Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Director: George Miller

HOLY SHIT it’s another film that I’ve watched in the same year it was released, although I waited for the home video release… kind of wish I’d stirred myself to the cinema when it was on. I remember being sceptical about this when I first heard it was happening, and then the first trailer came out and I thought “oh”… perhaps my scepticism was unjustified after all. And then the film came out, everyone was blown away, and thousands of whining pissbaby MRAs all over the Internet managed to turn it into a sort of cultural phenomenon by screaming about it being full of women capable of standing up for themselves and actually outshining the title character… you know, a politically correct feminist conspiracy pretending to be an action movie. How could MEN be expected to tolerate this sort of thing? I did have that in mind when I handed over $25 for the Blu-ray at my local JB this afternoon, and was pleased by the thought that somewhere, some meninist shitbag was in agony because of me.

The film itself… MOTHERFUCKER. MM:FR pretty much lived up to the hype for me. I am not even remotely surprised somehow to discover George Miller had storyboarded the whole thing before he’d actually written the script, it is that sort of film; he envisaged it as more or less a continuous chase, and the film undeniably delivers on that intent. Plot… actually, you can barely really speak of this film as having one because the story is so thin, and serves primarily as a loose framework for Shit Blowing Up (which shit does, with remarkably few pauses for breath over two hours—AND mostly using actual practical effects rather than just CGI). And that’s fine. Fury Road is one of those style-over-substance films where the style actually becomes the substance, and what style it is, too; Miller drew cinematographer John Seale out of retirement to shoot this and it looks jaw-dropping, and the grotesquery of the wasteland’s various people just adds to that, giving the whole thing a fairly batshit semi-surreal vibe. If you can overlook the barely-thereness of the story (and the fact that, to be honest, Tom Hardy’s Max actually does kind of pale next to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa; Max remains a somewhat distant character throughout), then Fury Road is a pretty stellar example of the sort of thing it is. Might’ve taken nearly 17 years from its first conception to its eventual release, but the end result was worth it; I’m sure sequels will ensue, but Dr George is going to have a hard time beating this one.

The Invisible Man (1933)

Director: James Whale

Apparently H.G. Wells was not exactly thrilled by Island of Lost Souls, and demanded Universal treat his book more respectfully than Paramount had done. I haven’t read the book since the late 80s, and I remember very little of it, so I don’t know how faithful an adaptation it is, but Wells had to approve the script so it can’t have been too far off, I suppose… Anyway, it was interesting to watch this after The Mummy; if the voice of Karloff (originally supposed to star) was a big part of that film, Claude Rains’ voice was, basically, the star of this one. Nothing if not an extraordinary Hollywood debut (Rains had only made one film previously, and that was in 1920), his face doesn’t become visible until the very last shot of the film and he is, technically, naked for much of the film. Of course, this was a James Whale film, his third Universal horror; The Old Dark House (his second one) had displayed an element of weird humour that Frankenstein (his first) hadn’t exactly done, and that is ramped up here. Rains’ scientist, Griffin, is quite mad as a result of his experiments with invisibility, but along with the megalomania and murderousness it also inspires him to a sort of silly prankishness, most notably the golden moment when he steals a policeman’s pair of trousers and is next “seen” chasing a screaming woman terrified of these unnaturally animated pants… Needless to say, all of this required technical marvels that are still kind of stunning, particularly when you consider how difficult some of them would’ve been to achieve in 1933 (the shot of Griffin unbandaging himself in the mirror required four separate pieces of film to be combined); they’re not as flashy as modern CGI would be but they’re still amazing. Invisible Man doesn’t seem to be as well-remembered as Whale’s other horrors, but it was very pleasing to watch again tonight; the mix of horror and humour is certainly peculiar and occasionally disconcerting, but good fun overall.

The Mummy (1932)

Director: Karl Freund

At least there’s no doubt as there is with Dracula as to Karl Freund’s directorship of The Mummy, even if Wiki is correct about him only being hired to direct it two days before shooting started. It does rather borrow in many ways from Dracula, too, although whether that’s a case of Freund applying his alleged directorial experience from that film or just screenwriter John L. Balderston recycling his earlier work is another matter (probably the latter). Also, The Mummy borrows some of Dracula‘s cast, notably Edward Van Sloan as the Van Helsing substitute and David Manners as the somewhat crap male romantic lead. However, there’s one big difference: Karloff instead of Lugosi, and there’s no doubt he is much the best thing in the film… Part of that is down to the quite extraordinary makeup job designed by Jack Pierce; you don’t get to see a lot of it in detail (especially not when Karloff is still wrapped up in his burial bandages), but when you do get close-ups of that impossibly lined face, you see just how remarkable it is. But there’s also this remarkable, underplayed gravitas to his performance as the titular mummy, inadvertently revived in the modern day and now in search of his long-lost love… who has, of course, been dead for 3700 years just like him; fortunately for him, her spirit has reincarnated through various points of history (business which was sadly cut from the film before released) and is currently inhabiting a somewhat troubled young woman (Zita Johann, evidently one of Hollywood’s more extraordinary figures from that era) in Cairo. Karloff plays the key scene in which he shows her their past lives in Egypt with striking conviction and seriousness, much of it conveyed by his voice, which is really quite incredible here. He kind of easily overshadows everything else here, and gives the film its main attraction; I don’t think it’s as memorable on the whole as some of Universal’s earlier horrors, possibly because it is largely refried Dracula, but it does give Karloff one of his finest hours.

Cruising (1980)

Director: William Friedkin

I must say, Cruising may be a bit of a failure but it’s one of the most fascinating failures I’ve ever seen. This was about as controversial as mainstream Hollywood cinema got in 1980, as detailed at some length in the film’s Wiki entry, so I won’t get into its vicissitudes too much here. Holy SHIT, though. This was actually a cinema viewing, a digital presentation at Golden Age in Surry Hills, convened by young Mr Chris Elena, up-and-coming local filmmaker, and the look of utter confusion on Chris’ face at the end of the film was worth every cent. I haven’t seen such a “what the fuck did I just watch” look on another person’s face since I showed my friend Nick Death Bed (which I’ll be showing Chris soon as well).

Cruising is notorious, among other reasons, for having had some 40 minutes cut from it to satisfy the MPAA’s requirements for an R-rating. Friedkin has said that material was basically just more gay club scenes that may or may not have made a difference to the film (depending on which interview you read). Whatever, though, there’s definitely a feeling of stuff missing and post-production fiddling, too many jagged edges that didn’t just feel like stylistic decisions, and that go somewhat beyond the avowed intentional ambiguity of the film’s ending. There did seem to be a sort of disjunct between the first part of the film (up to the interrogation scene) and the second part in which Pacino’s undercover cop reckons he’s finally latched onto the killer he’s been pursuing; the feel of this latter part is somewhat different to that of the first.

Once Chris could say anything about the film at all, he made what I thought were some astute observations, one, that the film wasn’t homophobic (as it was widely condemned for being at the time) but it certainly was misguided—personally I felt there was something kind of tabloidesque about the film’s understanding of the milieu it depicts, that it was basically well-meaning but not terribly intelligent or subtle—and two, that much of the film actually plays like a horror film, particularly the first half. Which I would go along with. As I said, it’s not exactly a success as such—too lumpy and weird to really be able to fully defend it—but the more I think about it, the more I think I respect it despite that (though I do think the big-screen viewing made me feel better disposed towards its oddness than a TV viewing might have done). However much its ambitions may have been frustrated, at least it clearly had some beyond merely ghoulish exploitation. And whatever else may be said for or against it, I can’t think of any film of this sort with anything like that moment in the interrogation where the giant, near-naked black guy abruptly steps in and thumps Pacino, a genuinely astounding moment of “what the fuck did I just watch” almost as surreal as the fact that STEVEN SPIELBERG OF ALL PEOPLE was considered as director at one point…

Dune (the Michael Warren edit, 1984/2013)

Director: David Lynch

So, a friend of mine posted this on Facebook earlier today:

This ia recut of David Lynch’s Dune, carried out by a brave chap called Michael Warren. Amazingly, it’s been up on Vimeo now for quite a long time apparently without copping an infringement notice or anything, but I’ve only just found it. Basically, Warren’s taken the available DVD versions of the original theatrical cut, the extended TV cut, and various deleted scenes, and produced his own, slightly over three-hour edit of the thing. The net result is what might be called an eclectic text, with some rough edges, but in fairness to him, Warren was only working with the stuff he could get on DVD, not the actual original elements (which I presume Lynch still has no interest in going back to). I will give him many points for effort.

NOW… I have reviewed Dune here before, and if you can’t be bothered clicking that link (and why the hell would you), let me quote the opening words: “Almost unmitigated dogshit”. Yeah, I, er, didn’t like it much. As I noted then, I’d found the TV version baffling whenever I saw that (late 80s? I no longer remember) and I wasn’t much more enlightened by the original theatrical version. I sat down with Mr Warren’s version, therefore, hoping he’d somehow pulled an adequate film out of the wreckage.

And guess what?






I have come, at last, to the conclusion that there is nothing that can save Lynch’s Dune from being anything other than dogshit. If you could rebuild the entire thing, sound and vision, from scratch (assuming every individual bit of sound and vision is still available), the end result would still be one of the worst films ever made. Cutting out the infernal voiceovers would be a start, but it would still be completely awful.

I hate this film now in a way I don’t think I did before. And yet I don’t blame Michael Warren for this, because the film isn’t his fault. His edit was a bold attempt to turn shit into strawberry jam that… just… totally failed because the stuff he had to work with was no good. I can’t agree him that Dune is unfairly maligned, either; if anything, I’m now convinced it’s not maligned nearly enough. And, frankly, I am now afraid to read the book as a result of tonight’s viewing…

Mad Foxes (1981)

Director: Paul Grau

I haven’t actually been completely slack in watching things lately, I should say; one of my recent viewings has been the two volumes of Jake West’s Video Nasties documentaries and accompanying trailer collections. For my money, the second of these was more interesting than the first, cos it covers the “Section 3” films—i.e. the ones the DPP chose not to prosecute under the Obscene Publications Act, but which were still liable to being seized by the police—of which there were actually more than the official “nasties”… it interested me, cos I don’t think I’d even heard of the “Section 3” list, and I’d certainly never heard of a number of the films thereon. This was one, and it was Stephen Thrower’s enthusiasm for the film that made me seek it out as soon as possible. Tonight, I watched it… and HOLY FUCK, Thrower’s love for this film is not misplaced. Notwithstanding a bit of mid-film sag, Mad Foxes really is astonishing; I had to keep rewinding bits to convince myself I actually had seen or heard something I thought I couldn’t possibly have seen/heard right.

It is an extraordinarily bad revenge flick; our hero—one of the least likeable film heroes I can remember ever seeing—is… I don’t know, the film never quite clarifies what he does other than drive his Chevy Stingray and pick up girls with it. And piss off bikies with it. For some reason, a gang of hoodlums on choppers take offence to him and his car, which winds up with one of them getting killed in an accident chasing him, which ends in them beating him up and raping the nice young thing with him (who we never hear of again), which culminates in him asking a friend to attack them with his gang of karate students, a battle which ends with the gang leader having his cock cut off and shoved down his throat… at which point we’re only about twenty minutes into the film—whose brief running time (only about 80 minutes) is its chief positive virtue—and there’s more to come… JESUS FUCK. The real star of the film is the staggeringly awful English dubbing, of course, and for once I’m kind of glad I didn’t insist upon hearing it in its native language, but the general feeling of mesmerisingly rank stupidity informing the entire thing would come through even in subtitled Spanish, I daresay. The surprising (and comparatively copious) male nudity certainly gives the film added interest, even if (like me) you’re not particularly into that sort of thing, and the somewhat jaw-dropping ending just left me applauding in a slightly stunned manner at its sheer WTF-ness. Basically, one of the greatest bad films I’ve ever seen.

The New York Ripper (1982)

Director: Lucio Fulci

So, at last I come face to face with one of the nastiest of the video nasties (yes, I know it wasn’t an actual nasty, SHUT UP), and possibly the late Lucio’s most notorious film… which is quite something when you look at some of the films he’d made before it. Ripper saw him stepping away from the supernatural and back into the murky waters of the giallo, and I don’t think there were many gialli murkier than this; by this time the slasher film (which was, of course, heavily influenced by the giallo) was in the ascendant and Fulci seemed determined to respond to that, and go further in the process (did any American slasher have a killer with… you know… THAT voice?). And it’s very much one of those films whose censorship history precedes it; it was banned here until 2005, and it was famously escorted out of the UK after James Ferman refused to even look at it… even now there’s that one scene which the BBFC still won’t allow to pass uncut.

To be sure, Ripper lives up to its rather horrible reputation in a lot of ways; you can argue about the extent to which it is or isn’t misogynistic—the Shameless DVD has an interview with Fulci’s daughter, who says it isn’t, and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, who says it is but disavows responsibility for it being that way—but I don’t anyone would deny that it is, basically, hugely unpleasant. Maybe some of his previous films are a bit more spectacular on the gore front, but the general vibe of Ripper makes its violence seem so much worse and so much nastier (and that final scene of the little girl in the hospital crying for her daddy—the killer—who’s never going to answer her call because, you know, he’s dead by that point is, somehow, far more disturbing than anything in Fulci’s undead quartet). Like Cannibal Holocaust, it’s well-made enough that I can’t just dismiss the film as a repugnant piece of shit conspicuously lacking in redeeming features, which is what most critics seem to do. It’s good enough that I can’t just, you know, pretend it’s not. Equally, I also can’t pretend I actually liked it as such; indeed I’m not sure when I last saw a film quite so reluctant to ingratiate itself with the viewer, who it almost seems to hate at times. Well-made, but determined to be unloveable, and it surely succeeds on that count…

American Grindhouse (2010)

Director: Elijah Drenner

For some reason I’m greatly amused by the way this film about American exploitation cinema, or at any rate the DVD packaging of same, actually kind of operates the other way round from exploitation by not advertising any of its unexpectedly plentiful bonus features… including material shot a decade earlier for the original production, which a documentary solely about Jack Hill, the man Tarantino called “the Howard Hawks of exploitation filmmaking”.  Along the way, though, as Drenner and his crew accrued more interview footage, this was revised over the years into a general history of grindhouse, which I picked for tonight’s viewing cos it’s cult/expoitation/grindhouse challenge time at the ICM forum and I really should make an effort to actually take part, so hopefully this will inspire me some. Drenner’s particular approach is, I think, a good one, in that he looks beyond just the usual 60s/70s timeframe and considers how the exploiters of that period actually emerged from the exploiters of preceding decades (tracing exploitation as a tendency all the way back to Edison), looking at the tension that existed since the 30s between mainstream Hollywood and its less reputable counterpart and how the former’s gradual co-opting of the latter’s subject matter and techniques during the 70s eventually left it with nowhere to go. It’s a bit whistle-stop, in that it’s only 80 minutes long and it’s got to cover quite a lot of ground, with some of its individual topics really being worthy of feature-length expansion (and some of them having indeed been treated at such length), meaning it’s ultimately most useful as an introductory text for viewers not really familiar with the idea of exploitation film, let alone the films themselves, and I think it kind of skates over certain things it could’ve done more with (one limitation is there in the title, i.e. it’s specifically “American grindhouse”, with no real consideration of how foreign productions in that vein, especially the Italian giallo, played together with the American ones). Still, on that basic introductory text level, I suppose it generally does a decent job. Perfectly pleasant viewing.

The Lego Movie (2014)

Directors: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

It’s… fast, isn’t it? Tears along at a speed that even the 21st century version of Doctor Who might consider indecent… Anyway, the challenge this month at the ICM forum is “animation”, so I decided to make this my first contribution to same in keeping with my plan to wipe some of the more recent titles in my backlog off it. It was a puzzling prospect when I first heard about it, much like The Social Network; if Facebook seemed an unlikely subject for a film, how much more bizarre did Lego sound? I know toy-driven cartoons are hardly new (I watched enough of them as a kid), but still… Anyway, much as The Social Network was unexpectedly hailed as a great work when it finally appeared, so was The Lego Movie; happily I reacted far better to the adventures of Emmet than I did Zuckerberg vs the Winklevii. Emmet is kind of the ultimate Everyman, or Everyfigure, a completely generic construction worker in the city of Bricksburg who inadvertently becomes mixed up in a battle to save the whole Lego universe from the machinations of benevolent (?) ruler President Business and his plan to unleash something called the “Kragle” upon it. As I said, this story is related at blinding speed—I remember being kind of shocked at one point to find only 12 minutes had passed and there were still about 85 minutes to go—which was a bit alarming at first (that was an awful lot more stuff that would be needed to fill 100 minutes) but is actually kind of referenced by the film itself and makes a certain sense, especially when it comes to the BIG TWIST (a sort of mix of Blazing Saddles and the end of St Elsewhere). Alas, the twist is kind of where the film falls down a bit and gives into the sort of sentiment it had hitherto managed to avoid or undercut. Actually, the overall message is a bit mixed, with the film’s libertarian leanings (that apparently gave that loon Glenn Beck a bit of a hard-on) and general attempt at being “subversive” being undermined somewhat by Emmet’s realisation that the Master Builders won’t get anywhere except by pulling together as a unit and following instructions, which is kind of, well. the opposite of what the film had been trying to say up to then. Still, it’s a fair deal of fun, and the consistent “Legofication” of everything results in some genuinely amazing visuals. Not surprised a sequel has been ordered, though I’m not sure I can envisage where they’ll take it…

The Raid 2 (2014)

Director: Gareth Evans

You may recall me being sufficiently blown away by The Raid that I knew I had to see both the sequel and Evans’ previous effort Merantau. The latter arrived in the post today, while the sequel was, obviously, tonight’s viewing. And yeah, part 2 does live up to the original, remarkably enough. Did it live up to expectations, though? That I’m not sure of. Certainly I don’t think it was quite as continuously excessive as part 1, although, having said that, that’s actually probably not a bad thing, cos when the violence does erupt it is inclined to be pretty hellacious (notably the prison riot, the choreography of which is quite something), especially once outright gang war erupts in the second half. If this film had hammered the viewer with almost non-stop violence (and I use the word “hammered” advisedly; one female gangster in the film literally takes a couple of hammers to the opposition) of that level, I don’t know if it would’ve been tolerable. Anyway, Evans has a somewhat bigger story this time; coming more or less straight off the end of the first Raid, Rama now finds himself drafted into undercover work, posing as a member of one of the biggest criminal gangs in town in order to bring down the corrupt police from the first film who’ve been working with said gang. There is, however, tension within the gang—the son of the leader getting fed up with the old man’s refusal to give him more power—and, of course, they’re hardly the only gang in town. Complications ensue, exceptionally violent ones at that. The plot is, to be sure, not hugely original, but that’s not the point anyway; if the story is kind of late 80s/early 90s Hong Kong crime thriller, the carnage is something even John Woo or Ringo Lam might’ve hesitated over. Remarkably, despite being just shy of 150 minutes long,The Raid 2 somehow never feels too draggy, it obviously feels long but never too much so. Quite an achievement in many and varied ways, this has now got me eager for the third installment, and kind of furious that it probably won’t be out for another three years at the earliest…


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