Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Termite Art Halloween: The Crazies (1973)

Formidable as his cinematic powers are, the one thing I treasure about George A. Romero's work over all others are his masterful endings (this is your hint that I will be discussing endings and thus SPOILERS will follow). A guy like Wes Craven is better at manipulating an audience, a guy like John Carpenter has a knack for out-and-out terrifying people, but no one crafts a truly bleak and therefore utterly horrifying ending like Romero.

Most horror movies, by nature, don't end happily. But Romero takes it one step further. His secret, I think, is to give a sense of false hope to the audience that things might turn out well and then to shatter our optimism with one final twist. In Night of the Living Dead, Duane Jones' Ben survives the zombie onslaught, only to be shot and killed by some white assholes. His victory is short-lived and very hollow. Romero might be horror's most fatalistic director.

Romero's little seen film The Crazies offers another great example. Before the film begins, an Army plane carrying a virus codenamed Trixie has crashed outside a suburban town. The virus, which turns its victims into raging lunatics, gets in the water, and people start going mad. Our few unstricken heroes are stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place: as bad as the virus is, the US Army, who rumble into town to quarantine the area and contain the virus might be worse. Clad in white jumpsuits and gasmasks, they're a perfect vision of faceless, fascistic terror, and they're also an ingenious moneysaving device for an independent director like Romero: having them look alike means its easy to use the same five extras to play an entire platoon of men.

None of the visceral bloodshed Romero presents on screen is as scary as the narrative's implications: that if and when the shit hits the fan, the solution is equally as bad as the problem. My favorite scenes aren't the ones with the squibbs and gore: I loved Romero's completely cynical portrayal of Nixon-era government. As the virus spreads, a room of generals and politicians debate their options: should they nuke the town in order to save the rest of the country? Their decision: yes, but, rather than announce they've unleashed this terrible weapon and own up to their mistake, they'll claim the downed airplane contained a nuclear device which must have been damaged in the crash and has now exploded.

The Crazies isn't a particularly great movie (and, as the picture above suggests, it features meathead actors with laughably bad '70s hair in major roles) but it's a powerful piece of sustained dread, one whose careful, intelligent writing overpowers its frequent and ample technical defects. I won't go all the way and fully spoil the ending, but it makes Night of the Living Dead's look like a Disney film in comparison. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

200 Termite Posts

Mr. Sweeney's ode to fractured facial features and such was our 200th post! And it coincides with the conclusion of our most highly trafficked month since we opened shop at the end of '05. Thanks guys!

Next week we'll be sure to post some Halloween-related fun. I'm hip deep in Romero's THE CRAZIES -- review for that in the days ahead, plus other coolness.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958) and Desperate Search (1952)

The laundry had to get done, so after deciding on the warm cycle, I eased myself onto the fraying couch and watched Raoul Walsh's The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, a laid-back western comedy from 1958. It has a number of things going for it, including CinemaScope, DeLuxe Color, and Jayne Mansfield, a combination rather impossible to muck up. And with old pro Walsh behind the camera, it doesn't. Kenneth More plays Tibbs, a London gentlemen sent to sell his family company's guns over in the Wild West. When he informs the locals of Fractured Jaw that he's in the gun business, they assume he's a gunslinger hired by one of the local ranch gangs. He's soon named Sheriff after he inadvertantly disarms one of the thugs. The comedy comes from the dissonance between languages and cultures - Tibbs asks for extra-dry sherry at the bar (the bartender informs him they have whiskey and water, and they don't serve water). Mansfield operates and, much to my satisfaction, performs in the local dancehall, a no-nonsense tough gal who runs roughnecks out of her joint on a regular basis. She soon falls for Tibbs' gentlemanly charms, but is shocked by his commitment to diplomacy. Instead of engaging in a shootout with Native Americans, he walks over and talks to them - and soon he's adopted as one of their own. As such, it's also a kid-gloves satire of the bloody nature of American politics - at one point, when the two gangs are about to battle, he asks if Americans are always so violent. Anyway, a breezy and fun piece of work.

Earlier in the week, Turner Classic Movies aired Desperate Search, a Joseph H. Lewis cheapie from 1952. The film is as concise as its title. A plane crashes in the wilderness and two children are the sole survivors. Their father and stepmother (Howard Keel and Jane Greer) desperately search for them on a prop plane along with a hastily gathered search party. Among the party is Keel's ex-wife Nora (Patricia Medina) - who happens to rival Keel in terms of flying skill. Tension! And did I mention the kids are being chased by a cougar! It's over in 73 minutes and every scene bubbles with conflict, whether its old jealousies or bared teeth. The child actors are horrendous, but that didn't stop my enjoyment one bit. It also stars Keenan Wynn as a bitter and lovable bastard named "Brandy".

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

For those of you just joining us...

It occurs to me new readers may be wondering what the fuss is all about. Here are a few of my hand-picked (by my intern) favorite Termite Art posts:

-Pete L'Official sort of meets Dave Chappelle.

-As part of our special week on TV we love, Matt Singer's appreciation of celebrity chef/asshole Gordon Ramsay.

-R. Emmet Sweeney on this year's Miami Vice.

-Drew Tillman on Altman's best film (my opinion, not his): California Split.

-R. Emmet Sweeney on Manny Farber and manly action films.

-Matt Singer analyzes the advertising for this year's remake of The Hills Have Eyes.

-R. Emmet Sweeney on obscure gem Mister Buddwing.

-Matt Singer on why Albert Brooks is the unfunniest, most overrated comedy director in America.

-Jaime Mastromonica on her Bruce Campbell obsession. (Come back to us Jaime!!)

-R. Emmet Sweeney on Stick It and The Break-Up.

-Matt Singer on A Prairie Home Companion.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Skidoo (1968)

Of the mulitple retrospectives I've neglected to see because of the nature of living, I feel most regretful about the Otto Preminger survey at MoMA. I targeted Saint Joan, The Moon is Blue, Carmen Jones, and Skidoo, and the only one I managed to see was the last. A shame, but at least the one I viewed was remarkable. Not available in any format, and generally regarded a colossal embarassment, Skidoo is a hippie comedy that features a who's who of TV comedians of the era. Jackie Gleason plays the lead, a former mob hitman gone straight, while Carol Channing is his wife with the wandering eye. Groucho Marx is God, the leader of the gang. Other memorable faces include Mickey Rooney, Burgess Meredith, Richard Kiel, Peter Lawford, and Austin Pendleton.

Marx calls Gleason out of retirment to kill Rooney, who lives a posh life in maximum security. While he goes undercover in prison, his daughter falls in with a group of hippies, and Channing invites all of them to stay at her place. Mother and daughter both start to investigate what happened to Gleason, as the job drags on, taking a laconic long-hair along for the ride. That's the basic narrative - but this is one of those comedy super-productions that depend more on incident than arc. It misses more than it hits, but the (LSD) hits are often incredible. When Gleason and his crew lace all of the prison's meals with acid, the anarchic hijinks ramp up, including a fabulous hallucination by the prison guards: the garbage cans grow legs and put on a finely choreographed dance sequence, complete with solarization and far out color strobes. This distracts the guards from Pendleton and Gleason escaping Alcatraz in a hot-air balloon sewn out of grain bags.

It only builds steam from there, as everyone converges on Groucho's yacht, Channing dressed as a sequined sailor and belting out the senseless (and catchy!) theme song with gusto as the hippies disarm the armed guards with surprising efficiency. This ending, completely insane and illogical - is unavoidably touching - it's a kind of hippie Hollywood utopia where power structures are overthrown and absorbed into a world of complete selflessness and God (Marx) becomes a pot-smoking hare krishna. And then, to top it all off --- all of the ending credits are sung...all the way down to the roman numeral for the year of production.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Termite Art: The Lost Posts

Lo, those many moons ago, in early-mid-October I guest-blogged at our buddy Ed Park's The Dizzies. Here are links to all my pieces over there in case you missed them:

-A review of the superb business expose DisneyWar.
-An appreciation of the bizarro MTV show NEXT, including an interactive portion.
-The answer to my NEXT quiz.
-YouTube goodness, a Marvel Comics Thanksgiving Craptacular.
-Reviewing the New York Film Festival. In One Word.
-A rebuttal to David Poland's Flags of our Fathers review. My full review is also available at The Reeler...I've got a Marie Antoinette review too.

And why haven't I posted here since? Well you'd be amazed how difficult it is to update your blog when your computer refuses to boot up. Go know.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Voice's Best of NYC: A lovely parting gift

So our time at The Village Voice is at an end. Hello, we must be going. But in this weeks mondo Best of NYC issue, our old buddy Dennis Lim gives us a fitting shout-out:

Best Local Movie Blog

We have a soft spot for the freewheeling Termite Art (termiteart.blogspot.com), staffed by Voice contributors Matt Singer and R. Emmet Sweeney.

That is so cool. And though we didn't get the top spot on his list, we're honored and delighted to be listed in such superb company: obviously I don't need to validate my love for Alison Willmore and the IFC Blog and, frankly, we like Dave Kehr a whole lot better than Termite Art too.

Speaking of The Voice, even though we've all been shit-canned, maybe you want to do this?

The Village Voice is looking for a film editor. We need someone with a deep, working knowledge of movies past and present, a passion for the form, and the skill and experience necessary to edit critics, assign reviews and coordinate coverage of releases in seventeen major American cities. The job requires high energy, a reader-oriented sensibility and a commitment to provocative, entertaining criticism that informs, challenges and excites a broad national audience. We're not looking for a film scholar or historian; we want an experienced, smart, witty, hard-working editor to produce coverage that appeals to the widest possible audience.

So you have to have a deep knowledge of film, which you can apply to provocative criticism, without being a scholar or historian. That's gonna be tough. (Kudos to The Reeler for the link)

Monday, October 16, 2006

NYFF: Brand Upon the Brain!

The Views From the Avant-Garde section of the New York Film Festival is essential viewing every year, as there's always a handful of strikingly original work not to be seen elsewhere (last year it was Peter Tscherkassky's The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly mash-up Instructions for a Sound and Light Machine), while this year....I can't really say. I only managed to make it to the Ernie Gehr retro (Serene Velocity in 35mm being the highlight), and so missed a lot of new work by guys that always deliver like Leighton Pierce, Tomonari Nishikawa, Vincent Grenier and Ken Jacobs.

But oh yeah, they shoehorned Guy Maddin's latest wet fever dream into the program, a sort of shadow closing night film to go along with Pan's Labyrinth. Regardless of whether it's avant-garde, it was an edifying spectacle - a silent film with live orchestral accompaniment, foley artists, and Isabella Rossellini doing the narration in person. Perhaps it was the result of all those bells and whistles , but it's the best time I've had at a Maddin film, and I quite enjoyed Cowards Bend the Knee. As with that work, he calls Brand Upon the Brain! autobiographical (the main character is named "Guy Maddin"), and I'll take him at his word, despite the mother that sucks "nectar" from the brains of orphans. The aesthetic is still silent-film melodrama with the id let loose, but it all boils down to the loss of innocence as a child grows into adulthood. Sure there's gender switches, lesbian sex, cannibalism, rampant nudity, and the aforementioned orphan abuse, but it's deeply felt and almost sweet - the framing device of the grown "Guy" lamenting the loss of his first love lends each scene a deep sense of loss. This is a guy in touch with his emotions.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

It's not about American Idol

Greetings fellow Termite Artists, TA Devotees, and faceless people who Googled this site by mistake!

Like R. Emmet, I also like to talk about myself, which is why I'm going to direct you to my blog Seen. The link is also listed to the left sidebar--see it? Anyway, there you have an even shorter short-cut to it so you can hurry over and chime in on the movies I've been seeing lately. I wouldn't normally take time out to promote a blog that's already being promoted on this very site that I also write for, on occasion, at least. But I have to butt in to say I'm finally on my John Ford Movie Marathon, and that's important, because I know so many of you adore him, too.

Mr. Tativille is a Ford fan with the matched degree of enthusiasm of TA's R.Emmet, though maybe Tativille is a bigger fan than R. Emm? Or is it the other way around? Duke it out on the comments section over at Seen, fellas. And yes, that was just another handy short cut. You're welcome.

Mr. H has recently gifted me with an 800+ page book called "Searching for John Ford: A Life," by Joseph McBride. As I page through this behemoth while watching as many Ford films available from the Netflix catalogue over the next couple or so months, feel free to stop by and be enlightened by my thoughts and observations. Or perhaps enlighten me! Yeah, do that. And, of course, there'll be notes and meanderings on every other past and new release I watch. ALL THAT ON ONE SITE.

Oh, and I promise to come back here and post again soon, too. Pinky promise.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

David Zucker's Current Project

A brief interlude as I take a moment from my guest-blogging duties over at The Dizzies to share this YouTube clip, which I sort of found over there at random.

It's an anti-Democrats ad directed by David Zucker, the beloved filmmaker behind The Naked Gun.

What's shocking isn't that it's not funny (not enough wacky sound effects, although the pants-splitting gag is brilliant) but that Zucker has apparently become an outspoken conservative. Naked Gun 2 1/2 is about as blunt a critique of the first President Bush's energy policy as there could possibly be. In his commentaries he couldn't be more passionate about the environment, conservation, global warming etc. Now in some articles about this ad I see him referred to as "Republican filmmaker David Zucker." I guess times change. Interesting.

I Like Talking About Myself

Pick up the October edition of The Believer! Sure the interview with video artist Laurel Nakadate is fascinating and has photos of her in her underwear while also raising questions about exploiting the lonely men she films....and sure the interview with Michel Houellebecq is funny and not-so-revealing in a revealing way...but I review the new Cormac McCarthy book The Road! The web only gives a taste of its sweet fruit. The full monty is 8 U.S. dollars. You can afford it. Although I barely could. So I won't judge you if you don't. I promise.

Monday, October 09, 2006

New York Film Festival: Privates Fears in Public Places and The Makioka Sisters

I was going to do this whole incisive take on one of the best films I've seen this year, Alain Resnais' Private Fears in Public Places, but then the dastardly Michael Anderson over at Tativille goes and writes a lucid account that mentions everything I wanted to say. What an asshole. Mine would've had more vague adjectives like "pretty", "delightful", "elegant", and "devastating", but Mike robbed of you all that. Blame him. Dave Kehr also goes buck wild for the film, because he's smart like that.

To lick my intellectual wounds, I saw Kon Ichikawa's The Makioka Sisters (1983) at the Walter Reade, part of their Janus Films survey. A sprawling family drama (140min.) concerning the fading of an aristocratic family against the backdrop of Japan's entrance into WWII, it focuses on the various obstacles to marrying off two of the sisters. Issues of rank (a bartender!), respectability (a mentally ill mother!), and boredom (a government agriculture employee!) gum up the marital works. All of the narrative strands reinforce the changeover necessitated by the rise of the middle class, with one sister, Tsukura, forced to move from her ancestral home to accommodate her husband's promotion. This social context is intermittently involving, but as a film it's rather inert, as Kon's constant use of close-ups soon wears out its impact, the faces become another decoration along with the lovely kimonos and cherry blossoms (the 35mm print was gorgeous). I couldn't help but think of Ozu's remarkable subtlety in handling similar issues of girls leaving home, the clash of traditional and modern, country vs. city. The comparison wasn't flattering. It's the first Ichikawa I've seen, and I know it isn't representative (I have high hopes for Fires on the Plain, also a part of the survey), but still a disappointment.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Power and the Glory

The grotesque joy you see to the left, Willie Randolph grimacing as he pops the latest magnum of champagne from his groin, stirs something deep inside me. In 2000 everyone knew the Mets didn't belong, what with their Benny Agbayanis and Timo Perezes, a team of likable overachievers, but not champions. Today, now, we have a team not embarrased to look like fools, because their confidence negates their self-consicousness. If we want to shoot off liquids from our crotch, then hell, lets do it! They know no one can judge them for it. And truthfully, it's what I would've done too. Get a bunch of guys in a locker room and dick jokes fly like Delgado moon shots. It's a beautiful day.

And this....this is just funny.

This goes double for us

Termite Art's staff is littered with various and sundry hangers-on from The Village Voice film staff. I think I can speak for all of us when I say our lives have been infinitely more blessed for our association with that remarkable publication and its now former film editor, Dennis Lim.

The equally former Voice editor Ed Park (incalculably talented in his own right, I should add) has a short but heartfelt appreciation of the Limster's work up on his blog The Dizzies. We Voice peeps witnessed some remarkable events at that dumpy film desk these last couple of months, and for a good fee, we'd definitely spill our guts. For now, though, we take the high road.

Thank you, Dennis. You'll be better off without them, but they will sorely miss you. They just don't know it yet.

By way of a segue, I'll be guest-blogging over at The Dizzies all week.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A New Toy

The beloved bearded film academic, David Bordwell, has revamped his website (http://www.davidbordwell.net/) and added a blog (http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/index.php) - which he's updating regularly from the Vancouver Film Festival as we speak. Let's say it will soon be invaluable - and it's already a lot of fun. As an extra sweetener, Kristin Thompson blogs there as well - and she has an epic post about the current status of Peter Jackson and The Hobbit.

As if I needed any more reason to see it, Bordwell says Still Life is now his favorite Jia Zhangke film.

Slot it alongside Dave Kehr's blog as a must read.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Premiering this Saturday, October 7th at 7:30 PM on IFC. I'm the narrator and did a little work on the script. Here's the show's description from IFC.com

Outlines the popularity of J-horror films in America, tracing its historical roots in Japanese culture, their successful (or unsuccessful) translation in American blockbuster remakes, and finally, how the phenomenon has opened the doors of Asian cinema to America. The news special follows Japanese filmmaker Taka Ichise, the producer responsible for bringing J-horror directors like Hideo Nakata and Takashi Shimizu to the forefront of Japanese cinema. Our cameras will capture Ichise-san on set of his latest horror film in Japan.

It replays throughout the month; check the IFC.com schedule page for the latest. Here's a current list of additional showings:

Sunday October 8, 3:55 AM
Thursday October 12, 12:25 AM
Sunday October 29, 6:55 AM
Sunday October 29, 5:00 PM
Tuesday October 31, 9:55 AM, 3:10 PM, 8:30 PM (HALLOWEEN!)

Watch...if you dare...

...Actually, please just watch. You dare. You totally dare.

Movie news is funny!

From the news page of IMDb.com:

The two-screen Lorraine Theater in Hoopeston, IL, reopened for business Friday following a two-week protest shutdown by owner Greg Boardman. Boardman said that he closed down the theater rather than run such studio offerings as Jackass Number Two and The Covenant. "There's just so much lousy material out there -- people vomiting on the screen, " Boardman told the Chicago Tribune. "I have one of the finest sound systems in the world, and I don't want to waste it on such drivel." Noting that Boardman now operates the theater from his home in California, Carol Hicks, managing editor of the Hoopeston Chronicle remarked, "He's got away from Hoopeston and changed. ... He doesn't know what people like here." Boardman, who lives in the foothills of the Sierra near Yosemite, told the Trib: "I can fly back there anytime I want and show any movie I want. ... How man people can say they have their own movie theater and can do that?"

There's something about the phrase "I have one of the finest sound systems in the world!" that demands it come out of the mouth of Will Ferrell.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Night at the New York Film Festival, or the Rebelliousness of the Body

It was the bacon that did it. I had a seat and a night planned - friends were in from out of town and a night of nostalgia and revelry was in store. But as young Wu was getting examined by an Army doctor before the Sino-Japanese War, my body gave me some foreboding premonitions. That headache had turned into all-over pulsating throb. My intestines were doing the slow-build, an effective set-up for a gory climax.

The Go Master was screening at 3PM, and at about 4PM I calmly stood up and walked outside, painfully aware of my etiquette breach. But something had to give - my mind slowly gave up the struggle to my sweating, squirming flesh. I tried to focus, appreciated Chang Chen's orbital glasses and the ascetic purity of Go piece on wooden board. Then my obstinate body pulled me back towards thoughts of viscous fluids. Once again, the mind lost out, and I scampered out. Once the body was assured of victory by my white-flag waving mind, it escalated the attack, and applied the coup-de grace. I barely made it to the toilet before the day's events looked back at me from the porcelain. I had tickets for Woman on the Beach at 6PM! Alas! Would this cleansing of the insides give me the strength for this $16 ticket?

My digestive system rejected this hope. I sat. Stared at water droplet skitter down back of toilet. Heard patrons (or workers?) enter, relieve themselves, and leave. This, I thought, was absolute misery. $32 wasted, a night of drunken reminsicing lost, and the prospect of an hour-long subway ride home while still overwhelmingly nauseous. So stolidly I wiped up some fugitive spittle and waited out the end of the film to inform my compatriots of my dilemma. I spent it walking in and out of the bathroom, challenging the ushers and security guards to question my curious path about the Alice Tully Hall. They left me alone, perhaps sensing my anguish. Civilized folk.

A few sprightly dry heaves later, I was home, ensconced in bed and joyful in its comfort. Never shall I take my health granted again! This is what I wanted my future self to forever remember - but it's already too late, with other pointless thoughts meandering in and out, and with the 6PM screening of Bamako rapidly approaching.

Before this incident, in line to enter the theatre, a greying lady gave me a ticket to Bamako for free because she could not attend. One grace note in an eventful evening that I'll forget as soon as I wring pitiful stares out of everyone I know after the telling of this story.

And the bacon. I ate it at Lindo's on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn. Otherwise a fine breakfast.