Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's Reader's Choice...

Thirty days hath September, and its days are numbered, meaning we're only a little more than a week away from the second best time of the year. Of course, I'm talking about the month of October, or as its known at my place (and coincidentally, at Final Girl)...


Yes, it's 31 days of horror movies, sometimes two or three a day, as hosted by my roommate/best friend and myself. We've been keeping it going since Freshman year of college, making this the Fifth Annual and our first in Los Angeles. The beautiful thing is that our daily horror intake won't just be relegated to Netflix and our own collections; this city has the market cornered on revival houses and specialty theaters, and you better believe they've got some thrills in store for us! Then, of course, there are new releases like The Skin I Live In and the "prequel" to The Thing starring the beautiful Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

And, naturally, it means four new Casting Coups. And this time, friends, I'm involving you. Ya see, I know what three of my subjects will be, and I've got the posts ready to go: Carrie, The Exorcist and Dracula (from the 1931 film, not the novel or other versions). But while searching for a fourth to do, I figured I'll keep it interesting.

I'm going to watch a movie I've never seen before, review it, and cast it. What's more...I'll let you decide what it's going to be! From now until September 30, you have the opportunity to decide a Shocktoberfest film and a Casting Coup Tuesdays entry. You are the decider! And because I love keeping y'all in suspense, I'll make it the last coup on the month, October 25th.

Let your voice be heard and the blood be shed:

Casting Coup Tuesdays: The Swarm (a DISASTERPIECE)

I love The Swarm. I wish I owned it so I could watch it all the time always, maybe skip around to my favorite moments (but what isn't my favorite moment here?), watch the made-for-TV companion doc where they claim The Swarm is a warning. That would be awesome. As it is, I don't own it, so I have to make do with Netflix Instant Watch, and that's...that's just fine. Because no matter what, I get to bask in the glorious awful that is...The Swarm.

How does one describe it? Opening with a bunch of military men marching into a small military base, they find an alarm sounding off, a civilian van outside, and every uniformed man dead. The civilian is entomologist Brad Crane, and he is there to stop the killers of those men: African Killer Bees, brought to Texas by...storms, I guess? And anger? Anyway, Dr. Crane has been warning of the inevitable African Killer Bee invasion for years, and now his warnings have come true! Meanwhile, the small town of Marysville is preparing for their annual Flower Festival, which apparently attracts thousands of people from all over, what with Marysville's varied floral beauties. Of course, bees and flowers mix like chocolate and ice cream, so it's a natural target for the villains of the piece. Plus, they're right next to the military complex! It's only a matter of time!

There's so much to love here, from the awful effects to Jerry Goldsmith's genuinely awesome score to those performances. Oh, those performances! Thrill as Michael Caine SHOUTS. EVERY LINE.  Marvel at Richard Widmark's boredom. Wonder what the hell Katharine Ross is doing here -- the character does nothing, and Ross sees no reason to give her purpose. Olivia de Havilland and Henry Fonda are the major standouts by sheer virtue of the fact that they give surprisingly sincere, honest, real, GREAT performances. How classy was old Hollywood? So classy they could get into The Swarm and still deliver the hell out of it.

I'm always confused by the climax of the film. I dare not spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it, but if you don't care about such things -- or have already seen it -- join me in this thought, will you?: an oil slick? After two and a half hours of preaching about the dangers pesticides have on the environment, the great solution is to cover the Gulf of Mexico with an oil slick and set it on fire? Did BP sponsor Dr. Crane's research? It's absurd.

The Swarm is already tapped for a remake, somehow. Can one improve on the audacity, the self-seriousness, the insanity of the original? I doubt it, but God bless 'em for trying. Perhaps they'd consider some of my suggestions?

ROMANCES: oh my God...all out of nowhere...I'm gonna say 3, but one of those is a love triangle

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Casting Coup Tuesdays: Earthquake (a DISASTERPIECE)

Released the same year as The Towering Inferno, Earthquake is perhaps one of the most surprising entries in the DISASTERPIECE canon. Instead of focusing on a trapped handful, it's a sprawling ensemble. The star wattage isn't as bright as films like Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. And the cinematography is just...it's just flat and ugly. And the ingenue has this big-ass afro that proudly announces, "Here I am! I am...THE 70s!"

Yet it all somehow works. Credit the strong screenplay by George Fox and Mario Puzo, who actually create engaging characters with real relationships. Or credit director Mark Robson, who gets far better performances from his actors than some of their characters warrant. Actually, credit that ensemble, giving their all without going over the top (except for Ava Gardner, gob-smackingly cast as Lorne Greene's daughter!!!). Ooh, or credit the editor, Dorothy Spencer, who keeps the film moving at an exciting pace without losing any sense of what's happening to whom -- and all at two hours! Maybe we should also commend John Williams, who has a good, sexy time with the score.

My point being, of course, that Earthquake is a fine film. So why even bring up a new cast for a remake? Because: (1) earthquakes in Los Angeles are always great fodder for drama; and (2) the original is SO 1974 -- remember Victoria Principal's afro? But most of all, it's (3) come on, that's not LA. Maybe it's just the specific areas of town they happened to be in, but the LA I've been in for two months is far more diverse than a single Richard Roundtree. I think my cast is more representative, however relative that may be. And I'm pulling Oscar winners, television personalities, and hot young stars into it. It's the old and the new.

So let's shake things up (yuk, yuk)! Let the title lead the way....

DEATH TOLL: 4 (leads only)
ROMANCES: 1 (leads only)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Casting Coup Tuesday: The Towering Inferno (a DISASTERPIECE)

It's Disaster Film Month. If you want to watch alongside the Silver Screener, check out A Crack in the World on Netflix Instant tonight. Dana Andrews, Janette Scott and Alexander Knox. But for now...
We begin our special Disasterpiece Theatre edition of Casting Coup Tuesday with The Towering Inferno.

As the regulars know, I am not a huge fan of the film, which is disappointing since it's the most famous and awarded of a subgenre I adore. I see nothing wrong with a two-and-a-half-hour ensemble disaster flick (Independence Day clocks in at 2h33min and is masterful), nor do I have a problem with a disaster flick that takes itself seriously (it's how camp classics like The Swarm are born). No, the biggest crimes of The Towering Inferno are a lack of focus and a dull pace. Lead characters are poorly developed or quickly pushed aside, motivations are muddled, relationships are obscured, the editing is working against the thrills of the plot, etc.

The greatest shame is that The Towering Inferno should be amazing. The cast assembled is incredible, with most of the performances delivering. Steve McQueen, Richard Chamberlain and William Holden are best in show, along with surprising, brief turns from Sheila Allen and Susan Flannery. John Williams' score is better with repeated listenings, even if it doesn't measure up to Earthquake. I don't even hate that it's obviously two different books thrown together -- the buoy escape seems so dangerous that there has to be a backup plan, and even though keeping million-gallon water tanks on top of the roof seems...bizarre...I can totally accept that. Because it's outrageous. And that's the problem with The Towering Inferno: it gives you this outrageous situation and treats it with all the sobriety of Munich.

Which is why it needs a kick-ass remake. And isn't it fun to think about who can fill the shoes of the original actors? Click on the title below to continue....

DEATH TOLL: 5 (leads only)
ROMANCES: 4 (leads only)

Friday, September 2, 2011


Earlier today, Tom asked what cinematic year we were going to look at next. Since it came down to it and 1964, I figured the next year should be 1957...but that's a long way off. October is Shocktoberfest, meaning my annual month-long horror movie marathon (not always covered here, but always on Twitter) will take over my life. December is my Holiday Extravaganza, and let's forget the Oscar coverage that goes on from December 14 (SAG Award Noms!) all the way through February 27 (the day after the Oscars!). When will we do 1957? I don't know. Why not now? some of you may ask.

Let me set it up for you.

Apparently, I am the only one of my friends who absolutely, positively cannot wait for Contagion, a disaster epic from director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns about the spread of a deadly virus. It has the two ingredients for an Irwin Allen-esque masterpiece: (1) a disaster, whether natural or man-made, that is far-reaching in its power to kill; and (2) a large ensemble of famous actors and movie stars (there's a difference). Look at that roster of talent: Academy Award Winners Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard and Kate Winslet; Academy Award Nominees Laurence Fishburne, John Hawkes, Jude Law and Elliott Gould; television stars Bryan Cranston and Sanaa Lathan; prestige actress Jennifer Ehle; German character actor Armin Rohde; and comedian (!!) Demetri Martin. And we're talking about a deadly virus on a global scale! How can two of my friends treat this with a lack of excitement, while another -- who's seen it -- claims disappointment?

Ok, so I should probably temper that excitement. After all, if one's this excited, the film can only fail to meet expectations. Still, the impending release got me to thinking about disaster films in general, and how much I love them. A testament to the imagination of filmmakers, ego of stars, recklessness of producers and easy satisfaction of audiences, Disasterpieces are Hollywood at its most MOST. Bloated runtimes, multiple subplots, self-important messages, and (generally) a special effects budget that could have fed America for the rest of time. Quality varies, of course, as some are made to capitalize on the success of others, but the genre is always good for a few surprising gems. Earthquake is a surprisingly strong drama; The Swarm and Day of the Animals are campy fun; On the Beach and Fail-Safe are more meditative, and therefore more chilling than the usual fare. But dammit, they're all entertaining.

(Even The Towering Inferno, a bloated, dull affair which somehow managed eight Oscar nominations and three wins, has William Holden in that awesome dinner jacket and those sophisticated thick-frame spectacles. And the art direction is superb. And the slow-mo people-on-fire sequences. There's lots to love about The Towering Inferno, even if it's clearly not as good as it could have been.)

So, let us get back to the point. That is, why 1957 coverage can't be done in September. I'm sure you already know where this is going.....

...because September is DISASTERPIECE '11 MONTH!!!

As I write this, my roommate and I are going through titles on Netflix and in our DVD collections to see which Disasterpieces we'd most love to highlight. I'll mention all of them on Twitter, maybe write up a few here on the Blog, but I do hope you'll all join in the fun. And, of course, what would a theme month here at the Silver Screening Room be without...

We've got four Tuesdays in September, so that's four Disasterpieces to recast. And I think it's obvious what those four need to be:

September 6: The Towering Inferno

September 13: Earthquake

September 20: The Poseidon Adventure

September 27: The Swarm 

Yes, I know, we already had Poseidon in 2006, but I didn't see it, so I'm not beholden to it! Anyway, stick around, because DISASTERPIECE '11 is going to be SO FREEKIN' AWESOME!