are all right and Leslie Caron is adorable, but its naked materialism and complicit endorsement of emotional manipulation is so alien to my viewpoint and values that I have no hope of truly appreciating the film. Yes, I know it’s a product of another culture in another time. Knowing that doesn’t help me like it.

Also, I wanted to interrupt Chevalier about halfway through his “I Remember it Well” song and ask, “Are you sure you don’t have Alzheimer’s?”

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