220. Naked Lunch (1991, David Cronenberg)
[image]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/0/07/Naked_Lunch_film_poster.jpg/220px-Naked_Lunch_film_poster.jpg[/image] 219. Brand Upon The Brain! (2006, Guy Maddin)
Synopsis: In an orphanage on a remote island, several of the orphans are discovered to have strange marks on their neck that could be related to mysterious experiments.
Guy Maddin's last three features have been part of a themed 'Me Trilogy'. All the films are fictional autobiographical ones. Brand... is the middle film in the trilogy and this one takes Maddin back to his childhood. Or at least to the childhood of his fictional counterpart, in this film Maddin's parents run an orphanage, in a disused lighthouse, on Black Noch Island, a small island somewhere near Canada. An adult Guy returns home for the first time in 30 years, and recalls strange events from his childhood. Several orphans are discovered to have mysterious holes in the back of their necks, all as a result of his mad scientist father's experiments to harvest 'orphan nectar'. Teen detectives Wendy & Chance Hale arrive on the island to investigate, and Guy and his sister find themselves attracted to them.
Brand... uses Maddin's familiar visual style, an experimental homage to silent movies, especially early German expressionist horror films, to create this phantasmagorical environment. Maddin also uses this exaggarated style to investigate deeper emotions. Certainly Maddin's portrayal of his parents, his father is a mad scientist while his mother is puritanical and overbearing, is deeply telling. So is the sexual development of Guy and his sister, both in love with the female half of the teen detectives.
Brand... is a tribute to gothic horrors, with the most obvious points of reference being mad scientist and vampire movies, and could easily appeal to fans of early horror. In fact, much of the film would sit easily in Universal's back catalogue. It would have made a nice companion piece to the 1932 Murders In The Rue Morgue, especially as much of the mood of the film evokes classic Poe.
Like all Maddin films, Brand Upon The Brain! certainly won't appeal to everyone, but it contains great rewards for anyone willing to experiment. Rawlinson 218. Zardoz (1974, John Borrman)
[image]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/6/68/Original_movie_poster_for_the_film_Zardoz.jpg/220px-Original_movie_poster_for_the_film_Zardoz.jpg[/image] 217. The Thirteenth Floor (1999, Josef Rusnak)
[image]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/0/02/The_Thirteenth_Floor_poster.jpg/220px-The_Thirteenth_Floor_poster.jpg[/image] 216. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931, Rouben Mamoulian)
[image]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/8/83/JekyllHyde1931.jpg/220px-JekyllHyde1931.jpg[/image] 215. Punishment Park (1971, Peter Watkins)
Peter Watkins is one of Britain’s greatest filmmakers, and one who continues to be ignored by mainstream cinema. Perhaps best known for The War Game – the drama commissioned by the BBC in the 1960s which portrayed a stark and disturbing look at what would happen in the UK both during and after a nuclear war. The film was deemed so strong that it was banned by the Government on account of it creating panic. In the days of “Duck and Cover”, The War Game showed the utter pointlessness of rescue plans under the shadow of thermo-nuclear destruction.
His other BBC film, Culloden, remains one of the most realistic portrays of what warfare in the 18th Century was like. Made with a handful of extras it still packs a powerful punch and shows the battle for what it was – a human waste, spurred on by semi-slave owners.
What made these two pieces striking was that they were presented as news reports, or documentaries. Watkins himself narrates the films with a dispassionate voice. As people burn, or are shot by cannon, he keeps his distance, the typical BBC news man, looking into the face of madness.
Watkins can be said to be one of the first to create the so-called “found footage” genre, and indeed, people like Eli Roth (producer of The Last Exorcism) have name checked him. With his next three films he could also be seen as a big influence on the naturalistic science fiction movement currently coming to the fore (District 9, Monsters, Another Earth etc)
Privilege, is a film set in the future and which looked at how the Government manufactured a pop sensation to control the young masses, is Watkins at his most playful. As before he provides narration at points, but more often than not, took a step back.
He followed this up with the Gladiators, another science fiction film where the nations of the Earth stop fighting each other, and instead settle their differences with small scale combat teams in a tournament.
Punishment Park is without a doubt Watkins’s masterpiece, and his only film set in America. We are thrown into an alternative universe where President Nixon has passed a law allowing the arrest and execution of people deemed to be anti-establishment. The method of execution is through the “Punishment Park” – a vast desert area where large groups of the undesirables are herded by soldiers who are tasked with hunting them down. At the other end of the Park an American flat stands. If the prisoners can survive and get to the flag they will be freed.
Watkins intercuts the struggle of the hippies and other members of 60s and 70s subculture through the desert with others who are still at the camp standing trial. There is no judge, but rather a committee of what could be best described as Middle America.
Unlike his other films, Watkins does not speak as a dispassionate narrator, but as a (unseen) character whose news team is in America to make a documentary on the Park. He engages with characters, and actually has moments of emotion that are a stark contrast to his previous work.
It is not a subtle film, but it is a powerful one. The actors, all from amateur backgrounds embed the film with a realism that complements the camera work.
In this age of Occupy movements and uprisings, the message of Punishment Park is perhaps even stronger today than when it was made. Rgirvan 44 214. Stargate (1994, Roland Emmerich)
[image]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/e/e0/Stargateposter.jpg/220px-Stargateposter.jpg[/image] 213. God Told Me To (1976, Larry Cohen)
Larry Cohen is one of cinema's great lost talents. Always with an imagination bigger than his budgets, he created some of the most original and thought-provoking films of the 70s. The fact that he's too often dismissed as making little more than trash cinema is one of the great tragedies of modern cinema, it also shows how easily people can be swayed by slick visuals over ideas. His movies are as absurd as they are dark and in a just world he would have a handful of films that would be rightly acclaimed among the finest offerings of American cinema of the 70s and 80s. His films are fractured and to many may seem amateurish. Continuity problems, low budget effects, even poor pacing at times show this to be a real poverty row production, but what major studio can you imagine bankrolling this film? Even in the 70s.
For anyone interested in American independent cinema, films like Bone, Q The Winged Serpent and It's Alive should be key films, but God Told Me To is both his greatest work and his most controversial. Set in New York, that city that provided us with so many cinematic nightmares, it stars Tony LoBianco as Detective Peter Nicholas, a Catholic cop investigating a series of murders by random people, all of whom claim God told them to kill. The religious implications of the murder distress Nicholas and he finds himself fixated by the case. Despite the film's low budget, Cohen is able to provide us with some startling scenes. The opening sequence with a sniper randomly picking off pedestrians is tense and horrifying. The crimes get more and more bizarre, a man murders his family and a cop (Andy Kaufman) fires on the crowd during a parade. In the course of his investigations Nicholas discovers that a cult leader, Bernard Phillips (Lynch) has been having an influence on the murders, and that Phillips himself may be more than he appears. Phillips appears to each of the killers and orders them to kill. When the detective visits Phillip's mother, she attacks him before mysteriously dying. An autopsy reveals she's a virgin and an old tabloid story claims she was kidnapped and impregnated by aliens. Is this just fanciful nonsense? Or could the truth have greater implications not just on the murders, but on the nature of religion and on Nicholas's own heritage.
Cohen often managed to surround himself with strong casts, he even got an Oscar winner in the support cast here. He often cast the underrated Michael Moriarty as his lead, and here he gives us another of the 'should have been huge' crowd with Tony Lo Biano. With the right roles, Lo Bianco could have become one of the greatest performers of his generation, but he seldom got parts as strong as Nicholas here or Raymond Fernandez in The Honey Moon Killers. Lo Bianco's existential hero should have been sharing a place on the nomination list alongside Travis Bickle at 76's Oscar ceremony.
God Told Me To is a disturbing mix of sci-fi, occult rituals, police procedural and religious horror. It's a truly subversive film and even if a plot that involves aliens and Jesus seems too outlandish to be taken seriously, it still manages to remains thought-provoking in questioning exactly where and why we place our beliefs where we do. A genuine original, and one that would make a great double bill with Taxi Driver. Rawlinson 212. Last Night (1998, Don McKellar)
[image]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/6/67/LastNight.png/220px-LastNight.png[/image] 211. Superman (1978, Richard Donner)