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Rosemary's Baby (#110 of 10)

Summer of ‘88: Midnight Run—Bob the Bounty Hunter

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Midnight Run</em>—Bob the Bounty Hunter
Summer of ‘88: <em>Midnight Run</em>—Bob the Bounty Hunter

My mother hates Charles Grodin, and not for something he did in real life. Mom has an affliction I affectionately call Actor-Role Association Syndrome (ARAS). Symptoms include an intense, unforgiving dislike for an actor based on a role he or she has played. The afflicted will see nothing that the actor is affiliated with. Folks on Mom’s shit list include Carroll O’Connor (because of his Archie Bunker), Lou Gossett Jr. (because of An Officer and a Gentleman), and Ben Vereen (because of that unfortunate Bert Williams tribute he did in blackface). In Grodin’s case, it was his obstetrician character from Rosemary’s Baby who turned Mia Farrow over to the devil worshippers. Because he did, Mom wouldn’t hose down Grodin if he burst into flames on her patio. She’d probably squirt lighter fluid on him.

I bring this up because the last movie I saw in theaters with my mother was the 1988 Robert De Niro-Charles Grodin action comedy Midnight Run. This movie choice was her idea, which surprised me until I realized she probably hoped De Niro would shoot Grodin. Said shooting seemed plausible at first, as there’s no love lost between bounty hunter Jack Walsh (De Niro) and his criminal prey, Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Grodin). Mardukas jumped bail to the tune of $450,000, a paltry sum for a man who stole $15 million. Walsh sees the Duke as the $100,000 payday promised him by bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano). The Duke sees Walsh as a roadblock to freedom, though considering who else is after him, he’d be wise to stay handcuffed to the bounty hunter.

Killer Smiles and Satanic Wiles Mr. Sardonicus & The Brotherhood of Satan

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Killer Smiles and Satanic Wiles: Mr. Sardonicus and The Brotherhood of Satan
Killer Smiles and Satanic Wiles: Mr. Sardonicus and The Brotherhood of Satan

As delightful as William Castle’s movies are in any venue, you lose out on one of their most appealing aspects—call it their rowdy carnivalesque dimension—when you watch them in the atomized privacy of your home theater. This point was brought home to me recently when I had the chance to watch Mr. Sardonicus in 35mm at a local repertory house, and then received Mill Creek’s admittedly excellent Blu-ray transfer for review. Differences in the film’s comparative impact had less to do with the size of the respective screens than with the viewing environment. Castle’s movies were meant to be seen in your local picture palace, crammed cheek by jowl alongside other moviegoers, shoveling popcorn out of a paper bag, and feeling the tug of tacky puddles of pop at your feet.

The ultimate promotional showman, Castle created an inventive series of publicity stunts in order to put his bargain basement productions over with viewing audiences. Whether it was sliding a skeleton along a string over their heads during House on Haunted Hill or rigging electric buzzers beneath select seats to deliver sudden shocks to their posteriors during fraught moments in The Tingler, Castle never met an attention grabber he couldn’t use. By all accounts, though, Castle was never content merely to reign as king of the gimmick flick. He also wanted to imprint his indelible persona on his films (it’s clear he relished playing the glib, shamelessly schlocky impresario), taking his cue to some degree from Alfred Hitchcock’s sardonic appearances on the master of suspence’s eponymous TV show.

Sinful Cinema Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

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Sinful Cinema: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
Sinful Cinema: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Studio meddling and directorial straw-grasping really hammered the coffin nails into Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, the viciously derided, multi-media sequel to one of the biggest (and most profitable) film phenomenons in history. Whether necessary or not, someone was bound to make a follow-up to The Blair Witch Project; the tricky part was how to do it. From a distance, the most laughable decisions made by Artisan Entertainment, which hastily hurried the sequel’s production while high on the first film’s success, involve silly, superficial adherences to The Blair Witch Project’s faux-doc qualities. Soldiering forward without the blessings of first-installment directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez (who reluctantly remained attached as executive producers), the studio hired a documentarian (Paradise Lost helmer Joe Berlinger), and endorsed the hiring of unknown actors like Erica Leerhsen, Tristen Skylar, and Stephen Barker Turner, who, in a worthless nod to Heather Donahue and company’s ostensible self-portrayals, have the barely-tweaked character names Erica Geerson, Tristen Ryler, and Stephen Ryan Parker. Since Book of Shadows, in plot and format, largely and clearly operates as a traditional narrative film, shot predominantly in 35 mm and acknowledging its predecessor as a fiction, such choices feel more like frivolous insults than attempts to retain the original’s spirit. The sequel itself might have some intriguing thoughts about mixed perceptions of reality, but there was no sense trying to keep up the ruse that anything about the Blair Witch brand is factual.

15 Famous Oscar Snubs

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15 Famous Oscar Snubs
15 Famous Oscar Snubs

No Kathryn Bigelow?! No Ben Affleck?! Yesterday’s Oscar nominations brought their fair share of shocking snubs, but it certainly wasn’t the first time the Academy stuck it to likely contenders. Looking back over Academy Awards history, there are many dumbfounding, surprising omissions to be found—realizations that underscore the belief that Oscar nods hardly indicate long-term quality. Be them unforgivable or just bewildering, we’ve selected 15 snubs that no doubt had people talking…heatedly.

5 for the Day: "Aliens Aren’t Scary, Dad"

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5 for the Day: “Aliens Aren’t Scary, Dad”
5 for the Day: “Aliens Aren’t Scary, Dad”

When District 9 came out, I was geeked to see it opening weekend. My older daughters wanted to go but my wife was busy. So, finding a babysitter for my ten-year-old twins remained the only obstacle. Unsuccessful, I would not to be deterred. Why not just take them with me? Because of its “R” rating I was nervous that it might be too intense. Of course, they balked at any such notion. After some due diligence (don’t judge me), I determined that D9 earned its rating based on violent content. I (correctly, it turns out) assumed that the carnage was of the sci-fi/video game variety as opposed to the more visceral gore (pun intended) presented in the Hostel/Saw genre. Nonetheless, as the movie unfolded, I kept a close watch on their reaction (like I said, don’t judge me). Every fifteen minutes I’d ask if they were “doing okay.” Each time, they assured me that they were. After my fifth such inquiry, one of the twins looked up a bit irritated and whispered, “Aliens aren’t scary dad…sheesh.”

And they really weren’t scared. People and “prawns” were getting blasted right and left. Yet my youngest kids were unmoved (my oldest too, for that matter). My guess is that the subject matter seemed so far removed from their own reality that it didn’t have the desired effect. That got me to thinking about what scared me as a child. As laid out in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, the horror icons of my youth in the late ’60s and early ’70s were represented by Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman (both Lon Chaney Jr AND Oliver Reed) or the creature from the Black Lagoon. In their day, I suppose they had scared a lot of adults. But as a ten-year-old they left me unfazed. In fact, I thought they were kinda cool. As it turns out, MY kids think that the title character in Ridley Scott’s Alien is kinda cool too.

So WHAT did frighten me as a kid? Here’s a list of “scary” moments that stayed with me for a LONG time. The employment of a naturalistic approach seems to be a common thread running through all of these examples and may illuminate my child’s comment.

5 for the Day: Ruth Gordon

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5 for the Day: Ruth Gordon
5 for the Day: Ruth Gordon

Though she had built up a very distinguished career in the theater and had appeared in a few films as a middle-aged woman, something seemed to click for Ruth Gordon, on screen at least, when she reached the age of seventy or so. We can’t know now what she was like on stage as Nora in A Doll’s House, as Margery Pinchwife in The Country Wife, or as Dolly Levi in Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, just three of her most conspicuous successes on stage. Theater critic Walter Kerr and theatrical grande dame Marian Seldes both said that Gordon’s Natasha in The Three Sisters was the best performance they’d ever seen, and it’s good to remember that she was up against Judith Anderson and Katharine Cornell in that fabled production, and that Natasha is not a leading role, but part of a Chekhov ensemble. Nor should it be forgotten that Gordon wrote, with her second husband Garson Kanin, some of George Cukor’s best films with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, including Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952). This would be enough to place her in two different firmaments, but she went even further when she took up a film career in putative old age. Only Marie Dressler enjoyed the same elderly movie eminence; both Gordon and Dressler had decades of technical know-how to draw on in their latter-day film work, but it’s the unusual soul underlying their technique that made them connect so forcefully with audiences.

5 for the Day: Mia Farrow

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5 for the Day: Mia Farrow
5 for the Day: Mia Farrow

It’s been close to twenty years since Mia Farrow did battle with her one-time boyfriend/boss Woody Allen, in actual law courts and in the even nastier courts of public opinion. She wrote an autobiography in 1997, What Falls Away, in which she described her life up to the point Allen started an affair with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi, which resulted in accusations on both sides that were so ugly that we’ve all made a kind of pact of forgetfulness so that we can go on seeing Allen’s movies. Farrow has continued to work as an actress, but in fairly obscure films. She turned up this year in Michel Gondry’s loopy Be Kind Rewind; at 63, she looked almost exactly the same as she had in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and it was a reminder that she has spent her whole life pursuing a dream of childhood, both in her compulsive adoption of children, many of whom have special needs, and her determination to keep herself childishly pure in looks and attitude. “She lived all alone in her own world,” said Bette Davis, observing a teenaged Farrow on the set of John Paul Jones (1959), which was directed by her father, John Farrow.

5 for the Day: Motherhood

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5 for the Day: Motherhood
5 for the Day: Motherhood

Mom: Well, you thought like Old Lady Anna. She thought a dick was a banana!

A saint? Methinks not. “How the hell could I be a saint?” she would ask. “We’re Baptists!”

My Mom is a larger than life character crafted with one part June Cleaver, two parts Mahalia Jackson, three parts Oprah, and four parts Dorothy Parker. As the primary disciplinarian of five children, she is also eight parts Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. My Mom could threaten with words of such forceful violence that the MPAA would rate her NC-17. “Boy,” she would begin, “I will kick your ass so hard your great-grandchildren will be born with footprints!” It wasn’t hyperbole either. That aforementioned party? I went to it anyway. When I got home at 3 AM, my mother was standing in the doorway, illuminated by light like John Wayne at the end of The Searchers—an appropriate image as she loved Westerns. Except instead of holding her arm like Wayne, she was holding a belt. “I hope it was good,” is the last thing I remember her saying.

The occasional (and always deserved) ass-whipping was not all she dispensed. No one I knew could deliver common sense with a blunt honesty that ensured the lesson would be learned and never forgotten. In our house, The Awful Truth was more than a Leo McCarey movie. Sometimes I would say “well, you didn’t have to say it like that!” To which she would reply, “well, that’s too bad. I did.”

Through Mom, I was introduced to two things I love dearly: life and movies. I was born after a movie, in fact, which only serves to highlight her uncanny knack for consolidation. Through countless hours of movie watching on TV she introduced me to her favorites: Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Sidney Poitier, Abbott and Costello and Cicely Tyson. She had an opinion about every movie, and held unreasonable grudges against actors for roles they played. Her tastes ran from 40’s women’s pictures to horror movies too gory even for my cast iron stomach. And even though she liked the worst movie I have ever seen, I can still list her as the primary source of my love for movie knowledge. I love noir and screwball comedies because the dames were smart, tough and clever with words. Just like my Mom.

So, to honor her, and mothers everywhere, today’s Five for the Day salutes movie motherhood of all stripes, shapes and species. The sayings that precede each entry are Momisms courtesy of the person who brought you the Odienator.