Friday, May 05, 2006

Camera Obscura - A Cruise Bomb, Hostel and an Iguana's Night

Yet another dose of some classic movies worth viewing, some DVD treasures and some classic Hollywood nonsense for this Friday.

As testament to the Marketing Machine that is Tom Cruise, he was able to keep news of a new baby, a new movie and the arrival of JJ Abrams version of "Mission:Impossible 3" all front and center in the news. Much less press was given to the "M:I3" promotional stunt that brought out L.A. bomb squads to defuse what appeared to be bombs attatched to newspaper racks. Sleek black boxes were meant to play the theme music of the movie and "transform the everyday experience into an extraordinary mission". However, reports say the boxes were poorly made and attached, alarming many in the city to call emergency officials after seeing black boxes with wires hanging out throughout the city. Does this predict a "bomb" is about to hit the box office? The focus of the new movie is torture and love (something Cruise fans can't seem to get enough of), but it's bound to bring in huge sales this weekend.

Hollywood also turns it's attention to Tennessee yet again with a new movie based on the chilling accounts of the Bell Witch in the movie "An American Haunting", a story that's been knocking around like a true poltergeist for over 100 years. I remember when, around 5th grade, our teacher read us excerpts over several days from one of the more historical accounts of the hauntings from the so-called "Red Book" edition first printed in 1961 with that lurid colored cover. The book scared the bejesus out of all of us in the class, due to some historical facts and a rather remarkable reading skill of our teacher at the time.

You can read the entire "Red Book" edition online here. It has it's dry spots, but the endless accounts from all involved have made the tale memorable for generations.

Reviews of the movie are pretty bad at this point, and underscoring that is that the KNS movie writer (note I don't say critic) Betsy Pickle really thought it was good. An indication of the mediocrity likely in the movie is that director Courtney Solomon has so far given us two truly awful movies based on the "Dungeons and Dragons" role-playing game.

And since we're here at the Horror Movie Moment of today's post, I've been contacted by the folks at Anchor Bay Entertainment about an upcoming DVD release of a horror story co-written by Christian Matheson called "It Waits." I told them "I'd Wait" until I got a screener before offering a review.

Also this week I watched the uncut DVD edition of "Hostel", a story of a couple of Ugly Americans on a hedonistic tour of Europe, searching for limitless sex and drugs and finding that Europe is not feeling too kindly toward such decadent Americans. Back in the old days when some friends and I would gather to share movies we had found that would be a bit surprising or unknown to most, this movie falls into the category of a "Clear-The-Room-Movie." It is relentlessly gruesome and sadistic, and I kept wondering if writer/director Eli Roth ("Cabin Fever") was offering comments on the concepts of "rendition" and "secret prisons". It is as blunt as a chunk of rebar upside your head, and the "hero" of the movie decides to repay brutality with brutality. And to be honest, I had wished for a little more than a high-dollar "Dr. Butcher, M.D."

For some far better film journeys, it's worth noting that the 20th Anniversary season of PBS' "American Masters" series returns this Wednesday with an in-depth look at director John Ford and actor John Wayne and the 14 films they made together. Simply put - their films are among the best America made. Period. And their work did much to define the self-assessment of America's role in the modern world.

Finally, it is with much anticipation I await the upcoming re-mastered DVD release of the 1964 John Huston film of Tennessee Williams' "Night of the Iguana".

The movie has a blistering hilarious scene tinged with despair as The Rev.Dr. T. Laurence Shannon (played by Richard Burton at the top of his game) utterly breaks down mid-sermon and chases his congregation from the church. His ministerial career thus ended, he flees to the tropics acting as tour guide for a group from a Christian College, a collection of dim-witted spinsters and one very over-sexed girl (one of a handful of eye-popping sensual performances from actress Sue Lyon. A scene where Shannon attempts to resist her temptations by walking barefoot on glass is most memorable).

The bus, like Shannon, breaks down near Puerto Vallarta, where Shannon finds yet another woman, this one from his past, and again offering a terrific performance by Ava Gardner. Rumors at the time maintain that Burton's new wife, Elizabeth Taylor, stayed on set to keep Burton from romancing all the other women there.

However, the man in control of this movie is John Huston, who, as filming began, actually gave the actors loaded derringers, each containing bullets with the names of other castmembers engraved upon them. I can almost hear the raspy but powerfully booming voice of Huston telling the cast: "You may all decide to shoot and kill each other if your passions rise to unbearable heights. But rest assured, I will kill each of you with my bare hands should you be unable or unwilling to give me what I want when the cameras roll, you dear dumb children."

Huston never made films to meet Hollywood's expectations or pace them like a breathless summer blockbuster. He made movies with a steady, sure and appropriate pace, a master storyteller who takes the audience through smartly-written scripts, carefully composed scenes and explored the psychological dramas that offers characters of realism, depth and pure poetry.

(NOTE: for Wintermute - I'll get that Django Reinhardt clip posted over the weekend.)


  1. Ooooooooooooh goody.

    I love "Night of The Iguana" almost as much as I love "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf."

  2. I dig "Night of the Iguana" too. I love repressed sexual naughtiness, although my favorite film of that time is "Night of the Hunter."
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    Love, love, love "Night of the Hunter."

  4. Night of the Hunter - a bona fide classic, and most happily, the script of one of my favorite and notable Knoxville writers, James Agee.
    An astonishing movie of innocence and evil (or has his knuckles say Love/Hate)