Friday, April 30, 2010

Film Review: HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968, John Boorman)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 103 minutes.
Tag-line: "They hunted each other as enemies...they tormented each other as savages...they faced each other as men!"
Notable Cast or Crew: Lee Marvin. Toshiro Mifune. Music by Lalo Schifrin. Cinematography by Conrad L. Hall (COOL HAND LUKE, FAT CITY, TEQUILA SUNRISE).

Summer's coming up, so I'd like to devote at least a portion of the following few months to terrific "Summer Movies." For my purposes, a "summer movie" doesn't necessarily have to be actually set in the summer, though films which are incredibly evocative of the season itself warrant special consideration. On the whole, these are films best seen on hot, muggy nights when you're sprawled on the couch before an oscillating fan (because when you turn on the air conditioner it blows a circuit), sipping on an ice cold Yuengling, and perhaps accompanied by a sleazy super-nacho platter. Movies of this genre which I've already covered include HEARTBREAK RIDGE, BULLETPROOF, DEATH WISH III, EXTREME PREJUDICE, MR. MAJESTYK, THE LAST SHARK, and countless others. They can and will include everything from BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA to EYE OF THE TIGER to THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI to anything and everything featuring Clint Eastwood and/or an orangutan.

For those who haven't seen today's film, I don't wish to reveal too much about it, so I'll tiptoe around the plot itself. With HELL IN THE PACIFIC, Boorman shines at the two things he does best: portraying ordinary men in extraordinary survival situations, and working with Lee Marvin. As far as I'm concerned, this Boorman, the maker of POINT BLANK and DELIVERANCE, is the only true Boorman. The maker of ZARDOZ and EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC is somebody else entirely (and he genuinely apologized for them on the commentary tracks of those films, so, you're off the hook, John, and a bigger man than most).

The phrase 'tour-de-force performance' gets bandied about fairly often, and with an even greater frequency on films with two-person casts or those of a survival nature, so it should come as no surprise that I'm going to label what Marvin and Mifune do here as a tour-de-force. It's an excellent choice of actors, as Marvin and Mifune represent for their respective countries a very dignified, mature, in-control persona that can spin into unhinged rage or laid back joviality in a mere instant. They can effortlessly exude vulnerability and menace- an entire gamut of complex emotions- and often they express them simultaneously, a feat which only the rare actor can accomplish with such subtlety and elegance.


And you believe it. There is nothing in this film that will strain your suspension of disbelief. Everything is natural, REAL. It's remarkably visceral; you can almost taste the briny sting of the sea water, feel the sun relentlessly beating down on their backs, the sweat, the parched lips, the hoarse throats.


Boorman immerses us in this world, and very gradually transitions the narrative from start to finish– for its primal rages and thrashing survivalism, this is a very, very graceful film, filled to the brim with the stylistic touches and unorthodox editing choices that made POINT BLANK brilliant and transformed the outlooks of next generation filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh. A masterpiece, an allegory, and a tale of two men's attempts at survival. And make sure you watch the alternate ending, it's far superior and more consistent in tone with the rest of the film.

-Sean Gill

Junta Juleil's Summer '10 Movie Series
1. HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968, John Boorman)
2. ...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

DREAMS OF THE CLOCKMAKER coming to NYC in May!

So here's something a little different- I'm writing and directing a one-woman show to be performed by my sister and frequent collaborator, Jillaine Gill. It's got a sweeping narrative which shepherds us from Dust Bowl occultism to a low-rent 80's magic show to troubling mystical visions of a dystopian future. It's weird, it's whacky, it's disquieting, and it may or may not feature some startling bouts of interpretive dance.

JUNTA JULEIL THEATRICALS LTD. presents

May 20 and 23 @ 7:00 PM, at THE DUPLEX.

Submitted for your perusal, Jillaine Gill, lady on a stage. She requests your company on a mystifying voyage to one of those old, out-of-the-way places; a land of splinters and shadows and the darkest corners of the world...

DREAMS OF THE CLOCKMAKER will play at The Duplex (61 Christopher Street at 7th Ave South) Thursday, May 20th & Sunday, May 23rd at 7:00 pm. Tickets ($5 in advance, $10 at the door) are available online HERE, and there will be a two drink minimum.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Film Review: FREEJACK (1992, Geoff Murphy)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 110 minutes.
Tag-line: "Alex Furlong died today. Eighteen years from now, he'll be running for his life."
Notable Cast or Crew: From the director (Geoff Murphy) of UNDER SIEGE 2, YOUNG GUNS 2, FORTRESS 2, and DAGG DAY AFTERNOON. Wait- WHAT?! Starring Emilio Estevez, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Mick Jagger, Amanda Plummer, Grand L. Bush (WEDLOCK, DIE HARD, LETHAL WEAPON 2), Frankie Faison (MANHUNTER, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, EXTERMINATOR 2), Jonathan Banks (PIN, GREMLINS). Music by Trevor Jones (RUNAWAY TRAIN, LABYRINTH, MISSISSIPPI BURNING).
Best one-liner: "Well, first you gotta cut off the head and the tail, and then you gut it. Then it's all a matter of the sauce. You don't just plop down a rodent on a plate and say here's your river rat would you like red wine or white with 'em. Not that there's any wine around here anyway."
Side note: I really like how Anthony Hopkins has been airbrushed into oblivion on the one-sheet.

FREEJACK. What the hell is a FREEJACK? Why would you call a movie FREEJACK? And yet somehow it still tells you everything you need to know, thus, in an odd twist, making it the perfect title. FREEJACK speaks to me. It says "I am a mediocre Sci-Fi movie with a big budget, but not nearly as big as I wanted." What we've got here is a part futuristic cautionary tale, part paranoid action thriller, and part TOTAL RECALL rip-off. It's Philip K. Dick, lite. More like "Philip K. Dildo," if you will.

The plot is as follows: in 1991, while competing in some sort of NASCAR-y race, Emilio Estevez dies in a spectacular track explosion. Seconds before his fiery death, he is teleported eighteen years into the future to serve as a replacement body for ailing business magnate Anthony Hopkins. The world of 2009 is so foul, drug-addled, and polluted that there are no suitable human bodies for switching in the ('09) present, hence the need to pluck people from the past (right before their impending demises). There's little moral debate in 2009 regarding the Freejackers cause, hey, they were about to die anyway, and now they get to live on as the husk for Anthony Hopkins' consciousness, so stop complaining, Estevez, and let's get on with it.

Everything is going smoothly until Estevez escapes and leads futuristic law enforcement on a wet n' wild goose chase which involves plenty of car crashes and one-liners to go around.

Cars of the future look a lot like the cars of 1991 but with really garish paint jobs.

Oh, and did I mention that if this was TOTAL RECALL, the Ironside character has been replaced with...

Mick Jagger?! Jagger wanders about in Sci-Fi leather riot gear and acts like a total badass, by which I mean he looks extremely silly and tries to maintain his dignity while Estevez shouts one-liners at him.

Dignity: partially maintained.

His character's name is Vacendak, and I can't help but feel that he was given this name only so that Estevez could at one point jeeringly holler "Vacen-DICK!" at him. Like, what is this, a BILL AND TED film?

Correction- if this were a BILL AND TED film, there would be a forthcoming barb regarding "sitting on it and spinning."

Jagger does get a few great moments- he gets to smash some dillbomb's Fabergé egg , and, at one point, given the great mutual respect fostered by the Estevez/Jagger interactions, gives Estevez a five-minute head start. Jagger covers his eyes, and begins to count- "One, Mississippi...two, mississippi..." Bravo. You're no Ironside, but...Bravo.

There's all sorts of mind-boggling plot holes, but I suppose that's part of the charm– #1. Teleportations in this movie are described as only able to manipulate time, not space. Estevez is yanked from the 1991 race track and arrives in 2009 New York City. So there was an enormous racing arena in '91 NYC? Where was that, exactly? The Upper East Side? Tribeca? Maybe Greenwich Village? #2. Estevez's girlfriend in '91 is Rene Russo.

Russo looks great, but she happens to be pushing forty. When they show her in '2009,' she hasn't aged a day, despite having lived out the last eighteen years (unlike Estevez's character, who instantly teleported). Now going from your late 30's to your late 50's is kiiiiind of a transition, and had they addressed this, it certainly would have made the love story more compelling, or, at the very least, weirder- either of which are okay in my book.

The aesthetic is sort of a skid row Cyberpunk, influenced heavily by ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. There's even a scene where Estevez gets picked up by a whacky old-timey cab. Ernest Borgnine is not at the wheel, but you get the picture.

Amanda Plummer shows up for a minute as a shotgun-toting nun, Frankie Faison's a homeless river rat connoisseur, and Jonathan Banks gets in a nice turn as a corporate douche. Anyway, all of this leads up to a showdown with Anthony Hopkins' consciousness that culminates in a sequence I am forced to describe as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY by-way-of THE LAWNMOWER MAN. Anthony Hopkins bellows, "Welcome to MY MINNNNND!"

and we're entreated to a breathtaking visual representation of consciousness transference. In my opinion, FREEJACK goes much further in realistically depicting the state of neuro-cognizant subconscious persona transplantation than, say, the "Money for Nothing" music video:



VS.
.

Ultimately, the payoffs are surprisingly satisfying, and there's some awesome closing credits music called "Hit Between the Eyes" by The Scorpions, which features lyrics like, "I'm readddddy....for a HIT BETWEEN THE EYEEEEES!!!" Three stars.

-Sean Gill


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Television Review: THE HITCHHIKER- 'Last Scene' (1986, Paul Verhoeven)

Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 30 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Peter Coyote (E.T., THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN, Almodovar's KIKA), LaGena Hart (NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET, MILLION DOLLAR MYSTERY), Garwin Sanford (DEAD BANG, THE FLY II), Tom Heaton (APRIL FOOL'S DAY, THE BOY WHO COULD FLY).
Best one-liner: I don't know. Everything the Hitchhiker says.

What a better way to ease out of Rutger Hauer week, than to switch gears and do a Paul Verhoeven-directed episode of THE HITCHHIKER.

Verhoeven. Fresh off of FLESH + BLOOD and about to make ROBOCOP. There's some points for the plus column. Then, THE HITCHHIKER. It kinda taps into some of the same imagery as THE HITCHER. Horror + hitchhiking, yeah. L'il Hauer connection right there. And finally, there's the Hitchhiker himself. Hey, he's almost as good as Rutger Hauer, and he kinda looks like him, too, right? Well, maybe if Rutger Hauer had a bad date with a Flowbee and a propensity for flannel, and instead of terrorizing C. Thomas Howell, he just sat around on the roadside and made limp, cretinous observations about the matters at hand? Nevermind. I apologize. Maybe I'm too hard on the Hitchhiker. Maybe he'll step it up a notch with Verhoeven at the reins. Let's find out:

Five seconds in and we already know it's a Verhoeven flick.

Now the script is fun, but draws quite a bit on De Palma's BODY DOUBLE, and ends up, like nearly every episode of THE HITCHHIKER, being somewhat predictable. But Verhoeven is more than up to the task, and he injects it with some stirring imagery, much of which is influenced by William Friedkin's music video for Laura Branigan's "Self Control."

It was truly the Golden Age of the music video- sleazy dancers, lustrous neon, and snazzy costumes- in fact, BODY DOUBLE itself had tread similar ground a year prior with the Frankie Goes to Hollywood "Relax" setpiece. Paul "I make the movies America deserves" Verhoeven taps into a middle ground- he (naturally) embraces the more sordid elements, but clearly delights in the collision of vapid, self-important characters and yucks it up at the inherent hollowness of American pop culture (and THE HITCHHIKER itself?).

The plot is as follows- rookie filmmaker Peter Coyote's in the midst of a film which, as I said, bears more than passing similarities to BODY DOUBLE.

Things aren't going so well, and his lead actress (LaGena Hart) isn't demonstrating the depth necessary to pull off the film's crucial LAST SCENE.

The money men are getting nervous, and the more she tries to 'act,' the worse she gets. A desperate Coyote must take drastic measures- maybe she'd be better if she wasn't acting? Maybe all this movie needs is the terror to be REAL. Of course, such a gambit could always backfire...

I suppose there's shades here of Paul Bartel's quintessential 1968 short (which he remade as an AMAZING STORIES episode), THE SECRET CINEMA, whereupon a woman realizes that her entire life is a TRUMAN SHOW-esque exercise in cinematic cruelty.

As the Hitchhiker says, "Making movies can be a little like magic- manufacturing illusions and manipulating the way people feel. But when you fool around with what is and isn't real, you run the risk of being tricked by your own sleight of hand." Thanks, Mom.

It's times like these where I really appreciate the Cryptkeeper. He probably would've just said something like "FRIGHTS, camera, HACK-tion! I'm ready for my GROSS-up! Eeeeh-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-heeeeeee!" And I would have been totally satisfied with that.

It develops into an enjoyably-paced quasi-meta-slasher that furnishes us with a fairly satisfying missing link between Verhoven's 1983 THE FOURTH MAN and his 1992 BASIC INSTINCT, with one scene in particular even foreshadowing the denouement of the latter film. The episode ends with a showdown at a swank n' sweaty nightclub, full of unusual, violent objets d'neon-art.


Sex and car crashes? Cronenberg and Verhoeven unknowingly cross paths again...

There's a great little bizarre moment as a spandexed, presumably well-oiled Spiderman dancer twirls about a less-than-impressed Peter Coyote. I can totally see Verhoeven carefully choreographing this throwaway interaction.



Anyway, life imitates art, somebody gets the last laugh, and the episode is over.


Thoughts? Hitchhiker?


"He bent the light and the shadows and called it truth. He used people like they were creatures of clay. But the truth, when it's bent, has a way of snapping back. And the creatures created, well, they often have the last laugh." Huh. That's actually not that bad, Hitchhiker. I mean we're not talking Rod Serling-level, but I think you'd have snared yourself an 'A' in a sixth grade language arts class, for sure. We may make a third-tier Hauer out of you yet! (Currently a fourth-tier Hauer.)

-Sean Gill


Friday, April 23, 2010

Commercial Review: GUINNESS 'PURE GENIUS': PART 1 (1987-1993, Rutger Hauer)

Stars: 4.2 of 5.
Running Time: 1:40.
Notable Cast or Crew: Rutger Hauer.
Best one-liner: "If you keep an open mind... you'll discover dark secrets."
Today's review will examine just one small facet of a much larger ad campaign, mounted by Guinness in the late 80's and early 90's. Further examinations, as is the case with the ongoing Charles Bronson/Mandom analysis, will be posted at a later date.

Alright. Let's look at a few pictures, shall we?


How vanilla can ya get? Who could be offended by a toucan? Who wouldn't welcome a lovely day? How does he balance that big ole pint on that whacky long beak? You get points for vintage charm, bud, but you're not pushing any envelopes, not by a long shot.

It's good for you?! Not so edgy. We're in search of darkness, weakness...the demons within. We want Oliver Reed. Self-destructive behavior. A three-day bender.

Alright, now we're talkin'. This one introduces an element of danger. But look how goofy the gosh darned lion is. He's not interested in tearin' that mustachioed man limb from limb, he just wants a sip of that Guinness. After he gets it, he'll probably lick his lips, make some puppy dog eyes, and say something adorable like "Luvely day fer a Guinness!"

But things are about to change. Yes, they're about–


TO

GET

LOCO.

Unsatisfied with your dreary ad campaign? Feel like you're in a bit of a rut? The ads are starting to blend together? Well allow me to introduce you to the shot in the arm that is RUTGER HAUER. The seven year ad campaign made Hauer a millionaire and apparently boosted Guinness sales by 22%- 37 million pints. No more quaint little toucan piffle– we're talking an ice cold mystery man who gazes deeply into a black pint of Guinness and solves the mysteries of the universe. You are invited. And so is Abe Lincoln. More on that in a minute.

Now I can't find too much information about the creative team that actually scripted and directed these ads (at different times, Ridley Scott, Paul Weiland, and Hugh Hudson were involved), but they're full of such non-sequiturs, mind-bending imagery, and utter bizarritude that they beg the question, did Rutger write these himself?

Today we'll look at an extended commercial from 1993 which blends imagery from several prior ads and acts as a sort of overview for the 'Pure Genius' campaign as a whole. It's more like a short film than a television commercial. More LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD than Budweiser Frogs, if you will.


We begin with a slow track in on a can of Guinness as it is popped open- the yawning perforation expels foam, dominates the screen, and we venture within- we're about to go on an extraordinary journey, ladies and gentlemen.

The foam gives way to a cliffside Tibetan monastery, looking perhaps like something out of Powell & Pressburger...


Said monastery is inhabited by a solitary monk, deep in thought. The original Zen master himself, Monk Hauer. Monk Hauer shares his thoughts–

The world revolves at a thousand miles an hour.. it's enough to make you dizzy-zy-zy-zy-zy...

With a flourish of reverb, the camera spirals up, up, and away, past a hanging bulb and into the cosmos, whereupon we... see the Big Bang happen. And that's not even the highlight of this commercial. Billions of space particles converge into constellations, which appear on a map that is immediately thereafter cruelly crumpled by mysterious fingers, belonging to an unseen giant form. The monstrous man checks his watch, where a tiny Rutger Hauer casually strolls amongst the clockwork. With the bare minimum of effort, he stops the rotating second hand, hoists his glass, and cryptically instructs–


"Talk amongst yourselves....I may be...some time..."

Water flows from a porthole within the watch and the camera tracks back to reveal the esoteric swirl within a newly poured pint of Guinness. Yes, it's a good thing that it takes three days for a greenhorn bartender to slosh out your pint of Guinness- in fact, it deliberately takes so long to settle because Rutger thinks you should be taking that time to meditate on a few philosophical matters of great importance. Or you can just wait impatiently and tap your fingers on the bar like a real douchebomb, it makes no difference to Rutger whether you become enlightened or not, you unwashed hooligan.

The swirl gives way to amber waves of grain. The wheat rustles forebodingly as a storm brews on the horizon. A single scarecrow, complete with top hat and perched crow, stands watch.

And, yeah, that scarecrow is Rutger Hauer. He smiles.

If you keep an open mind, you'll discover dark secrets...

A drop of water on Rutger's eyebrow transforms into the domain of a terrifying whale whose mouth we are entering presently...

Within the belly of the whale, a ghostly, forlorn harmonica pipes out a tune. (Is that a trace of the Mandom theme...?) The camera pans past sunken shipwrecks, derelict covered wagons, and eerie whisps of smoke to reveal...


...Rutger Hauer quaffing a Guinness and playing checkers against Abe Lincoln. Rutger leans in, and half-sincerely, half sarcastically says,

"Have you been here long?"

I'm still not sure if he's seriously asking him because he wants to know, or if he's snidely affirming his own timeless seniority over Abe Lincoln. That is the power and ambiguity of Rutger Hauer's performance. Well, it doesn't matter, cause Hauer makes a smooth move and jumps one of Abe Lincoln's checkers. Before Hauer can say 'King me,' the white checker transforms into the head on a pint of Guinness, and the ad is over.

Whew! What a fucking ad! We saw the Big Bang. We got swallowed by a sea creature. We saw Rutger Hauer meditate in the Himalayas, stop time itself, play a human scarecrow, and kick Abe Lincoln's ass at checkers... and all this in under two minutes! Plus, now we got a mouth-watering urge to swig some Guinness and ponder the mysteries of the universe. Hell, we even got in a sideways plug for whale rights. We've come a long way since "Guinness is Good for You," and we've still got a long way to go... until then...

EDIT: In reflection, it's probably not actually Abe Lincoln. Being as he resides in the belly of a whale, it would make more sense if it was Captain Ahab (think the Gregory Peck incarnation). Not that the rest of the commercial embodies this sort of adherence to logic or reason. Regardless, whether Abe Lincoln or Captain Ahab; it's still impressive that Rutger so casually vanquishes him at checkers and affirms his superiority: Have you been here long? Like, go find another whale or something, right?

-Sean Gill