Saturday, February 27, 2010

You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Like this Movie, but it Will Help :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to Breck Eisner's The Crazies (2010)

___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

"It's okay. I'm not sick."
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

As I settled into my theater seat and finished wading through the previews, when Breck Eisner's remake of The Crazies finally cued up, opening with a Johnny Cash tune over a scenic tour of bucolic Ogden Marsh, just like another Romero remake, I rolled my eyes a little, and then waited for the flick to devolve into a zombie-apocalypse knock-off that would take me to places that I assumed, from the trailer, the movie would take me (-- that I didn't necessarily need to go again). And I waited. And waited...

Long story short, the film never went there exactly. Here, a military transport plane crashes into a lake in rural Iowa, inadvertently infecting the nearby community's water supply with a biological viral weapon, Codenamed: Trixie. As the infected townsfolk start to lose it and lash out, leaving several dead bodies in their wake, the local sheriff, his deputy, and his wife, the town's doctor, are soon overwhelmed but are unable to raise any outside help as the whole county appears to be completely shut-off and bottled up by those who lost that plane in the first place. And if we all remember our Romero 101, as usual, these containment protocols breakdown completely, and the infection starts to spread unabated.

Thinking back on it, I'm hard pressed to recall a scene where the infected attacked en masse after the initial break out at the high school. Two or three at a time, maybe, but that was it. So, if that's what you're looking for, look elsewhere. Once the shit hits the fan in this flick, out attention is focused on our quartet of survivors, who may or may not be infected, who make their way through the carnage after the fact, mostly, dodging both the lingering Crazies and the Black-ops military unit called in to contain and clean things up by taking a page from Uncle Joe Stalin's Scorched Earth Handbook. Unlike Romero's original, however, the story is told only from the townfolk's point of view, leaving the satirical and allegorical look at the government's boneheaded plan and overall unpreparedness for such a situation by the wayside, summing it up with some sneering Haliburton exec belching out "We just lost a plane. What else do you want me say?" (Though the deputy's answer to this had me cheering.)

There are a few outstanding, high-tension set-pieces, but again, the trailer gives most of these away. And there were also a couple of laughable set-pieces that just didn't work as intended. Still, aside from a few geographical anomalies, I think Eisner and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre did a fantastic job of capturing "The Big Open" and the isolating, endless horizon feel of the Great Plains; and if he makes one tactical error it may be that we didn't get to see enough of that carnage as it happens.

In the end, The Crazies is by no means a great film. It's nothing you probably haven't seen before, but thanks to a strong cast that helps us identify with these characters more than we ought to, thanks to a sketchy script, we've got ourselves a decent, if unspectacular remake.

The Crazies (2010) Overture Films :: Participant Media :: Imagenation :: Penn Station / EP: Jonathan King, George A. Romero, Jeff Skoll / P: Dean Georgaris, Michael Aguilar, Rob Cowan / AP: Alexander W. Kogan Jr., Brian E. Frankish / D: Breck Eisner / W: Scott Kosar, Ray Wright, George A. Romero (film) / C: Maxime Alexandre / E: Billy Fox / M: Mark Isham / S: Radha Mitchell, Timothy Olyphant, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker, Larry Cedar

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Woo-Woo! Catching Up with Norm Grabowski.

When Norman Grabowski got a medical discharge from the service in 1952, he, like most of the youth of America back then, wanted to build himself a Hot-Rod. Taking a '31 Model-A V-8 engine and slapping it into a
mash-up of a '22 Model-T body with the bed of a Model-A pick-up, the T-Bucket or "Lightnin' Bug" was born. Notoriety soon followed, when the car was prominently featured in the April 29, 1957 issue of LIFE Magazine.

Catching the eye of several producers, the T-Bucket was in demand and for $50 a day you could rent it for your production -- most notably when Ed "Kookie" Burns got behind the wheel for 77 Sunset Strip, which earned the T-Bucket a new name: The Kookie Kar. As the legend goes, when the car was damaged during a shoot, Grabowski used it as leverage to get himself a job as a stunt-driver, which eventually led to a few bit parts in some Albert Zugsmith cautionary tales [High School Confidential, Girl's Town] and several of Walt Disney's live-action screwball comedies [The Gnome-Mobile, Blackbeard's Ghost]. He, and his easily recognizable mug and crew-cut, even got himself punched out by Elvis a couple of times in a career that netted him over 50 film and TV appearances.

His glorified cameo in The Cannonball Run in 1981 officially marked the end of his film career, but Grabowski is still in the customizing business, unveiling the Kookie II in 1994, and his hand sculpted shifter-skulls are in high demand. Now in his '70s, Grabowski can still be found, 'rodding around the country and appearing at all kinds of car shows and rallies. And when a friend of mine, both of us huge fans of El Polacko, said he was heading to Wichita for Darryl Starbird's 53rd Annual Exotic Car Show, in which Grabowski would be in attendance, alas, my schedule wouldn't allow me to attend. But, acting as my proxy, my buddy agreed to get his autograph for me.

$5 bucks says I was the only one asking him to sign a
Lobby Card from Sex Kittens Go to College that whole weekend, and also upon my request, when my buddy, Bill Peetzke, asked what working with Mamie Van Doren was really like, Grabowski's answer was, basically, unprintable.

I'll try, Norm. I'll try.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Movie Poster Spotlight :: Losing Your Head to The Crawling Eye (1958)

Don't let the title or the Dr. Who-fueled rubberized monsters spook you off, because The Crawling Eye is a very creepy and effective sci-fi thriller courtesy of Jimmy Sangster, who at the time was also penning the scripts for Hammer Studio's technicolor and tensile-cleavage addled Gothic horror revival of the late 1950's.

One Sheet ::

Insert ::

Half Sheet ::

Assorted Lobby Cards ::

Italian Locandine and Lobby Card ::

German One Sheet:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Blasts from the Past :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to Telstar -- The Joe Meek Story (2008)

The first time I heard "Telstar" through the courtesy of The Magic Organ 8-track in my grandparents Catalina cruiser many, many moons ago I had no idea who Joe Meek was. What I did know was the song was hideously infectious, and I tended to get excited whenever the track cycled around again on those long road trips of yore, and its been stuck in my head ever since. Now, some thirty years later, I've been sufficiently schooled in The Unified Meek Theory and am equally dumbfounded by the number of golden oldies that always stuck with me over the years that had the eccentric producer's fingerprints all over them. Yeah, I'm one of those freaks with the genetic defect who prefers the Tottenham Stomp over the Mersey Beat. Give me The Dave Clark Five over The Fab Four any day of the week -- or better yet, the righteous reverb and ethereal echos of RGM Sound Ltd.

For those of you uninitiated, Joe Meek was a British record producer who rose to fame and infamy in the early 1960's. He was tone-deaf, couldn't read music or even play an instrument, but what he had was a knack for mixing and kit-bashing sounds together -- most famously in his studio split over several rooms, including the toilet, nestled above a leather-goods store. And as with most eccentrics, Meek often blurred the line between mad genius and insufferable prick. Possessing a volatile temper, the man was also highly paranoid (-- in some instances, rightfully so, but others not so much --) and had a bad habit of attacking his musicians when they didn't play things to suit him just right.

Between these extreme mood swings, the producer, always looking for a certain "sonic signature" for each track, hammered out several hit tunes; his biggest being inspired by the launch of the Telstar-1 communications satellite, which served as the opening salvo of the impending British Pop Invasion of America. Alas, after several missed opportunities, and plagued by several personal demons, including a malignant relationship with one of his proteges, along with an addiction to narcotic diet pills, Meek's career, like a faulty halogen light, flashed big and bright but inevitably burned out too quickly, leading to his untimely end with a murder (his landlady) and (his) suicide in 1967.

Nick Moran's terrific bio-pic, Telstar -- The Joe Meek Story, begins here, at the end. Based on Moran's stage play, co-authored with James Hicks, the film then utilizes a series of flashbacks to tell Meek's (Con O'Neill) story, a tragic love story, really, beginning with the hectic recording of John Leyton's "Johnny, Remember Me". From there, it rapidly tics off the highlights and low-lights that followed, fast and furious, as Meek burns the candle at both ends while taking a Dexedrine-fueled acetylene torch to the middle. With the majority of his royalties locked up in litigation and back-taxes, leaving his company to flounder, and his relationship with Heinz Burt (JJ Feild), who was just pulling the honeypot on a man too blindly in love (and perhaps too vainly stubborn) to see it, falling apart, though it may be hard to sympathize with the "mad old bastard," one can definitely empathize with Meek as his world cracks up and falls apart around him both professionally and personally as the movie plays out. And if you already know how this story tragically ends, this will only add another layer of melancholy as we wait for this runaway train to self-destruct and go off the rails, taking several innocent bystanders with it.

Released in the UK in 2008 and on DVD in 2009, unfortunately, as far as I know, there are still no plans for an American release, which is too bad because Moran's tale is a highly kinetic and frenetic assault on your eyes and ears that is well worth your time. As for Joe Meek, well, his unique sound was perfect for the time when it first exploded on the scene. But time, as always, marches on and left the man behind. Behind in an era where science and sound and a hope for a better future were forever linked. Linked in an infectious memory of a song that can be tapped into and replayed. And replayed forever.

Telstar: The Joe Meek Story (2008) Aspiration Films / EP: David Groves / P: Adam Bohling, Simon Jordan, David Reid / D: Nick Moran / W: Nick Moran, James Hicks / C: Peter Wignall / E: Alex Marsh / M: Ilan Eshkeri / S: Con O'Neill, Kevin Spacey, Pam Ferris, JJ Feild, James Corden, Tom Burke, Ralf Little

Vintage Tuneage :: Beyond Telstar : A Joe Meek Six-Pack Sampler.

Johnny, Remember Me ... John Leyton (1961)

Just Like Eddie ... Heinz Burt (1962)

Temptation Baby ... Gene Vincent (1963)

Jack the Ripper ... Screamin' Lord Sutch and the Savages (1963)

Have I the Right ... The Honeycombs (1964)

Night of the Vampires ... The Moontrekkers (1964)

Monday, February 1, 2010

I Love the Smell of Nerd-Funk in the Morning :: B-Fest 2010.

From noon on Wednesday, January the 27th, until 10pm Saturday, January 30th, I only managed about six hours of sleep, which is about normal for B-Fest weekend. Now, for those of you uninitiated, B-Fest is the annual 24 hour film festival held every January since 1982 on the frozen tundra of Northwestern University, nestled in the heart of the Chicago suburb of Evanston. And every January for the last nine years I've driven 1400 miles to do battle with my fellow B-Movie fanatics against whatever A&O Films manages to drudge up to smite us with. And smite us they do. Most verily ... a true test of your mind, body and soul -- and intestinal fortitude, and the tensile strength of your gluteous maximus. And here, listed below, is the amazing and colossal marathon line-up endured this year to give you the general idea of what B-Fest is all about.

6:00 p.m. ... Crippled Masters
(Watch and see how a no-legged man wins an ass-kicking contest.)
7:45 p.m. ... Heartbeeps (Watch as a gold plated Andy Kaufmann and Bernadette Peters sit around and talk about the weather as your brain slowly leaks out your ear.)
9:15 p.m. ... Gymkata (Watch and boggle at perhaps the greatest non-Olympic sporting competition ever.)
11:15 p.m. ... Mystery Shorts (Chuck Jones! Yay!)
11:30 p.m. ... The Wizard of Speed & Time (Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.)
12:00 p.m. ... Plan 9 From Outer Space (Remember, your the gas can and the Solarmanite is the basketball. Wait ... Is that right? Man, I really am stupid. STUPID!)
1:30 a.m. ... The Room (Oh, hi movie. You are my new best friend. Huh?)
3:00 a.m. ... Hard Ticket to Hawaii (Andy Sedaris checklist: Lots of naked boobs? Check. At least one Transvestite? Check. Giant trouser snake? Oh yeah. Exploding fat guy? Sort of. This is what happens when you bring an uzi to a bazooka fight.)
4:50 a.m. ... Black Shampoo (60 minutes of softcore, followed by a 20 minute chainsaw massacre. And does anyone else think John Holmes kind of looks like Lou Ferrigno?)
6:30 a.m. ... The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (Seen from the middle to the beginning to the end. Wohoo! I love it when the reels get futched up.)
8:20 a.m. ... Troll 2 (No trolls, but a lot of Goblin poop.)
10:05 a.m. ... Live It Up! (In Meek We Trust.)
11:30 a.m. ... Fiend Without a Face (Oh the disembodied brains go squish, squash, splat! Squish, squash, splat. Squish, squash, splat.)
1:15 p.m. ... Sextette (Timothy Dalton and several others dance and sing around the barely animate corpse of May West in an all-out musical catastrophe.)
2:40 p.m. ... War of the Robots (Do you like War? Do You like Robots? Then you definitely DON'T wanna watch War of the Robots. Longest game of Asteroids EVER.)
4:30 p.m. ... The Giant Claw (Earth vs. a giant, anti-matter goony-bird. And god bless that cheap bastard Sam Katzman for farming out the F/X to the lowest bidder. Truly hilarious.)

As always, a total blast was had by all. And for those of you who missed out, don't worry. It's only 362 Days until B-Fest 2011. And feel free to check out the Ghosts of B-Fests Past.
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