Sunday, September 20, 2020

Lifeforce

 

(1985) Directed by Tobe Hooper; Written by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby; Based on the novel Space Vampires by Colin Wilson; Starring: Steve Railsback, Mathilda May, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay and Patrick Stewart; Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Rating: ***½ 

 “…It’s about relationships. About the relationship between men and women, and how that can turn. It can be about how there can be a dominance in a relationship, how it can flip-flop back and forth, and it had all of those incredible things that I grew up wanting to see…” – Tobe Hooper (from 2013 DVD commentary)

“…as I was a dancer, I was used to have (sic) a special relationship with the body – it was a work instrument, I was not into anything provocative. I was just a dancer. So that maybe is the reason they chose me, because I was not using the body in terms of seduction.” – Mathilda May (from 2013 interview, “Dangerous Beauty”)

Note: This review refers to the longer “International Cut,” which includes additional footage, expands on the story, and restores Henry Mancini’s original score.

Mention Lifeforce, and the first thing that likely springs to mind for most folks are the scenes depicting a certain young French actress walking around au naturel. While those sequences certainly leave an (Ahem!) lasting impression, there’s much more to the film than that. Look beneath the surface trappings of gratuitous nudity, gory makeup and glowy special effects, and you’ll find a movie that isn’t afraid to ask the big questions. Director Tobe Hooper was approached by Cannon Films’ Menahem Golan to adapt Collin Wilson’s 1976 novel Space Vampires* into a big budget (for Cannon, at least) film. The British-based, 120-day shoot required the use of EMI-Elstree studios Stage 6 (referred to as the Star Wars stage), and utilized some of the top effects people of the day, notably, John Dykstra of Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture fame.

* Fun Fact #1: The film originally shared the same title as the novel, but Hooper recalled “there was an allergic reaction to what was considered a B-title.”


 During a joint NASA/ESA mission to intercept Halley’s comet, Col Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback) of the spaceship Churchill and his crew pick up something extraordinary: a massive alien ship in the tail of the comet. The commander decides to divert the mission to the mysterious spacecraft, which upon closer inspection has an organic appearance. As Carlsen and his fellow astronauts make their brief foray* into the ship’s cavernous hulk, they encounter the desiccated floating bodies of large bat-like creatures. Another chamber yields a more surprising discovery, with what appear to be three humans (one woman and two men)** entombed in crystalline sarcophagi. The ship returns to Earth, with the three bodies and alien remains in tow, but meets with calamity along the way. A rescue crew reaches the Churchill in Earth orbit, only to find the interior and astronauts charred beyond recognition. Somehow, the residents of the clear coffins appear to be unscathed from the fiery accident, and are brought to terra firma for further scrutiny. Before you can say “bringing them back to Earth was a terrible idea,” the humanoids escape their containers, and proceed to feast on the life energy of every hapless person they encounter. We soon learn, however, that Carlsen also avoided destruction on the Churchill, utilizing the ship’s escape capsule*** in the nick of time. British authorities take Carlsen into custody, as he harbors the secret about what occurred on the doomed mission, and may possess the key to stopping the rampage of the space vampires.

* Fun Fact #2: To simulate the astronauts floating in space, Hooper and company utilized the same team responsible for the flying rig used in Superman: The Movie (1978).

 ** Fun Fact #3: Billy Idol was originally approached to play one of the male space vampires, but when casting plans fell through, the filmmakers brought in Chris Jagger (Mick’s younger brother) for the part. 

 *** Side Note: Considering the crew’s size, the escape pod (which conjured images of the tiny space capsule from the 1965 schlock-fest Monster a Go-Go), seems ridiculously small. Apparently designed for one lucky astronaut, it begs the question: How would they decide who lived and who died?


 If there’s a solitary raison d'être for Lifeforce, it’s French actress Mathilda May, who commands attention whenever she’s on screen. May was cast after an exhaustive worldwide search (Hooper claimed approximately 50 actresses auditioned for the part)* for someone who would play a role that demanded excessive nudity.** May’s background as a professional dancer proved especially invaluable in her depiction of an alien presence, with her precisely controlled movement. She mesmerizes whenever she’s on the screen, conveying the right balance of otherworldly beauty and subtle menace. To the men who encounter her, she’s a siren – they’re powerless to resist her charms, even though meeting her won’t end well. She establishes an inextricable bond with Carlsen, which horrifies and tantalizes him in equal parts. She’s an ideal construct culled from his vision of an ideal woman, illusory and unobtainable (“I am the feminine in your mind.”).

 * Fun Fact #4: According to Hooper, Olivia Hussey was among the actresses considered for the role. Some male actors that were considered for various other characters included Klaus Kinski, Terrence Stamp, and John Gielgud.

** In his DVD commentary, Hooper glibly stated, “It was like her costume.” 


Instead of focusing on Col. Carlsen’s obsession, I wish it had spent more time with Dr. Hans Fallada (Frank Finlay), a clear nod to Professor Quatermass in the Hammer films and BBC adaptations. Fallada is fascinated by the alien visitors and their implications. He opines that the creatures visited Earth long ago, giving rise to the vampire folklore and legends. It’s an intriguing story element that could have been developed further, rather than concentrating on tracking down the rogue vampires. The clunky middle act gets bogged down with Carlsen assisting British agents led by SAS agent Colin Caine (Peter Firth). No one questions his histrionics in his zeal to find the female space vampire, who’s jumped to a new body. Inexplicably, he’s given free rein to slap around a woman (Nancy Paul) suspected of harboring the malevolent vampire’s spirit and abuse sanitarium director Dr. Armstrong (Patrick Stewart), who has also been afflicted.


Unlike some traditional vampire films, the vampire rules are inconsistent. It’s unclear whether direct contact or mere proximity are necessary for a spirit to jump from body to body. The original three vampires, while insatiable, don’t appear to weaken rapidly, whereas the infected humans wither away at an accelerated rate, becoming the “walking shriveled” (Hooper’s term). Also, why does the female vampire possess a sexual magnetism toward men, but the male vampires don’t seem to have a similar effect on women? Taking this a step further, why couldn’t the vampires have had a similar mesmeric effect towards people of the same sex? With the exception of a brief kiss between two men (which is a bit of cheat, since one is inhabited by the female vampire’s spirit), the film restricts itself to heterosexual attraction, and overwhelmingly appeals to the male gaze. This limits the myriad possibilities of sex as lure, restricting the implicit theme to a superficial “women are scary”


The $25 million Cannon production was met with mostly mixed to negative reviews when it was first released, no thanks in part to the butchered U.S. version (at distributor Tri-Star’s insistence). Lifeforce has since gained a loyal following, not simply because of Mathilda May’s inimitable presence, but its wildly ambitious story. It boldly suggests something extraterrestrial in origin influenced human history and folklore, inhabiting our myths and fears. The climactic scene of mass pandemonium on the streets of London is reminiscent of the dénouement to Quatermass and the Pit (1967), which shares similar themes. At the same time, the story isn’t nearly as focused as Quatermass, but it’s a noble effort nevertheless. Lifeforce manages to balance some heady ideas with some good old-fashioned exploitation, creating an entertaining mix. It didn’t play it safe. If only more genre films would follow its lead. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Space Truckers

(1996) Directed by Stuart Gordon; Written by Ted Mann and Stuart Gordon; Starring: Dennis Hopper, Stephen Dorff, Debi Mazar, Charles Dance, George Wendt and Vernon Wells; Available on Blu-ray (Region B) and DVD (Out of Print)

Rating: ***

“I had this idea that had been kicking around for years about truck drivers in space, and had gotten to be friendly with Ted Mann (co-writer), and it turns out that both of us were frustrated astronauts, and when we were kids, that’s what we both had dreamed about, going into space… And when I told him the idea of blue-collar people in space, just doing their jobs, he really responded, and we started just throwing together a treatment.” – Stuart Gordon (excerpt from 2018 featurette, “Space Trucking with Stuart Gordon”) 

The late, great Stuart Gordon will forever be associated with his H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, particularly Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986). A deeper dive into his filmography, however, yields some surprising titles, spanning multiple genres. Produced on a budget of $27 million,* the sci-fi/comedy Space Truckers** was his largest-budgeted film to date. It was filmed on a sound stage at Ardmore Studios in Ireland,*** where a nearby beach served as a desert. While the film saw some overseas distribution, it wasn’t released theatrically in the U.S., instead debuting on HBO.

* Fun Fact #1: The filmmakers were approached by Universal, which would have added more money into the film’s production and distribution, but one of the film’s producers turned the studio down. 

** Fun Fact #2: According to Stuart Gordon, Stephen Dorff’s agent wasn’t enamored with “Space Truckers,” so the actor’s contract included a clause that gave him a final say on the title.

*** Fun Fact #3: Gordon remarked that while the movie’s final title was in limbo, Variety listed the film as “Untitled Irish Space Movie.”


If you took the space diner scene from Spaceballs (1987), minus the chestburster, and turned it into its own movie, you might get something like this. Set within our solar system circa 2196 (or 2145, depending on which of the film’s trailers you believe), Space Truckers depicts the blue-collar side of space colonization, with people performing the intensive manual labor required to keep things going. The space truckers are the life blood of the colonies, shipping goods throughout the solar system. After veteran trucker John Canyon (Dennis Hopper)* has a falling out with his boss Keller (George Keller), he accepts a lucrative but risky assignment, hauling an illegal payload to Earth with no questions asked. He has a thing for Cindy (Debi Mazar), a waitress at the truck stop’s greasy spoon, and finds the perfect way to win her hand (if not her heart). Canyon agrees to take her with him to Earth, where she can be reunited with her mother, if she agrees to marry him. Enter plucky but inexperienced novice trucker Mike Pucci (Stephen Dorff), who connives his way into tagging along. The mismatched trio soon learn that they’re in for much more than anyone had anticipated when they tangle with a cargo of biomechanical battle drones, and encounter ruthless space pirates, led by Macanudo (Charles Dance).

* Fun Fact #4: According to Gordon, the mercurial Hopper commented that he was the “worst” director he’d ever worked with.

Despite any disagreements Dennis Hopper might have had with Gordon, he does a fine job portraying the irascible trucker Canyon. He doesn’t take any crap from anyone, and is prepared to fight for what he believes in. Beneath his crusty exterior, though, it’s easy to see he has a soft spot for hard luck cases like Cindy and Mike. Debi Mazar is good as flighty, New York-accented Cindy. Unlike Canyon, she’s more than willing to compromise her ideals if she can get ahead. Stephen Dorff, especially as Cindy’s object of affection, is significantly less convincing. Their romance seems perfunctory at best, with little on-screen chemistry. Considering her character’s choices throughout the film, it’s a safe bet that she’d sell him out if she found a better opportunity. Charles Dance threatens to steal the show from everyone else as the cybernetic space pirate Macanudo. It’s obvious he enjoyed playing the sneering villain (apparently, he was encouraged by his daughter to play the part). Also, be sure to watch for fun cameos from Stuart Gordon regulars Barbara Crampton and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (the director’s wife).

Space Truckers keeps its metaphorical tongue firmly planted in its cheek, which carries through to the whimsical flourishes of the space designs. Gordon stated that he made a conscious effort to include color in the typically colorless environment of space, including garish floating billboards and custom paint jobs on the truckers’ ships. The living spaces/interiors have a lived-in look (based on concepts by Ron Cobb), similar to Outland (1981), but the truck stop diner’s curved floor owes a debt of gratitude to the design of the spacecraft Discovery’s main interior in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In contrast to Cobb’s nuts and bolts approach, Hajime Sorayama designed the appearance of the sleek cybernetic warriors.* Gordon commented that, in retrospect, he wished all the effects were CGI. Personally, I’m glad this wasn’t the case. The practical, model-based effects hold up the best, while the early CGI effects show their limitations. In a scene where Canyon punches one of Keller’s thugs, there’s an unconvincing spray of computer-animated blood and a floating tooth that resembles a popcorn kernel. Likewise, the computer-rendered pirate ship resembles video game graphics (Yes, I know they’ve gotten much better in 20+ years). Comparatively, the practical effects are much more compelling, if not exactly realistic (e.g., Canyon’s rig, The Pachyderm 2000, and various makeup effects and prosthetics). Among the most memorable creations are the “square pigs” that fit neatly in their cubical pens.

* Fun Fact #5: In order to match the decidedly feminine body contours in Sorayama’s concept artwork, the robots were all played by female models.

Considering Gordon was working with a larger budget, Space Truckers doesn’t look like an expensive production, which works to its advantage. It’s a B picture through and through, more interested in off-kilter ideas (whether they work or not) than surface gloss. Space Truckers doesn’t have a big message (other than greed, corruption and the lust for power will always be around), and never takes itself too seriously. It’s just trying to have a good time, inviting us along for the ride. So, grab a cold one (or two), sit back, and take in the view.

Monday, August 31, 2020

August Quick Picks and Pans

 

The Oily Maniac (1976) Eight years before Troma’s The Toxic Avenger, the Shaw Brothers unleashed their own grimy champion of justice. This entertaining hybrid horror/action film, directed by Meng-Hua Ho (Black Magic), is allegedly based on Malaysian folklore. Danny Lee stars as Shen Yuan, a disabled man who discovers the secret (from his death-row uncle) to transforming into a virtually unstoppable supernatural creature. Using his newly discovered superpowers, he exacts vengeance against all who have wronged him. In order to become the greasy creature, he has to periodically re-charge (in one scene, he covers himself in tar from a bubbling oil drum, and in another, he plunges into a vat of hot coconut oil). Although some of his choices leave something to be desired, it’s undeniably fun to watch him beat up the bad guys. It’s too bad this unconventional monster movie never spawned a series.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD (Region 2) and Amazon Prime

Cold Eyes of Fear (1971) This would-be thriller from director Enzo G. Castellari (1990: The Bronx Warriors), set in swinging London, is all talk and little action. An ex-con and his lackey invade a judge’s house looking for the files of the court case that sent him to prison. The judge’s nephew (who’s also a judge) and his lady companion are caught in the middle, and must gather their wits to survive the night. Outside of a hallucinatory courtroom scene and a gallery of questionable hair styles, there’s not much reason to recommend this snoozer.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Kanopy


Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966) Prolific director William Beaudine’s follow-up to Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter proves to be just as baffling as its predecessor. After deciding to end his thieving ways and settle down, Billy the Kid (Chuck Courtney) goes to work as a ranch hand, where he falls in love with the rancher’s daughter Betty (Melinda Casey). But fate throws a monkey wrench into his plans when Dracula (John Carradine) rolls into town, posing as Betty’s long-lost uncle. If this sounds more like the synopsis for a bad sitcom than a horror/western movie, you’re not alone. The leads are miscast (Carradine plays an anemic-looking, perpetually bewildered count, and the actor playing Billy the Kid is about 15 years too old for the part), and the story is bereft of action or chills. Throw in some bad Native American stereotypes, generic “Old World” European characters, and one of the least convincing bats you’ve ever seen, and you’ve got the makings of an evening of so bad-it’s-good entertainment. It’s unfortunate that the end result is so dull.

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Kanopy


The Lost Continent (1968) This Hammer production, directed by Michael Carreras, bears no connection to the 1951 Cesar Romero film with the same name, although it covers some similar ground. The story is a confusing jumble, with lots of ideas thrown into the mix, but nothing really gels. A merchant ship carrying a small group of passengers and a cargo of illegal explosives meets rough seas. The passengers and crew endlessly bicker for an hour before we finally get to anything remotely interesting. They eventually wind up on a fog-shrouded island in the middle of the ocean, although calling it a “continent” is a bit magnanimous. The inhabitants are a mixture of Spanish conquistadors and British shipwreck survivors, who must contend with an assortment of prehistoric creatures, man-eating plants, and a kid who’s established himself as a demigod. It might be worth a look as a curiosity or if you’re a Hammer completist; otherwise, don’t bother.

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Just Don’t Do It

It seems as if independent filmmakers/distributors of the 1970s and early ‘80s were obsessed with including “Don’t” in their movie titles. But wait a minute… This wasn’t simply a cheap way of riding the exploitation bandwagon, but a public service to warn us about the dangers of seemingly mundane actions. We’re reminded that the simple act of going outside and mingling with fellow humans could be a potentially life-threatening proposition. Perhaps we could learn a few timeless lessons from these films from the not too distant past, instructing us about the perils of not maintaining social distancing.


I think it’s only fair to warn you, dear reader, this isn’t a comprehensive list of every movie ever made with “Don’t” in the title.* Instead, for the purposes of this article, I confined my survey to theatrical horror/thrillers from the aforementioned era. I suffered (Ahem! I meant watched) through seven examples, to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff so you don’t have to.  

* Note: I previously reviewed Don’t Look Now (1973), which doesn’t quite fit thematically with the other films listed here. I excluded Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), because A), It was produced for television; and B), I’ve previously seen this title, and wanted everything to be a first-time watch. And before anyone says, “But you didn’t cover Don’t Go Near the Park (1979),” this wasn’t streaming anywhere, and I wasn’t about to plunk down a $300 deposit at my local video store to rent their out-of-print copy.

Don’t Look in the Basement (1973) Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik), a naïve young nurse, accepts a position working at a private sanitarium run by staunch Doctor Geraldine Masters (Annabelle Weenick). Nurse Beale eventually discovers that everything isn’t as it seems in the asylum populated by colorful patients, including an elderly lady with a secret, a homicidal would-be judge, a nymphomaniac, and a man in a state of arrested development. It’s best not to ask why she’s so slow to catch on to the doctor’s secret, or why she didn’t leave early on. While short on logic, or a grasp of ethical mental health practices, S.F. Brownrigg’s low-budget, filmed-in Texas wonder features some interesting performances, and seldom fails to entertain.  

Rating: ***. Available on DVD, Blu-ray (on combo disc w/Chaos), Amazon Prime and Tubi

Don’t Go in the House (1979) After his domineering mother dies, Dan Grimaldi (Donny Kohler) a mentally disturbed man, hears voices telling him to cleanse the evil lurking inside people of the opposite sex. He lures women into his house and incinerates them in a fireproof room, and has conversations with their charred corpses. Kohler is effective as the delusional, socially awkward lead character. Director/co-writer Joseph Ellison does a good job of building tension, and depicting the main character’s psychological disintegration, which leads to an unnerving climactic scene. The film is somewhat undermined by its dubious explanation for Grimaldi’s motivation, reinforced in the final scene, suggesting a cause and effect relationship between parental abuse and homicidal behavior. Warning: prepare yourself for a gratuitous disco scene, bad polyester fashions, and the non-hit song “Boogie Lightning,” which plays twice.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD and Tubi

Don’t Open the Door (aka: Don’t Hang Up) (1974) S.F. Brownrigg strikes again! This one’s a step down from his previous effort, Don’t Look in the Basement, lacking the same level of uniquely eccentric characters and  demented sense of fun. A young woman (Susan Bracken) returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing grandmother. She squabbles with a judge about her inheritance, and argues with a doctor about her grandmother’s care. Meanwhile, she’s harassed by a perverted museum curator. Don’t Open the Door shamelessly steals from Psycho and Repulsion in equal measures, but somehow manages to fall short of generating any real suspense.

Rating: **½. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime

Don’t Answer the Phone! (1980) Writer/director Robert Hammer’s sleazy effort (based on a novel by Michael Curtis) stars Nicholas Worth as crazed Vietnam vet/photographer Kirk Smith, who stalks and strangles women in Los Angeles. He makes anonymous calls to a psychologist’s (Flo Lawrence) radio show, which become increasingly disturbing as he acts out his fantasies. The psychologist’s efforts are undermined by smug, mansplaining police lieutenant McCabe (James Westmoreland), who inexplicably becomes her lover. Don’t bother trying to link the misleading title to the story, since answering the phone isn’t really part of the killer’s modus operandi. Worth is appropriately creepy as the killer, who photographs his victims in their final moments, but there’s not much else to justify sitting through this film, featuring a protagonist just as misogynistic as the bad guy.   

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

 


Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) A serial killer targets men dressed as Santa Claus, while inept Scotland Yard detectives scramble to find him. In one scene, the killer strolls into the police station and visits the lead detective, but he somehow manages to elude capture. If you’re looking for a slasher movie with a high body count, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for a coherent story, competent lead characters, or a compelling plot, you should probably steer clear.

Rating: **. Available on DVD

Don’t Look in the Attic (1982) A cursed Italian villa brings death and calamity to several generations of a family in Turin, Italy. The current heirs to the property bicker and scheme, providing lots of opportunities for talky scenes that pad out writer/director Carlo Ausino’s supernatural mystery film. The 77-minute running time is mercifully short, but seems much longer, thanks to the film’s sluggish pace and loathsome characters. It’s such a confusing, boring mess that you probably won’t care what’s in the attic or likely be awake for the conclusion.

Rating: **. Available on DVD, Amazon Prime and Tubi

Don’t Go in the Woods (1981) Campers are dispatched one-by-one by a deranged mountain man (the film never delves into where he came from or why he kills everyone that crosses his path). The film is a showpiece for bad acting, bad dialogue, and terrible makeup effects. It’s also dreadfully short on scares, tension or nocturnal amorous activities typically associated with most movies of this ilk. And just when you think the film has reached new lows, there’s a scene with a man in a wheelchair struggling to navigate a dirt trail (accompanied by goofy music). A better title would have been Don’t Watch this Movie. On a side note: There’s a disproportionately inordinate amount of cast members wearing bright pink ensembles, leading me to wonder if the costume designer had a surplus of the cloth lying around.

Rating: *½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Tubi

Friday, August 7, 2020

Who, Me? It’s Awards Time

First, I’d like to thank the wonderful folks who double-nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award and my first-time nomination for the Blogger Recognition Award: Ernie Fink from Until the Lights Go Up, Paul Batters from Silver Screen Classics, and Gill Jacob from Realweegiemidget Reviews, respectively. I apologize that it took so long to acknowledge these accolades. It means more to me than you’ll ever know.

As I would imagine is the case for many, these past several months have been difficult emotionally, physically and financially, making it especially hard to stay motivated and focused. Also, as you may have noticed, I’ve refrained from further blogathon announcements for the moment. After discussing things with my blogathon partner Gill, from Realweegiemidget Reviews, we decided to postpone the next installment of the Hammer/Amicus Blogathon until next year. On the other hand, the blog is still chugging along after all these years, albeit at a slower rate. Right now, any progress is good progress.  

I’ve never been much of rule follower, so I’ve modified them for the purposes of this overly verbose appreciation post. Nah, who am I kidding? I’ve thrown them out. Instead, here are my responses to Ernie, Paul, and Gill’s questions…

 Ernie’s Questions 

1.     What topic do you blog most about?

This is a film blog, so I try to keep things as movie-related as possible. I keep an emphasis on horror and science fiction, although I’m not strictly confined to those genres. While I’ll blog about the occasional blockbuster, my mission is to discuss the movies that somehow slipped through the cracks. 

2.     Do you only blog about one topic, or do you blog about other things, even occasionally?

Movie reviews, long and short, are my bread and butter, but my blog is peppered with the occasional rant about pets in film, physical media, star ratings, or whatever strikes my fancy at the moment. 

3.     Do you have someone or something you love to write about more than others? If so, why?

Anyone who knows my Twitter presence probably associates me with Mad Love-era Peter Lorre. I’m not sure exactly when I adopted Peter Lorre (Or should I say he adopted me?) as the official Cinematic Catharsis mascot, but it was love at first fright. Why? I’m not quite, sure, but I think it might have something to do with the old TNT promos for the 100% Weird show. 

4.     Is your blogging by a schedule, or done as ideas come to you?

I try to adhere to a loose schedule, averaging a minimum of four posts per month. These normally consist of a few longer reviews and a collection of capsule reviews, Quick Picks and Pans (as of this post, I’ve done 118 of ‘em). 

5.     What subject would you never blog about? Why?

I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a Rom Com, but I wouldn’t rule it out if the right one came along. I stray from religion and politics, and anyone who’s read my posts over the years probably knows that I have no tolerance for intolerance (see #15 of my Film TwitterSurvival Guide). 

6.     Do you get comments from your readers?

I always look forward to comments from my “regulars” as well as new visitors to the blog. Sure, there are the odd spam messages and a few irritating comments now and then, but keeping an open (albeit moderated) forum is worth it. 

7.     How do those comments affect you?

As mentioned above, I invite and enjoy comments from my readers. While most comments have been overwhelmingly positive and respectful (which doesn’t mean that my readers always agree with me), I recall a few comments (always from “randos”) that irritated me (lecturing about their take on a film). I’m still baffled by one reader who once took offense when I joked that a movie (Whisper of the Heart) had too much John Denver music. 

8.     Was there a time when you considered giving up blogging? Why?

Nope. I love doing this, and even if my output slows, I’m glad to do what I’m doing. 

9.     Has blogging led to other writing activities? Or is it the other way around?

Blogging has definitely opened doors that were closed before. I’m a semi-regular contributor to The Dark Pages newsletter, and I’m currently researching a book project, which will be a direct offshoot of my blog. 

10.  How important are pictures to your blog?

I believe screenshots and posters are essential for readers to get a taste for the movie I’m writing about. I try to keep things PG-13 around here, so even if the movie is of a more (ahem) adult nature, I purposely refrain from posting more explicit pics. I figure readers know what they’re getting into when they read one of my reviews, and can just watch the movie if they’d like to see more. Besides, there are already plenty of other places on the web if they really need to see that sort of thing. 

11.  Do you have any wisdom that you'd like to pass along about blogging?

Don’t write for other people. Write what you enjoy, and your audience will find you.

 

Paul’s Questions 

What British or International film would you recommend to a friend who has never seen one?

Japanese cinema continually fascinates and baffles me, so much so that I devote an entire month each year, and could probably write about it until the end of time. Here’s a handful of suggestions… Animated: Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro (1988) or Spirited Away (2001) are simply magical gateways to the world of anime; Takashi Miike’s extensive filmography is well worth investigating. Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) is one of his most fun and accessible titles; If you’re looking for more classic fare, you can’t go wrong with Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring (1949) or Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954). Oops! I guess I recommended more than one.

Which classic film director do you prefer and what is your favorite of their films?

The works of Fritz Lang continue to entrance and inspire. I’m still exploring his diverse filmography, and finding hidden treasures. Any director who could make Metropolis (1927) and The Big Heat (1953) demands my attention. 

Which character actor or actress do you think would have made a great lead?

Dick Miller was a favorite of Roger Corman and Joe Dante, but rarely got his due. Although he proved he could carry a film with A Bucket of Blood (1959), he should have headlined many more. 

What child actor do you believe should have had success as an adult but didn’t?

Haley Joel Osment. After his breakout roles with The Sixth Sense (1999) and A.I. (2001), he seemed to fall into a black hole. I hope his recent appearance in What We Do in the Shadows will be the shot in the arm his career deserves. 

What film do you love, but dislike the ending?

Unbreakable (2000) always keeps me captivated with its performances and low-fi approach to superhero movies, but oh, what a corny ending. That final caption (about Elijah Price’s fate) before the end credits has got to go.   

Whose onscreen wardrobe do you covet and would like to claim for your own?

Do costumes count? I’m not much of a clothes-horse, but I think it would be a hoot to wear one of Raymond Massey’s “future” outfits from Things to Come (1936) for a Halloween costume party. 

Which original film do you think could be improved as a remake and who would you cast?

Damnation Alley. If the filmmakers stuck closer to Roger Zelazny’s 1969 novella (which has more in common with Escape from New York than the 1977 film), I might cast Michael B. Jordan or Christian Bale (played by Jan Michael Vincent in the original) as the lead, or perhaps for a gender switch, Charlize Theron. 

Which classic film actor or actress do you think would be successful in today’s film industry?

Katherine Hepburn, who often portrayed tough and savvy, yet vulnerable characters. She held her own against her contemporaries, and would easily measure up against anyone today. 

What film trope do you never tire of seeing?

Sure, it’s a tired trope, but I always enjoy seeing the hero knocked down, only to rise up to fight another day (Hey, it works for Godzilla and Gamera). 

If you could adapt a piece of classic literature that has not yet been made into a film, what book would you choose and who would you cast in the main roles?

John Kennedy Toole’s posthumous novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. After some consideration, I thought it would be amusing to cast Mark Proksch (the guy who plays Colin Robinson in the What We Do in the Shadows TV series) as Ignatius J. Reilly, and Kathy Bates as his long-suffering mother, Irene Reilly. 

Which of today’s modern actors or actresses do you think would have been successful in classic films and why? 

With his fast-talking persona and unique features, Steve Buscemi would be ideal for a 1930s screwball comedy or 1940s film noir. 

Gill's Questions

Share the reason you started your blog. 

Cinematic Catharsis started as a byproduct of completing my master’s degree. I had grown so accustomed to writing for numerous assignments that I felt I didn’t care to stop. The blog’s title refers to how movies have always been a release for me, my refuge from the rest of the world. I love watching them and sharing my thoughts. As of October, this will be my 10th year blogging, and I have no plans to stop!

 

Share two pieces of advice for new bloggers. 

First (and I can’t stress this enough), write about what you love. Don’t write for pageviews, Twitter retweets, or because you hope to gain some modicum of notoriety. Write about the things you enjoy the most. It’s good to have an audience in mind, but write for yourself first. I’ve seen too many blogs come and go, and the main reason cited (if the blogger decided to write an epitaph) was that it just wasn’t fun anymore. Blogging should never seem like a chore. If it seems like it’s heading that way, this is the perfect time to reevaluate why you’re doing this in the first place. So, go forth and create the kind of content you want to see! 

Second, set reasonable goals for yourself. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and no one knows when this crazy ride is coming to a complete stop. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet all your goals. One of the secrets to blog longevity is pacing yourself. Pushing yourself to post when you’re not ready is the quickest road to burnout. By all means, post on a regular basis, however many that means to you. Depending on your comfort level, you can always go up or down from there.


 Because I like to do things a little differently, I’m taking this opportunity to present The Cinematic Catharsis Hall of Fame – A rotating list of notable blogs you should check out!

 

TarsTarkas,net 

SilverScreenings 

Talesfrom the Freakboy Zone 

RealweegiemidgetReviews 

Untilthe Lights Go Up 

StatelyWayne Manor 

SilverScreen Classics 

TakingUp Room 

TheOak Drive-in 

AShroud of Thoughts 

Filmsfrom Beyond the Time Barrier 

Nuts4 R2 

Maniacsand Monsters  


Shrine of the Missing (but not forgotten)

StabfordDeathrage Shoots His Mouth Off  – Wherever you are, Mr. Deathrage, I hope you’re doing well, and look forward to reading more of your inimitable musings someday soon.

 

 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Korea Month Quick Picks and Pans



Planet of Snail (2011) At its heart, this uplifting, contemplative documentary is a portrait of two very different people who have found a common bond. Director Seung-jun Yi follows Cho Young-Chan, who is deaf and blind, and his wife Kim Soon-ho (a little person) during the span of a few days. The film provides a glimpse of their everyday lives, making the mundane seem sublime. In one scene, the simple act of changing a light bulb is made captivating, as it exemplifies the couple’s symbiotic relationship – they work together to change a fluorescent light fixture (she cannot reach the light, and he can’t see it, so she must serve as his eyes, and he becomes her hands). We gain insight about Young-Chan’s perception of the world through his vivid, poetic descriptions. He lives in rich universe of discovery, not of excluded senses. Planet of Snail works best in its quiet moments. Like observing the ripples from a pebble tossed in a pond we see how a small act can make a quiet but significant impact. In less capable hands, this film could have been exploitive. Instead, it’s a gentle reminder that we can still experience the infinite with limited sensory input, and love comes in many forms.

Rating: ****. Available on DVD


The Housemaid (1960) Writer/director Ki-young Kim’s classic tale of envy, lust and murder is a truly unsettling experience. A music teacher (Kim Jin-kyu) and his family move into a new house. When the housework becomes too much for his ailing wife (Ju Jeung-nyeo), they hire a young woman (Lee Eun-shim) to be their live-in maid. Almost immediately, friction develops between the family and their housekeeper as she arouses suspicion from the children, and seduces the teacher. Before long, the power dynamic has changed, and she’s controlling the house. The Housemaid provides a tantalizing glimpse of Korean cinema before the restrictions imposed over the next few decades. It’s a bold, disturbing film, with its critical examination of domestic complacency and commentary on upward mobility. The fourth wall-breaking conclusion is a welcome respite from the grim proceedings, while providing a final challenge to the viewer.

Note: Sang-soo Im’s 2010 remake is well done, but lacks the visceral impact of the original.

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray and DVD (included in the Criterion Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project boxed set)


The Piper (2015) Writer/director Kim Kwang-tae’s updated spin on the classic fairy tale uses the basic story as a departure point, with some significant updates woven into the mix. Set after the close of the Korean War, a poor wandering flutist (Seung-ryong Ryu) and his sick son (on the way to Seoul for a potentially life-saving operation) wander into a remote village infested with rats. He promises the village elder (Sung-min Lee) that he can rid the residents of the pests. After he fulfills his obligation, however, things don’t go as planned. Although I likely missed some of the allegorical/historical references, the film works on different levels with its universal themes of provincialism, paranoia and deceit. It’s an exceptional work, with a deeply disturbing ending that reminds us we’re not in Hollywood anymore.  

Rating: ****. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime


Sea Fog (2014) Director/co-writer Sung-bo Shim’s film (co-written by Bong Joon-ho, who also served as the film’s producer) is set in 1998 but based on the real-life 2001 “Taechangho Incident.” In an act of desperation, a down-on-his-luck fishing boat captain (Yoon-seok Kim) accepts a risky proposition to smuggle a group of illegal Chinese/Korean immigrants in his decrepit vessel. In exchange for a large sum of money, his crew members agree to keep their mouths shut. After an impromptu Coast Guard inspection, the story takes a disastrous turn, testing the limits of loyalty between the captain and his crewmembers. The plot thickens when a young sailor (Yoo-chun Park) falls for one of the immigrants (Yeri Han), risking life and limb to protect her from impending harm. It’s a tense, emotionally harrowing experience, made believable through excellent ensemble performances and immersive, dynamic cinematography.

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Kanopy

 Moebius (2013) Writer/director Ki-duk Kim’s strange, disturbing movie (told without dialogue) reminded me a bit of a Lars von Trier film with its juxtaposition of disturbing imagery, Freudian/Oedipal themes, and dark comedy. A woman (Na-ra Lee), fed up with her cheating husband (Jae-Hyun Cho) attempts to get even with him. After a failed knife attack on her husband, she sets her sights on her teenage son (Yeong-ju Seo), severing his penis. While the son copes with his new reality, his father endeavors to find a medical solution to his son’s disfigurement. I suspect it’s a safe bet this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but anyone curious enough to give Moebius a go will probably think about it for days (even if it’s just to conclude, “What the hell did I just watch?”).

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Kanopy


Wishing Stairs (2003) This variation of The Monkey’s Paw takes place at an exclusive prep school. According to local legend, if someone ascends a nearby stone staircase and reaches the mythical 29th step, they can make a wish to a fox god. Unfortunately, as we soon discover, their wish will be granted at a terrible price. Jin-seong (Ji-Hyo Song) is envious of her friend Kim Sohee’s (Han-byeol Park) talent in ballet class. When their teacher announces only one student can gain admission to a prestigious dance school in Russia, Jin-seong takes measures to ensure that she wins the prestigious scholarship. Things get muddled midway, with the introduction of a perpetually bullied third student, but there are some genuinely creepy moments that make this worth a look.

Note: This is the third film in the five-title Whispering Corridors series.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD and Kanopy


The Tower (2012) In this action-disaster flick reminiscent of The Towering Inferno (1974), fire breaks out at a new luxury high-rise twin-towered apartment building on Christmas eve. A team of firemen scramble to rescue the survivors, but are hindered by the building’s shoddy construction. It’s a race against time as the structure verges on imminent collapse. The tone wavers, with some misplaced slapstick early on, before lapsing into pure melodrama. The plot shambles along in a predictable manner, with little room for meaningful characters or dialogue, but the action scenes are well done. CGI is employed effectively (a scene on a collapsing skybridge is particularly tense), depicting the destruction of a typically garish modern building. There was potential to say something more, but the story pulls its punches with regard to a clash between classes, never rising above lip service. Sadly, the wealthy developer and the pampered building occupants never quite get their comeuppance. In the end, The Tower doesn’t provide a lot of surprises, but if you’re just looking for a good, old-fashioned Hollywood-style popcorn flick with thrills galore, you won’t be disappointed. Simply turn your brain off and enjoy. Irwin Allen would have been proud.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray (Region B) and DVD


Yongary, Monster from the Deep (1967) By the time Yongary emerged, many filmmakers around the world had thrown their hat in the ring to make a Godzilla knock-off. In this version, a powerful earthquake rocks Korea, unleashing a giant, oil-swilling dinosaur. The military is brought in to dispatch the fearsome beast, which has caused untold levels of death and damage to buildings. If this description sounds a little too familiar, it’s because this giant monster movie is strictly by the numbers. You can check off your kaiju bingo card with an ineffective military, a smart-ass little kid who helps as much as he creates trouble (although the “dancing” Yongary scene made me smile), and a brilliant young scientist who may have the key to stopping Yongary. The solution to the monster problem is silly and surprisingly anticlimactic. Warning to subtitle purists: The Fox Lorber disc is dubbed, with no option for the original Korean dialogue.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD


Terror Taxi (2000) Gil-nam (Seo-jin Lee), a young cab driver, dies in a car accident before he can propose to his girlfriend, Yu-jeong (Yu-jeong Choi). In the afterlife, he’s still driving a cab, along with several other ghosts, including a malevolent spirit who only wants to cause death and mayhem. This horror/comedy has some interesting ideas, but it never gels into a coherent story. Most of the comedy doesn’t work, and the film fails to establish any clear rules about the afterlife or how spirits interact with the living world. It also fails as a love story, due to poor chemistry between the two leads. Thanks to a meandering plot and leaden pacing, the relatively brief running time of 94 minutes seemed to go on and on. Skip it.

Rating: **. Available on DVD