Review: Under the Volcano (1984)

>> Friday, December 28, 2007

USA-Mexico/C-112m./Dir: John Huston/Wr: Guy Gallo/Cast: Albert Finney (Geoffrey Firmin), Jacqueline Bisset (Yvonne Firmin), Anthony Andrews (Hugh Firmin), Ignacio Lopez Tarzo (Dr. Vigil), Rene Ruiz 'Tun-Tun' (Dwarf)

The specter of death hangs over Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney), an ex-British consul staggering through the Day of the Dead festival in a small Mexican town in 1938. Although he has given up his government post, Firmin prefers to remain in Mexico, drinking himself to death over his separation from his wife Yvonne (Jacqueline Bisset), who he adores more than life itself. When Yvonne returns Mexico, she finds Geoffrey in the latter stages of alcoholism--more clear-headed when drunk than when sober--but she still holds out hope of mending their broken marriage. However, her past infidelity with Geoffrey’s brother (Anthony Andrews) stands as an obstacle between them.

John Huston’s adaptation of Malcolm Lowry’s novel is a strange mix of the old and new. The themes of alcoholism, sex, and death found in Under the Volcano are more complex and adult than those in Huston’s classic films. However, the direction and camerawork often seems rooted in methods used in the days of the studio system. This artificial technique often feels at odds with the realistic material. That said, the script and acting are excellent.

While Bisset and Andrews turn in first-rate performances, this is really Finney’s show, and his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Geoffrey Firmin ranks with the greatest screen drunks of all time. From the opening frames to the bitter end, there is not a moment when Finney’s character is not inebriated to some extent, yet the performance is incredibly varied and nuanced. Although Firmin is a greatly depressed character, Finney manages to make him warm, witty, and likeable--the twinkle is never far from his eye--even in his blackest moments. His performance manages to buoy the entire film, keeping it from submerging beneath maudlin sentiment.

While not without its flaws, Under the Volcano is essential viewing for soused cinema enthusiasts. Like Leaving Las Vegas (1995), it’s not as depressing as it sounds. In fact, the two films would make an excellent double feature.

Drinks Consumed--Tequila, mescal, brandy, whiskey, anis, champagne, gin, and colone

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, stumbling, slurred speech, sneaking sips, delirium tremens, memory blackouts, the shakes, public disturbance, brawling, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--HUGH: Geoff, what possesses you?
GEOFFREY: Sobriety, I’m afraid. Too much moderation. I need drink desperately--get my balance back.

Video Availability--Under the Volcano DVD (Criterion)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--John Huston directed Richard Burton in The Night of the Iguana (1964), another film about a drunk in Mexico nearing the end of his rope.


Booze News: It's Our First Birthday!

>> Thursday, December 27, 2007

One year ago today, Booze Movies was born with the express purpose of shedding a light on the major role that alcohol has played in the history of the movies. Of course, the last thing a booze-soaked subject should be is dry, so I hope you've found my soused cinema reviews and features as enjoyable to read as they have been for me to produce.

With sixty-seven reviews completed, I see no end in sight. There are numerous major and obscure alky titles left to cover--Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), The Struggle (1931), Sideways (2004), The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947), The Bad News Bears (1976), The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933), Trees Lounge (1996), Nightmare Alley (1947), Breakfast With Hunter (2003), etc--so I'm going to be at this for some time to come. Stay tuned. It's going to be fun.

Over the course of the year, the size of my reviews nearly doubled in length. Consequently, in upcoming weeks, I will return to some of the films that I reviewed during the first couple of months , such as Arthur (1981) and National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), to give those classics the expanded write-ups that they deserve. Withnail and I (1987) and My Little Chickadee (1940) have recently undergone that kind of touch-up.

Of course, new reviews will also continue to appear. In fact, I'll be back later this week with my overview of Under the Volcano (1984).

I'd like to thank everyone who has posted comments to the blog and sent me emails over the past year. Your feedback and encouragement has been invaluable. I especially appreciate movie suggestions--the more obscure the better. I've enjoyed a number of lesser known titles due to your recommendations, so please keep them coming!



Booze News: 1st Annual Cocktail Film Fest

>> Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mark your calendars--On March 21st and 22nd, Tales of the will be hosting the 1st Annual Cocktail Film Fest at the W Hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans! The shindig will be hosted by none other than Miss Charming herself, Cheryl Charming. Three films will be screened, and corresponding food and drinks will be served. The scheduled movie lineup is:

* Casablanca (1942)

* The Seven Year Itch (1955)

* Guys and Dolls (1955)

I'll post more info as it becomes available, as I'm sure will the two sites linked above.



Review: Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947)

>> Monday, December 17, 2007

USA/B&W-103m./Dir: Stuart Heisler/Wr: John Howard Lawson & Lionel Wiggam/Cast: Susan Hayward (Angelica Evans Conway), Lee Bowman (Ken Conway), Eddie Albert (Steve Nelson), Marsha Hunt (Martha Gray), Charles D. Brown (Mike Dawson)

With its wonderfully melodramatic title, flashback structure, and “baby in danger” scenes, Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman is in many ways a prototype for today’s Lifetime Made-For-TV movies. Susan Hayward stars as Angie Evans, a rising nightclub singer, who gives up her career, when the fortunes of her songwriting crooner husband, Ken Conway (Lee Bowman), begin to ascend. Ken rockets to the big time with a hit record, and gives Angie a butler and a nanny for their baby; but with nothing to do and her husband constantly away, Angie begins to hit the bottle hard. Plunging deeper into paranoia and despair with each cocktail, Angie’s marriage hits the skids--eventually leading to the “smash-up” of the title.

If you can slog through the first half hour in which Hayward and Bowman take turns warbling the same three or four songs over and over again, Smash-Up begins to spark some interest. As soon as Angie starts slugging whiskey (and this gal can slug), the lovely Susan Hayward is absolutely magnetic. Whether giddy on joy juice or wallowing in self-pity and depression, Hayward is believable and entertaining without fail. It’s easy to see why her performance was nominated for an Oscar and how she used that success to stake out a career as a leading actress in dramatic weepies.

The script, based loosely on the alcoholic decline of Dixie Lee, Bing Crosby’s first wife, also received an Academy Award nomination. However, that nomination is harder to fathom. The story is soapy and predictable--all the way to the incongruous, upbeat ending (which was more or less required of alky films of the time). Still, the dialog is occasionally sprinkled with wonderfully sharp bits of droll, unsentimental dialog (possibly due to the involvement of Algonquin wit Dorothy Parker during story development), which keeps the material from becoming too maudlin. Although the soapy scenarios are sometimes unintentionally funny, Smash-Up is rarely boring, and it is well worth a view for Susan Hayward’s towering performance.

A note: Check out the “Cinematic Cocktails” section of the blog for information on the “Stone Fence,” a cocktail Hayward throws together in the film.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey, brandy, absinthe, Cointreau, gin, and unnamed cocktails
Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, sneaking sips, nightmares, hangover, memory blackouts, brawling, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--STEVE: You’re going to Elliot’s party tonight. Remember?
ANGIE: Oh murder. Well in that case, I better have a little drink. Make me something. Will you?
STEVE: Did you run out of double features?
ANGIE: Ah, Steve, you look as low as I felt when I got up this morning. Come on, we’ll both have one--an Old Fashioned, only no sugar, no vegetables, and go light on the ice. Why corrupt good liquor?

Video Availability--Smash Up: Story Of A Woman is available in a few blurry, public domain DVD releases (Alpha Video, Reel Enterprises, and VCI).

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Susan Hayward hit the bottle again as Lillian Roth in the biopic I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955).


Cinematic Cocktails: The Stone Fence

In Smash-up: The Story of a Woman (1947) Susan Hayward takes a brief breather from her swift alcoholic decline in order to expound upon the wonders of a very potent cocktail known as a “Stone Fence.” She even begins to dictate the recipe while mixing up a batch.

Unfortunately, the scene fades out before the mixture is complete, but what we do learn about this power-packed concoction is intriguing enough to add it to our list of cinematic cocktails. Here is the dialog taken directly from the film:

ANGIE: Hey, do you know what a stone fence is?
MIKE: You mean a stone wall.
ANGIE: I mean a stone fence, brother. It’s sort of like an ice cream soda with conviction. Bartender, would you please give me a cocktail shaker with some shaved ice, and some brandy, and some absinthe, and some Cointreau. This is something special.
MIKE: Insidious, isn’t it, Angie?
ANGIE: What, Mike?
MIKE: All this leisure. So much of it makes you realize what work really meant. Isn’t that so?
ANGIE: You mean I could miss singing my lungs out in those gin mills? That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. What you need, Mike, is a stone fence. It’s just about the most colossal drink you’ve ever drunk--drank. It-it puts poise in apathetic people, if you know what I mean, and after the second one your spine turns to solid platinum. You take one part brandy, and two parts rye… (Fade out)


Review: Superbad (2007)

>> Sunday, December 9, 2007

USA/C-118m./Dir: Greg Mottola/Wr: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg/Cast: Jonah Hill (Seth), Michael Cera (Evan), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fogell), Bill Hader (Officer Slater), Seth Rogen (Officer Michaels)

Movies about horny teens obsessed with sex and alcohol are a dime a dozen. Good movies about horny teens obsessed with sex and alcohol are rare gems. Superbad is a gem. It’s also the funniest film to hit theater screens since Bad Santa (2003).

The film chronicles 24-hours in the lives of unpopular and codependent high-schoolers, Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera). The duo are nearing graduation and the disconcerting prospects of being separated (due to acceptance to different colleges) and failing to score before the end of their senior year. When Seth is invited to an end-of-the-year blowout, he sees it as an opportunity to hook-up with the girl of his dreams. His plan hinges on obtaining alcohol to impress the girl and to loosen her inhibitions. Evan goes along with the scheme and enlists the help of Fogell, an even more unpopular classmate who happens to have a fake I.D. (albeit a pretty unconvincing one). Over the course of the evening, the boys encounter numerous obstacles in their attempts to obtain joy juice, including multiple run-ins with a couple of inept cops (played by writer Seth Rogen and SNL vet Bill Hader).

The first fifteen minutes of Superbad features some of the coarsest language ever committed to film, and while it is extremely funny, more sensitive viewers may find it repellent. However, this movie is much more than a vulgar comedy. It has a tremendous heart, and by the time you reach the note-perfect ending, you’ll realize you’ve witnessed one of the sweetest and most truthful teen comedies ever made.

The script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg is filled with laugh-out-loud dialog that perfectly captures the insecurities and urges of high school boys; and in the character of Seth, the screenwriters have crafted the role of a lifetime for Jonah Hill. Seth is uproariously funny and crass, and it is to Hill’s credit that the character also comes across as lovable and sympathetic. Michael Cera is equally excellent as Evan. Evan could have simply been played as Seth’s straight man, but Cera’s gawky line readings are wonderfully comic. Of course, Arrested Development fans know that no one plays awkward discomfort better than Michael Cera.

Superbad isn’t a perfect film. Some of the scenes with the cops are played too broadly in relation to the more realistic high school scenes. However, the film is so hilarious you’ll hardly mind any minor flaws. Pour yourself a green beer and enjoy.

Drinks Consumed--Beer (straight and mixed with detergent), tequila, whiskey, and vodka

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, vomiting, public disturbance, brawling, physical violence, drunk driving, passing out, memory blackouts, and soused sex

Potent Quotables--EVAN: I should buy Becca alcohol?
SETH: Yeah, it’ll be pimp. That way you know she’ll be drunk. You know when you hear a girl sayin’, “Ah, I was so shitfaced last night. I shouldn’t have fucked that guy.” We could be that mistake!

Video Availability--Superbad is available on DVD and Blu-ray (Columbia/Tri-Star) in both the theatrical and unrated versions. There is virtually no difference between the theatrical and unrated cut--a couple of added minutes of dirty dialog.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Alcohol plays a major part in Katherine Heigl getting Knocked Up in Seth Rogen’s other 2007 comedy.

Superbad: The Drawings (Hardcover)


Booze News: Templeton Rye

This post is slightly off-topic, being that there is no film-related content. However, this whiskey is too good to keep quiet about.

I just tried Templeton Rye this weekend, and I think I'm in love. This legendary prohibition-era whiskey was known as "the good stuff" and was a favorite of Al Capone. All I can say is Alphonse knew good booze when he tasted it. This rye is dark, thick, spicy, and remarkably smooth. It also has a mild, pleasant after-burn.

Even if you aren't a fan of rye whiskey, Templeton may change your mind. If you live in Illinois or Iowa (the only two states this fine whiskey is currently available), you owe it to yourself to pick up a bottle.

Check out the Templeton Rye Website for more info on this amazing liquor-->Link.


P.S. - Have no fear, movie lovers. I shall soon return with a review of Superbad (2007).


Review: Cuckoo On A Choo Choo (1952)

>> Sunday, December 2, 2007

USA/B&W-15m./Dir: Jules White/Wr: Felix Adler/Cast: Larry Fine (Larry), Shemp Howard (Shemp), Moe Howard (Moe), Patricia Wright (Roberta), Victoria Horne (Lenore), Reggie Dvorack (Carey, the canary)

During the Three Stooges years at Columbia, they produced 190 short subjects. Some were comic gems (Three Little Pirates, Punchy Cowpunchers), while others were groaners (most of the Joe Besser shorts), but the very bottom of the barrel was Cuckoo On A Choo Choo. Unfortunately, since Shemp Howard spends almost the entirety of this so-called comedy schnokkered from the contents of his little brown jug, Cuckoo On A Choo Choo is one of the few Stooge shorts that I am obligated to review.

In a parody of A Streetcar Named Desire, Larry plays a Marlon Brando-type (ripped t-shirt, bad attitude, and all) who has stolen a railroad car named “Schmow.” He shares the boxcar with his girlfriend Roberta and her overly emotional sister Lenore. Larry wants to marry Roberta, but she refuses to go through with the ceremony until Larry can convince Shemp to marry her sister. Unluckily for Larry, Shemp is a dedicated drunkard who wants nothing to do with the union. Instead, he prefers getting stinko on joy juice and dancing with a giant canary that only he can see (a parody of the invisible rabbit in Harvey). Railroad agent Moe wedges himself into the party in order to bring the boxcar thieves to justice, but his plans change when he realizes that the love of his life, Lenore, is amongst the miscreants.

Although it was understandable for the Columbia shorts team to look towards popular culture for ideas for new Stooge vehicles, it is hard to imagine anyone thinking that a send-up of A Streetcar Named Desire would be a good vehicle for the boys. Few laughs are to be had in this comic misfire. Larry Fine is over his head in trying to burlesque Brando, and Moe (who was usually the engine that propelled the story and comic business) is given little to do. Only Shemp manages to garner a few giggles with his drunk shtick, and the fact that he was able to milk a little mirth from this weak material is proof of his considerable comic talents.

While not recommended, those brave enough to endure Cuckoo On A Choo Choo may find some enjoyment for the shear weirdness of the short--especially the scenes with Carey, the invisible canary. It is an odd film indeed in which Larry Fine’s Brando imitation is not the strangest sight on display.

Drinks Consumed--Unnamed booze (likely whiskey) and beer

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, hiccups, harmonizing, physical violence, and seeing things

Potent Quotables--SHEMP: (after being hit) I’m shot!... or half shot, or I ought to be shot. Oh, I guess, I’ll have a shot. (He takes a long drink from his bottle) Horrible, but I like it.

Video Availability--Not yet available on DVD, but Columbia has plans to release all 190 Stooge shorts in chronological box sets over the next couple of years.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Moe, Larry, and Shemp are at their most stewed in Love At First Bite (1950).

The Three Stooges: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Most Popular Comedy Team of All Time

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About Me

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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