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John Cleese: FOX News viewers are too stupid to realize that they are stupid


Be afraid, be very afraid…

For some years now, I have been fascinated with the Dunning-Kruger effect. I believe it was some Internet writings by Errol Morris that first turned me on to the idea around 2007. It’s incredibly useful, I feel like I find a use for it almost every day. If nothing else, it’s a spur to humility, because we’re all susceptible to it. Some, ahem, far more than others.

In a 1999 article called “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,” David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University came to the conclusion that the qualified are often more skeptical about their own abilities in a given realm than the unqualfied are. People who are unqualified or unintelligent are more likely to rate their own abilities favorably than people who are qualified or intelligent. In the paper, the authors wrote, “Across four studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd.”

However, people with actual ability tended to underrate their relative competence. Participants who found tasks to be fairly easy mistakenly assumed that the tasks must also be easy for others as well. As Dunning and Kruger conclude: “The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”
 

 
Charles Darwin put it most pithily in The Descent of Man when he wrote, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” As W.B. Yeats put it in The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Apparently there is a scientific grounding for that line.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is unusually suitable in describing the many frustrating positions and rhetoric of the Republican Party. My favorite (if depressing) example of the Dunning-Kruger effect comes from the mouth of George W. Bush in the days before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. As Bob Woodward wrote in Plan of Attack:
 

The president said he had made up his mind on war. The U.S. should go to war.

“You’re sure?” Powell asked.

Yes. It was the assured Bush. His tight, forward-leaning, muscular body language verified his words. It was the Bush of the days following 9/11.

“You understand the consequences,” Powell said in a half-question. …

Yeah, I do, the president answered.

 
Yeah, I do, the president answered. What on earth could that utterance by Bush possibly mean? Could it not be clearer that what was in Bush’s head at that moment and what was in Powell’s head at that moment had very little to do with each other? In effect Powell was taking Bush’s word that Bush had seriously considered the consequences of invasion, when to be frank, all available evidence, both at the time and later on, suggests that Bush was foolhardy about what the actual consequences of invasion might be.
 

 
Earlier this year, the research of Dunning and Kruger was referenced by a relatively unlikely source: John Cleese, the brilliant comedian who famously portrayed one of the single most obtuse and supercilious characters in TV history, Basil Fawlty. Cleese believes FOX’s viewership is too unintelligent to put the proper brakes on their own thought processes: “The problem with people like this is that they are so stupid that they have no idea how stupid they are. You see, if you’re very, very stupid, how can you possibly realize that you’re very, very stupid, you’d have to be relatively intelligent to realize how stupid you are.”

Apparently Cleese and Dunning are pals—he says so in the video, anyway. Here, have a look:
 

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Shock Value: New York’s underground ‘Cinema of Transgression’
09.26.2014
07:47 am

Topics:
Art
Movies
Punk

Tags:
Lydia Lunch
NYC
Richard Kern
Nick Zedd

01010zedtrangressioncinema.jpg
 
There are times in life when it seems that certain things, events, people or books have been strategically placed for our benefit. For example, I read Nick Zedd’s Totem of the Depraved which ends with the filmmaker homeless, on the streets looking for a place to stay when I was homeless, wandering streets, sleeping rough, and getting by however I could. The book was apposite and Zedd’s words kept me company through some uncomfortable nights. And of course, there was the inspiration, the small luminous epiphany—if artists like Zedd could get by, stay sane, live and create, then so could I.

Self-styled “King of the Underground” Nick Zedd was the pioneer and major player of New York’s Cinema of Transgression in the late 1970s and 1980s with his films They Eat Scum, Geek Maggot Bingo and Police State. Knowing that “History is whoever gets to the typewriter first,” Zedd edited the Xeroxed and stapled together zine The Underground Film Bulletin and wrote (under various aliases) reviews for his own films. In 1985, he composed the Cinema of Transgression Manifesto:

We who have violated the laws, commands and duties of the avant-garde; i.e. to bore, tranquilize and obfuscate through a fluke process dictated by practical convenience stand guilty as charged.

We openly renounce and reject the entrenched academic snobbery which erected a monument to laziness known as structuralism and proceeded to lock out those filmmakers who possesed the vision to see through this charade.

Zedd (writing under the pseudonym Orion Jeriko) described his comrades as “underground invisibles” and named them:

Zedd, Kern, Turner, Klemann, DeLanda, Eros and Mare, and DirectArt Ltd, a new generation of filmmakers daring to rip out of the stifling straight jackets of film theory in a direct attack on every value system known to man.

And announced what they were going to do:

We violate the command and law that we bore audiences to death in rituals of circumlocution and propose to break all the taboos of our age by sinning as much as possible. There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined. None shall emerge unscathed.

Since there is no afterlife, the only hell is the hell of praying, obeying laws, and debasing yourself before authority figures, the only heaven is the heaven of sin, being rebellious, having fun, fucking, learning new things and breaking as many rules as you can. This act of courage is known as transgression.

We propose transformation through transgression - to convert, transfigure and transmute into a higher plane of existence in order to approach freedom in a world full of unknowing slaves.

 
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Filmmaker and photographer Richard Kern described the Cinema of Transgression as “a loose coalition of people who just joined together in order to have a movement.”

Along with Zedd, Kern was one of the was the group’s main players, making short brutal (some might say “depraved”) films like You Killed Me First (1985), Thrust in Me (1985), The Right Side of My Brain (1985) and Fingered (1986). These films teetered on the wire, and were so personally demanding (mentally and physically and in drink and drugs) that Kern eventually left New York City for a while for the sake of his health. 

Artist, writer, actress and performer, Lydia Lunch appeared in many of Kern’s movies and saw the Cinema of Transgression as a way to “show the ugly fucking truth the truth. Period.” Around her were artists like Joe Coleman, who began his career by biting the heads off mice, and became an alchemist—turning pain into gold.

While much of the Cinema of Transgression is now mainstream or like Kern’s photos suitable for the fashion shoot or cat walk, Nick Zedd continues to plow his own visionary path as artist and filmmaker. I, at least, now have a roof over my head.

Angélique Bosio’s documentary Llik Your Idols captures the excitement, thrill and power of the Cinema of Transgression, interviewing Nick Zedd, Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch, Joe Coleman, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and others.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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A pencil of light: The Surrealist films of Man Ray
09.25.2014
08:14 am

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Art
Movies

Tags:
Man Ray

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Apart from his glittering career as a photographer, painter and “maker of Surreal objects,” the American artist Man Ray was also a filmmaker of considerable skill and originality.

Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in Pennsylvania on August 27th, 1890, Man Ray was the first of four children born to Russian immigrants. When he was seven, the family moved to Brooklyn where he shortened his first name from “Manny” to “Man” and because of the anti-semitism rife in New York at the time, the family changed their surname from Radnitzky to Ray—hence Manny Radnitzky became “Man Ray.” From an early age he assisted his parents with their work in the garment trade—his father was a tailor, his mother made simple designs—and it was hoped the eldest son Manny would follow in the family business. But Man Ray had other ambitions and he taught himself to draw by spending time in museums and art galleries, and eventually won a scholarship to study architecture, but he rejected it in favor of being an artist. This decision was confirmed for Man Ray after he saw the Armory Show in New York, 1913.

In 1915, Man Ray had his first solo exhibition. He then decided he wanted to be a part of Dada—the “anti-art movement” to this end he became friends with Marcel Duchamps, and the pair worked together on early examples of kinetic art.

In 1921, Man Ray moved to Paris, where he lived in the artists’s quarter of Montparnasse, and fell in love with the famous model, singer, budding actress and well-known Bohemian Kiki de Montparnasse (aka Alice Prin). Kiki became Man Ray’s lover and muse, who he began to photograph, which in turn led him to his first experiment as filmmaker Le Retour à la Raison in 1923. 

Man Ray aligned himself with the Cinéma pur movement, which focussed on taking film away from narrative and plot and returning it to movement and image. Its proponents were René Clair, Fernand Léger, Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling, amongst others, and their short films were the beginnings of what was to become “Art Cinema.”

Adhering to Cinéma pur‘s loose manifesto, Man Ray’s early films, Le Retour à la Raison (Return to Reason) in 1923 and Emak-Bakia (Leave me alone) in 1926, focussed on creating startling textural patterns through the representation of objects within rhythmical loops. The experimentation of Le Retour à la Raison was repeated and developed in Emak-Bakia, and many of the techniques Man Ray developed (double exposure, Rayographs and soft focus) were later co-opted by animators and filmmakers during the 1940s to 1960s.
 

‘Le Retour à la Raison’ (‘Return to Reason’)
 
More of Man Ray’s Surrealist cinema after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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They’re only movies: Moral panic, censorship & ‘video nasties’

Infamous Poster for the even more infamous
 
There are few things more offensive than the act of a group of holier-than-thou types trying to inflict their intensely rigid and often, properly uninformed, viewpoints on the masses. Every decade has some rich examples of this type of restrictive behavior, but the 1980’s were an especially fertile hotbed of moral majority types. In the United States, we had Tipper Gore and the PMRC attacking the music industry. In the United Kingdom, they had Mary Whitehouse and the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) and their attack on the “video nasties,” a list of horror films that were targeted for being especially violent and lurid enough to the extent of being socially harmful. The tight girdle-brigade of Tipper and Mary Whitehouse would have surely gotten along like gangbusters, but the latter’s actions, along with key members of British Parliament can still be felt to this day.

There have been a number of books and articles written about the “video nasties” and even an episode of The Young Ones using them as a key plot device. (Complete with The Damned playing “Nasty” no less!) So it was high time for someone to come along and make a documentary about this movement and thanks to director Jake West and Severin Films, we have all that and more.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide is one of the most aptly named sets to have come out in the past five years. Disc One features West’s documentary, Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Video Tape. Originally released in 2010, West manages to fit in an amazing amount of commentary and information in its 72 minutes. There is a perfect mix of film writers, academics, filmmakers and former political and law enforcement members interviewed here, painting a thorough picture of a weird and sad time for film in the UK.
 

 
Director West, who also made the incredible and underrated Razor Blade Smile (1998), integrates a punk type energy and fun with the gravity of the subject matter. The film delves into the fact that, like any situation where censorship is put into action, the issue is far deeper than the works being targeted themselves. Elements like social unrest in a land riddled with high unemployment and the bloody specter of the Falkland Wars, not to mention the inherent classist attitudes of Whitehouse and her crew, are just some of the points bubbling under the surface of “obscene” movies. Censorship, in all of its ugly forms, is rarely about the actual contents themselves and more about assorted underlying problems that run way deeper than a movie with blood and breasts mixed in.

While there are a number of standouts interviewed here, including Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA), Kim Newman, Dr. Beth Johnson and The Dark Side editor Allan Bryce, it is Professor Martin Barker who is the real star and moral core of the film. Barker, initially studying the horror comics uproar in the 1950’s (a censorship-fueled movement that was paralleled here in the United States around that time period) but soon noticed some striking similarities between the then burgeoning video nasties scare and what happened in the fifties. It was from there that he became one of the few but key voices to speak up critically against Whitehouse and her cronies, which included members of Scotland Yard and Parliament. (Not to mention some moral support from Prime Minister Thatcher herself.) There’s one clip shown of Barker on a chat show where an intensely rude Cardinal interrupts him to ask if he would show a one of “those” films to a little kid, to which Barker replies without a beat, “What a silly question!”
 

 
The films themselves, while briefly shown in clips and named in the documentary, get more of an in-depth analysis on discs two and three. Disc two features original trailers and commentary on the 39 films that were successfully prosecuted. Some of the titles on this list include Abel Ferrara’s second feature film Driller Killer, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, the bonkers Island of Death and Roger Ebert’s favorite, I Spit on Your Grave.

Disc three features the same great commentary/trailer combination, with the focus being on the 39 films that were initially banned but were later on acquitted and removed from the list. Some of those titles include Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, the ultra-obscure Elke Sommer film I Miss You Hugs & Kisses, Matt Cimber’s unhinged psychedelia The Witch Who Came From the Sea and Andrzej Zulawski’s art-house, psychological horror film Possession.
 
Gruesome Art for
 
The trailers alone are pretty fantastic but the commentary is very much the icing on the cake, including some particularly great insights from the aforementioned personalities, as well as writers like Brad Stevens (Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision) and academics like Professor Patricia MacCormack. The quality of commentary can make or break a set like this but West did a bang up job selecting a group of people that are not just highly educated and experienced, but also quite fun to listen to. Anyone that is working on a film-related documentary in the future need to study this set and see how should it be done. There are few things more soul-crushing than seeing dry-as-ashes commentary on something as vibrant and fluid as art. In fact, if you’re a film lover by any definition, then do yourself a favor and pick up this set. 
 
Poster Art for
 
The vital importance of a set like this is summed up beautifully at the end of the documentary by Martin Barker himself:

“The most interesting thing is just how little historical memory we have. The next time there’s a panic we won’t remember just how stupid the last one was and how people get away with things. And that to me is the most important lesson about this campaign. The evangelical got away with murder. They got away with fraud. They got away with deceiving people. They now laugh it off. The fact that almost all of these films are now available uncut in the public domain, they don’t care. Because they move on, because what they want to do is to dominate the present and they don’t care about history. Critical voices have to care about history. We have to care about the way which things got controlled in the past, because that’s when the damage gets done. If you don’t keep that historical memory, we will allow them to do it again next time.”

 

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
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Werner Herzog’s first film ‘Herakles’ is all about the beefcake
09.24.2014
11:27 am

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Movies

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Werner Herzog


 
For a movie with no dialogue and no plot, consisting largely of footage of male bodybuilders working out to a saxophone jazz soundtrack, Werner Herzog‘s first movie, a 9-minute short called Herakles (Hercules) made when he was just 19 years old in 1961 or 1962, is unexpectedly thoughtful. To finance the movie, Herzog took a job as a welder on the night shift while at university, something to think about when you complain that nobody is giving you any opportunities to move forward in your chosen career.

In Herakles, footage of men lifting barbells etc. is occasionally interrupted by stock footage, which always relates to a (pretty much illegible) caption that has just appeared. The captions all relate to the twelve labors of Hercules, while the stock footage “commentary” points to a modern-day equivalent that all the Schwarzeneggers in the world would do very little to change. So for instance, the question “Wird er sich der stymphalischen Vögel erwehren?” (Will he resist the Stymphalian birds?) is followed by footage of U.S. military planes flying in formation and dropping bombs on training targets. Likewise, after reading “Wird er die lernäische Schlange töten?” (Will he kill the Lernaean Hydra?) the viewer is treated to footage of a long line of stalled traffic on a highway. And so on. To construct metaphorical conceits out of generic footage of muscle-bound weightlifters…. this is pretty clever and interesting stuff.
 

 
To his credit, Herzog doesn’t think very much of his starting point. He had bigger fish to fry. In the book Herzog on Herzog, the director said, “My most immediate and radical lesson came from what was my first blunder, Herakles. It was a good thing to have made this little film first—rather than jump into something much more meaningful to me—because from that moment on I had a much better idea as to how I should go about my business. Learning from your mistakes is the only real way to learn.”

In the same book Herzog also said, “Looking back on Herakles today, I find the film rather stupid and pointless, though at the time it was an important test for me. It taught me about editing together very diverse material that would not normally sit comfortably as a whole. For the film I took stock footage of an accident at Le Mans where something like eighty people died after fragments of a car flew into the spectators’ stand, and inter-cut it with footage of bodybuilders, including Mr. Germany 1962. For me it was fascinating to edit material together that had such separate and individual lives. The film was some kind of an apprenticeship for me. I just felt it would be better to make a film than go to film school.”
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich’: Beloved, off-putting actor recreates photography masterpieces
09.23.2014
07:05 am

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Art
Movies

Tags:
John Malkovich
Sandro Miller


Andy Warhol, Green Marilyn (1962)
 
Holy fuck, has it really been fifteen years since Being John Malkovich came out? I still think of that as a “new” movie, but of course it’s not anymore.

Everyone’s favorite scene from Being John Malkovich is the brief reverie in which we discover what happens when John Malkovich himself descends into the Malkovich portal (that scene is embedded below). If you’re in Chicago this holiday season, you might want to take an hour to check out an amusing photography exhibit that seems inspired by that very scene, even the title. Sandro Miller’s “ Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters” is a whimsical and yet, by all appearances, high-overhead project in which Miller has recreated roughly thirty of the most famous portraits of the twentieth century, by photographers famous enough for you to have heard of—names like Avedon, Arbus, Lange, Warhol, Mapplethorpe, Halsman, Leibovitz, etc. You can catch it from November 7 to January 31 at Catherine Edelman Gallery on 300 W. Superior St in Chicago. The whole thing is quite a hoot—Malkovich’s fleshy mug manages (in part thanks to Being John Malkovich) to imbue every last pic with a feeling of faux-pompous levity.

Miller and Malkovich have collaborated before. In 2011 we brought you this bizarre video short called “Butterflies,” directed by Miller and featuring Malkovich.
 

Diane Arbus, Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey (1967)
 

Arthur Sasse, Albert Einstein Sticking Out His Tongue (1951)
 

David Bailey, Mick Jagger “Fur Hood” (1964)
 

Philippe Halsman, Salvador Dalí (1954)
 

Pierre et Gilles, Jean Paul Gaultier (1990)
 

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936)
 
More after the jump…
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Jayne Mansfield reads the poetry of Shakespeare, Shelley, Browning and others


 
Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky & Me, Jayne Mansfield’s delicious album from 1963 or 1964 (depending on where you look), has never seen a CD release and it’s not available on the music streaming services I consulted. That scarcity has driven up the price: right now you can get a copy from Amazon.com for $60 and up.

Assessing Mansfield’s intelligence is something of a mid-20th-century parlor game. Quoting Wikipedia: “Frequent references have been made to Mansfield’s very high IQ, which she claimed was 163. She spoke five languages, including English. ... Reputed to be Hollywood’s ‘smartest dumb blonde’, she later complained that the public did not care about her brains: ‘They’re more interested in 40–21–35,’ she said.” Wasn’t there some meme about Jayne Mansfield enjoying the works of Immanuel Kant? Where did I get that from, some James Ellroy novel?

So how are her recitations of some of the greatest erotic poetry in the English language? Welllll, just fine, I think. I wouldn’t say she exactly reads them well—she reads them about the way you’d expect a big movie star to read them, crisply and evenly, perhaps a little too briskly. She brings a purr to the material that you wouldn’t probably get from current U.S. poet laureate Charles Wright, let’s say.

Here’s a track listing, followed by a clip of about six minutes from the album:
 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How Do I Love Thee”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, “The Indian Serenade”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Good-Night”
Robert Herrick, “You Say I Love Not”
Henry Constable, “If This Be Love”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “The Lady’s ‘Yes’” -
Lord Byron, “She Walks In Beauty”
William Shakespeare, “Cleopatra”
Christopher Marlowe, “Was This The Face”
Joseph Beaumont, “Whiteness, Or Chastity”
Anonymous, “Madrigal”
Leigh Hunt, “Jenny Kiss’d Me”
Anonymous, “Verses Copied From The Window Of An Obscure Lodging House”
Thomas Otway, “The Enchantment”
Christopher Marlowe, “The Passionate Sheperd To His Love”
Robert Herrick, “Upon The Nipples Of Julia’s Breast”
Ben Jonson, “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes”
Lord Byron, “The Lovers”
Robert Herrick, “To The Virgins, To Make Much Of Time”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Inclusions”
William Butler Yeats, “When You Are Old”
William Wordsworth, “Daffodils”
William Shakespeare, “Take, O, Take Those Lips Away”
Thomas Carew, “Mark How The Bashful Morn”
Anonymous, “Oh! Dear, What Can The Matter Be?”
Alfred Lord Tennyson, “The Miller’s Daughter”
Charles Sackville, “The Fire Of Love”
Sir John Suckling, “The Constant Lover”
John Dryden, “Why Should A Foolish Marriage Vow”
Thomas Moore, “Believe Me, If All Those Enduring Young Charms”
Anonymous, “Love Me Little, Love Me Long”

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘Secret Weapons’: David Cronenberg’s made-for-TV dystopian sci-fi biker movie, 1972
09.22.2014
05:52 am

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Movies
Television

Tags:
David Cronenberg


 
In 1972 David Cronenberg’s resume as a filmmaker consisted of Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970)—both of those movies, incidentally, are available quite affordably if you order the 2-disc Fast Company DVD set. The latter title, Crimes of the Future, would also function pretty well for Secret Weapons, a 22-minute movie Cronenberg directed for the Canadian Broadcasting Company in 1972. Secret Weapons appeared on some kind of anthology show called Programme X. His friend Norman Snider wrote the script; he would work with Cronenberg again much later, on the screenplay for Dead Ringers. That’s Snider as “The Wise Man”—so IMDb has it—but in all honesty I’m not sure which character that refers to. More recent pics of Snider would make you think that Snider played the main character, but I’m just not sure.
 

 
Secret Weapons is some kind of a tossed-off dystopian movie; it’s a mite overdetermined. It cribs liberally from both Huxley and Orwell and probably Kubrick too, and its scary countercultural attitudinizing probably had the identical flavor as a lot of sci-fi of that moment. The premise is that we’re five years into the future—1977—and the United States is embroiled in a civil war. A company named General Pharmaceutics runs society—as the voiceover states, “This gigantic producer of medicines and drugs succeeded in its takeover of technology and soon after, all of society.” General Pharmaceutics has developed mind control drugs and is desirous that a talented young researcher accept their party line, but he’s far too apathetic to care either way. They send him out for some indoctrination and he meets with the leader of the only thing that passes for a resistance, some biker gangs that operate outside of organized society which are, intriguingly, headed up by a woman.

To call this a biker movie may be going too far—motorcycles are on the screen for just a few seconds. This was Cronenberg’s first movie with synced sound, and it shows. What Secret Weapons mainly is is talky, and the voiceover chimes in frequently just in case you hadn’t absorbed enough desultory chatter (actually, there are two voiceovers). Cronenberg has made so many fascinating movies that an early short about mind control can’t help but be interesting, but really my takeaway is that he had a ways to go. His first feature, Shivers, would be released three years later.

You have to admire Cronenberg for wanting to cram so many ideas into his movie, though—even if they were a bit clichéd for the era, a bit half-baked. My favorite thing in it is whatever was brushing and prodding the protagonist’s interviewer around five minutes in. We’re given the impression that the interview is happening in the same room as some committee, but we never see them, we just see objects occasionally intrude into the frame and stroke or otherwise touch the interviewer.

Did I mention this is pretty low-budget?
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Keanu Reeves wants to blow your face off
09.20.2014
06:36 am

Topics:
Movies

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Keanu Reeves


 
When John Woo’s The Killer first hit American shores in 1990 its impact on hardcore film buffs was a bullet to the head. His influence on filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez is undeniable. Woo didn’t invent the “bullet ballet.” He admittedly took huge inspiration from Sam Peckinpah’s stylized death throes and slo-mo action sequences, but the Hong Kong director added a shitload of his own firepower and over-the-top choreography into the mix than film buffs had ever seen before. Woo absorbed and re-imagined the tropes of American westerns and gangster flicks and shipped them back to the States much in the same way the Brits took American rock and roll and revived it via The Beatles and The Stones.

Woo, like Sergio Leone, didn’t romanticize violence as much as poeticize it, transforming action films consciously into art from his own distinct perspective. He also injected the gangster genre with operatic soulfulness and a kind of cosmic existentialism. The results are thrilling, bloody, gorgeous and riddled with lead. Woo’s love of American musicals also gave his films a physical grace and energy that serves well the kinetics of violence. But unfortunately his influence became so pervasive and his style so re-cycled that film goers became jaded again. Tarantino did justice to his sources but most of those who followed in his tracks were hacks. After the umpteenth knock-off of Pulp Fiction in the form execrable turds like Boondock Saints and 8 Heads In A Duffel Bag, the thrill was gone. Even Woo couldn’t find a new angle.

In the past decade, the bullet ballets have been replaced by the slow shuffle of the living dead or the languor of the undead. While the zombies and vampires have taken over our TV screens, the fastest guns in the East have run out of lead. A few directors still occasionally deliver the goods – Takashi Miike, Chan-wook Park and the venerable Johnny To – but the great wave of Hong Kong action movies has crested and film buffs in search of a next wave looked to be stone cold out of luck…or maybe not. With the arrival of John Wick we may have something to get excited about again.

John Wick may be the best Hong Kong-style gangster movie to be produced since Chow Yun Fat went hardboiled on our ass. Keanu Reeves is one bad motherfucker in the role of hitman/assassin John Wick. Little Buddha has gone ballistic. Ted’s newest adventure involves delivering 84 kills in 96 minutes…most of them direct shots to the face.
 

 
John Wick succeeds on just about every level. It looks great, has an amazing cast and not a single ounce of fat on its lean, mean celluloid body. If last night’s Fantastic Fest audience is any indication, this is the film that could reignite Reeves career big time and may very well kickstart a very cool movie franchise. A contemporary noir spin on Lone Wolf and Cub with Wick on an endless journey to clean up his ever-expanding bad karma. 

First-time directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch have taken a comic book approach to what is B-movie material and created an extraordinarily violent feel-good movie full of giddy energy, laugh-out-loud outrageousness and a glossy 90s vibe. In the center of it all is the silent but deadly Reeves, a Zen killer in Gucci suits who drives a fuel-injected ‘69 Mustang in Manhattan (!), has a soft spot for puppy dogs and a predilection for blowing people’s faces off.

But Reeves does a lot more than just sling guns. He’s a fighter and he’s amazingly agile in tightly choreographed scenes that obviously require actual martial art skills. Many of the fight sequences are filmed in long shots and Reeves is clearly doing his own stunt work. There’s no close-in quick editing to create the illusion the actor has fighting skills. And in what the directors humorously describes as “gunfu,” Reeves handles blue steel with the precision of a Benihana grill master.

As I watched John Wick, I thought of Reeves evolution from surfer dude/FBI agent Johnny Utah in Point Break to something closer to the relentless killing machine Lee Marvin played in Point Blank. It’s a transition that suits him. Reeves is no longer the cute and cuddly goofball with the I.Q. of a ham sandwich. In middle-age, he’s developed the cool, brooding intensity of a classic existential action hero. He may not be as brutal as Marvin, more like Clint Eastwood in the Leone films, but you still don’t want to fuck with him. This is an actor that used to be easy to make fun of. His apparent cluelessness invited it. But as John Wick, Reeves is someone you really don’t want to make fun of. Really. He just might blow your face off.

In addition to Reeves, John Wick has some stellar performances by Ian McShane, Michael Nyqvist, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe and David Patrick Kelly. Marilyn Manson and Tyler Bates supply the soundtrack with an appropriately 90s retro feel. And it’s very cool to see a movie that takes place in New York City actually shot in New York City.

John Wick opens in the USA on October 24. I have a feeling it will be among my 10 favorite films of the year. It may not be great art, but it’s great entertainment and the kind of movie that I would have loved to have seen in a 42nd street grindhouse with a packed audience of people screaming at the screen: “Oh shit! Oh my fucking god. That motherfucker just blew the dude’s face off!!!”
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
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Spy-Fidelity: Dean Martin and the sexy ladies of the ‘Matt Helm’ films
09.19.2014
04:09 pm

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
Dean Martin
Lalo Schifrin
Matt Helm
Ann-Margret


 
When I was a little boy, I used to love the Matt Helm films. Of all the sub-Bond spy movie imitators of the Sixties, I liked the Matt Helm series the most. They were flashy, colorful, cartoony and quite frankly, they were simple enough for a bright five-year old to more or less understand them. That’s how old I would have been when I discovered them. I thought Dean Martin was an actor who played Matt Helm, agent of I.C.E. (Intelligence and Counter Espionage), first, and a singer second. “He sings, too?” was kinda where my kid’s brain took it, it was even more confusing for me when “Matt” would listen to Dino’s records in the films.
 

 
The Matt Helm movies were fairly frequent “Movie of the Week” fare on network television in the early Seventies. I’d watch them each time they aired. I even read some of Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm novels which you could always find at garage sales for a dime. They were much more serious than the Matt Helm films’ decidedly light-hearted approach. There were a LOT of them, here are some of the titles:

The Removers
The Shadowers
The Ravagers
The Devastators
The Betrayers
The Menacers
The Interlopers
The Poisoners
The Intriguers
The Intimidators
The Terminators
The Retaliators
The Terrorizers
The Revengers
The Annihilators
The Infiltrators
The Detonators
The Vanishers
The Demolishers
The Frighteners
The Threateners
The Damagers

There’s been a rumor for some time that Steven Spielberg wants to revive the series. I kinda hope that doesn’t happen. What’s the point after Austin Powers?
 

 
Dean Martin, as he pretty much did in nearly all of his movies, played a fictionalized version of himself—see Billy Wilder’s jaw-dropping Kiss Me, Stupid for the best (and most lurid) example— but in this case he was a jovial charming rogue of an alcoholic playboy super spy and not a jovial, charming rogue of an alcoholic playboy cowboy or a nightclub singer or airplane pilot, etc, etc. He was Dean Martin in James Bond drag, basically. And it worked. The Matt Helm films were some of the top grossing motion pictures of the Sixties. Even if they do seem dated, politically incorrect and sexist, they were really popular in their day.
 

 
The ladies of the Matt Helm films were truly impressive, let’s not forget about them. Some of the finest grade-A Sixties pulchritude to be found on the planet—Ann-Margret, Stella Stevens, the ultimate MILF Cyd Charisse (who was a very va va va voomish 45-year old when she made The Silencers), Sharon Tate, Tina Louise, Elke Sommer (how I adored her!) and Nancy Kwan (ditto!)—were all on the, uh, Dean’s list. You could certainly make the case that the Helm films rivaled the Bond films as eye candy for the male members of the audience. The ladies had Dino…
 

 
These pages are scanned in from Matt Helm promotional calendars from 1968 and 1969.
 

 

Tina Louise
 

Sharon Tate
 

Elke Sommer
 

Jann Watson
 

Alena Johaston
 

Penny Brahms
 

Marilyn Tindall

It’s interesting to note that although the Matt Helm series obviously grew out of a desire to copy the success of the Bond films with a home-grown Hollywood version (producer Irving Allen had fumbled the ball on Bond, having insulted Ian Fleming about his books potential as television projects), the James Bond franchise took on a decidedly Matt Helm-esque flavor during the Roger Moore years.

To get Dean Martin to star as Matt Helm, Allen was obliged to make him a partner in the film franchise. Martin ended up making more on The Silencers than Sean Connery made for playing James Bond in Thunderball. Soon after hearing of this, Connery renegotiated his deal.
 

Japanese Murderer’s Row poster

Below, Murderer’s Row with Ann-Margret and Karl Malden. Dig the FAB opening credits with a typically great score by spy-fi maestro, Lalo Schifrin.
 

 
Here’s a trailer for the film that is typical of the whimsical attitude of the Matt Helm films. Clearly the man don’t give a fuck!

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘The time I met Dean Martin…’: A True Story

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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