Saturday, July 22, 2017

DUNKIRK

(Non-spoiler post)

Experiencing DUNKIRK on 1570 (15perf 70mm) film from the front row of the Melbourne IMAX cinema was both exhilarating and overwhelming, perhaps a little too much at times...thus mammoth film just swallows you whole.

It's a staggering achievement on so many levels, a great British war film that tells it simple but engrossing story from three separate viewpoints taking place over three different timespans, turning the film into something of a clever cinematic puzzle that is neat to watch come together without distracting you or taking you out of the narrative. It is both epic and intimate, certainly the most genuinely moving and emotional of Christopher Nolan's films to date, and it succeeds in creating characters to care for without us having to know anything about them, other than the dire predicament they are in. The film also manages to emphatically convey the horror, brutality, and wholesale sudden violent death of war without having to go the ultra-visceral graphic route of other modern war classics like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and HACKSAW RIDGE.

The sound design is also incredible, as is Hans Zimmer's score, both of which combine to provide an often nerve-wracking pulse to the film, the bass and the bombs literally rattling your internal organs. It's well-cast with some nice performances, with Tom Hardy being particularly effective as a Spitfire pilot, having to create his character mostly through his eyes and actions, and the odd line of fighter pilot dialogue.

Absolutely worth experiencing in a cinema, preferably in 70mm. Images and sounds from this movie are bound to be bouncing around inside my head for some time.



Sunday, July 16, 2017

REMOTE CONTROL

This afternoon's viewing was Jeff Lieberman's REMOTE CONTROL (1988), another effective and creative oddity from the writer/director of SQUIRM (1976), BLUE SUNSHINE (1978) and JUST BEFORE DAWN (1981). Where the masterful BLUE SUNSHINE had people facing the horrific consequences of indulging in the LSD craze of a decade earlier, REMOTE CONTROL also has its characters paying the price for indulging in a popular cultural movement, in this instance the home video phenomena of the ...1980s. Befitting of the era in which it was made, REMOTE CONTROL tells its story in a very flashy and much more abstract style than BLUE SUNSHINE, full of MTV pop and exaggerated 80s fashion and materialism. And yet, thanks to the use of film within a film, it is also serves as a cool homage to the classic black & white B horror and science-fiction movies of the 1950s.

As he was in the remake of THE BLOB later that same year, Kevin Dillion is pretty solid in his familiar role of a rebel with a bit of past but ultimately a decent and reliable guy (here, he plays a video store clerk who gets embroiled in an alien plot to take over the world by using the VHS release of a low-budget 50s sci-fi film called REMOTE CONTROL to brainwash viewers and program them to kill). It’s also nice to see Jennifer Tilly show up in one of her earlier roles (her exotic looks and character quirks make her a natural for a film like this), and of course for any fan of vintage VHS like myself there’s plenty of fun to be had spotting the various individual titles on the shelves and the promo displays on the counter and walls of the (fictitious) Village Video store where a good deal of the movie takes place (JAKE SPEED and the Jane fond workout tapes seem to have been particularly popular at this time). And cool to see Lieberman giving nods to his previous films, with a poster for SQUIRM hanging on one wall and a clip from BLUE SUNSHINE playing on the video store’s huge TV set. The movie also benefits from a neat and very atmospheric electronica score by Peter (Son of Elmer) Bernstein.

While an old VHS copy might seem like the most appropriate way to watch REMOTE CONTROL (it was released on tape in Australia by Village Roadshow) I would love to see it in a cinema on a double-bill with Ted Nicolaou’s TERRORVISION (1986), another colourful and gaudy genre satire of 80s junk culture and American obsession with home entertainment (and both movies feature a performance from Bert Remsen, providing a nice symbiotic bridge between the two).


Sunday, May 28, 2017

GOING APE AT THE ASTOR

Marneen and I had lots of fun going bananas at the Astor's PLANET OF THE APES marathon las weekend. Despite being a lifelong APES fanatic the only one of the original films which I had seen on the big screen was CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972), which I saw at the long gone Astrojet Cinema at Tullamarine Airport when I was a kid. I also saw a 16mm print of BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970) at primary school, but that was it. So finally getting to see them on a huge... screen was a real treat.

Highlights for me were that first 30 minutes or so of the original PLANET OF THE APES (1968), with all that spectacular and beautifully stark desert footage, and seeing the incredibly dark and sombre, often very hallucinogenic and just downright crazy BENEATH on the big screen was awe-inspiring. Winning an APES graphic novel (i.e. comic book) and a $30 gift voucher thanks to Minotaur was also a nice bonus.

Was also cool to see some fun vintage clips before each movie, including a segment featuring the APES and Jim Nabors on an episode of THE SONNY & CHER SHOW, Paul Williams in full ape make-up signing on THE TONIGHT SHOW, and TV commercials for the classic PLANET OF THE APES action figures by Mego.

Only real disappointment for me was they screened the original theatrical cut of CONQUEST, and not the more violent and bloody version with the bleaker ending which finally became available a few years back. All in all though a fantastic day, and not as bum-numbing as I thought it might be!





THE ROLLING STONES AT ALTAMONT

Having recently both re-watched the classic documentary GIMME SHELTER and read Joel Selvin's engrossing news(ish) book on the subject, it was fascinating to go back and listen to the audio of the full Rolling Stones performance at that tragic free concert at the Altamont Speedway in 1969, certainly one of rock and roll's first big collective tragedies and still a very dark day in its now sixty-plus years history.

This audio was audience recorded and seems to be pieced together from several sources, but the low-fi of the recording certainly adds to the whole menacing ambience, and often puts you right in the middle of all the madness. The bad vibes can clearly be heard in the air before the first guitar chord is even struck, and things are already in full chaotic breakdown by the time of the third song (which, chillingly appropriate, is "Sympathy For the Devil").

It should also be mentioned that, despite the menace and tension all around them, the Stones are absolutely on fire here.



"PLANET EARTH ABOUT TO BE RECYCLED"

More than twenty years after they occurred (in March of 1997) I have been thinking about Heaven's Gate, the San Diego based religious cult whose strange beliefs were the stuff of science fiction pulp and as much inspired by television shows like STAR TREK, TWIN PEAKS and THE X-FILES than anything found in the Bible. It was also the first time a cult became intrinsically linked to the internet (the cult had their own website - which still ...exists - and made their money by designing websites for other companies).

Terrifying to think that 39 people (leader Marshall Applewhite and 38 of his followers) could be convinced - or programmed to believe - that if they committed suicide at the precise moment, they would be welcomes as passengers aboard a spacecraft which they believed was flying undetected in the fiery tale of the Hale-Bopp comet, which had been discovered in 1995 and in March of 1997 was passing closely above the Earth, convincing Applewhite (who had founded the cult with his wife in 1974) that it was the right time for him and his followers to "shed their containers" in order to hitch a ride on the spaceship before the Earth was "recycled" by aliens.

Amazed there wasn't a TV movie made about this. I have a bootleg VHS of Marshall Applewhite's "initiation lecture", which I obtained from Polyester Video years ago, and a cheap mass-market paperback rushed out by THE NEW YORK POST, but I am sure there is a much more in-depth book out there.



Saturday, May 13, 2017

ALIEN COVENANT

Serving as both a sequel to PROMETHEUS (2012) and a prequel to ALIEN (1979), Ridley Scott’s ALIEN COVENANT walks a tightrope between grand concept and familiar thrills, rejigging a number of big crowd-pleasing moments from not only ALIEN but James Cameron’s 1986 rousing sequel ALIENS while expanding on the theories of evolution and creation put forward in PROMETHEUS. The big problem I have with this is that, to me, a large part of my original fascination with the alien was it was so elemental and mysterious, and much more terrifying as an organic being that just exists. The original ALIEN told me everything I need to know about the xenomorph and it’s terrifying cycle of life…trying to explain every step of its evolution just demystifies it to me.

It seems that when Ridley Scott decided to finally return to the classic space terror saga which he was instrumental in launching back in 1979, he was only interested in doing so if he could expand on the concept to try and touch on many of the bigger questions in life. Which as a much older man who wants to try and create something different is entirely his prerogative. And certainly ALIEN COVENANT is hugely ambitious in many regards, but it is made largely ineffectual by the predictability of the scenes involving the alien itself which, as mentioned, are more like a re-tread of what was done – much better – in the first two movies, leaving very little in the way of surprise or suspense. And a lot of the sexual menace which the alien exhibited in the first movie, and made it so much more terrifying, is now gone (there’s no doubt that a lot of this sexual terror came from the nightmarish designs created by the late Swiss artist H. R. Giger). CGI also does no favour to the alien – in most cases, it moves far too quick to make much out. The man in a suit approach of the original was much more effective and impressive.

Like all of Scott’s movies, there is certainly lots to admire and enjoy about ALIEN COVENANT. Visually the film has some stunning moments (though it doesn’t look as gorgeous as PROMETHEUS) and Michael Fassbender delivers another remarkable performance. And Katherine Waterston is decent in what is clearly the Ripley replacement role. But beyond that, there are not a lot of characters to care about or even differentiate themselves from each other (also one of the big complaints about PROMETHEUS). The first two ALIEN films were populated with great actors who brought their characters to wonderful life – when they died, you really missed them. There’s sadly no Parker, Brett, Kane, Vasquez or Private Hudson here to care about.

ALIEN COVENANT is far from a disaster, and should easily do well enough to ensure the series’ continuity, but it’s not really the direction I like seeing it head in. The original ALIEN was a seminal moviegoing experience for me, and has forever remained amongst my Top 5 all-time favourite films. Sadly it seems that it won’t be Ridley Scott who brings the concept back to that pure, primordial frisson which I experienced back in 1979.



Friday, April 14, 2017

BLESS THE BEASTS AND CHILDREN Intro Transcript

A transcript of my introduction to the Bless the Beasts and Children screening last Saturday night has now been posted over on the Cinemaniacs website at the following link for anyone interested in having a read.




WILD BEASTS


Last night’s viewing was the new Severin Blu-ray release of Franco Prosperi’s delirious nature on the rampage Italian horror from 1984, Wild Beasts. Amazingly, I had never seen this film before, despite being a big fan of the nature amok genre and the fact that it had been released locally on VHS in the 1980s.
Prosperi was considered one of the godfathers of the extreme mondo documentary genre (Mondo Cane, Africa Addio), and his roots certainly show at various points throughout Wild Beasts, particularly during its opening sequence. The film (which looks to have been filmed in Frankfurt but is listed only as an “Eastern European City”) has wild animals from the local zoo, including cheetahs, lions, polar bears and elephants, as well as sewer rats and seeing eye dogs, going beserk after drinking water laced with PCP, rampaging through the city streets mauling, munching and trampling on terrified (and stupid) citizens.
Watching the film, I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy when thinking of what sort of treatment the animals would have likely received on set (the sewer rats in particular do not look to have fared so well), but as a seedy piece of lurid Euro exploitation it entertains from start to finish, with gore galore, a great soundtrack by Daniele Patucchi, and plenty of crazed WTF? moments that will make even the most hardened horror fan’s jaw drop.
And like all Severin releases, Wild Beasts not only looks stunning but has a great selection of special features that make this a must-have for fans of the genre.

Monday, April 10, 2017

BLESS THE BEASTS AND CHILDREN Introduction

A few pics of me delivering my introduction to the Bless the Beasts and Children screening at the Backlot Studios on Saturday night. Great to see the movie on the big screen with an audience of mostly first-time viewers. The video interview with one of the film's stars, Miles Chapin, was excellent and will hopefully make its way online at some point (it would make a perfect bonus featurette on a Blu-ray release). Thanks to all those who came along - hope you enjoyed it and got something out of it! A transcript of my introduction should go up on the Cinemaniacs website shortly, will post a link once available.








Thursday, March 9, 2017

THE KING LIVES!

My wife Marneen and I had a lot of fun seeing Kong: Skull Island in IMAX 3D last night. Fun is certainly the operative word here, as director Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers a big monster bash that still has little touches of heart amongst all the spectacle and no pretensions to be anything more than a solidly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours in the cinema. And if there ever was one movie monster born for the vast, often overpowering expanse of the IMAX screen, it is Kong.

One of the best aspects of Kong: Skull Island is that it doesn't try to retell a classic tale that simply can't be told any better than it originally was in 1933. Rather it takes the iconic character and his mysterious and dangerous home of Skull Island and fashions its own adventure, one which kick-starts Kong's entry in Warner Brothers' and Legendary's new shared universe of giant monsters (a universe first established with Gareth Edward's Godzilla film from a couple of years ago).

In that respect, Kong: Skull Island is more in line with the Kong offshoot films, like King Kong Lives (1986) and, more specifically, the earlier Japanese Kong adventures King Kong Vs. Godzilla(1962) and King Kong Escapes (1967). The film's setting and time frame (the dying days of the Vietnam War in 1973) helps further connect it to those great 60s Japanese movies (which is why I chose to highlight the film's stunning Japanese poster here).

And like any great movie set during the Vietnam War, the soundtrack is filled with rock and pop classics from the era, and while most of the cast do what is asked of them, I thought only John C. Reilly managed to stand out and create something memorable.

As for the King himself, yeah he is all CGI but what else should we expect in 2017? I thought he came across great - kicked ass, showed a bit of character and emotion, and had a nice sense of mythology built up around him.

Will definitely re-watch the movie at some point to see how it comes across in a non-IMAX, non-3D environment.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

WHEN WOOD MET THE WADD

A while ago, I took a look at a collection of vintage 8mm XXX adult film loops directed by the legendary Ed Wood, which had been unearthed and issued on DVD by New York filmmaker Keith Crocker and his Cinefear Video company (click HERE to read the original blog post). As mind-bending a find as that collection was, especially for both Wood fans and early porn historians, it was clearly just an appetizer for the second volume, which Cinefear have just issued on disc under the title of Ed’s Wood Volume II.

Filmed between 1973 and 1975, these grainy and grotty short porn loops represent some of the final completed works of Ed Wood, who would die of alcoholism and heart failure in 1978. The fact that you are watching loops directed by the man who gave us Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan Nine from Outer Space (1956), and whose life and career took place on a fascinating edge of fringe cultures, automatically makes shorts a lot more interesting than the majority of the thousands upon thousands of other similar loops that were produced at the same time. And with a young John (“Johnny Wadd”) Holmes being the featured performer in many of the loops on this latest collection (in fact the only recognizable name amongst a procession of anonymous hippie chicks and hairy male genitalia), the imagination once again gets fired up by thoughts of Wood and Wadd meeting at this intersection while traveling through their own unique cinema netherworlds.

Though it is not one of the loops that features Holmes,
Morning Walk is the most interesting title on this 90-minute compilation, its depiction of forceful coercion giving it a much rougher edge than the others. I have to say I breathed a sigh of relief when the big dog walking around at the beginning is safely shut away in another room before the action begins! This loop in particular seems reflective of Ed Wood’s handiwork, especially thematically with its premise (a young girl on her morning walk invites a strange man and his girlfriend into her house after seemingly knowing them for all of five seconds, and is then shocked and outraged when the couple make a pass at her!). Other titles on this collection include Park Lovers, Big John Parts 1 & 2, the strange 15” Commercial (in which Holmes has sex with a lady atop her broken TV set), Wives at Play, Camper Pick-Up and Garter Girl.

Perfectly complementing this collection of loops (which were originally filmed silent and had minimal subtitles added to accompany the hot action) is the choice of music laid over them, a wholly suitable and enjoyable mix of cheesy lounge music, funky bass guitar and pulsating disco (the music on
Park Lovers sounds like it could have been lifted from Meco’s Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk LP!). There is also a smooth pop love ballad and a couple of pieces of muzak that sound like they would have made excellent background music to a television commercial for a swinging airline company.

Ed’s Wood Volume II (along with all other manner of weird and wonderfully demented cinema, and not just of the XXX variety) is available from the Cinefear website at Cinefear Video Vintage Adult Titles.  Along with Something Weird Video, Cinefear are an important independent company that are doing an amazing job at rescuing and preserving titles that might otherwise be lost permanently, and offering them up to appreciative outrĂ© film lovers like myself. They deserve our support.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

GETTING LOST IN THE MIST

After re-watching it early this morning (my third viewing of the film in total), I think Frank Darabont's The Mist (2007) has earned its place near the top of my list of best Stephen Kind film adaptations. It's up there with Kubrick's The Shining and Cronenberg's The Dead Zone for me. I love the film's plot - a pure 1950s sci-fi pulp story crossed with a classic Twilight Zone episode and filled with cool Lovecraftian monsters, moments of patented King horror, and an ending that is devastating and tears me apart each time I see it. A mostly great cast (headed by Thomas Jane and Marcia Gay Harden) brings some very interesting dynamics between the characters who are trapped by the mysterious titular mist in the supermarket, and the screenplay manages to effectively touch on topics like fear and denial, the wildfire way in which a mob mentality can spread, and blind religious devotion (and using religion and the Bible as an easy crutch against a horror you just can't understand enough to face rationally). Very evocative use of "The Host of Seraphim" by Dead Can Dance on the film's otherwise very minimal soundtrack.

Darabont also wrote the screenplay for The Mist, adapting King's 1980 novella. And it's interesting to see a few actors who would later turn up in Darabont's The Walking Dead(Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn and Melissa McBride interacting as different characters). Darabont's other Stephen King adaptations The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile get a lot more accolades and TV runs than The Mist, but it absolutely holds its own and is easily the best of the three if you are looking for something that gives a good modern take on an earlier and more traditionally scary Stephen King tale.



KISS: LONG LOST "I" VIDEO SURFACES

In late-1981, KISS tried to make one for the critics and released (Music From) The Elder, a medieval concept album – and a supposed soundtrack for a film that didn’t exist - produced by Bob Ezrin and featuring songs co-written by Lou Reed. I personally have loved the album from the day it came out and found it quite adventurous with some of the best musicianship the band has ever produced. But I was certainly in the tiny minority, as The Elder bombed spectacularly, and within the space of two years KISS had gone from playing Madison Square Gardens to an act that would barely be able to fill school auditoriums – a popularity slump that would only start improving when the band finally decided to ditch the make-up and costumes two years later.

To coincide with the release of The Elder, KISS filmed a music video for the closing song from the album, “I” (one of only two or three songs on the LP that sounded traditionally KISS-like). The video was ultimately never released and for over 35 years has been a holy grail for KISS video collectors.

Now, a heavily watermarked, time-coded and somewhat grainy copy of the “I” video has finally surfaced, and it is not too hard to see why the video was ultimately buried! Filmed on a set that looks like leftovers from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and featuring the band performing the song in front of what look like a bunch of blow-ins from a Solid Gold or Soul Train audience, this video rivals their infamous 1978 TV movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park for goofiness…the shot of Gene singing part of the song while bopping up and down on the shoulders of a lucky audience member is one of many fun highlights.

Still good to finally get to see it after all these years. Check it out now in case Gene gets it taken down!



NEW INTERVIEW POSTED

I was happy and honoured to have been recently interviewed by fellow Melbourne based writer, the very talented Michelle Alexander. You can read the piece on her great blog at the following link. Thanks Michelle!






KISS DOWNUNDER 1980

I always love seeing candid photos of KISS taken during their huge Australian tour of November 1980. Probably because it was the first concert I ever attended (at VFL Park in Melbourne) then the nostalgia and interest will always be there.

I've never seen these three great pics from that period before. After the band filmed their two shows at the Sydney Show Grounds, they went into a local studio to record some overdubs to fix up some of the mistakes made during the live performances. These photos show the band (Paul Stanley in the solo shots) recording the overdubs at the (unknown) Sydney studio. The two concerts and the overdubs were eventually edited into a single concert film, that was first shown as part of the KISS: The Inner Sanctum Australian TV special from 1981, and was later included on the KISSology 2 DVD set. Along with the Tokyo 1977 TV special, the Sydney 1980 concert film is one of the best visual records of the band's live performances during their peak years (though in the US the band had already peaked by 1980, but their fame was Beatles-like in Australia that year).