Sunday, April 20, 2008


For weeks now we've taken in episodes of the British drama, Chancer. This was one of Clive Owen's earliest roles for British television as a rogue investor who is asked to bail out a failing car manufacturing company. It begins with his character (Stephen Crane) advising his boss to invest in this company through the advise of his girlfriend, who works in stock trading. Of course it doesn't go as he wanted (or does it?) and one complication leads to another, and layer after layer of challenges and the plot soon thickens. There are subplots involving other characters but it all ties in with the grand story. There are affairs, double- crossings, cheatings, characters left stranded and a few ironic chuckles. The dialogue between Clive Owen and his boss' character (played by Leslie Philips of the Harry Potter films) is brilliant everyone is sharp tongued, quick-witted and you don't know who is going to get conned next, you don't know what quick scheme Stephen Crane will devise to bail someone out of some situation (that he probably started or got them into in the first place).
  Clive Owen looks like a teenager in this role and his charm and humor make him a favorable character. With director Mike Hodges (the original and still superior Get Carter) he made Croupier, a cruel but enjoyable extension of his Chancer character and later I'll Sleep When I'm Dead which gave him broader exposure in the states... and now he's a household name soon to be starring in Sin City 2.
  I was trying to imagine Chancer remade in the U.S. as a character drama set in the 80's but it wouldn't be as good as this. The writing is amazingly "on" and the plot always leaves you guessing as to what con he's going to pull next, yet caring about whom he's stepped on to get results. It could have been a great movie but so much would have had to be cut out it would have paled. Currently available to rent from Greencine on a six disk set.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Brian Eno Special on Step Outside

I have had only a few days to prepare for this show. I hope to highlight his collaborations, his production of albums and bands (Bowie's Heroes, Talking Heads, Devo, No New York, etc.). Nevertheless it is always an honor to honor one of my musical heroes.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mutant Action!

After many years I have finally tracked down a great looking version of the Spanish film Accion Mutante. What I expected to be a minor sci-fi cult thing turned out to be a well-thought out satire with great special effects, hilarious dialogue and gross-out violence.
  Directed by second-time director Alex De La Iglesia and produced by Pedro Almodovar this movie prefigures the films of Robert Rodriguez and several of the Mexican/Spanish directors of the late 90's. It also bares resemblance to such films as City of Lost Children and Delicatessen, with a post-apocalyptic mise en scene not unlike Blade Runner or Robocop.
  We begin with the leader of the Mutante group getting out of jail and joining up with his band of crippled rejects to pull another job. The plot involves the kidnapping the daughter of a wealthy baron and collect a 100,000,000 Ecus ransom. The mutant band take a spaceship to a distant planet and while en route a lot of the members die. The leader of the band is left with the kidnapped to survive on an arid and violent planet when the spaceship crash lands. Hilarity ensues. So does violence and bad taste (one of the mutants is a set of siamesse twins; one of them dies so the other must continue to drag his now-taxidermised brother along). Of course the kidnapped develops Stockholm syndrome and becomes attached to her captor which creates further complications when the ransom is eventually delivered. Not only did Accion Mutante bring those movies to mind but also Bad Taste and The Hills Have Eyes (and maybe even Ice Pirates?).
  This is an exercise in bad taste, but it can be embraced as the film contains great special effects, gore, insults and humor that wouldn't be out of place in a Terry Gilliam film or a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. At times it reminded me of the Russian film Kin-Dza-Dza. It contains the humor and satire that became De La Iglesia's MO in later films like Muertos de Risa and Crimen Ferpecto. Although I enjoy all of his films, I wish he would attempt another wild sci-fi film like this one.
  The DVD is available in a Pal Region 2 DVD, available from Xploited Cinema (see link) for $28.95 and comes in with a widescreen picture, making-of doc (which includes interviews with Almodovar) and several trailers to various Spanish and American films.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Leonora Carrington and Ernst Fuchs

Two incredible surrealists  from the 20th century, both still living and working.
  British ex-patriot Leonora Carrington (born 1917) was influenced by the art (and friendship) of Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso, now lives in Mexico where she is widely known. From her earliest work in the 30's she was familiar enough with Surrealism to apply her hand to it, apply what she'd learned to the canvas. The result were paintings that were comical (and somewhat cartoonish), haunting and personal. Like Frida Kahlo with a more fantastic but less political design. Carrington's paintings remind me of the books by Anna Kavan, with their desolate landscapes and surreal mutations. She has inspired a myriad of artists, from "low-brow" painters to film makers like Alexandro Jodorowsky and writer/artist Roland Topor.

  I came across the work of Ernst Fuchs while I was reading about H.R. Giger. It is apparent that Mr. Fuchs was a great influence on the Swiss painter by the explicit corporeal designs and landscapes (Alex Grey has been influenced, respectfully almost plagiarized Fuchs work). The similarities are there, in the faces and intimacies that Giger would translate into his biomechanical paintings and structures (including the designs for the unseen Dune and Alien).

Monday, April 7, 2008

Celebrating 40 Years- King Crimson!

I'm sad to say that I won't be making this show (I think). Although it's only a 12 hour drive from here, I have other plans that week...
Like seeing King Crimson in NYC at the Nokia Theatre in Times Square! Unfortunately we found out about the Nashville show too late and bought the NYC tickets first. But it's okay. By the time we see them they should have their trainwrecks recovered and hopefully they would have perfected what it is that they are perfect at. My mind wonders about the new material, if any. How will the older stuff will sound like. Will they play "Red" or "Indiscipline"? Or, now having two drummers will they dust off "B'Boom/THRAK" or "The Talking Drum/Lark's Tongues in Aspic, Part 2"?
I am desperately anticipating...but expecting nothing. It's been seven years since I last saw Crimson play. I think I predicted this. Everything is right with the universe when King Crimson reunites.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Holy Moses! R.I.P. Charlton Heston

Well, it was his time to return from whence he came. Charlton Heston passed away yesterday and I want to give him an honorable mention. The first film I saw him in was not The Ten Commandments, but Earthquake. The year was 1974 and I experienced this in Sensurround-- that meant that during the quaking scenes the theatre shook and shivered as if you were experiencing it right there. My mom said the experience gave her a headache. For me, Earthquake was my favorite disaster movie after The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno (technically the second film I ever saw). Often times Earthquake is regarded with irreverent contempt. It was an overlong, bloated all-star disaster that actually won an Oscar for Best Sound. But I loved it. Still enjoy it and I could possibly write about it all day. Later in his career, Charlton Heston starred in another disaster pic, Airport '75.
  But let us never forget his greatest achievements: The Ten Commandments, Touch of Evil, Ben Hur, Planet of the Apes (and by that I mean Planet of the Fucking Apes!!), Omega Man, Julius Caesar, etc. Somewhere in there are several of my favorite films of all time. And some of the greatest films of all time.
  Regarding Mr. Heston: I have almost gotten into bar brawls with people, defending his involvement with the NRA. I never really gave a shit what his affiliations were, I just enjoyed his films. I don't think an actor's personal life should impact how we view his art. I mean, Chuck Berry may enjoy peeing on white women, but it doesn't mean I hate his music.

  I want to kneel and praise the King of Disaster Films! He has passed, thus ending the era of all the Master Actors. The era of gentlemen, heroes and holy paladins!

"I've played three presidents, three saints and two geniuses-- that's probably enough for any man."

"It's been quite a ride. I've loved every minute of it."
--Charlton Heston

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Kafka Films!

In this what I hope will be one of several posts where I list films influenced or based on the work of a writer. I will begin with Franz Kafka, whose work has been subconsciously influencial on a lot of science fiction and metafiction films. Next I hope to explore the influence of William S. Burroughs, Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard on films by David Cronenberg, Terry Gilliam, The Coen Brothers and others.

Franz Kafka, born July 1883 in Prague was one of the most influential writers of the 20th (and 21st) century. Not quite a science fiction or horror writer, but perhaps writing Magical Realism, his stories can be adapted to both of the previously mentioned genres and that other unknown, unnameable story type. His most popular books include The Metamorphosis, The Trial and The Castle. Although David Lynch has yet to direct a version of The Metamorphosis, those other two books of Kafka's have been adapted in one way or another on film, which is the topic of this blog.

In 1962 Orson Welles directed a cold, comical and almost precise adaptation of The Trial.
(It was also made into a made-for-tv film starring Kyle Maclachlan and Anthony Hopkins, currently unavailable on DVD).
  The Welles version is stripped down to Kafka's basics. It comes off like a minimalist stage play, filmed in tight quarters and desolate locations. This cold monochromatic atmosphere best captures the tale of Joseph K. and his arrest and prosecution for a crime that goes unnamed. This film is a great example of low-budget, high concept movie making.

This will be a small list, not just on movies based on Kafka's work (or life in the case of Kafka) but movies influenced and embodying his writings.
  Next up: Brazil. Never has there been such a blatant homage to the paranoia and neurosis of a Kafka epic. In Terry Gilliam's film we have a lead character that resembles many of Kafka's heroes, a deteriorated and corrupted society, a dysfunctional bureaucracy and a bleak ending. At least Gilliam was kind enough to give us an ending, where most Kafka novels  end abruptly without a proper conclusion. In fact what Gilliam experienced during the filming of Brazil is akin to what any Kafka protagonist would suffer to see his vision through.

Dark City, from 1997, also maintains a secretive and mysterious vibe when a character wakes up one day and doesn't remember who he is and finds a trio of pursuers after him. The setting is dark and bleak, a more surreal Blade Runner. Nothing is as it seems. There is a secret society called The Strangers (could have easily been the title of a Kafka story) that wishes to understand why they cannot influence this lone man when they have control over the city and its people. In the end the lead character overthrows them and saves the "city". Before The Matrix (which in some ways shows influences of Kafka), there was Dark City.

Although David Lynch's The Grandmother and The Alphabet have a thematic relation to Kafka, I think it would be David Lynch who could ever do justice to The Metamorphosis. But since he hasn't and probably never will film it, I want to submit Eraserhead into the sweepstakes of Kafka-inspired (though not directly), best representing the surreal and sublime atmosphere of his work.
  This bleak and gray film works best if experienced as a dream, even a Jungian vision; the explorations inside the wasteland that is Henry Spencer's deteriorated mind. The creature in the film, that is to say the baby in the movie, is a manifestation of inner fears and paranoia and I can imagine that had Franz Kafka lived in a different period and country, this is the kind of story he would have written. Perhaps if Kafka had had access to LSD, Eraserhead is what his version of The Metamorphosis would have been like.

La Cite des Enfants Perdus (City of Lost Children) is just bleak and dystopian enough (though beautiful) to qualify an entry into Kafka films. It has darkness, grime and suffering children to make it a distorted and surreal children's story with disturbing elements. A blighted ambience imbues this film, which at times has a sepia tone. This gives it a morose and soiled atmosphere where the characters exist. The kind of landscape that may have inspired Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys, which also bears a close resemblance to this Jean-Pierre Jeunet film.

12 Monkeys is another Kafka-realized film. Directed by Terry Gilliam it descends from the line of two of his previous films, Time Bandits and Brazil, 12 Monkeys coming off as a spiritual sequel to both of those films. Bleak and dystopian, Kafka is best represented (in 12 Monkeys) by the futuristic bureaucratic society falling apart at the seams and the covert group that dictates the mission that Bruce Willis' character must complete. Along the way he sees his own death, meets some crazies, falls in love, spends time in an asylum. But as it always was with Kafka, the hero never wins and the needs of the one are drowned out by the needs of the many.

  Also of interest are Kafka by Steve Sodeberg, Das Schloss by Michael Haneke (also made in 1968 by Rudolf Noelte). Any suggestions would be welcomed.