Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V

Emma Caulfield, JoBeth Williams, Hayden McFarland and Michelle Borth in TiMER (2009)

Thanks as always to all the contributors to (of which I suspect there will be a few more heard from today) and all the readers of this roundelay...please let me know if you have a blogpost I've missed in comments (and please do feel free to leave other comments on each "commentable" post!). And...Happy Hallowe'en!

Bill Crider: Girls Town (trailer)

Brian Arnold: "Skeleton Frolic"; The Terror of Frankenstein (1977)

Chuck Esola: The Candy Tangerine Man

Dan Stumpf: Ride the Pink Horse

David Schmidt: Troll Hunter; Ratline

Evan Lewis: The Thin Man (1958-59)

Iba Dawson: Death at a Funeral (2007)

Ivan G. Shreve: Svengoolie

James Reasoner: The Giant Gila Monster; The Killer Shrews

Jerry House: Hallowe'en at the Movies: "The Case of the Screaming Bishop"; "The Story of the Ghost"; Robot Monster trailer; Dead Men Walk; Teenagers from Outer Space; The Screaming Skull

John Charles: The Bushwacker

Juri Nummelin: Serie Noire

Kate Laity: Alan Moore, reading from Jerusalem; Interview with John Peel

Patti Abbott: The ABC Afternoon Playbreak

Randy Johnson: Station West

Ron Scheer: Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace

Scott Cupp: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Stacia Jones: Gothic (1986)

Steve Lewis: Law of the Jungle (1942); Red Dust (1932); Impulse (1990)

Todd Mason: The Thrilling Adventure Hour; Deadlock (the Paretsky Warshawski novel adapted for BBC radio); An Unreasonable Man; TiMER; Targets (please see below)

Walter Albert: Arsène Lupin (1932); The Unknown (1927)

Yvette Banek: Topper Returns

Related matters:

George Kelley: Pulp Fiction on Blu-ray

Jake Hinkson: The Noir of Orson Welles

Scott Parker: Thoughts on Acting

Vince Keenan: Margin Call

Some quick takes from me this week:

The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a not entirely parodic revival of adventure radio drama, up to its 44th posted installment with this, its third under the aegis of The Nerdist.com, Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flyer: "Vive le Reich?" (Earhart is a timecop, with a slightly surprising and rather bloodthirsty female partner). I'd just not gotten around to listening to their previous work; but the average of those I've heard so far is simply charming.

BBC Radio 4 Extra is repeating Deadlock, the V. I. Warshawski novel by Sara Paretsky, dramatized in six weekly installments featuring Kathleen Turner as Warshawski. I always felt that Turner could do a better job with Warshawski than the film allowed (and Eleanor Bron as supporting actress doesn't hurt a bit), and while this dramatization isn't up to the novel, either, it's an improvement (one of the most awkward choices made by dramatist Michelene Wandor is in having Warshawski ruminate in internal monologue in the prose of the passages straight from the novel, which doesn't convince).

An Unreasonable Man is the 2006 profile documentary about Ralph Nader, touching on his career from his earliest campaigning for seat belts in cars and other safety equipment, through the shift in the tactics driven by the Democrats' cowardice and nearly complete sellout to corporate interests in the Reagan years onward (Nader stops being primarily an inside the Beltway lobbyist and becomes a organizer and sparkplug of public-interest organizations). And then, in 1996, he makes his first, very token run for the Presidency, an effort that he makes much more serious in 2000, and thus gained the childish enmity of antirational Democrats, desperate (as often is the case) for anyone but they and their candidates to be responsible for the defeat of those candidates...in 2000, of course, their candidate by all reasonable measures won, and managed to not fight sufficiently nor effectively to make the win stick (and the albatross the Bush 2 Administration should always be hung around the necks of the Supreme Court, and particularly swing vote Sandra Day O'Connor who particularly foolishly decided younger Bush would be her kind of Republican). (Todd Gitlin and Eric Alterman get to spout off as the voices of petulance with pretensions of pragmatic leftist outrage.) The film makes a very clearly rational case why Nader's Green and independent runs didn't "deny" any candidate the votes they "deserved" (quite the opposite, Nader, by no means a perfect candidate--I haven't forgiven his 1996 line about "gonadal" politics, meaning that many rights matters didn't rate for him--was still the best candidate we had from my point of view for the last several elections...he has now run four times, and probably won't run a fifth...and that might even be a pity). Meanwhile, even Pat Buchanan, as candidate of the Reform Party in 2000, sums his experiences in that race as reinforcing his belief that our electoral process is largely a sham. Something that Nader himself refuses to concede, even given all the corrupt roadblocks the large parties put up, the degree of their collusion to keep independent voices as quiet as possible...which tends to create the kind of opposition that results in Reform Parties, Tea Parties and Occupy protests. Pity such efforts can too often be so effectively neutralized or hijacked.

TiMER is a mildly science-fictional film which is also a romantic comedy that still has some actual thought, if not always profound thought, behind its tale of an alternate present-day Los Angeles, where nearly everyone wears a digital clock on their non-dominant wrist (righthanders wear it on their left) called a TiMER (TM), which somehow unexplainedly can tell you how long before you meet the One Love of Your Life...if that other person is also outfitted with a TiMER (as the film doesn't quite make clear at first). TiMERs are also forcibly implanted in the wrist, yet manage to not cause any bleeding on implantation (an unfortunate echo of Jerry Sohl's novel Point Ultimate, and also faintly reminiscent of the initial flaw in the similarly mildly sfnal Gattaca). So the film has the basic technological advance Dumbth working against it, as well as rather blithely asserting a society where everyone seems to believe there is Just One True Soulmate for everyone (a highly dubious proposition, both that there is Just One, and that the vast majority of Angeleños will believe this so strongly as to mutilate themselves with the device...but perhaps in the land of unnecessary and often rather bad plastic surgery, I kid myself), but unlike Gattaca, which goes forth pompously, staggering ever more under the solemnity with which its stupid premise is lavished (and even Alan Arkin's fine performance can't help much), this film otherwise manages to be relatively intelligent in its consideration of the relation between two stepsisters who are best friends, similarly unlucky in love despite taking very different approaches to romance (Emma Caulfield's Oona is somewhat exasperated by her lack of success at proper courtship; Michele Borth's Steph suspects any sort of true love is unlikely, and is quite content to go from one one night stand to another, even though they've both been fitted with the devices). Oona and Steph have to treat with their family (they are both suffering from a kind of extended adolescence in several ways, albeit Oona is at least professionally employed as an orthodontist; Steph holds down two slightly more boho part-time jobs). Oona takes Steph's advice, and tries a fling with a younger man (22 to her 29), shocking Steph when they don't simply quit after the first encounter. Steph meets a widower who actually might be a man she could get serious about. Their younger half brother (the son of Oona's mother and Steph's father) gets his TiMER at age 14 (the legal age of consent) and is matched up within days with the daughter of the family's new maid, much to the bemusement and slight dismay of nearly everyone involved. Basically, not much new ground broken here, but it's all done so briskly and rather wittily and the reactions of the characters within their circumstances feel right...this would be a partial contradiction, among those who long for screwball comedies, to the lament They Just Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To...this one is not much if any more contrived than Bringing Up Baby, and while not as deft might even ring a bit truer.

Targets is almost certainly not overlooked by most folks who've read this far, but despite the limitations of the budget and the inexperience of writer/director/supporting actor Peter Bogdanovich, this remains probably his best film, only a bit heavy-handed at times as it tells the tale of a young, repressed, Campus Republican-style fellow in 1967 who goes on a Charles Whitman-style rampage in Reseda and the surrounding Los Angeles suburbs, and of a bitter Boris Karloff, in the film going by the name Byron Orlok, tired of the kind of middlin' to awful films he's making these days and of being hustled by low-rent filmmakers (Targets uses the 1963 quickie The Terror as the stand-in for all the weak films Karloff made in that decade, like Targets a Roger Corman production, one which starred Karloff and Jack Nicholson and was shot in days and it shows) (it was written even more quickly, and that definitely shows as well). Among talent available was, says IMDb, Samuel Fuller as uncredited co-scripter (which certainly is believable), and László Kovács as cinematographer, with Bogdanovich and set and costume designer Polly Platt having come up with the treatment. The house young Bobby Thomspon (Tim O'Kelly) lives in with his parents (he invariably calls his domineering father "Sir") and his wife is remarkably set-like and sterile, and yet was apparently shot in a real house; this is the role most people remember O'Kelly for, since he quit film and television acting not long after, but he's certainly adept (and scary as hell for most of the picture, even all these years and a/v psychos later, as well as being no little pathetic in his understanding that he's losing his grip, much to the oblivious but well-meaning insufficient concern of his family). Karloff has an apparent ball with the role, getting to be actor (portraying and occasionally parodying an actor/himself), storyteller and critic of the filmmaking business at various points, as well as a (realistic) avenger. The film has some scenes that have stuck with me since seeing it as a kid, even when they aren't staged quite as well as they should be. And Nancy Hsueh, who is pretty charming here, would go on to a more limited career than she had had earlier, and would die at age 39; another member of the cast was an acquaintance of mine, Arthur Peterson, later best known as the demented "The Major" on the sitcom Soap, taught at George Mason University (and was a historian with the Federal Theater Project Archives there) while I was an undergrad in the latter '80s, and with his wife Norma Ransom continued their fine production of The Gin Game at GMU.


pattinase (abbott) said...


George said...

I haven't heard of TiMER. I'll have to check it out. I did PULP FICTION for today.

Todd Mason said...

Gotcha both. Thanks. Yes, TiMER got the usual indy shaft, but that's what the Sundance Channel, ShowCase, IFC to some extent still, and other cable stations (ever hungrier for more fodder) are good for...while they last!.

Phillyradiogeek said...

My post is up and running!


Phillyradiogeek said...

I've wanted to see Targets for a long time. Thanks!

Todd Mason said...

I haven't checked to see if the DVD is still in print, but it's playing on Showtime channels (such as ShowCase) of late, iirc. Seeing it again this weekend made its mention here necessary...though I think Randy Johnson did his own post on it some months back, too.

Yvette said...

The Thrilling Adventure Hour sounds like something I'd like to listen to. I love the idea of listening to radio online.

I listened to Nero Wolfe with Sidney Greenstreet and Some of the Peter Wimsey stories. Fun.

What is it about Peter Bogdanovich that I find so off-putting? I see his face and I'm instantly turned off whatever the film or project is about. Very mildly put: he gives me the creeps.

Though I always liked the film he did (whose title I've forgotten) with Ben Johnson and Cybl Shepherd.
Johnson won an Oscar for it.

Todd Mason said...

Yvette, you're thinking of his second-best film (and it gets pretty thin after it), the adaptation of Larry McMurtry's THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. Even in TARGETS, there's a self-indulgent film-geek passage where PB gets to show off his fanboyishness in re: Howard Hawks.

iluvcinema said...

Oh I saw TiMer based on the rec of a friend. Interesting movie. I think I caught it on Netflix.

Juri said...

A French Jim Thompson film, Série noire, up at my blog. George: Pulp Fiction an overlooked film? Really?

Todd Mason said...

Yeah, TiMER won't change anyone's life, but it's fun and intelligent enough (given the provisi I mention). Gotcha Juri...and that's what "Related matters" is for, such posts of related interest about, among other things, films Not At All overlooked...

K. A. Laity said...

Targets really is superb. I had it on VHS at some point. I never knew that Eleanor Bron was in an American show! Huh.

Todd Mason said...

Well, in this case, Kate, Bron isn't...it's a Radio 4 production with a mixed US and UK cast (and a few others for all I know...); Radio 4 has also done some Paretsky with Sharon Gless, which I think might work pretty well, too.