Posted in MOVIES TO REMEMBER: The ol' favorites that The Lunch Movie kids might have watched had the tradition continued... on August 31st, 2010 by Jim Delaney

Saturday August 21, 2010 at The Brattle Theater, Cambridge, MA.

THE HARDER THEY COME, written & directed by Perry Henzel, starring Jimmy Cliff, Janet Barley, Carl Bradshaw and Basil Keane.

The Boston area has a long history with Perry Henzel’s first film. THE HARDER THEY COME was a midnight classic showing every Saturday for ten years at The Orson Welles Cinema until that theater was lost to an electrical fire in 1986. I became aware of the movie via Jimmy Cliff’s music video when I was in high school, back when MTV played songs. After numerous missed opportunities to see THE HARDER THEY COME in revival houses, the Brattle Theater offered the irresistible proposition of pairing it with Henzel’s second and final film, NO PLACE LIKE HOME.

It was worth the wait. Jimmy Cliff plays Ivanhoe Martin, a young man who leaves his deceased grandmother’s home in the Jamaican countryside, traveling to the city to bring his mother the remaining pocketful of cash from his grandmother’s savings. From there, Ivan’s path follows two cliched story lines — a) naive lad with a song in his heart trying to break into the music scene and b) decent but desperate unemployed guy descending into a life of crime. After a few false starts, Ivan succeeds both in recording his song, and establishing a foothold has a soldier in the ganja trade. The waters begin to muddy when corrupt local police team with flame-thrower bearing American soldiers, ostensibly to restrict international smuggling, while also potentially seizing distribution of a sacrament within Jamaica’s Rastafari movement.

As murky as the socio-political landscape becomes, so too does Ivan’s destiny. Within this story it appears Jamaica’s penal system has a problem similar to America’s: negative or violent behavior is not reformed but reenforced and enhanced. Early in the film, Ivan spends a brief period in jail, where he is humiliatingly beaten for a relatively minor crime. After being released from prison, Ivan gets in a fight with another man over a bicycle and brutally slashes his opponent’s face. If any confusion remains about Ivan’s path to becoming a bad@$$ anti-hero rather than a noble hero, compare his ambivalence during a church sermon to his exaltation while watching a spaghetti western. The latter sequence is hauntingly echoed as Ivan revels in his outlaw notoriety and imagines the eyes of the nation on he and his blazing guns.

THE HARDER THEY COME has been dismissed by some as being poorly made. I adamantly disagree. Cheaply made? Yes. It was shot in an impoverished nation on Super16mm, which in the ’70’s was a notch above your Uncle Larry’s home movie camera. It is unrealistic to fault a film made under these circumstances for not looking as crystal clear as the crane shots from THE CONSTANT GARDNER. This is no reason to ignore what has been captured here: the cracked and worn city across the tracks from the idyllic-fishing-village Jamaica most of the world had previously glimpsed in DR. NO. Henzel not only shows us a Caribbean nation as no feature film had done before, he shows what few have managed to do since. DePalma’s SCARFACE rushed to bask in the glamorous life, glossing over an opportunity both in Cuba and Miami to explore how Tony Montana’s street-level crime fed a much larger empire. THE HARDER THEY COME remains firmly rooted in that daily struggle that deludes thugs into thinking they can gain control simply by killing their immediate competitors, while unseen men grow rich on the blood of both factions.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME, written & directed by Perry Henzel, starring Carl Bradshaw, Susan O’Meara, P.J. Soles and Countryman.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME had as unusual a journey to the screen as could be imagined. Perry Henzel shot this quasi-metafiction story, in which actors and non-actors play versions of themselves, as an imperialism themed follow-up to the corruption themes of THE HARDER THEY FALL. What exists in the way of a linear story concerns an American camera crew attempting to shoot a shampoo commercial in Jamaica. The star of the commercial, P.J. Soles, disappears without a trace. Producer Susan O’Meara recruits driver-gofer-guy-in-the-know Carl Bradshaw to help her search the countryside for their star as the clock ticks on Madison Ave.

…And then … Henzel’s footage vanished. No friends, this is not a CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or BLAIR WITCH trick, Henzel’s film actually vanished before he was able to edit it together! In a twist that would be considered incredible if one tried to pass it off as fiction, Henzel’s footage was recovered in a New York film lab nearly 30 years later. Henzel completed NO PLACE LIKE HOME, which premiered to a sold-out crowd at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival, but he succumbed to cancer days before it was to premiere in Jamaica.

The resulting film is, on the surface, sexier and more playful that THE HARDER THEY COME. Carl Bradshaw finds time for afternoon delight (with Grace Jones!) in the middle of a workday, P.J. Soles lounges topless under a waterfall waiting for the camera crew to stop arguing, and Susan O’Meara notices that Carl is a pretty interesting fella while both of them are supposed to be searching for missing P.J. This is all surface, mind you. The point that Henzel drives home is that while these luxurious distractions occur, high-rise hotels are springing up and commercials are being shot, but little of the money being generated reaches the local economy. In 1972, Ivanhoe Martin risked the “If you can’t beat ’em” option, as the aforementioned unseen criminal empire benefited from the blood on Jamaican streets. By 1976 the unseen benefactors of Jamaica’s sweat and tears had become more legitimate businesses, forcing Carl Bradshaw to face the “Join ’em?” end of the equation.


SECONDS (1966)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on August 26th, 2010 by Jim Delaney

From Wednesday, March 17, 2008

Directed by John Frankenheimer, starring Rock Hudson, John Randolph and Jeff Corey, featuring an early score by the late great Jerry Goldsmith.

Arthur Hamilton (Randolph), an aging banker, fears his hum-drum yet wealthy life may be sputtering to an end. He is confronted by an agency that offers to give him a new face, a new identity and new youth … by murdering the person with Hamilton’s ideal life and surgically altering him to replace that man. When Hamilton awakens to find that his has become international jet-setter Tony Wilson (Hudson) he also awakens to the greater price that that the shadowy agency charges for their service.

SECONDS was the third in what is considered Frankenheimer’s “Paranoia trilogy,” after THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE in 1962 and SEVEN DAYS IN MAY in ’64. These films were in many ways ahead of their time. Paranoid political/social thrillers became a standard American genre in the 70’s, but few measured up the the hand-held camera/fish-eye-lensed nightmares Frankenheimer unleashed on an audience who had yet to learn to distrust The Powers That Be.

It’ll finish Friday,
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 8.26.10
Aside from an intriguing story and unique photography by James Wong How, SECONDS is also a subtle and evocative study in duality. Arthur Hamilton is a Manhattan bank manager who is well regarded at his job. If he is not overly happily married, he and his wife at least seem content in their manicured Scarsdale home. One could expect a man this established in the east coast in the 1960’s to be living the Don Draper life, but he’s feeling more Bert Cooper. Having acquired just about everything a man of his stature could want, everything he’d worked for, Hamilton remains so unsatisfied that he is willing to pay $30,000 to reboot his life. Bear in mind that fee would translate to nearly $200,000 today!

The new life Hamilton receives, established artist Tony Wilson living a stones throw from the Pacific in a Malibu bungalow, fails to deliver the comfort he seeks. Tony Wilson had already earned his reputation before Hamilton assumed his life, leaving Hamilton with no sense of accomplishment for Tony’s deeds. Further, Tony runs within a circle of counter-cultural folks whose sexually and spiritually liberation outright confuses and scares Hamilton. An extended bacchanalian sequence during harvest in Santa Barbara wine country is staged as a sun-drenched nightmare for a buttoned-up gent like Hamilton.

Arthur Hamilton, the aging repressed solitary man from back east, could not be much more different from young bon vivant Tony Wilson from out west. The one thing unifying these divergent bodies is the ability for their singular heart and mind to despair. The horror of SECONDS is that you can find misery anywhere you seek it, and you cannot afford comfort. Personal note: as a devout fan of Santa Barbara wine country, since before SIDEWAYS brought the world to its door, it is really cool to see from what ragged roots that region sprung.

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Posted in MOVIES TO LOOK FORWARD TO: Coming Soon or Now Playing In A Theater Near You... on August 14th, 2010 by Jim Delaney

Friday August 6, 2010 at the Landmark Kendall Sq, Cambridge MA

Written & Directed by Michael Stephenson, starring George Hardy, Claudio Fragasso, Connie Young and Margo Prey.

In 1999 there was no such thing the classic TV series “Galaxy Quest;” the show was invented so that the endearingly hilarious film GALAXY QUEST could exist. Had TROLL 2 not existed, it would have been worth inventing, if only to supply the back-story to BEST WORST MOVIE. TROLL 2 is a goofy fun horror film shot in Utah in 1989 but not released until 1992. The documentary BEST WORST MOVIE examines the making of, vanishing of, and unexpected resurgence of TROLL 2. The film’s voyage to cult status began when HBO aired it in 1993. Possibly the most slowly contagious viral video ever, TROLL 2 spent the next 10+ years growing a following of fans that held parties to screen it on worn VHS copies.

Word of these parties reached Michael Stephenson, who as a child appeared in TROLL 2 as Joshua Waits. Stephenson’s curiosity became two-fold: 1) who were these people who had embraced a movie that was regarded as preferably forgotten even by some of it’s cast and 2) what had become of that cast? BEST WORST MOVIE is Stephenson’s document of his exploration of both these questions. His very fortunate first move was to enlist George Hardy, who had played his father Michael Waits, to help him track down the rest of the TROLL 2 cast. George Hardy is a man too friendly, too funny, too decent, too all-around positive for fiction. If BEST WORST MOVIE were a fictitious lampoon of cult status like GALAXY QUEST, some development exec dork in a suit would have insisted Mr. Hardy be a secret alcoholic with a terrible mystery in his past to give him some lazy version of “depth.” But this is real life, and in real life and in BEST WORST MOVIE, even George Hardy’s ex-wife has only good things to say about him. The great joy of BEST WORST MOVIE is watching the semi father and son team of Stephenson and Hardy retrace their family tree. What I have given you here is prologue, plus a hint of who the principle characters are now — I am reluctant to say any more, other than that their journey is funny, sad and always intriguing. It is a trip worth taking for anyone who has ever opposed a chorus of disapproval to champion a movie, actor, singer, song, painter, building or any other artist or work of art.

With the exception of TROLL 2’s director Claudio Fragasso, everyone in Stephenson’s cast and crew family seems astounded by the recent success of TROLL 2. I read one review of BEST WORST MOVIE that made the interesting point that some ironic hipster audiences these days find it easier to laugh at a movie than to truly love it. I agree that this may account for some of the adoration Stephenson and Hardy experience in midnight TROLL 2 screenings across the country, but I think there is something else. TROLL 2 comes from an absurd premise, as does John Carl Buechler’s 1986 film TROLL, but it is a wildly inventive completely off the wall premise. When you watch either of these films, you may not like them, but you sure as hell won’t find yourself saying “I’ve already seen this in That Movie,” or “This is such a rip-off of Fill In The Blank!” No friends, the TROLL films are an unmistakably distinct experience. I submit that this is what GOBLIN-shirt wearing fans line up for; they’d rather see a low budget ridiculously inventive green-goop splatter-fest than a bloated big studio action movie without a prayer for something unique because it was made by the same committee formula as every other “summer tent-pole event” movie.

It could also be suggested that BEST WORST MOVIE benefits heavily from the slowly creeping growth of the ranks of TROLL 2 fans. Some more recent cult films like THE BIG LEBOWSKI and DONNIE DARKO found their core audience so quickly after their under-performing initial theatrical release that there was no time to sit back and take stock of what was reeling in these die-hard fans. As unusual as was the story of TROLL 2, so too is the singular experience at the heart of BEST WORST MOVIE, of this cast and their nearly generational transition with their fans. At the end of this year, I expect there will be no $100M high-octane movie hero whose quest I will have enjoyed rooting for as much as I did Mark and George’s.



Posted in MOVIES TO LOOK FORWARD TO: Coming Soon or Now Playing In A Theater Near You... on August 9th, 2010 by Jim Delaney

Friday, July 30, 2009 at The Brattle Theater, Cambridge MA

Written & Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, starring Mads Mikkelson and Maarten Stevenson.

I love it when a movie completely subverts my expectations and still gets me to go along for the ride. Considering Refn’s contemporary films, his urgent PUSHER trilogy and last year’s kinetic BRONSON, I expected VALHALLA RISING to be an explosively violent medieval epic. Bludgeonings, beheadings and the most nonchalantly delivered evisceration I’ve ever witnessed are all on the menu — albeit in very controlled portions. In between the skull crushings are stretches of physical and spiritual quest that have been broken up into six chapters: Wrath, Silent Warrior, Men Of God, and … I’ll spare you the spoiler of revealing more of the chapter titles. Suffice it to say that if you are unfamiliar with Refn’s character driven films, and stumble in expecting THE 13th WARRIOR or CLASH OF THE TITANS, you will be disappointed.

VALHALLA RISING follows a one-eyed savage fighter whom we first meet being dragged in chains across windswept barrens. The fighter is mute, but capable of fleeting glimpses of his near future; we never learn whether his silence is by choice or inability to speak. His keepers bet on his skill with annihilating the champion in each village they pass through. The fighter eventually slips his bonds and slays his keepers, sparing only a young boy named Are who had given him food and water during his long march. Are repays the favor by christening the fighter, imaginatively enough, One-Eye.

One-Eye and Are soon find themselves in the company of Christian Vikings intent on a crusade to Jerusalem. The Vikings have conflicting reasons for their crusade, but One-Eye’s second sight suggests that he belongs on this quest. When the Vikings’ ship becomes lost at sea, they wonder if they are headed for Hell rather than The Holy Land, and whether Are or One-Eye is the cause of their misfortune.

VALHALLA RISING, both in style and substance, questions the nature of spiritual awakening. Rejecting the operatic scores of Hollywood medieval epics, Refn uses a creeping and droning symphony of dread, broken more often by unnerving silence than screaming combat. We are not following heroes; this expedition is as lost spiritually as it is geographically. Each of the Vikings falls short of their mission, some seeking personal glory and others fortune. None are on this crusade for personal salvation or the glory of God, begging whether it is One Eye who has led them to Hell or these false prophets who have created their own damnation. VALHALLA RISING underscores the damage that weak men do to the faith of innocents, and the strength of courageous men to transcend the manipulations of cowards.