Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Baba Yaga: (1973. dir: Corrado Farina) Italian soft-softcore BDSM culled from a popular comic book series called Valentina. This is a movie about high heels and manacles, but only just. Is it shocking? Titillating? In retrospect, it seems quaint and absurd, and Carroll Baker is stiff and out of her element as an aging femme fatale.
Watch it for: a snapshot of hipster Milan in the '60s.
The Girl Next Door: (2004. dir: Luke Greenfield) Teenage boy sex fantasy with better than average acting about a gorgeous, nice, innocent porn star who throws over her sinful life of fanciness and evil to love a dork in high school. Sheesh.
Watch it for: Timothy Olyphant as a low-life porn producer. He makes perfect choices, bringing humor and intelligence to a character who really probably deserved none. Every intention, every shift of tactic, is subtly but perfectly communicated. I emphasize: this movie did not deserve him.
the Interpreter: (2005. dir: Sydney Pollack) Not anywhere near good, this political thriller involves Nicole Kidman (as an interpreter for the U.N.) overhearing an assassination plot, and Sean Penn (lifeless and sans chemistry with La Kidman) as a U.S. Secret Service guy trying to stymie the plans.
Watch it for: about halfway in, there's a wonderful suspense sequence involving a bomb on public transport. It's so good that nothing after it, although we still have half the film left, ever comes close to rousing similar emotion again.
The other thing is Kidman's wonderful voice. She's employing a South African accent and her lower register, lower than "throaty", a full-on chest-voice, and she sounds amazing.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Camus once said, "Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football." I, on the other hand, didn't have football until too late in the day to make much of a difference, and have often claimed with equal parts flippancy and despair that my own moral compass was shaped by Hollywood, Shakespeare, and Star Trek. This last, in particular, while rich in subconscious depth, is generally simple in structure and each episode can therefore be boiled down to one or two simple moral lessons.
Here are some things I learned in childhood (some of them no doubt leaving scar tissue extant on my psyche to this day). Note how often the same moral is repeated in multiple episodes, as if for emphasis, or to indicate thematic obsession.
Man Trap: Salt is important. Also, ex-lovers are not always to be trusted.
Charlie X: Teenagers are not to be trusted with superpowers.
Where No Man Has Gone Before: Neither are adults.
the Naked Time: Jung was right; the Shadow material we each suppress packs a mean wallop when released.
the Enemy Within: Within the Shadow lies our energy. An effective commander must own a powerful dark side (incorporating, in Kirk's case, his sex drive, cowardice, penchant for Saurian brandy, and a weird tendency to wear too much black eyeliner) alongside the "good", both ruled by an overriding intelligence.
Mudd's Women: A woman is responsible for her own level of pulchritude.
What Are Little Girls Made Of?: Human emotion rules the universe, waiting to highjack even robots. Also, ex-lovers are not always to be trusted.
Miri: Chasing immortality is fatal hubris, and growing up is hard.
Dagger of the Mind: Emotion breeds violence, a cage is a cage, and a mind wiped clean is an unbearable loneliness, the sort of loneliness of which a man can die.
the Corbomite Maneuver: An apparently hostile opponent might in reality be a super-being who is testing you, a sort of cosmic Zen Master.
Menagerie: Reality is not always the best life-choice.
the Conscience of the King: One can evade the consequences of one's own sins for only so long. On a related topic, the offspring of fascist dictators are often unstable, sometimes psychotic.
the Balance of Terror: A true sense of honor is a living thing, and must be ever ready to shift and change to remain vital, always resisting the mortifying influence of iron-bound rules and dogma. As a sad corollary, honor is difficult to maintain amongst Romulans.
Shore Leave: Be careful what you wish for.
the Galileo Seven: An effective leader must use both halves of his brain, drawing on both logic and instinct.
the Squire of Gothos: Children are not to be trusted with superpowers.
Arena: You can jerry-rig a crude but effective cannon using sulfur, saltpeter, charcoal and diamonds; a television studio must have better resources than that, however, to fashion an effective lizard-man.
Tomorrow is Yesterday: A man's worth cannot be gleaned from his resume.
Court Martial: A computer is not to be trusted when a life is at stake.
Return of the Archons: Any holy-looking, supernatural being is up to no good, a computer is not to be trusted with absolute rule, and freedom is not easy, involving both sacrifice and hard work.
Space Seed: Creating a race of superhumans is tantamount to placing our fate in the hands of a cabal of arrogant bastards who view us as inferior and are strong enough to make our lives hell. Don't do it.
A Taste of Armaggedon: It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we might let it drag on like an endless chess game.
This Side of Paradise: Ex-lovers, even possibly physically unrequited ones, are not always to be trusted, and a Garden of Eden is always booby-trapped. Best revelation: Spock has a first name, but we would not be able to pronounce it.
the Devil in the Dark: Sentient, intelligent beings do not necessarily look like us.
Errand of Mercy: On the other hand, superhuman entities may look like us just as kind of a temporary favor, out of politeness. Also, don't force your help on someone if they really don't want it.
Alternative Factor: The angel with which each of us endlessly wrestles is ourselves, and there is everything at stake.
the City on the Edge of Forever: Sometimes a simple act of goodness and mercy can have the severest possible consequences, and the best intentions can lead to victory for the dark side. Also, even an unknown person's impact on history can be massive.
Operation: Annihilate!: The weapon which kills the parasite in your system may be entirely harmless to yourself. The corollary: wait until the lab results come back before you put Spock into the isolation chamber under the blinding white light.
Amok Time: A primordial swamp of seething id-sensuality is swarming beneath the placid Vulcan demeanor. In other words, Spock is very sexy.
Who Mourns for Adonais?: Any holy-looking, supernatural being is up to no good. In fact, man has evolved to a point at which gods are not only unnecessary, but vaguely embarrassing.
Changeling: A mechanical entity imprisoned in its own logic is no match for human cleverness and wile.
Mirror, Mirror: It is easier for a civilized man to impersonate a barbarian than for the barbarian to pretend to civilization. But really as a child the moral I took away was this: we all have an evil twin in an alternate universe, and Spock's is really sexy.
the Apple: Every Garden of Eden is booby-trapped, and no civilization, however apparently content, is vital if it is merely existing to service, and be fed and supported by, a ruling god or god-like machine. Such a god is to be destroyed and a Protestant ethic of hard work and good, healthy procreation within the proper heterosexual bounds are to be imposed upon it from without if necessary.
the Doomsday Machine: Sometimes the monster must be destroyed from within.
Catspaw: Again, trust no one with superpowers.
I, Mudd: The adamantine fortress of robot-logic is no match for the sheer trickster power of human whimsy. Also, once the master is addicted to services rendered, the servant becomes the master.
Metamorphosis: Interspecific love involves sacrifice (on the female's part, naturally), but is not necessarily hopeless.
Journey to Babel: An effective commander must not let his personal loyalties override his duty to his ship, Vulcan father-son relations are hardcore problematic, and there's always some mercenary spy trying to throw a fatal wrench into the works of any peace-talk.
Friday's Child: A society calcified by its notion of honorable death and the worship of strength is doomed unless it can also learn to nurture its weak and care for its sick. Also, Klingons are cheaters and liars and not to be trusted.
the Deadly Years: Getting old bites, and fear can save your life.
Obsession: We are all haunted by ghosts from the past, guilt being the most detrimental to clear judgment in the present. Heeding intuition is crucial for a commander. Best revelation: Spock's blood is green because his hemoglobin is copper-, rather than iron-based.
Wolf in the Fold: An entity which feeds on fear makes an expert serial killer.
the Trouble With Tribbles: A bar fight is sometimes a lot of fun, and Klingons are cheaters and liars and not to be trusted.
the Gamesters of Triskelion: Slavery is bad, and a civilization built on it is doomed to fall unless it adapts.
A Piece of the Action: The Prime Directive is a brilliant idea, but really not generally workable. Somebody's always going to leave some random book behind and inspire a cargo cult.
the Immunity Syndrome: In a multi-specied Universe, a distinction between which is virus and which infected can be murky. A secondary, but more intriguing, moral lesson is that we are all connected on a deep, empathic level, and that the ever-logical Vulcans are the ones who have sense enough to understand that denying this is mere arrogance.
A Private Little War: Providing arms for South Vietnam to match the communist-provided arming of North Vietnam is a fool's game.
Return to Tomorrow: A species with superpowers can only be trusted if it voluntarily chooses to transcend the physical realm. Corollary advice: don't let even the nicest alien take over your body.
Patterns of Force: Nazism is a bad idea on any planet.
By Any Other Name: Human emotion is the most powerful force in the universe, like a trickster just waiting to highjack all species, knocking them right off their high, anti-human horses.
Omega Glory: War leads to armageddon and Charlton Heston's jeremiad at the end of Planet of the Apes.
the Ultimate Computer: A computer is not to be trusted to run a starship. ("Open the pod bay doors, HAL.")
Bread and Circuses: A society built on slavery is bound to fall, but some take longer than others.
Assignment: Earth: A television network will shamelessly abuse a hit series in a gross attempt to jump-start another, obviously inferior, one.
Spock's Brain: The idea that women might rule a civilization without male guidance is utterly absurd. The corollary: men without women live brutal, unkempt lives; women without men are ditzy and ineffective. Therefore, heterosexual balance is the duty of every planet. Also, setting up a computer to rule your civilization is sheer laziness when you should be out there fighting and procreating with the males. Awesome line reading: "Brain and brain. What is brain?"
the Enterprise Incident: No amount of lying or deception is impossible (or, indeed, morally inexpiable), even for a Vulcan, as long as it is done in the name of patriotic service (in this case, to the Federation). Best moment: the Vulcan Death Grip (in reality, only a clever permutation of the Vulcan Nerve Pinch).
the Paradise Syndrome: Hubris breeds a fall. Also, a computer is worthwhile only so long as it is tempered and maintained by living intelligence.
And the Children Shall Lead: Any holy-looking supernatural being is up to no good and should not be trusted. And, yet again, children are not to be trusted with superpowers.
Is There No Truth in Beauty?: Interspecific love is difficult but not always impossible.
Spectre of the Gun: If you don't believe in it, it can't hurt you.
Day of the Dove: Laughter is the opposite of anger.
For the World is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky: The Dominant Paradigm is not necessarily based in truth. Also, a computer should not be trusted to rule over humans.
the Tholian Web: An effective leader must use both halves of his brain, drawing on both logic and instinct.
Plato's Stepchildren: Nobody is to be trusted with superpowers. Also, a civilization built on slavery and extreme social stratification is bound to fall.
Wink of an Eye: A sterilized species may attempt to mate interspecifically, sometimes to the detriment of the stud race, and usually beginning with Captain Kirk. Interesting fact: greatly accelerated, humanoids are invisible and sound like insects.
the Empath: There is a certain amount of cold sadism implicit in scientific research.
Elaan of Troyius: Diva supermodels of the most annoying kind still hold inexplicable power to enslave males, and growing into adulthood is difficult if everyone does what you say all the time.
Whom Gods Destroy: If you have two apparent Kirks, the one who values the safety of the Enterprise over his own is the real mccoy. Also, crazy people should not be trusted with shapeshifting powers.
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield: Racism is based on logical fallacy and delusion.
Mark of Gideon: Overpopulating your planet is a terrible error. Every population must have its predator, even if that predator is only a disease.
That Which Survives: Although continuing with some of the long-running themes (a computer is only to be trusted under the supervision of a living intelligence, and human emotion is so strong a force it threatens to conquer even computer projections), Spock is here taught that he can indeed effectively command a starship using only his left-brain logic, so long as he is working in tandem with people he trusts who are in touch with their own instincts (in this case, Mr. Scott).
the Lights of Zetar: A man in love is inefficient, but love is so powerful a force that it can mean the difference between life and death.
Requiem for Methuselah: The human condition incorporates "a little ugliness from within and without," the avoidance of which is folly. Also, the agonies, ecstasies, and mysteries of love are so powerful that even a robot can be destroyed by them. Best moment: although the episode itself is certainly no great shakes, its end moment, with Spock's last choice, is extraordinary, and indicates a whole new level of personal development in both his friendship with Kirk and in coming to terms with the puzzle that is humanity.
the Way to Eden: A Garden of Eden is always booby-trapped, ex-lovers are not always to be trusted, and the sterility of technological advancement can breed malcontents who rebel against it. Although there is a kinship between Vulcans and hippies, there tends to be something disturbingly manipulative about hippies; do you reach me, Herbert?
Cloud Minders: A society built on slavery and extreme social stratification is bound to fall unless it adapts.
the Savage Curtain: Good guys and bad guys are often indistinguishable on the battlefield.
All Our Yesterdays: We all carry within us the primitive underpinnings of the id, a primordial soup of caveman passions at whose mercy we ultimately exist. Even Spock.
Turnabout Intruder: I hated this one so much that I've only seen it once or twice, and not at all for many years. I remember the moral being that ambitious women are psychos, but you could argue for a more radical reading, that a woman can be driven mad by the chauvinism inherent in Star Fleet's hiring practices.(*) Also, ex-lovers are not always to be trusted.
(*) Back when I was working in record stores and was consistently "tested" by male coworkers concerning feminist ideology, one of them said that Nichelle Nichols had come out in an interview defending the sexy uniforms with, "Maybe in the future, women will be able to wear miniskirts if they want to without defending the choice," to which I (with some frustration) reply that the micro-mini was obviously mandatory, since women never wore anything else, and nobody had bad legs, which tells me that Star Fleet was hiring on a standard of calf-definition rather than ability where women were concerned.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Bram Stoker's Dracula: The first time I saw it in the theatre, I loved it, thought it enormously sensuous and engaging. The second time I saw it, I hated it, thought it overblown, fatally lacking in subtlety and really embarrassing in parts. The third time I saw it, I loved it. Et cetera.
I've watched it enough now to know what to expect: a sort of Dark Theatre of Kabuki Histrionics, and I really love it. Coppola has taken the essence of Dracula, stayed reasonably true to an admittedly flawed book, while transforming the Count into a Romantic hero and the story itself into a Gothic love story. (Gothic love stories always end in death for someone.) Gary Oldman in the lead and Tom Waits as his Renfield handle the Kabuki aspects extraordinarily well (Waits' performance, albeit a minor one, is sheer genius). Anthony Hopkins (Van Helsing) we all know loves galloping over the top in performance in bold and sometimes hamfisted ways, and Richard E. Grant finds new ground with his morphine-addicted, love-addled Dr. Seward. Keanu Reeves is an easy mark for critics, with his less than satisfactory English accent (Winona Ryder's goes in and out, as does her performance, veering from lovely moments to the truly awful), but, perhaps from self-knowledge, Reeves avoids the hysterical almost entirely, choosing to stick within the bounds of the staid and stoical English bank-clerk.
Still, there's a thing Coppola does very well: he smooths over the rough edges of the acting with editing. In fact, the whole thing is so sensuously lit, photographed, and edited (and the sound, too,--wonderfully sensuous sound design) that it all flows together like a morphine dream. The minute details are marvellous: the Transylvanian mountains are filled with rings of blue flame, shadows move independently of their originals, rats as well as Dracula himself defy gravity by crawling upside-down. The Freudian aspects are not neglected, quite the contrary: witness the lustful glint in the eye of Lucy's fiance (Cary Elwes, quite good in an understated role), for instance, before he pounds the stake into her heart.
Another thing it captures and communicates extraordinarily well is that sensual hyperventilation girls experience when just about to embark on their sex lives.
It's another bold endeavour from Coppola, and, for my money, a crazed and original success, and it has a place high on my list of Top Ten Vampire Films. (Yes, I really do have such a list.)
Twixt: Remember that Johnny Depp movie, Secret Window? No reason you should. How about that Charlotte Rampling movie (sorry, film), the Swimming Pool? Again, no reason you should, except that it had as I recall a little of the steamy Gallic thing going on which might have stuck with you. These are films which belong to the "I don't know what I'm going to write about, so I'll write about a writer with writers' block and how it all comes out swimmingly in the end" genre, an inexcusable genre, absolutely the worst of the worst. A big, blatant cheat in every respect. (*)
This is one of those. The script is about as good (and by that I mean just mediocre enough to keep you sitting in your chair) as that of Secret Window, and although Coppola provides some interesting (and random, and pretentious) visuals, nobody's going to call this one a success. Part of the failure is due, I think, to the very groundedness of Val Kilmer, so practical and earthy and drolly mischievous that it seems impossible to project him into a fantastical realm. (OK, I haven't seen Willow. There are reasons for that.)
It tries to occupy that rarefied air of the Night Sea-Journey, a very select and difficult genre which includes the Machinist and Jacob's Ladder, works which travel back and forth between levels of dream and reality and (when such a story is successful, which is seldom) you're unsure which is which until it's made clear in the end. It's hard as hell to pull off well, few do it, and this one doesn't come close.
The best things about it are Tom Waits' opening narration (what a creepy and lovable treasure that man is) and Ben Chaplin's Edgar Allen Poe, convincing in spite of the script. Outside of those guys, we have a smattering of poor-man's Twin Peaks (quality along the lines of, say, Wolf Lake), with your typical small town enshrouded by an age-old tragedy (religious man abuses then dishes out the laced koolaid to a bunch of kids in an ill-conceived attempt to save them from becoming vampires), a town where all time happens at once: as the clock tower with seven faces indicates that it's seven different hours simultaneously, the action flows between the fifties, the late 1800s, and modern day, not so much seamlessly as without seeming to care whether or not we buy it.
It doesn't matter, really. You won't care. You have characters like a moon-bathing, Baudelaire-quoting Goth-King who runs a decades-, possibly centuries-old, gypsy-camp for Siouxsie Sioux wannabes across the river and who may or may not be a vampire. He reminded me of characters I found compelling when I was fourteen. In the end, there are sufficient enjoyable set-pieces (eccentric old sheriff Bruce Dern plying the Ouija Board, braces snapping off the teeth of a revivified little-girl vampire as she prepares her bite, a contrived piece of Lynchiana when Kilmer's writer finds the boarded-up hotel open for business and has a faux-Peaksian exchange with the keeper of the clock-tower and his folk-singing, vampire-hating wife. Ridiculous, but you can relax into it) to keep you watching.
(*) My boyfriend points out that 7 Psychopaths must belong to this genre, as it shares the subject matter, but that one escapes the label of Liar and Cheat because it plays straight with us about what is fiction and what is not.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
the Purge: (2013. dir: James DeMonaco) A fascinating idea for a non-supernatural, slightly sci-fi horror film, no doubt inspired by "the Return of the Archons", itself a fascinating moment in the first season of the original Star Trek. In an alterna-America, the "new Founding Fathers" have cleansed the land of crime by designating a single twelve-hour period every year as "Purge Night", during which time cops and hospitals all close up shop and crime runs rampant and unpunished. Although it never reaches its potential, it's interesting enough to keep you watching. This is the kind of role I love for Lena Headey (I'm ambivalent about Cersei Lannister, both as written and as portrayed), beginning with mere elegance and expanding into a tough humanness, a journey reaching its sublime apotheosis with her morning announcement, "Sit down! I said nobody else is fucking dying tonight!" Also, it seems I no longer dislike Ethan Hawke, which I did, with some vehemence, for many years. (It was Reality Bites that did it. And that Hamlet? ye gods.)
Byzantium: (2012. dir: Neil Jordan) Jordan has a talent for fantasy. For all its oddness and flaws, my favorite film of his has always been the Company of Wolves. Here is a new vampire story, equal parts modern world and beautiful, mythological old world (or, more cynically, equal parts Let the Right One In and Interview with the Vampire). There are enduring images: the strange stone hut amidst the flowing waters where one meets one's doppelganger, one's death and resurrection into blood-drinking immortality, all in one instant, for example. The film owns an extreme pulsation of dark female sensuality, mostly due to Gemma Arterton and the love which the camera bears for her. The bad guys are a brotherhood of bloodsuckers who, for reasons both classist and sexist, spend centuries hunting after a mother-daughter vampire team (Arterton and Saoirse Ronan). Jonny Lee Miller, unforgettable as a different kind of vampire, a soldier and a cheat who loves placing innocent girls into whoredom and passes on his fatal syphilis as a means of revenge, throws himself with tireless relish into the hideousness. The similarity to Let the Right One In mostly shows up in the burgeoning relationship between the eternally-sixteen-year-old daughter and her pale, sickly, teenaged beau. I don't like the way Jordan does action scenes, but there aren't many of those, and the filming of the old world, and the ease of movement between old and new, suggesting the timelessness of vampire existence, is lovely.
the Grabbers: (2012. dir: Jon Wright) An Irish remake of Tremors (with a little Gremlins thrown in: witness the scene of the monster-cubs terrorising the bar), only the beasts come from outer space via the ocean and feed on human blood. Alcohol, it turns out, is toxic to them, and drunken hijinks ensue as a tiny island town tries to survive the night of rainstorm and monsters. Richard Coyle is here, and he is lovely, but the music is intrusive and the drunken Irish whimsy approaches John Ford levels, which is too rich by far for my blood. That, however, is a personal quirk, and there is much to be said for this eccentric capriccio.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
(1931. dir: Rouben Mamoulian) The really marvellous part about pre-code films is fully embodied here: that wonderful, irreplicable ambience of heavy sensuality combined with unfeigned innocence which only seems possible in hindsight. A film like this literally could not be made today, even one set in an appropriate historical era. Jekyll's proud and entirely proper chastity (a word which bears today a certain taint of sexual taboo, alongside jealousy and frigidity) would be untranslatable onto celluloid today without an accompanying and apologetic hint of psychological disorder from childhood trauma, or at least a clearly-stated bias on the part of the filmmakers against sexual repression.
Fredric March offers up a forthright and bold performance, giving us a Jekyll who, with Vulcanian logic, sets about solving the bedevilment of his illicit lust for Miriam Hopkins through purely scientific means, by using chemicals to separate out his basal, troglodyte instincts and leave the superior man intact to live a good, faithful, and fruitful life. But, as Captain Kirk will find out in "the Enemy Within" (apologies: I've been immersed in Star Trek lately, and, like the Mahabarata, it's amazing how some episode or other applies to nearly everything you run across in life), the one cannot live without the other, and the shunned shadow is where our strongest energies abide.
Technically, the film is stunning. There is no trace of March in his Hyde, none at all. He is completely obliterated through a combination of genius maquillage and bravura physical acting, for which March deservedly took home his first Oscar. (The slow and convincing transformations were achieved through use of color schemes and filters which would not show up on the black and white film.) Karl Struss' camera tricks are sometimes strikingly modern and effective, sometimes intrusive and clumsy, but the shots of the laboratory are lovely, done with care and agility.
And let's have a word about the unjustly forgotten, or anyway under-remembered, Miriam Hopkins. An actress with lithe facility in both comic and dramatic roles, her work with Ernst Lubitsch alone enshrines her amongst the greats: both Design for Living and Trouble in Paradise can claim places among the best films ever made, and she stands with easy grace at the center of both. As the prostitute whose crush on Jekyll instigates all the trouble, she owns the flesh appeal of a Harlowe and is fully, tragically human.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Near Dark: (1987. dir: Kathryn Bigelow) I can't imagine a Top Ten Best Vampire Films list that didn't include this one. The 80s were tough; there was a lot to work against. Every movie had a New Wave synth-track by the likes of Giorgio Moroder or Vangelis, for a start. Often it's a huge bummer, but here the Tangerine Dream music works as a sort of mesmeric glue holding the piece together. Bigelow is young and you can see the flaws, but they're not important. They're not what you come away with. You come away with Bill Paxton, possibly in his best moment ever, revelling in the bloodshed in the "finger-lickin' good" bar massacre. And Lance Henriksen, that fantastic face photographed to perfection, his arm draped over a pay-phone, watching. And Adrian Pasdar and Jenny Wright, both impossibly sexy, as the star-crossed lovers.
Possibly the most important thing, a thing few if any other movies have ever captured (or, indeed, attempted to capture), is the quality of lives these eternal bloodsuckers lead. It is a frenetically-paced, claustrophobic existence lived in ramshackle motel rooms and stolen vehicles with blacked-out windows, driven by constant dread of the sun. These creatures are on an endless journey, like sharks, constantly moving, constantly feeding, coming back around the same bends of the highway to encounter fleeting glimpses of ancient memories. "I get back here once every fifty years," Henriksen's ex-Confederate soldier tells a motel clerk who thinks he recognises him. "Make a reservation for me."
These creatures don't get to pick their companions. Turning a human vampish is easier than killing one: "he's been bit but he ain't been bled," Jenny Wright's May tells her compadres, who now have a new vampire to train. The overarching sense with which we are left is that the vampiric life is a small, frightened, and exhausting one, without respite except in obliteration.
By any standard, in the realm of vampiric lore, this is a necessary film.
Sword of Doom: (1966. dir: Kihachi Okamoto) It's an unabashed "B" film, but every bit as enjoyable in its way as Harakiri or the great old Kurasawas. Tatsuya Nakadai is the sociopath samurai who leaves chaos in his murderous wake. The cinematography and editing are still great, but the story is not completely told. For instance, we never see the outcomes of two confrontations to which we are building up for a long time: the samurai's showdown with the Mifune character, which we assume he wins, since Mifune appears in ghost-form at the end, or, indeed, with the ostensible hero, who has been training throughout the movie for his fight with our anti-hero. Weirdly, it doesn't matter. Nakadai's beautiful face is like a photographer's dream: his haunted eyes, and the unmistakable reverie of bliss after he's accomplished a well-executed kill, are breathtaking. The horror comes in the creepy, Grand Guignol ending, when the ghosts of his victims return to drive him mad, leading into the end-battle, complete with spurting blood and severed limbs, when the psychopath samurai takes on pretty much the whole army. The choregraphy of all its fight scenes is graceful and melancholy and hypnotic.
Lifeforce: (1986. dir: Tobe Hooper) A mid-80s Golan & Globus B-epic based on the psycho-scifi novella the Space Vampires by Colin Wilson, it's certainly a failure, but an interesting one. Although Wilson is a phenomenologist whose works were crazily formative for me, his fiction has always tended towards the bullyingly misogynist, with an edge of cold viciousness which only those old-time intellectuals could muster. At its basis, this is a gender-reversed Dracula with a toe dipped into space-operatic Aliens territory, only these otherworldly predators suck your life-force away, rather than your blood. (You can see above how great the special effects are.) It's got bad dialogue, rampant fear of women, a whole covey of wonderful British actors (Peter Firth, Michael Gothard, Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart), badly clunky editing, and not much direction at all, as far as I can see. These actors tend to travel from the po-faced and bored into hysterical convulsions while seeing very little of the spectrum in between. Really, it feels older than the 80s; it feels like it came from decades previous, which it rather did, since the source material was first published in 1976. Possibly because of the actors involved, it feels a bit like we're watching a lingering hangover from the Carnaby Street party. The end-battles, however, take place amidst a London that is burning, its denizens become maddened life-sucking zombies, and these scenes feel prescient, foretelling our own era of CGI-exact destructo-visions of the White House, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, ad nauseam.
Hysteria is the word for it: a masculine hysteria from the id, but too over-manipulated to ring true. The She-Vampire at the heart of the maleficience has pulled her flawless female beauty straight from the subconscious of the astronaut who found her, and so, as the image of his personal anima, must die with him in the naked embrace which Hollywood so loves. It feels like somebody read a lot of Jung, then spewed his own fear-fantasy out onto the page and tried to twist it around so that it sounded sort of official. (I'm not saying it's necessarily Wilson at fault; it's been a long time since I read the book. It might be screenwriters Dan O'Bannon of Alien genius and Don Jakoby of Arachnophobia renown, but let's lean towards Wilson until someone does the research.) Really, the misogyny is ludicrous: the main astronaut, attacking the woman currently embodying his anima, explains to the nearby official, "Despite appearances, this woman is an extreme masochist. She wants me to force the information from her. She wants me to hurt her." Oh, well, then, by all means, have at it.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
The Thomas Crown Affair: (1968. dir: Norman Jewison) Featherweight story counting on its surface charms to pull it through: its soundtrack ("Windmills of my Mind", a massive hit at the time), its "edgy" editing style (Hal Ashby goes crazy with the geometrical shapes), and the magnitude of the individual charismas of and purported chemistry between its two megastars (McQueen and Dunaway). The chemistry is lacking, they largely left the charismas at home, the story is absurd, the editing style distracting, and most pop songs sound dated after forty some-odd years. Mostly you watch McQueen's playboy distract himself (gliders, dune buggies, polo, Sotheby's, pouting girls with foreign accents, arranging multi-million-dollar bank heists) and then enter into a pretty dull and unconvincing relationship with Dunaway's insurance sleuth (plagued by a costumer who must have hated her. Check out the continuing parade of terrible hats) who's trying to bring him to justice. Even my boyfriend, a big McQueen fan who felt genuine jealousy over that glider, said, "That might have been the most uninteresting movie I've ever seen."
The Curious Dr. Humpp: (1969. dir: Emilio Vieyra) Had Ed Wood and Russ Meyer collaborated, in Argentina, on a remake of Eyes Without a Face, using a budget of about twenty-five bucks and a case of beer, the result might have looked something like this.
Easy A: (2010. dir: Will Gluck) Comedy daunts me. For every good one you find, you have to slog through another fifteen that either suck or offer at best one or two laughs.
But here, at last, we have it! A well-written, well-acted, well thought out, unified comedy! Never having been a John Hughes fan back in the day, imagine my amazement to find such joy and satisfaction in the old high-school-coming-of-age comedy-package. In addition to being inspired by the Scarlet Letter, that compact yet tedious novel through which we all had to slog in school, Easy A is a kind of tribute to all those high school movies from the '80s, but it's so much better than they were. First of all, Emma Stone is so relaxed, un-vain and with such perfect timing that she could carry to success a far lesser script than this one. Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci (who must be married in real life, because it seems like they've made about a hundred movies together) are beyond perfect as her parents, and Penn Badgley (who?) is the exact fit to be that secret crush guy, the guy who's so cool that he's uncool, the one she'll end up with.
Also, as is so crucial in a high school comedy, the music is just about perfect.
Absolute thumbs up, with no reservations. It renews my faith in comedy, and not a moment too soon. I was about to give up.