Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Friday, April 27, 2018

#FF – Franco Friday (part 1)

In the spirit of sharing something on #FrancoFriday(s), I'll contribute the minor fact that while I've been pretty good at keeping up-to-date on Redemption's / Kino Lorber's Blu-ray releases of this mad genius' work, I have found myself at a sever lack for time. Sitting in waiting are two classic Franco films, the re-working of the Countess Bathory legend as a Rock-Horror opus (featuring the titular band in starring roles), the Killer Barbys. To me, this was hands-down the most accessible film in gaining entry into Franco's bizarre world of nearly indefinable cinema (and for me this was back in the early 2000s), and Killer Barbys still holds a nostalgic place in my heart to this day, despite its repetitive shots and extended scenes of nothing-really-happening which are intended to pad out the running time. At least the shot repetition is set to an energetic pop/rock soundtrack. The other cool Kino Lorber/Franco release is the Diabolical Dr. Z, Franco's wildly stylish black-and-white pre-make/predecessor to his more-adored She Killed in Ecstasy... but this crazy and kitschy original is without a doubt well worth a look. I'm looking forward to these two films being my own double-feature Franco retrospective, which will be happening as soon as I have the chance to carve out some time in the next week or so. Damn it, what's happened to all of my time?! #JessFrancoFriday


Sunday, April 15, 2018

“She's So Lovely”...

Sometimes a complex and thoughtful film will offer a clue, often as a throw-away line within a deceptively mundane seen, towards the deep truths and meaning held within the film author's wholly intended expression...

The single most important line in the film Inception, a thoroughly thought-provoking film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, follows Ellen Page's antagonistic inter-subconscious run-in with Marion Cotillard, in one such seemingly mundane scene where Page's character is speaking with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and she asks:
“What was she like in real life?”
Here, Gordon-Levitt pauses before answering, “She was lovely.”

This is the exact point where the entire explanation of the film should come into focus. But before I can explain this, let's take a look backwards at the situational aspects of these characters:
Marion Cotillard is the dead wife of widower Leonardo DiCaprio.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the longtime friend and business partner of Leonardo DiCaprio.
Leonardo DiCaprio runs a freelance business, based on his own research and development of invading interfering in peoples' subconscious version of their own 'selves'.
When Ellen Page's character asks the question, “What was she like in real life?”, Cotillard's character would be thus far setup to appear as a confrontational, somewhat unlikable character.
And at this point, if more exposition is required for you to understand what's been set up for the film, then it would be better if you watched the film before proceeding...

Whist in a training session, Page enters DiCaprio's subconscious mind, which is where she ran into Cotillard, who is in a twisted way, acting as a stereotypical jealous ex-wife, is presented as “defending” DiCaprio's psyche from invasion. Hence the aforementioned antagonistic inter-subconscious clash. But if we dig deeper into this allegorical presentation, what is really going on here? With Cotillard's character having already maliciously thwarted at least one of DiCaprio's subconscious business endeavours (and thusly putting the protagonist dream team in actual, physical peril), can we then take a deeper inspection of this subconscious relationship between DiCaprio's and Cotillard's characters and decide, with the information that we're given by Nolan in his own film, that DiCaprio's character is holding some sort of grudge against Cotillard's character – or, perhaps, his subconsciously is more widely seeing her in a negative light? I think the answer to both halves of this question is YES. And again, herein lies part of the key to solving the puzzle of Inception...

Throughout Inception, DiCaprio's and Cotillard's children are involved as a motivational factor – DiCaprio must make it back to America, from France, so that he can reunite with his children – children whose faces are never fully realized within DiCaprio's mind, indicating guilt and regret at being a non-present father, and also indicating DiCaprio's wishes to redeem himself in this regard. So, then, who does DiCaprio's character point his subconscious finger at as being the “bad guy”? His wife and the mother of the children – Cotillard's seemingly aloof character. And this is where the answers and true theme of Nolan's film really start to shine out, if, as audience members, we're willing to dig until we get to this fracted light.

Like any human being(s), becoming the victims of the mundanity of life is a psychological danger that resonates. Falling victim to this is quite severe in the sense that we start to loath our ourselves, our loved ones, and then perhaps start to blame these loved ones for our own insecurities, and our own shortcomings. Like being an absentee father. And like Sidney Poitier said in To Sir, With Love, “Marriage is no institution for the insecure”. So then, we start to build a subconscious reality where we can comfortably shift our blame. The real challenge is to be able to destroy – and to allow the destruction of – this subconscious world. In Nolan's vision, DiCaprio's subconscious world is at least rotting and falling apart, indicating his willingness to accept the idea that he's merely blaming his own wife for his paternal shortcomings.

The character played by Ken Watanabe represents (directly), within his dream-setting, the subconscious-invaded-by-DiCaprio's consciousness (and this explains the opening shot of DiCaprio waking up dazed on a beach, or, the initial “awakening” of his character, both subconsciously and in reality), and he also represents indirectly the symbolic aspect of DiCaprio's own character – if he, DiCaprio's character, doesn't save Watanabe (in essence, himself), then he'll grow old and become lost in how own blame-and-guilt-soaked subconsciousness. Here, Watanabe is the insertion of the objective correlative in Nolan's movie. Or in other words, symbolically speaking, DiCaprio's character is Watanabe's character. DiCaprio is waking up, mentally, in order to be able to wake himself from the deep slumber of his own guilt and inaction.

So then, in the aftermath of this initial “awakening”, we come back to the proverbial ground-floor of Nolan's cinematic puzzle (and it is a puzzle, as Nolan left it “up to the audience” whether DiCaprio's experience was taking place in the real world on in a subconsciously-manufactured reality...) – Constructed in its purely subconscious form, DiCaprio's character, dealing with emotions of guilt, loss, and regret, and avoiding self-realization and the responsibility and results of his own actions (i.e. the neglect of his children), he shifts this blame to his wife Cotillard (whom, in real-reality, is “Lovely”, which is spoken by Gordon-Levitt's character but is also a true notion buried deep within the “defence” psyche of DiCaprio's character). Somewhere outside of the borders of this cinematic tale, DiCaprio's character, finally realizing that this subconscious subterfuge can't last, even in the state of dream, he creates an escape scenario (the action of the film); and following this, he “awakens” on the shores of a finally ebbing dream-tide; now finding himself physically and mentally enabled enough to save the Watanabe character – i.e himself. The final frames of Inception are now just the full waking of DiCaprio's dream-world, the final images before our eyes flutter open to the morning light after a night of dream-epiphany, to an ending that has been hinted throughout Nolan's cinematic vision through flash-forward repeating shots. And although the focus of the story (the dream) was placed on the foggy memories of his children, DiCaprio's ultimate boon, after his own internal redemption (which on all levels of the story's “reality” is what Nolan's film is all about), is that he will likely be able to stand with his lovely wife in his perceived and genuinely desired forgiveness from her.



Sunday, April 08, 2018

Their Later Films Vol. 5 – Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Outside of Hollywood's most fanous cinematic releases, it's the auteurs whose films people really remember seeing for the first time. Argento, Romero, Bava, Fulci, Franco, Tarantino, Rodriguez, Lynch, Carpenter, and several others... but perhaps it's the surrealists that we really remember because, well, the films are fucking weird – and inspiring, on many levels (intellectually, emotionally, creatively)... Hands down any cinephile I've ever conversed with remembers the first David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Dario Argento, and Alejandro Jodorowsky film they ever saw; usually because it changed their lives. I was a late-comer to the world of Alejandro Jodorowsky, having discovered him roughly a year-and-a-half before the first film in his new (intended) trilogy was released, Dance with Reality – but I'll get back to that film in a moment.

Funnily, it had all started with 2005's Masters of Horror television series, created by Mick Garris. The film (episode?) that would launch Garris' horror anthology series would be Cigarette Burns, by John Carpenter, in which a sort of film detective (played by a pre-Walking Dead Norman Reedus, fresh off of Guillermo Del Toros' Blade II) is hired (by Udo Kier) to track down a lost film; a movie that caused bloody riots upon its festival release and sent the enigmatic director into hiding. I don't know why I thought this at the time, but I felt, somewhere deep in my cinematic heart, that John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns was fictionally referring to Alejandro Jodorowsky. Upon seeing Carpenter's episode, I went out and purchased the then-new Alejandro Jodorowsky DVD boxset from Anchor Bay. And upon this purchase, I threw his first film, Fando y Lis, into the DVD player – a surreal, black-and-white, sexualized travel-epic. But I truly digress, as this essay is not about the first Jodorowsky film I ever watched – as I'd said, this is about the first time I actually discovered Jodorowski, and that wasn't until 2012, when I witness, for the first time (and from that very boxset), The Holy Mountain...

Following the life-changing experience of Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain, Vancouver's Cinemateque held a retrospective of Jodorowsky's work, where I went both backwards and forwards in the filmmaker's stunning career – first, having the pleasure of experiencing El Topo in the cinema, and then experiencing Vancouver's first theatrical screening of his 2013 film, Dance of Reality. This latter film was not like Jodorowsky's previous Fando y Lis, El Topo, or The Holy Mountain, yet no less important as those films because Dance of Reality so thoroughly infused Jodorowsky's own life and perspectives into the over-the-top and transgressive drama that had been his signature trademark throughout his career that Jodorowsky actually managed to recreate himself as a professional artistic filmmaker at the point in his life when most cinematic auteurs were well on their way downhill to artistic and commercial failure. He hired his son to play his father, and gave us a genuine life sentiment in the midst of a surreal cinematic experience that flirts with exploitation but in far more comfortable in arthouse, but in the end is a rich visual exposition of truth and things that we, as human beings, might prefer to keep buried under a shallow pile of earth.

There are few filmmakers that can manage to evoke emotional and intellectual engagement in their films that seem to transcend the mere opinions of the mainstream (or rather, those who control the mainstream media content), and Jodorowsky is one of the three – the other two being Lloyd Kaufman of TROMA Entertainment, the longest-running independent movie studio... well, ever; whose latest films Poultrygeist and Return to Return to Nuke 'Em High aka Vol. 2 epitomize his wildly outrageous and directorial and creative career with astounding over-the-top satirical and meaningful anti-conformist showcases contained as exploitation cinema (although anything of Kaufman's from Tromeo and Juliet forward is worth delving into if you're game to be exploring in this arena); and the director of the Mad Max films George Miller, whose latest Mad Max: Fury Road showed that this stratospheric auteur could not only deliver a surrealist, artistic, and exploitive film to international audiences (and with immense praise), but could also receive industry and commercial accolades in doing so. In one UK film critic's opinion, Mad Max: Fury Road was the “Movie of the Century”. I could be close to agreeing with this reactive sentiment. For all of this appreciation, it might be worth noting that Jodorowsky, Kaufman, and Miller were all in their seventies while enjoying these artistic successes; and in the case of all three of these auteurs' latest movies, each one of them at some point reminded me of each others' works.

After Dance of Reality, Jodorowsky had the opportunity, thanks to crowd-funding platforms, to create the second film in his late-life trilogy, Endless Poetry, which premiered at international film festivals in 2016. In this latest film Jodorowsky leans towards the far-more personal aspects of his life, and so Endless Poetry is far more autobiographical than even Dance of Reality – this time, not only does Jodorowsky's son play his father, but his grandson plays himself. The actress who played his mother in both films, Pamela Flores, also plays his life-changing girlfriend in Endless Poetry in a dual-role. Here we also get emotional closure between the father/son characters, as well as some closer in regards to what made Jodorowsky make the life choices that he acted upon, and it brings up some personal regrets, which he directs his real-life son and grandson to act out in front of the camera. Endless Poetry could be Alejandro Jodorowsky's most mainstream-accessible film, but really, without the history of his films, would it really have the same meaning...? 

Fury Road...

Lloyd Kaufman's brilliant "Return to Return to Nuke 'Em High aka Vol. 2"...

Endless Poetry...


Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Their Later Films Vol. 4 – Dario Argento.

 Argento's colorful career in horror/thriller cinema began with the violent murder mystery The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, which ignited a wild fever for post-sixties (post-Bava) giallo films in Italy and made Dario Argento an international filmmaking star. Riding a hugely impressive creative high beginning with Deep Red (Profondo Rosso) and Suspiria (1975 & 1977) and continuing through Inferno, Tenebrae, Phenomena (Creepers), his work in the flashy and exciting giallo genre arguably peaked in 1987 with Opera (Terror at the Opera). Well, whether one believes Opera to have been Argento's creative peak or not, there is no denying that his lush style and over-the-top camera trickery was toned down in his subsequent films, Trauma and The Stendhal Syndrome. For me personally, I believe Argento's creative genius continued up until The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), it was this film that marked the last in Argento's reliable cinematic era, and following this, his films became more and more subdued and/or erratic, in the context of his overall giallo catalogue. Of course many fans maintain the point where his creative train was diverted to a diffident set of tracks was his work post-Opera, and fair enough, stylistically Opera is a force to be reckoned with.

Post-Stendhal Syndrome, though, we have a myriad of weird misfires and comebacks from the man once dubbed the “Italian Hitchcock”. Sleepless was primed to mark a creative comeback for Argento in the new millennium, Sleepless celebrated the style, the sexuality, and the bloodletting of Argento's best gialli from his glory years, and fans would hope for this success to continue, creatively speaking, as the prolific filmmaker continued to get his genre films produced in Italy. On fortunately, this was not to be the case, and to follow Argento's next series of gialli would be like riding a dizzying rollercoaster. From the appallingly pedestrian The Card Player to the successful Do You Like Hitchcock?, which was made for Italian television, it was getting harder and harder to get a grasp on the filmmaker's later body of work. While all three are no doubt giallo films, Sleepless, The Card Player, and Do You Like Hitchcock? couldn't be more stylistically apart from each other. And at this point in the director's career, Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005) would mark the end of the second chapter, artistically speaking, before he moved onto more television projects with Mick Garris' “Masters of Horror” series, where Argento would direct two stunning one-hour films, Jenifer and the gory Pelts, seemingly back to his old creative self once again. In fact, while returning filmmakers John Landis and John Carpenter were toning down their second entries in the “Masters of Horror” series, Argento was ramping his blood and thunder up. Argento's “Masters of Horror” episodes were segues into his third, and most dividing chapter in his cinematic works.

Dario Argento's latest films, Giallo, The Mother of Tears (The Third Mother), and Dracula 3D, have had most fans feeling luke-warm – far from his best works, his last three films aren't exactly terrible, but when compared to his films from the seventies and eighties, we start to wonder how much of his stylistic decline is the fault of the creator, and how much lies with the changing, and likely frustrating demands of Italian and international film and television expectations. Indeed Argento himself has spoken about the diminishing lack of style in his own films in relation to the anti-cinematic requests of the studios producing his films in the later years, beginning with The Card Player. One key thing about the latest of these films, Dracula 3D, is that it reunited the actress-daughter with the director-father, on the tip of Asia Argento's retirement from acting altogether. Prior to this, The Mother of Tears (which also starred Asia Argento) was actually a fast-paced, gory, and exciting apocalyptic supernatural horror tale, mixing the best of Argento's Inferno, Demons and The Church – until it wrapped up an a mind-boggling ridiculous turn... and the purposely-designed giallo vehicle titled, well, Giallo, was nowhere near as bad as the majority of fans and critics had made it out to be. As said, not his best work, but there are still many merits to Agento's final giallo film, including some fantastic art and production design and attractive performances by international actors Adrien Brody, Emmanuelle Seigner, and the lovely Elsa Pataky. If anything lets this films down it's Argento's cinematic portrayal of the antagonist – the killer seems like he'd be more at home in a William Lustig movie. Not exactly a coordinated opera of photographic style and blood & gore like the films from Argento's early-to-mid career, I would still highly recommend Do You Like Hitchcock?; meanwhile Giallo and Mother of Tears might not be as bad as some fickle audience members might have us believe – after all, weren't we far more forgiving as an audience, and as fans, to Argento's cinematic quirks and stylish blunders in the 70s and 80s? 


 (Do You Like Hitchcock?)


(The Mother of Tears)