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Duane’s Delusions

By Andreas

Nothing else in cinema is quite like a Christopher Walken monologue. Abel Ferrara, Tim Burton, and Quentin Tarantino have all used this fact to their advantages, but before any of them was Woody Allen. In Annie Hall, Walken plays Duane, the title character’s brother. He appears briefly at the dinner table while Alvy’s eating with the Halls, but it’s only later that he gets his time to shine. He beckons Alvy into his bedroom, then (half-shrouded in shadow) launches into a hilariously eerie monologue:

I tell you this because, as an artist, I think you’ll understand. Sometimes when I’m driving, on the road at night, I see two headlights coming toward me… fast, I have this sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly head-on into the oncoming car. I can anticipate the explosion: the sound of shattering glass, the… flames, rising out of the flowing gasoline.

The only break from Walken’s intensity is a momentary cutaway to Alvy rolling his eyes; Allen is smart enough to just let Walken sit back and do his amazing work. As he’s written, Duane could be just another regional caricature, maybe the psychotic Midwestern counterpart to all the phonies and weirdos Alvy encounters in California. But when he’s invested with Walken’s unique verbal cadences, he comes to life as a real, terrifying force on the screen. It’s a hilarious scene with a magnificent punchline (Duane driving Alvy and Annie to the airport), but Allen’s derision seems miscalculated. Walken is just too damn good.

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Link Dump: #21

You may know the adorable duo above as Figaro the cat and Cleo the fish from Disney’s Pinocchio (1940). However, did you realize that they also co-starred in the 8-minute “Figaro and Cleo,” which may well be the cutest piece of short animation in existence anywhere? Seriously: at the end, Figaro and Cleo kiss. It’s that cute.

In non-cuteness-related news, we realize blog updates have been rather sparse lately, and for that we apologize. That’s going to change for real starting next week. Can you trust us? Or is this just a twisted reader/blogger relationship filled with one set of lies after another? Let’s hope it’s the first one. Reviews of movies and sex toys will be back in full force starting very, very soon. In the meantime, LINKS!

In terms of search terms, someone was looking for “tom waits porn” (Ashley and I strongly approve), while another searcher wanted to know the “award for the best looking vagina.” Along similar lines, “where to get pussy in hennepin county?” (My joking answer: visit the Humane Society!) And of course, “radiator rape.” That just speaks for itself.

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The House of Burgess Meredith

Emboldened by Jovanka Vuckovic’s favorite horror movies, Ashley and I went ahead last night and watched The Sentinel (1977). It’s a pretty weird movie, if not entirely successful, with a hodgepodge of disturbing imagery, plots that go nowhere, and all the veteran Hollywood actors the 1970s had to offer. It’s your typical gateway-to-hell movie. Alison (Cristina Raines), a model with some severe daddy issues, doesn’t want to marry her mustachioed boyfriend (Fright Night‘s Chris Sarandon) just yet, so she goes apartment-shopping in New York and finds a cheap, spacious place with no neighbors – other than a blind priest in the attic, some lesbian ballerinas, and a cat-obsessed Burgess Meredith who’s [spoiler] actually kind of Satan.

But Alison is not easily fazed. Even when the dizzy spells start, even when all hell breaks loose right above her ceiling, and even when her real estate agent proves that her neighbors don’t really exist, she goes on living there. However, when she hallucinates (?) stabbing her dead zombie father, that’s the last straw. And that’s when detectives Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken get called in. Yeah, if there’s one thing The Sentinel has, it’s big names of the past and future. Jeff Goldblum, on the road to stardom, shows up as a photographer; Psycho‘s Martin Balsam plays a Latin prof. I mean, Ava Fucking Gardner is the real estate agent!

I love how 1970s Hollywood had all these past-their-prime legends just sitting around, and could insert them into character parts. Need someone to play a slightly threatening monsignor in your slightly sleazy horror movie? Well, how about five-time Oscar nominee Arthur Kennedy? The upshot of this trend is that we get to see dozens of our favorite old actors in amusing if undignified roles. This is the basis for much of The Sentinel‘s entertainment value. The rest of it comes the creepy shit that engulfs Alison courtesy of Dick Smith’s special effects.

Much digital ink has been spilled about the climax, wherein a mob of giggling demons, led by hell’s emissary Burgess Meredith, follows Alison into the attic and tries to get her to kill herself. It’s scary, yeah, and it has some troubling ableist implications, but for me the creepiest scene comes about 45 minutes in. It’s the one that made Bravo’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments.” Alison wanders through the darkness, flashlight in hand, when something crosses her path. And hey, it’s that zombie father I mentioned earlier! The blood, the nose-hacking, and the naked female zombies make it that much worse.

So yes, The Sentinel has some scenes that made me curl up into a fetal position (while maneuvering my arms so I could still see the screen). Unfortunately, it feels like it was written by several people who weren’t on speaking terms, but each picked a different set of genre clichés to use. It’s ostensibly a psychological horror movie, but it veers off into a police procedural in its second act, then decides it actually wants to be a religious conspiracy thriller. The Wallach/Walken episode is the funniest manifestation of this disconnect, as they go from character to character, digging up extraneous but lurid back stories in generic cop fashion. (Walken only gets a few stray lines! That’s the real horror.)

But even though the parts don’t cohere into a sensible whole, The Sentinel is enjoyably ridiculous enough for me to recommend it. The all-star cast, the build-up and reveal as a septuagenarian John Carradine enters the picture, and Burgess Meredith’s sublime hamminess all paid out great dividends on the time I invested. When the movie finally gets focused, it manages to be a fairly terrifying, oddball foray into the demonic. You could say it’s the best 1970s apartment-centered horror movie that Roman Polanski didn’t direct.

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Inject the Right One In

Throughout his career, Abel Ferrara has made New York-centric films with a grindhouse flavor and an aspiration to artistry. In Ms. 45 (1981), he took on the rape-revenge film; with Bad Lieutenant (1992), he made his own Scorsese-esque crime drama. Similarly, The Addiction (1995) is a one-of-a-kind vampire movie, marrying urban realism, graphic horror, and several films’ worth of existentialist banter. Although the latter attribute occasionally renders the film inaccessible, it also grants the characters’ neck-biting intrigues an unexpected gravity while making Ferrara’s serious cinematic intentions very clear. This is The Hunger for the smart set.

I Shot Andy Warhol star Lili Taylor plays Kathy, who’s en route to getting her Ph.D. in philosophy when a late-night run-in with a mysterious seductress (Annabella Sciorra) leaves a bloody gash on her neck and spurs a metamorphosis from mousy student to loud-mouthed blood junkie. In a series of hypodermic-wielding encounters, Kathy’s newfound aggression (coupled with severe photosensitivity) is spreads like a virus to her friends, professors, and even the strangers who harass her on the street. Late in the film, she meets an elder vampire named Peina, played with typical panache by Christopher Walken, who teaches her to control her addiction while quoting William S. Burroughs and Charles Baudelaire. The ending that follows is puzzling but weirdly suggestive, as orgiastic indulgence and Catholic guilt come into play.

The Addiction is shot in high-contrast black and white, bringing expressionistic shadows in conflict with a tendency toward naturalism, especially as Ferrara’s camera prowls the classrooms and hallways of NYU. Taylor gives a stand-out performance as a woman rotting from the inside out, and it’s matched by her poetically hard-boiled voiceover. When she enters a university library, for example, she growls, “The smell here’s worse than a charnel house.” (Working in a college library, I know how she feels.) These lurid monologues color our perceptions of Ferrara’s New York like the saxophones in Bernard Herrmann’s score for Taxi Driver, drawing us deep into Kathy’s dissipation. And Walken, as usual, is the voice of demented authority, cavorting around Kathy’s exhausted body with his slicked-back hair and daffy energy. He’s only in one scene, but he casts a long shadow across the preceding film.

At times, The Addiction teeters dangerously close to being unforgivably pretentious; it’s packed wall-to-wall with philosophical jargon, grandiose statements about hell and morality, and vampiric metaphors for sex, drugs, and genocide. But the film’s saved by its (and Taylor’s) sheer conviction that something intelligent and thought-out is being said. Even when the film’s open-ended chronology and its abstract conception of vampirism threaten to make the plot totally incomprehensible, you can hold onto Ferrara’s sincere interest in spiritual redemption and moral culpability. In the end, this thematic integrity, when brought out through Taylor’s uncompromising performance, blasts away any doubts: This is a totally different species of vampire movie.

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