Craig J. Clark Watches a Lot of Movies
December 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I'm telling you, this is a complete definite type of situation.

Woody Allen turned 74 today, so to mark the occasion I watched his 1984 film Broadway Danny Rose to see how it plays at 25. Unsurprisingly (at least to a devotee like myself), the answer is pretty darn well, thank you very much. Beautifully shot in crisp black and white by Gordon Willis, Broadway Danny Rose is one of Allen's less-heralded comedies -- probably because it seems slight compared to some of the films that came before and after it -- but I find it to be consistently funny and full of wise observations. Plus, it gives Allen one of his best roles ever as indefatigable talent agent Danny Rose, whose stable of unbelievable acts includes a blind xylophonist and a one-legged tap dancer.

Things start to look up for Allen, though, when the nostalgia craze hits and the washed-up Italian singer he manages (Nick Apollo Forte), who had some minor hits in the '50s but is now best known for being a temperamental drunk, gets a shot at the big time. The only catch is Forte needs Allen to act as his beard so his mistress, an interior decorator played by Mia Farrow, can come to the show. This sends Allen to New Jersey to pick her up and after working overtime to get her to return with him he unwittingly incurs the wrath of some mobsters who believe he stole Farrow away from their brother. Hardly the best predicament he could ever find himself in.

As a framing device, Allen has the entire story be told by a group of real-life comics (including Allen's own agent and producer Jack Rollins) trading Danny Rose stories in a delicatessen. Also playing themselves are Milton Berle (who's auditioning talent for a television special and agrees to watch Forte's act), Joe Franklin and Howard Cosell (who must have had a good sense of humor about the joke at his expense in Sleeper). The other thing that makes it timely is the fact that the film closes on Thanksgiving Day, with special attention given to the Macy's parade. Sort of makes me wonder whether there is any major cultural event or landmark that Allen hasn't documented in at least one of his dozens of New York stories. Knowing him, I highly doubt it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Don't tell me you've gone bats, too.

For this month's Full Moon Feature I went with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein since it features Lon Chaney, Jr.'s last turn as Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man. Made in 1948 and directed by Charles Barton, the film was the first in a series where the irascible Bud Abbott and his pudgy pal Lou Costello met up with various creatures from Universal's stable of monsters. Of course, if the studio had known it was going to be such a huge success they probably wouldn't have stacked the first one so full of monsters. In addition to the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster (played by Glenn Strange), the film also features Bela Lugosi's final appearance as Count Dracula, a role he hadn't played since the original in 1931. I guess it's a good thing the cape still fit.

Totally ignoring the fates that had befallen all three of them at the end of House of Dracula (which is why I don't consider this to be a sequel at all), this film casts Abbott and Costello as railroad baggage handlers who receive a frantic call from Chaney, who phones from London to prevent them from delivering two crates containing the bodies of Dracula and the Monster to a wax museum where they're to be put on display. They go ahead and deliver them anyway but lose the bodies (that is to say, the bodies get up and walk out on their own volition, which Costello witnesses but Abbott does not), which puts insurance investigator Jane Randolph, who pretends to have a thing for Costello, on the case. Meanwhile, Costello is being played up to by the beautiful Lenore Aubert, who secretly plans to transfer his brain into the body of the Monster at Lugosi's request. I'll bet he's never felt so wanted in all his life.

The first time I saw Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein I wasn't entirely sold on it despite the favorable writeup it received in The Horror Film. Maybe that's because I had only seen the original Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man at that point, so I didn't know how much their respective series had already fallen into self-parody by the time this came around. In fact, the argument could be made that this film takes themonsters more seriously than some of the films that preceded it. Not that we believe for one minute that the bumbling Costello is actually in danger of losing his brain, but we believe in the threat that the monsters pose to him (and, to a lesser extent, Abbott). And the tag with an uncredited Vincent Price as the Invisible Man is a hoot. Too bad he didn't return for the actual film. That would have made it worth watching.

Thursday, December 3, 2009
I know I shouldn't mix business with pleasure. That's why I've got you around.

Like most classic movie buffs I love a good film noir and 1948's Road House (not to be confused with the campy Patrick Swayze vehicle of the same name) is a pretty good one indeed. Directed by Jean Negulesco, the film stars Ida Lupino as a breathy singer from Chicago hired to be the entertainment at Richard Widmark's road house (a combination bar and bowling alley) in a small town in the Pacific northwest. (It's the kind of town where there's nothing to do on a Sunday and the only hotel in town is called the Antlers.) Widmark clearly has romantic designs on her but she keeps him at arm's length, which is just fine with his business manager Cornel Wilde (who lives above the bowling alley) since he ends up having to do the dirty work when Widmark tires of his conquests. Meanwhile, cashier Celeste Holm looks on disapprovingly while Lupino turns the heads of every man who comes to watch her sing -- and that goes double for the fella who hired her.

There wouldn't be much of a story if Lupino didn't eventually come between the two men and when she does -- and chooses Wilde -- Widmark doesn't take the news well at all. Turns out he's something of a sore loser and vindictive to boot, so he frames Wilde for a robbery at the bowling alley, but that's only the tip of the iceberg as far as his payback is concerned. It's at this point that Widmark's performance takes on more of the characteristics of Tommy Udo, the psychotic killer he played in Kiss of Death, which had come out the year before. No surprise, then, that he eventually winds up getting put down like a rabid dog. It's really the only humane thing to do.

Friday, December 4, 2009
Here's a young man who thinks he can shoot.

The climax of Road House, in which a crazed Richard Widmark pursues Cornel Wilde and Ida Lupino through the woods while they try to make a break for freedom, reminded me a lot of the ending to Joseph H. Lewis's cult noir Gun Crazy, which came out the following year. In that film, fugitives John Dall and Peggy Cummins try to outrun the law and wind up cornered in a state park where there's no escape for them even if they try to shoot their way out. It's a fatalistic ending, but film noir is a fatalistic genre. It's a miracle when anybody gets out of them alive.

Directed by Joseph H. Lewis, who first came to my attention for his work on 1955's excellent late-period noir The Big Combo, and co-written by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (working behind a front), Gun Crazy tells the story of Bart Tare, a crack shot from an early age with a lifelong obsession with firearms who, as a boy (played by an uncredited Russ Tamblyn), tries to steal a gun from a hardware store and is sent away to reform school. He follows that up with a stint in the Army after which he winds up back home, all grown up and played by Dall, who had played a cold-blooded killer in Rope just the year before but plays a character who is incapable of killing a living thing in this one. That's a noble attitude to take, but not very practical when shooting a gun is the only thing you're good at.

Soon after his return to town, Dall and a couple of his buddies go to a carnival where he falls head over heels for sharpshooter Peggy Cummins, who likewise feels an instant attraction to him after he bests her and gets carnival owner Berry Kroeger to hire him on the spot. Their time as a double act is short-lived, though, due to Kroeger's jealousy, and when they strike out on their own they have to start committing holdups to satisfy Cummins's insatiable desire for the good things in life. Eventually they graduate from small-time jobs to a bank robbery (a bravura sequence captured in one take from the back seat of the car that Cummins and Dall are driving) and a payroll heist, which erupts into violence and turns them into wanted murderers. They stay together all the way to the bitter end, though, because they're simply crazy for each other. I'd call it a match made in heaven, but I doubt any angel would want to take credit for it.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009
I hope you don't think I can be made a fool of indefinitely.

This morning TCM Underground aired the 1973 British cult horror film The Wicker Man, a reputable chiller which I fear has been eclipsed somewhat in recent years by the notorious 2006 remake thanks to the work of Nicolas Cage at his most unhinged and writer/director Neil LaBute at his most nakedly misogynistic. Regardless, the original film remains a classic and can be enjoyed without the benefit of Cage
inquiring how something got burned, clocking a woman while dressed as a bear or yelling about the bees.

Written by British playwright Anthony Shaffer and directed by Robin Hardy, who in recent years has taken up the task of belatedly making a trilogy out of the concept, The Wicker Man is set on Summerisle, a private island off the west coast of Scotland which is known for its unusual apple crop and where a police sergeant from the mainland (Edward Woodward) has been summoned to investigate the disappearance of a little girl. In addition to being a representative of the law, Woodward is also a devout Christian, so it doesn't sit well with him when he discovers that he has landed in the midst of a pagan community which takes its harvest festivals, maypole dances and May Day celebrations seriously. As he doggedly conducts his investigation he is by turns bewildered and outraged by what he sees, especially when he learnswhat the children of Summerisle are being taught by schoolteacher Diane Cilento.

Cilento is just one of many residents of the island who treat Woodward in a decidedly condescending manner -- that is when they aren't assaulting him with bawdy folk songs (arranged and adapted by composer Paul Giovanni) or the sight of couples engaged in sexual congress outdoors. Then there is the scene inside the Green Man Inn, where the oft-nude landlord's daughter (Britt Ekland) tries to tempt the sexually frustrated Woodward, but he isn't having any of it. Finally he gets an audience with the patrician Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) who fills him in on the history of the community and assures him that they are "a deeply religious people," but Woodward remains unconvinced and continues his desperate search for the missing girl, who he eventually comes to fear is due to be sacrificed by Lee and his followers. Little does he know what their true intentions are.

If The Wicker Man continues to hold up today -- and I believe it does -- it is because Hardy and Shaffer work to maintain an ominous undertone throughout the film without allowing it to spill over into the realm of gratuitous thrills. For what The Wicker Man is really about is the conflict between the old gods (i.e. Summerisle's paganism) and Woodward's seemingly rock-solid Christian faith. It's a theme that is echoed in the XTC song "Greenman" from their 1999 album Apple Venus, Vol. 1: "See the Greenman blow his kiss from high church wall / And unknowing church will amplify his call." What silly, silly Christians.

Zardoz speaks to you, his chosen ones.

While I'm in a cult movie mood, I decided to have another look at one of the cultiest movies out there. I speak, of course, of John Boorman's overreaching sci-fi parable Zardoz, which he brought to the screen in 1974. Written, produced and directed by Boorman, who was coming off the great success of Deliverance at the time and clearly believed he had something to say about modern civilization and where we were headed as a race. Equally likely is that he just wanted to blow people's minds, man (that is, if the trippy light shows are any indication).

After a confusing prologue, which was added at the behest of the studio but doesn't really clarify the film in any way for the first-time viewer, Boorman sets his bewildering story (which takes place in the year 2293) in motion without an ounce of explanation and then expects the audience to spend the bulk of the running time playing catchup, which can be entertaining but only if one is in the right frame of mind. It's fairly safe to say that few people were in that frame of mind when it first came out but it later developed a cult following and, when it was released on DVD, was deemed significant enough for Fox to get Boorman to do a commentary track for it. (In contrast, one of his most universally acclaimed films -- 1987's Hope and Glory -- only got a bare-bones release from MGM, which will hopefully get its act together at some point and give it the deluxe edition it deserves.)

But getting back to Zardoz, it stars Sean Connery as an Exterminator charged by his god (a giant stone head that flies around and issues proclamations when it isn't spewing forth guns and ammunition from its mouth) with wearing an orange diaper and thigh-high leather boots and killing the so-called Brutals that live and multiply in the Outlands. Wishing to learn the secrets of Zardoz, Connery stows away inside its head and penetrates the Vortex, which is populated by the Eternals, who have the secret of eternal life but have run out of things to do with it. They include scientist Sara Kestelman, who wants to study Connery, the skeptical Charlotte Rampling, who wants him destroyed, and the cynical John Alderton, who calls him "beast" and "monster" and is one of the first immortals we meet who openly expresses the desire to die and not be brought back. (It's complicated.) The story, such as it is, has to do with how Connery goes about making that death wish come true, for Alderton and everyone else.

As a purely visual experience Zardoz is quite often a feast for the eyes, with a production and costume design that can best be appreciated on the level of camp. It's only when the actors open their mouths that they fall into the trap of having to speak Boorman's pretentious dialogue, which isn't as insightful as he probably hoped it would be. In fact, the argument could be made that he shot his wad (in a manner of speaking) with Zardoz's opening salvo to his Exterminators: "The gun is good; the penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was, but the gun shoots death, and purifies the Earth of the filth of Brutals. Go forth... and kill!" Heh, I'll bet Charlton Heston loved this movie.

Sunday, December 6, 2009
Journalism has certainly changed since the old days.

In 1952, the same year that Samuel Fuller independently produced Park Row, his labor of love about the newspaper business, he also provided the story for a contemporary film on the same subject called Scandal Sheet. Based on Fuller's 1944 novel The Dark Page and directed by Phil Karlson, who made the classic film noir Kansas City Confidential later the same year, Scandal Street stars Broderick Crawford as the managing editor of the New York Express who has increased the paper's circulation dramatically by turning it into a tabloid and playing up the sensational stories of his ace crime reporter and protege John Derek. This doesn't sit well with some of the stockbrokers, nor with feature writer Donna Reed, but if profits are the name of the game then it's hard to argue with success.

In addition to Derek's stories on murder and mayhem, the paper also sponsors events like a Lonely Hearts Club Ball, where Crawford is recognized by a woman from his past (Rosemary DeCamp), a "neurotic screwball" as he so diplomatically puts it who threatens to expose him. Well, he's not having any of that so he tries to buy her off and winds up killing her by accident and tries his best to cover his tracks. Wouldn't you know it, though, his resident bloodhound picks up the scent of the story and doggedly pursues it, which drives up the circulation of the Express even more, putting Crawford in line for both a big bonus and the electric chair. The film also features Harry Morgan as Derek's bellyaching photographer and Henry O'Neill as a former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist -- and present-day drunk -- who lucks into an important clue linking Crawford to the murdered woman and believes it will be his ticket back to respectability. It's just too bad for him Crawford will stop at nothing to try to bury the story.

It's beautiful outside, like the end of the world.

When it comes to Fellini, over the years I've seen a few of his major films (La Strada, La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2), but there are many more gaps in his filmography left for me to fill. Accordingly, I borrowed his 1953 film I Vitelloni -- only his second solo directing job -- from the library so I could get started on that. (The Sundance Channel will be airing Nights of Cabiria this week, so I'll be getting to that in the near future as well.)

I Vitelloni follows the misadventures of five idle young men in a seaside resort town where their lack of ambition is matched by the lack of much to do during the off-season. In short order we're introduced to playboy Franco Fabrizi (their "leader and spiritual guide"), mama's boy Alberto Sordi, playwright Leopoldo Trieste (the resident intellectual), vain tenor Riccardo Fellini, and the restless Franco Interlenghi (the youngest of the group). As the film opens Interlenghi's sister Leonora Ruffo has just been crowned Miss Mermaid 1953, an honor she doesn't have much time to enjoy before it is revealed that she is pregnant with Fabrizi's child. Before he can skip town he is forced to marry the girl by his own father and then forced to take a job in an antique shop by his new father-in-law. This arrangement might have even worked out if his wandering eye hadn't alighted on the boss's wife, who spurns his advances and gets him fired.

The other young men have their own miniature crises, with Trieste coming close to breaking free of the hold the provincial town has on all of them when a famous actor (who is noticeably past his prime) shows an interest in his latest play, but the only one who manages to escape is Interlenghi, who presumably represents Fellini himself since he gets on a train at the end of the film and leaves town for good. He may be the youngest of the group, but since he's the only one willing to face an uncertain future on his own he's also the only one who has the chance to make something of himself. Rest assured, the folks at home are going to hear from that kid, and I don't mean a postcard.

Monday, December 7, 2009
Killing is very personal. Once it gets started, it's hard to stop.

Film noir was definitely on the wane by 1955, but that didn't prevent Joseph H. Lewis from turning out The Big Combo, one of the genre's more distinctive late-period efforts. Produced by Cornel Wilde's production company Theodora, the film stars Wilde as a police lieutenant obsessed with bringing down numbers racketeer Richard Conte no matter how much his investigation costs the taxpayers or puts his own life in jeopardy. Then again, Wilde also has a romantic interest in Conte's girl (Jean Wallace), who knows she runs with a crook and doesn't like herself very much for staying with him.

The Big Combo is notable for a number of reasons, chief among them the supporting roles played by Brian Donlevy, Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman. Donlevy plays Conte's second-in-command McClure, whose hearing aid comes into play in two key scenes: the first is when Conte borrows it to torture Wilde without leaving any marks on him, and the second comes when it is removed so Donlevy won't hear the bullets when Conte orders Van Cleef and Holliman to eliminate him. As for Van Cleef and Holliman, not only are they Conte's enforcers but it's clearly implied that they're homosexual lovers. Not many films in the mid-'50s had the audacity to even suggest that kind of thing, but if it was going to happen in any genre it would be film noir, God bless it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009
It took something terrible to get people to wake up.

The same year that Joseph H. Lewis brought The Big Combo to the big screen, Phil Karlson told The Phenix City Story -- one that had a great deal of impact because it was based on true events that had happened the year before in Phenix City, Alabama, a.k.a. Sin Town, U.S.A., a.k.a. the Wickedest City in the Country. A hard-hitting docu-noir, the 1955 film stars John McIntire as an upstanding lawyer whose candidacy for attorney general makes him a target for the forces of corruption eating away at his city, represented by mob boss Edward Andrews. At the start of the film, though, McIntire want to doesn't throw in with either side. (Andrews approaches him first, but the citizen's group working against him and his cronies also tries to get his support.) It isn't until McIntire's idealistic son (Richard Kiley), a war veteran who spent the postwar years prosecuting Nazi war criminals, comes home and gets involved in the fight that McIntire decides to stand up and be counted.

The film occasionally ventures into melodrama, especially when it comes to Kiley's relationship with his wife (Lenka Peterson), who understandably doesn't like the idea of her husband putting himself and his family in harm's way, but it's on surer ground with Kathryn Grant's innocent (some might say overly naïve) blackjack dealer at Andrews's club who turns informant after his thugs bump off her boyfriend (who just so happens to be the son of one of the town's leading lights). And there's also a juicy supporting role for James Edwards (one year before Stanley Kubrick cast him as the chatty parking lot attendant in The Killing) as a janitor who steps out of line and whose little girl is another victim of the ruthless syndicate. Considering everything that goes on (and how strong some of the violence is for 1955), I'm not surprised that this film ran into some trouble with the Production Code, but everything in it was a matter of record -- and the stories it was based on won the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism. I'm sure that didn't hurt.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009
You know me, I believe in families. Especially the Ricos.

Two years after he played the ruthless Mr. Brown in The Big Combo, Richard Conte took the lead in 1957's The Brothers Rico, which was directed by Phil Karlson from a screenplay co-written by an uncredited Dalton Trumbo (who was still blacklisted at the time). Conte stars as the eldest of the Brothers Rico, a former accountant for the mob who has been straight for three years and owns a successful laundry business. On top of that he and his wife (Dianne Foster) are in the process of adopting a baby, but that is put on hold when his old boss (Larry Gates) asks Conte to drop everything and find his youngest brother Johnny, who was apparently the wheel man for a hit middle brother Gino carried out but has since dropped out of sight, which understandably has the organization worried.

The film follows Conte from Miami to New York to California and back again (with a connection in Phoenix both ways) as he chases down the scant clues that lead him (and, by extension, the organization) to where Johnny (future teen idol James Darren) is hiding out. There Conte gets an earful from Johnny's heavily pregnant wife (Kathryn Crosby), who damn near goes into labor at the mere sight of him. For his part, Conte is so blinded by his loyalty to Gates and the syndicate that he doesn't realize how they've been using him until it's too late. Then -- and only then -- does he get his shot at redemption, which is a luxury few film noir protagonists can afford. Of course, how many film noir protagonists can say they run a successful laundry business? Not many, that's for sure.

Saturday, December 12, 2009
I'm the last person in the world you want me to be.

Since I have no idea when (or even if) the multi-colonic The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans will be coming to Bloomington (a situation that is sadly becoming a familiar refrain), I made the trip up to the Chicago suburbs to visit Joe Blevins, who was just as eager to see it as I was. The latest film from the insanely prolific Werner Herzog, The Bad Lieutenant is neither a sequel to nor a remake of Abel Ferrara's similarly titled film from 1992. The basic set-up is the same -- both films follow the sordid adventures of a corrupt police lieutenant who is addicted to hard drugs and gambling in equal measure -- but Ferrara's and Herzog's approaches to the material are so dissimilar that you would be hard-pressed to confuse one for the other. Also, it's fairly safe to say that screenwriter William Finkelstein doesn't struggle with the same problems of Catholic guilt as Ferrara's frequent collaborator Nicholas St. John.

Set in post-Katrina New Orleans (something else that distinguishes it from the New York City-set original), this Bad Lieutenant stars Nicolas Cage as the title character, who is cited for extreme valor in the line of duty upon his promotion to lieutenant, but within six months his addiction to painkillers (for a back injury he sustains in the opening scene of the film) has expanded to include cocaine (which we see him sniff upon his arrival at a crime scene), crack, heroin, marijuana and, well, just about anything he can get his hands on, really. As if that's not bad enough, he also has a drug-addicted prostitute (his Ghost Rider co-star Eva Mendes) for a girlfriend, regularly shakes down club kids for drugs (and exacts sexual favors in exchange for not arresting them), and makes wrongheaded bet after wrongheaded bet with his bookie (Brad Dourif), which is only one of many ways he digs a hole for himself with seemingly no chance to escape.

Everything snaps into focus, though, when Cage is put in charge of a homicide investigation involving a family of illegal Senegalese immigrants who were killed execution-style because the father was dealing drugs. The signs point to a local drug kingpin who goes by the name Big Fate (Xzibit), but there's nothing linking him to crime scene save for a 15-year-old eyewitness who is understandably reluctant to testify -- and whose grandmother (Irma P. Hall), a caretaker at an upscale nursing home, tries to shield him from the law. The film also features Val Kilmer as Cage's partner (whose interrogation techniques are somewhat counterproductive to say the least), Tom Bower as his father (an ex-cop with a drinking problem) and Jennifer Coolidge as his perpetually bombed stepmother. Seems everybody in this film has a problem, even if their only problem is the way Cage conducts himself.

I haven't really gotten into how weird the film sometimes gets. In addition to Cage's increasingly erratic behavior (brought about by a combination of sleep deprivation and constant drug intake), there's also plenty of black comedy, as in the scene where a harried Cage has to ferry his father's dog, his star witness and and his strung-out hooker girlfriend around. And then there are the times where Herzog cuts to "gator-cam" and "iguana-cam" for no reason other than he's Werner Herzog and he'll do that. In retrospect the film probably could have used more bizarro moments like that, but the good news is that it managed to keep me guessing all the way to the end and that is no small feat these days.

Sunday, December 13, 2009
There is nothing atypical about your grief.

On my way back from Chicago I took a side trip to the Keystone Art Cinema in Indianapolis, which appears to be the only theater in the whole state that is showing Lars von Trier's Antichrist. I expect this is largely due to the fact that it's going out unrated, but with a film this extreme ratings are pretty much beside the point. With von Trier, audiences pretty much know what to expect from him, even if they don't know exactly how he's going to try to shock them this time out of the gate.

Set in the Pacific Northwest, Antichrist stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a married couple who experience a heartbreaking loss when their very young son falls to his death while they're having sex. Since Dafoe is a therapist whose specialty is grief he comes out the other end in okay shape, but Gainsbourg is inconsolable and, against her doctor's wishes, Dafoe discontinues her medication and takes it upon himself to "fix" her. What this entails is denying her sex (or at least attempting to) while they're in therapy and forcing her to confront her fears. This amounts to taking her to the secluded cabin in a primeval forest (it's not for nothing that the place is called Eden) where she spent the previous summer working on her thesis (about gynocide -- not the most pleasant of subjects to tackle). There strange things start to happen almost right away and Dafoe quickly finds out he's in way over his head.

As in The Bad Lieutenant, this film has its own share of bizarre animal imagery. Instead of alligators and iguanas, though, Antichrist employs deer, foxes and crows to unsettling effect. Von Trier also gets a great deal of mileage out of the ominous sound design, which recalls the kind of enveloping low rumbles that David Lynch has been using to unsettle audiences since Eraserhead. In the end, I'm glad I made a point of seeing this in a theater. At home, on a small screen and with the ability to pause the action, I can't imagine it having the same kind of impact.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Probably some geek who wants his fifteen minutes of fame.

Anybody familiar with the work of Japanese director Takashi Miike should know right up front that 2004's Zebraman is far removed from the ultraviolent action/horror flicks he's notorious for. Rather, it's more of an offbeat character study about a mild-mannered schoolteacher (Show Aikawa) who indulges his escapist fantasies by dressing up in a homemade superhero costume. And who can blame him when his students detest him, his wife doesn't respect him, his teenage daughter flat-out ignores him and his young son is embarrassed to be related to him? What would they think if they knew he spends his off-hours reliving the glory days of a low-rated '70s television hero named Zebraman? (Or, rather, he would if he could work up the courage to go outside in his getup, but even something as simple as buying a soda seems out of his reach.)

Things change for Aikawa when he meets a wheelchair-bound student (Naoki Yasukochi) who's a big Zebraman fan, inspiring him to take to the streets, if only to cheer the kid up. Along the way, though, he gets caught up in a real-life alien invasion which threatens to take over the world, just as it did in the long-forgotten series. Anybody familiar with such tokusatsu shows as Ultraman, Kamen Rider and Kikaida should get a big kick out of Zebraman, even if it does rely too much on digital effects. Others may find it mildly amusing, but a bit slow-going at times. And anybody expecting the usual gory Miike mayhem? Well, they might as well just stay home.

Thursday, December 17, 2009
There's a lot of dos and don'ts as a superhero, but if you abide by them you'll do okay.

The most logical followup to Zebraman would have to be Confessions of a Superhero, a 2007 documentary that tells the stories of four aspiring actors who dress up in superhero costumes and pose for pictures on Hollywood Boulevard. Some of them really get into their parts, like Christopher, the movie's poster boy who dresses up as Superman, has a ton of Superman memorabilia and even makes dioramas of scenes from the films. And some of them are just there to make some money between casting calls, like Joe, who wears a bulky Hulk costume that has to be murder on hot days. And in between there's Maxwell, who started out impersonating George Clooney from ER before graduating to playing Batman, and Jennifer, a former cheerleader from Tennessee who came to town with stars in her eyes and wound up playing Wonder Woman for tip money. Some people find them entertaining, others consider them little more than grungy panhandlers, but there's no denying that the performers -- whose ranks include multiple Marilyn Monroes and sundry Spider-Men -- put on quite a show for the tourists.

Director Matthew Ogens splits his time between filming the performers in costume on the streets and interviewing them in their homes and other locations. While Christopher shows a cigarette-smoking Ghost Rider the ropes, Joe gives a guided tour of the doorway where he slept when he was homeless. Meanwhile, Maxwell confesses to having been a mafia enforcer and even visits a psychiatrist in costume to talk about his anger issues. By default, Jennifer would seem to be the most together of the lot, but it turns out she's rushed into a marriage with a man she has little in common with apart from going to the movies. Also, her acting career hasn't take off like she thought it would, but the same could be said for all four of our would-be thespians. Until the day comes that they get their big break, though, they can always don the tights one more time.

Friday, December 18, 2009
What kind of doctor would cut a man down to what I am now and still let him live?

Dalton Trumbo only ever stepped behind the camera once, and that was in 1971 when he wrote and directed Johnny Got His Gun, based on his 1939 novel. Even then, it was only after Luis Buñuel had expressed an interest in bringing it to the screen but was unable to raise the funding for it that Trumbo went ahead with his version. One wonders how Buñuel would have handled the material since in Trumbo's conception, it constantly slips between stark black and white reality and the main character's fantasies, which are shot in frequently hazy color. I imagine Buñuel would have come up with a more elegant solution than that (e.g. he might not have made any distinction at all between the two states), but I'm willing to cut Trumbo some slack. After all, he made the film he wanted to make.

To that end, Trumbo cast Timothy Bottoms as Joe, a young soldier who goes off fight in the First World War and winds up taking a direct hit from an artillery shell which leaves him a quadruple amputee. Not only that, he appears to be brain dead, so when he's brought in for treatment the officer in charge orders him to be kept alive so he can be studied, not realizing that Joe is actually conscious; he's just incapable of communicating with them. Thus begins his ordeal of isolation and encroaching madness, which is punctuated by memories of his father (Jason Robards, who's overly attached to his fishing pole) and the girl he left behind (Kathy Fields) and visions of a very down-to-earth Jesus Christ (Donald Sutherland, looking quite similar to the reverend he played in Little Murders the same year). Meanwhile, the only person who even tries to reach him is a novice nurse (Diane Varsi) who's so new to the job that she still has compassion and empathy for her patients. Funny how quickly that falls by the wayside.

Saturday, December 19, 2009
If word leaks out that there's a werewolf running around and we can't kill it...

I was all of eight when Elvira's Movie Macabre started airing in Los Angeles in the fall of the 1981, so even if I had wanted to, I wouldn't have been allowed to stay up and watch it. (Of course, I don't know if it was even syndicated in the Philadelphia area since it wasn't long before we had Saturday Night Dead, which was hosted by Stella, the self-professed "man-eater from Manayunk.") No matter; Shout! Factory has taken it upon themselves to release a number of the movies Elvira hosted on DVD, which is how I got to see 1973's The Werewolf of Washington, one of the few werewolf-themed Watergate horror-comedies in movie history.

Written, directed and edited by Milton Moses Ginsberg, the film stars Dean Stockwell as a rising star in the Washington press corps who wants to break off his affair with the president's daughter (Jane House), so he chooses self-exile in Budapest over political (and possibly professional) suicide. There he takes up with a beautiful Romanian (Katalin Kallay), but is called back to the States to be the new assistant press secretary for the troubled president (Biff McGuire, who doesn't try to act even remotely like Richard Nixon apart from his interests in football and bowling). Unfortunately for Stockwell, he's set to depart on the night of the full moon and has a run-in with some gypsies, one of whom turns into a dog and savages him, thus cursing him to a life of random bloodshed and tick baths.

Once back in Washington, Stockwell begins making the rounds of various political functions and touching up speeches for the vice president. (For some reason, he's given the latter assignment by attorney general Clifton James, who shouldn't have anything to do with the press, but there it is.) He also meets the president's daughter's current fiancé, an army psychiatrist (Beeson Carroll) who becomes Stockwell's confidante when he starts putting two and two together, and the mysterious Dr. Kiss (Michael Dunn), a midget scientist performing experiments in the basement of the Pentagon because why not? Also lurking in the background of a number of shots is a Secret Service agent (James Tolkan, who went on to play a character named Baldy in Wolfen and Principal Strickland in the Back to the Future movies) who does a lousy job of protecting the president when you come right down to it.

I fear I'm making this film sound too lucid. It's actually fairly ineptly made, with cheap makeup effects, poor lighting (especially during the night scenes, of which there are necessarily many) and choppy editing. Most of its werewolf mythology comes straight out of the original Wolf Man, as does the film's method for transforming Stockwell into a hairy beast (like Lon Chaney, Jr., he generally thinks to remove his shoes when the urge comes over him). That's all well and good, but its time-frame is all out of whack (the full moon rises six nights in a row, which is really stretching it) and there are several scenes that go on forever with absolutely nothing happening in them. Good thing Elvira's along for the ride to throw in quips at every commercial break (actual commercials not included) and lampoon some of the movie's inherent cheesiness. I'm sorry I missed out on her show the first time around; I'll have to check out some of her other titles.

Sunday, December 20, 2009
Do you think it's hard to survive in Flint these days?

Twenty years ago today, Warner Bros. released a feature-length documentary about one guy's failure to interview another guy. That's simplifying things quite a bit, I realize, but it is what Michael Moore's debut feature Roger & Me is essentially about (or at the very least that's the thread Moore keeps returning to in order to give his film some kind of narrative thrust). In the years since its release many have tried to discredit the film, claiming Moore misrepresented some facts and fudged the timeline in order to make his case, but it's safe to say that before it came out few people outside of Michigan knew how desperate things were in Flint. (Not that I expect things have gotten significantly better in the two decades since.)

For better or for worse, Roger & Me also changed the way documentaries are made and marketed and created a whole cottage industry of ax-grinders who seem to have nothing better to do than take potshots at Moore simply for existing. For those who have grown weary of his stunt-laden docs, though, it's refreshing to see how little time Moore actually spends on camera in Roger & Me. In fact, where the film really shines is in the ruthless juxtapositions between the haves and have-nots, between the upper-class people of Flint enjoying the good life and the families of laid-off auto workers getting evicted from their homes. That the film reaches its climax on the eve of Christmas, cutting from a scene of Moore finally confronting elusive General Motors Chairman Roger Smith at a corporate gathering to yet another Flint family being put out on the street, is only appropriate and makes its point even without Moore's snarky commentary.

Monday, December 21, 2009
There is no "how," Mr. Pilgrim. There is no why. The moment simply is.

While I was watching
Johnny Got His Gun the other night, the film that it put me in mind of was George Roy Hill's 1972 adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s seminal anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five. The first of Vonnegut's novels to make it to the screen, it was a tricky one to pull off since it deals with a man who becomes unstuck in time and leaps back and forth through his life, seemingly at random. It's the kind of narrative device that works well on the page but could have easily been bewildering on film due to the relentless nature of the beast, but luckily screenwriter Stephen Geller managed to figure out how to make the transitions seamless and immediately recognizable.

Michael Sacks heads the cast as the hapless Billy Pilgrim, whose experiences as an ill-equipped chaplain's assistant during World War II -- including being present for the bombing of Dresden in 1945, just as Vonnegut was -- impacted his life to such a degree that he spends the majority of his time there. From the moment he meets aggressive soldier Ron Leibman behind enemy lines, Leibman has it in for him and after their capture it's only through the intervention of fellow prisoner of war Eugene Roche that Pilgrim gets a reprieve. Upon his return to civilian life we witness Pilgrim's ups and down as a professional optometrist and family man, whose marriage to a plus-size Sharon Gans (who's constantly promising to go on a diet) produces two children and a certain measure of happiness. The other major plot strand deals with Pilgrim's abduction by space aliens who put him on display and even procure a skin-flick actress (Valerie Perrine, who went on to play Miss Teschmacher in the Superman movies) to be his mate. Gans is already out of the picture at this point, so there's no problem on that count, but Pilgrim is still put off by the fact that the aliens want to watch him and Perrine get it on. That would be enough to make anyone self-conscious.

One aspect of the film that I haven't mentioned yet is the music, which was performed by Glenn Gould. Slaughterhouse-Five was one of the few films he worked on during his lifetime and his contributions are invaluable. Rather than compose an original score, though, he chose various pieces by Bach to highlight the reflective nature of the film. And while that matter-of-fact approach to the material may have ultimately doomed it at the box office, I'll take it over the over-the-top grotesqueries of Slapstick of Another Kind and Breakfast of Champions, neither of which I've ever been able to sit through from beginning to end. Probably just as well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009
This is the only work I know that's boring and nerve-wracking at the same time.

Following the success of The Andromeda Strain in 1971, Hollywood very much wanted to be in business with Michael Crichton. This lead to his debut as a writer/director with Westworld two years later, and an adaptation of his novel The Terminal Man in 1974. Written, produced and directed by Mike Hodges, who was working in Hollywood for the first time, the film is pretty much your standard Crichton thriller about technology run amok. In this case computer scientist George Segal, who has been prone to blackouts and unprovoked violence ever since he was in an auto accident, is chosen as the guinea pig for an experimental procedure that would implant electrodes in his brain in order to prevent his seizures. At first the operation appears to be a complete success, but then something goes haywire (as it generally does in Crichton's stories) and Segal completely snaps. It's just too bad the results aren't quite on par with the power failure that unleashes the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park or the computer glitch that turns the robots against the people in Westworld.

Some of this might be due to the sterile, antiseptic look Hodges gives the film, which is appropriate to some degree since a lot of the action takes place in a hospital, but when your sets are made up almost entirely of gleaming white surfaces that can get monotonous fast. He also keeps the characters at arm's length -- even Segal, who should have some of our sympathy since he's as much a victim of misguided medical science as, say, Frankenstein's monster. The others are largely personality-free, from psychiatrist Joan Hackett on down to neurosurgeon Richard A. Dysart (who's actually kind of blasé about the whole thing) and interested observer Donald Moffat. And Jill Clayburgh has a small role as Segal's current lover, but it's so ill-defined that she barely has time to register before she falls victim to one of Segal's attacks.

The other thing The Terminal Man has working against it is its almost-glacial pace, along with the reams of dialogue full of technical jargon that loses our interest in a hurry. I realize Crichton and Hodges are trying to make a point or two about the differences between men and machines and the danger inherent in blurring the line between them, but it could be argued that A Clockwork Orange had already made them -- and in a much more entertaining fashion -- just a few years earlier. It's also not very original on the musical front since it uses one of the same Bach pieces (as performed by Glenn Gould) that had appeared on the soundtrack to Slaughterhouse-Five. The difference here is that is essentially the only piece of music in the entire film. Austerity is one thing, but it is possible to take it too far. Of course, the argument could be made that Hodges went too far in the other direction with his next film -- 1980's Flash Gordon -- but that is a discussion for another time.

Thursday, December 24, 2009
Nothing you could tell me about my past or future would be for my own good.

Well, it's Christmas Eve, so that means it's time for my annual Christmas movie. This year I went with the "Chilling Classic" Silent Night, Bloody Night, which was shot on Long Island in 1972 but not released until 1974 (and is not be confused with the controversial '80s slasher film Silent Night, Deadly Night). Co-written and directed by Theodore Gershuny, it's not the most festive Christmas film out there. Even among films about escaped asylum inmates who start hacking and slashing people to death around the holidays it's pretty low-key, with only the occasional Christmas carol on the radio (or halfheartedly hummed by one of the characters) to remind the audience when it's set. Furthermore, we only get to see one house that's really decorated and that's just for one scene. You'd think the set decorator would have pushed the Christmas motif a little more, but I guess that would have to be left to future yuletide horror films like Christmas Evil and the aforementioned Silent Night, Deadly Night series.

At any rate, the story is narrated by former Warhol Superstar and future Paul Bartel film fixture Mary Woronov, who tells of the strange events that took place at the forbidding Butler House on Christmas Eves past -- like the time in 1950 when the rich, reclusive owner was set on fire and burned to death. (You know, that's exactly the sort of thing that gives a creepy old house a bad name.) Then we skip forward to the present, when big-city lawyer Patrick O'Neal arrives in town (with Eurotrash girlfriend Astrid Heeren in tow) to sell the property on behalf of current owner James Patterson, the grandson of the Human Torch. Meanwhile, a violent maniac has escaped from a nearby asylum and taken up residence in the house, which means just about anybody who shows up there for any reason is going to be killed by a frantic point-of-view shot. Now, I realize the Steadicam hadn't been invented yet, but the point-of-view shots in this film are pretty clumsily done. If the filmmakers wanted to keep the maniac's identity a secret, all they had to do was keep the shots focused on his black leather gloves while he did his dastardly deeds. There, problem solved.

As befits a film called Silent Night, Bloody Night, it sure doesn't skimp on the red stuff. When one of the characters in this film gets it, they really get it good, even if it's hard to see exactly how they get it during some of the night scenes. (No one will ever mistake this for a big-budget film.) As for Woronov, she plays the mayor's daughter, who greets Patterson with a gun when he shows up at her door unannounced but is eventually persuaded to go out to the house with him. Onthe way they stop at the local paper, which is run by decrepit publisher John Carradine, who has to ring a bell because he has no voice. The intriguing supporting cast also includes Ondine and Candy Darling (who, like Woronov, were Warhol Superstars) as, respectively, an asylum inmate and party guest during the extended sepia-toned flashback that explains the whole backstory (that is, the parts that Woronov isn't able to piece together when she's left alone in Carradine's office). Of course, merely figuring out why a maniac is running around killing people is no real cause for celebration in a film like this. After all, he still has to be stopped.

So, in the final tally, not the most uplifting Christmas movie out there, but I'll take it over the live-action Grinch or Jingle All the Way.

Friday, December 25, 2009
He's not the messiah. He's a very naughty boy.

Greetings, one and all, and happy Christmas to you and yours. I realize the above picture looks like it would be more appropriate for Good Friday, but this year marked the 30th anniversary of the release of Monty Python's Life of Brian, and since Brian was born in a little town called Bethlehem on the same day as some other fellow, I'd say that makes this a suitable movie for Christmas. Don't agree? Well, take a gander at this exchange:
MANDY: So, you're astrologers, are you? Well, what is he, then?
MANDY: What star sign is he?
FIRST WISE MAN: Capricorn.
MANDY: Capricorn, eh? What are they like?
FIRST WISE MAN: He is the Son of God, our Messiah.
THIRD WISE MAN: King of the Jews!
MANDY: And that's Capricorn, is it?
FIRST WISE MAN: No, no, no. That's just him.
MANDY: Oh, I was going to say, otherwise there'd be a lot of them.
Well, that's putting it mildly.

Monday, December 28, 2009
Don't be scared of me. I'm not my father.

While I was home for the holidays, I figured I'd visit the Showcase at the Ritz (formerly the Ritz Sixteen) in Voorhees to catch a film or two that I would probably have to drive to Indianapolis if I wanted to see them back in Indiana. So it was that I headed over there this afternoon to see Pedro Almodóvar's latest, Broken Embraces, which just so happened to be in the screening room next door to Alvin and the Chipmunks 2: The Squeakquel. Oh, how the mighty art house has fallen... Happily, Almodóvar was in top form and he was able to coax another great performance out of Penélope Cruz after their last collaboration, 2006's Volver.

The film splits its time between the present -- in which blind screenwriter Lluís Homar spends his days penning scripts with the help of his assisant (Tamar Novas), a part-time club DJ and the son of his agent (Almodóvar regular Blanca Portillo) -- and the early '90s -- when he was a hot director until he started a passionate affair with his leading lady (Cruz), the mistress of powerful financier José Luis Gómez, who just so happened to be bankrolling his latest picture. What brings the two strands together is the entrance of an intense young filmmaker (Rubén Ochandiano) who wishes to collaborate on a very personal script with Homar. It seems Ochandiano was on the set of Homar's ill-fated film and was a very intrusive presence at that since he was sent by Gómez to spy on Cruz. That he did so in the guise of shooting a behind-the-scenes documentary takes a page or two out of Atom Egoyan's playbook, particularly when Gómez plays the footage back searching for evidence that Cruz and Homar are having an affair. Suffice it to say, when he finds some he doesn't take it lying down.

I'm not entirely certain what the critical consensus on Broken Embraces is, but as far as I'm concerned a new Almodóvar film is worth seeking out under any circumstances. Nobody else working in film today even approaches his unique blend of high melodrama, broad comedy, frank (and frequently humorous) sex and rapid-fire revelations. This is highlighted by the film-within-the-film, a farce in the style of Almodóvar's own breakthrough film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. In anybody else's hands it might have devoled into a complete parody. For Almodóvar, however, it must have felt like a well-deserved victory lap.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty.

As I was going into Philly today to have lunch with a friend, I decided to stick around afterward and catch A Single Man at the Ritz at the Bourse. The directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford, who also co-wrote the screenplay with David Scearce, the film is based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood and stars Colin Firth as a British professor teaching at a small southern California college who has been inconsolable ever since he lost his long-time partner (Matthew Goode) in a freak car accident. Since the film is set in 1962, when homosexuality was still very much frowned upon (as if it isn't today), Firth can't express his grief openly and is even barred from attending Goode's funeral service, an act that denies him emotional closure. In fact, the only person he can really confide in is a fellow expatriate Londoner (Julianne Moore) who's twice-divorced and still somehow holds out hope that they could be a couple.

The film takes place over a single day as a solitary Firth winds up his personal business and prepares to kill himself -- but only if he can have everything perfectly arranged first. It also takes in his scattered memories of Goode, which are generally more brightly lit than his drab existence, which is presented in desaturated color save for the few times when he's engaged in making a personal connection with someone. Having already made the decision to kill himself, though, he doesn't know what to make of the student (Nicholas Hoult) who tries to get closer to him or the Spanish stud (Jon Kortajarena) who attempts to pick him up outside a liquor store. Under normal circumstances he might have pursued one or both of them, but he's simply too intent on ending it all to even consider it.

I realize I'm making this film seem like a total downer, but more than anything it's a sensual experience that's completely in tune with its lead character's thoughts and emotions. From the serenely comforting underwater shots that open the film to the bracing late-night swim that comes near the end, we are fully immersed in Firth's world, sharing not only his pain but also his fleeting moments of inner peace. It's just a shame he isn't able to hold onto them. They might have actually helped him get over his loss sooner.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The principle occupation of the Mercury Theater is waiting for Orson.

Another day, another trip to the Ritz at the Bourse. Today my film of choice was Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles, based on the novel by Robert Kaplow. The short version of my review is that the film could have used a little more Welles and a lot less Me, but since the Me in question was Zac Efron and the role of Welles was inhabited by the relatively unknown Christian McKay, there probably wasn't much chance of that happening. Still, the script was littered with enough references to the man's work that any Welles aficionado should come away satisfied. One thing I can't say is what drew Linklater to the material in the first place because the end result doesn't really bear his stamp at all, but it's been a few years since the one-two punch of Fast Food Nation and A Scanner Darkly, so I wouldn't begrudge him the chance to put someting out there.

A rather hectic backstage comedy-drama (the action takes place over the course of a single week), the film follows an aspiring young thespian (Efron, who one imagines will have to stop playing high schoolers eventually) who lucks into the role of Lucius in Welles's legendary modern-dress production of Julius Caesar in 1937. He also stumbles into a romance of sorts with the Mercury Theater's overworked production assistant (Claire Danes) which turns sour when she chooses career advancement (i.e. sleeping with the boss) over being wooed by a callow youth who could hardly be said to have the world at his feet. The girl in his life who's much more his speed is the aspiring writer (Zoe Kazan) he meets on his first day in New York City and who he desperately tries to impress by passing himself off as much more worldly than he really is.

The rest of the cast is filled out by actors impersonating various Mercury Players, with Ben Chaplin as a nerve-wracked George Coulouris, Eddie Marsan as John Houseman, James Tupper as a spot-on Joseph Cotten, and Leo Bill as Norman Lloyd, the resident cut-up who's worried that his role (as Cinna the Poet) is going unrehearsed because Welles is always skipping out to speed to his various radio appearances. The film really comes alive whenever he swoops back in, though. Watching McKay, it's easy to see why people were willing to put up with Welles's dictatorial manner. He might not have been the easiest guy in the world to work with (or for), but as long as you stayed on his good side you could be assured that the work would be both challenging and rewarding. Now all someone has to do is write a film about Welles for McKay that doesn't revolve around mister High School Musical.

Thursday, December 31, 2009
The only thing I did wrong was to yearn for someone to caress me and kiss me.

For the second time this month the moon is full, which is what people mean when they talk about a blue moon. It also happens to be the thirteenth full moon this year, so instead of watching yet another werewolf movie, today I went with Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1978 drama In a Year with 13 Moons, which I had to get through Netflix. Of course, Fassbinder was referring to a year in which there are 13 new moons (when, according to the captions that open the film, "inescapable personal tragedies may occur"), but that won't happen again until 2011, so I bit the bullet and, as a result, I have finally seen my first Fassbinder film. Rest assured, it will not be my last.

I don't know if this is always the case, but on this film Fassbinder wore many, many hats. In addition to writing and directing, he also produced, photographed and co-edited the film, plus he did the art direction and dubbed the voice of one of the actors. (Now that's what I call multitasking.) About the only thing he didn't do was play the leading role. That job he left to Volker Spengler, who plays the transgendered Elvira (formerly Erwin), who we first meet in a park dressed like a man and trying to pick up a man -- and getting beat up for her trouble. And that's only the beginning for poor Spengler, whose abusive lover (Karl Scheydt) walks out on her for good, leaving her an emotional wreck capable of doing just about anything.

Throughout the film, which takes place over the course of a month, Spengler is consoled by her prostitute neighbor (Ingrid Caven), to whom she spills her whole backstory (during a trip to a slaughterhouse of all places), is confronted by her former wife (Elisabeth Trissenaar), who is concerned for their daughter's safety since Spengler gave an interview about the man (Gottfried John) she changed her sex for, and visits the orphanage where she grew up to get the lowdown from one of the nuns (Lilo Pempeit) about her unhappy childhood (which she doesn't remember at all). She also sneaks into John's office building and watches a man hang himself on the floor below his, and has to give a password to John's chauffeur (Günther Kaufmann) before she can see him. As it turns out, John isn't angry at all about the interview, but his continual failure to understand what he means to her ultimately spells Spengler's doom. One of her last acts is to cut her hair, dress like a man again and try to make a connection with her teenage daughter (Eva Mattes), but try as she might there's just no going back. Like a lot of things in Spengler's life, once they're severed, they're gone for good.

Back to November 2009 -- Forward to January 2010

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