Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Short Film: X-Mess Detritus (USA, 2008)



Here's a film for the Holiday Seasons! Aurelio Voltaire Hernández, born January 25, 1967, in Havana, Cuba, is better known simply as Voltaire, the middle name he shares with the famous French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher François-Marie Arouet. The choice of using his middle name as his stage name as an obvious reference of respect to his historical namesake, who, according to the New-Jersey-raised filmmaker, comic artist and musician, "saw through the hypocrisies of humanity and commented on them through satire. In essence, he was able to educate people about the world around them by making them laugh."
Voltaire’s films do not necessarily make one laugh, but they do very much grab one's attention and make an obvious and direct statement on the human condition of the contemporary world.

In addition to his musical, artistic and filmic activities, Voltaire is also a professor at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, where he teaches stop-motion animation. He began making films as a child, influenced by the films of Ray Harryhausen. Moving to NYC at 17, a year later he got his first directorial project for MTV and created the "MTV Bosch" station identifications broadcast between music videos. He went on to do similar ID adverts for (among others) the Cartoon Network, U.S. and the Sci-Fi channel.

X-Mess Detritus is one of a series of different films be different filmmakers featured at the wonderfulll Creepy Christmas website, a site well worth visiting in and out of the Holiday Season. It is narrated by Gerard Way of the band My Chemical Romance, with music and sound by Amar Ibrahim. Cool stuff.

Mary and Max (Australia, 2009)




"When I was young, I invented an invisible friend called Mr Ravioli. My psychiatrist says I don't need him anymore, so he just sits in the corner and reads.
"
Max Jerry Horovitz

Over the last 14 years, the talented Australian animation filmmaker Adam Elliot has had a small but consistently amazing output of wonderful stop-motion short films, and his first feature-length film, Mary and Max, carries on his tradition of touching, ironic tales that playfully present the ups and downs, the highs and lows, of lives substantially less than perfect. The technical finesse of his chosen media—claymation—keeps changing (as in "improving"), but his insightful and wry eye remains the same. As in the three shorts of family trilogy—Uncle (1996), Cousin (1998—the Short Film of the Month of May 2009 here at A Wasted Life) and Brother (1999)—and his Oscar-winning short Harvie Crumpet (2003 / full film), the tale told in Mary and Max could have easily become mean-spirited and tasteless in the wrong hands, but Elliot manages to keep the film warm and tender and wonderfully sensitive no matter how black the humor sometimes is and how depressing the events might be. In Mary and Max, as in his shorts, the lives presented are hardly ideal and often verge on being dismal, but as bittersweet as they are he manages to present them in a wry manner that is more sweet then bitter.

"Do you have a favorite-sounding word? My top-five are 'ointment,' 'bumblebee,' 'Vladivostok,' 'banana,' and 'testicle.'"
Max Jerry Horovitz

The tale told in Mary and Max hardly sounds like one that could hold anyone's interest for longer than a few minutes, much less than for an hour and a half, but the film remains mesmerizing from start to finish. Beginning in 1976, the simple story follows the 20-year exchange of letters between two misfit pen pals: Mary Dinkle, a plump and lonely eight-year-old of suburban Melbourne and Max Horovitz, an obese, atheist Jew with Asperger's Syndrome surviving in New York City. Mary arbitrarily chooses a name from a NYC phonebook she flips through while her alcoholic mother is busy shoplifting envelopes at a post office, and the exchange of mail initiated by her innocent first letter serves as the central thread around which the life experiences of both characters are revealed. There is no excessive action, adventure or suspense in the oft laughter- and smile-inducing but nonetheless poignant if not occasionally tragic and depressing tale of two lost and friendless souls that find true friendship in their exchange of missives; instead, enveloped within an environment of mostly browns (for Australia) and grays (for New York) and an occasional splash of pure color, Mary and Max gleefully bounces around and ironically touches upon topics as diverse as horny dogs, religion, where babies come from, alcoholism, betrayal, kleptomania, love, obesity, fate, chocolate and death.

"Unfortunately, in America, babies are not found in cola cans. I asked my mother when I was four, and she said they came from eggs laid by rabbis. If you aren't Jewish, they're laid by Catholic nuns. If you're an atheist, they're laid by dirty, lonely prostitutes."
Max Jerry Horovitz

Mary and Max opens with a brief statement that the film is "based on true events," and as such it is based on a long-term exchange that Adam Elliot has had with a pen pal living in NYC: Max is the pen pal, while the life of the young Mary is inspired by Elliot's own childhood in the suburbs of Australia. But the film is hardly documentary in nature or an obviously 100% accurate reflection of reality; many an embellishment or exaggeration is apparent, but for all the creative freedom taken in the narrative the film never slides into puerile or cloying fantasy. There is, for all the eccentricity of the events shown, an underlying connection to the daily disappointments and sadness that can make life so difficult, so hard to bear. At the same time, as uninviting as life sometimes seems to be in Mary and Max, the film retains an oddly optimistic outlook. Happiness, it seems, is a matter of coming to terms with and accepting who and what you are.

"Not much has happened since I last wrote except for my manslaughter charges, lotto win, and Ivy's death."
Max Jerry Horovitz

Mary and Max brims with a bizarre creativity in its narrative and a masterful grasp of its technique (the latter which took 57 weeks in which a crew of six animators averaged about four seconds each a day). It is without a doubt a masterpiece of its genre and very much a film for adults. Not that the film is in any way truly unfit for children, it is simply that the jokes and events are probably much too adult, and the tragic humor much too subtle, for a child to truly find entertaining. As an adult, feature-length "cartoon", however, Mary and Max is a beautiful, tender and highly entertaining piece of filmmaking that by no means should be missed.

"He's scared of outside, which is a disease called homophobia."
Young Mary (in reference to her housebound neighbor Len Hislop)

28 Weeks Later (Great Britain, 2007)




Way back in 2002, when some of you who are now wasting your life reading blogs like this were perhaps still reading Dick & Jane, the English maestro of style Danny Boyle helped reinvent the zombie film with the modern horror classic 28 Days Later (trailer). In the film, animal activists accidentally release "Rage", a fast-acting virus — we're talking in seconds — upon England that causes all those infected to turn into enraged killers. Technically, the fast-footed and crazed killers of the film are not zombies, as they are very much alive, but the single-minded urge to kill and eviscerate man that the virally infected of Boyle's film all share is analogous to the viral and hungry running dead as introduced two years later in Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead (trailer), a surprisingly excellent remake of George Romero's dated but still-great original from 1978 (trailer). (Fast and viral-crazed blood-thirsty maniacs that run were not unknown in horror before 28 Days Later, however, as the concept of a rage-like virus had already been explored by Romero in his other early low budget classic The Crazies [1973 / trailer] and unstoppable fast-moving home surgeons are found in Umberto Lenzi's entertaining exploiter Incubo sulla città contaminate / Nightmare City [1980 / trailer].)
Whether or not the infected of 28 Days Later are "real” zombies or not is an argument of tertiary importance to a few other facts: The film re-introduced and help popularize the contemporary concept of fast and enraged zombies that are the stronghold of today's zombie films, and the film is one fucking excellent and effective piece of filmmaking, marred only by an unbelievable happy ending. If you haven't seen it yet, you should. (The film's one major flaw, an unbelievable ending involving a non-fatal shot through the stomach [one of the most fatal kinds of shot wounds there are], is alleviated for those who prefer more believable endings by a believable and more-effective alternative ending on the DVD.)
That a sequel would follow was a given the minute that 28 Days Later made waves and money. And five years later, in 2007, the next film in the franchise finally hit the theatres. This time around Boyle sat back (but for some second-unit work) and simply joined his regular producer Andrew Macdonald on the sidelines, leaving the new film in the hands of the relatively unknown Spanish filmmaker Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, a man with (at the time) only one full-length feature film credit to his name, the stylistically assured and interesting if overly artsy Intacto (2001 / trailer). The film Fresnadillo delivered to Boyle & Macdonald, 28 Weeks Later, proved almost as successful with the critics as the first, and likewise raked in the money, so it is hardly unexpected that 28 Months Later has long been announced as in production.
Good reviews and box office receipts aside, the real question is whether 28 Weeks Later is a good film. And, yes, it is — but it is not the great film that everyone seems to think it is. Without a doubt the opening scene is excellent if not a masterpiece of terror, and the final scene is at least a truly logical conclusion to the events, but that which is in between, as well shot as it sometimes is, too often falls into the realm of let's-make-it-scary instead of let's-make-it-believable. The film suffers from one too many plot aspects that scream "only in the movies," and as a result it leaves a taste of dissatisfaction that, in the end, slightly overpowers and thus totally weakens the film's effectiveness.
One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist — or a political science major, for that matter — to see Fresnadillo's 28 Weeks Later as an allegory of the United States involvement in Afghanistan (or Iraq, take your pick), but it does help to keep the idea in mind so as to see the total lack of involvement of the military of any other European land as logical. (OK, the troop is supposedly a NATO troop, but where are the non-US troops? Believable, it is not: England succumbs to a virus of apocalyptic proportions and no European — or Commonwealth — country is involved in the NATO troops sent to clean up the aftermath and repopulate the city.) But politics aren't the main point of 28 Weeks Later; the point of the film is to thrill and scare you, and occasionally gross you out with some top notch and bloody special effects. And that, at least, it does well.
In what is well the best interlude of the entire movie, the film opens with Don (Robert Carlyle of Trainspotting [1996 / trailer], Ravenous [1999 / trailer] and Ronny Yu's The 51st State [2001 / trailer]) and Alice (Catherine McCormack), their children safe in the US, hiding in a country house with four other survivors. When the house is attacked by a roaming band of rage-infected, Don is forced to abandon Alice and save himself, which he barely manages to do. From the opening moments of Don and Alice endearments to the believable interaction of the survivors, the frenzy and terror of the attack, the tragedy and mounting anarchy of the horrific events literally knock the viewer from the comfort of their sofa. The opening of 28 Weeks Later is without a doubt effective, horrific and completely believable — it's a shame the rest of the film isn't likewise.
Following a brief timeline explaining the history of the rage outbreak up until the re-population of London 28 weeks later, the kids Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy Mackintosh Muggleton) are reunited with Don, who works as a sort of general manager (and therefore has a pass card that enables him to enter everywhere — including areas that logically should be of high security). Later, Tammy and Andy easily sneak out of the high-security zone (right) to go to their old home to collect some personal items. What do you know, their Mom is still alive and living in the attic (right). The army arrives and instead of shooting her, take her back to home base, where Scarlet (Rose Byrne of Sunshine [2007 / trailer] and the horrendously crappy Alex Proyas film Knowing [2009 / trailer]), the doc in charge, figures out that she's an infected carrier and could hold the key to a cure. Commander Stone (Idris Elba) orders Mom to be killed, but before that can happen Don sneaks in (right) and they kiss and make up. Thus Don is infected with rage and, after brutally killing his wife, he goes on a rampage killing and spreading the virus. Alice goes to save the kids, but Andy gets separated in the melee. He ends up locked in the basement by the military with all the other civilians — for their safety (?). Don breaks in (right) and all hell breaks loose, but Andy escapes through the air vents and before you know what happens he survives the free for all on the streets and finds Alice and Tammy (right). Then the sniper Doyle (Jeremy Renner of Dahmer [2002 / trailer]) shows up to try to lead everyone to safety as the military basically incinerates London and everyone on the streets. Not only must they make it past a military out to obliterate and sterilize everything, but Don is actually hunting his kids. (An unbelievable development that can only be swallowed if the viewer accepts the idea that the virus has changed and those infected are no longer simply homicidally bonkers but can now think and plan to a limited extent. Indeed, for Don to get out and around like he does following his infection, he probably had to use his pass card — not something a mindlessly raging animal is apt to be able to do.) From here, 28 Weeks Later is sort of like yet another version of 10 Little Indians where the countdown is inter-spaced with well-shot violent interludes and some truly questionable decisions on part of the various characters that, if nothing else, leads to a believably depressing ending.
Danny Boyle, when asked about his turn doing second-unit shooting for 28 Weeks Later, stated "There's something about doing something trashy that's great." In turn, there's something about trashy films that make them fun and enjoyable. 28 Weeks Later is trash, if only because of its less than watertight script and emphasis on gore, but at least it is well-made trash: it is definitely well-filmed and adrenaline-charged, and it interests and often scares, but once too often the forced mechanisms of its plot detract from the overall experience. Whereas the first film tried to do something new, this film is basically well-made trash riding on the coattails of its predecessor. As such, it does make a good watch and is easily miles better than, say, the enjoyable but much more truly trashy Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007 / trailer), which is easily equal in its "only in the movies" plot development but embraces its exploitation roots with greater relish and honesty.
That 28 Weeks Later actually works at all says more about Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's directorial abilities than anything else. It'll be interesting to see what he brings out next...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Immortal / Immortel (Ad Vitam) (France, 2004)




OK, at least this time around, the film—unlike the more recent French sci-fi flicks Dante 01 (2008) or Eden Log (2007)—isn't a total mental mind-fuck, although it does try hard enough to be one. Perhaps it's due to the fact that aspects of the story, cobbled together from a trilogy of French comics (Carnival of the Immortals, The Woman Trap and Equator Cold) written and drawn by the film's director Enki Bilal, were published in Heavy Metal back in the mid-80s. As a result, as diffuse and messy as the plot is, it is also somewhat familiar; thus, for all its pretensions and artiness and "visionariness", Immortal never really becomes completely alienating, dislikable or annoying as it probably should be. Which is not to say that it is a good film, for it is not, but it is an interesting film, and that alone is already an improvement over many other films—including both Dante 01 and Eden Log.
Set in year 2095, Immortal takes place in a NYC populated by mutant and half-artificial humans, extraterrestrials and, as of late, a floating pyramid housing a variety of ancient Egyptian gods, one of whom, the falcon-headed Horus, has to mate quickly with a “rare” type of woman or lose his immortality. The beautiful and blue Jane (Jane Hardy, Miss France 1992) an adult that is biologically three months old and whose organs are not in the right place, and is thus taken under the wing by Dr. Elma Turner (Charlotte Rampling of Zardoz [1974 / trailer], The Night Porter [1974 / trailer], Farewell, My Lovely [1975 / trailer] , Angel Heart [1987 / trailer], and Boogie Woogie [2009 / trailer]) as a "professional guinea pig", is the rare one—but to shoot his fertile load, Horus needs the body of an unaltered human, a rarity in a world populated by humans that exchange their organs at the drop of a hat. Into this equation comes Nicopol (Thomas Kretschmann of The Stendhal Syndrome [1996 / trailer]), a dissident serving his 30-year-sentence in suspended animation that is prematurely thawed out due to a technical malfunction, losing his leg in the process. Horus uses Nicopol as his host, fashioning him a steel leg from an old subway track, and proceeds to find Jane and bonk her as much as possible. As the real Nicopol and Jane begin to get nearer—a courting hampered by Horus’s occasional use of Nicopol to rape Jane—the political powers that be first release a mutant red hammerhead shark man to eliminate Nicopol and then, when it fails, a mutant red hammerhead sharktopus...
A wildly visual film, the plot Immortal is extremely ornate and often loses itself and the viewer before tying its often thin and divergent strands together in an untidy, loose bow. The acting is also extremely uneven, but perhaps that is expected from a film in which half the characters are literally not real: the three actors named above are to be seen in Immortal, but most of the other characters are computer generated—a bit too obviously computer-generated, actually, but well enough that the initially somewhat jarring contrast comes less and less jarring as the film goes on.
But the characters of Immortal are not the only computer generated aspect of the film. Like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004 / trailer), Casshern (2004 / trailer), and Sin City (2005 / trailer), Immortal was filmed in front of blue- and green-screens, with all the backgrounds added later in post-production. The result is pure eye candy, an extravagant and stunning world rendered in the same exquisite detail as Bilal's original comics. However: all the eye candy, combined with the scattered, elliptical story and the intriguing mixture of real and manufactured characters, results in a film that is fascinating to watch but that also fails to totally involve the viewer, and as a result, the desire to like the film becomes greater than the ability to do so.
To get your sources right, by the way, Bilal's floating cars, aliens and humanoid style-victims are not references of Luc Besson's excellent film The Fifth Element (1997 / trailer), as is often assumed, but rather the visual extremes of Besson's much more satisfying masterpiece are all derived from the comics of Bilal that were published in France more than a generation before The Fifth Element was made. Besson simply managed to convey his derivative of the original far more successfully than the actual original when it was finally brought to screen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

R.I.P.: Jean Rollin



3 November 1938 - 14 December 2010

A light has gone out.

The French director Jean Rollin may not be a well-known name to the average film-going Joe, but to fans of the weird and obscure his name – and his films – instigates both cheers and jeers. He is a filmmaker that divides audiences, but even those who do not care for his decidedly personal low budget genre films tend to agree that he is – was – a filmmaker with a unique artistic vision that has remained mostly true to his vision since his first film in 1968, Le Viol du Vampire. Since then, much like the equally inimitable and obsessed Spanish filmmaker Jess Franco, Jean Rollin the artist has continually divided viewers between those who sing praise and those who would prefer to throw shit. Those who prefer to do the latter probably also would prefer a Michael Bay film, everything that Jean Rollin is not.
Beginning with Le Viol du Vampire, Rollin went on to produce an oeuvre of truly exceptional films that range from surreally beautiful to gorily graphic to nearly incompetent to in-&-out-in-&-out-&-spurt-spurt-spurt. Working within the realms of genre and exploitation films, he revealed an obsession with dreamy beauty and poetic horror and a true fascination for lesbian vampires, and was almost always willing to sacrifice logic and narrative for the striking visual image. A selection of some of his films are presented below, the choice made purely on the grounds of which films we could find trailers to on the web.
With the death of Jean Rollin, the world of genre filmmaking has lost a rarity: a filmmaker less interested in making popular or mainstream films than he was truly driven to create distinctive and highly personal cinematic visualizations that owe nothing to anything other than his own artistic vision.
The world of film is all the poorer with his demise.



Le Viol du Vampire / Rape of the Vampire (1968)



His first completed and released "full-length feature" is actually two B&W short films, Le Viol du Vampire and Les Femmes Vampires ("The Vampire Women"), strung together to make one impressionistic and surreal whole. The first is about the fates of three Parisians (including one shrink) and the four neurotic women inhabiting a country house that they try to convince are not vampires. The second concerns the return of the Vampire Queen and her attempts to resurrect the dead as a scientist attempts to find a cure for vampirism. It claimed to be the first vampire film made in France, but that honor arguably goes to the 1932 masterpiece Vampyr by the Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer, which was shot on location in France and produced by its French star, Baron Nicolas Louis Alexandre de Gunzburg.



La Vampire Nue / The Nude Vampire (1969)



His second film, a dreamy and languorously paced vampire film about a young man who goes in search of a beautiful young lady with whom he had a decidedly strange encounter. He stumbles upon a clique of men, including the woman's father, trying to discover the secret of immortality from the vampire daughter. The film is Rollin's first "true" full-length film, in color this time, but like the first it is more interested in visuals and mood (and beautiful women) than linear logic, entertaining pacing or other conventional filmic elements of mainstream film.



Le Frisson des Vampires / The Shiver of the Vampires (1970)



His third vampire film, once again reveling in Rollin’s fascination for beautiful vampiric nubiles as well as his penchant for nonsensical and languid plots that are continually put on the back burner in favor of visuals and surreal events – and more babes. Two newlyweds stop off at a castle owned by recently deceased cousins that is inhabited by vampires... beautiful, aggravating, amazing.



Requiem Pour un Vampire / Requiem for a Vampire (1970)



Shot in a with nudity version and without-nudity version, Requiem for a Vampire would make an excellent double feature with that surrealistic non-horror art film Black Moon (1975 / gratuitous scene), if only for the totally in-the-middle-of-an-untold-story way of opening the film. Two women on the run from something run into lesbian vampires in a castle and must decide between eternal life or remaining human. As always: surreal, languid, impressionistic, gaudy…



La Rose de Fer / The Crystal Rose (1972)



His first non-vampire film and a complete financial failure when released, it remains one of his most unjustly ignored movies. Far less garish than his earlier films, The Crystal Rose is a disturbingly beautiful horror tale of a young couple that go to a cemetery to screw and can no longer find their way out.



Les Démoniaques (1973)



Another of his rare non-vampire filmic excursions and, in all truth, not one of his best films – although just as weird and as perversely interesting as ever, Les Démoniaques proves that 1980's Le Lac des Morts Vivants / Zombie Lake is not such a laughable fiasco just because Rollin took over from Jess Franco after the latter split to do Oasis of the Zombies. But as cheesy as much of the film is, the trailer does well to indicate why Rollin can often be described as the French Fellini of low budget Gallic genre films – the technical finesse might be lacking, but not the idiosyncratic artistic vision.



Lévres de Sang / Lips of Blood (1974)
Also available in a hardcore version under the title Suce-Moi Vampire. A surrealistic love story bursting with nude and semi-nude nubile vampires and almost no dialog. Nice poster, too.



Les Raisins de la Mort / Pesticide (1978)



Rollin's return to horror after making a plethora of hardcore porno films under the alias of Michel Gentil (including such illustrious titles as Phantasmes Pornographiques, Hard Pénétrations and Vibrations Sexuelles). Telling the tale of a young woman who gets trapped in a country village where the pesticide used on the local wine grapes turns everyone into homicidal zombies, Les Raisins de la Mort is often claimed to be the first French gore film, if not at least the first French zombie film. Cheesy and gory, it is definitely one of his better later-day films and also one of his most traditionally accessible.



Fascination (1979)
A Gothic masterpiece, an erotic Gothic horror film set in 1916 telling of a thief who takes refuge in a mansion inhabited by two seductively erotic young ladies who have little to do other than have sex and kill people. A vampire film per say, but much more a social commentary about blood draining aristocrats, the film is a good argument that Rollin was meant to be a painter. Nice poster again, too.



Le Lac des Morts Vivants / Zombie Lake (1980)



Perhaps the most easily available of all his films, Zombie Lake is probably also his least personal work. According to Wikipedia, the director himself considered it his worst film. Whether this is true is perhaps open to conjuncture and discussion, but it is nonetheless a film best viewed by fans of cinematic incompetence – and a good spliff will only help make it all the more bearable. For a full Wasted Life review, go here.



La Morte Vivante / The Living Dead Girl (1982)



Like so many – if not most – of his films, this horror film is far less scary than it is mesmerizing, and for a change the events and plot is relatively linear. The cheap gore is a lot of fun, too. A chemical spill revives a beautiful young girl from death, but now she has an insatiable hunger for blood, which she procures by violently killing people. Discovered by her childhood best friend, the living lovely lady begins to procure nubile from the local village to help satiate her friend’s hunger...



Les Deux Orphelines Vampires / Two Orphan Vampires (1997)



A film that shows a master on the wan and a rock-bottom budget; it features his normal obsession with vampire babes, but is low on the idiosyncratic visual excesses of his earlier films. The dubbing is particularly atrocious, even for a Rollin film, and even the poetic aspects kip too far into Prozacville. For true Rollin fans and completists only.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who Saw Her Die? / Chi l'ha vista morire? (Italy, 1972)




Much like sometimes the thing most needed in the morning is the rare slice of cold pizza, sometimes there is nothing more fun than the occasional late night giallo. (If you need a translation of that Italian term, please go read some other blog.) This film — the third feature film made by Aldo Lado, the Croatian-born Italian director best known for his 1975 über-violent revenge "classic" Last Stop on the Night Train (trailer), which gained some infamy in the 1980s when it was banned in England as a "video nasty" — was chosen as the late-night giallo due to its cast: aside from the Swedish cult actress Anita Strindberg (Lizard in a Woman's Skin [1971 / trailer], The Antichrist [1974 / trailer] and so much more), Who Saw Her Die? also features the mostly forgotten 2nd James Bond George Lazenby (in his third feature-film role) as well as the cult redhead child actress Nicoletta Elmi (Andy Warhol's Frankenstein [1973 / trailer], Deep Red [1975 / trailer], and Demons [1985 / trailer]). With a cast like that, the film just has to be good, right?
Well, actually, no...

But first, the good things about the film. It has a truly unforgettable and beautiful but unnerving score by the great master Ennio Morricone and is set in Venice — a run-down and somewhat grimy Venice at that, one which correctly reflects the look of off-season Venice but lacks the tourists still normally found there even then. (As a result, the city has an interestingly depressing aura that is well-suited for the film.) As appropriate to the time the film was made, absolutely no silicon is seen in the entire film even though not one of the adult females in Who Saw Her Die? gets away without doing a nude scene. Lado also tosses in a few interesting directorial bonbons, such as a point-of-view-shots seen through a veil, a murder in a cheap movie cinema and a well-shot scene of four people playing cat and mouse in a deserted warehouse. (In general, the cinematography is commendable, but the cropping and transfer of the ancient VHS that this review is based on obliterate most of it.) But with that, the nice things that can be said about this almost totally forgettable movie have all been listed.
Not to say that there aren’t other truly memorable aspects of the film, it’s just that they aren’t things that actually make the film good. The sex scenes have got to be some of the most un-erotic ever filmed and lend a good argument for becoming asexual. Likewise, George Lazenby is unbelievably repulsive: according to imdb he lost 35 pounds to play the role, and the result is that, combined with his 70s-style walrus moustache, he looks a lot like an early Castro District AIDS sufferer (and that almost a good decade before GRID — gay-related immune deficiency, as the sickness was originally called — was even officially "discovered" [research has since shown that people died of AIDS as early as 1959, possible earlier]). The given characterization of the rather unsympathetic main leads are often illogical and unconvincing — one might feel sorry for Franco, but one doesn’t like him; as for Elizabeth, she wants to get over it and move on rather too quickly for a loving mother — and their second-rate acting does little to make them believable. The identity of the murderer is not only much too obvious but is outed less by detection than simple dwindling numbers, and the final line of the film (uttered by the fat reporter friend [Piero Vida, victim number four in Stage Fright (1987 / trailer), if you count the orderly as #1] who at one point is briefly made to come across as a would-be child molester—as is every male in the movie, for that matter) is ridiculous, inconsequential to the whole plot, totally unnecessary and does little other than destroy any vestiges of good faith the viewer might still have in the movie.
And the plot? Well, Who Saw Her Die? is very much an early tract against free-range kids. It opens in the French Alps with the brutal murder of a little girl by a veiled "woman" dressed in black before moving on to Venice, where the sculptor Franco Serpieri (George Lazenby) lives; his wife Elizabeth Serpieri (Anita Strindberg) and daughter Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi) live in London. Roberta comes to visit, most of the possible suspects and/or future dead are introduced, and then while Franco is busy wetting his wick one evening his unattended daughter disappears from the local square, only to show up the next day floating in the Grand Canal. The police are typically incapable — as one of Franco's friends says to the inspector, "You couldn't even catch pneumonia!" — so the guilt-ridden Franco takes up the investigation himself against the advice of his friends and wife, the latter who has come to Venice for the funeral and to have sex with him. Following the lead of a similar murder that occurred the previous year, all paths lead Franco back to people within his immediate vicinity, and any that seem to be willing to offer him help die violently. Franco suddenly figures it out — a virtual flash of realization — just as his wife becomes the next intended victim...
All the trappings of a typical giallo are there, including the bad dubbing, fake blood, gloved hands, red herrings and violent deaths, liberally peppered with an aura of pedophilic sleaze. Combined with Lado’s cinematography, Who Saw Her Die? should have been a good film. Too bad it isn't...
For the sake of fairness, and because reading his very well written review made me feel like we saw different films, here is a review by someone who liked Who Saw Her Die? found at So Sweet, So Perverse.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Forsaken (USA, 2001)




"Time to die, cowboy."

Cym (Phina Oruche)

Taking its cue from Near Dark (trailer), Katherine Bigelow’s immeasurably superior cult vampire flick from 1987 (flawed only by its idiotic blood-transfer cure) and John Carpenter's stupid but laughably enjoyable, penis-fixated pubescent fantasy Vampires (trailer) of 1998, The Forsaken involves a small group vampires that leaves a trail of blood behind them as they tool around the back roads of the US west and the two young men out to put an end to their ways.
Sean (Kerr Smith, the wooden face in Final Destination [2000 / trailer] and My Bloody Valentine [2009 / trailer]) is an editor of B-film trailers who has taken a week off as a driver-for-hire to deliver a cherry, vintage Mercedes from LA to Florida, where he wants to go to the wedding of his sister. Losing his wallet after getting a flat tire, he ends up picking up the seemingly harmless (if verbose) hitchhiker Nick (Brendan Fehr, a two-expression actor previously seen somewhere in the background of Disturbing Behavior (1998 / trailer]).
To make a long non-story short, Nick is actually out a-hunting vampires and a few predictable scenes later they run into the previously mentioned group of vampires (led by Christina Applegate's ex-husband Johnathon Schaech) and everything leads to a big showdown at a roadside house which is mildly interesting but way too long in the waiting...
Written and directed by J.S. Cardone, the dude who made the entertainingly cheesy triple-bill filler Shadowzone (1990 / trailer) and the rather good neo-noir Black Day Blue Night (1995 / trailer), The Forsaken is a piece of celluloid shit. Were the film a product of the grindhouse generations, it would be a prime example of the lousy, painfully worthless films that helped fill out the screening cycle of the flophouse theatre and did little but help make the occasional "discovery" all the more enjoyable in comparison. A post-grindhouse product, however, The Forsaken deserves less to gather dust on the lowest shelf of the local DVD rental than it does deserve simply to be thrown away.
The Forsaken is obviously aimed for the teenage crowd, which in itself is not necessarily bad, but it is bad when the filmmaker assumes that the intended audience is not only totally undemanding but has little or no expectations other than to see a cute face or two. But with these assumptions in mind, J.S. Cardone did produce this film: a faceless and un-enjoyable turd that fails on almost every level—it is not scary, so it fails as a horror film, and it is far from either exciting or thrilling, so it also fails in the action department. Indeed, the only truly interesting event of the whole film is the opening shower scene in which the actress Izabella Miko (of The House of Usher [2006 / trailer] and The Clash of the Titans [2010 / trailer]), as the bitten Megan, washes the blood from her naked breasts with a look of "What the fuck am I doing here?" on her face. We see her pleasantly petite love pillows again later in the film when Nick is looking for the location of the vampire bite (Cardone lacked the cajones to go as far as Carpenter does in Vampires) but by then the genitalia inertia – excuse me, general inertia – and lethargy of the film has already reduced the viewer into such a state of disinterest that the second short flash of her boobs really doesn’t do much. The babe's function in the film is the exact same as that of Sheryl Lee’s character Katrina in Vampires (that old telepathic link bit), but with less dialogue (as in: no dialogue other than a sporadic scream). Thank god for the occasional use of loud and misplaced heavy metal—were that not there, the viewer would probably sleep through most of the film.
Not that it would matter: the derivative plot is so thin as to be non-existent, and is thus easy to follow. Indeed, the plot is so thin that the film stretches scenes out needlessly—for example, the meeting of Sean and Nick, or when Sean is getting ice, or Megan briefly drives off with the car, etc. etc. Indeed, the big showdown is also senselessly delayed by having the vampires let the outnumbered hunters go the first time they meet for no other reason than
"There’s a time and place for everything."
Well, any time and any place is wasted in a bad way if spent watching The Forsaken. The flick ends in such a way that very much indicates the hope of a new franchise. Fat chance.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Short Film: A Great Big Robot from Outer Space Ate My Homework (Canada, 2005)


An old idea given a new twist and converted into an appealing, concise, well-made and funny film.
Anyone who watches this short is sure to remember some teacher from hell of the past, and will probably wish the same thing happened to them. (I, for one, promptly thought of a Mr. Lancto in the late 70s of GW High in Alexandria, VA, if that's even the right way to spell his name.)
A Great Big Robot from Outer Space Ate My Homework was made at the Vancouver Film School (VFS) in 2005 by then-student Marc Shirra, a former broadcast graphic designer. There ain’t much info about Shirra out on the web, but since completing the film and getting kudos all over the world for it, he has become a technical director at Pixar Animation Studios in the San Francisco Bay Area, where one assumes he still pursues his hobbies of running, photography, snowboarding and hiking.
At Pixar, he was involved as a layout artist in both Up! (2009 / trailer) and WALL•E (2008 / trailer).

Monday, November 29, 2010

R.I.P.: Leslie Nielsen


Leslie Nielsen

11 Feb 1926 (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada)
to
28 Nov 2010 (Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA)

We'll miss you – sort of.

Leslie Nielsen is not necessarily a person whose demise you might expect to see mourned on a blog dedicated to obscure and trashy films. But indeed, he did make a lot of real trash over the past twenty years – though not the type of trash we here at A Wasted Life like.
Thanks to Airplane! (1980) and the Naked Gun franchise (1988-94), Leslie Nielsen moved up from being a familiar, third-rate actor in the background of films (or a bit further to the front on TV) to being a headlining star of mostly third-rate mainstream comedies. But though more than one of the numerous crappy comedies that he was in over the past twenty years – say, for example, Repossessed (1990 / trailer), Surf Ninjas (1993 / trailer), Spy Hard (1996 / fan-made trailer) or Mr. Magoo (1997 / trailer) – might actually one day enjoy a certain level of cult popularity for being as bad as they are, they are not the films for which A Wasted Life says "We're gonna miss you."
No, the films for which Mr Nielsen is being honoured for here are a bit further back in his career: back in the days when he had an occasional role of varying length on the big screen when not busy on the small screen, or when he was the last "star" credited and first star dead (as in 1972's Poseidon Adventure), or even earlier, when he headlined the occasional B&W cheapie and, at the start of his career, even managed to have a lead in a film classic.



Forbidden Planet
(1956)
Does anything need to be said about this film? If you haven't seen it, you should. A classic: had this been his only film of note, Leslie Nielsen would still be fondly remembered – and have earned his place to be memorialised on A Wasted Life.




Ransom! (1956
)
Dunno if this film is any good or even still available, but it gets mentioned here simply because we like the poster. This little known and forgotten film, which was based on an even less-remembered teleplay from 1953 entitled Fearful Decision, is the movie that the Mel Gibson vehicle Ransom! (1996) was based on 40 years later. If you can't remember the Gibson film, that’s OK – we saw it and can't remember it, either.



Hot Summer Night (1957)
OK, another film we ain’t never heard of and really have no idea if it’s any good – but aren't these old poster great?



Night Train to Paris (1964
)
Here we get closer to the kind of film we like. A B&W cheapie from 1964, an odd and badly acted espionage flick that has a perverse attraction to it.
DVD Verdict describe it well when they say: "…[T]he movie actually falls more into the Swinging Sixties Spy Caper genre, leavening its formula thriller plot with mild dollops of titillation, surrealism, and offbeat humor. Thus, you have beautiful women dancing at a party, the aforementioned guy in a bear suit running around (he's the mascot of a ski club), and Leslie Nielsen running around with a Groucho nose, mustache, and glasses and kissing a woman to stop her from screaming. At times, the mish-mash of Sixties cool and Forties noir just seems goofy, but the movie wraps up with a chase that manages to be both silly and tense."

The full trailer, which gives you a better idea of what the film holds in store, can be seen here. The badly edited short version shown below comes from the good ol’ Internet Archives.



Dark Intruder (1965)
Saw this as a kid, but I’ll be durned if I can remember much about it. It was originally filmed as a series pilot but got released as a short (59 minutes long) second feature. Nice poster, though.


Change of Mind (1969)

I'd never even heard of the film before Mr. Nielsen went the way of the wind, but this forgotten pre-Blaxploitation sci-fi message film sounds rather interesting, if absurd. (And, as always, a groovy poster.) Nielsen costars as a racist sheriff accused of murdering a black woman, but the main thrust of the film is about the social, emotional and intellectual problems faced by a liberal white district attorney after he, dying of cancer, has his brain transplanted into the body of a dead black man (Raymond St. Jacques of Come Back, Charleston Blue).
Change of Mind should be more of a message film than cheap and sleazy, which is probably why no one remembers it today.


And, as of now, along with Forbidden Planet, the following films are the real reason why we respect Leslie Nieslen here at A Wasted Life, no matter how many crappy comedies he made.



Four Rode Out (1970)

And you thought Leslie Nielson was incapable of playing an unmitigated asshole? Guess again. For years, that was about the only thing he did – and one his snivelling best was his character in this film, a little-seen imitation spaghetti western. The flick is all over the place (it even has a soundtrack by Janis Ian – anyone remember her?), but it’s a good watch. It also has the forgotten "star" Sue Lyon, which alone makes it worth watching...



The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
As mention earlier, the last star named and the first to go. A classic of the Golden Age of disaster films, The Poseidon Adventure still puts many newer films to shame. (And didn't we boys all just dream about bonking Nancy Drew back then?) Nielsen’s screen time is over in the time it takes to pop open a beer, but he’s there, serious as ever. Wolfgang Peterson's remake of 2006 is such a fucking disaster in comparison (trailer), so if you saw that and gagged (like I did), give this classic a go.



Project: Kill (1976 / trailer)
Is any good? No fucking way! But who cares? It was made by William Girdler (RIP), one of A Wasted Life’s true heroes. Oddly enough, Girdler had a higher opinion of the film than we do: "[Project Kill] is the beginning of what I can do if I'm given the opportunity. Here I'm not pinned down by clichés or lousy material. It's the only picture I'm really proud of." (William Girdler, Courier Journal, 1975)
To give credit where credit is due, Leslie Nielsen is the best actor in the film, though his polyester outfits are deadly. Want to find out yourself just how bad this piece o' trash truly is? Here’s the whole film (from Internet Archives), just for you.



Day of the Animals (1977)
Either the rent was due, or Nielsen must have liked working with William Girdler, for a year after Project: Kill he showed up in Girdler’s next low budget Hollywood project (with Christopher George and Lynda Day George!) playing an asshole businessman who, like the animals in the film, is driven crazy by a hole in the ozone layer. (Huh?)
Nielsen's bear-wrestling scene is more than enough reason to see this film, which is finally available (at least here in Europe) as a cheap DVD. Due to legal problems, the film was pulled when it first came out and then re-released by the producer as Something Is Out There. The trailer to both releases are here to be seen. Believe me, the film is almost as wonderfully bad as you might hope it to be…




Prom Night (1980)

Leslie Nielsen’s last exploitive film of note before becoming a headlining straight man; if we remember correctly, he is in the film all of five minutes despite being the headlining star ahead of the then up-and-coming Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis. (We here at A Wasted Life actually had the pleasure of catching this when it came out in a downtown San Diego grindhouse at Horton Plaza, way back when it was still a sleazy and fun place to be.)
Despite the ridiculous motivation behind the revenge stalking (after 6 whole years), Prom Night is still a pretty good slasher with more than one surprise – way better than the "reinterpretation" that came out in 2008 (trailer). The originals sequels have nothing to do with this film, but some are fun in their own way…




Airplane! (1980)

This film, made the same year as Prom Night, was the beginning of two things: Leslie Nielsen ascent to a headlining deadpan comedy star, and the advent of the modern full-length (vs. episodic) persiflage comedy – ala the Scary Movie franchise and any other flick that ends with “Movie” in the title (such as Epic Movie [2007 / trailer], Date Movie [2006/ trailer], or Hamster Sex Movie [coming soon]) – that pretty much dominates modern mainstream comedy. Throwaway movies, for the most part, most of which won't be remembered or funny in ten years time, but till then the producers are laughing all the way to the bank…
Whatever. Airplane! is included here primarily because it was his first, and it is to blame for all that it has wrought. (I wonder if, nowadays, in a mainstream movie, you could still get away with having, as a joke, an adult man asking a young male child "You ever seen a grown man naked?")




Creepshow (1982)

The classic Stephen King & George Romero take on the old anthology films, liberally sprinkled (as they all were) with the twisted humour of vintage EC comics. Leslie Nielsen’s last true foray of note outside the bad comedies for which he is now best known for, and once again he plays an asshole. But he gets what he deserves…




Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)
Once upon a time there was a comedian named Mel Brooks, and he made some good and funny films, most being satires of specific genres – westerns (Blazing Saddles [1974 / trailer]), Frankenstein movies (Young Frankenstein [1974 / trailer]), silent films (Silent Movie [1976 / trailer]), Hitchcock films (High Anxiety [1977 / trailer]) – before losing his touch.
But he sort of found it again for one film, modern persiflage comedy of vampire films starring Leslie Nielsen. A masterpiece it ain’t, but cute in its own innocent way…


Goodbye, Leslie Nielsen.
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