Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Movie Crush - Actor Scott Wilson

While I usually remember when an actor first blips on my 'ooh, who's that' radar - and it's almost always a flawed project that begins the addiction - the movie that introduced me to actor Scott Wilson is lost in the mists of time.
Most likely, it was The Great Gatsby. It was required viewing in high school after reading the novel, and it was then that I most likely noticed this movie veteran. Wilson played George, the cuckold gas attendant husband of Karen Black, and (..spoiler alert!...) eventual murderer of Gatsby. With a cast featuring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, and Bruce Dern as wealthy socialites, it's Wilson as the lower class schlub who loses his unfaithful wife to a car accident that brings any kind of real emotion to this overwrought drama. The most memorable scene of the movie has Wilson sneaking into Gatsby's estate with a gun after believing that the rich man was behind the wheel of the car that killed his wife. As Gatsby lounges in his pool with his back towards the house, we see George, with tears in his eyes, aim the gun at Gatsby. He shoots him a few times, then, finally, and quietly, Wilson places the gun in his own mouth. I'm almost sure you can hear the metal clank against his teeth. It's certainly one of the most heartbreaking suicides ever put on screen, and it's all because of the delicate work of Scott Wilson.
I wish I had a still to show how emotionally devastated Wilson looks during this scene. Alas, even Google image fails me here. The Great Gatsby also has another great character actor connection because William Atherton sings What'll I Do on the soundtrack. Coincidentally, Atherton and Wilson worked together in The New Centurions, an okay cop movie based on a Joseph Wambaugh book.

The Ninth Configuration was Wilson's only major role of the 1970s besides Robert Aldrich's The Grissom Gang, and it's a shame, because they proved he could carry a picture. He plays an astronaut who had a nervous breakdown before a flight, and now hides out in an insane asylum with other servicemen with varying degrees of sanity.

Configuration revisits William Peter Blatty's theme of good and evil that was introduced in The Exorcist, and also makes use of Blatty's start in comedy (he co-wrote A Shot in The Dark with Blake Edwards) by giving the cast the nuttiest non-sequiters this side of a Marx Brothers movie.

"I think the end of the world just came to that bag of Fritos I had in my pocket."

"He is Gregory Peck in Spellbound. He comes to take over the mental asylum, and he's nuts himself. I swear it. It's just like that picture. I took a fork and in the tablecloth in front of him, I made ski tracks and he fainted."

Nutty jokes aside, it's a movie about the meaning of life, and all that jazz, and there's a remarkable fight sequence in a bar that has Stacy Keach kicking major biker ass to save Wilson from humiliation and to teach him that good exists, and that's how you know there is a God. Or something like that.

Yes Virginia, there is an afterlife. And you can leave ghosty medals to prove it to doubting astronauts.

Wilson works more now than he ever did. He does a lot of elder statesman roles, showing up in G.I. Jane, Pearl Harbour and even CSI. He had pretty decent roles in Behind The Mask, and in the Shiloh trilogy, (yes I even watched those) and was killed off way too soon in Johnny Handsome. His best sheriff role was in Clay Pigeons and he played a chain smoking doctor in The Exorcist 3 for William Peter Blatty. Year of the Quiet Sun is his only other starring role, and one I still haven't seen, despite owning it on DVD. The DVD also has the only lengthy interview I've seen with him, and it answered a few questions I had about his early work (Burt Lancaster was a major reason he got hired for studio jobs). He doesn't get the screen time or credit he deserves, but Wilson does bring a special something to each role he plays. And for that, he'll remain one of my favourite actors.

Image of the Week

John Waters channels Joan Crawford in Straitjacket.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Oscars

The Oscars were better when they had bad taste. Back in the eighties, they cared about the Academy Award audience, and tried to entertain them, no matter how insane it made them look.

The best song category is a great example of their showmanship. The 1985 show has the single greatest Best Original Song performance in Oscar history.

Ray Parker Jr's Ghostbusters

Ray sings away on his green fork lift, high above the ghosts that inexplicably haunt the warehouse he works at.

What's in the warehouse? Who can say, maybe unsold copies of Ray's album Woman Out Of Control.

So as Ray sings on how busting makes him feel good, these three blue clad yahoos posing as "Ghostbusters" come out. I don't know why they didn't get the rights to the real uniforms, but thank God they didn't soil the good name of the original ghost bustin gang.

And because the fake ghostbusters are a bunch of dumbasses, they get tied up by the ghosts right away.

Woe is me, what is Ray Parker Jr to do?!

Of course...
There's only one person who can save the day!

The AMAZING.....

THE ALL POWERFUL.................

......DOM DELUISE!!!!!!!!!!

Who harnesses his power of electricity to defeat the evil spirits once and for all.

Huzzah! Pizza the Hut saves mankind.

Alas, Ghostbusters didn't win Best Song that year, that honour went to Stevie Wonder's 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' from The Woman In Red. I really do think The Academy needs to get back to this kind of showmanship.


Sunday, December 2, 2007


While I appreciate the better screen quality and extras DVDs have today, I miss the good old days of VHS, if only for the warm memories the cases give me. The Warner Brother clamshells with the unimaginative screen grabs.. the strange 3/4 Fox halfbreed cases.. the sturdy hard plastic cases of Thorn EMI titles.. Columbia's unique four sided case with gateflap on the right side and proof of purchase tab on the inside (tabs which my sister and I inexplicably collected one summer in our parent's video store and hid inside the huge double clamshell of The Right Stuff). Except for Warner Brother's old crappy snap cases, there's no way to tell one company from another on DVD, and I miss that. Artwork is another department VHS was sometimes better at and here is a prime example:

On the DVD for Blake Edwards' A Fine Mess, they've photoshopped the actors into a mass formation, even including Empty Nest-er Richard Mulligan, and Rip Torn.. Wait a minute, that's not Rip Torn, that's Angel from The Rockford Files! Stuart Margolin may be a good actor, but he's not cover art material. Double for Mulligan.

Now look at the original VHS:

Germaphobe Howie Mandel in a maid's uniform?! Ted Danson holding a gun to his head?! This has got to be a funny movie, for one scene at least.

For contrasting purposes, here's the original theatrical poster:

It dares to name Danson and Mandel in a list of some of film's greatest comedy teams, but it's also a good indication of its roots - slapstick aficionado Edwards freely admits A Fine Mess is a veritable remake of a Laurel and Hardy film.

Granted, Blake Edwards always shoots his film in 2.35, so it's essential to see them in the widescreen on DVD (or preferably on film), but I'm just talking cover art here. Videos win this category almost every time.
A big exception to this rule proves to be classic titles, in particular MGM and Warner Brothers movies.
Freaks on DVD, which uses the original poster:

This central image reveals the mutilation of the villianess at the end of the movie. Good work MGM Home Video!
For a trip down video store memory lane, visit: