Friday, October 29, 2010

It's nearly Hallowe'en...

I always get too excited about Hallowe'en. I'll share some of my excitement around now.

Here is an animated version of Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Tell-Tale Heart narrated by James Mason. I first saw this on the dvd of Hellboy, where it was in a section titled "Hellboy Recommends" along with some Gerald McBoing-Boing shorts.

Here is a clip of Ken Nordine, of Word Jazz fame, reading Poe's poem "The Conqueror Worm", taken from the great cd Closed on Account of Rabies. Nordine has the best voice imaginable for this poem.

My buddy David Schmidt wrote & directed the fascinating short film The Lovecraft Syndrome, inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Warning: this one is quite disturbing. It's available to view here on Spike.

Arch Oboler wrote & produced a classic episode of the old-time radio show Lights Out called "The Chicken Heart", rather absurdly about a chicken heart that eats the world. Years later, Bill Cosby did a terrific comedy routine about the effect it had on him as a small child.

Here is the only version of "The Chicken Heart" I could find, much shorter and taken from Oboler's album Drop Dead: An Exercise in Fear.

Here is Cosby's routine, for some reason split into two parts:

Finally, here is one of the scariest things ever: "The Thing on the Fourble Board" from the old-time radio show Quiet, Please. Download the mp3 and then, late at night, on your own, turn out all the lights and settle down to listen to this one. It's old, it's dated.... but it's still scary.

Happy Hallowe'en, everyone!

I love Phantasm so much.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More movies seen recently

Touch of Evil (1958)

Pulp grandeur. Orson Welles wrote and directed, as well as playing the villain. The wonderfully dark and oppressive black & white cinematography is by Russell Metty, but it is of a piece with Welles's filmography and is unlike anything else Metty achieved (Welles was known to be heavily involved with lighting his own movies). This was at the Embassy in the version restored by Walter Murch; if you haven't seen Touch of Evil your movie knowledge is woefully incomplete. And watching this, damned if it wasn't clearly a huge influence on Hitchcock's Psycho.

Orson Welles does his thing

Kick-Ass (2010)

Terrific fun, this is both a satire on comic book conventions and a splendid action movie in its own right. Unlike most other modern action movies I've seen, it was both clever and coherent. The controversy is unsurprising, but misses the point.

Hitgirl does her thing

The Leopard (1963)

Luchino Visconti's masterpiece about the reunification of Italy from the point of view of a Sicilian prince is, well, a masterpiece. I'll admit that it made me sleepy at first, but as it went on I was more and more captured by it, until I finally reached the climactic 45-minute ball sequence - one of the greatest setpieces I've ever seen. Just the part where Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Burt Lancaster) dances with Angelica Bertiana (Claudia Cardinale) would be the mark of a master filmmaker on its own. Again, seen at The Embassy.

Burt Lancaster fucking rules, and if you disagree you can fuck off

Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

Jean-Pierre Melville's existentialist heist movie is long, slow, and immensely cool. The news that Orlando Bloom is starring in a remake is just appalling. Someone please convince that guy to join a monastary or something.

Any Wellingtonians who haven't been seeing these classic films at the Embassy on Sundays are really missing out. There are only two left, and I've already got tickets to both.

Alain Delon doing his thing

And just to prove that it's not a complete love-in here at He's Got a Knife Headquarters:

Gladiator (2001)

Ridley Scott's multiple Oscar-winner, starring Russell Crowe as a Roman general turned gladiator, is the worst movie I've seen for a while.

Russell Crowe as Maximus

It was a great shame that it turned out to be Oliver Reed's last movie, but at least he got to drink himself to death.

Oliver Reed as slave trader and ex-gladiator Proximo

This movie was so dull, it was sort of depressing. The high-point was Joaquin Phoenix's performance as the insane, incest-obsessed Roman Emperor, Commodus. He was terrible, but at least he was flamboyantly terrible.

Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus

Also appearing was Connie Nielsen as Commudus's sister Lucilla, who is also Maximus's former lover.
Connie Nielsen as Lucilla

What else can I say? This movie sucks. I think it may mark the end of my Ridley Scott marathon.

I think I may have seen some other bad movies lately and forgotten them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Movies seen recently

People keep emailing me and saying that I should update my blog more often. I swear, I keep meaning to. I have some lengthy posts in preparation. But in the meantime, here are some movies I have seen recently.

A Single Man (2009)

This movie was flat-out brilliant. Anchored by a sublime lead performance from Colin Firth, it tells the story of a man who, eight months after the death of the love of his life, has decided to end it all. Which sounds like the movie should be downbeat and depressing, but in fact it is exactly the opposite. A Single Man celebrates life in its every frame. It's based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, which I am going to have to read.

It was very hard to believe that this was co-writer/director Tom Ford's first movie. Almost everything about it is confident and assured. I've never been particularly impressed by Firth in the past, but he is just spectacular here. It's amazing how deep inside the lead character's head we get - something that's very difficult to do in film. Ford and Firth deserve major awards for their accomplishments here. The supporting cast (including Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult and Matthew Goode) are uniformly excellent, the movie looks gorgeous, the music is swooning and beautiful. You should see this movie, and someone should fund Tom Ford to make more (he apparently paid for this one out of his own pocket).

This is not Firth with the love of his life, but with his best friend

Slipstream (2007)

Anthony Hopkins wrote, directed, scored and starred in this movie. It is baffling. It involves a scriptwriter whose movie seems to be taking on a life of its own. Or maybe he's dead and the whole movie is his life flashing past his eyes. Or maybe he's come "unstuck in time" like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5. Or maybe something else - I don't know.

It's nightmarish, funny, clever, and completely weird. If this is a peek into Hopkins's mind, then he is clearly a very strange man.

I don't actually remember this bit

Kingdom of Heaven - director's cut (2004)

Ridley Scott's movie about the Crusades is very nearly a masterpiece. It's only significant flaw is the miscasting of its lead character; Orlando Bloom is just not convincing as a charismatic leader. It's easy to see why, as Robert Fisk reported, this movie was cheered in Lebanon; this is far from the sort of jingoistic racist crap you'd probably expect from a Hollywood Christians vs. Muslims movie made in the wake of 9/11. A superb supporting cast, rousing battle scenes and plenty of Ridley Scott's trademark gorgeous visuals are the icing on the cake.

This is a movie where surrender can be noble, and people are more important than ideals. If only it had starred someone more impressive - Edward Norton, in a small role as the King of Jerusalem, manages to be a far more inspiring presence despite playing a character with leprosy who is swathed in bandages and keeps a silver mask over his face.

This is Edward Norton

Blade Runner - the final cut (1982)

Ah, Blade Runner. This movie is a bastardisation of a great book, Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In some ways it is the complete inverse of the book.

And yet, it's a masterpiece. I have much to say about this, and currently no time in which to say it.

He's Batty

Lupin III: the Secret of Mamo

This is the first movie featuring the character Arsène Lupin III, the Japanese grandson of the fictional French gentleman thief Arsène Lupin. Lupin III had previously featured in a series of manga and two seasons of an animated series. This movie features Lupin, his sidekicks Jigen and Goemon Ishikawa XIII, nemesis Zenigata, and love interest/rival Fujiko as they are all entangled with a seemingly immortal criminal mastermind known as Mamo.

The last time I watched this movie, I had problems with how obnoxious and unlikable the lead character is. I had previously seen the second Lupin III movie, The Castle of Cagliostro, which was written & directed by Hayao Miyazaki and which softened the character considerably. In the meantime I have seen the first season of the tv show (also largely directed by Miyazaki) and came to realise that Lupin was much more fun when he was self-centred and randy than when he was altruistic.

The Secret of Mamo is weirdly paced and a bit too long, but it has a great psychedelic design sense, and is very much a tribute to such European anti-heroes as Diabolik, Fantomas, Raffles and Irma Vep. I enjoyed it.

Lupin and Fujiko, both looking a little less cool calm & collected than usual

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Duellists (1977)

The Duellists is based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, but the movie is all about the visuals. Ridley Scott was making his feature debut, but had actually directed a number of tv series and thousands of commercials.

The story involves two French officers in the Napoleonic Wars who become involved in a series of abortive duels over an obscure matter of honour. Armand d'Hubert (Keith Carradine) finds himself having to constantly look over his shoulder in case Gabriel Féraud (Harvey Keitel) is around. Féraud seems to want to kill d'Hubert just for the sake of killing him; d'Hubert goes to every length to keep his distance, but Féraud keeps popping up regardless. The movie looks like an historical epic, but it feels like a Western.

I'm a big fan of Westerns that are not set in the American Old West, from No Country for Old Men to Mad Max 2, and as it turns out I am a big fan of The Duellists as well. Its appeal is almost entirely in the way that Scott uses his amazing powers as a designer and a camera operator. The Duellists looks amazing from start to finish. Almost any frame of the movie could be printed up and hung on the wall.

The cast fares less well. Keith Carradine is wooden, as he almost always is. (The only notable exception I can think of is his Wild Bill Hickock in Deadwood.) Harvey Keitel would later develop into one of the best actors os his generation, but he was not there yet. Diana Quick and Christina Raines are there as set decoration, and are unable to do much with their underwritten roles. Albert Finney is fun as Joseph Fouché, but he's only in one scene.

However, the actors all look marvellous and the authentic-seeming duels are magnificently staged. Despite the acting deficiencies, the thin script and the jarring voice-over (nicely delivered by Stacey Keach but as unnecessary as that later foisted onto Ridley Scott's third - and best - film Blade Runner) I was enthralled throughout.

Scott was never an intellectual director, despite Blade Runner, and The Duellists is not an intellectual movie. It is sensual and sensuous, exciting and entertaining, and utterly beautiful from start to finish.

I liked it.