Friday, February 26, 2010

Film Review: FLESH + BLOOD (1985, Paul Verhoeven)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 128 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Rutger Hauer (BLADE RUNNER, THE HITCHER), Jennifer Jason Leigh (FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING), Susan Tyrrell (FAT CITY, CRY-BABY), Brion James (BLADE RUNNER, SOUTHERN COMFORT), Ronald Lacey (Toht in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), Tom Burlinson (THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER), Bruno Kirby (Young Clemenza in THE GODFATHER PART II), Jack Thompson (BREAKER MORANT, SHORT CIRCUIT). Cinematography by Jan de Bont (who went on to direct TWISTER and SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL).
Tag-line: "A timeless adventure, a passion for wealth and power. Only the strongest will survive."
Best one-liner: "From now on, we'll eat like this. And whoever can't, best stay the stupid asshole he always was!"

I'll begin with two quotes by Paul Verhoeven which seem apropos to this film: "People love seeing violence and horrible things. The human being is bad and he can't stand more than five minutes of happiness. Put him in a dark theater and ask him to look at two hours of happiness and he'd walk out or fall asleep." and "Remember that Christianity is a religion grounded in one of the most violent acts of murder, the crucifixion. Otherwise, religion wouldn't have had any kind of impact."

A lot of people like to pin down Paul Verhoeven as 'the guy who did SHOWGIRLS,' and while he cannot erase the fact that he is indeed guilty of being the guy who did SHOWGIRLS, he's one of the most audacious filmmakers to emerge from post-WWII Europe. FLESH + BLOOD is Machiavellian power games, feculent whores, stillborn children, nun snipers, yellowed teeth, and dogs lapping up pools of diseased gore. This movie is absolutely BRUTAL.

Every single character looks out for number one, and here, 'looking out for number one' means ripping an earring (and a chunk of flesh) from a woman as she's being raped or using 'God's word' when it's to your liking (Verhoeven has called organized religion a symptom of societal schizophrenia). Any time there's a moment for levity or genuine romance, it's immediately undercut by something like the rotting genitals or random carrion.

Take a gander at this lovely idyll, for instance.

It’s not exactly a historically accurate depiction of medieval warfare and the Black Death, and it doesn't quite take place in the 14th Century... sixty years ago it took place on the battlefields of Europe. Verhoeven was just a kid then, but he was there. As we speak, it's being waged by talking heads on TV, by hypocrites behind closed doors, and by vicious opportunists from here to the far corners of the world.

Where an exploitation flick would insert a rape scene so the viewer could feel 'morally superior' as they enjoyed some T&A, Verhoeven stages sexual assault as a grotesque vortex of ever-shifting power dynamics between man, woman, and the collective.

The performances are outstanding: Susan Tyrrell was born to do the Dark Ages- she enters the scene as a bawdy, pregnant, perpetually wasted whore whose life is a series of the highest, barbaric highs and the lowest, 'WHY ME?' lows:

Brion James is pure animal, ruthless but bewildered:

But mostly terrifying as all get-out.

Brion James makes the evolutionary leap to using forks and knives.

Ronald Lacey is the sinister Cardinal- malicious, but sincere (not that it matters when he's got his sword in your guts):

Jack Thompson is the beleaguered hunter, embodying an almost Peckinpah-style morality (think Robert Ryan in THE WILD BUNCH):

Clearly the Medieval equivalent of "I'm gettin' too old for this shit!"

and Tom Burlinson is the man of science, but his singlemindedness gives way to a sanctimonious depravity.

Rutger Hauer simmers and scowls- a calculating, towheaded, serpentine fiend, rapist, and murderer who might be the closest thing we've got to a 'hero.'

Though sainthood is a bit of a stretch.

And ain't this a surreal fucken sight: a BLADE RUNNER reunion! (Not to mention that Brion James is giving Rutger Hauer a goddamned wheelbarrow ride!)

Jennifer Jason Leigh- in possibly her finest performance- is a privileged, maid-beating blueblood who attends the condottiere's ‘school of hard knocks’ and emerges as perhaps the most complex and guileful of the bunch.

Nihilistic ‘entertainment’ at its best: five stars, and my highest recommendation.

-Sean Gill

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Film Review: THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009, Wes Anderson & Mark Gustafson)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 87 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Wallace Wolodarsky, Michael Gambon, Owen Wilson, Eric Chase Anderson, Brian Cox, Mario Batali, Adrien Brody. Music by Alexandre Desplat (BIRTH, THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED). Co-written by Noah Baumbach. Animation director Mark Gustafson (did claymation for RETURN TO OZ and THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN, creator of the California Raisins TV series).
Tag-line: "This year, forget super... ignore incredible... it's all about fantastic."
Best one-liner: "Excuse me? Am I being flirted with by a psychotic rat?"

Utilizing the same stop-motion animation and adorable attention to detail which make Rankin/Bass productions like MAD MONSTER PARTY the cutest shit on the planet, FANTASTIC MR. FOX fuses that aesthetic with the stilted, familial comedy of Baumbach/Anderson and the boyish dream-logic of Roald Dahl in order to create  the sort of children's movie which I can actually stomach. You know, the kind which has Willem Dafoe playing a country-drawlin', switchblade-slingin', wife-slanderin' Rat, somehow the kiddie approximation of his role as Bobby Peru in WILD AT HEART.

It's been a lifelong dream to see Bobby Peru appear in a children's movie.

Much of what I love here is due to what some would call "imperfections"- the manner in which stop-motion lends itself to spontaneous, awkward humor (i.e., the voracious rapidity with which characters eat, or how silly they look dashing across a barnyard)

or the way the animals' fur flutters during shots (because it's an actual, organic object, and not synthetic pixelation). The voice-acting is beyond first rate, not only because of the ridiculous slew of talent, but because Anderson preferred to record outdoors, replacing the sterility of the recording studio with living, breathing, tactile nature. George Clooney's incorrigible, glorious scamp; Meryl Streep's wife, a force at once blazing and soothing; Jason Schwartzman's brattish, sympathetic son (in perhaps his greatest performance to date); Michael Gambon's seething villain:

Wallace Wolodarsky's bewildered chum; or Bill Murray's irascible pushover- the voice actors are the perfect blend of tonality, timing, and role, and the film could not succeed nearly as well as it does without them. I have to wonder, though- now that Anderson has succeeded in perpetuating his vision in a (basically) controlled environment, how will he feel about returning to live action?

What would have happened if Jacques Tati had ever presided over a production using the 'Animagic' process? Well, regardless of where he chooses to go from here- five stars of pure wild animal craziness.

-Sean Gill

Side note: Animation director Mark Gustafson is not actually credited as co-director, but clearly he deserves to be.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Film Review: FOREVER MINE (1999, Paul Schrader)

Stars: 2.9 of 5.
Running Time: 115 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Ray Liotta (COP LAND), Joseph Fiennes, Gretchen Mol, Vincent Laresca (BAD LIEUTENANT, COP LAND).
Tag-line: "He gave all for love."
Best one-liner: "There's two types of people in the world: assholes and pricks. You're an asshole, I'm a prick. DO THE MATH."

Paul Schrader has earned an off-day. I mean, some mornings that alarm clock is just plain oppressive. You swat at it. You roll outta the wrong side of bed and realize you've got a crick in your neck the size of a small boulder. You're flustered, you skip breakfast, and then you accidentally make FOREVER MINE- whoops!

That's not to say this is a bad movie, it's just the sort of movie that's been made 1,000 times before and will be made 1,000 times again. Love triangle, jealousy, revenge, passion, yadda yadda. The only new things FOREVER MINE brings to the table are a couple of lukewarm performances and Ray Liotta in a swimsuit, which, by the way, thanks for making me chortle and unexpectedly snort some Schlitz down my windpipe and uncontrollably hack and hem away for about thirty-five seconds.

It's not even that it's funny, per sé, it just happens so suddenly.

The weak links are cabana boy Joseph Fiennes and disaffected wife Gretchen Mol who are ‘okay,’ I guess, but they're simply not connected to the material.

It's feeble, feeble melodrama when these two are on screen: "Why?! Why the bird sing so gay? Why does the rain fall from up above? WHY DO YOU STAY IN THIS MARRIAGE?!"


Anyway, a batshit crazy Liotta is the cuckolded hubby, and when he gets pissy, things get interesting. He's the kind of guy who scolds his wife for not participating in a telemarketer's poll, when really she was just lying to cover up the fact that her lover was just on the phone. What a douche.

Liotta + 1970's period piece = Henry Silva?!?

Liotta makes clichéd (but still fun) speeches like: "There's two types of people in the world: assholes and pricks. You're an asshole, I'm a prick. DO THE MATH." This movie also has the most memorable tanning bed torture sequence since KILLER WORKOUT. Bravo. Then again, this thing is prefaced by a real pretentious Walter Pater quote about strangeness and beauty and the romantic character of ‘art.’ More like the romantic character of ‘movies where Liotta giggles like a tinny, coked out little girl.’

And make no mistake- the 'genre of movies where Ray Liotta giggles like a tinny, coked-out little girl' is actually one of my favorite genres.

About three tepid stars, and I can’t believe this was the follow-up to AFFLICTION.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

SLEEPY-TIME TIME 2 screens tonight @ 7PM in Brooklyn

Who: Tall Glass Short Film Series.
What: SLEEPY-TIME TIME 2 is screening at a bar.
When: Tonight, 7:00 PM, February 23rd.
Where: South 4th Bar and Café: 90 S. 4th Street, between Berry and Bedford (right by Berry). (L to Bedford Ave.)
How much: It's free.

Film Review: THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984, Neil Jordan)

Stars: 3.6 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Sarah Patterson (Cannon's SNOW WHITE), Angela Lansbury, David Warner (TWIN PEAKS Season 2, TIME AFTER TIME, TRON), Stephen Rea (STUCK, INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE), Terence Stamp (THE LIMEY, THE HIT). Co-written by Angela Carter. Production design by Anton Furst.
Tag-line: "Where fairy stories meet horror stories!"
Best one-liner: "Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle."

Neil Jordan's THE COMPANY OF WOLVES was designed as a 'Chinese Box' of a film, with flashbacks, fables, and folklore interwoven within a larger, dream/fantasy framework. The end result is kind of a meandering, avant-garde pseudo-narrative that never quite congeals, but I still liked it quite a bit. Cannon Films (who did not produce, but distributed stateside) marketed it as a horror/thriller, a label that is bound to disappoint. In fact, it's more like "Mario Bava's classy English brother does fairy tales on 'ludes"- which is a good thing. The film possesses a sumptuous, Gothic atmosphere, sort of Lewis Carroll by-way-of Edgar Allen Poe, and it owes much of its success to Anton Furst's (BATMAN, FULL METAL JACKET) production design. A grandfather clock sits in the midst of a fog-enshrouded forest, spinning its hands ceaselessly. Giant, hideous teddy bears and sinister dolls come to life, bounding about the underbrush with uncanny mobility:

Satan (Terence Stamp!), dressed to the nines, clutches a real-life pygmy skull and beckons to you from the comfort of his Rolls-Royce:

A long-lost husband (Stephen Rea) rips the fleshy mask from his face, revealing the sinewy, lupine monstrosity beneath. A pack of wolves- hypnotically photographed in slow motion- burst forth from a shorn oil painting, dashing down the furnished hallway to your bedroom...

Yes, this film certainly makes an impression. It's also injected with a dose of mythological protofeminism, channeled by Angela Carter, co-screenwriter and author of the texts on which the film is based. The cast is a talented ensemble: as our substitute Riding Hood, the actual pre-teen Sarah Patterson exhibits a maturity far beyond her years;

Angela Lansbury is exactly as ideal a fit as you'd imagine for 'Grandmother'; and the always-serviceable David Warner gives a stoic, weighty turn as 'Father.'

David Warner unloads the groceries.

In all, it's a solid phantasmagorical mood piece, but it will rankle those looking for a traditional narrative. Nearly four stars.

-Sean Gill

Monday, February 22, 2010

Film Review: SMITHEREENS (1982, Susan Seidelman)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 89 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Susan Berman (MAKING MR. RIGHT), Richard Hell, Brad Rijn (PERFECT STRANGERS, SPECIAL EFFECTS, THE STUFF), Cookie Mueller (PINK FLAMINGOS, UNDERGROUND U.S.A.), Nada Despotovich (THE ROCKETEER, JERRY MAGUIRE), Chris Noth (his debut; watch for him in the scene near the end with a vanload of hookers). Co-written by Ron Nyswaner (THE PRINCE OF PENNSYLVANIA, PHILADELPHIA).
Tag-lines: "Who is this?"
Best exchange: "I left you my TV, it's too heavy to carry." –"I don't want your TV." "Well, I don't think it even works, anyway."

Raw, low-budget East Village filmmaking from a time when that didn't mean tourists, frat boys, wanna-bes, and poseurs– it meant heroin addicts, New Wavers, wanna-bes, and poseurs. Set in this nearly post-Apocalyptic world of vacant lots, garbage mounds, graffiti'd brickwork, and random street fires, SMITHEREENS follows Susan Berman, who plays an abrasive, self-promoting groupie from Jersey (inspired in part by Giulietta Masina in NIGHTS OF CABIRIA). Between photocopied poster distribution and getting evicted from her apartment (well, to be fair, she stopped paying rent!) she finds herself drawn to two different men- the only problem is that her selfish tendencies pave a route to alienation, detachment, and putting all her eggs in one basket, and- wait a second, where the hell did that basket just go? It was here just a minute ago! (Ain't that the way it always is.)

The two men are a naive Montana boy living out of his van (played by Larry Cohen's own Brad Rijn), and a smooth-talkin', strung-out, hard-up rocker who slicks back his hair with beer (played by Richard Hell of The Voidoids). Though Hell later felt that his performance sold out the hardcore Manhattan punks by insinuating that they'd gone all soft, greedy, and New Wave-y; his characterization is nonetheless brilliant. Like our heroine, he, too, is governed by the shifting sands of self-preservation. But while hers is driven by emotion, his possesses a frightening separation from reality. Any given moment could lead to an unexpected kiss, a sudden beating, or the old vanishing act.

"I thought I'd just let myself in!"

Richard Hell: not a fan of the 'drop-by.'

Directed by Susan Seidelman (who later did the madcap, candy-colored DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN), she allows the genuine grittiness to meld with her vivid photography and lively set design. There's freaky low-rent hookers ("I got a scar, I'll show it to you for $5, it's in a really interesting place"), a mind-blowing sci-fi film-within-a-film starring Cookie Mueller, cat fights, petty crime, shared toothbrushes, and a raggedy profundity. Four stars.

-Sean Gill

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sean Gill's SLEEPY-TIME TIME 2 screening Tuesday in Brooklyn

Who: Tall Glass Short Film Series.
What: SLEEPY-TIME TIME 2 is screening at a bar.
When: 7:oo PM, February 23rd.
Where: South 4th Bar and Café: 90 S. 4th Street, between Berry and Bedford (right by Berry).
How much: It's free.

To quote the press release: "Again using sleep paralysis as a point of departure, this second installment in the 'Sleepy-Time Time' series pits our somnambulistic hero against vast, terrifying, undefinable forces which seep into our world through radiators and cracks in the plaster, slavering viciously as they tear into the very fabric of our dreams."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Film Review: IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994, John Carpenter)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Sam Neill (THE PIANO, JURASSIC PARK), Julie Carmen (THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR, Tarantino's epiosde of ER), Frances Bay (BLUE VELVET, TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME), John Glover (52 PICK-UP, THE EVIL THAT MEN DO), Jürgen Prochnow (DAS BOOT, BODY OF EVIDENCE), Bernie Casey (REVENGE OF THE NERDS, SHARKY'S MACHINE), Peter Jason (PRINCE OF DARKNESS, THEY LIVE), Charlton Heston, David Warner (MY BEST FRIEND IS A VAMPIRE, TRON).
Tag-line: "Lived Any Good Books Lately?"
Best one-liner: "You're my mommy. Know what today is? Today is Mommy's Day!"

"What about the people who don't read?" –"There's a movie." IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is the last great horror movie of the 1980's (yes, I’m aware it was made in 1994). It's the sort of film that deserves a rightful place in the critical canon, yet was perhaps too intricate, too esoteric, or too labyrinthine for mass consumption. The visuals are sharp, glossy, and atmospheric, whether depicting an unearthly New England town on the cusp of autumn:

or a foreboding, black Byzantine church rising from the earth like a Stygian fist.

H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos are a point of departure (and the source of many a reference), but the film bursts with tropes from film noir (an insurance investigator, interrogational storytelling, and plenty of smoking), Philip K. Dick (mindfucks and illusions within delusions abound- "Reality isn't what it used to be"), and Stephen King (maybe it took a film with no concrete relation to any King story to perfectly nail the man's vibe!).

Most of the film's success rests upon Sam Neill's capable shoulders, and he remains entirely connected to the role whether he’s a debonair contrarian or a deranged head case.


We're afforded bold glimpses of the monsters Lovecraft deemed "indescribable," and Neill captures the ineffable dread of one's mind recoiling in terror at the sight of said monsters.

Jürgen "Did I ever tell you my favorite color was blue?" Prochnow IS Sutter Cane- bringing the ideal balance to a character who is equal parts bestsellin' hack and Judas to the human race.

The supporting roles are quite vivid, as well: an incomparable, twitchy John Glover:

Talk about the lunatics running the asylum! One of the greats.

a stately, grim David Warner:

David Warner- always a class act.

a likable, bewildered Bernie Casey; a gruffly fraudulent Peter Jason; and a charmingly off-kilter Frances Bay.

Frances Bay- she's the terrifying Grandma you always secretly wished you had.

This film takes us deep into the abyss- an endless, repeating chain of psychosis and decay- and forces us to look again and again, as if we were a playing card trapped in a bicycle wheel or a blade fused to a creaky, rusty windmill.

And the end- if we can call it that- strikes the perfect note of senseless absurdity. We’re left with no alternative other than to sit in the darkness, cackling at our own foolishness.


Five stars.

-Sean Gill