Justin is a freelance film writer based in Detroit. He writes for Shock Cinema Magazine and is the host of the sporadically released Mondo Film Podcast.
01. Foxfur (2012)
Words truly can't describe Damon Packard's latest effort, but if I had to choose a few they'd be: insane, sickening, mystical, surreal, fantasy, scary, cartoon, spiritual, reality, homage and genius. Each frame of Packard's Foxfur is a Rorschach ink blotter test, and each minute of Foxfur is a holy experience. Foxfur is a profound and enlightening feature length fever dream experimentation that I'd equate to one's first discovery of love, death, truth, fear and self. A visual Strychnine journey into new age theory and ideas put together by one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation. A true masterpiece through and through. A mind fuck put onto film. I could watch Foxfur a thousand times and not be able to put into words the visceral experience the film gives its viewer. A must see. My favorite film of 2012 old or new.
02. 30 Is A Dangerous Age, Cynthia! (1968)
Dudley Moore co-writes, composes and stars in a follow-up to Bedazzled (1967) - 30 Is A Dangerous Age, Cynthia! Moore plays Rupert Street, a struggling composer who resides in a boarding house who wakes up and decides that he wants to write an full scale musical and get married to the girl of his dreams (whom he hasn't met yet) by his 30th birthday. His birthday is only 3 weeks away. When Rupert meets Louise (played by Moore's then wife, Suzy Kendall) he falls head over heels in love and a wonderfully genius and surreal tale sets in motion. Cynthia is one of those films that most will hate for it's nonsensical approach and uneven storytelling, but it's a total masterpiece of absurd fantasy, fairytale, spoof and slapstick intertwined with swinging '60s mod fashion, music and humor. Cynthia moves along as if it's a Warner Brothers cartoon intercut inside of a musical romantic comedy peaking on LSD. Moore and Kendall have a chemistry that makes one wish that they would've made more films together. As much as one can be infatuated with Bedazzled this one is the real doorway to discovering Moore's unparalleled genius as a comic, writer and musician. It's become one of my very favorite films of all time this year. Not on DVD.
03. The Fountainhead (1949)
My first exposure to The Fountainhead came as a young man seeing Dirty Dancing (1987) in the theater with my mom. I remember that scene where 'Robbie', the womanizing waiter shows 'Baby' his paperback copy of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, and she's just so disgusted with him. The Fountainhead is an uncompromising story of artistic integrity, human conviction and uncontrollable lust. Gary Cooper plays Howard Roark, an architect with an ahead-of-its-time design aesthetic and the New York City design community shuns him for it. Patricia Neal, in a early role plays Dominique Francon, a stubborn writer who falls for Roark and his designs but refuses to give in to her own temptations. The two fight like dogs in heat until everything bursts with furious raw sexual energy. The Fountainhead is an epic story and feels and looks just as grandiose as something of the same era, Citizen Kane. Directed by the legendary King Vidor, The Fountainhead has stunning performances from Cooper and Neal, sneaky visual metaphors, incredible blacks and whites, as well as fucking insane camera angles and movements plus a big Max Steiner score. I'd call it a masterpiece.
04. Tetro (2009)
I gotta say I'm really embarrassed to admit the fact that I missed Tetro on it's initial release. Not only am I a huge Vincent Gallo fan, but Francis Ford Coppola was the first filmmaker whose work I ever fell in love with as a young teenager. In fact, I religiously followed FFC's career up until the release of Jack (1995), then I stopped caring. With that being said, I spent the last quarter of 2012 reacquainting myself with Coppola in preparation for a project, and searching out Tetro, and the film before it's release, Youth Without Youth (2007) has really reminded me of my initial point of view on him, which is that Francis Coppola is probably the greatest filmmaker of his generation. Tetro proves that.
Tetro is a master's stroke examination on a classic Coppola cinematic theme - family. Shot in South America, Coppola makes a return of sorts to his original late '60s ideology of wanting to make personal films. While each of his films have personal and confessional elements at play, Coppola's film The Rain People (1969) was his first truly personal work, and the spark that fueled the fire that would become American Zoetrope of that same year.
Tetro sees Coppola as a antiqued grand master, a true god of story telling, a warrior for framing, and metaphoric lighting. It's also a rich homage to Coppola's influences as well. It pays nods to Michael Powell's The Tales Of Hoffman (1951), The Red Shoes (1948), the French New Wave and it's also a big tribute to Coppola's own brother August (father of Nicholas Cage) and his days of directing theater at Hofstra University in the late '50s. It's the film that Coppola had been waiting to make his entire career, signaling true auteur status amongst his peers and prisons of debt. It's one of his very best films, and if you haven't seen it, shame on you.
05. Jeanne Eagels (1957)
Kim Novak gives the performance of her career as Jeanne Eagels, in a late '50s epic Columbia pictures bio-pic of the notorious stage and silent era film actress most famous for her performance in The Letter (1929). Novak is incredible as Eagels, a nothing circus performer who works her way up from the circus and onto the NYC stage to become the biggest female star of the stage and screen era while chewing through everyone and drinking her way down to the bottom. Supporting cast includes Jeff Chandler, and the great Agnes Moorehead. Eagels is directed by one of the most under-rated musical directors of the era, George Sidney (Viva Las Vegas, Bye Bye Birdy, The Swinger). Eagels isn't a musical, but it fits Sidney's sensibilities as he was the director of choice for Novak in the '50s and would be the same for Ann-Margaret throughout the '60s. Novak is a stunning yet uber hungry bitch of she beast in Eagels and after some boozing anyone would want to kill her. It's truly a masterful performance, and the film's David Lynchian / Norma Desmond esque heavenly descent is insane for the era in which it was made. Only available in the Columbia Novak DVD box set.
06. I Think We're Alone Now (2008)
Documentarian Sean Donnelly's feature follows around two men with mental disorders that are obsessed with and stalk '80s pop singer, Tiffany. Jeff, born with Asperger's syndrome and Kelly, an accident victim and hermaphrodite each explain their respective interest in and love for the '80s pop star. Sadly, Tiffany isn't interviewed for the film, but she's seen throughout the film as the two follow her around the West Coast to autograph signings, conventions and concerts etc. You can see the fear in her eyes. Many may find Alone Now a bit creepy or disturbing, but I found myself fighting off the tears from living inside the pain and sadness of their lives for just seventy minutes.
07. The Small World Of Sammy Lee (1963)
Incredibly dirty and claustrophobic Soho London tale of a seedy strip club entertainer named Sammy Lee and the five hours he has to raise the money he needs to pay off his gambling debts or suffer the mortal consequences. Written and Directed by Ken Hughes, Sammy Lee has brilliant atmosphere, cinematography, and a huge must see performance from British comic and singer, Anthony Newley. Considering the film takes place in and out of a strip club almost in real time, it seems that maybe it could have been considered a bit controversial for the era in which it was released with its semi-nudity, especially in the U.K.
The character of 'Sammy Lee' was such a well regarded role that creator Ken Hughes and his character were remade a few times. Star of the 1963 film, Anthony Newley had already brought the character to life once on BBC television in 1958, a Russian version of the film was made in 1972, and Bill Cosby expressed an keen interest in playing the role at the end of the '60s in Hollywood. Sammy Lee is a epic character study that pre-dates films like Run Lola Run (1998) or Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962).
08. It Might Get Loud (2008)
A philosophical look that comes the closest to capturing the essence of feeling what it's like to love playing guitar and music in general. With Rashomon like storytelling, It Might Get Loud features the coming-of-age stories of U2's The Edge, The White Stripes Jack White, and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. Loud offers utter bliss when the three men meet in person for a jam session finale of each others music. The true Goosebumps moment in the film is when both The Edge and Jack White ask Page to play the guitar intro to Zeppelin's 'Whole Lotta Love', and not only can you see it in their eyes that this is one of the most incredible moments of their lives, but you too as the audience will be able to feel the exact same thing at home as well.
09. Fuego (1969)
Produced and directed by the late actor Armando Bó, the Argentinean Russ Meyer and his muse/lead actress Isabel Sarli, Fuego aka Fire sees 'Laura' as a clinically diagnosed woman with "exaggerated pathological sexual desire." In a series of bizarre fever dream vignettes in Argentina and New York City Laura seeks sexual gratification by any means necessary. There's a fire in her, and the only way to extinguish it is to be in a constant state of pleasure. Not your typical late '60s exploitation fare, Sarli as Laura doesn't want to live her life this way, and goes to great lengths to find a cure for her disease with the aid of her husband, Carlos (Armando Bó). Fuego features of-the-time bizarre camera trickery, strange surreal dissolves, a soap opera aesthetic and a insane '60s rock score that will not leave your mind for months after viewing the film because it's played every single time that Sarli hits the screen. It could be a drinking game.
Armando Bó and Isabel Sarli would make over 20 films together before disbanding at the end of the '70s. Only 3-4 have made it to DVD in the USA to date courtesy of Something Weird Video. The rest of their catalogue, while not in the English language makes for fascinating viewing, as the heat that emanates from Isabel Sarli off your television screen breaks any language barrier. Bo and Sarli's films certainly don't have the cartoon insanity or innovative editing style that Meyer has become famous for today, but no Russ Meyer girl could hold a candle to Isabel Sarli of Fuego either.
10. Godfather III (1990)
I just want to stick my tongue out at anyone that dislikes The Godfather III. Reacquainting myself with everything Coppola in the last quarter of 2012 I've revisited Godfather III several times. I, like many others have always had a disliking for the final chapter after seeing it with my parents on it's initial release. The Godfather films have always had this supernatural hold on me as a film fan. You can't watch any of them just once. I will watch them over and over and over, until I'm in the shower the next day saying lines like, "Leave the gun, take the canoli." Another one of my favorite lines, "Michael Francis Ritzi...do you renounce Satan? I do." Note Michael's middle name. I think the dislike of The Godfather III comes from the fact that it's no longer a story of a family, but a shift into a story about one man. Godfather III is no longer the story of a king and his princes, but the story of a man searching and begging for redemption from evil doings. Or maybe its something else.
At it's core, The Godfather III has an incredible cast and a brilliant script. But maybe that's its problem? Looking back at the first two Godfather films, Coppola cast a who's who list of unknowns and up-and-coming actors. Paramount didn't want Pacino, and they fought FFC on Brando. John Cazale? Who's that? With The Godfather III the entire cast is made up of very well known faces. George Hamilton, Eli Wallach, Bridget Fonda, Donal Donnelly, Joe Mantegna. The list goes on. Then there is Sofia Coppola.
In the role of Mary, Michael Corleone's beloved daughter, Coppola had originally cast Winona Ryder. But Ryder dropped out of the show just days before principal photography began in Rome in mid 1989. Coppola put his daughter Sofia in the role, and all hell broke loose.
The critics destroyed Coppola, his daughter and the film, and while Paramount Studios expected the film to clean up at the 1991 Academy Awards, it became a sour footnote in the studio's legacy.
For myself, revisiting the film again several times in 2012, it seems really unfair to place the blame of the part III debacle on one actress. Sofia Coppola, with the exception of a couple scenes is pretty good. There are some clunky moments with her, but by using her instead of Winona Ryder it sort of saves the film. The casting of Sofia Coppola offers a recapturing of the mystique that the first two films had in a way. It gives the film a more authentic feeling. The key to the success of the first two Godfather films was the fact that they didn't feel like Hollywood movies, even though subconsciously we all knew that they were.
Another element that damages the film is its screenplay. Its a brilliantly executed screenplay, but perhaps the premise of the story was a bit too much for audiences. Its the story of one of the richest and most powerful families to ever exist in the zeitgeist and the head of that family in an attempt at redemption tries to buy his way into religion and into the graces of god himself. This premise of insane almost unbelievable fantasy, but yet still a good and compelling one too.
The sheer excitement for me that The Godfather III provides is from the performance of Al Pacino. A difference man now, Pacino as Corleone is a powerful but desperate man, filled with regrets and fears. This is the genius of Al Pacino and of Francis Coppola and Mario Puzo. There is a pain in Pacino's eyes, and in the physicality of his aging body. There's sickness too. Even the mightiest men fall, no matter how strong they once appeared. As the audience we know that Michael Corleone can never been killed, yet he must die here. If not literally, then metaphorically. And how can we care too for a man that's killed his own brother, his sister's husband and beat his wife? Coppola agrees with us, and as god he kills the one thing that is the most precious element in Michael's life, his daughter. Someone will suffer the tortures of the damned. If The Godfather III doesn't share any parallels to Shakespearian story then nothing does. There was a good reason why both Coppola and Puzo originally wanted to call the film, The Death Of Michael Corleone.
The pain on Pacino's face in the final moments of the film as the Corleone character holds the body of his daughter close to him as he lets out a prayer of silent scream is one of the most emotionally devastating scenes in the history of film. Its been bringing me to tears all this year.
The Godfather III is what the other Godfather films aren't, a true character study. It's not the horrible travesty you once thought it was. It's just a different and more in-depth look into the life of the same man we already know, or at least thought we knew, and ignoring the film or discrediting it is admitting ignorance, because it is an important American film despite a couple of harmless typos inside of it. Revisit.