Tuesday, January 31, 2012

El Topo (1970, Alejandro Jodorowsky)

El Topo is a film that means more to me than many will ever know. The film is a spiritual journey, but to me, watching it is itself a spiritual journey all on it's own. It is my favorite Western, one of my top five favorite foreign, and my favorite surrealist film that isn't Eraserhead. Jodorowsky is one of the greatest visionaries in filmmaking, and his pictures are full of intense fury, color, bizarre imagery, sexuality, and creativity that never ceases nor slows. It is a profoundly effecting picture that takes no prisoners in it's approach to it's subject matter. It's a furious work of art that begs to be seen for what it is, a visual tour-de-force of magical and mystical imagery. It's ambition may seem startling or daunting to some, but I think it has more than enough imagination and fearlessness to make it work. This is the kind of film that doesn't seem like it would work as well as it actually does due to it's complex combination of ideas and imagery that seem out of place in a genre so centered entirely on the way people react to surprising situations, so in that regard I can definitely understand why one would not want to see it. The film is entirely composed of ideas rather than events. The storyline is complicated in a direct, yet abstract way. Thinking of it in a biblical sense would seem to make more sense, and it does. Every event in the picture is nothing more than a matter of fact, and Jodorowsky's approach simply hits all the right notes.
In order to properly talk about the plot of the film, I need to first establish the way in which the film's events occur. Everything in the film is circumstantial. El Topo is quick to jump from theme or tone to the next. The way the picture begins is nothing like how the picture ends. Many people feel that the film's biggest change of tone comes at the halfway mark, but in my opinion it happens constantly from beginning to end. The story begins with a rite of passage sequence in which the unnamed and heavily bearded title character (played by Jodorowsky himself, lets just call him El Topo) who is dressed in black allows his son (played by Brontis Jodorowsky, Alejandro's own son) to proceed upon his path of manhood and bury his possessions, which include a little stuffed animal and a picture of his mother. From then on, El Topo and son proceed along the path, arriving to the aftermath of a massacre and encountering some murderous thieves. El Topo is a courageous and skilled gunman, however, and it becomes clear that his son is a kind of apprentice to him as he trains him in the art of gun slinging. This goes on for a while before they eventually encounter a woman. El Topo ditches his son, who you know is going to have a grudge later on in life, and finds, to truly win her heart, he must defeat four highly skilled gunmen who all are gifted in the arts of spirituality, loyalty, agility, and strength. To say anymore would be to spoil the wondrous images that this film has in store for the viewer, but I can promise that it has a novel worth of plot and that nothing is ever as it seems in the world of El Topo
El Topo is a film that I had previously always wanted to see ever since I got into surrealist cinema. I had seen Santa Sangre on VHS and I fell in love with it. I tracked down an old, shitty copy of Fando Y Lis and it pissed me off in a way that no other film has. I read all the reviews for El Topo, I watched all the documentaries that discussed El Topo, and was waiting patiently for the film to finally be released on some kind of viewable format. I knew that it was John Lennon's favorite film, I knew that it was a midnight movie sensation, and I knew that it was notorious for it's religious subtext, it's gory violence, and it's hypnotic and ridiculous camp value that many people had seen in it. I didn't care about any of that stuff, however, I just wanted to see it. This was when I was about thirteen. Eventually I went into high school and I had all but lost hope of ever seeing El Topo, until Anchor Bay released it on DVD as well as in a box set which came with Fando Y Lis, The Holy Mountain, La Cravate, and two soundtracks. I almost bought El Topo on it's own because that was really what I was waiting for, but curiosity got the better of me and I just said fuck it and bought the box set. As soon as I got home with it I watched El Topo. Then, after I watched the rest of the films in the box set, I watched El Topo again. I ended up watching El Topo about four times before the week ended. It became an instant favorite of mine.
This film had a bigger effect on me than I realized it would. I was sixteen years old when I first watched El Topo, at that age I was very vulnerable and confused about my own mortality. I had already lost my faith by that time, but I wasn't sure how I felt about spirituality in and of itself. To be honest, I still don't really know. There are times in which I think people who have faith and are devout are smart to feel the way they do about life. Then there are other times in which I begin to think that religion is the worst thing that ever happened to the human race. One thing I can certainly say is that faith and religion has had a profound effect on my life, and this film did more than just remind me of what that truthfully means to me. Because a lot of the more unusual imagery comes from a more personal place for Jodorowsky, I feel that the film feels more or less like a celebration of mass differences of human thought and opinion. Since much of the religious imagery is borrowed and inspired by several sources, it feels more logical to view the film as less a passion piece and more an exploration of the soul. Not only is Jodorowsky pouring his heart out on screen for us to see the inside of his mind, but the film is also spiritually cleansing for the viewer as well in that it is alternately a celebration, an attack, a dramatization, an exploration, and a satire of religion and religious worship. 
To me, I think it is better when a filmmaker can explore his own feelings and his own nostalgia for their times of faith. Pier Paolo Pasolini was the best at doing this, in my opinion, because the stories he retells are so fantastical and magical in their purity, their recreated imagery, and their wonderful characters, and he isn't afraid to have fun when he does it either. Jodorowsky's style is similar, though a lot more angry and a lot less sympathetic. This means a lot to me because, growing up I always imagined the many religious themed stories to look a lot like this. Different cultures take different things more seriously than others, and when you look at a lot of old artwork it is startling to me how playful painters were with their works. I always pictured these kinds of people being the ones who discovered the heart of a lot of these stories. El Topo is like one big, long moral story that features aspects of different cultures. I'm not going to pretend that I understand a lot of them. However, with this film you don't need to understand it. You just have to let the images, the story, the characters, and the ideas sweep over you. You need to want to get your head messed with a little if you hope to get anything out of this masterpiece of a film.
As a western, this film is as good as you get. For a low budget picture, it is chock full of mesmerizing set pieces, wild gun fights, incredible suspense, and plot twists that may be predictable but are still remain arresting to see play out. The film also rivals Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch in it's barrage of onscreen bloodshed. Also like The Wild Bunch, El Topo is one of the most violent films I have ever watched, but unlike The Wild Bunch, El Topo has a more stylish artistic approach to it's blood and gore similar to Akira Kurosawa's 1985 picture Ran. This approach actually works very well. The film feels like some kind of weird fantasy picture, and so the violence feels more hard hitting and grueling, yet still very spellbinding. The blood looks extremely saturated and nobody gets killed cleanly. Jodorowsky's approach obviously was intended to evoke a sense of survival of the fittest. The violence is all very animalistic and outlandish, and often it's done with some degree of purpose. None of the violence is excessive or gratuitous, all of it is part of the story. This film isn't like Robocop or Pulp Fiction, where the characters live in a world where violence is an important part of the culture in which these characters live. This film is about violent people who meet other violent people. The characters all have motivations and the set pieces completely set the scene for all of the mayhem and mass murder. Much of it is shocking and intense, but none of it feels thrown in for no reason. The only thing that is excessive about it is the amount of blood spray, but Jodorowsky obviously did this as a stylistic choice. He didn't want any of the deaths to mean more or less than any of the other death scenes. Violence, in this film, is violent, and in Jodorowsky's eyes, violence and death is all non-discriminate. In this world, even if someone gets slapped, there is blood.
Similar to films like Come and See, Irreversible, A Serbian Film, Cannibal Holocaust, and Salo, the violent, graphic atrocities in El Topo often get hyped up so much that the more quiet, tender, sweet natured moments get overlooked and forgotten about. Such is especially true in this film's case. There are scenes of incredible romance in this film, the kind that you rarely see in films today. The romantic scenes in this film strike a kinder, more pure stance in that they are passionate without being erotic, natural without coming across as revolutionary, and indiscriminate without seeming awkward or mismatched. The scenes I am thinking of mainly occur in the second half of the film. The first half mostly has to do with the relationship between a father and his son. In this film, the son is left abandoned and at the mercy of a cruel and unforgiving world, and then returns to seek revenge. Early in the film, the child, except for a hat is bare. Later on in the film, he becomes a dark figure similar to his father. However, unlike his father, he is less a symbol of death and violence and more a symbol of what a savage world can create in a human being who was once small and slim. There is a kind of poetic beauty, but there is also a kind of unspoken sadness that makes a lot of these scenes ring a lot more truthful and personal. It is of my understanding that Alejandro Jodorowsky had a rough childhood. He was born from his father raping his mother. As a result, neither his mother nor his father ever showed him any type of affection or love. This leads me to believe that Jodorowsky made this picture as a means of understanding himself and expressing his feelings toward his father, and this is why the scenes with his son feel so personal and poetic to me. In the midst of all this, the film also has a lot of humorous slapstick that somehow don't feel out of place in this already strange story.
The film is a joy to watch, but this does not take away from the fact that the story it tells is extremely tragic and will probably be very infuriating for most people to watch. I was very moved by the ending of this picture, but this does not mean that I had an easy time witnessing the ending sequences. The film ends with a character recreating the self-immolation of Thích Quảng Đức, which was captured in the infamous photograph known to some as "The Burning Monk" photograph. This ending somehow evokes an almost similar feeling of despair in the viewer, and we don't know whether we should view the act as pathetic or brave. The reasons for this particular character doing it have more to do with a reaction to the aftermath of an event rather than the fury of the events taking place, but that doesn't make it any more disheartening. The actions of this character, however, don't come as a surprise to the audience. The character goes through many different arcs, but only one of them completely changes who he is in a emotional sense. We see a character do what they're good at, but when he changes who he is he doesn't ever forget what he used to know. This is why this ending still manages to be believable. I bring this up because it has come to my attention that some people I know see the ending as trite and contrived. To me, it was anything but. I think, if the viewer is paying attention to the events of the film (and believe me when I say that you don't have to pay particular close attention) it makes perfect sense why the climax of the film. I honestly found it to be quite original, even if the image is not.
Putting aside everything I've said, however, El Topo is just entertaining as hell. It has everything you could ever want in a motion picture. Not to sound like the trailer or anything, but El Topo is creative, it's dazzling, and it has imaginative visuals and sequences. El Topo will make you think, it'll make you laugh, it'll make you gasp, and it'll make you cry. El Topo is bizarre, stupid, mind numbing, terrible, horrific, creepy, and disturbing. El Topo is funny, furious, violent, suspenseful, beautiful, sexual, and exciting. All of the actors command the screen in a masterful way, the landscapes will be imprinted in your mind, everyone gets naked, the violence is a spectacle to behold, and even though all of the voices are dubbed they all sound right for the style of the film. I can definitely see why this film was such a smash on the midnight movie circuit because it is the best kind of film to show a wide audience. If you want to see a film with a large group of people, you simply cannot get better than this. Everyone will react differently to it and nobody will agree on anything. This is what art is, and the fact that it is a low budget picture only makes it even more of a joy in my mind to know that so much blood, sweat, and tears went into this think. People will complain about the violence toward animals, but I think that if you are involved enough in the film you will not be all that bothered. I think El Topo is everything film should be. Alejandro Jodorowsky said, "If you are great El Topo is a great picture. If you are limited than El Topo is limited." It's such a ridiculous statement, and only a film like this could really match such a ridiculous statement.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I'm Back For More...But I Would Like A Brandy!

I recently received my new computer plug which means that I can now write regularly again without worrying that this old tank of a laptop will implode on me...at least for a while. It's old, but I've done my best to take care of it since my mother handed it down to me a few years ago.

I'm excited to get back into the swing of things and I can see Tristan took care of the place while I was gone. I recently added in a JOKE REVIEW OF THE MONTH for Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula, which you can find here: http://2or3thingsiknowaboutfilm.blogspot.com/2012/01/trailer-for-remake-of-gore-vidals.html

Late, but better late than never, eh?

Well, I'll need a little bit of time to get my thoughts out on my next review but I figured I'd provide a short and sweet list of the films I have set to review over the next few days (not necessarily in this order):
  1. Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma)
  2. Bridesmaids (2011, Paul Feig)
  3. Bedfellows (2008, Drew Daywalt)
  4. Rebecca (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)
  5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010, David Yates)
I will also be reviewing Gerard Lough's The Boogeyman very soon--but that's a story for another day. BE EXCITED.


Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie (1989, Buddy Giovinazzo)

I'm cheating a little bit with this review. This isn't really a film as much as it is a seven minute workprint of an unfinished film. Basically, Joe Spinell was to appear in filmmaker Buddy Giovinazzo's follow-up film to the grindhouse sleaze classic, Combat Shock. The film was to be a spirited sequel to the William Lustig gorefest horror film Maniac, also starring Joe Spinell. Unfortunately, Joe Spinell passed away shortly before filming commenced. Now we are left with a seven minute unfinished horror film. I figured that since I'm such a huge fan of the original Maniac that I would comment and give my thoughts on this little project.
Basically, the premise consists of the host of a kiddy show named Mr. Robbie being an avenger of abused children. The premise alone sounds like an idea for a kind of heroic comic book, but the execution is radically different in tone and style. The seven minutes that we have of the film are some of the most grimy and muddy minutes of a film that I have ever seen. These seven minutes alone are grimier and more ugly than the entire first film, and as a result I do not think that this film would have been as popular. The original was ugly, yes, but it set the mood for the film. This follow-up comes off more gratuitous than it should. I think that perhaps the premise was too ambitious. I know that I probably would have liked it. I do like it. I just don't picture anyone else digging it. Not even gorefans. Maybe I am underestimating the audience though.
The film's strongest asset, again, is Joe Spinell. His work here is extraordinary. He's just as ugly and sloppy as he was in the first Maniac. Here, it only adds to the already gross atmosphere of the film, again much like the first film. What I found a little more interesting is how remarkably unsettling this little project manages to be. I was left with a sick feeling, and I think that is what I like most about Buddy Giovinazzo and his films. Like Combat Shock and No Way Home, we are left feeling uneasy. We hate his films, but we cannot deny that they get us in the gut. I think that if this film had been completed it would have been just as unforgettable as the aforementioned films, and that is saying a lot.
Obviously I cannot fully recommend Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie to everyone seeing as how it isn't even a fully or even partly finished film. I think, if you're going to view it, it should be mainly for curiosity's sake. This seven minute film manages to capture all the grime and all the sleaze that the original had, and then some. That is an accomplishment all on itself. Whether or not you appreciate it is up to you and your taste. If anything, it is worth checking out for the gore alone.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Boogie Nights (1997, Paul Thomas Anderson)

Boogie Nights tells the story of Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) and his life in the adult film industry of the 1970s and the 1980s. Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) discovers Eddie Adams working as a waiter at a club. After partying with Jack Horner and his many friends and associates, including Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) whom he befriends and strikes a close relationship with, Eddie Adams decides to go by and stick with the title Dirk Diggler. Dirk Diggler becomes a hit due to his size and charm, and the notoriety and money comes along with it. Not everything is perfect, however, in this colorful and lively landscape, and when things go from bad to worse the story continues to follow everyone from their rise and fall, from their attempts at their ambitions to their dangerous habits. Horner and company find themselves in a world of chaos and confusion, and Dirk Diggler along with Reed Rothchild end up doing no better.

Boogie Nights is brilliant and bizarre, frightening and funny, creative and compelling. It's one of the greatest films of the 90s and Paul Thomas Anderson is as talented and as ambitious a filmmaker as Stanley Kubrick. Part of what makes Boogie Nights so brilliant is the cast. There isn't a single performance here that is weak. Everyone is given enough screen time to really digest and express their characters that they play. There is a lot of character development here as the cast is huge. It's simply astounding how much we learn about so many characters. There's a lot going on throughout the film, but we never feel distracted by anything else. Every character has so much depth, so much personality, and so much truth that you almost never really want to leave them. This is the kind of film that could go on for multiple hours and it would never get any less entertaining. From the opening shot of the film we are in this world. We meet nearly all of the main characters in the opening shot of the film, and there isn't a single mannerism that comes across as false.

Boogie Nights is one of the most ambitious and confidently made screen epics that I have ever seen. It's probably the most flawlessly made epic since The Godfather or Fanny and Alexander. I am very confident when I say that at least two-thirds of the movie-going public would agree. I mean, when have you ever seen a film full of so much of everything? It's the kind of film where you feel like you live through it. I see it as operatic in scope. The cinematography is simply breathtaking. The feeling of the times of the 70s and the 80s comes off so strongly here, and yet it's not overwhelming. It never, for one minute, feels like a stylistic touch. It works and interweaves itself in with the storyline in such a powerful way. There isn't a single unnecessary scene here. There isn't a single scene that hits a wrong note or comes across as pretentious or pandering or cheap or accidental. So much care was clearly taken in depicting these characters in the strongest and most humanly way possible. Anderson isn't afraid to surprise us, but he also isn't afraid to try too many new things. The film is emotional and beautiful. It is creative, very dark, very gory, but also very funny. Few films are littered with so much energy, both visually and emotionally, nor filled with so many memorable lines and hilarious truth. It's the kind of film where you don't have to feel uncomfortable about laughing at, whether due to it's ironic situations or it's incidents, because you feel invited to.

Paul Thomas Anderson isn't trying to strike any sort of personal truth with this film. It is simply about a large family who have ambitions and have dreams, but because they have gotten involved in this world and have become a part of this world they have alienated themselves for greater things. We realize these things almost immediately, and the film is about these characters coming to realize these things as well. It's a coming-of-age film that just so happens to take place in the porno film industry. Along the way we get several references to the life and times of porn actor John Holmes. There's a hilarious scene in which Dirk Diggler has a documentary made about his life and we see Dirk say the same words that John Holmes said in an infamous interview that hinted at the fact that Holmes embellished the truth about a lot of aspects of his career. It is absolutely hilarious, and Mark Wahlberg does an outstanding job in the role. We see a lot of these kinds of mannerisms throughout the film from Dirk, and it all rings so true and so sad. Burt Reynolds does an equally brilliant job. I dislike him as an actor, but his work here is full of depth and subtlety. I like how Anderson doesn't judge his characters. If anyone is going to make a film about the porno industry, THIS is the way to do it!

If there is anything wrong with the film, it is that Anderson doesn't quite go far enough. I liked this film a lot, but I wanted to LOVE it. Anderson keeps his camera at a distance from all of his characters and all of the events, and while it is an effective technique and it is a strong and effective technique, it also keeps the viewers from being able to get really involved with the world of this film. We, as the audience, are not invited to REALLY sink our teeth into this subject matter. As a result, by the end of the film, you are left feeling a little cold. These aren't the kinds of characters you really want to re-visit. I have the same problem with The Godfather. I think Paul Thomas Anderson was still trying to get used to the technique of filming a large cast. He did eventually perfect the technique with Magnolia, but it's something you have to really get used to if you're going to ENJOY this film. I think it's a great film. I think it's a little overrated. I think that it is, at times, very disturbing and I am baffled that this got away with an R rating while Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover got an NC-17, but nevertheless, it's a great film. It really showcases Anderson's skills and confidence as a director, and, while you may not actually like the film, you will certainly admire it to death.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Maniac (1980, William Lustig)

From director William Lustig comes one of New York's sleaziest, grimiest, grittiest, and most perverse horror motion pictures ever. I realize that this is the third film in a row that I have reviewed that takes place in New York, but what the hell? This is one of my guilty pleasure films. How can I not review it next? It seemed appropriate. I was originally curious to see this because of all the controversy surrounding it. Film critic Gene Siskel apparently walked out of this film after thirty minutes due to the graphic violence, and he loved Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer! After watching this, I can plainly see why it is talked about so much and why it is so notorious. This is one of the sleaziest and most disturbing films I can say that I have ever seen. The whole entire film basically just shows a psychotic serial killer as he stalks women and then kills them before scalping them and using their scalps for his collection of mannequins in his seedy apartment room.

Joe Spinell's performance as the psycho is simply incredible. What I liked about Joe Spinell's performances in the 80s in films like Cruising and The Last Horror Film is that he doesn't just perform. He physically goes out of his way to completely represent whatever character he is playing. His character in Maniac, Frank Zito, is repulsive, and Joe Spinell is repulsive in this picture. He seems to be channeling some sort of Taxi Driver version of Ed Gein. He blew my mind. This is not the kind of performance in Henry, where the character is cold and calm and collected. Frank Zito is completely batshit, and Joe Spinell goes all the way. The tone of the film is so nasty and cruel and only helps make the performance even more effective. The music is appropriately creepy and eerily memorable and beautiful. The gore effects in this movie, while realistic, are extremely horrific and truly nauseating. Some scenes in this film just leave you feeling completely filthy and dirty. The most talked about of all the gore effects is the car scene with Tom Savini, which I won't give away suffix to say that it's brilliantly made. The ending has some special effects that look like they were recycled from a scene in Day of the Dead, though it was made prior to that. All of these scenes are truly horrific and extremely disturbing to watch, not only in the realism, but in the scummy feel of the film as a whole. There's a lot of sweat, screaming, shrieking, crying, and bleating, both from the killer and his victims. It's one of the most unpleasant films ever made and one of the loudest and most explicit. If you like shock films, this is one of the best you are ever going to find.

The film's flaws are mostly in terms of structure and pacing. The film doesn't have a very clear sense of time passage. It's unclear whether the film's events take place over the course of a few days or a few months. As a result you begin to lose interest in what's going on as it does somewhat distance the audience's perspective. It makes the film come off more like a series of short films where there is a setup, a victim is briefly introduced, the killer shows up, the victim is slaughtered, and then the killer dresses up his dolls and shrieks and cries for a couple of minutes. It's not that I was expecting a plot, but after a while this whole approach does get repetitive and redundant. After a while, the film stops being scary and just becomes an exercise in gore effects and disturbing images and behavior. I think it would have been more effective to establish a more concrete connection with these events. For example, perhaps the entire film could take place from the point of view of the killer. We could see the killer leaving his apartment, then from his perspective we could see him stalking people and following them around and then killing them. I think the film may have been even more sleazy if it were like this. Since this film's aim is to be as sleazy as possible, I can imagine it would have been cool.

This is a difficult film to forget. The scenes of murder are so shocking and so deeply heartless that there won't be any room for lunch afterward. It's a cruel and relentlessly intense picture, made even more so by Joe Spinell and his willingness to go out of his way to surpass normalcy and self-respect and put himself in a fearful and brave position. May he rest in peace for doing this kind of work. This film is definitely worth seeing for gorehounds and horror fans. It is an all too effective piece of filmmaking that will likely be forever remembered in the years to come. If you are a horror fan and have not seen Maniac, do yourself a favor and see it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974, Theodore Gershuny)

Mary Woronov tells the horrific tale of a really terrible Christmas. The tale involves Wilfred Butler returning to his house after disappearing, only to be set ablaze upon his return. His grandson, Jeffery, returns to the town to sell the house in as quick and as inexpensive fashion as possible. On the same day, an inmate escapes the local institution. Jeffery's plans to meet his lawyer progress, with a group of townhall members garnering interest in buying it. The reasons for the interest in the house aren't kept a mystery. It is obvious that people just want to destroy it. Unfortunately, Jeffery's car breaks down and so he has to walk to the house to meet his lawyer and his girlfriend, but circumstances beyond his control get in the way of his meeting. Meanwhile, members of the townhall start getting creepy phone calls. Things get crazy.
Silent Night, Bloody Night is one of the more entertaining Holiday-themed horror films. The picture is HEAVY on atmosphere and it takes the less-is-more route of onscreen violence. We see enough to know what's happening, obviously, but it never gets gratuitous. The gore in the film looks remarkably realistic, which is surprising for a 70s film. Most 70s horror films still used that overly saturated blood, but this one doesn't. The characters in this film are incredibly creepy, and that has a lot to do with how unusual they are and how dark they seem in their overall attitudes. Most of the characters in this film come across as partly insane anyway, and so the audience doesn't really ever come to care too much about them, but still we care about them enough to not want to see them get slaughtered. I think what works the best about this film is just the overall dark time. It's an incredibly pessimistic film in a lot of ways, and the way the history of the house develops only adds to that. Later on in the film we have a sepia-toned flashback sequence that I found incredibly creepy. Probably the creepiest part of the film actually. This brings me to the next thing I loved about this film. The stylish nature of this film rocked my world. Again, not a lot of 70s films had much a sense of style, at least not in the way that their narrative was ever presented. This does, and what makes it work even better is the film's rather giallo-style structure. I think that more films today need to be more like this. Films today lack personal vision. This film is a perfect horror film example of oddity and suspense. Somehow it all works, even though technically it really shouldn't.
Unfortunately, time has not been kind to the print of this film. In all honesty, the print of this film looks like shit. The quality flickers, jumps, and gets so grainy that watching it almost feels a little like a chore. Fortunately, the film is interesting enough and scary enough so that this doesn't become distracting. The creepy Christmas choir music that plays throughout definitely adds to the atmosphere and the blatant 70s fashions of the characters only add to the fun. In terms of acting, the film doesn't disappoint. James Pattersoni s creepy as hell. The guy looks insane right from the beginning of the film, and it's really no surprise that he becomes a suspect. He's a believable weirdo, and his deep and monotone voice only add to the character. It's a shame that the actor passed away before the film was released. I could have see him doing more roles like this. John Carradine's brief appearances in this film comes across as little more than to give the film a bit more attention, but even so he still turns in as decent a performance as you would expect. Mary Woronov is gorgeous and adds more than enough life to the film to make it all the more interesting.

Overall, it's definitely not a horror classic, but it's definitely one of the more entertaining no budget horror titles of the 70s I have come across. It's less of a gamble picking this one up because chances are good that most will be entertained by it. Aside from the shitty print quality, this is still an excellent and very very entertaining film. Above all, the film has tremendous style and a great atmosphere. If it sounds like your thing, definitely pick it up. It's one of the better cheapo public domain pictures you are likely to find.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Danny Boyle)

The Academy award-winning picture, Slumdog Millionaire, tells the story of one particular young man named Jamal whose life changes forever one fateful night on the Indian version of the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. His life leading up to it has been full of tragedy, betrayal, and heartbreak. As a child, he was an orphan who grew up in the slums of Mumbai with his brother. The film starts off as he is one question away from winning one million rupees, but he is suddenly taken aside by the police and brutally tortured within an inch of his life. They believe he has cheated because of his past and because he spent most of his life homeless and on the run from both authorities and criminals. Jamal tells them his life story to avoid imprisonment, and that's when the excitement begins. Jamal and his brother hitchhiked all over the country by train, they were involved in gang warfare, and along the way they befriended a girl and then left her behind. The questions he is asked constantly bring him back to terrible moments of heartbreak and tragedy that forced him to become a man when he was far from ready. With each subsequent chapter, we follow Jamal through his painful, violent, unusual, colorful, and sometimes funny life before we learn why he is on this show. The closer we come to the answer, however, the more we realize what is at stake.

Slumdog Millionaire has universal appeal. This is something that everyone who has seen it knows. It is a tremendous story that explores so much. It's one of the most entertaining films of it's decade, but it never shies away from it's moments of horror and atrocity. This is a film that dares to show us more of India than we have ever seen, and for that it should be appreciated. There is so much to like here. The film features a genuine romance that never feels forced. The love between Jamel and his lady friend Latika is very sweet, innocent, and uncomplicated, which is more than I can say for a lot of today's romantic comedies. The film also gives us plenty of time to appreciate Jamel's brother, Salim, and his reckless attitude. As the film went on, I really felt attached to these characters. Danny Boyle manages to do this with little exposition and a lot of imaginative imagery. The intensity of this film feels so raw, but never raw enough to the point where it's off-putting, and this is due to the performances of the young Indian cast. There couldn't have been a more perfect choice to play Jamel than Dev Patel, who is at once awkward, gawky, shy, yet with a noticeably hardened emotional nature to him. Though we have different actors playing the same character, they never feel different from one another. Each actor exhibits identical mannerisms and personality traits that make up their behavior, and that was one of the most impressive aspects of the picture. The scenes of time passing are done seamlessly and quickly so that we don't have time to really take in that the actors keep changing. The film moves so fast that becomes completely unimportant.
The rest of the cast is terrific. For starters, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, who plays Jamel as an adolescent, is probably the highlight of the film for me. His screen time is probably around twenty-five minutes or so, but damn does he have such a strong screen presence. His performance is as charismatic and as funny as it needs to be without becoming a stereotypical quirky and dimwitted child character. Make no mistake, he still has that saddened and hurt presence that Del Patel does. In addition to him, Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail do a terrific job in their supporting performances. Ismail has a growing ferocity to him that is fascinating to watch, but the performance I was REALLY blown away by was Ali's. She probably has the least amount of screen time out of the entire cast, but it's impossible to not grow attached to her unusual plight. She manages to be so likable despite being given such little to work with, and she also comes across as completely natural in her thoughts. She's the most childlike of all the child actors. I know it seems odd that I am praising the performances of the children here, but you gotta understand that where these kids came from is not very much different than what you are seeing on screen. Their performances have more range, life, beauty, and naturalism to them than most adult actors out there, and these children all do it despite their offscreen home life. I'm not going to go into details. It's not hard to just search their names and read about it, but I will say that you are guaranteed to appreciate what you have here with Slumdog Millionaire even more because of it. The rest of the cast, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Tanvi Lonkar, Tanay Chhda, and Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala all do about as perfect as they can, and they all add to the pure magic of this film. I can't even praise them enough. No words can do them justice. I cannot even begin to describe how much I adore this cast.

This film is also one of the most vibrant, diverse, and surprising looking films of the decade. The colors start off very vibrant and all over the place, but as the characters grow older we are treated to more muddy and dank looking scenery more and more often. This isn't to imply that the characters are growing desensitized, but rather they are learning to accept more and more of what life brings them, even if that means a lot of ugliness. I really love this style of cinematic expression and what it brings out in the emotions of the characters. This makes us feel so much more close to these characters and we grow to love them and appreciate seeing all of them get so far. As violent and as dark as the film gets sometimes, we still want to know what the outcome of it all will be. This is done by having two developing story lines going on at once, and neither of them slow. We care about what is happening in both story lines, and the suspense comes out of our anticipation. We grow and learn along with these characters, and that's what makes the film such a joy to watch. The film is beautiful and full of heart. It's pure magic onscreen. It's one of the most life-affirming films I've ever seen, and it has a message that will appeal to everyone worldwide. I cannot think of a film with as much worldwide appeal as this, except for maybe Pulp Fiction.

However, and believe me this is the hardest part to write about as well as the reason why it has taken me so long to write this review, this film has one single major major flaw that keeps it from it's intended perfection. It is a flaw that frustrated me, and it happens right at the end of the film. I loved this film's finale. Without spoiling anything, the ending of Slumdog Millionaire will be remembered for years and years to come. It is an ending, like Danny Boyle's Sunshine, that will be very hard for most people to shake. However, the one flaw in this film kept me from enjoying the ending as much as I wanted to. It has to do with a major character's fate. A character is killed in an insensitive and rather abrupt way. I have no problem with this character being killed, but it was a character that I grew to care about. I'm going to be honest, I felt like I cared more about this character than the screenplay did. This character dies in such an over-the-top, bombastic, stylish way that I couldn't help but feel really off-put but it. This was the only part of the film that I felt was incredibly insensitive, and I couldn't help but be rather disturbed by it. Despite the one major problem I have with the film that lowers the score a little, however, this is an excellent and powerful film that will undoubtedly stand the test of time as one of the most inspirational pictures in international film history. It's one of the only films that wholly deserved to win best picture at the Academy Awards. You owe it to yourself to see this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Blood For Dracula/Andy Warhol's Dracula (1974, Paul Morrissey)

In this retelling of the story of Dracula, the world's most famous vampire (Udo Kier, in a breathtaking and charismatic role as the count) lives in rapid deterioration in Romania with his watcher, Anton. Dracula is nearing death due to the fact that he needs the blood of a virgin in order to survive as tainted blood makes him deeply ill. Dracula decides to travel to Italy after burying his sister because Anton tells him that there are many religious girls there who value their virginity and do not have sex until marriage. The plan makes sense, but problems arise when Dracula and Anton take shelter in the home of a religious family consisting of a greedy and thoughtless wife, a bitter husband, their four daughters, and their communist worker (played by the consistently memorable Joe Dallesandro). The plan is to pretend to be an aristocrat looking for a virgin bride, but issues arise when Dracula discovers that the daughters are not as innocent and as virginal as they are reputed to be, thanks to their worker, in this bizarre and extremely bloody vampire fable.
Excuse me for seeming rather melodramatic for saying this, but this has got to be one of the most depressing horror films I think I have ever seen. The idea of Dracula being a terrifying and intimidating demon of a human being is completely altered here. Dracula is no longer the great monster that legend states, but rather a frail and deteriorating creature who is weak and pitiful. Call me crazy, but to me this idea is truly heartbreaking. This is a very tragic, pessimistic, and cruel film, and watching it is like watching a weak old man slowly bleed to death in a creek after getting in a bicycle accident. It is basically the mental equivalent, and as a result I would highly suggest that folks who aren't privy to films about tragedies better steer clear of this. For everyone else, however, who is a 70s grindhouse horror fan, fans of erotic horror cinema, and fans of Euro-trash, there is a lot here to recommend. For starters, Udo Kier as Dracula. Oh my god can this man tug at the heartstrings. His performance as Dracula is as pitiful, feeble, and tortured as you can ever imagine. Say what you will about his theatrical line delivery, but I found myself tearing up just looking at the guy. The opening scene in which we watch him cover his old frame with make-up is one of my favorite opening scenes in horror. It is sad, it is tranquil, and it is classy all at once. Udo Kier has such gentle and expressive eyes that help give the character a sense of lost humanity that I found incredibly poignant.
Arno Juerging as Anton is also astounding. He allows his character to be somewhat charming and timid while still allowing him to show a vicious tendency. He's an unusually memorable aspect of the film that certainly helps to differentiate this picture from other films of it's nature. Joe Dallesandro is a lot funnier and has a lot more fun with his role here than in the past, but above all he just looks great on camera regardless of the quality of film stock. He has such a wonderful presence here, and his character is a lot more interesting and clever than you would expect from this type of role. Above all, however, he's a hero who you don't feel entirely comfortable rooting for. He's a main character whom the writer doesn't mind showing you his sleazy side. He's not an entirely likable protagonist, and I always appreciate when filmmakers have the balls to do that. It worked in 2009 with District 9, and it works just as brilliantly here. The musical score by Claudio Gizzi is one of the great haunting horror film scores of the 70s. This score, as well as his equally powerful score in Flesh For Frankenstein, are two of my favorite music scores of all time. It fits the sadness of the film like a glove.
If there is anything I can say against this film, it is that it's audience is severely limited. This is not going to be the kind of horror film that many, if not most, will appreciate. It has such a sleazy, zany edge to it mixed with such a theatrical architecture, and as a result it will just seem weird to many. This is a film that is considered by scholars and by moviegoers alike to be a horror comedy. However, it is a comedy free of humor and a horror free of scares. It is a film that only exists as a horror comedy in theory, but in execution it strives more to tell a story and less to be a genre picture. Yes, there may be moments and sequences that may be viewed as humorous, such as the gradual dismemberment of a character and the subsequently gratuitous blood spray that occurs. Yes, there may be moments and sequences that may be viewed as terrifying, such as when a character first notices that Dracula has no mirror reflection. However, the film itself, much like Flesh For Frankenstein, is more Shakespearean in execution. Watching the scene in which Dracula vomits tainted blood out into a bathtub is surprisingly disgusting as well as heartwrenching. I applaud Paul Morrissey for allowing the audience to feel so vulnerable at the idea that one of the greatest movie monsters, as well as a source of many nightmares, has been reduced to a sad and pathetic joke of a creature who gets sick to the point where they can barely even move without falling to the ground and puking out all the blood in their body.

This is one of my favorite vampire films and one of my favorite films of it's kind. It's not going to appeal to everyone, especially the easily offended, but it is a tremendous piece of horror filmmaking that I personally think deserves it's place in film history. Best of all, it is a vampire film that, like the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In as well as the 1996 actioner From Dusk Till Dawn, follows all the basic rules in vampire lore. This film also includes a cameo by Roman Polanski, and to this day I think it's one of the funniest and most intelligent cameo appearances of all time. What more can I really say? This is a cult classic of the highest caliber. It's beautifully shot, it's evenly paced, it's gory as hell, it's genuinely erotic, and it's not afraid to break your heart. If you are a fan of cult horror and you haven't seen this, you are seriously missing out.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Flesh For Frankenstein/Andy Warhol's Frankenstein (1973, Paul Morrissey)

Paul Morrissey's gore drenched and X rated shocker titled Flesh For Frankenstein, originally made in 3D, is a retelling of the tale of Doctor Frankenstein, only this time with an erotic black comedy twist to it. In this vile tale, Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier, pulling off a fearlessly over-the-top peformance) and his assistant Otto (Arno Jurging in another perversely and psychotically memorable performance) have occupied their time with bodily theft. Ignoring his wife who is also his own sister and their two offspring, Frankenstein plots to craft a Serbian-blooded race of zombies that he shall brainwash to do his bidding, but in order to do this he must finish his male creation in order to breed him with his female creation so that they can give birth to the race of mind-controlled and manipulative mutants. However, complicating matters is a rather sexually outgoing farmhand (once again, Joe Dallesandro) whose dreamy yet sexually repressed close friend (Srdjan Zelenovic in perhaps the most memorable and stark role) has unwittingly become a victim of the bad baron's blood-drenched fantasy.
I'm just going to say right now that I did not enjoy this film as much as Blood For Dracula. However, I will say that in terms of horror, shock, gore, intensity, insanity, black comedy, visuals, and camerawork, it is the stronger piece of filmmaking. I can't say that I enjoyed sitting through this, but damn was it an effective piece of horror! The imagery in this film is the stuff of nightmares. Unlike Blood For Dracula, Flesh For Frankenstein really gets into the ugliness of the situations that play out throughout the course of the film. Even the main actors don't look quite right. There's something simply off about their mannerisms and their physical appearance, and that includes Joe Dallesandro's character who has been blessed with a variety of sore looking zits on his buttocks. Nearly everyone in this film looks and acts genuinely insane throughout including the children, and the fact that nearly all of the characters have been killed at the end of the film should come as no surprise. I gotta say, though, that when characters die in this film they die hard and die horribly. Nobody here gets a dignified death and the resulting bloodshed is abundant and bright almost all the time. This is a very gory film. I read that Paul Morrissey was inspired by the gore in Italian horror films to make this film, but to be honest the gore in this film is more graphic and more shocking than nearly all of those early 70s horror films. To be honest, this is one of the goriest films I have ever seen in my life. I'm talking a real healthy supply of dismemberments, crushed bodies, dissections, impalings, and disembowelings. Severed hands, heads, broken bones, and guts litter the screen. Intestines are shoved in the audience's faces in one scene (literally in the 3D version). This is a messy, messy film. None of it, however, is fun to watch. All of it looks cheap and bright, yet there gets to be so much of it that it all becomes rather stomach churning. The ending of this film is such a bloodbath that it's impossible to really stomach the horrific aspects and instead you are forced to endure the improbable and the unexpected. This film just goes further and further into perverse depravity, and it it's world of decadence and sexually indiscriminate characters and acts, it becomes tremendously artistic and beautiful. The emotions in this film are played up to such a high degree that one begins to forget that these characters are murderous loonies who get off at sticking their hands into a woman's guts.
Like Blood For Dracula, Flesh For Frankenstein definitely will not appeal to everyone. In fact, even those who could appreciate the perversions of Blood For Dracula may find this nearly impossible to stomach. This type of onscreen cinematic horror should be strictly reserved for open-minded viewers only. This is an artistic film and is shot much like a stage play. The music in this is so chilling, so haunting, and so emotional that it really helps bring to life the emotions of the characters. This world of whores, freaks, killers, and mutants can only be viewed in a comedic manner, and this is where the film works best. This is a hilarious film in a lot of ways. You can find the freaks on display funny or you find their mannerisms to be funny. Personally, I found the funniest aspects of the film to be the scenes in which they interacted with each other. This film builds like a situational comedy with a desire to shock in the most depraved ways possible. That's what kind of film this is. This is the kind of film that throws you off constantly in what direction it is going. It starts off somewhat tame and quirky, like a period piece gone berserk, and then descends into more hellish set-pieces before playing out with a surprisingly apocalyptic and pessimistic ending. As depressing and bleak as Blood For Dracula was, at the very least you got to see the emotions for what they represented. Here you don't get any true emotion until the very end, and by then the way the film has unfolded will leave the audience more than a little bitter. At the same time, however, I can't help but feel that this was an ironic jab at an audience who was expecting a typical horror film ending. Sure, this ending may be perceived by some to be typical, but when you take into consideration the imagery that has been presented, I found it unexpected. That's the greatest compliment that I can give this film. Once you begin to expect the unexpected, the film will still throw you a curve-ball. In that sense, it reminds me a little of David Lynch's Blue Velvet.
Despite the disgusting nature of the film that even I found more than a little offensive, I'm giving this film a high recommendation to open minded horror fans. This is a visceral experience to watch, and it doesn't surprise me that it ended up on the list of the video nasties back in the day. Watching this is like viewing a vision of hell. It's an orgy of gore and painful death. This is a good old fashioned mean-spirited and extreme horror film, and if you can stomach the over-the-top gore, guts, and body parts, it'll be one memorable horror experience for those who have never seen a horror film of this nature.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Heat (1972, Paul Morrissey)

Paul Morrissey's semi-parody of Sunset Blvd, Heat, puts Joe in the shoes on an ex-child actor. Living at a semi-resort neighboring a vulgar landlady and a crazed lesbian named Jessica(played by the amazing Andrea Feldman in a role that is just as memorable and amazing as her role in Trash), Joe hooks up with Jessica's mother Sally Todd as a means of getting back into the industry. The problem is that Todd is not as prolific or as well known as he was led to believe, and things get complicated when Jessica decides to get involved. This is Paul Morrissey's most mainstream film in his trilogy starring Joe Dallesandro as well as the more narrative-based. In addition to all this is the Oscar nominated actress Sylvia Miles playing Sally Todd in what could probably be considered the best performance of all of Paul Morrissey's films since Holly Woodlawn. This would unfortunately my least favorite of the Paul Morrissey trilogy, and I will get into why further down, but I will say right now that this is one of the best films to start with if you have an interest in this style of film.

Paul Morrissey's Heat has a certain plot-driven confidence about it that is both beneficial and detrimental. It is beneficial because this is the kind of story that needs to be told in a confident and clear manner in order for anybody to get anything out of it. It is detrimental, however, in that the flawed, improvised, and documentary-like quality of the first two films in this trilogy, here, are an overlookable flaw. Lets start with the camera work. No longer do we have as many intimate close-ups, awkward edits, and shaky, shoddy, and accidental camerawork. Instead, here, we have a lot of master shots where we see entire sets. The set pieces, here, look a lot more detailed and more purposefully and intentionally used in regards to the story and less like areas located during random scout-outs. Sylvia Miles does such an excellent and professionally mannered job here that she makes the rest of the cast look almost too amateurish as a result, and often times it really sort of takes you out of the world of the film. The crude dialogue and bizarre sex acts, at times, feel really out of place. This is not a tame film by any means, but the fact that there is an added professionalism to it makes it feel like it was intended to be. Everything is too clean and too stylized for the style of filmmaking to work.

However, Heat is still an excellent film full of life, humor, shock, and color. I think the fact that the film takes place in California instead of New York really makes this a completely different kind of idea, but done in the same style and tone as both Flesh and Trash. As I mentioned above, this is definitely the best film in the Paul Morrissey trilogy to start with. Watching it before Flesh and Trash will help you mentally evolve to the dark tone and intimacy of those, as well as help you appreciate those two more for what they are. This is redoubtably the best and most well made of the three films, but the fact that it has that differentiating quality to it makes it somewhat less fun than the previous two. Still, this is an excellent picture that contains all the Hollywood decadence, horror, confusion, romance, and sex that you could ever ask for, as well as hilarity. Check it out!