Thursday, June 19, 2008

AFI's 10 TOP 10

The Boy Scouts do it. Oh yes they do -- don't you dare try to deny it as this "activity" is one of several indelible memories I still carry with me from my indentured years serving as one of America's Brown Shirts.

Apparently, the Duke Lacrosse team does it as well -- one silver spoonful at a time.

And then there's Hollywood -- where it is done bigger, better, far more often and without the need of a campfire or a crack-laden whore. What's more, Hollywood folks do it publicly as adults -- it's pretty damn shameful, even by standards.

I'm talking, of course, about the time honored tradition of "The Circle Jerk."

The most recent in a long line of American Film Institute "Specials" is just the latest "Circle Jerk" to air on national television. AFI's 10 Top 10 is perhaps the most pathetic in a series of shows by Executive Producers Frederick S. Pierce and Dann Netter and Directed by Gary Smith -- the Tri-Lateral Commissioners of Petty Self-Aggrandizement. Unfortunately, these AFI "Top Ten" and "Top 100" broadcasts have been a yearly staple of insider hype and hoopla since 1998.

I say enough already...

The 2008 edition is the eleventh in the series, and it, too, is more pretentious than a Phil Jackson press conference. Ten genres were selected, comprising Animation, Fantasy, Gangster, Science Fiction, Westerns, Sports, Mystery, Romantic Comedy, Courtroom Drama and Epic. Seems funny that War films were somehow overlooked, same with Action/Adventure, Horror, Musicals, Film Noir, and, especially shortsighted and grievous, the total lack of any films outside of the established American studio system -- although I admit I'm a bit confused by the inclusion of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE which was far more of a U.K. production than a U.S. one.

Consider this: Just one year ago the AFI announced the "The Greatest Movies Of All Time" during it's 10th Anniversary Program. Number 1 on this list was CITIZEN KANE. Number 2 was CASABLANCA, followed by SUNSET BOULEVARD at Number 3.

Guess what -- none of these three appeared in this year's AFI's 10 Top 10. None. How can that be? Three seemingly endless hours and CITIZEN KANE, last year's "Greatest Movie Of All Time," is not even mentioned? Also missing were #20 ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, #26 DR. STRANGELOVE, #29 MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and #30 THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. To quote Vizzini from THE PRINCESS BRIDE: Inconceivable!

Clearly nothing more than a "good ol' boy" network of epic proportions, the AFI is the only cinematic organization I can think of that is more shallow than a Kosovo grave.


Monday, June 16, 2008



This film's subject matter is about as depraved and decadent as any in motion picture screen history. This naturally makes TEETH something we at Needtovent couldn't wait to see and comment upon. Be advised, however, that we fully understand that a certain segment of society should not read any further. Consider yourself warned...

(There is simply no explanation why this long-shot of a nuclear power plant appears forty-seven times in this movie...)

Not since the Comet Kohoutek has there been such disappointment. A motion picture based upon the multi-cultural, age-old folklore myth of vagina dentata has to be the best "high concept" idea since SNAKES ON A PLANE. (For those of you in the dark, dentata is Latin for "teeth"). As a filmmaker myself, I have to admit that the minute I heard a movie was being made with this as its underlying premise I found the idea growing on me faster than a Serbian nose hair.

After all, how hard can this be -- just get a can or two of cocktail wieners, some Heinz 57 and a throbbing music score and you have a certifiable, can't miss, cinematic cult classic. Admittedly the title could be better -- Needtovent's very own Jerry L. Nelson suggested PENIS FLYTRAP as an example -- but such a small detail surely would not harm the box office bonanza awaiting Writer/Director Mitchell Lichtenstein, son of Roy, the prolific painter who pioneered "pop art."

Heck, I can even envision the pitch Mitch made to the producers -- it had to go something along the lines of "JAWS meets CHATTERBOX." For those of you unfamiliar with CHATTERBOX, this was a most enjoyable little indy flick released in 1977 that featured a talking cunt -- and I ain't referring to Roseanne Barr. If you haven't seen CHATTERBOX, please do your best to do so -- it is arguably one of the most memorable talkies since THE JAZZ SINGER.

The same cannot be said for TEETH, quite possibly the worst first-date movie ever -- and for more reasons than the obvious.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this failed film is a screenplay that is so limp the entire world's supply of salt peter had to factor in. Part black comedy, part surrealism, part B-grade horror, part allegory, this campy, quasi-feminist fable has more parts than a space shuttle. And like the Columbia, these parts are disasterously scattered beyond recognition.

Jess Weixler is quite good as a rather cute, angst-ridden high school girl confronting her own sexuality, winning the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2007 for what Mr. Redford called "a juicy and jaw-dropping performance." She's by far the best thing in the movie. Unfortunately, one of Needtovent's all-time favorite thespians, Lenny Von Dohlen, is wasted as the father. The same can be said for all of the other actors, including John Hensley, of NIP/TUCK fame, who gets both -- nipped and tucked -- in a sullen portrayal of Jess' lascivious step-brother. So do two other "dicks" and one overly aggressive OB/GYN, although in his case it is four fingers and not Mr. Red Top that hits the floor.

When the end credits mercifully appear they proudly proclaim that "No men were harmed in the making of this film." The same cannot be said for seven of Hormel's finest.

"I think it was the sausage."
(George A. Hormel)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Talk about a grim, uncompromising assessment of humanity's place in the cruel circus of life. If it wasn't for Tyrone Power personally shepherding this disturbing project from start to finish it is safe to say that NIGHTMARE ALLEY, based on the gritty novel by William Lindsay Graham, would never have been made.

Fresh off his performance in THE RAZOR'S EDGE, Power was determined to undertake another role that would elevate his career from merely being thought of as the equivalent of cinematic eye candy. Power believed that he could deliver the performance of a lifetime portraying Stanton Carlisle, a simple down-and-out carnival miscreant who reaches the heights of respectable, tuxedo-attired, big-city showmanship, only to plunge back to the lowest depths of carney life. In this reviewer's opinion he succeeds. For the record, it is well documented that before tragically dying at the age of 45 Power felt the same way.

The three women in his life, Joan Blondell, the Tarot card reader who is as "reliable as a two-dollar coronet," Coleen Gray, the innocent, loving girlfriend/wife, and Helen Walker, the manipulative psychologist who out-cons the con man, collectively take Stanton Carlisle, and the audience, full circle. Notice I said "the audience" -- and it isn't just the on-screen audience that is being elaborately conned, it is the off-screen audience, you and me, that is being conned as well, in what can only be described as a subtle, but brilliantly conceived undercurrent that lies within this moody, malignant, magnificent melodrama.

Originally underpromoted by a nervous studio (Twentieth Century-Fox) and then "lost" for over 50 years due to a legal dispute regarding the ownership rights to the production, NIGHTMARE ALLEY has since acquired something of a cult following. This is due, in part, to two surprising thematic elements which elevate the compelling, neatly symmetrical fatalistic viewpoint which fans of film noir embrace. One is the film's attitude toward psychology as being nothing more than an elaborate scam, more sophisticated, perhaps, but no less manipulative than carnival showmanship. Prior to NIGHTMARE ALLEY, films, at least American films, treated the field of psychology with reverence. Just as cynical is the portrayal of religion, with what can only be called an insidious comparison between devout faith and misplaced credulity, between solemn sermonizing and a charasmatic's charlatanism.

And then there is the ending...

Carney #1: "How can a guy sink so low?"
Carney #2: "He reached too high."

Is there a more poetic, ironic, heart-rendering and devestating denouement in cinema history? One would be hard pressed to find one, the closest in recent times perhaps being found in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. (The very last line spoken -- "I'm finished..." -- chills to the bone.)

In the final analysis, it is a testament to Tyrone Power and the power of film that NIGHTMARE ALLEY remains a must-see over 60 years after it was originally released. Could there be something of an inner geek in us all?

Monday, June 2, 2008


In À rebours you will find these fevered imaginings about an image of Salome in a Moreau painting:

"No longer was she merely the dancing-girl who extorts a cry of lust and concupiscence from an old man by the lascivious contortions of her body; who breaks the will, masters the mind of a King by the spectacle of her quivering bosoms, heaving belly and tossing thighs; she was now revealed in a sense as the symbolic incarnation of world-old Vice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the Curse of Beauty supreme above all other beauties by the cataleptic spasm that stirs her flesh and steels her muscles - a monstrous Beast of the Apocalypse, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, poisoning."

Ah yes, pretty poison -- and I'm not talking about the 1968 film starring Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins.

In case you are not familiar with À rebours, (translated into English as AGAINST THE GRAIN or AGAINST NATURE), it is a fairly famous novel written by Joris-Karl Huysmans that was first published in 1884. In fact, it is widely believed that this is the "poisonous French novel" that leads to the downfall of Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde's THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.

"Pretty poison" -- what's good enough for good old Dorian is good enough for me.

Which brings me to the recently released INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Surprisingly, super-star director Steven Spielberg missed an excellent opportunity to introduce a new, alluring, enduring femme fatale. At 5' 8 1/2," and with measurements reported to be 33-23-33, Cate Blanchett (as Agent Irina Spalko) certainly has the physical assets. Too bad they are totally hidden beneath the Cold War Ruskie fatigues she is forced to wear. What a waist (pun intended). In what is otherwise an extremely well-crafted motion picture blessed with first-rate art direction and production values, I simply find it disappointing that Agent Spalko, a ruthless, renegade Russian revanchist revolutionary won't be joining the ranks of the ravishing, rapacious reprobates immortalized on the silver screen.

For the record, Steven, I am referring to "mis-leading ladies" like:

Angelina Jolie's Captain Franky Cook. There's no exposed flesh here either, but the 5' 8" Jolie's 36C-27-36 frame couldn't look better. And as I said in my review for SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, seeing her with an eye-patch allows me to scratch off #67 on my "Things I Really Want To See Jolie Do Before I Die List." Dreams do come true.

And let's not forget the terrific "Teutonic Titwillow," Dyanne Thorne, as ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS. Like Ms. Jolie, Dyanne trained with Lee Strasberg where she (and her wardrobe mistress) obviously learned how to best show off her 37D-22-35 measurements. All that and a Ph.D. in Comparative Religion to boot.

Herr Spielberg, these are just two examples of what I am talking about; there are literally dozens more that come to mind. But I gotta run now, it's time for my daily spanking...