Friday, April 25, 2008

Pauline Kael Resurrected as a Canine

I guess the dog saw Episodes I-III.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

This is My Blog and it Freaks Me Out

And, since it is my blog, I am allowed to self-promote. I haven't done it here yet. Please check out the link below for my new project with John La Zar, famously of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (above).

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

ATAGM #1: Naughty Naughton

In honor of wife-beating actor, David Naughton, I am creating a new feature, based on my ongoing series, Great Things About Awful Movies (when I say ongoing, I mean I still only have one entry). And so now I inaugurate its sister series:

Awful Things About Great Movies

IMDb reports
that Naughton, best known as the star of John Landis's An American Werewolf in London, "has served time in jail after pleading guilty to domestic battery." He hurt his wife, which is bad enough, but even worse when you consider what his hands look like:


Yikes.

Anyway, American Werewolf has always been one of my favorites. I've seen it more times that I care to admit, and each time is fun. But in recent viewings, I've realized just how annoying Naughton's performance is. I love how Landis conceives the character, David Kessler. He's the upper-middle class liberal-arts Jewish boy, beloved by his family, funny, occasionally charming, but a bit of a schlemiel (see why yours truly likes this flick?). What happens when that kid, on a back-packing trip with his high-school buddy in the UK, becomes a werewolf? Neurosis, kvetching, fears of being different (and too hairy!) all set in... but at the same time there's an exhilaration at being a sort of monster superbad motherf#&%er. You know, all the things we Juden deal with on a daily basis, right?

So fine, David Kessler should be a nudge (non-Yids, you pronounce this "noodge"). But this isn't a balanced portrayal of a nudgy character, it's just a nudgy performance. Forgetting the fact that both Naughton and pal Griffin Dunne seem too old to be students, Naughton is just downright whiny. He's emphatic, erratic, and sarcastic when he should be nervous, neurotic, and acerbic. There's no subtlety. He feels straight out of high school theater to me (yes, I mean that pejoratively). And don't tell me there's no room for subtlety in a gory werewolf comedy. Bull. This isn't a Troma movie. There's a line to walk. Dunne does it marvelously, and all the Brits play their roles with icy English deadpan. Jenny Agutter is the pretty, subdued shiksa that every Jewish boy wants to bring to orgasm. And look for a young Rik Mayall in the Slaughtered Lamb pub scenes.


Let's remember, too, that this is the film for which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created the Best Achievement in Makeup Oscar. Rick Baker (the closest thing there's ever been to a makeup auteur), created some of the most amazing effects you'll ever see. For my money, they hold up beautifully, and I say Baker's wolf could maul any of today's computer-generated lycans. Just compare this work to the wolves in the 16-years-later and totally unrelated An American Werewolf in Paris to see how far monster FX have fallen by venturing into the digital realm. But technical wizardry aside, London succeeds as a monster movie, as a parody of monster movies, as a sex farce, and as nostalgic homage to the days of Val Lewton and Bela Lugosi. But really, if for no other reason, this is a great movie because of the transformation sequence... still my favorite monster metamorphosis on film by far (with Bridget Jones' Diary a distant second).

Naughton may be ok in that one scene, by virtue of its violent content matching the lack of nuance in his performance. But I certainly care more about Kessler in dog form than in human. I mean, imagine a Graduate-era Dustin Hoffman in the role. Visualize that, and you'll see what's lackluster about this. Surely, there was a better choice out there than Naughton (seen here realizing that his foreskin has grown back):


I tried for years to get over Naughton because I like the movie so much, but in light of his recent assholery offscreen, I have no problem dissing him. Happily, he's not enough to ruin the movie for me. I'll end by embarrassing Naughton (such as I can) with two things. Firstly, he was a Pepper:



Secondly, here's his #5 Billboard chart hit of 1979, "Makin' It." No joke, that's Naughton singing. It was the theme song to a short-lived disco sitcom of the same name, in which he starred. Good riddance, wife-beater.