Sunday, July 25, 2004

Why are so many people born in July? Guess it’s all that post Halloween sex – couples working off the leftover trick-or-treat candy. Chocolate is an aphrodisiac. Or is it the pumpkin pie...?

There’s 4 or 5 bloggers born this month, and I also had two birthday gatherings this weekend – one Friday and one Saturday.

I consolidated my gift shopping by getting some DVDs that suited my friends. Got one pal "Old School" ‘cause we’re always quoting that one during our long Saturday runs together. Even after 10 miles, "Mitch... I’m so cold... I see Blue... He’s glorious!" cracks me up.

And last night a co-worker was celebrating the big 4-0. I know he doesn’t have a lot of DVDs & I wanted to get him a movie that was as old as him, but... did they make movies back then? Seriously, what came out in 1964? My Fair Lady won Best Picture... Nah. Mary Poppins... I love that movie, but I don’t know if he too would think it was "practically perfect in every way". Wait, I just realized -- Dr. Strangelove -- that woulda been a great choice. Oh well. In the office we were doing duelling Brandos after he died – I’d do the younger On the Waterfront "You was my brother, Charlie, you shoulda looked out for me", and he’d do the older raspier Vito Corleone. So I got him The Godfather. And Jaws, just ‘cause it’s another classic.

It got me thinking about my favorite movies. Dunno if this is an LA–film biz thing or people are like this everywhere, but I find when you ask someone to name their favorite movie, they get nervous, like you’ve asked them to declare their method of execution. I try to reassure them that I’m not really gonna send them to a desert island with a TV, VCR, electricity, and that one movie for the rest of their lives. Just pick a movie you love.

What genre?, they ask.

Doesn’t matter. You need to categorize your tastes? Fine, I say, comedy.

Romantic comedy? Slapstick? Action comedy? Political farce? Black comedy?

At that point, I stop asking. They’ve told me more about themselves without even picking a flick.

I was going to try to make a list of my favorites, but I don’t really know what I could say about ‘em that you couldn’t get from Leonard Maltin, Pauline Kael or Harry Knowles. Lotsa people love classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark and It’s a Wonderful Life. And others I love may be on your lists, too -- Taxi Driver, My Cousin Vinny, Goodfellas, Fargo...

So I decided to go through my VHS/DVD collection and mention some that may be a little different. Here’s five – ok, six -- for now. You might know ‘em and love ‘em. Or you didn’t really like ‘em that much. Or you never heard of ‘em. In any case, I recommend you check ‘em out for the very first time again:

X – The Man with X-Ray Eyes
Roger Corman is a hero of mine. Gotta admire a guy who can bang out a feature-length film in a weekend – and sometimes his Z-grade schlock turned out to be a fine little flick. Here Ray Milland is a man who, well, the title says it all. He starts off looking through women’s clothes, making money by seeing the back of cards in Vegas... but as his powers of vision grow, so does his insanity – he can see through buildings, through space, through time! If you like this, or wanna cast your sights on a more beautiful poetic supernatural tragedy, see The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Mon Uncle
Jacques Tati created a character who was part Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Inspector Clouseau. Maybe Victor Borge, too. This was a French film, but there was very little dialogue. But not a silent film either, because the faint sounds of the ultra-modern suburban house were key – I wanna someday get a fish fountain like the family had, gurgling a little trickle of water upward whenever guests came over. Their gadget-crazy home is contrasted with the wild, silly city in which the uncle resides, though he can’t hold down a job because of simplistic bumbling.

Mr. Sardonicus
Just like Roger Corman, William Castle was another maven of B-movies. His usually featured a gimmick – e.g., The Tingler had buzzers in the theatre seats which went off to synch with the flick. This one didn’t need much – it’s about a reclusive count whose face is hideously disfigured into an awful toothy grimace following a tramautic incident which made him rich, powerful... and very evil. Yes, there are dabs of Phantom of the Opera in there, but Sardonicus particularly resonated with me after years of braces, oral surgery and other orthodontic nightmares.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
One of my favorite action dramas -- if I may categorize -- from 1973. Four thieves (named Mr. Green, Mr. Black... remind you of some other homage/ripoff characters?) hijack a New York subway train and demand a ransom of one million dollars to be delivered in one hour. The cast features Robert Shaw, Hector Elizondo, Martin Balsam, Jerry Stiller... and Walter Matthau as the chief of the NY Transit police, trying to stop these bad guys. Does he have a personal problem—an estranged wife or hot-headed temper toward authority? No. And when a movie has this much drama and twists, who needs it? Excellent theme music, and perhaps the best final scene of a movie ever.

The Pope of Greenwich Village
Back when Mickey Rourke had talent and decent skin, and Eric Roberts was a rising star and not the forgotten older brother of some chick named Julia, this was a hilarious character study. They’re two cousins who get fired from a restaurant job ("What do you need a fancy suit for, Charlie? You got no job to wear it to."), so they pull a small-time heist to gain big cash to bet on a "T’oroughb’ed – a fuckin’ racehorse!" But when it turns out to be mob money tied in with some corrupt police, the shit hits the fan – or (after slipping an officer some horse physic): "Cop shit his pants!" Geraldine Page has two scenes that nearly steal the movie, but nothing will top the heartwrenching "Charlie! They took my t’umb!"

The Thief of Baghdad
OK, just to prove I can indeed pick my all-time favorite movie – well, it’s a tie. Between Raiders and this one. A variation on the old Arabian Nights tales which has incredible special effects considering it came out in 1940. But it’s not just the visuals of the gargantuan spider, flying horse or magic carpet -- this is an awesome movie on every level. Tells the story of Abu the thief who teams up with Prince Ahmed to defeat the evil Jaffar, played by Conrad Veidt, the villain from Casablanca. And don’t forget Rex Ingram as the bombastic giant genie who keeps trying to squish little Abu and gain his freedom. "You are very wise, little master of the universe. But you are mortal. And like all mortals, when your stomach speaks, you forget your brain. When your brain speaks, you forget your heart. And when your heart speaks... HAHAHAHA! You forget EVERYTHING!"


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