Monday, February 24, 2014

RIP, Harold Ramis

"Print is dead."

One of my favorite Harold Ramis moments is from Ghostbusters (because of course it is) and it's not really a moment that stands out or gets a lot of attention.  It's in a brief scene (with no ghosts) from the first half of the movie.  In it, Janine (Annie Potts) is flirting with Egon (Ramis) while he hooks up her computer or whatever.

She asks him if he likes to read.  He replies flatly, "print is dead."  It's not really a joke, but I find it hilarious.  It's so simple it's almost a throwaway line, but for my money it is one of Ramis' funniest line deliveries in the whole movie.
It is Ramis at his most dry and deadpan.  I love it.

The way the scene starts is really funny too, with Egon emerging from underneath Janine's desk, having to practically crawl over her to get out from under there.  When I saw this movie back when I was five years old the sexual implications of this moment were not as readily apparent as they are now.  Back then it had a more absurdist value to it.  It was silly, and I guess in a way, it still is.

The silly seriousness that Harold Ramis brought to the roles he played and to the movies he wrote and directed, that's what I love.  The blending of the highbrow and the lowbrow.  Ramis' talents and contributions to the world of comedy are almost immeasurable and, on a personal level, the movies he's been in and his style of comedy have been a part of my life for almost my entire life.

To say the least, it brought me much sadness to learn that Harold Ramis passed away today.  He was 69 years old.
Instead of doing a big write-up, I'll recommend you read these articles, if interested:
-They do a pretty good career write-up over at the AV Club.
-Devin Faraci over at Badass Digest has some nice words.
-Ramis' hometown newspaper The Chicago Tribune has a nice piece too.

Thanks for the laughs.  RIP, Harold Ramis.
Harold, Gilda, and John.  This is a great photo, but realizing that all three of these people are now dead is a colossal bummer. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sheba, Baby

In honor of Black History Month I wanted to once again review some blaxploitation films, as I find it to be one of the most vibrant and interesting of exploitation subgenres and that usually even the mediocre films are worth discussing.

First up in the discussion, the Pam Grier starring, William Girdler directed, Sheba, Baby (1975).

-Count the commas in this post and win a prize!*
Up front I have to tell you that this is a lesser Pam Grier blaxploitation film.  Despite what the tagline claims, Sheba, Baby is not as strong when compared to her previous classics Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974), as it tones down the sex, violence, and even the swearing that fans of Ms. Grier's previous efforts had come to expect.  The action scenes are also less dynamic, coming off a little flat and maybe even a bit goofy (especially the hand-to-hand, fist-fight stuff).

This would be one of Grier's final blaxploitation films (it was actually her last film under contract with AIP) and you get the sense that she was sort of done playing these types of roles.  You can see her just going through the motions in a couple scenes and her dialogue doesn't have much punch to it, but maybe that's just due to the way it was written..

Despite it's flaws, I did find Sheba, Baby to be a fun, rainy afternoon watch (which it was).  It has some memorable moments and supporting characters and the location shooting in Louisville and Chicago are interesting if you're from the Midwest (which I am) or maybe even if you're not.

The plot of Sheba, Baby goes like this:  Young, female Chicago detective Sheba Shayne (Grier) is called back to her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky to help her father, a local businessman who is being threatened by the mob.  Sheba has to put her detective skills to use and bust some heads as she works her way up the ladder of the crime syndicate.  Along the way she romances an old acquaintance and her father's current business partner, Brick Williams (Austin Stoker).
Stoker is good in this, he's sort of casually cool, with a bit of squareness in there, but he doesn't really amount to much more than "romantic interest" in the movie.  It's what you would expect from a guy named 'Brick.'  I like the guy though; Stoker was in John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and also Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), not to mention a couple earlier films with director William Girdler, one of which was Abby (1974), otherwise known as The Blaxorcist (check out my review here).
The bad guys seem to be very typical of blaxploitation movies, but they're good and serviceable.  D'Urville Martin, who is always good and memorable, plays the mid-level, local crime boss Pilot, and he does it big and bold.  He of course plays it a bit more subdued when he's around the big villain/his boss, a white businessman named Shark (Dick Merrifield).  Shark is a slimy land developer or something…I don't remember.  He's a real jerk though, cold, cruel, and a bit smug.

Other than Sheba, Baby, Dick Merrifield's only other claim to fame would be a pair of supporting roles in movies featured on MST3k, The Hellcats (1968) and The Sidehackers (1969), both of which are motorcycle flicks.

Like I said, D'Urville Martin is always good and he had a nice career in blaxploitation films; the same year as Sheba, Baby he played Willie Green in Dolemite.  Interestingly, one of Martin's earliest roles was Diego, the elevator operator in Rosemary's Baby (1968).

Maybe the most memorable supporting character, and easily my favorite, is Walker the pimp (Christopher Joy), who might not be a literal pimp, but I can't help but refer to him as such.  He runs a pawn shop out of his car and pretty much single handedly fills the movie's jive-talk quotient.  Sheba leans on him for information and while he's cocky at first, he proves to be a coward and gives up the info.

Joy is a lot of fun in the role; he's what you think of when you think "70s movie pimp" and he is a highlight of the movie.  He would play Curtis the pimp, virtually the same character, in Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke (1978).

Backing up a minute, I also gotta mention Pilot's right hand man, Killer (Maurice Downs).  He doesn't do much really, other than be stern faced and appear to be without the capacity for joy, but there is this one scene where Pilot is giving a speech in front of his goons (and his ladies too, for some reason), addressing the Sheba situation, and this Killer guy is sitting behind Pilot chiming in with a "that's right" every two seconds.  It's funny and weird that there was emphasis put on this character quirk.  I like it.
"That's right."
The original musical soundtrack is pretty good, maybe not as iconic as the scores from Coffy or Foxy Brown (by Roy Ayers and Willie Hutch, respectively), but still solid.  The music was composed and recored by Monk Higgens, legendary Chicago saxophonist.  I like it.  It's funky.  Check it:

This was writer/director William Girdler's fifth feature film and, following the relative success of Abby, this was the first time he had a decent budget to work with.  Girdler never made big budget movies, but this is definitely when his career took a step up the quality B-movie ladder.  Sheba, Baby is not overly exciting visually, but the movie looks okay and there are some noteworthy sequences, namely the boat chase during the climax.  Pam Grier in that wetsuit and riding around on that old school jet ski is something to see too.
There's another memorable scene where Sheba is chased by Pilot's goons through the grounds of the Kentucky State Fair.  The rides and the people are interesting to look at, especially since the people in the background are mostly looking directly at the camera.  This happens in another scene too, when Brick and Sheba are having a nice romantic walk together.  It's like the people in Louisville freeze when faced with a camera.
I had mentioned that the action scenes aren't all that exciting, but there is one stunt that I thought looked kind of dangerous.  During this scene, Sheba is running up a grassy hill when a car full of bay guys comes driving over the top and looks like it comes very close to hitting her.  Could just be the camera angle, still looked dangerous to me.
Overall I would say that Sheba, Baby is a minor work and that anybody new to the blaxploitation genre should start with another movie.  Also though, I would say that if you are familiar or a fan of the genre and you haven't seen Sheba, Baby, I would suggest checking it out.  It's like a cleaner, Saturday afternoon version of a blaxploitation movie, but taken on its own terms, it's not bad and can be an enjoyable watch.  Dig it.

*No prize for counting commas.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Trailer Park Tuesdays - The Dance of Reality

Hey folks, welcome to Trailer Park Tues..HOLY SHIT!



I had no idea that Jodorowsky was shooting a new movie, let alone that it was completed.  This is exciting news!  Jodorowsky's last feature film was 24 years ago (for those who are not in the know, Alejandro Jodorowsky is a Chilean surrealist filmmaker responsible for melting minds with midnight movie classics like El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre), so the news of a new film from him is something to celebrate.

His new film is called The Dance of Reality and I don't know much about it.  From some quick internet searches, I can tell you that this is an autobiographical film, based on Jodorowsky's book of the same name, and relates his experiences growing up in Chile mixed with his own personal views on reality.

Here's the first movie trailer.  It's not in English and the subtitles are in French, but that doesn't really matter.  If anything, it ups the surrealness factor considerably.  Also, it has plenty of Jodorowsky's hallmarks, including clowns, little people, prostitutes, children, religious symbolism, war, death, and body paint.  This is all very exciting and, as previously stated, it is something to celebrate.  Here, take a look and enjoy:

The Dance of Reality has been picked up for US distribution by ABKCO Films and will see release in NY and LA areas on May 23rd, with further and expanded release after that.  REJOICE!

2014 will be a good year for Jodorowsky fans; later this year (date TBD) the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune will be released, a film that documents what went wrong with Jodorowsky's attempted adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel Dune.  Looks to be (at the very least) a compelling watch detailing one of the greatest films never made, so keep an eye out for that one too.

And hey, use those eyes to check out this nifty poster for The Dance of Reality:
A new Jodorowsky film!  Rejoice!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

RIP, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Thought I could wake up today and just shuffle around until it was time for the Super Bowl to kick off, but instead I got a gut-punch worth of stunning news this morning:

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has died.  He was 46 years old.

Not even really sure what to say.  Hoffman was found in his Manhattan apartment this morning, discovered by a friend/colleague.  Most news outlets are reporting this as a drug overdose.

Double damn.

I just recently (about a year ago) found out that Hoffman had been struggling with drug addiction.  His addiction goes back almost 20 years, and while it seems he was clean for quite a long time, in recent years the habit appears to have retaken a hold on his life.  As recently as last year, Hoffman checked himself into rehab for heroin use.

Even after I found out these personal details of Hoffman's life, I still didn't think or consider that he would end up like this.  Didn't really seem possible, even though it was more than plausible.  Sad, sad, sad.

I'm sure as details in this case are confirmed, this story will continue to get sadder.  How could it not?  A man has died, a very talented man, who could not escape his own personal demons.  Sadness.
Thanks for all the memories, Phil.  You were a great one and you'll be missed.

Slated for release this year, Philip Seymour Hoffman's final performances can be seen in John Slattery's feature film debut God's Pocket and Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man, as well as in the Hunger Games sequel two-parter, Mockingjay (the second part of which will be out in 2015).
Actors are responsible to the people we play. I don't label or judge. I just play them as honestly and expressively and creatively as I can, in the hope that people who ordinarily turn their heads in disgust instead think, 'What I thought I'd feel about that guy, I don't totally feel right now'.
--Philip Seymour Hoffman