Bargain Bin(ge): The Rhythm Section (Gatlinburg, TN)

This past weekend, I took a trip with my family to spend Thanksgiving in the tourist destination of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, right in the midst of the Smoky Mountains.

During the time that we were there, a small fire in Chimney Tops burned in relative containment in a section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just a few miles away from the city. We even drove past it on Saturday, and took photos of the smoke from a nearby park road, assuming it was essentially under control. Less than 24 hours after we left Gatlinburg to go home on Sunday, extreme wind gusts spread the fire rapidly through the dry forest, and brought the blaze into the town at an unprecedented speed. At the time of this writing, I have seen a handful of images and videos of the damage done to Gatlinburg, but the real extent of the fire isn’t entirely clear. Currently, there are 3 confirmed deaths in association with the fire.

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This is what the Chimney Tops fire looked like when I saw it on Nov 26

Before this tragedy erupted, I did the same thing that I do with any location I visit: I stopped by a local record store to take a look at their movie and soundtrack selections. In the case of Gatlinburg, I was a little surprised to find a little shop called The Rhythm Section. The town itself is quite small, so I assume this little spot has survived on the heavy tourism traffic in the area as opposed to consistent local patronage. In any case, the shop is as charming as it is compact, and might be the most space-utilitarian record store I have seen.

rhythm3Unfortunately, the shop has a specific policy banning photography in the store, so I don’t have my usual photographic coverage for this post.  However, I will say that the selection of posters, buttons, t-shirts, and other miscellaneous items was off the charts, even if the selection of records wasn’t as fleshed out. The DVD selection was also pretty impressive: there were a fair number of cult and foreign flicks in their stacks, including a mixture of Hesei and Showa Godzilla features that you wouldn’t stumble across terribly often.

rhythm2However, as the name suggests, The Rhythm Section is definitely a music-first shop. If that is your passion, then this is a place that deserves some dedicated time. For movie fans, their selection is interesting and entertaining, but not terribly deep or thrifty. I’d still recommend picking up something, even just a patch or a button, because the place is just such a welcome sight among a plethora of cheap, confederate flag peddling junk stores.

rhythm1In the wake of the fires that have done such immense damage to the region, and Gatlinburg in particular, I’m sending all my best to the folks at The Rhythm Section, and the other residents of the impacted area. If you want to help, I’ve seen some recommendations to support the organization Friends of the Smokies.

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Disturbing Behavior

Disturbing Behavior

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Today’s feature is a 1998 high school set science-fiction horror movie not call The Faculty: Disturbing Behavior.

The plot of Disturbing Behavior is summarized on IMDb as follows:

The new kid in town stumbles across something sinister about the town’s method of transforming its unruly teens into upstanding citizens.

Disturbing Behavior was written by Scott Rosenberg, who also penned screenplays for High Fidelity, Con Air, Kangaroo Jack, Gone In Sixty Seconds, and the upcoming Jumanji reboot.

The director for Disturbing Behavior was David Nutter, who has done extensive directing work for television shows like Game of Thrones, The X-Files, The Flash, Arrow, Homeland, The Mentalist, The Sopranos, Supernatural, and The West Wing, among others.

The cinematographer for the picture was John S. Bartley, who shot the film Wrong Turn, and also worked extensively on television shows like 21 Jump Street, The X-Files, Lost, and Bates Motel.

behavior4Disturbing Behavior was cut by Randy Jon Morgan, who has had a long career editing on television, including on shows like Law & Order, ER, Criminal Minds, CSI, and Nash Bridges.

The music for the movie was composed by Mark Snow, who provided music for shows like The X-Files, The Lone Gunmen, Starsky & Hutch, and T.J. Hooker over his career.

The cast of Disturbing Behavior is made up of James Marsden (Westworld, X-Men), Katie Holmes (Phone Booth, The Singing Detective, Batman Begins), Nick Stahl (Terminator 3, Sin City), Steve Railsback (Nukie, Lifeforce, Deadly Games), Bruce Greenwood (Capote, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Thirteen Days), Katharine Isabelle (American Mary, Ginger Snaps), and William Sadler (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile).

behavior1Although an original director’s cut of Disturbing Behavior was approved by the studio for release, the feature was forced into re-cutting by the studio after a mixed test-screening that yielding criticisms of the ending and a sex scene, which were both ultimately removed. In response to the studio interference, the director tried to have his name removed from the movie, but eventually allowed it to remain in spite of his reservations. The director’s cut of the movie has never been released officially, though all of the removed scenes are featured as extras on the official DVD release.

The movie currently holds a 5.5/10 IMDb user rating, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 35% from critics and 39% from audiences, making it overall pretty poorly regarded.

Disturbing Behavior had a lifetime domestic box office total of $17.5 million on an estimated budget of $15 million, which I assume probably made it break even with relatively low advertising costs. However, I’m sure that a far more lucrative return was hoped for.

Holmes and Marsden are both perfectly serviceable supporting actors if you ask me, but I don’t think that either of them are emotive enough to carry a feature as a lead. In a best case scenario, they could lean on their co-lead to carry them. But, as is the case in this movie, when both leads are stone-faced pseudo-stoics, the movie as a whole suffers.

That said, for as much as Marsden and Holmes don’t work in this movie, Stahl does. His character feels a little more tangible and real than everyone around him, despite some moments of ridiculously quippy dialogue. When his character is eventually turned, his performance really makes it work, and is really the saving grace of the movie.

behavior3Something that bothered me a bit while watching the movie was the fact that not much time was given to exploring the hormonal rage side effect exhibited by a few of the characters. I thought this was the major conflict would come in during the climax: that eventually all of the students would be in a permanent rage-state as a result of their surgeries, leading them to attack everything that moves. While that would be less Stepford-like, which is what the movie was clearly going for, I think it could have made for an interesting sort of youth-in-revolt, generational conflict movie.

Speaking of the concept, I like the general idea of putting The Stepford Wives in a high school. There are a lot of social dynamics at work there, most prominently the fear of unruly youth in rebellion, the social dynamics of high school cliques, and the control each generation tries to exert upon the next. That said, this film didn’t quite capitalize on this potential, mostly by not showing much of the adult plot and motivations. Also, I think there was a missed potential here for a race angle: the violence people fear in schools, particularly “inner-city” ones, is almost always spawned from racism, something that isn’t at all addressed here (until the stinger at the end of the film, in a minor way). The in-group / out-group dynamic would also have been far more powerful from that perspective, and the film could have even had a plot based around the idea of school integration. Alas, it is what it is.

As with most high school movies, Disturbing Behavior just can’t resist bowing to the overdone, cartoonish, and exaggerated clique divides that dominate the genre. While the in-group out-group dynamic does serve a purpose for the plot, the initial introduction to the school introduced a ton of different “classes” which are never brought back up again. So, why even include E-heads and nerds if they don’t play into the story at all? Ultimately, this story is a conflict between the “fixed” kids and everyone else, so these other cliques weren’t ever necessary to establish.

Another pretty serious issue with this movie is the evil plot at the center of it. Not only is the villain a cartoonish (yet not entertaining) caricature of a mad scientist (who utters “science is god” just prior to being defeated), but his plot hinges entirely on the idea that all of the parents in the town will universally agree to mind control their children. If even one set of parents refuses to comply and reports him, the gig is up. The story never even addresses this issue: the parents are all more than happy to subject their children to experimental brain surgery without their consent, which is almost as fucked up as it is wildly unrealistic.

From reading about the crew, it was interesting to see how many of the key members came from an explicitly television background. Somewhat predictably, the movie looks and feels like it belongs on television as a result: something about the style seems more fit for a TV movie than a feature release. And, honestly, I think this movie probably could have been made as a television movie if they had creatively avoided some of the unnecessary CGI shots, and hired down with the casting a little more.

Overall, Disturbing Behavior is weighed down a lot by the lack of chemistry between the leads, some lazy writing that doesn’t do the intriguing concept justice, and a studio-interfered final cut that loses some key details. With all of that said, it is easily as watchable as any given episode of a late season of The X-Files.

I would recommend giving it a shot if you happen to come across it somewhere organically, but I don’t think it is worth specifically seeking out. The Faculty, its better-regarded and more fondly-remembered psuedo-twin is just a lot more fun: it has a better comedic voice to contrast the dark scenario, and has a far more dynamic and sympathetic cast of characters. It think Disturbing Behavior is rightfully overshadowed by it, and the comparisons it draws will always leave it with the short end of the stick.

Larry Cohen Collection: “Perfect Strangers”

Perfect Strangers

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Today, I am continuing my spotlight on the career of notable b-movie writer/director Larry Cohen, who I interviewed earlier this year. Next up is 1984’s Perfect Strangers.

The plot of Perfect Strangers is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A hit-man tries to seduce the mother of a child who witnessed his most recent kill.

Perfect Strangers was both written and directed by Larry Cohen, and was released in the same year as another of his films, Special Effects. Perfect Strangers was Cohen’s follow-up directorial feature after the 1982 cult classic monster movie Q: The Winged Serpent.

The cast of Perfect Strangers includes Brad Rijn (Special Effects, A Return To Salem’s Lot), Anne Carlisle (Liquid Sky, Desperately Seeking Susan), Stephen Lack (Scanners, Dead Ringers), and Ann Magnuson (Small Soldiers, Glitter, Panic Room).

The cinematographer for the film was Paul Glickman, a frequent Larry Cohen collaborator who also shot The Stuff, Special Effects, God Told Me To, and See China And Die.

Perfect Strangers was edited by Armond Lebowitz, who also cut Larry Cohen’s films The Ambulance, Full Moon High, A Return To Salem’s Lot, Special Effects, The Stuff, and Q: The Winged Serpent.

Currently, Perfect Strangers has a 5.3/10 user rating on IMDb, from just over 230 submitted user reviews.

When I first heard about Perfect Strangers, I thought that the concept sounded pretty promising. The idea of a hitman needing to take out a child witness, and doing so by initiating a relationship with the mothers, creates an interesting atmosphere for tension. Unfortunately, this movie never really goes anywhere with that idea, and never feels much like a thriller or a romance.

The biggest issue with the movie is, surprisingly, the writing. Cohen has written some interesting and thoughtful screenplays, but this definitely isn’t one of them. I’m not sure if this was just rushed, but the characters don’t have any depth to them, and their dialogue and interactions all feel and look incredibly forced and unbelievable. Worse yet, there are a number of subplots that range from being uninteresting to being mind-warpingly ridiculous, like the presented local feminist action group members in that story who all behave like one-dimensional, man-hating caricatures written to life from the darker corners of the internet.

It doesn’t help that Cohen just doesn’t seem to have anything to say with this movie. His stronger stories have typically had roots in satirizing elements of culture, or understanding popular anxieties. Perfect Strangers comes off like the entire film was an excuse to rail against modern feminists and new-age mothering techniques, which he had mysterious personal vendettas against. The result is a straw man dressed up like a romantic thriller, and it shows.

perfectstrangers2Another huge problem with Perfect Strangers is the cinematography. The entire movie was filmed in pretty extreme soft focus, like it entirely takes place in a sitcom flashback or a shitty sex scene. I actually thought that something was wrong with the transfer, but apparently the movie was intended to be filmed in blur-o-vision. It is not only distracting, but it makes the entire movie look less rich and detailed, and almost supernatural. For a movie that should be grounded in a grim and gritty reality, the technique just doesn’t fit at all.

Last but not least, and I can’t emphasize this enough, Perfect Strangers has some of the most obnoxious, shitty child acting I have ever seen, which is particularly impressive because the child character is essentially a mute. I can’t totally blame this on the child, though: I’m pretty sure this was an inevitable outcome for casting a two year old. For the life of me, I don’t understand why Cohen didn’t write the kid as just a little bit older, so that they might have been able to find a child actor capable of pulling it off. The child could just be a mute or something, and the story could have worked almost exactly the same.

I’m pretty sure that Perfect Strangers is the worst Larry Cohen feature I have seen so far, but I still have a few left to get through before I’ve gotten through his primary filmography. I certainly can’t recommend it to anyone: this was a career misstep on Cohen’s part for sure if you ask me.

 

Dr. Strange

Dr. Strange

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In honor of the big budget Marvel release this past weekend, today I want to take a look at one of the most overlooked Marvel movies of the past: 1978’s Dr. Strange.

The plot of Dr. Strange is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A psychiatrist becomes the new Sorcerer Supreme of the Earth in order to battle an evil Sorceress from the past.

This television movie incarnation of Dr. Strange was written, directed, produced, and generally conjured up by Philip DeGuere Jr., who was a career television writer and director who had assorted credits on shows like JAG, NCIS, The Dead Zone, and the 1980s incarnation of The Twilight Zone.

The film was shot by Enzo Martinelli, who provided cinematography work on a handful of television shows throughout his career, including Battlestar Galactica, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Munsters.

Dr. Strange was edited by Christopher Nelson, who has had a long career editing acclaimed television shows like Lost, House, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Hill Street Blues, The Incredible Hulk, Nash Bridges, and Bates Motel, among others.

Beyond DeGuere, the other producers for Dr. Strange were Gregory Hoblit, who went on to direct movies like Frequency, Fallen, and Primal Fear, and Alex Beaton, who produced the Doctor Who movie, The Greatest American Hero, and Kung Fu.

The music for Dr. Strange was composed by Paul Chihara, who also provided scores for Death Race 2000, The Bad News Bears Go To Japan, The Killing Time, The Morning After, Prince of the City, and the television series China Beach.

strange3The cast of Dr. Strange is made up most notably of Peter Hooten (Orca, The Inglorious Bastards) and Jessica Walter (Arrested Development, Archer), with the rest of the cast filled out by television regulars.

In 2016, a big budget Marvel film focused on the Doctor Strange character was released. It stars the much-beloved actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, in the role of Hugo Strange, and an accessory cast that boasts the likes of Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelson.

Dr. Strange was meant to serve as a backdoor pilot for a network TV series, which would have given CBS three live action Marvel properties, including the already running The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider Man. However, CBS ultimately decided against creating a series around Dr. Strange due to low ratings.

strange2Morgan Le Fay, the antagonist in Dr. Strange, made her appearance in the Marvel comics universe shortly after the film released, but interestingly wouldn’t encounter the character of Dr. Strange for another 6 years in that medium.

The character in the movie known as Thomas Lindmer is a substitute for Dr. Strange‘s mentor in the comic book source material: the Ancient One, who would later be controversially portrayed by Tilda Swinton in the 2016 film.

The character of Dr. Strange was created by Steve Ditko, who is best known as the initial artist and co-creator of Spider-Man. Strange first appeared in a Marvel comics series called Strange Tales in July of 1963.

Stan Lee, the long time public face of Marvel comics, has stated that he had the most input on Dr. Strange of any of the early Marvel television adaptations. He attributes the popular failure of the movie to its time slot, which put it up against the wildly popular Roots.

strange1Currently, Dr. Strange holds a 5.4/10 user rating on IMDb, which reflects its significant lack of popularity and acclaim. However, the new 2016 film is bound to bring more attention to it, and it even just got a DVD release this year after years of being relegated to dusty VHS copies as a result.

If you ask me, Dr. Strange plays out like a pretty decent pilot for a television drama, if not much of an actual movie. Most of the story centers on Dr. Strange as a Doctor, working in his hospital and dealing with patients. Of course, this ultimately intersects with the supernatural, but the story eases its way to that point, like you would expect a pilot origin story to do. I kind of like the portrayal of the character, and he even has a couple of decently witty lines. The thing that really stood out to me, though, was the score: it is pure 1970s chaos, and is absolutely beautiful in its weirdness. I was reminded of Dracula AD 1972 a bit, which I’m not going to count as a bad thing. The costuming and effects will take you on a trip back in time as well, but the music is really what ties it all together.

strange7I don’t think Dr. Strange is nearly as mind-blowing or essential as the 1989 Punisher when it comes to early Marvel adaptations, but it is certainly more watchable than the 1990 Captain America when you consider the context of its time. I kind of wish this had actually gone to series, because I assume the result would have been Garth Merenghi’s DarkPlace with wizards and some rockin’ 70s music.

if you are into old television or Marvel comics history, this is totally worth digging up. In the past, this was incredibly hard to come by, but with the new movie out, and an official dvd release of this flick on its tail, this movie is as readily available as it will ever be.