Wednesday, January 20, 2016

SPACE CAMP, SOPRANOS AND BEYOND


"In space, no one can hear you Joaquin."

It's a brand new year. The Best/Worst List is up. The new Star Wars has come and gone and, surprisingly, did not suck. The frigid doldrums of January are upon us, leaving us once again theatrically marooned. Case in point: Ride Along 2, Michael Bay's Benghazi movie.

So where does that leave our dear old (and nearly departed) Cashiers De Cinema blog? For starters, catching up on a lot of TV. I just finished a week-long Jessica Jones binge (not bad...if only she didn't have those superpowers) and just started Making A Murderer (if only Avery's lawyers DID have superpowers). After that, I plan to play some SERIOUS TV catch-up. You see, I've never seen a single, solitary episode of The Sopranos.

I know, I know...it's shameful. Cue the bell-ringing, Cersei's long nude poop-covered walk in Game of Thrones. What can I say? I was very busy from 1999 to 2007, this little thing called Attempting to Kickstart/Sustain a Hollywood Screenwriting Career. I had what medical doctors call Celluloid Tunnel Vision. Other than The Wire and Deadwood, the burgeoning television renaissance was, for the most part, not in my purview. There were whisperings of this Tony Soprano character at pitch meetings, of course. Murmurings over complimentary bottles of Fiji Water about some place called The Bada Bing! Club (nowhere to be found on the Sunset Strip). "I'll get to it later," I thought. I didn't realize that "later" would be nearly a decade later. Word on the street is Tony joins a Journey cover band at the end, gets his own Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor ("Whack-y Road"). Is this true?

Young Joaquin with early prototype BB-8

But enough about the boob tube. This is still a godammed film blog, yes?!!

Sure, I think so. I mean, yeah...probably. If you've checked in anywhere in the last six months, you'll know I'm somewhat conflicted as to its purpose, the advisability of its continued existence. I did away with the monthly themes back in the fall. It was good five-year run with that, but, hey, enough is enough. From here on out, the themes/director spotlights will be extended over longer, indeterminate periods of time. I'll get around to it when I get around to it, basically. If you happen to be on Twitter, I'll probably drop updates there when new movies or themes are posted. Not that I'm advising anyone to loiter too long on Twitter. Talk about your untraversable wormholes. Oof.

So what's the first theme of the new year, this latest iteration of the Cashiers blog?

I'm calling it "Space Camp"...as in campy movies that take place in outer space, though not all of them may end up being campy and some only tangential to space travel. Over the next several months, there will be shameless Star Wars rip-offs from the late '70s and early '80s, perhaps a few space operas that George Lucas himself ripped off. There will be intergalactic lady warriors played by women who protested the Vietnam War and hulking cosmic brutes portrayed by Dolph Lundgren (who I'm guessing did not). There will be high camp and low camp, possibly the young Joaquin Phoenix NASA recruitment film Space Camp. Lest you think it all fun and games and freeze-dried ice cream, be aware that I might jam a few serious space explorations in there too. More embarrassing than the fact I've never seen The Sopranos, I'm also a cinephile who's never seen the original Solaris.

So, before the bite-size reviews come (slowly) pouring in, how about a video from the original Starman himself, the late, great space oddity David Bowie (R.I.P.)? Shit. I forgot to mention the Jennifer Jason Leigh career tribute I'm working on too. Well, that's another story, another blog post, another YouTube supercut or, more than likely, a series of random Tweets. In the meantime, take your protein pills and put your helmet on. Blast off...

Sunday, January 03, 2016

BEST AND WORST OF 2015

"In with the old and out with the new." It's possible I have that backwards. Hard to say with 2015's Best/Worst list, a leaner and most assuredly meaner assemblage of movie likes/dislikes than I've made in quite some time. For this year's list was constructed, first and foremost, with Twitter compatibility in mind. 140 character limit. No pics. Very few external links. There hasn't been a Best/Worst this bereft of visuals since 2007, and my mini-reviews of each film haven't been this scant since the early days, when I used to email the list to a small group of family and friends by way of Yahoo! account. Yes, I actually did that for a spell (they call it the late '90s).

In a sense, embracing the demands and limitations of modern social media has forced me to go back in time. But who I am kidding? It's more half-assed air hug than full embrace. I do still maintain this cinema blog (barely). And I'm still not completely sold on the Twittering thing. Maybe next year I'll go REALLY old school, call up everyone by rotary phone, dictate the list person-to-person. Keep an eye on your smart gadget around January 1, 2017. You may be getting a collect call. At the very least, one EXTREMELY LONG text. If I can fit the whole list into one long hashtag or one giant emoji, I will certainly try.

But enough tech ruminating...let's get to the results. Since there are no pics and the write-ups mercilessly brief this time, you may need to do some extra Googling or Wikipedia'ing to know what the hell I'm talking about. For that, I do apologize. For my overly caffeinated opinions, I most certainly do not. If you'd like to read the list in the most modern truncated manner possible, please go here. If you'd like to do it the old fashioned way, stick around for the below. Of the 90 theatrical film releases I saw in the Year 2015, here's how it all panned out...

THE BEST

10. THE REVENANT: Innaritu's filmmaking audacity alone lands this one on the list. OK, and Leo's seduction by grizzly bear.

9. THE WOLFPACK: And you thought Room was the most uplifting shut-in movie of the year? Check out their cardboard Batman outfit on Netflix.

8. LI'L QUINQUIN: Imagine Columbo with a nervous tick. Imagine Laura Palmer's body inside a cow. Imagine Bruno Dumont and a French Twin Peaks.

7. BEASTS OF NO NATION: Unflinching story of child soldiers in West Africa. Idris Elba's best role since Stringer Bell. Thanks, Netflix!

6. SICARIO: Welcome to Juarez. Nothing is as it seems. Blunt is clueless, Brolin is shoeless, Benicio is hardcore MedellĂ­n.

5. CHI-RAQ: Spike's best since Do The Right Thing – angry, urgent, funny – with musical numbers straight outta School Daze. #nopeacenopussy

4. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: My most anticipated film from 2014 delivers the popcorn and a stealth leading heroine to boot (Furiosa).

3. THE END OF THE TOUR: Fear and loneliness in Bloomington, IL. The impossibility of authenticity w/ tape recorders running. DFW R.I.P.

2. THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY: When indulging your lover's extreme submission fetish becomes a chore, what next? "Pinastri."

1. SPOTLIGHT: Proof that great reporting can be done in a pair of pleated khakis. Check your sources. Then check out this fantastic movie.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

99 HOMES: Sleazy Florida realtor Michael Shannon flipping foreclosed homes, making a killing. Flip side of The Big Short and far better IMHO.

BONE TOMAHAWK: The other loquacious Kurt Russell western. Leaner, better and fresher than QT's latest 3 hour provocation. With troglodytes!

BROOKLYN: Simple Irish immigrant story classically told. Had no desire to see this until a smart lady convinced me. Thanks, Mom.

HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT: Sobering reminder that the '90s NY indie street film is not completely dead. And not everyone in Manhattan stinking rich. According to this wise man, should be on the actual Top Ten list. 

WELCOME TO ME: Bipolar narcissist (Kristen Wiig) wins lotto, creates reality show about self. I think I dated this woman last year, sans lottery winnings.

THE WORST

10. IRRATIONAL MAN: Another year, another inconsequential Woody Allen Dostoevsky riff. More misdemeanor than Crimes (and Misdemeanors).

9. LOST RIVER: Gosling attempts to channel David Lynch, makes ponderous PSA on house fires and urban flooding instead.

8. THE BIG SHORT: Rich source material (no pun intended) wasted on the director of Step Brothers (a film I love). Imagine what Fincher could've done.

7. THE GUNMAN: Sean Penn's agent sends him Jason Statham-Liam Neeson script by mistake. Painful blue state-friendly actioner ensues.

6. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2: Cusack's decision to opt out may have been his wisest career move in a year of wise ones (Love and Mercy, Chi-Raq).

5. THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON: Fuck! I could've sworn they said "Age of Voltron."

4. POLTERGEIST: "It knows what scares you." Me too...the original Poltergeist.

3. DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS: Spike's unwatchable Kickstarter vampire flick. Our penance for Chi-Raq being so damn good.

2. ALOHA: Delta Airlines complimentary in-flight entertainment for December. I'd pay first-class prices to un-see it.

1. Terminator Genisys: This Honest Trailer pretty much sums up my thoughts on the aforementioned dreck.

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS

Dark PlacesThe Gillian Flynn adaptation that isn't Gone Girl and that, for good reason, you probably never heard about.

DON VERDEAN: Poor man's Wes Anderson in Bible Land. (Note that I'm not a huge fan of Wes Anderson...or Bible Land).

ENTERTAINMENT: Heidecker > Hamburger. On Cinema Rating...1 ½ bags of popcorn. Rewatch The Comedy instead.

JOY: A hot mess of a film that no Miracle Mop could sponge up, no JLaw-BCoop pairing can save.

VACATION: Hey, at least it's better than Vegas Vacation.

SUPERLATIVES

Most Overrated

CAROL: A handsomely shot period film but, seriously, doesn't anyone remember this.

Most Underrated

RESULTS: Bujalski's Kevin Corrigan gym rat comedy. No pain...well, no pain.

Best A.I. Foreplay

EX-MACHINA

Best Stop Motion Sex Play

ANAMOLISA

Best Tom Hardy Accent (In Order of Diminishing Returns)

LEGEND (Cockney), CHILD 44 (Russian), REVENANT (Southern?), FURY ROAD (grunts)

Best Use of Poop

THE MARTIAN – "Aw Ma, Pooptatoes for dinner again!"

Best Use of Die Antwoord

CHAPPIE, as themselves basically.

Best Unintentional Intermission

THE HATEFUL 8 70mm projector break at the Alamo Ritz

Worst In-Your-Face Emission

LOVE 3D (Fortunately, I saw the 2D version)

Bad Rulebreaker

IT FOLLOWS – Tell me, how does jumping in a pool with a toaster break the curse again?

Good Rulebreaker

LISTEN TO ME, MARLON – Your subject need not be alive to narrate or star in his own posthumous documentary.

Best Noah Baumbach/Lesser Noah Baumbach

WHILE WE'RE YOUNG / MISTRESS AMERICA

Worse Eli Roth/Worst Eli Roth

THE GREEN INFERNO / KNOCK KNOCK

Best Movie By "White Slavers"

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS – Props to Abrams for showing restraint w/ the lens flares. Except for those light sabers.

Most Anticipated Films of 2016

Three way tie: Coen Bros' HAIL, CAESAR, Ben Wheatley's HIGH-RISE, Hillcoat's TRIPLE 9.

Happy 2016, Everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, November 20, 2015

CARMEN FROM KAWACHI (1966) - Seijun Suzuki


Despite his reputation as a director of "crazy yakuza movies," Suzuki also turned out quite a few women-centered pictures during his tenure at Nikkatsu. Story of a Prostitute, Gate of Flesh and then Pistol Opera towards the end of his career, basically a remake of Branded to Kill with a female assassin in the Jo Shishido role. Carmen from Kawachi is a slightly more whimsical addition to his ladies' canon, treading into modern rom-com and musical realms at points before turning darker towards the end.

Carmen is a country girl who moves to the city to escape her grim life (mom sleeps around, dad's an ineffectual drunk, uncle's a perv), becoming first a "hostess" at an Osaka gentlemen's club then a singer then a model then a businessman's wife and, eventually, a rich widow of said dead businessman. She plows through a series of deadbeat dudes-- some old, some young, some poor, some loaded -- but generally keeps her spirits about her, even while fending off the humorously explicit advances of her predatory lesbian boss, maintaining a sturdy platonic relationship with her eccentric gay painter BFF (pictured above). Blink for a second, and you may think you're watching a black and white 1960s Japanese version of Will and Grace. For its time, Carmen is more progressive than one might suspect.

This being Suzuki though, the cinematography is much jazzier than any three-camera sit-com. Canted angles, scenes shot through see-through artworks, repeated use of a fish eye lens. Things get more serious when Carmen returns to Kawachi and the film's m.o. veers from romance to revenge (that pervy uncle again) during a spectacularly photographed waterfall scene. Somehow Suzuki manages to tap dance effortlessly across these wildly dissonant genres, spring load his otherwise buoyant B-movie comedy with a surprise emotional wallop of a climax. Legend has it this trait (and this film specifically) got him a stern warning to "play it straight from now on" from the Nikkatsu studio brass. To which Suzuki responded with arguably his greatest stylistic F-U, Tokyo Drifter, the follow-up to Carmen. You've really got to hand it to the man.


Friday, November 13, 2015

EIGHT HOURS OF FEAR (1957) - Seijun Suzuki


8 Hours of Fear = 80 surprisingly entertaining minutes! This is the earliest Suzuki I've seen, before the man was even named "Seijun" (opening credits bill him by his birth name "Seitaro Suzuki"). A cast of diverse characters embark on a perilous bus journey (the railroad is out of commission, it seems) through known gangster territory. Think Stagecoach with yakuzas instead of attacking Apaches or Lifeboat with bumpy mountain roads in place of the high seas. Or, if you're going to get all modern about it, maybe a slightly slower Speed (at 60mph).

Despite its age, this film is fast-paced and character rich, like a dress rehearsal for all the "types" to come in Suzuki's later films. The passenger list on this bus to potential oblivion includes: The Student Bound to Honor, The Prostitute in Hiding, The Fussy Businessman, The Spoiled Actress, The War Veteran who's also a Wife Murderer and, of course, The Yakuza who's a low-down dirty yakuza. Along the way, we get crumbling old bridges, bear traps used to snare humans, bags of stolen money and a crying baby in mortal danger with a gun repeatedly placed to its temple. What's not to love?

The dialogue is spirited and some of the interactions between passengers quite racy for its time. If this movie were made in America the same year rather than at the bottom of a double bill in Japan, I'm convinced it would be a classic playing every other month on TCM.

PASSPORT TO DARKNESS (1959) - Seijun Suzuki


Think D.O.A. without the poisoning or countdown to imminent demise. Think Memento without all those pesky tattoos.

Passport to Darkness is a jazzy little Nikkatsu noir with style to burn, if not much in the way of fresh plot. A newly married trombone player loses his wife on the train during the honeymoon only to find her dead the next morning at the kitchen table after he comes home from an all night bender. Our pro bone player must turn amateur sleuth to piece together the events of the previous night to find out who offed his new bride. Guess who's about to enter the seedy Heroin Underworld. Surprise!

The best thing about Passport is probably the compositions. Stylish framings abound. At least there's something to look at while ignoring the boilerplate storyline. There are a few offbeat tidbits, however, perhaps off-color too. The Big Bad turns out to be a Frenchman. He also turns out to be gay, in a co-dependent relationship with the dead wife's strung-out brother. This being the late '50s (and late '50s Japan) it's probably no surprise that they don't end up together in a thriving civil union. But then this is also noir to its core. Does anyone ever really thrive?

CALL OF BLOOD aka OUR BLOOD WILL NOT FORGIVE (1964) - Seijun Suzuki


"That's why I hate yakuza. You're all obsessed with the way you die!"

Call of Blood is Suzuki smack dab in his fertile, experimental period under the Nikkatsu banner, a year after the career invigorating Youth of the Beast and a few years before he really started ruffling studio feathers (and blowing film nerd minds) with Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill. But, if the line above isn't enough indication, in Blood he already seems exhausted with the yakuza genre (he'd made a handful of gangster pics by this point) or, at least, intent on treating its honor-by-gunfire subject matter with something less than reverence.

But then calling this film a tried and true yakuza flick may be something of a misnomer. The two lead brothers are actually businessmen and only yakuza "by blood." Their gangster father made their mother promise on his assassination deathbed to raise them as normal tykes so as to escape the family curse. Instead, they go into the ad game ("Is there much difference?" you may ask), and the first 30 minutes plays more like a boardroom dramedy. One's a smooth operator and the other is kind of a screw up. They both have girlfriends they're reluctant to marry and generally avoid all armed conflict. Until their father's rival yakuza assassin shows up years later to apologize.

Even then, our two sibs do not immediately seek vengeance, and for a program actioner with "Blood" in the title it's quite a while before we see any of the red stuff. Call of Duty, this is not. The first hour of the film is relatively inert, focusing more on their rote personal relationships. But then older bro gets up to some shady business with the corporate accounts and soon enough that yakuza DNA springs to the fore. Before we know it, our two bros are strapped with gats, and there's an extended shootout in a field of reeds with Dad's old rival clan honcho, a pretty well choreographed shootout to boot. In case you're wondering, yes, at least one of these ad men brothers gets a properly dramatic, honorable yakuza death. My guess is this was much to Suzuki's protest.

Monday, November 09, 2015

CAPONE CRIES A LOT (1985) - Seijun Suzuki


Capone cries a lot...but I yawn a lot more. This oddball fish-out-of-water musical comedy made somewhere in the years between Suzuki's far superior Taisho Trilogy landed with a resounding thud for me, a series of loosely connected slapstick sketches about a 1930s naniwabushi singer from Japan seeking stardom in the U.S. He half-believes he's a samurai, fully believes Al Capone is President of the United States.

While there are some lovely period sets and a mise en scene bursting with candy-coated colors, the literally all-over-the-map story is a chore to follow. And with a longer than average run-time for a Suzuki movie (two hours plus), the playful surrealism that works in his leaner breakthrough yakuza films tends to stay overstay its welcome here. So do the American actors sprinkled throughout, who are uniformly terrible, not to mention the stabs at "Americana" along the way (rhythm and blues music, the Chicago mob, the KKK). These scenes are particularly tone deaf and wince-inducing. You can tell they were directed by a man "not of this land." And, no, I don't mean Lars Von Trier.

As with any Suzuki flick, however, there are bits of stylistic gold flecked throughout. You just have to dig a little deeper, stay a little longer to find them in Capone. Like the still below. Looks kinda nifty, don't it?


THE SLEEPING BEAST WITHIN (1960) - Seijun Suzuki


The Lincoln Center Film Society program billed this pulpy Father (May Not) Know Best crime story a "proto-Breaking Bad." That may be a bit of an overstatement, but, hey, with a director as criminally underappreciated as Suzuki, can you blame them for invoking Walter White to get some asses into seats?

Hiroyuki Nagato from O-Line again plays a reporter (much nicer, more principled this time) tasked by the daughter of a traveling businessman to help her find her father when he disappears soon after arriving from an overseas trip. As it so happens, Dad's fallen in with a heroin smuggling racket while away and is now indebted to assist them with their transportation operations. Like BB's Walter White, he started out a mild-mannered salary man who had enough of the quiet, desperate middle class life and decided to "go out with a bang" for his retirement. Unlike BB's Heisenberg, however, he does end up showing a shred of remorse for these decisions. He may not start his own Blue Meth empire exactly, but he does go out with a bang...or, at least, in a sizable house fire.

This is another of Suzuki's more straightforward flicks, though there's some handy-dandy experimentation with flashback super-impositions framed in the corners when a character is relating a story, sort of a classier riff on the everyday split-screen. Of the four Year 1960 Suzuki's I've seen (he made five that year according to Wikipedia), this may be my favorite of the bunch.

SMASHING THE O-LINE (1960) - Seijun Suzuki


Fifty years before Nightcrawler (and about a decade after Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole), Suzuki offered his own take on amoral crime reporters who will do just about anything to get a story, even if it means ratting out friends and lovers, manufacturing events from scratch. Hiroyuki Nagato plays Katari, a cold-blooded careerist newshound who's constantly stealing headlines from the slightly more principled Yuji Odaka, a fellow reporter aghast at the levels to which his rival scooper will sink. Katari combs the docks looking for drug deals, often getting there well before the cops (and leaving beforehand, too). He soon stumbles onto a drug smuggling ring that doubles in human trafficking. When he gets in too deep, Odaka has to put his qualms about Katiri's ethics aside to help him get out alive.

This is an early Seijun effort in the more straightforward potboiler mode. It's an enjoyable yarn with some snazzy, fluid handheld camerawork, but don't expect a lot of experimentation or innovation this early in his career. I feel about the same as O-Line as I did this one the same year.

CASHIERS IS BACK!! (SORT OF)


Ah, Mr. Suzuki. Only you and your ill-timed Lincoln Center Retrospective could drag me back kicking and screaming to this stillborn blog, left for dead on the side of the road two months ago in September. You thought you'd lost me for good, deep into the bowels of Twitter, didn't you dear Cashiers readers? And I do mean bowels...oof, is it a sewer of chirps and tweets and retweets and white noise and endless promotional flatulence over there or what? Every page is an eyesore and all those ### and @@@s to contend with? Oy vey!!

But I digress. And that's what this temporary foray back into blogging will mostly be...a digression. I purchased tickets for seven hard-to-find Suzuki films I've never seen at Lincoln Center's "Action and Anarchy" retrospective this month, and weighing in on these flicks with only a 140 character limit just feels, well, kinda criminal. Therefore, I will be posting my mini-reviews of each one here on Cashiers, where I allow myself at least 5,000 characters and bloviating about obscure movies is much more welcome, the name of the game, in fact.

WARNING: Don't get too comfortable, folks. I still haven't quite decided the fate of this blog. Though I suspect this unforeseen Suzuki retro may set the tone for things to come...occasional bursts of review/commentary centered around a certain director or theme that appear sporadically and without warning, rather than the draining month-to-month thing I was doing before. Those days are still numbered, I'm afraid. You may even notice I've changed the banner head above to reflect as much (no longer "Every Month A New Theme, A New Employee").

As for that end of year Best/Worst list, it's still possible. I'm working on it, seeing as much new stuff as I can before the year ends. Patience, my tiny handful of semi-devoted readers. Patience...

Friday, September 11, 2015

THIS BLOG WILL SELF-DESTRUCT IN...


WARNING: The above heading does not denote an espionage themed month on the way ("September Spies" anyone?) but the end of an era-- the ten years and five days that this humble film blog has been online. For after this posting, the movie theatre cash register that is Cashiers De Cinema is due to be counted out and closed for good. Or, at least, a very long time.

I'd planned to do this final post on September 6th, 2015, the exact 10 year anniversary, but as so often happens these days regular life got in the way. And then Labor Day. That was the plan all along (or for this past year), to turn my attentions away from this blog to other more important labors on Labor Day (I do love a good holiday theme). There are two nearly finished novels screaming for my undivided attention and closure by the end of 2015. Also, actual labor (no, I'm not pregnant). I'm on the hunt for a more rewarding jobby-job. By "rewarding" I mean creatively restorative and financially remunerative, unlike what Cashiers de Cinema has become...a time and energy suck, an occasionally therapeutic enterprise for myself and a mild diversion for a tiny handful of stalwart readers (hey, some dude in Germany f'ing loves me!). In short, I need to stop watching so many goddamn movies for absolutely goddamned free.

Some background for those new to the site (and who don't click away before they get to this part), a Cashiers Highlights Reel, if you will, before I go. This blog began as a dare, an impossible mission to watch a stockpile of films I had gathering dust on VHS while learning this new self-publishing technology they called BLOG. I gave myself the task of watching 120 of them between Labor Day 2005 and the end of that year. I came close, made it to 100 (that life thing getting in the way again). At the time, it wasn't called Cashiers De Cinema but simply linked to my name and my Yahoo! email address (now defunct). The entries/reviews were basically all text. The Cashiers concept came later in 2010 along with more visuals, monthly themes and employees, a slightly better banner head, even occasional GIFs. If you take a look at the right hand side under "Archive," you can see this blog's whole sketchy history in the parentheticals, the number of posts per year. It starts out strong in 2005, the year I made the dare, then goes humorously dormant for the next three before picking up steam again in 2009-10. What was I doing for those years of non-blogging? In the midst of moving from L.A. to D.C. and then to NYC. "Having a life," maybe. Also, one of those jobby-job things I mentioned. They do kinda tend to get in the way sometimes.

But, no matter how few the entries, each year I always managed to pony up a Year's Best/Worst List. Take a look at the right side Menu if you want to browse a few. And, no matter the year, it seemed I kept ADDING to my list of movies to see instead of knocking it down. What started out as a muddy-pictured VHS experiment eventually morphed into one of better resolution and proper aspect ratios on recordable DVDs. Then, in the last few years, to pristine digital copies consigned to USB. It turns out I'm an obsessive collector, an addict of sorts (sidebar: does this have something to do August's Abel theme?). By last count, I have in the neighborhood of 2,000 DVD movies at home in flipbooks, roughly 500 or so I still have yet to watch. So, as you can see, at the rate my addiction is going, this blog could easily continue forever. But that's simply not going to happen. I'm putting my foot down. My "hobby" has gotten out of control. I gotta get the Movie Monkey off my back. Or at least switch to binge-blogging TV. If you can believe it, I still have yet to see a single episode of The Sopranos.


So then what comes next for Cashiers? For starters, I'm going to leave this site up at least for the rest of the year until I decide what to do with it. I may eventually fold many of the reviews into another site to come or just leave it as is for interwebs posterity. It's possible I may come back to it sometime in the future with the occasional mini-marathons stretched out over longer periods of time. There are still TONS of directors I haven't gotten to (Ken Russell, Alex Cox, Bertrand Blier to name a few) and a bunch on the right hand side Directors menu that I would like to further investigate (Fulci, Deodato, Boetticher, etc.). Also, a lot of unexplored themes..."Cons and Capers," "Space Camp," "Dirty South/Slavery," "Holiday Horrors," and even the "September Spies" month I joked about before. One of the problems of operating a (free) blog with a different theme every month is there's just not enough viewing time to finish out filmographies before the month turns over. That, and the fact that I have to scrounge up a new photo of a movie character near a cash register every month. There aren't as many out there as you think. Look around. Seriously.

In addition to the monthly turnover, the particular format I've chosen, added to my dwindling enthusiasms about blogging over the last decade, has mostly prevented me from doing what I'd call more "deep dive" reviews. What started out with slightly more serious cineaste intentions has, because of the time constraints, devolved into something closer to quick thumbs up-thumbs down style capsule reviews, the type which I don't really enjoy reading myself. Less New York Times and more New York Post in other words, and I do apologize for that. "Too much snark and not enough smarts makes Jack a dull boy." It's true this blog's title is a playful stab at Cahiers du Cinema, the influential French magazine started by the likes of Godard, Bresson, Chabrol and Truffaut. It was never meant to take itself too seriously. But I would actually like to indulge in some more serious film criticism at some point, or least a more lengthy, personalized examination of certain favored directors mentioned so many times on this blog (Peckinpah, The Coens, Cronenberg, Kubrick, Lynch, Mann, DePalma, Tarantino). Beware, Dear Cashiers Readers: Someone out there may be working on a book-length "movies memoir."

And what about that end of year Best-Worst List anyway? I've already done ten of the suckers. Isn't that enough? Would you like my firstborn too? It's very possible one will pop up around December 31st, 2015, who knows. Though I'm cutting down my movie diet for the remainder of the year, I'm sure I'll catch a few more before year's end, films that I can't help but champion or excoriate in written form. And where else would they go but here? There's a few must-see's on my hit-list already...Sicario, Black Mass, Bridge of Spies, Spectre, Trumbo, Carol, Snowden. And then there's Hateful Eight, of course. And, OK, I'll admit it, I'm kind of excited for the new J.J. Abrams Star Wars, though I'm ten times more excited for the one following it in 2017 directed by Rian Johnson and starring Benicio. I'm banking on that one being the Empire Strikes Back of the new bunch. Or at least better than Phantom Menace.

But then who am I to criticize? If this site proves anything, it's that I see them all, the good and the bad movies. And I've been involved in the makings or almost-makings or complete non-makings of some good and bad ones myself. This blog was born out of heartache. A literal heartache (a Los Angeles relationship gone bad that I've mentioned repeatedly) but also the spoils of several disheartening years in Tinsel Town. Cashiers has been an attempt to keep one of those loves alive. I'm talking about my love of film, of course, not the aforementioned L.A. lady. "Lady Cinema," if you will. If you've clicked on this site purposely or accidentally sometime in the last decade, I hope this little goof of a blog has in some small way helped you keep your heart embers stoked for her, too.

Signing Off,
Matt Burch, "Head Cashier"

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

POPEYE (1980) - Robert Altman


Did you really think my very last review (at least, for a very long time) would be of a good film about a tortured artist (see previous entry)? Don't be "ridinkulis," as one particular spinach-chomping sailor might say. This blog is called Cashiers de Cinema, not too be confused with its stuffy French namesake Cahiers. OF COURSE, I'm going to end it with Robert Altman's biggest bomb, the one that easily could've ended his Hollywood career (and almost did).

I actually loved this movie when I was a wee Swee'Pea myself. I conned one of my parents into taking me to the theatre to see it when I was a tot. They loved musicals, and I loved Popeye the cartoon, so no harm, no foul. Watching it again last night, some 35 years later, I finally see what a gigantic mess it is and why it was such an offense to moviegoers at the time. Altman shoots almost everything in long shots, with overly busy people-packed frames, most of his dialogue lost in the busier audio mix. Other than some fine costuming, the film looks nothing like the comic book or animated cartoon from which it sprang. And for a movie rumored to be a musical, none of the songs are catchy, apart from Shelley Duvall's "He Needs Me." But I think that's only because I was remembering its superior use in Punch-Drunk Love. I found myself checking my the DVD clock repeatedly, waiting for the parts I knew I liked as a kid...the boxing match, the spinach-fueled fight with Bluto at the end. The action parts, basically.

None of the actors can be blamed here. Robin Williams does his best to inhabit an iconic caricature, despite his tone-deaf singing and the cumbersome prosthetic arms. Ray Walston as Poopdeck Pappy does even better. And could there be a more spot-on casting of "Olive Oyl" than Shelley Duvall then or now? And how about that Swee'Pea? What a little canned ham. That kid gets my vote for the most expressive baby ever put on film.

Nope, as much as I hate to admit it, the two-ton anchor of blame for this clunker rests squarely on Altman's shoulders. He's just not the right man for this lightweight, family friendly PG fare, much less musical fare. Altman pretty much admits to this at the very beginning of the film, when the cartoon Popeye bursts through the Paramount logo and says "I'm in the wrong picture! Must be one of Bluto's tricks!" Bluto, maybe. Producer Robert Evans, positively.