Sunday, September 9, 2018

Check Your Baggage for Destination Wedding

By Steve Evans
Destination Wedding, an experimental film now available on Video on Demand, is the best rom-com of the last 40 years. I mean this most sincerely; no hyperbole. It has an essential edginess that eluded Sideways, which had been the genre's gold standard since 2004, and before that, Annie Hall from 1977.

Sharp, acerbic, jet-black and cynical, Destination Wedding will appeal to anyone who has ever pulled out of a relationship and wondered: how the fuck did I ever get into that? But moving forward, it also poses that eternal challenge: why not try this thing called love again? Two terrific stars, Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves, who have the only dialog in the film (toldja it was experimental). They play hugely unlikable characters thrown together under standard rom-com tropes that director Victor Levin turns upside-down. Imagine a farcical romance written by David Mamet.

I laffed. I cried. I damn-near died. This is a great movie.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2018 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"No, I did not borrow Laura's Mercedes"

By Steve Evans

Alfred Hitchcock’s immortal classic North by Northwest premiered 59 years ago today. I first saw the picture on television in the ancient pre-Internet year of 1982 and was instantly smitten. Time has done nothing to diminish my love for this film, still my favorite out of some 15,000 movies I’ve seen in a lifelong affair with the cinema. North by Northwest is close to a perfect film. It delivers everything I want in a movie and does it with class. It’s thrilling and comical and elegant, delightfully sophisticated and often darkly cynical, with some of the best writing you’ll ever encounter in a film. The set pieces build in excitement and preposterousness in equal measure, but I never care because I get swept up in the pure joy of it all with every viewing. The early James Bond films owe a stylistic debt to this picture, though it is far better than any of them.

Cary Grant taught me how a gentleman should dress, how to light a lady’s cigarette, mix a proper Gibson cocktail, deliver droll & smartass remarks, run from biplanes and scramble across the actual faces of national monuments while saving the love of your life in a literal cliffhanger ending. The final shot of Cary and Eva Marie Saint embracing, with a smash-cut to their train roaring into a tunnel, is an amusing bit of impudence to conclude a film that is so damn good I usually want to spin it again from the beginning, right then and there, soon as I finish clapping.

I wrote a 30-page paper about the film in graduate school. I’ve owned two videotape copies, a DVD and a Blu-ray. A digital copy of the complete film exists on my phone, tablet and laptop. I’ve visited many of the locations where it was filmed. I have a photo of Eva with her autograph tucked away in the case of my DVD copy.

The common question to this sort of blathering enthusiasm is “What the hell is wrong with you, Steve?” There’s really no satisfactory answer except that I love the movies, especially this one. The very best films take us on an exhilarating ride through experiences many people can only dream of. We fly in the darkness, cheer our heroes, fear for their lives, exalt in the bewitching power of story and eventually come cruising down, down, down, rolling across the runway, returning at last to the seats we never left. And that’s enough.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2018 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Can't Cure Insomnia With Psychomania

By Steve Evans

Stayed up way too late last night laffing at the great guilty pleasure that is Psychomania (1973). This movie is a riot -- an occult, horror-thriller biker flick starring Malcolm McDowell lookalike Nicky Henson in a role not dissimilar to McDowell’s in A Clockwork Orange, made two years earlier. I saw Psychomania decades ago on late-night teevee and was delighted to catch it again. The film only improves with age. Filmed at Shepperton, it has a Hammer Studios vibe, solid stunts and not-bad special effects.

Briefly, Henson and his rude biker gang commit suicide in novel ways, then use black magic to come roaring back to life on their motorcycles, terrorizing the English countryside as the living dead. Featuring an amazing wacka-wacka guitar soundtrack by a band called Frog. You can’t make up this stuff; I dare you even to try.

The great British character actor George Sanders (who co-starred in two Academy Award Best Picture winners, Rebecca and All About Eve, and won an Oscar himself for the latter) was nearing the end of his career when he appeared in this film. Sanders committed suicide shortly after Psychomania was made. Sadly, he did not come roaring back on a motorcycle.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2018 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Reflections on Dead Home-Entertainment Technology

By Steve Evans

On this day in 1975 Sony introduced the Betamax 9300, a "video recorder" almost the size of a footlocker and priced at $2,295 (about $11,000 in 2018 dollars). It had fat piano keys for controls and a crude LCD numeric screen. Made a fair amount of whirring noise, too. With the release of this brute of a component, Sony began the era of the home theater concept and forever changed the way people consume programming, since they were no longer at the mercy of broadcasters' schedules. That is, if you could figure out how to program the machine and set the timer to record the correct channel.

In less than a decade Betamax would be extinct after losing the videotape format war to VHS cassettes, which delivered noticeably lower image quality but were cheaper. We had a top-loading Betamax that ended up in basement storage when VHS took over and it was no longer possible to buy the smaller Betamax cassettes. I remember the owner of a local video rental store saying how happy he was when Betamax died because he no longer had to buy two copies of the same movie on different videotape formats. Blockbuster arrived a couple years later and he went out of business, anyway.

My first movie from that rental store was Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969) on a Betamax cassette. I had never seen the film, much less uncut, as there is no way any network back then would have shown that legendarily violent film as released theatrically. As a fledgling 14-year-old film buff, being able to rent and watch a movie on demand was a revelation (nor did the rental shop owner give a damn about whether I was old enough to be watching R-rated movies). Soon, most of my allowance money was going to movie rentals at the video store down the street. All of them were beat up and scratchy, even the new releases after only a couple of weeks, but I didn't care. In a town with only two single-screen movie theaters and cable TV service still a few years off, having a video rental store was like a passport to exotic lands of adventure.  

I'd bet that mom still has that Betamax monster socked away somewhere in her basement -- and it probably still works -- only there's no way to hook up the equipment to a modern TV because RCA jacks, and the red, yellow and white cables to connect them, are likewise a thing of the past.

Nothing lasts forever, except my ridiculous habit of renting and then buying films like The Wild Bunch on video cassette (twice), DVD and, more recently, on Blu-ray. If Peckinpah's bloody classic is ever released in the 4K format, I’ll buy that one, too. Obsessions always start somewhere. I have Betamax to thank for mine.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2018 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.