“F–k Buddies” (2015) scr./dir. Nate Wilson

Can two people have a physically intimate relationship and just “be friends”?  This is a situation multiple “friends” have attempted over time with each other, often with disastrous results.  I’m sure there’s a handful of these relationships where both parties feel mutually satisfied with the arrangement and want nothing more than casual sex from each other. But most of the time, these “friendships” are doomed because one party always likes their friend more than the other one does.   If you’ve ever been in an arrangement like this that you feel was/is successful, can you say with all certainty the other party didn’t want something more?

This premise has been played out endlessly in romantic comedies, but Nate Wilson’s short film “F–k Buddies” may be the first film to explore this notion in the genre of horror.  Imagine if David Cronenberg or David Lynch were hired to direct “No Strings Attached” or “Friends with Benefits” and they burned the scripts prior to shooting.

“F–k Buddies” is not what I’d call pornographic, but it’s very explicit and extremely disturbing.  To say this film is not safe for work is an understatement.  But I seriously love Wilson’s original take on this premise.  “F–k Buddies” has gotten a lot of attention on the festival circuit recently and I’m afraid some Hollywood studio will produce a mega-budget “remake” which will not only add useless subplots to pad out the running time to feature-length, but will tone down the more disturbing elements to get a commercially viable “R” … or God forbid … “PG-13” rating.

If you’re an aspiring filmmaker looking to cut their creative teeth making a short film, “F–k Buddies” is a textbook example on how to execute an idea brilliantly in just 19 minutes.  The acting by Sharon Belle and Alex Plouffe as the leads is terrific.

The entire film can be watched at the link / clip above.

Thanks to the Onion’s A.V. Club for alerting me to this film.

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“Raising Arizona” (1987) dir./ scr. The Coen Brothers

I first became aware of the Coen Brothers when their debut film “Blood Simple” was making the rounds and creating a buzz.  I was 15 at the time and saw it at the Circle 6 in Norfolk, VA during the (then) theatrical no-man’s land between February and May of 1985.  These were the days when if you looked vaguely 17 years old, they would sell you a ticket … or not.  To be fair, even from the age of 13, I was never refused a ticket for an R-rated film.  At the time, I thought it was because I looked super-old.  In reality, I don’t think the theaters gave a s–t.  Seriously, I was able to buy a ticket for “9 1/2 Weeks” at the same theater during the same period and no one even remotely asked me if I was of age.   But I digress …

Anyway, I didn’t think much of “Blood Simple” back then.  It was interesting and weird for sure, but I left the theater thinking “Eh …”  In subsequent years, I’ve rewatched “Bood Simple” and think it’s amazing, but as a 15-year old, it didn’t do much for me.  Neither did “9 1/2 Weeks” for that matter.  But by that point, I had already seen “Deep Throat” uncut, along with several porn classics on the Playboy Channel, which … while heavily edited … were still much more explicit than the antics in the allegedly “saucy” “9 1/2 Weeks.”  But again, I digress …

Cut to the Spring of 1987.  I’m listening to NPR (the station my Mom listened to back in the day before she discovered Rush Limbaugh … another sad digression … ARRGH!) and the NPR commentators are discussing this amazingly weird film “Raising Arizona.”  I’m intrigued, but not making the connection it’s by the same people who made “Blood Simple.”  When I visited my Dad in the Washington D.C. area for Spring Break, “Raising Arizona” was the film I chose to see.  That was a great visit, because I also discovered Tower Records near George Washington University and picked up the following albums: “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” “For Your Pleasure” by Roxy Music, “London Calling” by the Clash, and “The Best of Elvis Costello” during the same visit, which all changed my life in significant ways.

Anyway, back to “Raising Arizona.”  My thoughts at the time?  It was a fantastically weird aberration / revelation along the lines of Alex Cox’s “Repo Man,” David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” and Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild.”  It was a film that … on the surface … seemed to follow traditional movie conventions, but went off the rails in several key areas.  On one level, it was one of many Yuppie “we’re having a baby” films that were popular at the time (“Baby Boom,” “She’s Having a Baby”). But it also injected some really dark 1940s-era film noir elements (kidnapping, escaped convicts) that the filmmakers kept just dark enough to keep it interesting, but always pulled back at crucial moments before the film became truly disturbing. It many ways, it was simultaneously the perfect and most perverse major studio debut for resoundingly indie filmmakers.

Watching it now, “Raising Arizona” seems simultaneously like the most perverse and perfect major studio debut for decidedly indie filmmakers.  It rides the line between conventional comedy and truly twisted cinema better than most allegedly “edgy” studio films.  And the fact that it does all of this within the confines of a then PG-13 rating seems even more bizarre. In many ways, you can see elements of the Coen Brothers’ future masterpieces, from “Fargo” to “No Country for Old Men” here.  And oddly, unlike most Coen Brothers films, “Raising Arizona” manages to eke out a happy ending, though not in the ways you would normally expect.  The happy ending is a dream.  And while it may be a dream, unlike the endings of “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy” where the happy endings may actually be the delusions of the twisted anti-heroes, the dream ending in “Raising Arizona” seems plausible.  And that’s one of the reasons this is arguably the most beloved of the Coen Brothers’ films.

“Manhunter” (1986) dir. Michael Mann

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This was the first film featuring Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter character, approximately five years before Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of “Silence of the Lambs” in 1991. Based on Harris’s novel “Red Dragon”, director Michael Mann directed this extremely suspenseful, intense, and atmospheric tale of a troubled FBI agent called back into duty to find a serial killer the top FBI officials can not find. William Peterson does a masterful job playing the troubled FBI agent, Will Graham, a man physically and mentally scarred from an earlier assignment where he captured the infamous Lecter. It was a job where he had to think like Lecter in order to capture him … and this process landed him in a mental hospital.

While there was a decent, but ultimately unnecessary big-budget remake of “Red Dragon” in remake made in 2002 with Ed Norton as Graham and … that’s right … Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter … Michael Mann’s 1986 version is so much better. As iconic as Hopkins’ characterization is, Brian Cox may actually be a scarier Lecter, based on how low-key he plays the infamous mad man. Watch this incredibly intense scene where Lecter meets with Graham where Lecter tries to dominate Graham and oh-so-casually asks Graham for his home phone number.

The attached scene is the climax of the film with major spoilers, but it has one of the best uses of rock music and film ever committed to celluloid … Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” used to absolute sinister perfection.

“Manhunter” … along with David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” … were the jewels in the ill-fated DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group studio’s late 1980s forays into filmmaking. An ironic jewel, because “Manhunter” was not successful … but Hannibal Lecter was a movie star in the making … and Dino DeLaurentiis got his money back in spades with the 2001 film “Hannibal” as well as the 2002 remake “Red Dragon.”

If you have any love for this film at all … or are just fans of the Hannibal Lecter films … please check out the Projection Booth’s recent podcast on this film:

http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2014/06/episode-170-manhunter.html

Trivia note: David Lynch was the original director attached to this film. As much as I love what Michael Mann did here, my mind is blown over the prospect over what Lynch would have done with this material.

“In Heaven, Everything is Fine” by Peter Ivers / David Lynch from “Eraserhead” (1978)

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Here is one of the more memorable scenes from director David Lynch’s early masterpiece “Eraserhead” … the “lady in the radiator” song “In Heaven, Everything is Fine.” The song was composed by Peter Ivers and David Lynch and sung by Ivers. The song was later covered by Devo and Frank Black of the Pixies. Ivers recorded some eccentric, but occasionally brilliant albums in the 1970s before becoming the host of “New Wave Theater,” one of the best shows from the early days of cable TV. Lynch … well … I wonder whatever happened to him …

Best Moviegoing Memories of the Naro Expanded Cinema, Norfolk, VA

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During my review of the documentary “The Rep,” I mentioned that some of my favorite moviegoing memories from my youth and young adulthood took place at the Naro Expanded Cinema, a repertory theater in Norfolk, VA. I thought I would recount a few of them here:

1. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) dir. Stanley Kubrick
The very first film I saw at the Naro. After having been to the Naro several times, my Mom took my brother and me to see this revival of “2001” in a 70mm 6-track stereo print during the summer of 1981. At the time, I was weaned on “Star Wars,” so I wasn’t as impressed with “2001” as I would become in later years. But I still remember being impressed with the realism Kubrick conveyed in this vision of space travel. Fortunately, I got to see it several years later in another 70mm revival in Washington D.C. when I was more ready for it and was … finally … bowled over.

2. “North by Northwest” (1959) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Another one my Mom dragged me to because she thought it would be good for me. Initially, being 12-years old or so, I groaned over seeing an “older” unrated film that would have no profanity, nudity or graphic violence. These reservations were instantly dispelled once I realized how much fun this movie was … one that combined action, suspense, comedy, and … yes … sex in a brilliantly sophisticated package. To this day, Eva Marie Saint’s character is still one of the smartiest, sexiest, most complex action heroines of all time. And Cary Grant … as Robert Evans once said, Grant had more grace walking backwards than everyone else had walking forwards.

3. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) dir. Steven Spielberg
I had already seen this multiple times before seeing it at the Naro on a double-bill with “Poltergeist” during the summer of 1983. But … what I remember the most is the glorious stereo soundtrack that the Naro properly showcased. When Indy cracked his whip in the streets of Cairo, I heard the sound of the whip start behind my head, carry through the speakers surrounding the sides, and then exploding upfront. The single most impressive display of filmic sound design I’ve ever experienced. Thanks, Naro!

4. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) dir. Jim Sharman
The Naro was THE best place to see “Rocky Horror” because back when I first saw it around 1985 or so, the theater owners allowed the audience to go absolutely bats–t crazy. The only rule was that you couldn’t throw anything at the screen. Otherwise, anything went. I’ve since heard things have changed, but that’s OK. Seriously, you don’t want to trash such a wonderful place to see a movie … but it was really really fun.  Especially on Halloween.

5. “Stop Making Sense” (1984) dir. Jonathan Demme
This classic concert film featuring the Talking Heads was nice to see on a huge screen with a booming, bass heavy sound. What was especially cool was the fact that so many people in the audience were taken with the music that they started dancing in front of the screen … which prompted the film to stop until people sat down. This happened at least 8-9 times before the film could finally end.

6. “Suburbia” (1983) dir. Penelope Spheeris
One of the best moviegoing memories from my youth was seeing Penelope Spheeris’s punk melodrama “Suburbia’ in a packed midnight screening at the Naro in 1985 (with an audience full of mohawks and trenchcoats) with a good friend of mine and my friend’s Dad, who attended the screening with us since me and my friend were not legally able to drive.  The audience went completely nuts at the beginning of the film, when the wild dog attacks a toddler (one of the worst mannequin substitutes I’ve ever seen in any idiom), which isn’t funny, but kind of is in the context of the film and the audience.  My friend’s Dad (who, at the time, was roughly about my age now) took the film in stride, enjoyed himself, and later compared the film to “Rebel Without a Cause” on the ride home, which he highly recommended to us.  While I later saw “Rebel” and thought it a much superior film, I have a really soft spot in my heart for “Suburbia.”

7. “Blue Velvet” (1986) dir. David Lynch

I was fortunate enough to see “Blue Velvet” on its original theatrical run when I was one of three paying customers in the audience.  I’m so grateful for this particular experience, because I was able to accept Lynch’s vision the way it was originally intended … an unironic (but not unfunny), highly disturbing nightmare.  When I saw it at the Naro a few months later, the place was packed.  Unfortunately, it was packed with hipsters already predisposed to laugh at everything.  While I remember having a great time that night when I saw it in a packed theater, in retrospect, I also remember being a little pissed that they were treating it all as a big joke.  Again, the film is not unfunny … but it’s not a smug post-modern jokefest.  That night I learned that there’s a danger in thinking you’re smarter than the material you’re watching … especially before you’ve actually seen it.

8.  “Husbands and Wives” (1992) dir. Woody Allen

I remember seeing this at the Naro in early 1993 during a particularly dark period in my life as the second half of a double-bill with another film I don’t remember.  I distinctly remember the Allen film hitting me right between the eyes.  Yes, I remember laughing a lot, but I also remember being completely shattered at the end of it.  One of the most brutally cynical views of marriage and relationships ever created.  It’s no wonder this was filmed and edited during the height of Allen’s and Mia Farrow’s relationship “issues.” I think I skipped the invitation to have a beer after the film that night.

9. “Pink Flamingoes” (1972) dir. John Waters
The very last film I saw at the Naro … and I saw this during the film’s 25th anniversary revival in 1997.  I had seen the film more than a few times on video before and while I thought it was funny, I thought other Waters films (specifically, “Female Trouble” and “Polyester”) were much better.  However, seeing “Pink Flamingoes” in a theater brought a new dimension that I had never considered before … collective embarrassment.   Seeing this film with a paying audience on a huge screen made a lot of “Flamingo’s” notorious scenes seem way dirtier … and funnier.   One of the few times I remember actually convulsing in embarrassed laughter during a theater screening … while turning several shades of red.  Seriously, that s–t hurt!  But it was a lot of fun!

Final Scene of “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” (1992) dir. David Lynch

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The very moving final scene of David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” with Sheryl Lee and Kyle Maclachlan. The film itself is very uneven, but this ending always puts a lump in my throat. This is among the five best scenes in any Lynch film.

“In Dreams” – Roy Orbison (as used in “Blue Velvet” (1986) dir. David Lynch)

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Here’s the infamous scene where Dean Stockwell’s whacked-out Ben character lip-syncs to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” while Dennis Hopper’s equally insane Frank Booth looks on in David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet.” Stockwell allegedly came up with Ben’s “look” by reading Lynch’s script and imagining what kind of person Frank would consistently praise as being “suave.” I love the way that the otherwise aggro Frank gets very emotional while watching Ben’s performance and then about 1:14 in, abruptly starts having a psychotic break. Two brilliantly weird performances in a masterpiece of a film. I’ll watch this scene 1,000 more times than have to endure one more scene of some movie character singing Motown tunes into a hairbrush.  And would someone please send me that smoking jacket that Ben wears?

“I Predict” – Sparks

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Another KROQ-FM favorite. This was actually a Top 100 hit for the American band Sparks (who barely had any chart action in the US, but were huge in England). The accompanying video was allegedly directed by David Lynch (of all people). I say allegedly, because I originally read something that he only produced the clip, but now I’m reading he directed it. (If someone can clear this up, I’ll gladly edit this entry to set the record straight).

Anyway, you may want to turn the bass down on this one because the heavy percussion will blow your speakers. And considering Lynch is involved with this video, it’s more than a little disturbing. Unless, of course, you like seeing a pale skinny guy in a Hitler mustache do a striptease wearing women’s lingerie.

From the album “Angst in my Pants” (one of the best album titles of all-time). More fun trivia: Sparks performed this on SNL back in 1982 … when SNL still showed some adventurous spirit when selecting their musical acts.

“Mysteries of Love” – Julee Cruise

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When David Lynch was making his 1986 film “Blue Velvet,” he wanted to use This Mortal Coil’s famous cover of Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren” for his film. As great as this cover is, Lynch could not afford the rights to use it based on the limited budget he was given to make “Blue Velvet.” So, Lynch used composer Angelo Badalamenti’s and vocalist Julee Cruise’s “Mysteries of Love” instead. The song was effectively used in the film, especially during the scene where Jeffrey (played by Kyle Maclaughlin) kisses Sandy (played by Laura Dern) for the first time and then during the end credits.