Archive for the Experimental Films Category

UPSTREAM COLOR (2013)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Bizarro Movies, Enigmatic Films, Experimental Films, Independent Cinema, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Low Budget Movies, Mind Experiments!, Something Different, Weird Movies with tags , , , , on April 16, 2013 by knifefighter

UPSTREAM COLOR
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

upstream_color_xlgBack in 2004, director Shane Carruth made his debut feature, PRIMER. It was a little indie film about four guys trying to start their own computer company in a garage, and mysterious storage lockers, and time travel. The movie is told in such a way that you only figure it out a little at a time, but it was a terrific first film, and it made Carruth a director to look for. Unfortunately, it took him until 2013 to release his second film, UPSTREAM COLOR, and it is in very limited release in just a few cities. I hope it’s not as long a wait for his next one.

For some reason, I just like the title itself. UPSTREAM COLOR. Just a really cool name for a movie. So what is it actually about? Well, that’s a little tougher to explain. But I’ll try.

Carruth has a talent for enigmatic films that you need to really think about. In this vein, he’s a lot like David Lynch or David Cronenberg, although Carruth’s films are nothing like theirs. How much you’ll enjoy UPSTREAM COLOR depends on how strongly you feel you have to have all the answers, and how open you are to new experiences.

UPSTREAM COLOR begins with some kids drinking some weird concoction made from little grubs harvested from plants by a mysterious guy. Is he some kind of mad scientist, or something else entirely? When the kids drink the liquid, they are able to read each other’s minds – or it looks that way. When one kid tries to hit another, the other one is able to know exactly how to deflect the blow. Two other kids close their eyes and do the exact same hand movements in synch. What exactly are these grubs?

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The guy then kidnaps a woman at a bar named Kris (Amy Seimetz, who is actually quite striking in some scenes), using a Taser. He makes her ingest one of the grub/worms and then brings her back to a house where he proceeds to brainwash her. He convinces her that ice water is most wonderful reward she can get, simply by telling her it is so. He tells her she cannot look into his face, because it is made of the same material that makes up the sun, and it is too bright to look at. He makes her copy out long passages from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”  and fold the papers into links to a giant paper chain. He also gets her to take out a loan on her house and withdraw all of her money from the bank and give it to him.

At one point, when she’s in bed, she sees worms running under her skin, and tries to remove them with a kitchen knife.

We are then introduced to another odd gentleman, called simply The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) in the credits. He performs an odd operation on Kris involving her and a small pig, the grafting of some of the pig’s flesh onto Kris’s body, and what looks like a blood transfusion between them. The Sampler also runs a pig farm, presumably stocked with pigs that have been used in similar operations. The Sampler gets his name because when he isn’t tending to his pig farm, he is wandering around the woods with a microphone and a synthesizer, recording all kinds of strange noises and sampling them to play back later.

After her bank account is drained, Kris gets away and tries to adjust to normal life again, but it’s hard to go back. She loses her job, and her personality becomes almost robotic. It is then that she meets Jeff (director Carruth) on a commuter train and they begin having conversations that eventually lead to a romantic relationship. And then she begins to realize that maybe Jeff has experienced a similar abduction in his past, because he has the same kind of knife marks on his leg that she does…

So what do Thoreau, pigs and the ingesting of strange worms have to do with each other? You’ll have to see UPSTREAM COLOR for yourself, and it may take some work to figure it out. UPSTREAM COLOR is the kind of movie that does not provide ready answers, but that’s okay. There are so many movies that try to explain every little detail of what’s going on, that it’s a relief sometimes to find a movie like this, that refuses to make it easy. I’m still not one hundred percent sure about every aspect of the movie, but I do know that I found the film to be very compelling, and I’m sure I’ll see it again at some point.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) undergoes a strange abduction in Shane Carruth's UPSTREAM COLOR.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) experiences a strange abduction in Shane Carruth’s UPSTREAM COLOR.

The direction by Carruth (who also wrote the script) is quite good, as is the cinematography (which, it turns out, is also by Carruth). It’s a visually interesting film, with minimal dialogue in its first half, and yet it might just captivate you from the moment it begins. Just go in expecting something completely different, and you won’t be disappointed. This is not like the typical Hollywood film. It’s another animal entirely.

And for that reason, because it plays by its own rules, I give UPSTREAM COLOR three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives UPSTREAM COLOR ~three and a half knives.

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BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Bizarro Movies, Cult Movies, Experimental Films, Highly Stylized Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mad Doctors!, Mind Experiments!, Paranormal, Psychedelic Films, Telekinesis, Visions of Hell, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , , on June 13, 2012 by knifefighter

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

After watching Ridley Scott’s new blockbuster, PROMETHEUS, I took a train to the other side of town to see a movie that was, in many ways, its complete opposite. Low-budget, often badly acted, and just plain bizarre, Panos Cosmatos’ new film, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a viewing experience of a completely different sort. But I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t like it. There were some parts of it that I liked very much.

Supposedly made in 2010, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW has recently been doing the midnight movie circuit in some cities. I originally saw it listed as part of the Boston Underground Film Festival a month or so ago. I’d wanted to see it, but couldn’t. And now it’s back for a few weekend showings at a local art theater. So, for many people, it’s a new release. I know, for me it was. I also know that, based on the title alone, and a brief synopsis that highlighted a psychedelic storyline, I really had to see this one for myself.

The movie begins with an instructional video from Dr. Mercurio Arboria, for the Arboria Institute, which promotes emotional happiness and peace of mind. Supposedly, a visit to the foundation will include pharmacology, meditation and other fun stuff, in a regimen designed to help people find true inner happiness. Sounds pleasant enough. This video looked a bit dated and reminded me of the instructional videos that were made by the Dharma Initiative on the TV series LOST. Kind of an interesting way to start things off.

The movie’s credits begin, showing a giant, pulsating eyeball, with the actors and crews’ names coming forth from the eye’s pupil. It’s actually a cool opening credit sequence, and a cool image overall. I thought it was a good sign this was going to be a lot of fun.

Then the movie starts. It’s 1983. The foundation is being run by Dr. Arboria’s associate, Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). But strangely, despite that cool promotional video, there’s only one patient in the whole building—or, if there are more patients, we never see them. The patient’s name is Elena (Eva Allan), and she’s a young girl around 19 or 20, who is dressed in a hospital gown and has long, brunette hair (she almost looks like those long-haired ghosts from movies like THE RING and THE GRUDGE). Elena does not speak, and appears to be in some kind of depressed/almost comatose state. Each day she is brought into a room to sit on a plastic seat, while in another, facing room, separated by a sheet of Plexiglas, Dr. Nyle talks to her. He talks and talks, but she never responds. He must have a lot of time to spend trying to help her, since there don’t seem to be any other patients for him to attend to.

For the first half of the film, this takes up most of the time. Elena is repeatedly brought into the room, Dr. Nyle repeatedly talks to her and gets no response. There are point-of-view shots of us going down an orange, antiseptic hallway. Its repetition seems almost aggravating at times. The dialogue is actually kind of silly, and the acting isn’t very good. There were more than a few times when I laughed out loud. Everyone else in the audience was quiet. I don’t think they appreciated the movie’s goofiness.

A few times, Dr. Nyle goes home to his wife Rosemary (Marilyn Norry), whom he either lectures or ignores. When she speaks, he makes goofy faces. There doesn’t seem much of a point to what’s going on.

Dr. Nyle (Michael Rogers) controls everything in the Arboria Institute.            Or does he? (from BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW)

There is a female nurse who clearly dislikes Elena. And we eventually learn that Elena has CARRIE-like telekinetic powers. There are also strange robots, that look like men in space suits with television screens in their bellies, called Sentionauts (it says so on the computer screen that activates them). They patrol the foundation’s halls after hours, especially if Elena leaves her room.

Then, about half-way through, something happens. We go back to 1966. Dr. Arboria, along with a female assistant, are shown in reverse negative (everything is strikingly white, and we can barely see people’s features). Dr. Nyle is prepped to enter another dimension, or at least that’s what it seemed to me. All white, he submerges himself in a giant puddle of inky blackness, and goes out the other side, where he turns different colors and his skin melts!! When he comes back, he is transformed. Slimy and black with ooze, he infects the female assistant, and she gives birth to a baby, before she suddenly dies. Could this baby be Elena? (!).

Back in 1983, Dr. Arboria, the head of the foundation, has become an drooling invalid/drug addict, who isn’t capable of doing much for himself. Dr. Nyle has to look after him, and even administer his heroin (morphine?) injections. Dr. Nyle has the true power at the institute and he clearly likes to manipulate those around him.

At one point, Dr. Nyle has kind of a breakdown and removes his wig (revealing a shiny bald head) and puts on a strange leather suit. While he is gone, Elena attempts to escape the facility.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a mixed bag, but I could definitely see it becoming a cult movie over time. Parts of it are so bad, it made me think of movies like Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM, and I think RAINBOW could benefit from an audience that interacts with it. It might make for a much more enjoyable experience. There are other times when the imagery is actually pretty interesting. But never once did I feel that the movie lived up to the promise of that great title—except maybe for the very strange events that occur in 1966.

The music, by Jeremy Schmidt, is mostly a droning synthesizer score, and it does get repetitive at times, but overall, it works. There are even parts where it gets more animated. The music was one of my favorite parts of the film, and definitely complemented the psychedelic feel of the proceedings.

The over-use of different kinds of filters in the film, and negative effects, seem like an amateur’s attempts at creating otherworldly visuals—or someone trying to transcend a miniscule budget—and there are moments when it feels like a student fim. There are also lots of close-ups on inanimate objects that go on a little too long. Despite the fact that it really is not a very good movie, there were parts of BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW that I enjoyed despite myself, and, as I said, there are several times when I found myself laughing—even though that probably was not what the director intended.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, for the most part, might be one of those “so bad they’re good” movies for a new generation. It plays things completely straight (to its benefit), but is probably campy enough to attract a rabid audience.  I haven’t seen anything this odd (and yet enjoyable) in a long time, and it reminded me how movies like this were much easier to find in the 1970s and 80s. It made me miss those times.

A movie like this is hard to rate, because it’s clearly not meant to be a normal, mainstream narrative film. And, even as I write this, I find myself enjoying the movie now more, in retrospect, than when I was sitting in the theater. Despite its very obvious flaws, I give BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, two and a half knives. And I’m sure its imagery will grow on me over time and this rating will improve…..

This might just be the kind of film that deserves to be revisited on Blu-ray.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW~ two and a half knives! But it’s such an odd movie, that rating may change over time.

The David Lynch Chronicles Volume One: MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

Posted in 2012, Art Movies, Classic Films, David Lynch, Experimental Films, Film Noir, Just Plain Weird, Plot Twists, Surrealism, The David Lynch Chronicles with tags , , , , , , , on March 21, 2012 by knifefighter

The David Lynch Chronicles Volume One:
Two Lynchians Take on MULHOLLAND DRIVE
By Nick Cato and Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Nick Cato: There are two kinds of people in the world: those who “get” and enjoy the films of David Lynch and those who think he’s simply filming whatever comes to mind in an attempt to con the artsy-fartsy crowd out of their money and validity.  When I was about 20 minutes into my first viewing of Lynch’s iconic ERASERHEAD (1977), on VHS back in the early 80s, I became fascinated with the surreal director, both by his demented images, and later with the craft of unraveling his stories: yes, I said the CRAFT, because a single viewing of most of Lynch’s films won’t reveal too much.  His films demand multiple viewings, and more often than not, major contemplation.  And while some of his films, such as ERASERHEAD and WILD AT HEART (1990), are easier to decipher than later titles such as THE LOST HIGHWAY (1997) and the super-brain twisting INLAND EMPIRE (2006), this first look for CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT at a David Lynch classic goes to 2001’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE, that, while head-scratching enough and open to various interpretations, does have several ideas running through it that a vast majority of the director’s fans agree on.

Sort of.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: “Sort of” is right. When it comes to interpretations, we could spend days going over the elaborate details and symbols. I’ve seen Lynch films with people who insist he’s just messing with the audience. On the surface, perhaps that’s true. It might even be just another trick up the genius’s sleeve. My first Lynch experience was also ERASERHEAD. It was an English major’s dream come true. As someone who had been taught to look for symbols under every bed and in every corner, the film clicked with me. MULHOLLAND DRIVE brings me back to that experience, as do many of Lynch’s films, sitting in a darkened room, unraveling these intricate knots he’s woven for us.

Nick Cato: Like most of Lynch’s films, I didn’t even bother trying to interpret what was going on during my initial viewing of MULHOLLAND DRIVE.  I was taken aback by just how addictive this gorgeously-shot film was, plus, as usual, simply enjoyed Lynch’s surreal images and several scenes that are creepier than anything you’ll see in a solid, seriously made horror film.  But things began to take shape in my mind, even before the second screening.  A brunette woman (played by the beautiful Laura Harring) survives a nasty car collision, seconds before two men were apparently about to shoot her.  She stumbles out of the wreck and makes her way down the Hollywood hills, taking refuge in an apartment where she notices the owner (and older woman) is on her way out.  Another woman named Betty (played by Naomi Watts) arrives in Hollywood to take her first screen test, and stays at an apartment owned by her aunt.  She soon discovers the brunette woman in her aunt’s bathroom, and discovers she’s suffering from amnesia.

So far, MULHOLLAND DRIVE gives an interesting and some might say “normal” set up, despite the unusual opening credits sequence, where Betty is superimposed over what looks like some kind of 50s dance program, and the sequences of the amnesiac surviving the wreck and eventually meeting Betty are divided by one of the most head-scratching things Lynch has ever done: Two men are in a restaurant, one claiming he wanted to be there as he’s been having nightmares about the place, as well as a spooky figure who lives outside behind it.  The men discover that the figure behind the diner IS real, causing the one who dreamt of him to pass out.

During the early meetings of Betty and Rita (a name the brunette takes off a film poster when Betty asks her name), we see mysterious men talking on the phone, saying things like “she got away” and “we missed her.”  Evidently, someone is trying to kill Rita.  Lynch’s mystery is off.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: There’s something dream-like about the opening sequences that really made me take note. To say the setup is “normal” would probably be misleading. Betty seems so saccharine that she can’t be real. Chipper to a fault, optimistic beyond belief, she charges into Hollywood, ready to take on her first audition with the kind of aplomb reserved for the mentally ill or children. She’s Dorothy headed down the Yellow Brick Road. Even the elderly people she meets on her flight out to Hollywood seem odd beyond imagination, excessively cheerful, nearly insane with joy, wishing their fellow passenger all the best on her journey to become a star. They also have the creepiest smiles this side of Mr. X’s in ERASERHEAD.

I found that even the scene in which Rita is about to be eliminated is so cliché as to be unreal. Lynch seems to be setting us up for something that is so far from reality that it has to be questioned immediately. Hit men only take beautiful women out in limousines to murder them in movies. It’s almost as if Lynch has established a film within a film. It’s even suggested early on that the real hit man in the story is a bumbling low-life who can’t even carry out a simple task without causing utter chaos. He’s no suave mobster in a limo, that’s for certain.

The man in the diner scene near the beginning gnawed at me for a long time. I have an idea that meshes with a sort of WIZARD OF OZ retelling, but to keep it simple, I feel he’s a cowardly lion of sorts.

Nick Cato: MULHOLLAND does a fine job of balancing suspense and straight drama, especially when Betty goes to her first audition, a sequence that not only displays the acting skills of Naomi Watts, but one that leaves me breathless every time I see it.  Between this scene, and the scenes of movie director Adam (Lynch favorite Justin Theroux) being threatened to alter his film by a group of gangsters and an extremely strange cowboy (played by real-life cult film producer Monty Montgomery), the film develops a deeper story on a few levels.  One classic Lynch staple put into play here are mysterious, underground people seemingly causing things to happen behind the scenes.  We’re never sure if they’re the mafia, or corrupt studio executives, or everyday goons hired out by a rival of the aforementioned director.  Either way, their presence here gives MULHOLLAND much of its mystery, and in the case of the cowboy enforcer, some latent humor that doesn’t take away from the film’s serious tone.

Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Harring) dealing with Rita’s amnesia

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: There’s certainly no shortage of suspense here. As a Lynch addict, I try not to take any plot point for granted. You never know when there’s a trick. I really do feel that Lynch is a magician of sorts. If you blink, you’re likely to miss something.

The cowboy is one of the more mystifying characters. He seems to be the enforcer for this whole underworld operation, at least on the surface. He tells Adam to pick a girl in a photograph, a blonde woman named Camilla Rhodes, to play the lead role in his film – the one that has been grabbed away from him by the Castiglione brothers (one of whom is portrayed by famed composer Angelo Badalamenti, who provides the chilling music to many of Lynch’s works). The brothers may be the leaders of this mob-like organization. Adam’s choices, the cowboy tells him, are to either pick that girl or have his career ruined. It’s the only option he has left after being kicked out of his house by his wife, who is having an affair with the pool boy (portrayed hilariously by Billy Ray Cyrus).

Nick Cato: When Betty and Rita visit an apartment that happened to pop into Rita’s memory, what they discover provides a turning point in the film, one that throws a curveball that put MULHOLLAND on a path I’m assuming most viewers never saw coming.  Now fully convinced someone is out to get Rita, they disguise her in a blonde wig, making the two look like sisters.

Shortly after they discover Rita’s pocket book contains $50,000 in cash, as well as a mysterious blue key, the women have their first sexual encounter, cleverly placed by Lynch where it is in the film’s progress; we’re so taken with the sight of these two beautiful ladies in bed together (and apparently falling truly in love) that the little hints Lynch has left for eagle-eyed viewers to notice are all but forgotten.  But it’s at this point where Betty and Rita really try to find out just WHO Rita is and where she came from.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: I’m not so sure this steamy scene is intended as a way to distract viewers from the clues. I think it’s a very big clue in and of itself. Rita is a vulnerable woman, someone who has forgotten who she is. Betty plays a traditionally masculine role here. She’s sweeping in to save the damsel in distress. She is compelled to save Rita, to help her remember who she is. I think you’ll find this extremely important later in the film.

Nick Cato: Perhaps some of us guys became more easily distracted than most female viewers?

In one of my favorite sequences, Rita has a dream where she takes Betty to a vaudeville-style show at an old theater.  It’s here where we’re told “This is all a tape recording.  It’s an illusion,” as performers lip-sync to music and verse.  Perhaps Lynch is telling us that the events going on in Betty and Rita’s lives have been pre-recorded, maybe even by the same people who are attempting to control Adam’s new film.  As the women sit watching one opera singer pass out as her song still plays on, we’re left to wonder if Betty and Rita have been brought here as a way to accept their coming fates.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: At the club, called Silencio, they encounter a dream-world emcee who firmly states, “No hay banda!” There is no band. It’s all an illusion. This seems to be the pivot point in the plot. We start to move into reality. Lynch is telling us, quite literally, everything leading up to this point has been an illusion. But whose illusion is this? Is it Betty’s illusion? Is there someone else pulling the strings?

Nick Cato: MULHOLLAND DRIVE really kicks into weird gear when Betty and Rita return home from the show.  Rita goes to get her hidden pocketbook from the closet, and when she turns around she discovers Betty is nowhere to be found.  Not knowing what else to do, she takes that blue key and sticks it into an odd, small blue box, and from her POV we’re sucked into the box, and then taken back to the apartment where they had just visited.  It turns out Betty is really named Diane and is in a relationship with Rita, whose real name we learn is Camilla, the same actress the corrupt studio execs were trying to force onto Adam’s film.

Don’t worry folks…it get’s even trippier from here.

Apparently Camilla is the real movie star, and has fallen for Adam, leaving Diane behind.  Diane acts out her rage in a furious masturbation scene, then the phone rings, and brings us back to an alternate (or is it the real?) opening sequence of the film.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Mr. Lynch really loves doubles. He’s used them in myriad films, and even in his seminal series TWIN PEAKS. When Betty and Rita visit the club Silencio, they look nearly identical, both sporting short, blonde tresses. I see this as a huge symbol of Diane’s own disgust with herself, and her desire to pull Camilla down with her. She wants Camilla to be just like her, a loser who can’t get a starring role. Instead, Camilla is a rising star, living out Diane’s dream, and now about to marry a man. I feel the box has a very obvious sexual connotation. There’s a key in Camilla’s box now, folks. And Diane is not happy about that. The box is reality.

Rita is Diane’s way of handling her lover’s decision to leave her for a man. Rita has forgotten who she is. As far as Diane is concerned, Camilla has also forgotten who she is. She belongs to Diane, not to Adam. This anger and frustration drives her to plot a very nasty demise for her former lover.

Nick Cato: In the circular final section of MULHOLLAND, we learn Diane/Betty had paid hit men to take out her girlfriend Rita/Camilla, and we see the creepy homeless man behind the diner now holding the mysterious blue box in his hands, perhaps a symbol of a supernatural string puller.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Everything up to this point is merely Diane’s way of justifying her decision to take a hit out on Camilla. She’s not the villain here. She’s really Betty, a confident, happy woman who will make her way in Hollywood. If only Camilla would remember who she really is, Diane wouldn’t be forced to hire that hit man. This is the story of a woman who has lost touch with reality.

Nick Cato: As Sheri mentioned, when Betty first arrived in Hollywood, she had befriended an elderly couple on the plane.  Now, they reappear during the final sequence, taunting Betty/Diane around her apartment to the point she blows her own brains out, falling onto the bed in the same manner they found the corpse upon their earlier visit in search of Rita’s memory.  While there’s plenty of discussion on who this elderly couple is, Betty had mentioned her parents during one conversation, making me believe this was her way of dealing with failing to do them proud.  And perhaps the entire film is a picture of Betty/Diane battling her demons as she tries to make a life for herself in Tinsel Town, the success of her lover making things that much harder.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Much like the WIZARD OF OZ, the story all starts and ends in a bed. In the very beginning, we see sheets and a pillow, and we hear someone gasping for air. This comes full circle at the end. We now know that Diane shot herself in the head and collapsed onto her bed after being accosted by these menacing elderly people. Could these older people be symbolic of her mental breakdown? The film up to this point, it seems to me, all comes from within Diane’s mind. Betty is her breakdown version of herself. Camilla has been successful, and she can’t handle that success coupled with her own failure. Like Dorothy, Diane discovers the truth about herself in the end. And it’s too terrible to bear. Reality is a tough pill to swallow.

Nick Cato: MULHOLLAND DRIVE is David Lynch’s love/hate letter to Hollywood.  It’s pretty easy to figure out Betty and Diane are the same person: Diane the real-life failure, with Betty being Diane’s fantasized version of herself, as well as her desired relationship with Rita/Camilla.  Lynch—an independent filmmaker using Hollywood actors and sets here—basically portrays his own apprehensions and pleasures as a director and as one trying to deal with the Hollywood system.  And though at first the film may seem like the tired “it’s all a dream” thing, it’s a bit more complex than that, especially in the light of Diane/Betty’s dreams possibly being manipulated by other entities.

 Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: It might be the clichéd “it was all just a dream” story, but the person dreaming it is significantly disturbed, if not destroyed. Hollywood is very much like the Emerald City. Betty took a jaunt to find her calling, her home in a sense. But Hollywood, not unlike the Emerald City, is not all that it seems. There are mysterious forces that determine who makes it big and who doesn’t. It’s a tough world, baby, and the guaranteed success that Betty hopes to find rarely happens in reality.

Nick Cato: MULHOLLAND DRIVE is basically a surreal, modern film noir, with an incredible performance by Naomi Watts, complimented by co-star Laura Hanning’s often speechless speech and deathly-sexy mannerisms.  While we could easily take up another 15 pages breaking down what the cowboy symbolized, who the homeless man behind the diner was, and just WHY on earth Billy Ray Cyrus was cast as Adam’s wife’s lover (!), MULHOLLAND DRIVE is one of those films that reveals itself more and more upon each viewing.  It’s like staring at a surreal painting for hours on end, when suddenly things start to appear you hadn’t noticed before.

And with each viewing the film seems to unravel itself a little bit more, almost like Lynch somehow caused the film to work over periods of time.  Am I giving him too much credit as a director here?  Maybe.  Some would say definitely.  Either way, this is how MULHOLLAND DRIVE happens to work.

There are few films like it.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: MULHOLLAND DRIVE demands several viewings. Even taken at the surface level, it’s a thrill ride through a twisted world. The most cynical viewer will likely take something away from the film. Things crop up after a few viewings that never occurred to me before. Part film noir, part horror flick, part crime drama, it all comes together in a collage that sometimes leaves the viewer with just as many questions as they resolve.

The legendary Ann Miller makes her final screen appearance as Betty’s landlord.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato and Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

A “Suburban Grindhouse Memories” Classic: GANJA AND HESS (1973)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, 70s Horror, Art Movies, Blaxploitation, Classic Columns, Cult Movies, DVD Review, Experimental Films, Indie Horror, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , , on February 23, 2012 by knifefighter

(Editor’s Note: Because of circumstances beyond his control, Nick Cato wasn’t able to get me his latest SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES column this week. So I figured, instead of having a hole in our calendar, I’d just reprint one of his best old columns from 2010. Keep in mind, with the next installment, Nick will have written 47 columns of SGM for us here at Cinemaknifefight.com. This one was Number 4. A true classic that deserves a bigger audience. Mr. Cato will be back with a brand new column next time.)

******

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES No. 4:  Bill Gunn: a True Filmmaking Genius.
By Nick Cato

In the early 1970s, “blaxploitation” cinema was all the rage on the grindhouse circuit (be it urban OR suburban).  When director Bill Gunn was approached to make a film in the vein of BLACULA, he took the money and did something far more serious.  Instead of trying to make an exploitative quickie, Gunn went for the gusto and delivered an artistic deep-thinker that (to this day) has many who see it believing it’s a vampire film.  It isn’t.  In fact, Gunn went all-out as he wrote, directed, and stars in this surreal, nightmare of a film that requires at least three to four viewings before even half of what it has to say will hit you.

Since I was only five years old when GANJA & HESS was originally released, it was a treat to (finally) see this for the first time at a revival theater last month (April, 2010).  This was the first time that I knew–halfway through a screening–that I’d have to see what I was watching again (and as soon as possible) just to keep my train of thought (this turned out to be one of the most challenging films I’ve reviewed yet).  So I purchased a DVD the next day and watched it three more times.

The film follows Dr. Hess Green (played by legendary NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD star, Duane Jones), his new assistant George (Bill Gunn), and his assistant’s wife, Ganja (the lovely Marlene Clark).  Despite what some reviewers have said (I’m assuming they saw one of the several, heavily-edited/re-titled versions), Hess DOES NOT become addicted to blood AFTER being stabbed by his assistant; the very beginning of the film scrolls these titles (over some magnificently eerie music): “Doctor Hess Green … Doctor of Anthropology, Doctor of Geology … While studying the ancient Black civilization of Myrthia … was stabbed by a stranger three times … one for God the Father, one for the Son … and one for the Holy Ghost … stabbed with a dagger, diseased from that ancient culture whereupon he became addicted and could not die … nor could he be killed.”  So, for the record, Hess is already addicted to blood when his suicidal assistant George moves in; Hess is a wealthy anthropologist living in a tremendous mansion (African American stereotypes don’t exist in this film, instantly banishing a “blaxploitation’ label from it).  He even manages to stop George’s first attempt at suicide; George (apparently aggravated at this) eventually attacks Hess with the ceremonial dagger Hess had brought back from Africa.  Hess survives, but George ends up shooting himself in Hess’ bathroom.  When Hess discovers George’s body, we see him fall to his knees and lap his blood (the main scene I’m assuming has caused many to label this a vampire film).

George’s wife Ganja shows up at the Hess mansion to wait for her husband (Hess has him stored in a freezer in the basement).  And this is where GANJA & HESS truly becomes strange.  After discovering her husband in the freezer and assuming Hess killed him, she ends up believing Hess’ testimony of George’s suicide and she helps Hess to bury him.

Ganja & Hess fall in love, get married, and Hess eventually makes her a part of the “Myrthia” tribe, bringing its ‘blood curse’ upon her (one edited version, released in the 80s on VHS as BLOOD COUPLE, gave the film a standard (and false) vampire-film packaging).  Things get even stranger when Hess brings a man home for Ganja to feed on (she ends up having an affair with him first) and Hess begins to doubt his Christian roots when he finally begins to feel guilt after feeding from a young mother–guilt that nearly leads him to a nervous breakdown.

One of several misleading re-titles for Ganja & Hess: BLOOD COUPLE

It should be pointed out here that while everything I’ve just described is happening, the incredibly spooky score by Sam Waymon, along with some dazzling cinematography (I swear Dario Argento was inspired by much of this) helps to give GANJA & HESS a constant aura of surreal darkness that won’t leave your mind anytime soon.  One commentary track I listened to on the “GANJA & HESS: THE COMPLETE EDITION” DVD (Image Entertainment) mentioned that the opening sequence is told from 12 points of view (after re-watching it, I’m betting this is why so many are turned off to the film early on—it’s truly unlike anything you’ve seen before).  And this is just one thing that makes GANJA & HESS such a unique–and challenging–film.

GANJA & HESS is a film about religious identification and one man’s realization that he has strayed from the faith of his upbringing.  After making peace with God at a church service, he attempts to bring Ganja with him.  The film’s final moments feature Hess’ death and Ganja contemplating her own life: to me it’s apparent she likes what Hess has turned her into by smiling when she visualizes the dead man Hess had brought home for her running naked out of their pool.  And being a sequel-less film, we’re left to consider and debate if this is so.

Again, this is NOT a vampire film.  It’s an intense, unusual study of a millionaire who, despite having all there is to have in this world, is haunted by what lies beyond this life.  And yet despite this underlying theme (as well as a church service scene that goes on for WAY too long), I don’t think it was Gunn’s intention to make an evangelical film (and if it was, I’d like to know what church–in 1973– approved of extended shots of full-frontal male and female nudity, pagan blood drinking, and an artistic-look at suicide).

Watch GANJA & HESS.  Then watch it again, even if you don’t like it the first time.  Despite a few slow stretches, the film has plenty to offer to those who take the time to contemplate and dig out its treasures.

I can’t remember the last time a film has caused so much conversation between my friends and me.  GANJA & HESS, despite its all-black cast, is NOT a blaxploitation film.  It is a genuine hybrid of horror and art house filmmaking that stands alone.  It can not (and will not) ever be duplicated.

This is a true gem from Bill Gunn, and a gem I’ll surely be revisiting again and again.

© Copyright 2010 by Nick Cato

(Editor’s Note # 2 – This movie had a LOT of alternate titles during its (several) runs on the grindhouse circuit. They include: BLACK EVIL, BLACK VAMPIRE, BLOOD COUPLE, DOUBLE POSSESSION, VAMPIRES OF HARLEM and BLACKOUT: THE MOMENT OF TERROR. Confusing enough for you?)

ENTER THE VOID

Posted in 2010, Controverisal Films, Experimental Films, Foreign Films, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on January 3, 2011 by knifefighter

(Author’s note: when I originally saw ENTER THE VOID in the fall of 2010, I didn’t review it for CinemaKnifeFight.com. It was one of the rare films of the year that I saw purely for pleasure and didn’t know if it would appeal to the audience that reads the more horror-oriented reviews of CKF. However, since this movie does appear on my “Best Films of 2010” list, I figured a proper review was in order, especially since Michael Arruda reviewed the similarly-themed Clint Eastwood film, HEREAFTER a few weeks back. So here, finally, is the review.)

ENTER THE VOID (2010)
Film review by L.L. Soares


A few weeks back, Michael Arruda reviewed the new Clint Eastwood movie, HEREAFTER, and complained that while it was a movie supposedly about the afterlife, it didn’t give the viewer much in the way of answers. Well, Gaspar Noe’s new film, ENTER THE VOID, is the exact opposite. It’s over two hours of what happens after someone dies. And we get to see it all.

Noe, for people who aren’t familiar with his name, is the French director of the controversial, grim (and disturbing) films I STAND ALONE (1998) and IRREVERSIBLE (2002). And while both of those films are very downbeat (to say the least) with eruptions of graphic violence, ENTER THE VOID is fairly upbeat in comparison.

Our main character, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is a young French guy living in Tokyo, but we only catch glimpses of him, because the movie is mainly shown from his point of view. What we see is also affected by his altered consciousness. After he gets high, what we see starts to get fuzzy and weird. Light explodes into kaleidoscopes of color. Then, soon afterwards, he goes to a club where he is set up by his friend Victor (Olly Alexander) and is killed in the restroom by police in a drug raid gone bad.

The rest of the film is what happens to Oscar after he dies, and can be pretty much summed up in an conversation early on (before he’s killed) that he has with his friend Alex (Cyril Roy). Alex has lent Oscar a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. As they discuss it, it gives us the plot of the movie. First you die, then you linger above your body and drift around watching the lives of those you loved. Then you have to decide how you come back – in what body you want to be reincarnated.

That’s pretty much what happens next. We continue watching from Oscar’s point of view as he lingers above his own body, then travels to various places to watch friends, and especially his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta, who some people might recognize as Lucy, the flapper girlfriend of Steve Buscemi’s character, Nucky Johnson in the HBO show BOARDWALK EMPIRE). These events happen immediately after his death, and then he moves slowly into the future to see what happens to them in his absence.

This wouldn’t be a Noe film without some controversial scenes. One involves Linda having an abortion to get rid of the pregnancy she had from her boss at a Tokyo strip club. Another involves a sex scene shown from a very unique angle.  But ENTER THE VOID is mostly about watching the lives of others, while drifting about in a colorful haze.

There are also flashbacks to Oscar’s childhood, where we see how he and Linda were separated at an early age after their parents’ death in a violent car accident (the accident scene is quite jarring and does not lose its power even though it is shown a few times over the course of the film). They went to live with different relatives after that, which is difficult because they had been very close. It turns out that Linda has not been in Japan long before Oscar is killed. It was the first time they were able to live together again since being children, and their relationship is intense, almost bordering on incestuous. While Oscar got involved in dealing drugs, Linda got involved in stripping and prostitution. So much for their big reunion.

However, despite some of the subject matter, ENTER THE VOID is ultimately a celebration of life of and rebirth.

This movie is not going to be for everyone, but it had a real impact on me. I just love the way Gaspar Noe films his movies – from his trademark camera shots that start in a room, then pan up to the ceiling and then outside and looking down from the sky above. (He’s used these kinds of camera angles in his previous films, and he really makes them work.) To the way he tells a story. Noe is a true artist.

Needless to say, ENTER THE VOID is a very visual movie. Noe has said several times that Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), had a strong impact on him, especially the surreal imagery of the  “Cosmic Child” sequence at the end of the film, and you can see its influence on ENTER THE VOID.

The film has character development, but it mostly evolves gradually from what Oscar sees in his journey from death to rebirth. If this sounds at all interesting to you, you really should see it on a big screen if you can. In a theater, you can fully appreciate the journey. I’m guessing it could lose something when you watch it on your smaller television screen.

Some movies just work for you when you see them, even if they don’t work for everyone. This movie worked for me. It was easily my favorite film of 2010. I give it four and a half knives.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

LL SOARES gives ENTER THE VOID ~ 4 and a half knives.