Monday, September 08, 2003

mo' movies

* Thir13en Ghosts: An SFX-laden remake of William Castle's 1960 flick. That movie had a gimmick just like other Caste flicks {see also: The Tingler}: It was filmed in "Illusion-O" and a pair of special glasses where needed to see the ghosts. This version from Dark Castle Entertainment (Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver and Gilbert Adler; who were also responsible for the other William Castle upgrade that year, House on Haunted Hill) assimilates this device into the plot and gives us instead a collection of creepy monsters, a great set (a glass house, with an intricate set of sliding panels, complete with containment spells, and cool sound engineering. Also cool are the opening credits some of which appear at odd angles and cast shadows against the objects of the house that they appear against. The opening credits appear as the camera begins a slow circular sweep about the house of Arthur Kriticos: while it continues, and credits appear at odd angles, the soundtrack fill us in on the tragic death of Arthur's wife -- she burns to death in an accident: when the camera returns to Arthur, the tone of the on-screen colours has changed, Arthur is now gloomy and hurt: although this owes a lot to SFX, it reminded me of Welles' bravado opening for Touch of Evil. The Arcanum is the evil book describing the Black Zodiac and the construction of the machine fed by the energy of the ghosts, which will open up the Ocularis Infernum, or the Eye of Hell. Predicatably, he who controls The Ocularis is the most powerful man on earth. In return for essaying the "black thang" stereotype of a faux-sassy house-helper, Rah Digga gets to sing "Mirror, Mirror" against the end credits. One of several irritating aspects. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, the plot and acting are D. O. A. But the production design and sound engineering are a good reason to catch this post-modern re-Castle.{production notes} {Zemeckis' Castle fetish and more rants} [more about the Ocularis Infernum]

* Ulysses' Gaze: The only thing I knew about this close-to-three-hour "epic" Greek film by Theodoros Angelopoulos was his resentment at Kusturica's Underground trouncing the film at Cannes for the Palme d'Or. I had caught Underground in one of the now-defunct CAN group screenings at Georgia Tech. That was an "epic" as well, and the only thing that seemed to save it from a big black mark in my book was some oddball black comedy that offset the tragedies that the film traversed. The film was also more active than Angelopoulos' epic. Theo chooses Harvey Keitel to play an expat Greek filmmaker (called 'A') who returns to his native Ptolemas to attend a special screening of one of his extremely controversial films. A's real interest, however, is in locating the mythical reels of the very first film shot by the Manakia brothers. To do this he crosses territorial boundaries and, from an artistic point-of-view, flits between the present and the past, giving us an extended lesson in Balkan history and geography, giving Harvey Keitel another chance to walk about mumbling inaudible nothings in English, giving the subtitlers another chance to make life miserable for us as the characters in the different settings switch spoken languages, giving Keitel another shot at frontal nudity (last evidenced in Jane Campion's lyrical The Piano), providing another example of one actress playing several different female characters who inexplicably fall for A in various forms of role-play (I found a more satisfying example in Miranda Richardson's performance in Spider). I initially sat down to watch the movie without any preconceived impressions, just to be fair to Theo's "vision". However, all the geographical information I got (which allowed me to understand the goings-on) was courtesy another friend who was watching the film. My adjectives for the film changed progressively as we moved from tape one to tape two: patient, slow, ponderous, blowhard boring. I initially relished the framing, and I still recommend this film only if you like to see several (and I mean several!) examples of interesting framing. Some tableux are interesting too : the inexplicable moment when A encounters a muse/vision and two masses of people rapidly converge on him; the single-take celebration of successive New Years in his old house, as A is seen to transition from a boy to a full-grown man. However, I soon began classifying these are mere examples of the pretentious bent of the filmmaker. By the time the film concluded the only things I could appreciate (aside from the framing and a sometimes interesting score) were: (a) the circularity of closure (b) the faint parallels to Ulysses' Odyssey (c) the possibility that this was Theo's 81/2 (an ode to his craft). Apart from that, I found little about the film that seemed to justify either his outburst at Kusturica trouncing him, or to recommend this film to anyone else. {Roger Ebert's rant} {reviews and reflections} {slant magazine}

* Bird: The first in my unplanned Eastwood double bill. Eastwood, with his love for jazz, seems, now, to have been the perfect person to direct this heart-felt biopic on the eventful traumatic life of Charlie "Yardbird" Parker. And it is to his credit that the film never sinks into being either (a) a film delving into the mush of human achievement with soaring achievement or (b) a film focussing on the technicalities of Parker's complex runs. Watch it, that's all I can say. For Forrest Whitaker's wonderful performance. For Eastwood's easyhanded direction. For the wonderful soundtrack (both the score by Eastwood regular Lennie Niehaus, and all that jazz ... literally.

* Blood Work: Sure, it's run-of-the-mill. But with Eastwood around, it works a lot better for me. Eastwood once again plays against the filmic iconography that his oeuvre has built up, and aims at the frailty of a man like him, in his position, at his age. He plays an aging FBI profiler and the film begins with his character Terry McCaleb (pron: muck-kay-lib) experiencing a heart attack while giving chase (strong echoes of Frank Horrigan running out breath in one of the subtle effective scenes in In the Line of Fire). Thence, the film proceeds like a thriller, but a thriller made by Eastwood, starring Eastwood. This means that there are no hifalutin gags, fake high points, pseudo-climactic moments of discovery. Everything is like the surface of a lake on a windless day: calm. But yet, you know there's a storm brewing. And Eastwood mercifully leaves that feeling up to you. He doesn't force it in. And with a cast comprising capables like Anjelica Houston and Jeff Daniels, Eastwood manages to dish out another watchable film in the league of Absolute Power: quiet drama.

* The Exorcist II: The Heretic: To see John Boorman as a director of a sequel, and a horror classic at that was a bit surprising. This film is strong on atmosphere, and the performances are subdued, except for the locusts:) Yet, there isn't as much dread as was fearfully evident in the first film. It's almost like attempting a sequel to Rosemary's Baby (which exists, as a book: Son of Rosemary). To achieve the same levels of original and innovative shock is a challenge that is sometimes best left unmet. You can note Boorman's achievements if you treat this as an isolated film, exploring the themes of belief, and the blurred line between good and evil. Of course, associating Satan and a Mesopotamian God called Pasuzu may not make theological sense.

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