Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Film Review: THE CAT (1992, Ngai Kai Lam)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 84 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Philip Kwok, Siu-Ming Lau, Waise Lee, Christine Ng, Gloria Yip.
Tag-line: "THE CAT."
Best one-liner: "I'm not joking I mean to finish off your mom too!"

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you aren't easily frightened. Now, I have to imagine that Lam Ngai Kai was smoking from the same batch of crack here that Obayashi was when he made HAUSU back in '77. If you're familiar with Lam's RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY, you'll probably have a pretty good idea of what you're getting into. "Tonight's story is about three people- no, make that two men and one cat to be exact." THE CAT- also known as 'THE 1,000 YEARS CAT'- raises a lot of age-old questions. Hopefully, having viewed the film, I can provide the answers and help distinguish MYTH from FACT.

: Cats are no good when it comes to fighting.

Note that The Cat is simulaneously fighting the dog AND absconding from the museum with a priceless artifact.

Note 80's lightning and the illuminated dog skeleton.

Don't worry, the dog isn't too badly injured.

FACT: "I never knew a cat could fight too and so hard!" This cat is an interstellar shitkicker. Canines and blob-like aliens: beware. The infamous knock-down, drag-out duel between The Cat and Lao Pu (the bravest dog in the world) has been medically proven to enrich viewers' lives. I now can say that I have seen a cat swing on a rope like Tarzan.

MYTH: When cats leap through windows, they leave behind a perfectly cat-shaped hole, like in an old Warner Brothers cartoon.

FACT: Well, actually...

: Leaving behind intestines and bloody newspapers when you move away may delay the reimbursement of your security deposit.

FACT: The Cat did not complain about this, so I have to imagine he received his deposit back in full.

: All aliens are bloodthirsty, gooey sea anemone monsters that transform ordinary folks into gun-loving terminators.

FACT: Not The Cat and his friends. "We can't kill mankind- there's no hatred between us."

: Alien terminator men will make you piss your pants and stuff a grenade in your mouth, but they draw the line at killing your mother.

FACT: "I'm not joking I mean to finish off your mom too!"

: You can't make a decent drum machine-fueled montage out of the closeups of sweat globules on an excercisin' lady.

FACT: Well, watch THE CAT and find out if this indeed remains a myth.

: This is the first hero cat to be named 'The General.'
: Go back and watch Stephen King's CAT'S EYE.

: The finale is a letdown.

FACT: Only if you think people bursting into flames for no reason, levitating cats, a Smog Monster-esque creature exploding into a deluge of glitter, and our extraterrestrial heroes ascending into heaven (like the end of THE APPLE!) somehow approximate a letdown.

: All good things must come to an end.

: It all ends on a freeze frame and then we're entreated to a replay of some of the film's best scenes set to some stock synth music. As a tribute to the fact that the film has so many great scenes, they even outlast the credits, and keep going for several mind-blowing minutes. Who says the movie has to end? Certainly not THE CAT.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Film Review: POOR PRETTY EDDIE (1975, Chris Robinson & David Worth)

Stars: 4.3 of 5.
Running Time: 92 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Shelley Winters, Slim Pickens, Leslie Uggams (Tony award winner, also acted in ROOTS, SUGAR HILL), Michael Christian (THE GREAT GUNDOWN, HARD KNOCKS), Dub Taylor (MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III), Ted Cassidy (Lurch on THE ADDAMS FAMILY). Written by sometime CHARLIE'S ANGELS, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, and BONANZA scribe B.W. Sandefur.
Tag-line: "All He Wanted Was A Friend."
Best one-liner: "Did he bite you on the titties?"

Directed by David Worth (KICKBOXER, SHARK ATTACK 3- yes, that SHARK ATTACK 3, also the cinematographer here) & Chris Robinson (THUNDER COUNTY, CHARCOAL BLACK); and marketed as a hicksploitation/blaxploitation revenge flick (REDNECK COUNTY RAPE!), one might assume that they'll know exactly what sort of film to expect. Well, unless you guessed "an utterly bizarre mashup of 60's Euro-arthouse aesthetics (from Bergman to Antonioni) in the milieu of then-recent horror flicks (by the likes of Craven and Hooper) that also happens to be loosely based on the revolutionary 1957 Jean Genet play, THE BALCONY," then you'd be wrong.

Because POOR PRETTY EDDIE is all of those things... and more. Perhaps a better title would have been something like LAST HOUSE AT MARIENBAD ON THE LEFT. (And as an even weirder side note, Shelley Winters also starred in the official 1963 film adaptation of THE BALCONY!)

But, first, let's see if we can hash out a general idea of the plot. On an anonymous, dreamlike football field (I could definitely see this film as being an inspiration for David Lynch), Liz Wetherly (Leslie Uggams) sings the national anthem,

then embarks- via montage- on a road trip/vacation through the seedy back roads of the American South. Out in the wilderness, a gargantuan wheel turns and squeaks and groans, its purpose unknown. Uggams' car dies and she ends up at "Bertha's Oasis," a rat-trap, dead-end dive, run by Bertha (Shelley Winters) who has a propensity for gazing longingly at old Hollywood 8X10s and dressing like a drag queen.

Her kept man and resident Elvis impersonator Eddie (Michael Christian) has eyes for the marooned pop star, and after a few mind-boggling encounters, rapes her repeatedly. She reports the assaults to Sheriff Slim Pickens, whose responses are to

A. Suggestively ask if she'd like to bite a tomato, B., draw dirty pictures on the police report, and C., inquire "Did he bite you on the titties?" and, if he did, could he see the bite marks please if it's not too much trouble.

Then a whirlwind of events ensue, including, but not limited to: a kangaroo court held at a VFW hall and presided over by a man in a Pabst Blue Ribbon T-shirt:

a (literal) shotgun wedding, Slim Pickens beating his full grown son at the (red, plastic, checkerboard tablecloth-covered) dinner table, and Ted Cassidy fed his own dog (as screaming ladies are draped in dog hide) just to bump him down a notch.


Yes, this movie is insane, and yes, I think it's terrific.

For a movie which could have easily centered its focus around the staging of rape scenes, POOR PRETTY EDDIE is far more interested in the power dynamics between its characters and the aesthetic delivery of said ideas. The existing relationship between Bertha and Eddie at the film's start is quite fascinating: Bertha is the matriarch of this community- at least until the foundations of her own self-esteem slowly begin to crack.

She's also an insatiable starfucker stuck in a town populated by about two dozen yokels, so she has to make do with what she's got- apparently she's made it her life's work to transform the young, impressionable Eddie into something approximating 'Elvis.'

Perhaps it's this learned, overinflated sense of celebrity and self-importance which leads him to believe that the famous, metropolitan, and most importantly stranded Liz Wetherly will want to drop everything and settle down with a backwoods boy who likes to play dress-up. Of course, in this isolated, middle-of-nowhere sphere, if you want something and you're capable of taking it, and you think you can get away with it- well, then, the world is your filthy oyster.

The rape scene itself is extremely stylized- shot in grainy, slowed-frame-rate slow motion (with distorted, drawn-out audio), we simply see two human forms struggling with one another across a gridwork of bright oranges and deep blues.

This is crosscut with a bevy of Southerners (led by Ted 'Lurch' Cassidy laciviously gazing upon dogs having sex with one another in the mud. And this is by no means the strangest occurrence of vaguely psychedelic cross-cutting in the film. (Upbeat, Karen Carpenter-style pop music and disorienting wide-angle shots often accompany these juxtapositions as well.)

Wait- more whipping in psychedelic montages? What is this- GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE?

We then enter a hazy world of make-believe, where a camera snapping photos can become a gun, blasting away- an instrument of impossible revenge.

But these are short-lived. POOR PRETTY EDDIE will not indulge your rape-followed-by-revenge fantasies. Something emerges which is a little closer to Stockholm Syndrome, but it's dipped in alienation and deep-fried in violent slowmo dream logic- it's like we're peering through a window and seeing a glimpse of Sam Peckinpah's flickering nightmares. I am aware that this review appears to be making less and less sense as it goes along, but that's simply the state of mind to which POOR PRETTY EDDIE lends itself. "Their cookie jar done been removed and the cookies taken care of..." says a local who's apparently referring to the act of rape. Slim Pickens schlerps on a tomato, Shelley Winters takes a drag of her smoke from an impossibly long cigarette holder, there's a nauseating makeout session, somebody says "What's that juicy pickininny doin' in my cabin?," there's a Baltimore reference (was John Waters somehow involved?...I would believe it), there's homage to Tennessee Williams, Shelley blurts out "I need some more vodka," the wedding march is played out of tune on a fiddle, there's a final coup de grace of absolute and utter brutality, and then the movie simply... ENDS. Maybe the print I saw was edited, but it just ends. No credits, no distributors, no nothin'. Cut. Blackness. And somehow that is the perfect finale to a movie whose simultaneously low and high brow batshit craziness approaches a sort of twisted avant-garde backwoods perfection. Amen.

-Sean Gill

Monday, March 29, 2010

Film Review: THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE (1968, Jack Cardiff)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 91 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Marianne Faithfull, Alain Delon (LE CERCLE ROGUE, RED SUN), Roger Mutton (THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE). Music by Les Reed (CREEPSHOW 2, onetime member of the John Barry Seven).
Tag-line: "The film sensation of the year!"
Best one-liner: "Rebellion is the only thing that keeps you alive!"

Europe's answer to EASY RIDER? More like FASTER, PUSSYCAT, PRETENTIOUS VOICEOVER. And that's not altogether a bad thing. A straight-laced cellist somberly plays in the midst of a wonky circus:

Tears stream down the face of Marianne Faithfull:

Alain Delon, riding a motorcycle, crashes the party, smiling like a total douche:

Clowns chase him:

Marianne cries. Suddenly, she's atop a horse. Delon is whipping her clothes off!

Disorienting wide-angle shots! More clowns! Pink filters! Horses! Birds! Horses and birds!

And we're not even five minutes into the movie! The majority of the film is Marianne riding around on a motorcycle dressed in Leather Tuscadero's catsuit (well, I guess it's the other way around). Much ado is made of the fact that she wears nothing beneath her catsuit. I imagine that not only would that be pretty uncomfortable, but that the suit would get pretty rank after riding across Europe unlaundered. Since the film was not presented in Smell-O-Vision, however, I suppose it's a moot point.

I don't know why I'm showing you this.

The cinematography is astonishing. Director Jack Cardiff made his name as a DP on many a Powell & Pressburger production, and the film certainly features some of the most compelling 'driving footage' I've ever seen.

Too bad it's accompanied by whiny, stream-of-consciousness, pseudo-revolutionary voiceover that would make even Wim Wenders blush. As she puts on her catsuit: "'s like skin...I'm like an animal." She refers to her bike as a "black pimp" and talks much of war, rebellion, and free love. It's difficult to flirt with profundity, however, when an equal emphasis is being placed on her catsuit-zipper cleavage.

Nonsensicality rules the day. At one point, it's absolutely valid to query "Is this a flashback or an alternate psychedelic universe?"

At another point, there's a whirling 'Fondue POV' shot- somewhere, Dario Argento is shuddering in ecstasy and doesn't know why.

And the jaw-dropping fiery finale (with an exploding VW Bug!) bumps this wreck up to three loopy stars.


-Sean Gill

Junta Juleil Invites You to BATSHIT CRAZINESS WEEK

Now this could probably be said for many weeks that have come before on this site, but we're going to go ahead and give it the official label this time: Batshit Craziness Week. This week is dedicated to movies that inspire, befuddle, bend, and blow minds; Campari-soaked Italian flicks, underground U.S.A. do-it-yourself shoestringers, movies like HAUSU and DEATH WISH III, movies which leave you in a state of absolute euphoria, simultaneous flabbergastment, and perhaps the sudden urge to purchase Mandom products. You're elated that the human mind is capable of constructing such a puzzling, loopy document; perhaps you even feel that it's proof of a higher power. Regardless, and without further adieu– here's BATSHIT CRAZINESS WEEK.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Film Review: CARMEN (1983, Carlos Saura)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Antonio Gades (EL AMOR BRUJO), Laura del Sol (THE HIT), Paco de Lucía.
Tag-line: "Never before has the art of flamenco dance been so pulsatingly sensual. Or a love so treacherously obsessive. In this explosive interpretation of the classic opera "Carmen", the lines between passionate illusion and real life become intricately entwined. Your senses will be aroused like never before. And never again will you see anything like it."

The second film in his Flamenco Trilogy, Carlos Saura's CARMEN does what basically all those Golan-Globus dance movies (BREAKIN', LAMBADA, SALSA) aspired to do: it's a behind-the-scenes drama of virtuoso performers designed to showcase their talent and to capture a little bit of their passión on celluloid - to fleetingly catch a little of that lightning in a bottle.

Now, CARMEN boldly omits land-developer villains, spit-takes, windmills, and 'Shabba Doo' Quinones- and manages to be an incredibly compelling meditation on the nature of dance and the relationship between reality and art. Saura (CRIA CUERVOS, BLOOD WEDDING, FADOS) possesses an extreme confidence in the material (from Antonio Gades' choreography to Bizet's opera to Laura del Sol's fiery presence) and feels free to weave a non-traditionally-paced narrative.

Large blocks of the film are simply rehearsal, but it never drags- Saura constructs a natural rhythm for the proceedings: frenetic energy and vibrant motion are juxtaposed with stillness and silence.

His use of space is remarkable, and the whirling, boot-stamping flamenco would not be as powerful if Saura weren't so attentive to the geometry of the surroundings and the manner in which space expands: two-way mirrors, curtains, shades, and prison doors frame and extend his filmic canvas. Life teems within the frame- elaborate tracking shots of dashing feet; earth-toned backgrounds evenly sprinkled with costumes in vivid, primary colors; and the settling of differences through a cane-fight that would make Fosse blush.

We even get a supporting role by Spanish guitar maestro Paco de Lucía as himself (who kinda looks like he could be a Carradine brother).

Paco Carradine?

In all, one of the great dance films, and a fine entry to the 'art imitating life imitating art' genre. Four stars.

And by the way, thank God I do not live underneath a Flamenco studio.

-Sean Gill