|You're going to need a bigger pigpen....|
Back again so soon...?
Here's the second half of March's Views, which featured a little double feature from Peter O'Toole. In looking back over the star's filmography, I was surprised at how many duds he had following his 1960-early 70s heyday, and by the time 1982 rolled around (20 years after Lawrence of Arabia made him a household name), many people assumed he was more or less playing himself in My Favorite Year, i.e. a washed up movie star riding on booze, goodwill, and fond memories.
With BIFFF right around the corner, I'm planning to knock out a couple more Kurosawa flicks, and then dive headlong into the Brusselian madness which starts April 8 and which I'm planning to document as thoroughly as possible because who knows when we'll pass this way again. So, don't go too far because it's about to get loopy up in here.
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Lights Out (2016) d. Sandberg, David F. (USA) (1st viewing)
When the trailers for the feature-length version of Sandberg’s genuinely creepy short hit multiplexes last year, my biggest takeaway was how FRICKIN’ LOUD IT IS SERIOUSLY THIS IS THE LOUDEST TRAILER I’VE EVER SEEN/HEARD. When the early word-of-mouth on the finished product was lukewarm, I decided not to make it a priority and only caught up with it a few weeks ago. It’s actually not a bad little PG-13 thriller, even if the screeplay (by Oscar nominee for Arrival Eric Heisserer - yes, the same guy who wrote The Thing prequel, the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, and Final Destination 5) is pretty light on logic and heavy on familial melodrama. The central gimmick of the short film – a malevolent phantom silhouette that draws ever nearer as lights click on and off – is repeatedly echoed over the course of the brief 81-min running time, but still manages to remain effective.
Phantasm: Ravager (2016) d. Hartman, David (USA) (1st viewing)
I’ve always given Don Coscarelli credit for his ever-expanding Phantasm mythos (as opposed to simply trotting out the brain-sucking silver spheres to do their nasty business), while at the same time confessing that the sequels have never really done anything for me. Trying to ground the nightmare logic that permeates the 1979 original in some fantastical narrative seems counterintuitive; just let the WTF remain as such, sez I. For this (presumably) final installment, Coscarelli is on board as producer, co-writer, and spiritual godfather, but cedes directing duties to animation effects guru Hartman who predictably trots out some uber-whizzy chrome sentinel action and CG splatter to middling effect.
That said, it’s about as good as a Phantasm sequel could hope to be, and Phans will delight at seeing the entire original cast back in action: Michael (A. Michael Baldwin), Jody (Bill Thornbury), Reggie (Reggie Bannister), Lady in Lavender (Kathy Lester), and everyone’s favorite Tall Man (Angus Scrimm, in his final screen bow). Side note: Daniel Roebuck proves once again what a terrific and underrated actor he is; I hope he’s happy doing all his crazy Monsterama stuff, because he’s as good a character man as anyone working in Hollywood these days and could/should be pulling down some big paydays.
Raw (2016) d. Ducournau, Julia (Belgium/France) (1st viewing)
Just in time to whet my appetite for the land of chocolate, beer, and waffles comes this marvelous urban cannibal feature about an innocent young vegetarian (Garance Marillier) who eats raw meat as part of a college hazing ritual and develops a taste for it—humans in particular. Written and directed by Ducournau, who uses her heroine’s ever-growing hunger as a metaphor for sexual awakening, familial bonding, and a host of other meaty subjects. Beautifully crafted and performed, the pre-release buzz about audience members passing out in the aisles at festival screenings almost does the film’s artistic achievement a disservice – this is the type of intelligent and satisfying effort that discriminating horror fans have been clamoring for. Here’s hoping they find and appreciate it. With Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, and Calvaire’s Laurent Lucas.
Razorback (1984) d. Mulcahy, Russell (Australia) (3rd viewing)
“Jaws in the Outback” is the thumbnail description, but unlike many other oversized creature features inspired by Spielberg’s blockbuster, this yarn about a gigantic killer boar terrorizing the dust-blown Australian landscape packs an impressive amount of emotional heft, eccentric characterizations, and dazzling visuals into the mix. Adapted by Ozploitaiton master Everett de Roche (Long Weekend, Patrick) from Peter Brennan’s novel, a news reporter’s (Judy Morris) investigation of kangaroo slaughter provides the gateway into a bizarre world Down Under populated by vengeful hunters (the terrific Bill Kerr standing in for Robert Shaw in the requisite Quint role), loony sibling meat packers (Chris Heywood, David Argue), and capable females fighting for respect in a he-man world (Arkie Whitely). Mulcahy, best known for helming Highlander and Resident Evil: Extinction, lends his music video-honed eye to the proceedings, with hallucinogenic fantasy sequences and inexplicable light beams galore. Available through Warner Bros. Archive, and definitely worth checking out.
Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye (1973) d. Margheriti, Antonio (Italy) (1st viewing)
This moody effort attempts to combine Gothic atmosphere with a juicy body count with predictably mixed results. Shot during the height of giallo fever, the plot centers around a young woman (Jane Birken, aka Charlotte Gainsbourg’s mom) who leaves school and returns to her highly dysfunctional family’s castle in Scotland. Upon her arrival, we are introduced to a soap opera-worthy array of characters and machinations, including an insane brother, a nefarious doctor, a nymphomaniac French tutor, a guy dressed in a gorilla, er, “orangutan” suit, and a bored looking feline who seems to be around whenever someone gets bumped off. Margheriti (working under his “Anthony Dawson” pseudonym) is an old pro at this sort of thing, and the final results are watchable if unremarkable.
Suddenly in the Dark (1981) d. Ko, Young Nam (South Korea) (1st viewing)
Yu-jin, a happily married professor of etymology (specializing in butterflies), brings home a housemaid one day, saying that he found the attractive teenaged Mi-Ok “wandering around.” Though thrilled with the bump in social status, his wife Seon-hee can’t help but be a little suspicious and soon begins having fantasies (or are they visions?) of her favorite bug-watcher canoodling with the help. Adding to the mystery, our sexy little nubile has a weird spirit doll of which she is highly protective; seems her mother used to be the village shaman and Seon-hee begins to worry that Mi-Ok has designs to murder her and take her place. Director Ko brings plenty of visual flourish to a conventional storyline, with myriad kaleidoscopic lenses and colored lights (as well as smatterings of flesh and blood), but somehow things never quite take flight. Available now on Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro.
Uninvited (1988) d. Clark, Greydon (USA) (1st viewing)
Following some highly questionable scientific experiments (not so much in the ethical sense, but more “Why would anyone even bother to do that?”), a feline test subject escapes from the lab and finds its way down to the Florida shores where it is adopted by two bikini-bod babes (Clare Carey and Death Spa’s Shari Shattuck) looking for some spring break adventures. The slinky duo meets up with three brick-brained college dudes, and somehow they all end up on a corrupt millionaire’s (Alex Cord of Airwolf fame) yacht headed for Cuba. As soon as they set sail, our furry freakshow reveals the hard-earned rewards of biological research: a weird bat-cat-blob creature that gets sporadically vomited out to munch and slash before retreating back into its comfy purring confines. No, none of it makes a lick of sense, but thanks to writer/director Clark, the guy who gave us Satan’s Cheerleaders and Without Warning, there’s never a dull moment. An uber-grouchy George Kennedy (“I hate punks like you.”) and Clu Gulager sporting huge dentures and Coke bottle lenses are the two cherries atop of this Turkey delight.
Drive, He Said (1971) d. Nicholson, Jack (USA) (1st viewing)
College basketball star William Tepper is having an existential crisis: He wrestles with his conscience, tangles with his coach (Bruce Dern), argues with his anti-Vietnam activist roommate (Michael Margotta), and moons over his professor’s wife (Karen Black) with whom he’s having a steamy affair. Making his directorial debut, Nicholson shows a real flair for naturalism and has some interesting cinematic ideas (juxtaposing a sexual assault with the climax of a basketball game), although we never really get to know any of the characters well enough to empathize or relate – even his lead is a total cipher. That said, a lot of indie films in the early 70s had a similar M.O., so if you’re willing to not have all your questions answered by the final reel, it’s worth a watch.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) d. Lean, David (USA) (4th viewing)
The story of T.E. Lawrence, the English officer who successfully united and led the diverse, often warring, Arab tribes during World War I in order to fight the Turks, brought to glorious, Oscar-winning life by Lean and his expert group of collaborators. The film “introduced” O’Toole to the world (even though he’d already appeared in several onscreen efforts), who is utterly magnificent and impossibly beautiful in his star-making role. Alec Guiness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Arthur Kennedy, Jose Ferrer, and Claude Rains lend excellent support, as do cinematographer Freddie Young and composer Maurice Jarre (both of whom won the first of their three Oscars working with Lean), whose combined forces make the desert settings equally majestic and terrifying.
My Favorite Year (1982) d. Benjamin, Richard (USA) (6th viewing)
Much of the acclaim went to star O’Toole as fading matinee idol Alan Swann (very much modeled on Errol Flynn) slated to appear on a 1950s Sid Caeser-like variety comedy show, but the amazing ensemble cast that surrounds him deserves an equal share of the credit, rocketing out one-liner zingers and physical jokes at lightning speed. Mark Linn-Baker, playing a young Mel Brooks-type staff writer, is the perfect innocent foil to O’Toole’s unapologetically soused hedonist, and Joseph Bologna’s egomaniacal dim bulb steals every scene.
THEY CALL HIM SENSEI:
I’m not planning on offering a lot of commentary for my Kurosawa project – that ground has been covered by others far more knowledgeable and articulate than I. Suffice to say, the man deserves his “Master” status and I’m happy to bear witness and be a student rather than posture as an expert.
Drunken Angel (1948) d. Kurosawa, Akira Japan (1st viewing)
The first pairing of Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura for Kurosawa, as a tubercular gangster and an alcoholic doctor, and the fireworks are visible from the start. Downbeat from start to finish, but never boring.
The Hidden Fortress (1958) d. Kurosawa, Akira Japan (1st viewing)
For years, I had heard how George Lucas had ripped off this storyline for Star Wars. Not so much. Yes, you can see parallels with the two thieves and C-3PO and R2-D2, and there is a princess being protected from the reigning authorities, but that’s about it. On the other hand, the sequence that begins with Mifune’s horseback pursuit/dispatch of two soldiers and concludes with the breathtaking spear duel opposite Susumu Fujita is one of the greatest action sequences in cinema.
Ran (1985) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (2nd viewing)
Kurosawa’s last great epic sees him returning to Samurai Shakespeare terrain for a reworking of King Lear that manages to be at once extravagant and intimate, operatic and naturalistic. Emi Wada’s gorgeous costumes deservedly won the Oscar that year, while Takao Saito, Shoji Ueda, and Asakazu Nakai shared a nomination for cinematography.(David Watkin took home the gold for Out of Africa.)
A.K. (1985) Marker, Chris (France) (1st viewing)
Excellent making-of documentary available on the Criterion Collection’s DVD for Ran, from the director of Le Jetee.
2017 Totals to date: 29 films, 21 1st time views, 13 horror, 4 cinema