Thursday, May 31, 2012

Revisiting the Faves: Alien

My affections for Ridley Scott's "Alien" came in a roundabout way. It was one my father's favorite movies (along with "Blade Runner", "Cat Ballou" and "Angel Heart"- wonderful tastes in film I may add!). I tried to watch it several times during my teenage years, but always seemed to either lose interest or shrug off its more than modest conceits as a sci-fi horror. Then, about 6 months ago- when the buzz for Scott's supposed Alien prequel "Prometheus" began to reach its fever pitch- I decided to dive back into "Alien" in all its Blu Ray glory. Perhaps by coming at the film with a less jaundiced eye or relating to the film through its many imitators and sci-fi horror practitioners, I realized the sheer greatness of the film only recently. Made in 1979, "Alien" could have been released in 2009 and I would not have batted an eye. It's visual gravitas, narrative brilliance and embedded horrors put so many of the genre's other efforts to shame.

The narrative brilliance I speak of is Scott's long-winded desire to make Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) the eventual hero of the film... and the franchise face. Sure, there had been women heroes before whose quest for survival derived from their victim status (rape to revenge or assault the system by crime), but here was a woman hero who outlasts the danger and actually kicks ass on her accord. Upon original release, I'm sure untrained eyes were just waiting for Tom Skerritt or Yaphet Kotto to retaliate against the evil alien life form. But they were just pawns on the board, disappearing in order and timed to a screeching soundtrack that seemed to propel the alien forward. Also, besides the now infamous John Hurt stomach emergence scene, I was quite taken aback how bloodless "Alien" works. Unlike the future installments, "Alien" gets its point across through unsettling lighting, quick cuts of protruding alien tongues and, my favorite, death through the eyes of a cat.

I don't know how good "Prometheus" will be, as early reviews are diving the critics, but one can always return to the original greatness of the "Alien" franchise and relish the moments that created such a terrific series of films... and broke some genre ground in the process.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Produced and Abandoned #13

A few more titles deseving a proper release:

1) The Confession (1970)- I love the calculated, politically aware films of Costa-Gavras and after recently tracking down the wonderful "State of Siege", I'm ready for more. This film deals with the imprisonment and interrogation of a high ranking official.

2. The Woman Chaser (1999)- Actor Patrick Warburton (yes, David Putty from "Seinfeld") stars in this offbeat drama/noir that got tons of play on IFC back in the day, but has disappeared since. That's usually how it goes. There's much internet love for its eventual resurrection, but this small indie film by cult director Robinson Devor ("Zoo" and "Police Beat") has been MIA for over a decade now.

3. The Wild Life (1984)- Another film that had its continual run on cable back in the day, "The Wild Life" is written by Cameron Crowe and directed by Art Linson but has fallen through the cracks since then, mostly due to copyright laws with several songs in the film- which means we'll probably never see it on DVD if history holds true. I was way too young to appreciate the film's probable greatness when I would sneak peeks at it on HBO as a ten year old, but I do remember the electric performance of Chris Penn and sorta fell in love with Lea Thompson after this and "Howard the Duck".

4. No Blade of Grass (1970)- Apocalypse film directed by the great Cornel Wilde about a family surviving the end of the world. One would think this would crop up on TCM or another channel by now, but, alas, it hasn't. Bootleg copies are readily available though, if one were inclined... not that I'm supporting that.

5. The Games (1970)- From Imdb: "Four marathon runners (one from England, one from the U.S., a Czech and an Australian Aborigine) prepare to run in the Olympic games. The film follows each one and shows what their motivations are for running in the games." Plus, it's directed by Michael Winner and currently aired on Fox Movie Channel. It's sitting on my DVR now. Review forthcoming?

6. Static (1986)- Cult oddity from director Mark Romanek ("One Hour Photo") and writer/director Keith Gordon, this film stars Gordon as a religious young man who claims he can communicate with heaven from a device he builds. Based on the descriptions, this is a film replete with Lynchian images and off-putting ideas. Has anyone seen this?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Trailers I Love

My God this looks amazing.....

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cinema Obscura: Leere Welt (The Empty World)

Wolfgang Panzer's "The Empty World" is a prototypical German film- dour, analytical and emotionless- which make the film's subject about the apocalypse via a disease that terminally ages everyone overnight even more puzzling. It's an end-of-the-world genre film unlike anything else you've ever seen.
Following teenager Tom (Tilman Schaich), "Leere Welt" is broken into three distinct parts of the apocalypse- introduction, survival and commune. Tom lives with his grandparents as the virus first begins to spread across the world. Lectures in school are presented on the topic and we meet Helen (Beatrice Dossi), a bright girl who Tom has feelings for but than leaves to work as an actress. The next day, Tom's teacher arrives to school severely aged and its clear that the disease is progressing through the adults in Tom's world. As the virus spreads, Tom loses his family and hits the road where he meets various scavengers and survivors- including a little girl. There's no real reasoning to how the virus spreads or why it afflicts certain people and leaves others unharmed. "Leere Welt" is less about this scientific outbreak and more about how Tom interacts with the crumbling world around him. Finally, in the last section of the film, Tom wanders into an abandoned factory and finds Helen surviving with her friend Kiki (Astrd Marshall). The trio comprise a certain kind of family, complete with jealousy between them and an interrupted threesome. All of this is handled with straight-forward ambition and a distinct avoidance of emotion.
Made in 1986 and released as a TV movie, "Leere Welt" has its obvious supporters and has even been called the "holy grail of apocalypse films" by avid fans. I feel a bit jealous to say it wasn't that hard for me to locate. Still, while "Leere Welt" feels like a fairly average film on every level, I can understand the unusual interest in the film. There are moments of bizarre randomness- a pack of dogs that relentlessly chases one of the girls.... an ode to Nicholas Roeg's "Don't Look Now" in its representation of the creepy, wrinkled face of a little girl appearing on-screen.... and the disjointed performance of young Tilman who swaggers through the film like a spoiled brat searching for his lost dog rather than confronting the harsh realities of the world's destruction. As a novelty to say I've seen it, "Leere Welt" was worth the effort. Otherwise, it belongs in the annals of weird German cinema.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Jumper or Junkie: Sound of My Voice

Zal Batmanglij's "Sound of My Voice" is a low-fi stunner. Co-written by himself and actress Brit Marling- who was so good in last year's "Another Earth"- the film challenges the viewer in many of the same ways. As a micro-budget science fiction indie, "Sound of My Voice" exceeds its modest expectations. As a whodunit and elliptical thriller, it knocks it out of the park.
Opening in the midst of a transfixing procedure as Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (a wonderful Nicole Vicius) are blindfolded, bathed and led into a nondescript basement, we soon learn the couple have been accepted into an exclusive sect of people, led by the sickly Maggie (Brit Marling) who claims to be from the year 2054. She preaches to them, puts them through nervous psychoanalysis (eating an apple then having them puke it up) and promises to lead them into safety when an upcoming cataclysm will strike. Not long after, we learn that Peter and Lorna have infiltrated the group as an experiment to create a documentary about the mysterious Maggie. "Sound of My Voice" remains, mostly, in the confines of Maggie's presence as her stories and lulling personality drive a wedge between the reality of Peter and Lorna. The big question which looms over the entire film- is Maggie real or a scam artist- comes into muddy moral focus when she asks Peter to commit a crime for her. As the star of both this film and "Another Earth", actress Marling has become the sort of queen of the micro-indie sci fi tale. While I feel "Sound of My Voice" is the stronger of the two efforts, Marling possesses a mysterious quality that enables her to embody boh roles- morose lurker in one and ambient, trance-inducing beauty in the next- with perfect ease. And both films feature a shocker of an ending, with "Sound of My Voice" delivering an ambivalent denoument that reinforces the slow-burn momentum of everything up to that point.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

What's In the Netflix Queue #35

1. The Son of No One (2011)- I'm a big Dito Montiel fan, but the talk about this Al Pacino-Channing Tatum drama has been middling. After his "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints" from a few years back, I'll give director Montiel the benefit of the doubt every time.
2. Burnt By the Sun (1994)- This film has been out there for ages, received some major recognition during the early 90's and won an Oscar as best foreign picture, but I've never seen it. The recent Film Comment article on Alexei German has my wet my appetite for Russian cinema I've missed- which is alot.
3. Fear and Trembling (2003)- My look into the films of Alain Corneau continues with this film. "In search of a new beginning, Amélie (Sylvie Testud) moves from Belgium back to her early-childhood home of Japan, where she starts working full time for a large corporation. But life as a foreigner proves difficult to navigate -- and Eastern office etiquette is nothing like what she's used to. French director Alain Corneau helms this Tokyo-based dramedy adapted from the autobiographical novel by Amélie Nothomb." From Netflix description.
4. Around A Small Mountain (2009)- One of the very few Rivette films actually available on DVD, this recent release from him charts the romance between a man (the always wonderful Sergio Castellitto) and a circus owner (Jane Birkin).
5. The Hills Run Red (1966)- Quasi spaghetti western starring Henry Silva and Dan Duryea as soldiers caught up in a heist. The director, Carlo Lizzani, is an extremely prolific and underrated creater of some terrific 70's Italian cinema.
6. The Image (1975)- Apologies that I don't remember where, but several blogs I've been reading lately have posted about director Radley Metzger and his sexploitation canon. This will be my introduction to his work. Fingers crossed!
7. War Horse (2011)- Yea, missed this one last year. I hope it doesn't reek of the sappiness I gleaned from its trailer.
8. Dark Waters (1993)- I go through phases of genre watching, and last October I added a ton of French horror flicks to the list, and with the constant re-arranging and shuffling of titles, this one got missed. Plot is as follows: "After her father's death, Elizabeth (Louise Salter) visits a desolate island to discover why he left his money to a secretive order of nuns. Though the foreboding Mother Superior (Mariya Kapnist) tries to send her away, Elizabeth soon discovers that the convent is actually a prison, built to confine a terrible aquatic demon that can be controlled only if the shattered pieces of an ancient stone amulet are kept apart."
9. Fear Me Not (2007)- Danish thriller about a man (Ulrich Thomson0 struggling with the after effects of an experimental drug. Director Kristin Levring comes from the vonTrier dogma school of filmmaking (does anyone even remember this now, besides us movie board affecianados who argued about this style from 1998-2001??).
10. Solaris (1972)- Re watch of the Tarkovsy classic.