Rupert Pupkin Speaks: "Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: David Arrate ""

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: David Arrate

This list comes from David Arrate. Check him out on twitter at @DavidArrate and also check out his site:


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There have been a lot of movies I’ve enjoyed throughout the years that the general public, critics, and/or friends have either disliked or failed to appreciate and go so far as to label “bad”; titles like ORCA, ESCAPE FROM L.A., THE BLACK DAHLIA, and Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN 2, to name a few. But pretending not to enjoy what I do, or be someone I’m not is exhausting and fruitless. I like different films for different experiences they have to offer. But one quality that will keep me coming back to any particular movie is when it’s got that special something that triggers ideas. Sometimes it’s just the way that imaginary world makes me feel that can pop a series of unrelated images in my head, which I later put to use when writing fiction. The same thing happens to me with different styles of music.

What I enjoy doing most as a hobby is devising scenarios (mostly for comics and film) by dream pairing up either living or deceased actors and directors, both for their own unique styles, to help me visualize and organize. I’ve read enough and watched enough to know what themes and ideas I’d like to see explored, especially when I consider what some books and movies have left me wanting.
 
When my brother and I were kids we enjoyed making silly little movies, which were fun enough for us to watch. And we continued to make short videos (and a couple of radio plays) with our friends, up until our mid-twenties. The feelings and pleasure I still remember getting out of those times I would associate with the best that camaraderie has to offer. We were just doing what we loved while laughing our heads off doing it, with little or no consideration for the opinions of outsiders. And yet, as we got older, we didn’t just point and shoot the camera. We thought about what we wanted, and how best to present it, according to our tastes. No movie epitomizes more that spirit and sense of humor that we shared than what I feel every time I watch…

STRAIGHT TO HELL (1987)
GEORGE (Miguel Sandoval): I went all the way out there to get it! And they didn't have it! And now I'm back AGAIN!

STRAIGHT TO HELL is simply about three hit men who blow a job, rob a bank, and hide out from the law and their employer in a desert town run by a clan of sadistic, coffee addicts. There’s also a subplot of an oil man (Dennis Hopper as I.G. Farben) manipulating the situation to wipe out both parties, so that he can seize control of the land. While director Alex Cox describes it half-jokingly as “an anti-capitalist, anti-world trade, political parable” on the DVD commentary, his next film and arguably his masterpiece, WALKER, would be the one to really communicate his message and beliefs, loud and clear.

Alex Cox and co-writer Dick Rude scripted STRAIGHT TO HELL in three days while drinking bad coffee and suffering from sexual tension provoked by a dark-skinned voluptuous neighbor in their hotel. And both coffee and sexual tensions are prominently throughout the film. The reason for the rock ‘n’ roll cast was due to the artists’ unrealized benefit tour that was to be held in support of the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua. The realization to use the same lot of musicians for a film came by way of SID AND NANCY’s producer, Eric Fellner. When discussed with The Clash’s lead vocalist Joe Strummer, Strummer suggested going to Almería in Spain, where Cox had filmed his music video for LOVE KILLS (off the SID AND NANCY soundtrack) and which Cox and Strummer both loved. And how could they NOT shoot a Western in Almería?

I love every minute of the original cut of STRAIGHT TO HELL, as was released by Anchor Bay, and I love its soundtrack. However these days when I’m in the mood to watch it—and I can watch STRAIGHT TO HELL (as well as BLOOD FOR DRACULA) any time—I tend to put on the new version released by Microcinema. STRAIGHT TO HELL RETURNS has a more cinematic quality to it, due to its new color design; and the digitally created bloodshed contributes enormously. Although I must admit that the reinserted deleted scenes disturb the rhythm and pacing I love so much about the movie. And I don’t particularly care for the new stop-motion animation, brief as those moments are, as they contribute to the aforementioned—although there is one exception involving two characters writhing inside a burning car.

It’s interesting to note that Cox and cinematographer Tom Richmond shot STRAIGHT TO HELL as an homage to Guilio Questi’s DJANGO KILL… IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! I can you see the inspiration in there. There’s a note from Cox accompanying Microcinema’s DVD release of RETURNS that dedicates the new violent cut to Mexican director Alberto Mariscal. Cox also mentions two Westerns by Mariscal (LOS MARCADOS “The Marked” and EL TUNCO MACLOVIO “The One-Handed Maclovio”) and they are both fantastic and available on DVD, but unfortunately neither has been issued with subtitles for an English speaking audience. And that’s a shame really, because Mariscal’s work would definitely have a larger fan base.

One last thing I’d like to point out is that there has been a long-standing, misconceived notion that the suited protagonists in STRAIGHT TO HELL (particularly the part of Norwood, played perfectly by the great Sy Richardson) were “ripped off” by Quentin Tarantino for PULP FICTION. While there are many who are aware of the following, I keep reading and hearing from those who are not. The fact of the matter is that Tarantino previously stated that the characters of Jules and Vincent (in PULP FICTION) were actually inspired by actors Henry Silva and Woody Strode in Fernando Di Leo’s THE ITALIAN CONNECTION. And that’s another damn good, although completely different movie.



TEENAGE CAVEMAN (2001)
In October of 2001, the late Stan Winston co-produced a series of movies for cable television, which were were loosely inspired by five low-budget 1950s A.I.P. monster flicks, called Creature Features. Among them was a film that drew its material from a production originally shot by director Roger Corman as PREHISTORIC WORLD (1958), but which had been retitled and distributed by American International Pictures as TEENAGE CAVEMAN. And the reason my friends and I were mostly interested in the series was due to the director enlisted to helm the new TEENAGE CAVEMAN.

Due to its premiere on Cinemax airing way past midnight (around 3 AM EST, or so), I waited till the following night to watch the film with a group. And I wound up staying for a second viewing with my friend, who had recorded it onto a VHS, and a new guest.

I liked it a lot from the moment it started (“God must be another name for your dick.”), but when actor Richard Hillman made his entrance, singing and dancing along to WHERE EAGLES DARE by THE MISFITS, the laughs and enjoyment I continue to get out of this movie to this day are priceless. I find Richard (DETROIT ROCK CITY) Hillman’s performance comically brilliant as the genetically-altered Neil, especially when the scene calls for him to play to a tragedy.


NEIL (crying while holding Judith’s heart in his hand): I’m so sorry, baby. Wake up. WAKE UP, baby, PLEASE. Come on. Don’t leave me here, baby. Wake up! Ba— I would have changed! I WOULD HAVE CHANGED, baby!

"You're a looner!" Sarah (Tara Subkoff) yells at Neil, after hitting him with a baseball bat. (Looner just happens to be the name of the band the film score composer (Zoë Poledouris) is a member of, along with her husband. Zoë’s father was Basil Poledouris, who composed the music for CONAN THE BARBARIAN and ROBOCOP.)

My brother and our friends used to try to get together every time director Larry Clark would come out with something new, especially after we saw his second feature (ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE), which, of course, we sought out in theaters due to how much we liked KIDS. What makes Larry Clark a genuine artist is that he doesn’t shy away from his obsessions in neither his photography nor his movies—and if you know Clark’s work or bio, you know he’s mostly interested in teenagers. His trademark lingering moments are largely what make TEENAGE CAVEMAN unique and unusual for its genre. And it’s the combination of Richard Hillman’s balance of juvenile humor and the latter that has understandably put off a lot of genre fans. Regardless, as someone who continues to follow Clark’s work, TEENAGE CAVEMAN is the one I find myself going back to the most, which is not to say it’s his best. I like the story of teens in an apocalyptic future escaping from the exploitation of  religious extremism, only to wind up in the polar opposite of extremities in debauchery; the characters amuse me (including Stephen Jasso as Vincent); I enjoy seeing what Clark does with the material; and Hillman is both fascinating to watch and obnoxiously funny, like someone who hasn’t had guests in a long time and who’s trying his best to impress and entertain, which jives with the setup.

NEIL (carrying Joshua’s body back to the group): I told him about the predators. Told him not to go off on his own. I told all of you! Why don't you listen, huh? Why don't you fuckin’ listen?
VINCENT: What kind of animal did that?

NEIL: Shut the fuck up! I told you all. Why don't you fucking listen TO ME, MOTHERFUCKERS?! … Or look what happens to your little friend.

As far as for what happened to Richard Hillman—whose death, like Brad Renfro (from Clark’s BULLY), the industry avoids discussing—little is documented online, besides the fact that he tragically died of a heroin overdose; it has been remarked that his Wikipedia page was deleted by his father, Producer Richard Hillman, Sr. Recently, a friend of Richard’s anonymously posted on FindADeath.com to shed some light on his relationship with his father, living with HIV, and his abuse of drugs. Despite the fact that there’s nothing to test the author’s validity, it does sound probable and it makes for an interesting read.

Rest in Peace, Richard. Be assured that you’ve got people who will remember you.


 BRUCE LEE SUPERDRAGON (1975)
There is no one other movie I have more history with than distributor Dick Randall’s cut of director Ling Ping's CHINESE CHIEH CHUAN KUNG FU (1975) with actor Ho Chung-Tao, who was better known as Bruce Li (here, he’s billed as Lee Shiao-Lung). BRUCE LEE SUPERDRAGON was one of two Allied Artists VHS tapes my brother and I inherited from our dad’s small movie collection—the other was SUMMERTIME KILLER (1973)—and we watched it countless times growing up. It was just about ten years ago that I found the closest thing to the filmmakers’ original release (on GoodTimes Entertainment’s DVD of the bogus titled “The Young Bruce Lee”), which had all of the character development and drama that Randall had removed in exchange for more action. Funny thing is that had I seen that cut and not Randall’s I wouldn’t be talking about it. Because what Randall left was the barest of story, all the ass-kicking, and (the best stuff) two entire fight sequences lifted from two other movies and passed off as if Bruce Lee had directed them! And I love Dick Randall for doing it.

But besides the two inserted sequences, which are also the most memorable moments in either of those movies as well (THE SCREAMING TIGER and THE CHASE), the stuff that Randall left from the original film is simply fun, which features some catchy dialogue (“Do YOU KNOW Kung Fu?”). None of the performances are that bad, actually. Nobody tries to be funny, and there isn’t any attempt to inject humor. As a kid and even now as an adult, I appreciate the straight forward tone of Ling Ping’s film, despite that this is in no way a serious biography of Lee’s. As the years go by, whenever I go through a period of wanting to watch old Kung Fu movies, especially the “Bruceploitation” flicks (with Bruce Li), BRUCE LEE SUPERDRAGON continues to delight and entertain me. And I LOVE that rendition of Johnny Pate’s SHAFT IN AFRICA (ADDIS) as its main theme.




 ALEXANDER (2004)
Since the 1980s, the majority of stories coming out of Hollywood, as well as by the mostly assimilated Independent market, has been steered toward young audiences, and typically involves youthful characters for them to relate to. And because of this, we have more stories with characters that have a smaller perspective of life, mostly due to their lack of opportunities and life experience (outside of sex, drugs, and violence) which limits their actions and ambitions, as well as their stories. But thanks to ever-improving technological advances, especially in regards to computer generated effects, studios have been somewhat compensating for this by increasingly seeking out stories with fantastic elements and scenarios for their young characters to be challenged by. Many of these remain, however, by and large, about good versus evil or about a situation in which the protagonist(s) needs to overcome. One of the things I really like about biographical subjects is that there is no plot to be bound by. We are simply following what someone did with their life, even if it’s a fictitious one when artistic liberties are taken. And I especially find the ones that do not limit themselves to any one episode in someone’s life the most interesting.
The name Alex has always held a special place in my heart, because it was my first cousin’s name, and he was the closest thing I ever had to an older brother. So when it was publicly announced that Oliver Stone was finally going to do his longstanding Alexander the Great project, ten years after my cousin’s passing, I decided to reacquaint myself with history’s most famous Alex and picked up two biographies (by Peter Green and Pierre Briant), as well as novelist Mary Renault’s excellent trilogy.

Since THE DOORS in 1991, I’ve missed seeing only two films by Stone while in theaters (HEAVEN AND EARTH and NIXON). Even when he resorts to clichés or sacrifices his vision in order to appease the major studios, Stone’s work remains distinct. His capability of balancing black humor and tragedy (like Brian De Palma) greatly appeals to me, as well as what he brings into his work from his own personal journey—and not just his knowledge of other movies, like his peers.

I greatly miss his partnership with cinematographer Robert Richardson, which ended with one of my favorites in both men’s careers (U-TURN). And after ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, my only concern for ALEXANDER was its cinematography. Although I knew Rodrigo Prieto for his work on four prior films, I didn’t credit him enough to deliver the epic the project was aspiring to be. Fortunately, as I found out the day ALEXANDER opened in theaters, Prieto’s compositions and colors combined with one of Vangelis’ most beautiful film scores, the performances, those remarkable sets, and the linear story Stone swiftly cut left me feeling exhilarated. Before exiting the theater, I turned to my brother and confessed that it was my favorite of Stone’s films, as a director. And I still feel the same to this day.

The number one reason why I love this film so much, and much more than anything else Oliver Stone has written and/or directed, is Alexander’s story—the myths that inspired him and partially shaped his mentality, along with the influences of his mother and father, and what he did before his death at the age of 32 that contributed to shaping mankind’s history.
Having only seen and enjoyed Colin Farrell’s work twice before the film’s release (MINORITY REPORT and DAREDEVIL), I felt comfortable with the thought that under Stone’s direction he would do just fine. And his intense and charismatic portrayal as ALEXANDER is one of the three performances I enjoy watching most upon repeated viewings, along with Val Kilmer’s (whom I found perfect as Stone’s King Philip II), and John Kavanagh’s (as Parmenion); all three of whom in some scenes make me smile and even laugh, which brings me closer to their characters and allows me to care for them more. I also very much like Gary Stretch as Cleitus, Philip’s trusted friend and later one of Alexander’s generals. His heated exchange with Alexander following Bagoas’ dance, reminding him that he couldn’t have gotten as far as Heracles without his army, is a scene that really stands out for me. It underlines the reality that dreamers, and even those who commit to action like Alexander, need others to help materialize their visions; sometimes, even after they’re gone.

My favorite scene in Stone’s movie takes place after Young Alexander (Connor Paolo) makes his father proud by taming the “high spirited” Bucephalus (Alexander the Great’s famous black horse). Philip takes his son alone into the caves at Pella, below the palace in Macedonia, where he tells him of Zeus, Oedipus, Medea and Jason, Achilles, and Heracles while illuminating paintings on the walls using a torch. It’s a brilliant, completely fictitious scene written by Stone that briefly introduces us to these mythological characters that Alexander so admires, as well as helps bring him closer to his father. I deeply love the information and emotions exchanged in that setting, with that ambience and minimum use of music. It’s the kind of moment I would have never forgotten had I had a similar experience with my own father at that age.

YOUNG ALEXANDER: One day, I’ll be on walls like these.

And indeed, Alexander becomes intent on outdoing these heroes, by following them East, where, as Stone points out in his commentary, he doesn’t return like the hero archetype does from his journey, Alexander “migrates”. He much later confides to his dearest friend Hephaestion (played by Jared Leto) that he believes he can create a new world for their children by bringing Asia and Europe together, and thereby encourage the populations to mix and travel freely. No man or woman could ever live to accomplish something so monumental and complex in their own lifetime, but for someone so young, Alexander’s actions shifted civilization, and every “insane” optimist since him has helped bring men and women around the world close enough to communicate.

My favorite scene in Stone’s movie takes place after Young Alexander (Connor Paolo) makes his father proud by taming the “high spirited” Bucephalus (Alexander the Great’s famous black horse). Philip takes his son alone into the caves at Pella, below the palace in Macedonia, where he tells him of Zeus, Oedipus, Medea and Jason, Achilles, and Heracles while illuminating paintings on the walls using a torch. It’s a brilliant, completely fictitious scene written by Stone that briefly introduces us to these mythological characters that Alexander so admires, as well as helps bring him closer to his father. I deeply love the information and emotions exchanged in that setting, with that ambience and minimum use of music. It’s the kind of moment I would have never forgotten had I had a similar experience with my own father at that age.

YOUNG ALEXANDER: One day, I’ll be on walls like these.

And indeed, Alexander becomes intent on outdoing these heroes, by following them East, where, as Stone points out in his commentary, he doesn’t return like the hero archetype does from his journey, Alexander “migrates”. He much later confides to his dearest friend Hephaestion (played by Jared Leto) that he believes he can create a new world for their children by bringing Asia and Europe together, and thereby encourage the populations to mix and travel freely. No man or woman could ever live to accomplish something so monumental and complex in their own lifetime, but for someone so young, Alexander’s actions shifted civilization, and every “insane” optimist since him has helped bring men and women around the world close enough to communicate.

“One day, things will change,” Philip tells his son before exiting the caves (in The Director’s Cut and The Final Cut). “Men will change. But first, the gods must change.” Substituting the metaphor of god, which has long been lost to literal interpretations for the unknown, as well as to exploitative and sociologically harmful psychology, man’s perspective, regarding where we’ve come from and what we wish to seek out or experience, must change. And that requires collecting information to assimilate and utilize, as Alexander does by both understanding and forming alliances with the Asians, in order to reach man’s apex.

There’s a scene in SUPERMAN II that I find greatly inspiring, when developing characters for my own projects. The principal villain (General Zod) is sitting in the Oval Office of the White House, having been handed all control over humanity by the President of the United States. And now that he’s “master of all [he] survey[s]”, he’s bored out of his mind, because he doesn’t have the imagination to know what to do with this power.

One of my favorite scenes in ALEXANDER features Christopher Plummer as Aristotle, who was brought over from Athens to Macedonia to enlighten and educate its people. High up on a mountain, he inspires his young “frogs” (Young Alexander and his friends) to exchange knowledge and to compete only to bring out the best in each other, in order to lift themselves up from their “frog pond” in the world. Again, it’s these big ideas that are important to pose to young and older viewers, now and again, as the pre-Judeo-Christian myths did long ago; to encourage the fulfillment of desire and aspirations, as opposed to repressing them.

When comparing the three home video releases, I much prefer this scene with Aristotle in the Director’s Cut, which is closer to the extended Final Cut, only much sharper. Owning copies of all three versions, I still prefer the linear storyline of the theatrical cut the most. Introducing Alexander just before the battle of Gaugamela, for the sake of having some action earlier on in the story (in The Final Cut), doesn’t allow time for any familiarity and emotions to have been invested into Alexander’s character as does the theatrical version, which waits nearly an hour into the film to get there. As with STRAIGHT TO HELL RETURNS (see above), I don’t feel the need to linger into extended or additional scenes—though some I greatly enjoy, like Philip talking about Zeus in the caves (in the Director’s Cut), and Brian Blessed’s scene as the wrestling trainer (in the Final Cut)—when I’m mostly satisfied overall with what I saw at the theater.

While I don’t deny that there are some elements in the film that I find weak, everything I love about ALEXANDER outweighs them.

It did take me a couple of viewings to accustom myself to Angelina Jolie’s accent, but if there is any one thing that still doesn’t convince me and keeps my emotions at bay it’s a few scenes shared between Jared Leto’s Hephaestion and Alexander. Even after all these years, it’s still a challenge to accept Leto’s attempted accent and delivery of some of his lines. But when compared to the rest of the film experience, it’s a small price to pay.
As I stated earlier, the stories I like best are the ones that spark off ideas. And I find that ALEXANDER has plenty to offer besides those great action setpieces.

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