Saturday, February 6, 2010

David’s Mini-Masterpiece Addendum: Cruise into Terror

Cruise Into Terror is a completely insane and stupid MOW (movie of the week) from 1978 that starred Dirk Benedict (original Battlestar Galatica's Starbuck) and, lord help him, Ray Milland. The plot? Something about an Egyptian sarcophagus aboard a luxury liner that actually contains, um, the son of Satan. His presence starts to influence those on the ship to do bad things.

I kid you not.

So, what could there possibly be in this alleged film for me to allow it into the 'pantheon' of MMWinMM? Not a scene, just one line of narration. And to save you all the trouble of actually watching this frakking catastrophe, I'm going to tell you what it is. You're welcome.

It has been so long since I've seen this (do NOT ask me why I watched it; I have no excuse), but I have always remembered the line. I don't recall who said it, or why (it may have been 'end of movie' narration), I just remember it, and it is pretty damn good (it may not be original to this MOW, but I've never found it attached to anything else).

"There is a devil, there is no doubt, but is it trying to get in, or is it trying to get out?"

It's a creepy line and someday somebody should write a screenplay or novel that tells the story of that line. And obviously, it wouldn't have to have anything to do with the supernatural or satanism.

--David Churchill is a film critic and author. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his first novel, The Empire of Death.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Prophetic Voices: Mahalia, Muddy & Martin

Mahalia Jackson

Back in the late fifties, my parents frequently took me to the Drive-In. My formative movie experiences were forged there. I saw a lot of bad films on those excursions (Butterfield 8, anyone?), but one of them found a way of staying with me for years. David Churchill attested to yesterday in his piece on The Abyss, there are sometimes scenes within terrible movies that are mini masterpieces. For me, a perfect case in point is Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life (1959), the second Hollywood adaptation of Fanny Hurst’s famous weeper.

Sirk made a number of glossy melodramas for producer Ross Hunter in the fifties including All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind. These soaps would later be acclaimed as subversive by auteur film critics in the ‘80s who were basically enamoured with the rather turgid work of the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who used Sirk's style as his model particularly in The Marriage of Maria Braun). Imitation of Life is ostensibly about an aspiring actress (Lana Turner) who is also a single mother. While trying to develop a career and raise her young daughter, she gets help when she befriends a jobless black maid (Juanita Moore) and her young daughter (Susan Kohner). Once they come to live with the actress, however, the story shifts to the problems of two generations of black Americans and Lana Turner’s issues become comparatively minor.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mini Masterpieces Within Mediocre Movies: The Abyss

At the end of the 1980s, my career as a film critic was coming to a self-imposed end. I knew it was time to move on because I was beginning to hate the politics, hate what you had to do to get published, hate everything I was watching and, frankly, hate what I was writing. Philip Kaufman's exceptional 1978 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers was the movie that made me want to write criticism. So many ideas pounded through my head after seeing that film for the first time that I just had to write them down. Eleven years later, I'd had enough. But before I drew a curtain around that part of my writing and working life, I looked for ways to still be engaged by what I was seeing on the screen. For my own amusement, that was when I created what I called Mini Masterpieces Within Mediocre Movies (MMWinMM).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Perilous Future of Bookstores

The recent announcement that Vancouver’s Duthie Books, which has been in business for 52 years, is closing shop at the end of February, has shaken book lovers in that city. While Duthie’s Cathy Legate admitted not owning her store was a liability and also blamed the strengthening Canadian dollar for her store’s demise, it was Chapters / Indigo and the Internet that took the lion’s share of the blame for Duthie’s demise. This view was expressed by both the press and Duthie’s loyal patrons, even though Duthie’s overeager expansion first led the company, which once had ten outlets, to declare bankruptcy in 1999 before rebounding with the one Vancouver outlet that was left.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Glorious Bastards: Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds

Although it's unlikely to win Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards (the best film on the list of nominations that I've seen is The Hurt Locker), Inglourious Basterds still comes as something of a happy surprise. Director Quentin Tarantino works from a movie-fed imagination, one that's completely soaked in a love of genre films – art movies, Asian action films, and exploitation pictures. But in his most celebrated works, like Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), he made a fetish out of movie love. If Jean-Luc Godard had, according to author Paul Coates, once transformed movie audiences into film critics, Tarantino chose to turn his audience into pop culture junkies who savoured his insider movie references. In recent years, with the hubris of Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2, and more recently, the torpor of Death Proof, Tarantino was pretty much swallowing his own tale. But Inglourious Basterds, an alternate World War II action drama, shows Tarantino bringing his movie intoxication to bear on something more than just indulging a fetish. Without question, it’s his best film.

Monday, February 1, 2010

J.D. Salinger's Cultural Exchange

I'm glad that I read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye outside of any high school English class. Due to that fluke of good fortune, I was free to dip into Salinger’s tale of adolescent frustration without all the mythical baggage that comes with it. There's no question that his first novel had an indelibly profound impact on young readers (including very disturbed ones like Mark David Chapman). But the book’s influence also extended to movies as well (most notably in both The Graduate and Rushmore). But Salinger’s novel examined teenage misery with an acute eye. He didn’t enshrine his protagonist Holden Caulfield’s world view – rather he revealed that, in the world of ‘phonies,’ Holden was just as culpable as anyone he criticized. The Graduate (1967) and Rushmore (1998), in their blatant attempt to win over the outsider adolescent fringe of two very different generations, chose to pander to youthful narcissism instead. Both movies dubbed their rebel heroes as vulnerable, but they were largely self-righteous. They made dubious claims, too; since the adult world is automatically corrupt, by extension, it also corrupts its young.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

TV Thrills with Brains: MI-5/Spooks

In this day of the quick cancellation of TV series, it is probably best to wait until a season or two has gone by before you risk taking a chance. Too often, I've latched onto a new TV series, especially ones with a continuing storyline, only to have it cancelled. Recent examples: Invasion, Boomtown, Pushing Daisies, Jericho and Day Break, amongst several others. One of the worst examples was back in 2000 when I watched the first season of the remake of The Fugitive, starring Tim Daly as Richard Kimble. It was surprisingly good, but a little series called CSI, debuting in the same season and time slot, came along and kicked its ass. The Fugitive was cancelled at the end of the first season. How did the series end? With bullets flying at Kimble's head. I can only assume he ducked.