Tuesday, October 31, 2006

To The Devil...A Daughter

Last week’s review of The Devil Rides Out led me to a first-time viewing of the only other Hammer film based on a work by author Dennis WheatleyTo The Devil…A Daughter. Released in 1976, the film also holds the distinction of being the last Hammer horror film ever made.

Starring Christopher Lee, Richard Widmark, Denholm Elliott, Honor Blackman and a very young Nastassja Kinski, this is very much of an adult piece, whereas The Devil Rides Out has a vaguely more “general audiences” feel to it…ahem, allow me to cut through the bullshit pretension here: Nastassja Kinski at the tender young age of 16 displays full frontal nudity.

Need I write anything more? Um, I need. This is not a great movie, but it is a surprisingly watchable one. The plot is somewhat engaging, even if at times incoherent.

John Verney (Richard Widmark) is an acclaimed occult novelist living in London. One afternoon at a book signing he’s approached by Denholm Elliott’s frazzled and desperate Henry Beddows. Beddows weaves a story and pleads for Verney’s help, telling him that if nothing else, he’ll get a great book out of it. Where this proposition succeeds is in it being laid out from afar; the viewer never hears the conversation – we witness it from Honor Blackman and Anthony Valentine’s perspective across the room. Why do I call this move a success? I cannot imagine any novelist taking Beddows’ words even remotely seriously; because we never hear precisely what he says, this problematic plot point is more easily glossed over.

We later find out the proposition involved Beddows’ daughter, Catherine, a nun arriving at the airport from Germany. It’s Verney’s job to essentially abduct her away from the man she’s with – which he does and ends up taking her back to his flat for safekeeping. Before long Christopher Lee’s Satan-worshipping Father Michael Rayner is pissed. Like Mocata (from The Devil Rides Out) before him, this is not a man with whom to trifle. Catherine belongs to him, and indeed has been groomed from birth for a very specific purpose…

The film’s final 15 or so minutes are as botched as one can imagine – the height of its absurdity involving this ludicrous blood-covered Satan-baby -- achieved via a hand puppet!! -- that crawls around Kinski’s vaginal area (leaving the viewer pondering whose hand is in the puppet). I kid you not…and it must be seen to be believed. Further, Lee’s character is taken out by Widmark throwing a flint stone at his head – and that’s it…he literally vanishes in a puff of black magic at that point.

I’m not going to bother writing much more about the plot as it would come across as unintelligible babbling...which doesn’t mean I’m not recommending the film; I am and I’m not. To The Devil...A Daughter is a pretty fascinating slice of Hammer film history, being the not-so-big finish that it is. Apparently Wheatley, who was a huge fan of The Devil Rides Out adaptation, was thoroughly disgusted and disgraced by the film and even went so far as to recant his generous offer that Hammer be allowed to adapt any of his books they saw fit (not that it really mattered since they went belly-up after this one and Wheatley died shortly after). On the other hand, the film made millions in Europe, only Hammer didn’t see a penny of it due to complicated distribution deals. It’s not like any Hammer film I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t possess the somewhat hammy vibe of their 50’s and 60’s output; this is a film made post-The Exorcist, and clearly Hammer was attempting to appeal to that audience with this more serious adult fare. (It often feels and looks a lot like The Omen.)

Perhaps even more worth a look than the movie itself is a 24-minute documentary on the DVD entitled To The Devil…The Death of Hammer, which includes very frank comments and thoughts from Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman, Anthony Valentine, director Peter Sykes and many, many more. There are some great stories from just about everyone detailing Widmark’s on-set prima donna antics, in which he went around calling the production team “Mickey Mouse” and proclaiming “This isn’t how we do it in Hollywood!!!” He even tried to walk numerous times. None of this comes across in the film, however, as he delivers a pretty decent performance all things considered. Lee goes on to speak of the film’s nonsensical final act, although he felt it was good stuff up until that point (which for the most part, I wouldn’t argue). Apparently Klaus Kinski himself was approached for the part of Verney, but when asked if he was insurable per the areas of drug use, reliability and the like replied, “Anything over 10 ten days I can’t guarantee.” Good lord…the times they have a changed.

The doc, with a 2002 production date, ends with Christopher Lee speaking of his current plans to remake The Devil Rides Out – four years down the road, I wonder if he still has such plans as I coincidentally theorized the remake in The Devil Rides Out talkback.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Rise and Shiny

“Rise of the Cybermen” marks the return of the titular foes that occupy the #2 spot (after the Daleks) on the Doctor’s list of most oft-encountered enemies. This two-parter is a more than worthy effort, and part of its success is its setting on a parallel Earth--the steely beastie boys get a clean slate over which to rampage, while their previously established history remains intact. Due to their origins, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Cybermen: Humans from the edge of our solar system who gradually replace their body parts with synthetics as a means of survival. This new story takes the concept to even darker levels by mixing it up with our over-reliance on technology and willingness to, without thinking, grab the latest cool gizmo and incorporate it into our daily lives, no matter what the eventual cost. This is a hard-hitting idea and frankly scares the piss out of me (not only in this story, but in real life, too).

Read the rest of this recap by bashing through the windows of The House Next Door.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"What I Believe"

"What I Believe"

by Steve Martin

I believe in rainbows and puppy dogs and fairy tales.

And I believe in the family - Mom and Dad and Grandma…and Uncle Tom, who waves his penis.

And I believe 8 of the 10 Commandments.

And I believe in going to church every Sunday, unless there's a game on.

And I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, wholesome and natural things…that money can buy.

And I believe it's derogatory to refer to a woman's breasts as "boobs", "jugs", "winnebagos" or "golden bozos"…and that you should only refer to them as "hooters".

And I believe you should put a woman on a pedestal…high enough so you can look up her dress.

And I believe in equality, equality for everyone…no matter how stupid they are, or how much better I am than they are.

And, people say I'm crazy for believing this, but I believe that robots are stealing my luggage.

And I believe I made a mistake when I bought a 30-story 1-bedroom apartment.

And I believe the Battle of the Network Stars should be fought with guns.

And I believe that Ronald Reagan can make this country what it once was - an arctic region covered with ice.

And, lastly, I believe that of all the evils on this earth, there is nothing worse than the music you're listening to right now. That's what I believe.

The Rued Morgue would like to thank Mr. Martin for his insightful commentary and we welcome him back at any time to share his stimulating thoughts and ideas.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Devil Rides Out

Some time ago I wrote about my intense love for films dealing with collusion – covens, cults, sects and the devious like. I love this stuff because it plays on one of my core fears – the idea that everyone really is out to get me (although what they’d do with me once they had me is perhaps a bigger mystery). One of the films I briefly mentioned in that piece was The Devil Rides Out, a late ‘60s Hammer production starring Christopher Lee and the late Charles Gray (known to most as the Criminologist [a.k.a. “No-Neck”] from The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Spinning the DVD with the fam after not having watched it in a few years reminded me of exactly how much fun this piece is and how it’s ideal fare for this time of the year. Don’t get me wrong – this is no Wicker Man by any stretch…but if you’ve already seen The Wicker Man a half a dozen times, you should give this a shot.

Lee plays Duc de Richleau, and it must be one of only a handful of times in his long career he’s playing a good guy – this fact alone demands a viewing. De Richleau and his friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene) are supposed to have a reunion with their other friend, Simon (Patrick Mower) – only Simon has shirked the festivities in favor of attending a meeting with an “astronomical” society. They trace him to a rich-looking estate where they intrude upon the small gathering. It doesn’t take long for De Richleau to figure out they’re a group of occultists and Simon – along with a young girl named Tanith (Nike Arrighi) - are to be their next initiates. At the head of the pack is Mocata (Charles Gray), who considers his occult practices a science and has a direct pipeline to the Devil.

Charles was such a Grayt one-note actor; whoever writes the book “The Stunning Versatility of Charles Gray” won’t get past the first chapter or so without hitting a serious wall of writer’s block. He played his characters with the same cadence and more or less the same look – I don’t know if the guy ever even aged. Regardless, he was always a noticeable movie presence, and the sinister Mocata must surely have been one of his most impressive roles.

The movie is more or less a series of bizarre, hallucinatory set-ups and payoffs, as De Richleau and Rex attempt to save Simon and Tanith from Mocata’s wicked plans. One of the most memorable occurs about halfway through the film, at one of those wacky clothed-orgy type of affairs (which borderline reminds me of Hanks & Aykroyd crashing a similar party in Dragnet) wherein Mocata summons the Devil himself in the form of the Goat of Mendes – an evil, almost serene looking goat-headed creature sitting cross-legged atop a mount overlooking the revelers. He's summoned by Mocata by means of - what else? - sacrificing a goat. (Hardcore fans of The Prisoner should keep an eye out for Peter Swanwick in an uncredited, silent role as one of the occultists.)

Another sequence - with some vaguely racist undertones - involves the appearance of an unnamed deity, played by a, ahem, "gentleman of color". It's a weirdly sinister bit of madness that holds up today only if you put aside the fact the guy's supposed to be devilish mostly because he's black. (In all fairness, the actor's given some creepy-looking contact lenses that add to the chills.)

The third act is where things go either ludicrously loopy or intimately intense depending on your interest in this sort of fare. Drawn into De Richleau’s circle of strength are his niece Marie (Sarah Lawson), her husband, the token disbeliever Richard (Paul Eddington, another Prisoner alumni; he played Cobb in "Arrival"), and their pre-teen daughter Peggy (Rosalyn Landor). If the movie sounds overcrowded, it’s not, and that’s one of its strengths – everyone has a logical part to play and none of the characters ever seem shoehorned into the goings-on. The finale will either have you throwing your hands up in the air or quietly contemplating everything you’ve viewed as time is literally rewound in the final minutes. Pretty much the entire third act is erased from the storyline - but oddly not from the characters' memories. Whether or not one views this as a cheat will depend entirely on your willingness to surrender yourself to the material.

I keep mentioning The Prisoner, and The Devil Rides Out has a very similar color palette to that show (they're both stamped with 1967 release dates), or perhaps even more so a Diana Rigg-era color Avengers episode. It moves along briskly with a 95-minute running time. Director Terence Fisher was one of the staple Hammer directors, and this was one of his last films, although you wouldn’t know he was nearing the end of a long career by watching the piece - there's a tight, fresh feel to the proceedings. Richard Matheson adapted the screenplay from the Dennis Wheatley novel of the same name. Apparently it was Lee’s enthusiasm that led to the film being made in the first place, as he was a fan of Wheatley’s novels. He’d hoped that it would lead to a series of films based on Wheatley’s other De Richleau tales, but alas this was to be the sole adaptation of the character’s antics.

Which is a shame, as De Richleau’s motivations and knowledge of the dark arts are ambiguously presented; there’s a section of the film where he takes leave from everyone else (at a very crucial moment, too) and where he goes or what he does is anyone’s guess. It’s never explained why he knows all that he does or how he’s able to combat Mocata so effectively. The character may have been one of Lee’s few good guys, but how good he was remains debatable (at least based on what's presented in the film). I know very little about Wheatley’s novels, but I have to wonder what it might be like to see Lee return to the character at this stage in his life and career (which given the time periods the many novels cover, wouldn’t necessarily be out of the question) – and if not Lee, maybe somebody else? There are a wealth of stories to pull from here and it’d be interesting to see a new series of films created based on this material. I’d love to see Johnny Depp, for instance, have a go at this character.

I've got the gorgeous standalone DVD (pictured) of the film which sports a spotless, colorful transfer, but is now unfortunately out of print. The existing available DVD version is a Hammer double-feature disc and also features Christopher Lee in Rasputin: The Mad Monk, a movie I've shamefully never seen. I assume the transfer is similar in quality. This is an ideal party movie, and if you're looking to get a few friends together this Halloween and want a cool mixture of laughs and frights, you'll be hard-pressed to find fare as effective as The Devil Rides Out. Now go forth and worship, my Morgue-tastic brethren...

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Clockwork Fairy Tale

“The Girl in the Fireplace” may be the crowning achievement of Doctor Who's second season. I'm often overly critical of these new episodes, but this is one that fires on all cylinders and shows why the new series is ultimately more than just flashy effects, clever one-liners, and sometimes tedious chase scenes.

Writer Steven Moffat provided Season One with the Hugo Award-winning two-parter “The Empty Child”, and he returns with this bit of stand-alone glory. Moffat understands Doctor Who in a broader context; he’s able to blend sci-fi, horror, romance, humor, and humanity so that they effortlessly complement--rather than needlessly complicate--one another. This is talent no other current Who TV writer, not even showrunner Russell T Davies, possesses to this degree.

Read the rest of this recap by short-range teleporting yourself over to The House Next Door.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hump Day Bitch Session

Far be it from me to use this blog to do something selfish, like, oh, I don’t know – bitch about stuff. But fuck it. That’s what I feel like doing right now. I figure if I just sit down and start typing every single little thing that means nothing, but seems to mean something, maybe none of it will mean anything. Which is as it should be…

My beard itches.

It’s Halloween soon and I still don’t have a costume put together. Is it asking too goddamn much of myself to just call Gibson’s and find out if they’ve got a V for Vendetta mask in stock? Apparently so.

My cat is pissing me off. No reason. He’s just running around doing nothing more than being a fucking cat, which is bad enough at the moment.

Someone bought the house next door – not Matt’s blog, but literally, the house next door. And they’re doing “improvements”. Starting early in the morning. Fuck them and their hammering.

Friends who pick fights through e-mail and only through e-mail. Got a problem with me? That’s what phones are for. Don’t play your passive-aggressive bullshit games through e-mail. It’s just childish (much like this entry). On second thought – keep up the e-mail games. That’s why Satan invented the “delete forever” button.

I am surrounded by seemingly endless piles of DVDs and CDs. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Now I just see stacks of expensive looking coasters. Who has time to watch and listen to all this shit?

My beard still itches.

There’s either too much drugs and alcohol or not enough. Never, ever has there been “just the right amount”.

Nip/Tuck just fucking annoyed me last night. Is it too much to ask for just one simple----goddamn cat just walked under my chair!!!!!!!!! Arghhhhh!!!!

Cigarette smoke is irritating my nose this afternoon.

Why do the weather forecasters keep talking about cold fronts when they never happen!?!? It hasn’t been cold at all, you fuckers. Stop lying. 60 degrees is not cold.

Does anybody even read my blog? If not, I can understand why and I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t read my blog either. For weeks now I’ve been wanting to write a simple review of “The Notorious Bettie Page”, but haven’t done it.

My screenplay needs more work. If I get another invite to participate in some kind of filmmaking event that involves dozens of other collaborators I will scream. I am a control freak. You do not want to work with me – trust me on this.

I’ve not spent nearly enough time this month watching horror movies. It’s the one month of the year to really get into that sort of thing, and I keep failing at it.

The workers at the house next door are driving me nuts.

Cat just went under my feet again and almost knocked over some DVDs. I yelled “Goddamnit!” at him. More sneezing. Beard itching. Now my shoulders itch for some reason.

I am not as good-looking as I used to be, but at least my coffee tastes good. Get that cat outta here!!!! Somebody feed him a Tribble.

Will I ever watch all three Lord of the Rings movies again? I need a cigarette. The cat has been moved to his “area”. Temporary peace.

But my beard still itches and people pretty much get under my skin.

I’ve got a good shot at going to a very exclusive movie-watching event in December, but can’t work up the guts to say “aye” or “nay”. Make a fucking decision, Ross. Just make a fucking decision – for once in your life.

People are dying and so am I. Or am I? What’s the opposite of dying? Living? Am I living? I must be. The workers next door saw to that when they woke me up a few hours ago. I should work out but I’m too lazy.

Desperate Housewives is better this season thanks to Kyle MacLachlan. This fact depresses me in and of itself, but the house is still a mess. The cat just meowed. He wants back in. Yeah right.

Game shows with stupid people winning millions piss me off. I’ll never be on a game show. This must be a good thing, right?

It would be so cool to just disappear into one of the Magritte paintings I’ve got hanging above my computer, but that kind of stuff only happens in Terry Gilliam movies, which must be why I watch them.

There’s nothing left to bitch about – and all the stuff I just bitched about wasn’t worth bitching about anyway. I do not feel better, in fact I feel worse. The next time someone tells you you just need to “get it out”, show them this entry. Show them that getting it out doesn’t do a damn bit of good.

I guess I’ll call Gibson’s and find out about that mask. I guess I’ll go take a shower so my beard stops itching. I'd like to go pee in front of the workers next door and make a spectacle of myself. I guess I’ll post this entry so readers can realize they are not alone and that the world is annoying to others as well.

Fuck. Jeanne just let the cat back in.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Sarah Smiles

If ever there was any debate about the new series of Doctor Who being an extension of the classic series, tonight’s installment, “School Reunion,” puts an end to it. It proudly waves its geek flag, whilst near-miraculously delivering something special for the uninitiated as well. For a certain type of fan, it's the episode for which we’ve been patiently waiting – and kudos to the producers for planning this so early in the season.

Mickey Smith (to the Doctor): The missus and the ex. Welcome to every man's worst nightmare!

Read the rest of this article by clicking here and visiting The House Next Door.

And then come back and check out my Elisabeth Sladen/Sarah Jane photo tribute:

The Morgue gratefully acknowledges the website Shillpages, without whose existence this tribute wouldn't have happened.

Walheim's Hands on a Hard Body

Ross’ recent Morgue entry blindsided me. I am well aware that I’ve romanticized the “Hands on a Hard Body” contest, as captured in S.R. Bindler’s perfectly edited masterpiece of the same name. Nevertheless, the knowledge of this tragedy has now forced me to re-evaluate the virtues of my possibly na├»ve interpretation of that movie. Fact is, I wish I had stayed ignorant of this tragic factoid [Sorry, Don! - RR] because it’s tainted the sacredness that has endowed my understanding of my all time favorite documentary and true life Texas fable. Certainly, the news puts a potential end to my wish to one day take a well-timed excursion out to East Texas and stand in jealous awe at the random, motley group of quintessential Texans two-days-deep in an exhaustive battle of wills. (Here’s hoping I’ve still got some time before someone screws-up the “Lights of Marfa”).

I was recently reminded that it was this very movie that was the impetus for Ross and I forging a relationship with our other movie-freak friend, Kevin Cacy. I had off-handedly mentioned to Kevin (who, at the time, worked at the same Laserdisc rental store where Ross had once worked) that I had heard wonderful word of mouth about this little documentary that was currently playing in Austin at the Dobie. I was taken aback, when two days later Kevin said he took me up on my suggestion and drove up to check out the flick. His enthusiasm for what he had seen was infectious. Ross and I drove up later that weekend and were treated to something…special.

In all the years I’ve known these two, there has NEVER been a movie, before or since, that compelled us, to this extent, to “spread the word” [Not even Ravenswan! - RR]; to get any and everyone we knew to take a chance on this true-life “human drama” (a little in-joke for those that have seen the movie). We were obsessed with it for the simple reason that it kept rewarding us with new insights on each subsequent viewing. This story was, in its own right, fascinating – however it was made doubly so by the virtues of editing. It played with the audiences pre-conceived biases and assumptions that they (me) inevitably made when seeing these contestants for the first time; the filmmakers knew, in advance, how we would assume who would, well, maybe not win, but surely bow-out first.

(The following contains spoilers relevant to the documentary. Highlight and read at your own risk!)

I'll never forget what Ross said to me (in jest, but with a hint of good-natured provocation) after the end credits began:

"Hey Don, what does it say about your “God” that he let the woman who was constantly praying to him throughout the contest come in 2nd place?"

I remember I had a quick response for him precisely because what I found so wonderful about the film was an interpretation that was completely opposite to the implication behind his question, namely, that it was precisely this woman's unyielding faith that so obviously had given her the strength to go as far in the contest as she had. This roughly 200-220 pound obese, middle-aged woman is, at the beginning of the contest, surrounded by mostly young, strong twenty-somethings, and you think, "Surely this woman will be one of the first if not THE first person to bow out." But no - she makes it down to the last two and she had the strength to keep going, but became so moved by her prayers that she accidentally lifted her hand off the vehicle in religious ecstasy. In the words of the wise old man that won the event (the oldest person in the contest by the way) "At that point she cared more about God than she did about winning the car and that's the only reason I won."

To think that, years later, a contestant became so vulnerable by the physical, emotional and mental stress that this contest so obviously administers, that he was driven to such an extreme only minutes after conceding defeat makes me wonder if the type of people that this contest has now come to attract is a fundamentally different kind of participant, with different expectations.

Ross astutely pointed out in his piece that these participants in the documentary were nothing like today’s "reality" contestants. They had no idea they were to be part of a “cult classic” that to date is still the longest playing movie in Austin, Texas history. All they were interested in was winning the car... a car that would economically affect them in ways that this privileged, upper middle class Texan will likely never fully appreciate.

I'm wondering if the very success of that film - a film that has meant so much to “Texans” like Ross, Kevin and me on so many levels - changed the way people henceforth approached and perceived the contest? Infected it even, so that it morphed from something akin to a spiritual right of passage...something that a number of the contestants claimed changed them in a profound and positive way forever, to just another lame attempt for the obligatory "15 minutes of fame"?

At the end of the day, I'm not sure if I agree with Ross that Altman should mention or include this tragedy in his adaptation, at least if he wants to be faithful to the particular story that the documentary made famous. I have the utmost faith in Altman as a storyteller, and even though he’s tackled real people before in his films (Popeye being one of the best), that particular contest that the documentary captured is one of the most beautiful, positive and inspiring stories I have ever seen on the big screen. To infect it with an anecdote that had nothing whatsoever to do with the events in question, seems somehow dishonest - hell, even irreverent.

But to misquote Steve Balderson, "That's just, like, my opinion, man."

This guest column was written by Don Walheim in response to Altman's Hands on a Hard Body. It began life in the comments section of that entry, but was deemed "better" than that...which is a sterling endorsement for the value of posting in the comments sections.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Torchwood Trailer

Here's a nice little teaser trailer for the upcoming Doctor Who spinoff, Torchwoood, starring John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness and Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper (you might recall her face from the Season One Who episode, "The Unquiet Dead", where she played Gwyneth).

The series will air on BBC Three (although a premiere date has yet to be announced) and is intended for a more mature age group than its parent series - an angle that's clearly played up in the trailer.

What strikes me as most noteworthy is how much it appears to be structured like Doctor Who - Jack fills in for the wiser, more experienced Doctor, and Gwen a seeming innocent caught up in the madness of dealing with aliens. There's probably stuff Davies has wanted to do with Who, that he's simply been unable to due to it being a family series. Perhaps he's devised Torchwood as a means of going down those roads?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Altman's Hands on a Hard Body

The Hollywood Reporter's Anne Thompson on Friday wrote that Robert Altman's next movie is to be an adaptation of 1997's S. R. Bindler opus documentary Hands on a Hard Body.

From the article:

..."Hands on a Hard Body: The Documentary"... recounted a Texas endurance contest that offered a new Nissan Hardbody truck as the prize. The last person left standing with a hand on the truck got to take it home. Altman has wanted to direct the project for years and now says it will be his next film. He compares it to Sydney Pollack's 1969 film "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" which centered on a marathon dance contest...Altman has begun talking to such actors as Billy Bob Thornton and Hilary Swank, though cast availability when the film is ready to shoot will be a factor.

When I read this news, my jaw hit the floor and I giggled and mused for about five minutes straight. Then I decided to write a Morgue item. Then I did a websearch and then - due to my findings - what was to be a fairly straightforward entry, took an unexpected left turn at Albuquerque. Read on...

When Hands on a Hard Body (the subtitle "The Documentary" is new by the way - must have something to do with the upcoming adaptation) came out back in '97, it was one of those flicks that my movie buds and I instantly glommed on to. It defined a certain segment of Texas living, and along with John Sayles' Lone Star, was just one of those flicks that as a Texan, you had to see and love. I'm sure that I've viewed it more times than any other documentary (save possibly for Crumb) and I'm always surprised when I discover people who have not only not seen, but never even heard of it. The DVD has been out of print for several years (and goes for $$ on eBay) and it seems to have attained total cult film status. If you've not seen the film, my guess would be to avoid it until Altman comes out with his version.

I'm sure Altman will unveil a compelling fictitious take (the source material being unscripted gold), but I'll be stunned if he makes a film even half as dramatic, funny, poignant and riveting as the original - although, by all means Bob...more power to you, man. He's on the right track by comparing it to They Shoot Horses, Don't They? - I've been making the same comparison for years.

The documentary was a total crapshoot for Bindler, as he had no way of knowing which contestants would hang in the longest and who would eventually win the truck. He no doubt knew he'd capture some great drama, but he could not possibly have foreseen the ideal fable that would result from simply pointing a camera at 24 people who must keep their hands on the truck.

I love the idea of Hilary Swank as she's a ringer for contestant Kelli Mangrum. Not sure who Billy Bob would play, but if you're going to tell this story, there can be no better actor to add to the cast. Contestant Benny Perkins is the only one of the 24 who was a previous winner (he'd won in '92) and he is in many ways the heart, soul and humor of the film. His one-liners (few of which are intended to be as hilarious as they sound) are a big part of what keep the film moving forward. When speaking of who will win the contest, he proclaims with a Texan drawl, "It's like this movie I saw once - Highlander. 'There can only be one'". Altman must nab the right guy to play Benny - maybe Woody Harrelson?

Seeing the film as many times as I have, the contestants have over the years become true movie characters in my mind, and it's as if I keep expecting the actors who played them to pop up in other movies - which of course never happens. These were not people like so many of today's reality TV "stars". They were not looking for fame or for their 15 minutes or hoping it might lead to a guest shot on a sitcom. They were 24 Texans trying to win a Hardbody pickup truck, likely feeling as if they were being interviewed for nothing more important than the Longview evening news, rather than having a precient awareness of the cult figures they'd someday become. Anytime I watch the film, I wonder where they are, if they still live in Longview, and what they're doing today. Which is the precise sentiment that led me to do a Google search...

Turns out that in 2005, in the middle of last year's contest, Ricky Vega - one of the 24 - walked away from the truck and headed for the K-Mart across the street (the store frequently pops into view when watching the doc), broke into the closed store, grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun and fired it into his right temple. Needless to say, the contest was shut down and everyone sent home. Patterson Nissan didn't hold a Hands on a Hard Body contest this year and the future of the event remains up in the air.

Reading this news floored and saddened me. I'm left pondering how this will affect Altman's film. One would think the tragedy might keep Altman from even attempting it, despite it occurring years after the events seen in the documentary...and yet I don't see how this film can be made without mentioning it in at least postscript fashion. However, it's clearly at odds with the original story's ultimate message - the resilient nature of the human spirit and our ability to survive when the odds are against us. If Altman has indeed been wanting to make this for years, perhaps Vega's suicide made it an even more imperative mission for the director? And if so, then what might this story mean filtered through the present? What does he have planned!?!?

Whatever Altman unleashes, I suspect this will be a film not to be missed.

Check out Don Walheim's response to this piece in Walheim's Hands on a Hard Body.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Two Jacks

To honor Jack Nicholson's apparently hammy--I mean "meaty"-- showing in Martin Scorsese's The Departed, That Little Round-Headed Boy has collected the Ten Greatest Lines of Jack Dialogue.

In the same item, he of all things Block-Headed is also asking readers to chime in with their Five Favorite Jack Flicks - something I pointed out was an eternally askable question for which most anyone should have an answer.

But I was inspired by Chuck's request and would now like to know...

What is the Worst Performance in the Jackster's Long Career and Why?

Do not misunderstand. I love me some Jack, but let's not delude ourselves here - his is a career that's been as wrong as often as it's been right. And it's not like I'm some snob - I put his Daryll Van Horne from The Witches of Eastwick in my Top Five Best, ahead of stuff like Reds and Terms of Endearment.

My choice?

Batman. I'll easily give the honor to his Jack Napier/Joker - the role in which he was most clearly miscast - which is rather amusing given that back in the day most everyone was busy shitting their britches over Mr. Mom's casting as Bruce Wayne/Batman (a choice that ended up being far more inspired and sound than anyone would have predicted).

But Jack is just plain wrong as the Joker - a character who should not only be roughly close in age to Bruce Wayne, but physically should also be tall and lanky. Oh...and menacing. Did Tim forget that a villian should perhaps be somewhat intimidating? Instead of the Joker basics, we're given a short, fat old guy who would've looked far more at home in Barnum & Bailey's center ring than blackmailing Gotham City. The franchise never stood a chance with this Joker as the villianous template and it's only surprising that it took three more movies to reach the low point of Arnold's Mr. Freeze. Jack's Joker owed far more to Cesar Romero than Bob Kane.

Victoria's Secret

One of the great conceits of tonight's Dr. Who episode “Tooth and Claw” (8 p.m. and 1 a.m. Eastern, Sci Fi Channel) is the Doctor’s attempt to take Rose to see Ian Dury and the Blockheads in 1979. Had I a time machine, there would be countless sights to behold, but near the top of the list would be mythic, classic concerts I was too young to attend. It’s refreshing, after years of vicarious TARDIS travel, to see the device used in a manner which I’d likely exploit. (The Doctor half-jokes, “What else is the TARDIS for?”)

Read the rest of this article by howling at the moon over at The House Next Door.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Want Some Candy?

The Rued Morgue’s quest for perfect pop record recommendations continues with the band Vinyl Candy and their debut album Pacific Ocean Park – a recording that’s over two years old, but brand new to me.

Sometimes you find a CD that’s uncomplicated, simple pop goodness - - music that just makes you feel good to be alive. Pacific Ocean Park ("P.O.P.") is one of those CDs. The album has no agenda outside of rockin' and groovin' your little world and aiding you in forgetting the ugliness outside your front door (of course I speak of that overgrown lawn so desperately in need of a mow).

I asked some of my more music-savvy friends and nobody seems to have heard of them, which is why it behooved me to sit down and craft a quick entry. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why these tunes didn’t get radio play right and left of the dial. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this music was recorded smack in the summer of 1976. They’ve got that distinct Southern Cali vibe that gets inside your head and refuses to go away unless you hit PLAY one more time – then rinse and repeat.

Enough gushing. If I’m guilty of anything here at the Morgue, it’s overselling.

Check out these vids for two of their hit singles – Tranz Am and Heather.

Update! Vinyl Candy's newest album, Land, was released in July of 2009.