Saturday, March 1, 2014

Jason goes to Midnites for Maniacs--Creative Killers

I'd like to start by once again thanking On the Road Mechanics for getting my truck back in good working order Friday morning. Without them, I would've been stuck taking a very slow series of buses home in the middle of the night, or bailing on the last film so I could take off while BART/Caltrain are still running. So seriously, this guy is awesome. And he'll drive right to wherever your car broke down, diagnose the problem, and usually be able to fix it quickly.

So anyway, I drove up to the Castro last week Friday, braved the insane traffic, found a good parking spot, and settled in for a triple bill of Creative Killers.

CLUE (1985): First up was this pretty hilarious comedy. And, interestingly enough, the movie I thought about the most afterwards. First of all, what a great comic cast. Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, Michael McKean, Eileen Brennan, Lesley Ann Warren...wow. I had seen it a few times, and always liked it, but hadn't seen it since college (which would be the mid 90s.) And I had never really thought about its importance in the history of movies. Not just basing a movie on a board game, which is something people still ridicule (heck yeah I wanna see HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPOS) but for the multiple endings. Now I didn't see it in theaters when it first came out. Partly because I was only 11 and wasn't going to movies on my own (and with our big family we didn't go out to the movies very often anyway.) But even at that young age I saw it as a crass way to sucker the audience into buying multiple tickets to see all three endings. It was a gimmick and a pretty transparently money-grubbing one at that. The thing is, on home video they slapped all three endings on, with some title cards saying something to the effect of "or it could have happened this way" and "but this is what really happened." And that was the way we saw it at the Castro (in 35 mm, of course.) And a couple of thoughts struck me. This way makes it very clear that there is one "right" ending. That wasn't the case when it was released in 1985 was it? That's...interesting. Does it take something away to designate one ending as the "real" ending? But more importantly, all three endings are equally plausible...at least given the ridiculous events in the movie. So is this kinda taking the piss out of the entire whodunit genre? There's a whole genre of films that make you wonder who the killer is, rewarding you with bragging rights over your friends if you get it right, and maybe making you feel a little stupid if you guess wrong. And CLUE, with its three equally plausible endings, shows how fraudulent those movies often are. Or maybe not. Maybe if you take the average whodunit, you can't really come up with three different twist endings and have them all make sense. Maybe CLUE is just brilliant that way. But either way I think I've just convinced myself that CLUE is way smarter than the average whodunit...and that's pretty fuckin' cool.

CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989): And now the serious, 'important' film of the the night. This was programmed months in advance, so its pure coincidence that M4M played this right at the time when Woody Allen controversies are back in the news. And I'm not touching the controversy with a 20 foot pole. The movie, of course, is great. As always, Allen puts together a great cast, and along with himself, he's got Martin Landau, Anjelica Huston, Alan Alda, and Sam Waterston. On the "Crime" side, Martin Landau is a doctor who has been having an affair for years. When his mistress threatens to tell his wife, he's faced with a moral dilemma. And when his brother proposes using some of his organized crime connections to "take care of her" he's faced with an even bigger moral dilemma. Meanwhile, on the "Misdemeanor" side, Woody Allen plays a documentary filmmaker who once won an award at a film festival. He loves movies, takes his niece to the matinee, etc. And to actually make some money, he sucks it up and films a puff, hero-worship documentary about his brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda) who's a massively successful TV comedy producer (allegedly based on Larry Gelbart, who both Allen and Alan worked with.) While making it, he kind of hits it off with his assistant (Mia Farrow) who Lester also has eyes for. So he has his adulterous thoughts he has to struggle with. It's kind of gun to think of him as at a point where Martin Landau's character was about 20 years ago, and how things could've gone differently.) Woody Allen has always had a great insight into human foibles, whether milking them for comedy in so many films or using them to show us how horrible people are in this one.

THE DRILLER KILLER (1979): And finally, we ended the night with this Abel Ferrara cult classic. Abel himself stars as Reno, an artist who is struggling to pay rent, finish his masterpiece painting of a buffalo (for the life of me, it looks finished the whole time,) take care of his two female roommates, deal with the loud rock band practicing next door, eat pizza, etc. So he snaps and goes on a killing spree with an electric drill and a battery pack belt (for just $19.95.) This is the third time I've seen it, twice on the big screen, and...I'm not impressed. I'm sorry, I just don't see what's so great about it. The descent into madness is kind of disjointed and rambling, but that I don't mind. It's that the actual payoff--the drilling killing--is not that impressive. It looks fake, and weakly fake. I can appreciate this as a dirty grindhouse experience (especially when it's shown on a kinda scratchy 35 mm print) but I just don't like it as a movie.

Total Running Time: 294 minutes
My Total Minutes: 352,929
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