Friday, October 29, 2021

Bored Cast, Bored Viewer: "Hitman: Agent 47" (2015)

"Hitman: Agent 47" is the forgettable reboot to the forgettable "Hitman" (2007). Don't worry, you don't have to be familiar with the first "Hitman" film, or its video game source, to try to enjoy this. A mysterious assassin (Rupert Friend) tries to protect the daughter (Hannah Ware) of the scientist responsible for creating the Agent program, since assorted villains want to find him to recreate the program (and the film's franchise). Bloody, with some nicely done action scenes, but the monotonal cast looks completely bored, which pulled me out of the movie. Nice supporting turns by Friend, Quinto and Hinds, but the scenes setting up a sequel that would never get made are kind of funny in a sad way. The first movie came out in 2007, the reboot in 2015, so can we expect a third-time's-the-charm entry in 2023? The film makers just can't seem to find a story that works.

Stats:
-Directed by Aleksander Bach
-Screenplay by Skip Woods and Michael Finch, Story by Skip Woods, Based on the video game from IO Interactive
-Cast: Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Ciaran Hinds, Thomas Kretschmann, Jurgen Prochnow, Rolf Kanies, Dan Bakkedahl, Angelababy, Michaela Caspar
-Media: VUDU Digital Copy
-Running Time: 96 minutes
-Rating: (* * */* * * * *)
-MPAA Rated (R), contains strong physical violence, very strong gun violence, strong gore, profanity, very brief female nudity, drug abuse



Saturday, October 23, 2021

Old College Papers: Jane Eyre's Fire at Thornfield: Three Different Films

*I wrote this paper in 2000 and received an 85/100. The instructor was being too kind. I suppose this paper is considered a spoiler alert for the novel and three film adaptations, so you have been warned.*

The Internet Movie Database shows thirteen different filmed versions of Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre. Three of those films are available on video: a 1944 version starring Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles, a 1983 BBC version featuring Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton, and a 1996 version with Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt. While all three of these films use Bronte's novel as the source, all three differ in the way the fire at Thornfield Hall is portrayed. This essay will point out the differences between the three films' interpretations of this crucial scene in the novel, and determine which one was most successful.

In the novel, Jane has returned to an inn located close to Thornfield Hall, her former place of employment. She walks from the inn to the house, and finds it is in ruins. She had been missing from the house for months and upon her return, "gathered evidence that the calamity was not of late occurence" (Bronte 432). Jane returns to the inn, and questions the middle-aged innkeeper about the condition of the house. Jane finds out that Edward's lunatic wife, Bertha, escaped, set fire to the house, and committed suicide by throwing herself off the roof. The innkeeper describes her as "dead as the stones on which her brains and blood were scattered" (Bronte 436). Edward has been injured as well, in his vain effort to save his crazed wife. He lost one eye, had a hand amputated, and was blind in his remaining eye. In the end, Jane goes to him, he rejects her out of self-pity, then agrees to take her back, and eventually regains his sight shortly after the birth of their first child together.

A problem filmmakers have had with the scene as it reads in the novel is that Jane gets the information about the fire second-hand. She does not witness the fire or Bertha's suicide, and only discovers it after she returns to Thornfield. Of course Bronte could not have had any inkling of filmmaking technology back in 1847, when the novel was published, so how could film directors dramatize this climactic scene?

The first film viewed for this essay was 1944's "Jane Eyre," with Joan Fontaine as Jane and Orson Welles as Edward. The film tries to put all the elements of a 461 page novel into a scant ninety-six minutes. Joan Fontaine is woefully miscast as Jane, she was twenty-eight years old and playing a girl of eighteen. Orson Welles was thirty-four, trying to play a middle-aged landowner. Often, during the viewing of the film, Fontaine would look older than Welles. The film was directed by Robert Stevenson, whose most popular film would come over twenty years later in the form of Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins" (1964). He would direct many other Disney live-action films, including fodder like "That Darn Cat!" (1965) and "The Shaggy D.A." (1976). "Jane Eyre" was his sixteenth effort as a director, and his twenty-second as a writer. It would also be the last film he is credited as having a hand in writing. Stevenson co-wrote the screenplay with two giants of film, theater, and literature: Aldous Huxley and John Houseman.

Huxley is best known as the author of Brave New World. He only co-wrote one other film in addition to "Jane Eyre," 1940's "Pride and Prejudice." The rest of his filmography are films based on his works. John Houseman was a member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theater. "Jane Eyre" is his only credited screenwriting work, and Houseman would later come to prominence in front of the camera in his Academy Award winning role as the tyrannical law professor in "The Paper Chase" (1973).

Stevenson and his screenwriters open the film with a book of Jane Eyre and the heading "Chapter 1." However, the prose Fontaine narrates and the printing on the page are not the way Bronte began her novel. Most of the film takes place on studio sets and backlots. The fire climax is only accurate in that Jane comes back and finds Thornfield in ruins. Instead of an innkeeper telling her what has happened, it is the housekeeper. The filmmakers decide that only part of Thornfield Hall has burned, thereby explaining why Edward suddenly stumbles upon the scene, blind. Edward still has both hands and eyes and no scarring from his battle with the flames. In order to show Edward is a disheveled state, he wears a few days' growth of beard and has a cane. Edward and Jane make up there in the ruins, and Jane's voiceover lets the audience know the rest of the story about Edward regaining his eyesight. This film came out a few years after Gothic romantic productions such as "Rebecca" (1940) and "Wuthering Heights" (1939). 1944's "Jane Eyre" tries to imitate their success and fails, perhaps, in part, due to World War II. The frame announcing the end of the film also urges the patrons to buy war bonds at the theater. With the war, budgets for major motion pictures may not have been very large.

Mick Martin and Marsha Porter write in their video review that devotees of the novel may be disappointed in the film (563). Leonard Maltin's video guide quibbles that this version is "artistically successful" (689). If you measure how closely the fire scene was reenacted, the film comes up short.

The next version was originally shown on the British Broadcasting Corporation networks in 1983. This version, clocking in at four hours, is able to take its time and tell the story almost as closely as Bronte wrote it. The director, Julian Amyes, is know as a reliable director of other versions of British novels for the BBC, such as "Great Expectations" (1988); and its screenwriter, Alexander Baron, also adapted the BBC mini-series "Oliver Twist" (1985) and "Vanity Fair" (1987). This "Jane Eyre" version comes closest to capturing the fire scene as written in the novel.

A drawback to this BBC version is that all the interiors are shot on videotape and all the exteriors are shot on film. This creates a sometimes jarring juxtaposition for the viewer. Zelah Clarke is probably too old to play Jane, but her work is excellent, as is Timothy Dalton's non-flashy turn as Edward. The BBC version has Jane returning to Thornfield Hall, and the innkeeper accompanying her. There he tells her what happened, as the film flashes back to the dramatization of the suicide. The dialogue of the innkeeper is almost identical to the novel, as are Jane's questions about the fire and Edward's fate. The fire is rather awkwardly staged on videotape; the filmmakers thereby betraying that the scene was shot on an interior set. However, the injuries to Edward are accurate: he is missing his hand and Dalton wears effective makeup to look like he has lost an eye. Edward does not stumble from behind a wall like the 1944 version, he is found at another house later, just as Bronte wrote. The cast is great, and Martin and Porter are accurate when they label this a "thrilling and thorough adaptation" (563).

Finally, I viewed the 1996 version of "Jane Eyre," directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Zeffirelli also worked on the screenplay with Hugh Whitemore, author of "84 Charing Cross Road" (1985). Zeffirelli is famed for his ability to bring literary classics to the screen: from William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" (1968), "The Taming of the Shrew" (1967), and "Hamlet" (1990), to accessible operas such as "La Boheme" (1965) and "La Traviata" (1982), to melodramatic dreck like "The Champ" (1979) and "Endless Love" (1981).

Zeffirelli's film is only one hour and fifty seven minutes, but he and Whitemore are able to give an accurate feel of the Bronte novel that the 1944 version misses completely. Gainsbourg plays a plain but strong-willed Jane almost as well as Clarke's Jane, but closer to the right age. Almost forgotten is Joan Fontaine's pensive, teary-eyed performance. Zeffirelli, however, makes a choice to stage the fire just as Jane is leaving Thornfield after the failed wedding ceremony, instead of months after her departure. Therefore, we see the entire fire sequence instead of having it described or shown in flashback. When Jane returns later, she is not told what happened, but the audience can assume she has figured it out. This version also loses Edward's eye with effective makeup, but he gets to keep both of his hands. The Zeffirelli version is the most sumptuous version of the story with an experienced supporting cast including Joan Plowright, Billie Whitelaw, Anna Paquin, Geraldine Chaplin, and model Elle MacPherson. The film had a large budget, and it shows, especially in the detailed set design and costuming. Hurt is a brooding Edward, and Gainsbourg is finally portraying Jane accurately, in both age and physical appearance. While this film does not follow the fire scene word for word, it still works dramatically (at least better than the two earlier versions reviewed).

This film was criticized harshly for a hurried tone to the climax that truthfully was barely noticed. Martin and Porter write that the film "concludes with dissatisfying abruptness" (563). Leonard Maltin mentions the rushed ending, then shockingly writes "the 1944 version remains the best attempt" (689). Stephen Holden of "The New York Times on the Web" writes: "After the story's climactic fire (which is not convincingly staged), the movie hurtles pell-mell through critical events in Jane's life as if the rest of the story were an afterword instead of a resolution. It feels as if the director has simply lost interest" (1).

James Berardinelli gives the film a favorable review, stating "ultimately, this film is on par with the 1944 Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine version" (Berardinelli 1). People Weekly gave the film a grade of "C," criticizing Gainsbourg's performance, while the National Review found fault in Hurt's performance.

There are many other filmed versions of Jane Eyre, including a few silent versions, a 1934 sound version with Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive, and one not available on video- a television movie made in 1973 with Susannah York and George C. Scott in the vital roles.

Of the three versions viewed, Zeffirelli's films was the better entertainment, but Amyes' fire scene was the closest to the novel. Stevenson's version is simply a misfire, perhaps buoyed by its reputation and cast than its inherent quality.


Works Cited

-Berardinelli, James. "Jane Eyre (1995)". 14 April 2000 (http://www.movie-reviews.colossus.net/movies/j/jane-eyre.html)
-Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 1847. New York: Signet Classic, 1997.
-Holden, Stephen. "Jane Eyre". New York Times on the Web. (http://www.nytimes.com)
-Internet Movie Database. 13 April 2000 (http://imdb.com)
-"Jane Eyre". Dir. Robert Stevenson. Perf. Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. 20th Century-Fox, 1944.
-"Jane Eyre". Dir. Julian Amyes. Perf. Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke. BBC/CBS/Fox, 1983.
-"Jane Eyre". Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Perf. William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Miramax, 1996.
-Maltin, Leonard, ed. Leonard Maltin's 1999 Movie & Video Guide. New York: Signet, 1998.
-Martin, Mick and Marsha Porter. Video Movie Guide 1999. New York: Ballantine, 1998.
-Rozen, Leah. "Jane Eyre". Rev. of "Jane Eyre," dir. Franco Zeffirelli. People Weekly 22 Apr 1996: 19.
-Simon, John. "Jane Eyre". Rev. of "Jane Eyre," dir. Franco Zeffirelli. National Review 17 Jun 1996: 57.



Thursday, October 14, 2021

Don't Be Absurd, Mr. Bond: "Die Another Day" (2002)

Pierce Brosnan's James Bond 007 films come to a merciful close with the worst entry in this strange stretch between the fun Connery/Moore films and the brooding Daniel Craig era.

As if trying a mini-reboot to see what would happen, Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is captured and tortured by the North Koreans after killing one of their officers (Will Yun Lee). He is later traded back to the West in a prisoner exchange, and escapes to investigate who betrayed him while he was in captivity, and to do battle against billionaire Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who has yet another satellite orbiting the planet that turns out to be a giant weapon that can kill millions. Bond meets up with Jinx (Halle Berry), an American NSA agent, and much shenanigans begin.

It's universally acknowledged that "Die Another Day" is not a great film. Even the cast and crew were weary of it, maybe franchise exhaustion had set in with this being the fourth film in seven years. There is some decent stuff here, but also a ridiculous plot, some terrible special effects that would make The Asylum or "Sharknado" proud, and Madonna delivers not only a cringeworthy cameo but the absolute worst song of the entire franchise (and I am a big electronic/dance music fan). M (Judi Dench) thinking that Bond gave the North Koreans information during his torture is a great plot point. Bond slowing down his heart rate and going into cardiac arrest to escape and investigate on his own is silly. Bond trying to escape a giant laser by tooling around the Icelandic tundra in a stolen land rocket is an action set-piece for the ages. Bond's escape using parts of the wrecked land rocket is infamous today for it's awful visual effects. The subplot involving gene therapy is terrible, and another special effects-laden finale is embarrassing. There was talk of giving Berry's Jinx character her own standalone franchise, but there was nothing to her character that would warrant that.

In conclusion, after bingewatching all four Brosnan films, I think he made a very strong James Bond. Bringing Judi Dench in as M was a brilliant casting move, evident in her involvement in Craig's arc, too. However, Brosnan got stuck with some very subpar material in a franchise that had lost itself and couldn't take that one great step into reboot territory until "Casino Royale" four years after this was released. His best entry, "The World Is Not Enough," was merely good, not great. Sean Connery and Roger Moore may have had some off entries in their respective runs, but they also had some fantastic adventures that helped define the series. Brosnan gets stuck in the mediocre, and can't get out.

Stats:
-Directed by Lee Tamahori
-Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, Based on characters created by Ian Fleming
-Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Judi Dench, Rick Yune, Samantha Bond, John Cleese, Michael Madsen, Will Yun Lee, Kenneth Tsang, Madonna
-Media: Streamed on Amazon Prime
-Running Time: 133 minutes
-Rating: (* * 1/2/* * * * *)
-MPAA Rated (PG13), contains physical violence, gun violence, mild gore, some profanity, sexual content, sexual references, adult situations, alcohol use



Monday, October 11, 2021

Marry Christmas!: "The World Is Not Enough" (1999)

I could almost cut and paste my review for "Tomorrow Never Dies" here, if it wasn't for the films' differing plots- Brosnan's third go-round as Bond has a lot going for it, is a solid entry in the franchise, the villain is interesting, and it is almost assuredly better than "Die Another Day."

After a brazen assassination of a lifelong friend (David Calder) of M (Judi Dench) inside MI6 (and an exciting boat chase on the Thames), Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is sent to protect the friend's daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau). She is recovering from a recent kidnapping at the hands of terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle), who has a bullet in his brain that will eventually kill him, but allows him to feel no pain. Elektra has taken over her father's oil business, and Bond becomes embroiled in another round of attempts on her life, as well as nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards).

Let's address the cute, sexy elephant in the room. Denise Richards is not as bad as you've heard- dragging down an otherwise pristine entry in the canon of James Bond films. Sure, her character name is ridiculous, but unlike Pussy Galore and Xenia Onatopp, she addresses the moniker and provides Bond with perhaps his dirtiest quip of all the films. Richards is fun, off-setting Marceau's dark performance as a former sexual abuse/kidnap victim. Brosnan has made Bond his own at this point, this was the third 007 film in five years. Carlyle is fine as Renard, I would have liked to see more of his absence of pain used, and Robbie Coltrane's return as Zukovsky was welcome. Kudos to whoever decided we needed to retire Joe Don Baker's Wade character. You have my eternal gratitude. This was Desmond Llewelyn's last turn as Q, he was killed in a car accident just after this film was released, and will be missed. Cleese's scene here as his protege isn't good. Dench doesn't play M as yet another damsel in distress, showing why she's the super agents' boss- plus I am a long-time fan of Dench's, and love seeing her onscreen. Garbage's theme song is the best of Brosnan's Bond films, speaking of throwing back to the past, and unlike "Tomorrow Never Dies," this film actually has an ending.

"The World Is Not Enough" is another entry stuck in between throwing back to the agent's past, and trying to find itself in the new millennium. Solid effort.

Stats:
-Directed by Michael Apted
-Screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein, Story by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, Based on characters created by Ian Fleming
-Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, John Cleese, Goldie, Serena Scott Thomas
-Media: Streamed on Amazon Prime
-Running Time: 128 minutes
-Rating: (* * * 1/2/* * * * *)
-MPAA Rated (PG13), contains physical violence, gun violence, mild gore, brief female nudity, sexual references, adult situations, alcohol use



Sunday, October 10, 2021

If It Bleeds, It Leads: "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997)

Brosnan's second Bond film finds a return to the fun Bonds of a generation earlier, and therein lies its main drawback. An all-powerful media mogul is launching a brand new television news network, and decides to premiere with a bang by playing the Chinese against the British in the South China Sea.

Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is picked to investigate mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) thanks to the agent's prior relationship with Paris (Teri Hatcher), Carver's wife. Bond must also contend with Chinese agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), who is investigating Carver for her own government and matches Bond punch for punch when it comes to taking care of herself.

Long considered a weak entry by fans, I found "Tomorrow Never Dies" to be an improvement over "GoldenEye." Despite a chaotic production, the finished project is a polished collection of impressive action sequences and interesting story, with a villain who could very much exist in today's world of internet billionaires and skewed journalists masquerading their personal opinions as fact. Things begin to unravel a bit toward the finale, which drags here and there. Brosnan seems more comfortable in the role, Dench is given more to do, and Hatcher and Yeoh both score as strong-willed love interests. Pryce is fine as Carver, although I cringed when Joe Don Baker returned for no reason whatsoever. The sense of fun returned too, this is a popcorn and action flick after all, and while the film gets a strong GOOD rating, it doesn't stand out as any better than earlier films. Sheryl Crow's theme song is as forgettable as Tina Turner's "GoldenEye" theme, and the film definitely needed a better ending to wrap things up.

"Tomorrow Never Dies" is one of those franchise entries that everyone forgets about, since "GoldenEye" is ranked better, and "The World Is Not Enough" and especially "Die Another Day" have lesser reputations. We'll see, they're next in my queue. I sure do miss the days when we'd reliably get a Bond film every couple of years.

Stats:
-Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
-Written by Bruce Feirstein, Based on characters created by Ian Fleming
-Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Teri Hatcher, Michelle Yeoh, Ricky Jay, Gotz Otto, Judi Dench, Joe Don Baker, Vincent Schiavelli, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Geoffrey Palmer, Julian Fellowes, Gerard Butler
-Media: Streamed on Amazon Prime
-Running Time: 119 minutes
-Rating: (* * * 1/2/* * * * *)
-MPAA Rated (PG13), contains physical violence, gun violence, mild gore, brief female nudity, sexual references, some adult situations, alcohol use



Saturday, October 9, 2021

Brosnan Finally Bonds: "GoldenEye" (1995)

Pierce Brosnan's first outing as James Bond is average. His turn as Bond was very rocky, he was caught in a franchise trying to flex its muscles and change, yet remain the same to millions of loyal fans. "GoldenEye" tries to be too many things to too many people, and although there are many firsts here for the franchise, it still feels underwhelming and tired.

In the opening action set-piece, Bond and another double-0 agent, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), do battle with Russian general Ourumov (Gottfried John) with Alec losing his life and Bond escaping in a ludicrous stunt sequence involving an airplane and a motorcycle. I know people made fun of Roger Moore's special effects laden action scenes toward the end of his run, but this looks ridiculous. Nine years later, Bond is still Bond, now called in by a female (!) M (Judi Dench) to investigate the theft of yet another spacebound weapons system being used by a Russian crime syndicate. He teams up with bland Russian computer programmer Natalya (Izabella Scorupco, who does try in a terrible role) as they globe hop and escape impossible situations.

I remember when this film came out after "Licence to Kill" failed at the box office six years earlier. I am a huge James Bond fan. I've read Casino Royale and Moonraker, and I had seen every Bond film to that point. In the theaters, I watched every entry from "The Spy Who Loved Me" through "Licence to Kill." "GoldenEye" was the first film I kind of shrugged at, not catching it until home video. Once I finally got ahold of it, it was a VHS copy, didn't think much of it, and was more than happy to revisit it in widescreen on a giant television over twenty-five years later- and I still found it "meh," despite new blood in the screenwriting and directing chairs- but check out that cast!

It's funny that Famke Janssen's Xenia Onatopp is derided today, when her scenes are the best part of the movie. Literally killing men in the throes of passion, Janssen plays the character over-the-top (so to speak). She easily outshines Natalya, a blank who's good at computers and stuff. Watching her try to tame our womanizing hero is painful. Dench's M is a welcome change to the franchise, but she is not in this as much as I remember, delivering her one memorable line insulting Bond before vanishing until later entries. Desmond Llewelyn is trotted out as Q, but Lois Maxwell was replaced as Moneypenny- I always thought Maxwell's character should have been promoted to become M, watching her boss around Bond would have been fun. Samantha Bond is another blank slate in the role, but Bean is fine as Trevelyan. I hated Joe Don Baker's CIA agent, a stupid, obnoxious Ugly American, although I'll take him over Jeffrey Wright's later terminally depressed Felix Leiter anyday. The action sequences are also hot and cold, with an over-reliance on special visual effects. With almost everything Bond touches literally blowing up in a fiery explosion, I thought I was suffering through "The Marine" with John Cena again. Bond doesn't have to use his brains to defeat the villain, the screenwriters just have him constantly emptying out machine guns on faceless henchmen, which gets real boring real quick. Tina Turner's theme song, written by U2's Bono and The Edge, is instantly forgettable.

I hope to rewatch the rest of the Brosnan Bonds, I do remember they don't get much better, with "Die Another Day" bringing his Bond career to an end. It was the Brosnan era that saw the "old" James Bond franchise come to an end, with Daniel Craig draining all the fun out of the character beginning with "Casino Royale." For the record, while Sean Connery was the best Bond, my favorite 007 film is "For Your Eyes Only." "GoldenEye" blinks at two and a half stars.

Stats:
-Directed by Martin Campbell
-Screenplay by Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein, Story by Michael France, Based on characters created by Ian Fleming
-Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Judi Dench, Joe Don Baker, Robbie Coltrane, Tcheky Karyo, Gottfried John, Alan Cumming, Minnie Driver, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond
-Media: Streamed on Amazon Prime
-Running Time: 130 minutes
-Rating: (* * 1/2/* * * * *)
-MPAA Rated (PG13), contains physical violence, strong gun violence, mild sexual violence, mild gore, some sexual content, sexual references, some adult situations, alcohol use



Wednesday, October 6, 2021

You Might Think You Know Horror: "Gorenography" (2021)

I found a "Gorenography" screener online, but it's been taken down since I watched it. This is another marathon Tony Newton documentary project, featuring more than just talking heads recorded at a horror convention somewhere. Self-shot interviews and introductions with various directors are interspersed with clips from their extreme horror and some adult works (an idea that actually works) and serves as an introduction to viewers jaded by the latest PG-13 jump scare-athon Hollywood franchise that passes as a horror film nowadays.

Unfortunately, half the directors and creators don't help their cases by turning in hard-to-understand video clips, which makes you wonder why you should follow through with viewing their films? Jonathan Doe comes off best (his YouTube channel "Cinemas Underbelly" has must-see content for the extreme underground fan), and there are plenty of clips from films to give a gorehound a fix. Almost three hours of this kind of material can wear a person down, and should be viewed in smaller chunks. Like I said, this was a screener I happened to stumble upon, so I'm not sure if there is any correction done to the final project, but even at three stars it's Tony Newton's strongest documentary film to date and gave me a slew of names to keep an eye out for (and a couple to avoid). I purchased his zine collection book "Splatter Video Issue #1," and I am looking forward to giving that a look- it's one big, chunky piece of reading. Check out his author page on Amazon, between his films and books, the man is a content machine!

Stats
-Directed by Tony Newton, Jonathan Doe, Gore Filth, Patrick Fortin, Joe Cash, Lucky Cerruti, Nathan Hine, Moses, Mercedes, R. Zachary Schildwachter, Mickey Espinoza, Rene Wiesner, Davide Pesca, Rob Ceus, Matti Soikkeli, Wilhelm Muller
-Media: YouTube
-Running Time: 162 minutes
-Rating: (* * */* * * * *)
-Unrated, contains very strong extreme physical violence, strong gun violence, sexual violence, very strong extreme gore, strong profanity, strong female nudity, strong male nudity, very strong explicit sexual content, sexual references, very strong adult situations, drug use, alcohol and tobacco use



Friday, September 24, 2021

The Last 10 Films I Watched: Extreme Edition

Raided my collection to view some pretty vile stuff, plus one film on Amazon Prime. Most of these are definitely not for the squeamish or faint of heart!

-Viewed "The Witch of Kings Cross" (2021), a documentary about Australian artist Rosaleen Norton. Norton was a self-proclaimed witch who seemed to delight in needling the art and media establishment back in the 1950's, while fighting the puritanism that, at one point, ordered some of her artwork destroyed. Norton didn't hold anything back, paving the way for the counter culture of the late 1960's. The film makers did a nice job of filling in a lack of physical media of the subject with reenactments, turning this into something more than another "talking heads" documentary. Provocative subject and artwork are all interesting. Media: Amazon Prime (* * * */* * * * *) Not Rated, contains mild physical violence, some gore, profanity, strong female nudity, artwork nudity, some sexual content, very strong sexual references, strong adult situations, tobacco and alcohol use

-Next was "Symbolicus Vol. 1" (2021), a mixed bag of an experimental film. Thirteen underground directors were assigned a symbol and a time slot and had to turn in a short film. Most of the segments are very gory and squallid, and the lack of any restrictions lets the assembled film makers play. The good outweighs the bad here, with some incredible visuals, and I am definitely looking forward to a sequel. Media: DVD (available HERE) (* * * */* * * * *) Not Rated, contains strong physical violence, very strong gore, profanity, very strong female nudity, male nudity, explicit sexual content, sexual references, very strong adult situations, drug abuse, tobacco and alcohol use

-Started watching "Rene Wiesner's Pulp Films," beginning with "Addio Uomo" (2018). This short film chronicles some dead bodies on display at a temple in Thailand, along with some random footage of an injured chicken and giant lizard. The footage is so random that I quickly became bored, and the lack of background information as to what we were looking at didn't help. A second cut of the film from director Magnus Blomdahl using the same footage doesn't add anything. Media: DVD (available HERE) (* 1/2/* * * * *) Not Rated, contains extreme gore, very strong adult situations

-Watched Wiesner's "Todessehnsucht" (2018) and it's sequel(?) "Ossarium" (2019). In the first film, a little girl goes and visits the same place highlighted in the earlier "Addio Uomo," and in the second film, an older woman visits a similar place in Germany. These aren't documentaries per se, and play a little better than "Addio Uomo." Media: DVD (available HERE), both films (* * 1/2/* * * * *) Not rated, both films contain some extreme gore, adult situations

-The last, and best film in the Wiesner Pulp Films collection is "The Wonders of Young Ulysses" (2019). Wiesner was granted access to a suicide victim's apartment after the body was removed, and discovers some sad information about the possible motive. A very difficult short to watch, especially considering my childhood background (sorry, I bring that up a lot when I watch some of these films), and Wiesner's unobtrusive camerawork makes you feel like you're in the room with him. Strong stuff. Media: DVD (available HERE) (* * * */* * * * *) Not rated, contains brief extreme gore, artwork nudity, sexual references, strong adult situations

-"Barf Bunny" (2021) is just that. Felicia Fisher dresses in a bunny costume, gorges herself on food, throws most of it up, and then is savagely murdered by another bunny costumed performer. This project from Cinemas Underbelly's Jonathan Doe is for a VERY specific audience, I think. There are two cuts of the film, one highlighting the vomiting, the other the well-done practical gore effects. I'm not one to question what turns other people on, but how anyone can find vomiting sexually arousing, much less watchable, is beyond me. To each his or her own, I guess. It's still better than "Cinderella" with James Corden (speaking of vomiting). Media: DVD (available HERE) (*/* * * * *) Not rated, contains strong physical violence, very strong gore, some sexual references, very strong adult situations

-"Flesh Eater X" (2021) is, on the surface, SamHel's most intense film to date, filled with unsimulated sexual intercourse and simulated gore and cannibalism. Wolvie Ironbear is a gender fluid (I don't know if I'm using all these new terms correctly) serial killer in San Francisco who we watch murder and devour three victims. While a full-length film, this worked better as the short "LoveDump." There is no dialogue, Ironbear is definitely a one of a kind film performer, but I guess I wanted more considering the porn actress supporting cast. Hopefully, SamHel can get some horror into his next horror film, there is no suspense in this one. Media: Blu-Ray (available HERE) (* */* * * * *) Not rated, contains physical violence, strong gore, strong female nudity, strong male nudity, explicit sexual content, sexual references, strong adult situations

-"Michael: A Murderabilia Memoriam (2021)," also known as "Michael, Sammler," profiles a German collector of murderabilia. The usual suspects are here- artwork by John Wayne Gacy, letters signed by Richard Ramirez, and interestingly, a document signed by Lizzie Borden's father. Michael comes off as a very normal guy, and explains his fascination with this material very well, including his desire to have contact with victims' families and collect some of their items as well (that would be a very interesting collection). This is yet another Rene Wiesner film, and while it's not as detailed as I would have liked, it does its job. Plus, Michael is not nearly an asshole like the two dudes in "Collectors." Finally, the DVD of "Michael: A Murderabilia Memoriam" featured another Rene Wiesner short film- "Des Morts Des Catacombes (2020)." Ans, the gal from a few other Wiesner works, tours the Parisian catacombs, and tries to kiss a skull. Only four minutes long, this is basically someone's cell phone video with credits. Media: DVD (available HERE) (Michael: * * */* * * * *, Catacombs: * 1/2/* * * * *) Not rated, both contain adult situations

The Last 10 Films I Watched, Best to Worst:
1. The Witch of Kings Cross (Sonia Bible) (4/5*)
2. The Wonders of Young Ulysses (Rene Wiesner) (4/5*)
3. Symbolicus Vol. 1 (James Bell, Victor Bonacore, Jonathan Doe, Patrick Fortin, Gurcius Gewdner, Kasper Juhl, Marcus Koch, Cidney Meredith, Joe Meredith, Michael Todd Schneider, Jessie Seitz, Jeff Shedden, Matti Soikkeli) (4/5*)
4. Michael: A Murderabilia Memoriam (Rene Wiesner) (3/5*)
5. Ossarium (Rene Wiesner) (2.5/5*)
6. Todessehnsucht (Rene Wiesner) (2.5/5*)
7. Flesh Eater X (SamHel) (2/5*)
8. Addio Uomo (Rene Wiesner) (1.5/5*)
9. Des Morts Des Catacombes (Rene Wiesner) (1.5/5*)
10. Barf Bunny (Jonathan Doe) (1/5*)
Average Star Rating: 2.6/5* (10 films/26 stars)
Total Running Time: 409 minutes

Many of these films are obviously not available on Amazon, so follow the links if you want to purchase these or are interested in extreme independent films. The links below are for Amazon links that do have ties to what I watched, clicking on those to purchase anything on Amazon, not just the linked product, helps put some change in my pocket. Thanks, and I hope to return after the next ten!



Saturday, September 11, 2021

Old College Papers: "Cries and Whispers" (1972)

*I got a C- on this paper when I wrote it in 1990, and the grade is too generous. The entire article contains spoilers for the film.*

INTRODUCTION
Of all the films I have seen in class this quarter, I think "Cries and Whispers" moved me more than any of the others. This was the first Ingmar Bergman film I had seen, and it affected me in many different ways. This paper discusses the unanswered questions I had when the lights went up but answered after a lot of thought.

-Were the men in "Cries and Whispers" catalysts for the sisters' behavior?
Yes. Karin's husband was an older, distant, uncaring man whose only reason to touch her is sexual. Even then, sex to him is an afterthought when considering his question to her after supper: "Shall we have coffee in the drawing room or shall we go straight to bed?" I do not think Karin ever loved this man, and probably married him for the money he seems to have. After Karin puts the glass in her vagina, he seems only mildly repulsed. He does not scream and go to her. I think that her self-mutilation has something to do with her menstrual cycle. Maybe he finds that aspect of a woman repulsive. From watching them, I got the feeling that these two people hated each other without limits and what we saw in the film was just the latest chapter in an undeclared war between the sexes. Why do they stay together? Probably out of social necessity. He needs a wife to trot around to his friends at parties, and Karin does not want to end up an old maid like her sister Agnes.

-Was there any lesbianism in "Cries and Whispers"?
Of course not, despite the class' reaction. Anna was Agnes' servant, and I could see how a special bond could grow between them. Also, because Anna's daughter had died, Anna was obviously transferring her maternal instincts and love to Agnes. The sequence between Karin and Maria was just sisterly love. If these characters had been American, I doubt if anyone would touch anyone else of the opposite sex. It just would not be "proper."

-Did Agnes really come back to life near the end of "Cries and Whispers"?
I think Agnes came back to life in Anna's imagination. Agnes and Anna had a bond between them that could not be shared with anyone else. My goodness, a lady and her help actually caring for one another? I think the sequence was Anna's way of showing us, the audience, that she was more than a servant. Maria and Karin's reactions are that of revulsion at the thought of being touched by the dead. Their reasons are given in their reactions- Karin does not want to be touched, and Maria has trouble with that kind of unpassionate love. There is no new information or unspoken secret released to the audience. Therefore, this information could only be possessed by someone like a servant, who sees pretty much everything but can only speak when spoken to.

--Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, with one win--
Best Picture (lost to "The Sting")
Best Director- Ingmar Bergman (lost to George Roy Hill "The Sting")
Best Story and Screenplay (lost to "The Sting")
Best Cinematography (won)
Best Costume Design (lost to "The Sting")



Old College Papers: Luis Bunuel

*I wrote this paper over thirty years ago for a foreign film class, and got a C. The instructor was being too kind.*

Luis Bunuel was born in Calanda, Teruel Province, Spain on February 22, 1900 to a well-to-do family. He was educated at Jesuit schools in Zaragoza from 1906 to 1915. He was a residencia de estudiantes from 1917 until 1920 in Madrid. At the University of Madrid, Bunuel studied with Gabriel Lorca, Salvador Dali, Juan Vicens, and Rafael Alberti. He graduated in 1924, and left Spain the following year to escape the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera.

Bunuel went to France to work in Paris. Having begun to contribute to literary journals while in Spain, Bunuel became an assistant to Jean Epstein. Bunuel and his friend Salvador Dali tried without success to break into the highbrow surrealist society in Paris. Out of this frustration came "Un Chien Andalou," probably the most famous surreal film of all time.

According to Bunuel: "...surrealism revealed to me that man cannot dispense with the moral sense. I believed in the total freedom of man, but I saw in surrealism a discipline to follow and it led me to take a marvelous and poetic, large step forward." "Un Chien Andalou," as well as Bunuel's next surrealist work "L'Age d'Or," were privately commissioned by the Vicomte de Noailles. Bunuel and Dali would select jokes, gags, and objects that would happen to come to mind. They rejected without mercy everything that might mean something. Bunuel also directed, edited, and appeared in the film. He played the man who slits the woman's eye with a razor. The film was photographed by Albert Dubergen, who would enjoy a long career in European film; and starred Simone Mareuil, Pierre Batcheff, Jaime Miravilles, Bunuel, and co-writer Dali. Siberian-born Batcheff would later receive roles in Rene Clair's "Les Deux Timides" and Abel Gance's "Napoleon" before committing suicide in 1932.

The first screening of "Un Chien Andalou" caused an uproar. Dali and Bunuel were quickly accepted into the surrealist's ranks. Over the years, many have dismissed this important film as sensationalism, others call it brilliant, and one critic simply stated "Un Chien Andalou" was "optical rape."

Bunuel's next film, with miniscule help from Dali, was "L'Age d'Or." Henry Miller said of Bunuel's second feature: "I had the impression that I was watching a film which was pure cinema and nothing but cinema...unique and unparalleled...it makes its appeal neither to the intellect nor to the heart; it strikes at the solar plexus."

In 1930, Bunuel was offered a contract by MGM and visited Hollywood, but returned, disenchanted with Tinseltown, to Paris the following year. Two years later, Bunuel was working for Paramount in Paris when he married Jeanne Rucar. They would have two sons- Rafael and Juan-Luis.

In 1935, Bunuel was the Filmofono Executive Producer in Madrid, supervising musicals and comedies. For the next three years, Bunuel served the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War, then returned to Hollywood to supervise unrealized documentaries on the war. From 1939 until 1942, he worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, reediting, dubbing, and directing documentaries for Latin American distribution before being dismissed because of suspicion of a Communist background. Bunuel made no apologies about his religious beliefs: "I have always been an atheist, thank God...I believe it is necessary to find God in man, it's a very straightforward attitude."

In 1944, Bunuel returned to Hollywood to produce Spanish versions of Warner Brothers films. He moved to Mexico in 1947 and directed films there until 1960. That year, he was invited to make a film called "Viridiana."

Bunuel's "Viridiana" tore into established religion. His parody of "The Last Supper" shocked those who hadn't seen the orgy involving Christ in "L'Age d'Or," and transvestitism and foot fetishes ran throughout the story of a naive nun. The Spanish government suppressed the film. During the 1960's and '70's Bunuel worked in Italy and France and lived in Mexico.

When his film "Tristana" received a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award nomination, Bunuel said: "Nothing would disgust me more morally than receiving an Oscar. Nothing in the world would make me go accept it. I wouldn't have it in my home. Even in refusing it, like this actor [reluctant nominee George C. Scott for "Patton"], one isn't free from its corrupting influence. Look at what happened to him when he said he wouldn't accept it. It was worth a Time cover." Bunuel played with the structure of his film "The Exterminating Angel." Because it was slightly too short for commercial exhibition, Bunuel simply repeated a scene at the beginning of the film to lengthen it.

Luis Bunuel died in Mexico City, Mexico on July 29, 1983 of natural causes. Although dozens of books and articles have been written on Luis Bunuel, the late Francois Truffaut summed up this great surrealist with just two words-"happily anarchist."

Luis Bunuel
Filmography
1926 Mauprat (as assistant)
1928 La Chute de la Maison Usher (as assistant)
1928 Un Chien Andalou
1930 L'Age d'Or
1932 Land Without Bread
1946 Grand Casino
1949 El Gran Calavera
1950 Los Olvidados
1950 Suzana la Perverse
1951 La Hija del Engano
1951 Una Mujer Sin Amor
1951 Subida al Cielo
1952 The Brute
1952 Wuthering Heights
1952 Robinson Crusoe
1953 El
1953 La Ilusion Viaja en Tranvia
1954 El Rio y la Muerte
1955 The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz
1956 La Mort en ce Jardin
1958 Cela S'Appelle L'Aurore
1959 La Fievre Monte a El Pao
1959 Nazarin
1960 The Young One
1961 Viridiana
1962 The Exterminating Angel
1964 Diary of a Chambermaid
1966 Belle de Jour
1966 Simon of the Desert
1969 The Milky Way
1970 Tristana
1972 The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
1974 The Phantom of Liberty
1977 That Obsure Object of Desire

Luis Bunuel
Major Film Awards
"Los Olvidados"
-Best Direction, Cannes Film Festival (1951)
-International Critics Prize, Cannes Film Festival (1951)
"Subida al Cielo"
-Best Avant-Garde Film, Cannes Film Festival (1952)
"Nazarin"
-Gold Medal, Cannes Film Festival (1959)
"Viridiana"
-Gold Medal (co-recipient), Cannes Film Festival (1961)
"Simon of the Desert"
-Silver Lion, Venice Film Festival (1965)
"Belle de Jour"
-Golden Lion, Venice Film Festival (1967)
"Tristana"
-Best Foreign Language Film, Nomination, Academy Awards (1970)
"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie"
-Best Foreign Language Film, Winner, Academy Awards (1972)
-Best Story and Screenplay, Nomination, Academy Awards (1977)
"That Obscure Object of Desire"
-Best Foreign Language Film, Nomination, Academy Awards (1977)
-Best Adapted Screenplay, Nomination, Academy Awards (1977)

Luis Bunuel
Bibliography

Bawden, Liz-Anne, Ed. The Oxford Companion to Film. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Bona, Damien and Mason Wiley. Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards. New York: Ballantine Books, 1987.

Crowther, Bosley. Reruns: Fifty Memorable Films. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1978.

Debrix, Jean R. and Ralph Stevenson. The Cinema as Art. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969.

Halliwell, Leslie. Halliwell's Film Guide, 6th Edition. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987.

Halliwell, Leslie. Halliwells's Filmgoer's Companion, 9th Edition. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. New York: Perigree Books, 1979.

Kauffman, Stanley. Living Images. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.

Kauffman, Stanley. Field of View. New York: PAJ Publications, 1986.

Lindgren, Ernest. The Art of Film. New York: Collier Books, 1963.

Lyon, Christopher, Ed. The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers: Volume II- Directors/Filmmakers. Chicago: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1984.

Maltin, Lenoard, Ed. TV Movies and Video Guide, 1990 Edition. New York: Signet, 1989.

Phillips, Baxter. Cut: The Unseen Cinema. New York: Bounty Books, 1975.

Sadoul, Georges. Dictionary of Film Makers. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972.

Talbot, Daniel, Ed. Film: An Anthology. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969.

Truffaut, Francois. The Films in My Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1985.