The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

(USA 1974)

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“The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare.”

— Narrator

 

“Look what your brother did to the door! Ain’t he got no pride in his home?”

— Old Man

I didn’t expect much when I sat down for the low budget slasher classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a movie that somehow escaped me all these years. I’ve got to admit, it’s not bad.

The premise is simple: five friends in their 20s, three guys and two girls, are driving a van on a road trip through rural Texas in the summer. The purpose of the trip is to check on a few dearly departed relatives of Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her disabled brother, Franklin (Paul Alan Partain), after a gruesome grave robbery in the town where they grew up. It’s very Scooby Doo.

They pick up a crazy hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) outside a slaughterhouse who grosses them all out talking about killing cattle with a sledgehammer. He passes around a few photos of some he finished off himself. He’s dirty, scabby, and jittery. He snaps a photo no one asked him to, then has the nerve to charge them two bucks for it. He invites them over for dinner (head cheese) with his family before he cuts his hand with a pocketknife. Freaked, they pull over and throw his nasty ass out.

That’s not the worst of it — it’s just the beginning. Working from a screenplay he wrote with Kim Henkel, director Tobe Hooper taps into something pretty fucked up here. Mixing hicks with chainsaws is unsettling enough, but “Leatherface” (Gunnar Hansen), the masked executioner behind that sliding freezer door, is truly frightening. So is decomposing “grandfather” (John Dugan). When you stop to think about it, so is a gas station barbeque.

All the essential elements of horror are here: characters stranded in the middle of nowhere, empty houses, no phones or gas, bugs, bones, rotting corpses, chases in the dark, falling down, power tools as weapons, kidnapping, a faceless menace, and a bunch of blood.

Cinematographer Daniel Pearl creates some surprisingly artful shots, particularly on the highway, in a sunflower patch, and a scene with feathers. They look great. The artful moments, however, are far and few between. The pacing is strange: the first four victims are picked off in quick succession, leaving just Burns, who has nothing to do but run around and scream for nearly the entire second half. Even after all she goes through, no one needs that. Still, for all its flaws, I winced, I snickered, I looked away in disgust. But I saw the whole thing through to the end — no pun intended.

I hate to spoil the ending, but contrary to the movie poster…none of this is true.

With Allen Danziger, William Vail, Teri McMinn, Jim Siedow, John Larroquette

Production: Vortex

Distribution: Bryanston Pictures (USA), Astral Films (Canada), New Gold Entertainment (Italy), Succéfilm AB (Sweden), Jugendfilm-Verleih (West Germany), Bac Films (France), New Line Cinema (USA), René Chateau Productions (France), Filmways Australasian Distributors (Australia)

84 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) B-

http://www.thetexaschainsawmassacre.net

It [It: Chapter One]

(USA 2017)

I’ve started a few Stephen King novels during my life, but I’ve never finished reading any of them. I have, however, seen enough movies based on his books to know what I’m getting into.

It is director Andy Muschietti’s take on King’s 1986 novel, which incidentally came out on my 16th birthday. Scary. It tells the story of a group of bullied junior high outcasts who go after a deranged clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) one summer, the Summer of 1989, after he kills stuttering Bill Denbrough’s (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), the fall before.

Pennywise lives in the sewer of their small town (Derry, Maine) and resurfaces every 27 years to prey on children through their worst fears.

The screenplay, written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, is only part of the book — presumably to allow for a sequel. It starts out well enough in the same sweet nostalgic way as, oh, Stand by Me. Muschietti gets deatils of the time period mostly right: the Cure and New Kids on the Block were big in ’89 (even though the former’s “Six Different Ways” was two albums and a compilation earlier), and the reference to Molly Ringwald fits. He goes full on Steven Spielberg, however, about halfway through, turning It into The Goonies with the kids’ “losers club” and all the action switching to a dark cavernous underground sewer. This is to say, It gets cheesy after awhile.

The kids are all decent actors, and they keep It moving along. Sadly, though, there aren’t any real surprises here. More creepy and icky than outright frightening, Muschietti relies greatly on special effects; they’re good and a lot of work went into them, but they get tiresome after awhile. Plus, some editing would’ve been a good idea; It is too long.

As It is, it’s not a stinker. However, I wasn’t moved by It, either. It is a big budget Hollywood movie aiming to be a blockbuster, and that’s It.

With Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Beverly Marsh, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes, Geoffrey Pounsett, Pip Dwyer, Elizabeth Saunders, Ari Cohen, Anthony Ulc, Javier Botet, Katie Lunman, Carter Musselman, Tatum Lee

Production: New Line Cinema, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, KatzSmith Productions

Distribution: Warner Brothers

135 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) C

http://itthemovie.com

The Seduction of Mimi [Mimì metallurgico ferito nell’onore]

(Italy 1972)

I never heard of Lina Wertmüller until a retrospective of her work showed at a theater near me. The Seduction of Mimi [Mimì metallurgico ferito nell’onore] is an excellent starting point because it’s a textbook example of her style and the themes that inspire her. Plus, it’s an entertaining movie.

Mimi (Giancarlo Giannini) is a laborer in Sicily. His trouble begins after he votes for the communist candidate in a local election—his employer has been pushing its employees to vote for the mafia candidate. The ballot is supposed to be secret, but Mimi learns that it isn’t when he’s fired. Fearing that things will get complicated, he leaves his wife, Rosalia (Agostina Belli), behind and skips town.

Mimi ends up in Turin, where he finds work on an illegal construction site. He witnesses an on-the-job fatality and proves to be a problem when he learns that the mafia bosses running the job plan to dump the body. To keep him quiet, they place him in a union job at a factory.

It isn’t long before Mimi meets the alluring Fiorella (Mariangela Melato) selling sweaters on the street. He’s hooked on her; in fact, he knocks her up and she gives birth to a son. This is where The Seduction of Mimi gets really fun. Mimi is promoted to a management position back in Sicily. Naturally, he brings Fiorella and the baby with him. He’s protective of his new family and paranoid that Rosalia will find out about it, so he leads a thorny double life that…let’s just say doesn’t end well.

The Seduction of Mimi is rough, moving along like an episode of The Benny Hill Show. It’s compelling nonetheless because it has a certain elegance. Wertmüller is known for mixing sex, class, and politics. It’s a tricky feat, but she manages to pull it off while keeping The Seduction of Mimi totally amusing even by today’s standards. The stuff with the mafia and the gay rumor that gets out because Mimi won’t have sex with Rosalia are both hilarious. The whole revenge subplot that involves getting Amalia (Elena Fiore) pregnant is brilliant on so many levels, and that scene at the end where all of Mimi’s children clamor for him calling him “Papa!” is perfect. Giannini with his bug-eyed Chaplinesque faces looks crazy throughout this film, nicely underscoring the insanity of his situation. I smiled a lot during this film.

With Turi Ferro, Luigi Diberti, Tuccio Musumeci, Ignazio Pappalardo, Gianfranco Barra, Livia Giampalmo

Production: Euro International Film

Distribution: New Line Cinema (USA), Kino Lorber

121 minutes
Rated R

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B

https://www.kinolorber.com/film/theseductionofmimi

Storytelling

(USA 2001)

 

“I just thought Marcus would be different. I mean, he’s got C.P.”

—Vi

I get why Todd Solondz doesn’t appeal to everyone: his outlook isn’t warm and fuzzy, his characters aren’t heroic or even admirable, and his blunt, unflattering and brutal honesty is easy to misinterpret as cruel or tasteless. To all that, I shrug; his films don’t put the viewer at ease, and that’s exactly what draws me to him. A master of the uncomfortable, he shines a light on subjects that are hard to discuss in mixed company if not off limits altogether. And he’s not moralistic about it—he leaves it to the viewer to arrive at his or her own conclusions. His moral ambiguity is perhaps the strongest characteristic of his work, and I suspect it more than anything makes people cringe because, well, it’s confusing. They don’t know what to think.

So be it. Barring one scene in Happiness that scarred me forever, Solondz’s fourth film, Storytelling, is probably his most uncomfortable—it opens with Vi (Selma Blair) riding Marcus (Leo Fitzpatrick, who played Telly in Kids), a classmate crippled from cerebral palsy. Comprised of two unconnected storylines, “Fiction” and “Non Fiction,” Solondz pulls out a broad range of societal taboos—American ones, anyway. I won’t go through them here like a grocery list, but they all involve sex and/or abuse of power.

Side note: Censorship is an unintended subject—a big red block obscures one scene in the U.S. release. It wasn’t planned that way, but rather came about by contract (http://www.indiewire.com/2002/01/interview-the-sad-comedy-solondz-discusses-storytelling-80562/ ) (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/toddsolond355306.html). My DVD doesn’t have the red block—the scene is graphic, but not pornographic. Concealing it wasn’t worth the effort or the P.R.

The first and shorter story, “Fiction,” is about the aforementioned Vi, a wannabe writer who probably doesn’t belong in the writing class she’s taking. The class is taught by Pulitzer Prize winning Gary Scott (Robert Wisdom), an imposing egomaniac author who’s also a black man. His critiques of his students’ work is harsh—except when it comes to Catherine (Aleksa Palladino), a bookish pseudointellectual who looks like she’s into S&M. Guess what happens when Vi finds herself in a bar with Scott, and an opportunity to go home with him presents itself? You’ll have to read the book—or in this case the writing assignment, as Vi does what any writer would: she writes about the experience.

The second—and longer—story, “Non Fiction,” is about unsuccessful schlub Toby Oxman (Paul Giamati), a floundering self-proclaimed documentary filmmaker, as he sets out to make an exposé on the everyday American teenager. The problem is, he can’t find a subject. Enter slackerish pothead Scooby Livingston (Steven Weber) and his dysfunctional family led by father Marty (John Goodman). A series of unplanned mishaps threatens to derail the whole project, until one morbid event turns the whole thing around. Belle and Sebastian proves a nice choice for the music.

Storytelling is not quite as intriguing as Welcome to the Dollhouse or Happiness, but it’s still quintessential Solondz. The lines here are quotable gold—particularly the exchanges between Scooby’s youngest brother, Mikey (Jonathan Osser), and the Livingstons’ housekeeper, Consuela (Lupe Ontiveros), which are nothing short of awesome. I love that Solondz calls out his critics—it’s the film equivalent of Madonna’s “Human Nature.” “Fiction” is definitely the more impactful of the two segments, but that’s because “Non Fiction” is just too long and meandering for its own good; it peters out around two-thirds of the way through. Storytelling doesn’t immediately come to mind when Solondz’s name comes up, but parts of it will definitely haunt you. Unlike his other films, I’m not sure what to make of this one.

A third scene, “Autobiography,” was shot but left out of the final product (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storytelling_(film) ) (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0250081/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv ). It starred James Van Der Beek as a closeted high school football player and featured a gay sex scene with Steve Rosen. I don’t know about the sex scene, but I think a third story would have added impact.

With Maria Thayer, Steve Rosen, Julie Hagerty, Noah Fleiss, Conan O’Brien

Production: Good Machine, Killer Films, New Line Cinema

Distribution: Fine Line Features

87 minutes
Rated R

(DVD purchase) B

http://www.toddsolondz.com

Hairspray

(USA 1988)

The original Hairspray never, ever gets old:

https://moviebloke.com/2016/11/05/hairspray/

I can watch it over and over, and tonight demonstrates that much: I just saw it a few months ago, but I had a hankering for it again. Makes me want to dance to it every time.

Production: Palace Pictures

Distribution: New Line Cinema

92 minutes
Rated PG

(iTunes purchase) B+