#87 - Don't Leave Home Without It
1912 - 2009
Greetings, culture vultures! Welcome back to your Electric Theatre. We’ll get to our weekly cavalcade of cinematic goodies in just a moment. But first, I’d like to draw your attention to a remarkable play that just opened here in Los Angeles. Consider this the Electric Theatre Unplugged.
Every horror fan worth his or her weight in fake blood should be familiar with the names Stuart Gordon, Dennis Paoli and Jeffrey Combs. They’ve been behind some of the most memorable horror flicks of the past 25 years, including Re-Animator, From Beyond and the woefully underrated The Pit And The Pendulum. They also collaborated on one of the very best episodes of the hit-or-miss Masters Of Horror series, The Black Cat, a fantasia based on the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe. The episode evidently made an impression on the team, inspiring Nevermore, a one-man show featuring Combs as Poe, reciting the great author’s poetry and prose and battling his own inner demons.
I’m not usually a fan of one-person plays. They too frequently sink into self-indulgence and even the best actors struggle to command an audience’s full attention solo for an hour or more. Combs is more than up to the challenge and is absolutely spellbinding for almost two full hours. He is eerily good as Poe. Whether he’s raving against the contemporaries he holds in contempt or reciting the best dramatic reading of “The Tell-Tale Heart” I’ve ever seen, this is a performance of the highest caliber.
Nevermore is playing Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood through August 2. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, make reservations right this very second. This being Poe’s bicentennial year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nevermore turned up in other cities down the road, so keep your eyes peeled and fingers crossed. You’ll be in for a treat.
NOW IN THEATRES
Back in 2006, Borat came in at number 3 on my year-end top ten list, a selection I stand behind to this day. Needless to say, I was extremely excited for Brüno, the follow-up from Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles. It’s still way too early to say if the movie will fare as well in this year’s roundup. What I can say, however, is that Brüno is a worthy successor and extraordinarily funny. If Borat went out on a limb, Brüno edges out even further, then dances on the end of it.
Certainly no one could accuse Sacha Baron Cohen or Larry Charles of tampering with a successful formula. The pseudo-documentary style is intact but so are the story beats. As in Borat, Brüno comes to America with an assistant (this time it’s Gustaf Hammarsten as Lutz). They have a falling out after a jaw-dropping scene that would test the humiliation level of even the bravest actors. Brüno hits rock-bottom but eventually reunites with his companion. If anything works against the movie, it’s the redundancy of the loose “plot”.
But let’s be honest. Nobody is going to see these movies for the storyline. We pay to see Baron Cohen explode the envelope of good taste and make people (and maybe even ourselves) uncomfortable for an hour and a half. On that score, Brüno more than delivers. Some sequences, like an interview with former presidential candidate Ron Paul that turns into a queasy seduction, aren’t much more transgressive than what was regularly featured on Da Ali G Show. But others, such as Brüno’s visit to a swingers party, must be seen to be believed. Sacha Baron Cohen remains one of the most chameleon-like comedic actors since Peter Sellers, immersing himself totally into the character and staying there no matter what gets thrown his way. Even if you don’t find it funny, you have to admire his audacity and willingness to place himself in potentially dangerous situations. One of the final scenes is both hilarious and nerve-wracking, with the potential for a riot to break out at any second.
At times, Brüno feels more staged and artificial than Borat. I’m not saying that none of Borat was staged, nor that all of Brüno is. It’s simply a difference in style and, to a degree, target. The artificiality works for Brüno and his obsession with fame. Nevertheless, the movie’s best moments feel absolutely genuine. When Brüno decides to go straight and seeks counsel from a reverend who specializes in “converting” gay men to heterosexuals, the pastor’s advice on dealing with women is priceless. The movie doesn’t so much expose latent homophobia as it does rub the noses of blatantly homophobic Americans in outrageous, no-holds-barred homoeroticism. Does that make Brüno a particularly good advocate for gay rights? Not especially. But it does make for some unforgettably funny moments and that’s all that Sacha Baron Cohen should be worried about. After all, anyone looking for a role model probably shouldn’t pin their hopes on someone whose biggest dream in life is to be the most famous Austrian since Hitler. (* * * ½)
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
These are trying times to be a science fiction, fantasy or horror fan. While it seems that every other movie is aimed at our demographic, the majority of them are based on comic books, video games, toys or relatively recent movies. Our golden age was arguably the 70s and 80s. There were plenty of movies to choose from and while we weren’t immune from sequels or remakes, the lion’s share came from original screenplays. Many of the most memorable were small movies with limited budgets that often flew under the radar in cinemas but found new life on video and channels like HBO. Roger Christian’s 1982 movie The Sender is one of those. I remember it airing frequently on cable back then but I never caught up with it until now. Fortunately, it holds up quite well. Had I seen it when I was a kid, I have no doubt it would have made a lasting impression.
Zeljko Ivanek, now a somewhat ubiquitous character actor, makes one of his first appearances as the title character, an amnesiac who is rushed to a mental hospital after a suicide attempt. He’s placed in the care of Dr. Gail Farmer (Kathryn Harrold). She soon begins to see things that aren’t there and deduces that her John Doe has the telepathic power to project images from his own dreams into people’s minds. Her boss (Paul Freeman, best known as Belloq in Raiders Of The Lost Ark) plans to experiment on the young man but Gail wants to help.
The Sender is reminiscent of another underrated horror movie, the 1978 Australian film Patrick, but finds its own voice early on. Ivanek is quite good, his sunken, haunted eyes penetrating through the screen. The screenplay by Thomas Baum wraps things up a bit too tidily and abruptly but is filled with vivid characters and effective dialogue. Director Roger Christian, who got his start as an art director and set decorator on such films as Alien and Star Wars, later went on to helm Battlefield Earth but don’t let that scare you. He gives The Sender a suitably ominous tone and stages key scare moments with style.
The Sender is by no means a perfect movie but it is creepy, cool and never insults your intelligence. It brought back fond memories of channel surfing in the early 80s and stumbling across something new and different in the wee hours of the morning. If you’re a genre fan tired of all the reimaginings lately, give The Sender a shot. (* * *)
Thanks to Mychal Bowden for this week’s Tales From The Queue recommendation! If you’ve got fond memories of an obscure title, past or present, please share them with yours truly and join Team TFTQ! Club meetings always include punch and pie!