Thursday, December 3, 2020

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1970: The Capper

These ten, according to the official Reminder Lists, were among the end-of-the-year qualifiers for Oscar consideration. Exceptions are The Wizard of Gore and The Phantom Tollbooth, both of which had unusual releases - the former because of its drive-in/grindhouse target, the latter because it was more or less buried by its studio.

Cry of the Banshee

A family of witch-hunters is targeted by a were-creature. There are two versions of this film: same runtime, just different opening credits, score, and order of scenes. The theatrical cut makes more sense narrative-wise, the director's cut has better opening credits (designed by Terry Gilliam!). Vincent Price, admittedly one of my two all-time favorite male actors, is phenomenal here, not just embracing the camp of his wicked role, but digging deep into the soul of a man finally faced with the comeuppance from his long abuse of power. Does a great job exploring the role of the church in both en- and disabling political corruption, at no real cost to them. Non-existent momentum otherwise. Elisabeth


A family lures unsuspecting "friends" to their estate for deadly playtime. Absolutely demented, from the singsong-y tone of voice from the central family echoing over the opening credits to the that's-not-the-end-of-the-story final scene. As the 60s ended with the usual hand-wringing over, "Oh, what will happen to the traditional family?", Girly takes tradition and politeness to a deeply unwell place that foretells American horror cinema like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and House of 1000 Corpses - and does so without ever once showing us a kill...or being impolite. It's disturbing in all its hotness and humor. I'm so happy it exists. 

Taste the Blood of Dracula

Dracula comes back. Promising start with Roy Kinnear, continues to engage with Geoffrey Kean as a pillar of society heading a secret, exclusive club of debauchery and Satanism. Then Dracula gets resurrected and it's a shruggy affair, especially since Christopher Lee is clearly over it. Not good enough to hold your attention, not bad enough to earn real ridicule.

Au hasard Balthazar

I feel like a real Philistine, but other than the meticulous sound design and cinematography, I wasn't much of a fan. The appeal is not lost on me, it's just not for me.

The Traveling Executioner

In the early 20th century, a professional executioner is seduced and manipulated by a female prisoner. Stacy Keach is so, so good here, charming and naive and good at what he, specifically, does...and very little else. Intrigued by the premise, I still didn't expect such a deep study of a profession deemed both necessary and unspeakable by society: we demand executioners, but stigmatize the people, desperate for work, who actually take on the role. Darkly funny, very sad.

The Wizard of Gore

Montag the Magnificent has a gruesome magic show, but the real horror starts when his "volunteers" return home. One of Herschell Gordon Lewis's snoozier efforts, but comfortably so. It doesn't make a lick of sense, the titular wizard is very obviously a young man in stage-y "old man" makeup, and the relentless repetition of magic show-murder-not murder-gruesome death gets routine. Odd, then, that it goes down with the ease of a familiar friend...though that may also be due to my already liking HGL's work.

Machine Gun McCain

Newly-freed armed robber teams up with son to take down a casino embroiled in a mafia power struggle. Conceptually, I like how it starts as a heist movie, only to become an on-the-run thriller. Peter Falk, as a gangster overstepping his boundaries, and Gena Rowlands, as McCain's former girlfriend, are wonderful in their roles. Again, a terrific Morricone score, complete with unforgettable song. Otherwise, I found John Cassavetes' performance blank and the movie frustrating to sit through: vague narrative threads make it seem like they're clipping details, but the pace is deadly slow. 

No Blade of Grass

When climate change and plague wreak havoc on the world, a group of survivors journey to a safer area, met with resistance and violence on their way. Absolutely no relevance to the world we live in 50 years later! Anchored by fine performances from Nigel Davenport and Jean Wallace, punctuated by flash-forward edits that remove all pretense of hope, full of bloodshed. Depressing...yet entertaining!

The Phantom Tollbooth

Adaptation of one of my favorite books growing up starts promisingly, but after the Doldrums, it gets pretty...dull. Rapidly leaping from scene to scene, much of the book's most interesting sequences have either been trimmed or cut completely, the character arcs completely dispensed with...except for Milo, of course. The songs are unmemorable, some of the voice performers uninteresting, the princesses of Rhyme and Reason are frightening. It's a deeply impersonal adaptation. Disappointing.

The Aristocats

A tomcat helps a rich lady's cats find their way back home after the butler gets rid of them to secure his inheritance. One of Disney's most recognizably human villains: I, too, would be miffed if my decades of service were overlooked in favor of a bunch of damn animals who don't even understand the basic concept of monetary value, yet I, too, would second-guess myself and proceed to fuck up my plans in the dumbest ways. Hip George Bruns score. It's a good one!

Oscar nominees released in this period: Five Easy Pieces (September), Joe (September), Pieces of Dreams (September), Sunflower (September), Tora! Tora! Tora! (September), Diary of a Mad Housewife (October), The Baby Maker (November), Ryan's Daughter (November), Scrooge (November), Tristana (November), Cromwell (December), The Great White Hope (December), I Never Sang for My Father (December), Little Big Man (December), Love Story (December), Madron (December)

Other films: Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (October), The Twelve Chairs (October), Alex in Wonderland (December), The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (December), Puzzle of a Downfall Child (December), Where's Poppa? (December)

Next week, we begin with the nominated films from the 43rd Academy Awards, each category presented in the order of its appearance at the original telecast. Like so:

Sunday - "Other" Nominees
The Hawaiians, The Molly Maguires, Tora! Tora! Tora!TristanaWoodstock

Monday - Supporting Actor
I Never Sang for My FatherLittle Big Man, Love StoryLovers and Other Strangers, Ryan's Daughter

Tuesday - Supporting Actress
Airport (x2), Five Easy PiecesThe Landlord, MASH

Wednesday - Score
AirportCromwell, Love StoryPatton, Sunflower

Thursday - Musical Score
The Baby Maker, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Darling LiliLet It Be, Scrooge

Friday - Original Song
Darling Lili, Lovers and Other Strangers, Madron, Pieces of DreamsScrooge

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