Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Holy Mountain" (1973) - Movie Review

Be careful what you wish for is all I could think when I was watching Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain”, a film suggested by a fellow film enthusiast in a weekly film group I have been having for the past month. This was picked under the category “Offbeat/Experimental” that I came up for the group and if I thought “Rubber” perfectly fit there, “The Holy Mountain” which was made almost forty years back redefines it with a spank on my ass. A film that is filled with psychedelic imagery comprising colours, structures, sets, blood, flesh, violence, nudity (a lot of it) and sex. An experiment that has odd elements and weird chemistries and absolute spellbinding reaction, this is a pure experience in every bit of its entirety.

Made in the early seventies oozing with peace and love, backed by the Beatles members, Alejandro Jodorowsky begins his film with a ceremony ending with two beautiful naked women tonsured and sitting symmetrically with a mystical man in the middle. If that does not set the tone of the film, I cannot think of what else would. From that backdrop we goto a deserted land where an almost naked man (Horacio Salinas) is lying there with flies covering his face and when I say covering his face, I mean in every inch of his face the creature creeps and fills in the gap. Then comes the group of naked kids and lifts him, puts him through the cross and throws stones at him. This is where I was not hoping this film would not go and it came in the first five minutes. Whenever a person sacrifices the innocence of a kid for the purpose of art, he/she loses respect from this reviewer. I am though speaking too soon as they are out there with an innocence the director wants to portray. Having survived an early scare, I was not foolish to think this was it as there were several other near misses that I wish Jodorowsky would have used his expressive creative ability in better form and presentation. Regardless, “The Holy Mountain” continued to baffle, astound, surprise, shock, humour, scare and outright take me for a ride I have never ridden before. This is a piece of work and I mean it.

The film is filled with symbolism, cynicism and revolutionary images. Watching after nearly forty years from its creation, it still has the power to shock any viewer. As this man begins to wander around the streets of the city and goes through the surrealistic and symbolistic world of Jodorowsky, we are exposed to the religion that gets sold, marketed, entertained and ridiculed. It is hailed and imbibed with phoniness. If you have not figured it by now the plot is nowhere. Dialogues are absolutely absent for the first thirty minutes and successive imageries of carnage and sex are casually thrown around to instigate and challenge the viewer to continue watching this film. As the film hurls through those and finally lands up where the wandering christ like man ends up in a tower that lowers down a hook with a bag of gold, we meet the person the film began with. He wears a black robe with a hat covering his face entirely.

He is revealed as he begins to speak to this hobo. This is where the film takes a turn for the best. Given as a god like figure, the man or alchemist as we come to know played by the director himself, begins to provide synopsis of the most powerful people in the current world the man needs to know. This is the part we are humoured and entertained. There is the industrialist mainly a cosmetics manufacturer, a toy manufacturer, president’s financial advisor, an architect, a weapons manufacturer, an art dealer and a police chief. Each of their background reflects the time the film was made and the perspectives most of the seventies contemporary folks had in mind. While the story continued through each of them, my thoughts ran the judgments of this director who was taking the much despised self righteous route most of over the edge hippie culture took. That kind of overenthusiastic hypocrisy is annoying but when Jodorowsky shows the art dealer’s art work and the “Pantheon Bar” where a man deludes himself of LSD and other crazy drug before the group ascends the Holy Mountain, I was impressed by the balance this mad director had in his film.

“The Holy Mountain” has the most stunning imageries. It has symbolism, surrealism, absurdity, contemporary art that would bring shame to the current art forms and the daring nature of experimental film making. Its creator had the most naked form of artistic integrity that he simply denies to accept to satisfy any kind of audience. Even the most fantastic and admired directors of all time are molded by the environment and limited by the ambience they grew and live upon. Alejandro Jodorowksy’s world is not that at all. He tears the screen and splashes it with imagination, weird disturbing ones and then tender beautiful ones. Then he paints poetry and laughs with his mockery.

Having praised, disappointed and offended in parts and pieces, this reviewer would not sit through this experience again. As much as there are spellbinding photography, location and oddity in this film, the taste of this reviewer comes into place. Fortunately or unfortunately I have a certain liking to a certain common feed of films that beckons multiple viewings. Few of those might be called as offbeat but nowhere near as that of “The Holy Mountain”. While I wish Jodorowksy chose other pictures, paintings and presentations for some of the depictions, he carried those with a certain sense of moral responsibility which I can acknowledge but not agree. “The Holy Mountain” can be said as a film that would shock and awe anyone forty years from now and that is a compliment and a caution at the same time.

Monday, August 08, 2011

"D.O.A." (1950) - Movie Classics

How can you not be excited and fascinated by the tagline “D.O.A.” poses? “A picture as excitingly different as its title!” Mark the exclamation and you know what I am talking about. There are few films I get really pumped and this one got me for two reasons. One is the aforementioned catchy line and the second one is the plot that reminded me of a terrible film “Crank”. With that I sat along with my friends of the film group I arranged to be immersed into the cheesy, oozing 50ish classic film noir filled with lovable bad acting, some cool shots of San Francisco and a sarcasm that cuts through like a samurai sword.

Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) walks into a police station to report about his own murder. Confusing, isn’t it? Now in the realms of trailer and wikipedia filled world one would know about this kind of hype and plot but in the 50s when advertisements were through cheesy tag lines and pure selling factor of a poster, this opening sequence would have brought everybody to be alert right away. The film immediately goes back to flashback as Frank is preparing for his vacation to San Francisco from his town of Banning, California. His secretary/girlfriend is Paula (Pamela Britton) as it has been time and again taught by several “Mad Men” episodes, secretaries = obvious affairs. She is annoying the crap out of him with affection and as my friend was saying in a bipolar fashion. The reason being his immediate vacation to San Francisco. He departs as a man from those times would irreverent towards a woman’s perspective and opinion.

As he checks in to the hotel there are random beautiful women walk by him and the back ground cue for it is next to silliness while also marks a sense of how the film makers want to be sure of the nature in which Frank was ogling these women. It is ridiculous to hear those crazy sounds of obvious comedy but also symbolize the period in which this was made. Frank begins his charade of finding debauchery through his fellow members of the hotel where they invite him to a club, a jazz club. The festivities and the scene of jazz is shot with brilliant nature. The artists involved are animated and are enjoying their performance while the crowd frenzies around the packed room with noise, cheer and disturbing dances. As Frank settles in a bar stool he shifts his perspective towards a lonely lady on the other side of the bar. He goes to her and leaves his drink. Bad idea. A simple switch a route of his drink by a strange person lands him to finish his night earlier as he wakes up feeling weird about himself. You know what happened to him. The film begins with a new thump on this mystery of who poisoned him. He has little time to leave as he confirms with couple of doctors.

The plot that follows would have to be too complex but the idea is for this web to provide varied location and shady characters. As Frank is wondering how to spend his final day(s), he wants to unravel the reasoning for his sure destiny. He is a man with nothing to lose and he goes gung-ho to get his answers. He picks up short clues, long roads and quick hideaways to find the person who did this to him.

Director Rudolph Mate draws a perfect noir with a right tinge of overblown drama from the writings of Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene. There is immediacy in the acting from Edmond O’brien and Pamela Britton in their romance which truly is made to be an annoyance rather than an expression for true love. And then there is wit and sarcasm dripping through the screen from O’brien’s Bigelow who goes through random places and run through the streets of San Francisco to get some answers and die in peace and regret.

Almost every character is filled with dark shades and Bigelow failing to listen to their entire story before hurrying up to the partially built up clue he made of is entertaining. To understand the original nature of dark wit in terrible time is when he goes to extract information from a photo studio. There as the owner of the studio is getting bribed for information, the man explains the nature in which he conducts business and see the response Bigelow is making which is nothing short of cynicism and dark humour. These are the scenes which makes “D.O.A.” come out of its known cheesiness.

“D.O.A.” has genuine funniness and the obvious silliness of the time in which the movie was made. Yet it carries the pure formulation of a classic noir threaded, knitted and decorated with care and perfection in its own way by not alone the director but from every bit of the actors in good and bad acting and dark shadows of cinematography by Ernest Laszlo through the crazy lines of its screen writers. And from this the film truly has evolved from the eyes of the viewers more than the makers themselves.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

"The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (1974) - Movie Classics

“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is that classic genre of thrilling films 70s and 80s were good at producing out. The characters in it are restless, casual and a charm that exhibits a characteristic of being both put up and natural. They had that going for him until the CGI took over the industry and brought this genre to its knees. That is the reason maybe when I watched “Payback” with my brother, it seemed nostalgic or more so original. Seeing this film draws me back to those films despite the minimal quantity of movies I have seen from this time.

Having seen the remade version of this with Tony Scott’s fast editing going through Denzel Washington and John Travolta having fun in playing these characters in the modern world of mediocrity, the original seemed fresher. This indeed is a methodical and cold nature in which a group of men led by a menacing Englishman Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) takes over the subway train Pelham One Two Three. This addressing of Mr. Blue later became Tarantino’s homage in his earlier film “Reservoir Dogs”. On a regular busy day in New York train network arrives these men and board at different points and take over the train. They corner themselves up and as much as we know that there is a plan of getaway from this trap, we are curious as to how.

Walter Matthau is Lt. Zachary Gerber giving tour to Tokyo Metro directors on the station they are successfully running. Gerber is everyday man, dreading the presence of foreigners at the same time courteous to show them around with cynicism and sarcasm. His colleagues are panicking on the situation they got into when Gerber gets into the mix with quick response. There are no dramatic back ground to accentuate the situation nor does there are crazy run around in the nerve center in head quarters. People panic but naturally and Gerber responds in a hurried calm fashion. He seem to have got the rhythm of Mr. Blue and vice versa that they both acclimatize quickly and begin the negotiation. Mr. Blue is on the upper hand. He has hostages and he needs money and he needs it immediately. He promises to kill one passenger per minute delay in the arrival of the money and he is damn serious about it.

The movie works with a pace creeping into the screen with conspicuously. Gerber communicates back and forth with the fellow Lieutenant Garber (Jerry Stiller) on the happenings outside and then to Mr. Blue. Directed by Joseph Sargent, the film takes the story outside of the train and command center onto the politics and the NYPD involved in the mix. The Mayor (Lee Wallace) who is being manipulated, bullied and nearly man handled by a strong and powerful Deputy Mayor (Tony Roberts) though he seem to be the man of making decisions. The desperate attempt of the policeman riding with the ransom money going through the busy streets of the city shown with a serious urgency and sudden vanishing of emotion in that whole scene. These are few of side plots that gets the film a tone and voice that is missing so much in the thriller genre involving action, pace and intelligence in current days.

“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is precise in its presentation and utterly serious about the stakes involved. Do not be fooled by the lack of back ground score or obvious dramatization because Mr. Blue is capable of anything and we see him when he executes with chilling clinical nature. Then again he is annoyed when a killing is done unnecessarily. For him there needs to be a purpose for an action and it should facilitate getting a point or to a means to the end, that includes killing. This surgical nature makes him a terror to the hostages around which brings to the hostages who behave, act and react to the situation calm followed by panic, confusion and eventually to submission.

The smartness of Gerber comes at the juncture when it matters. There is no way out when Mr. Blue places his demands and has the situation completely under his control. Gerber waits for the opportunity though he does not make it know. It is his nature and the instinct which kicks when he tackles the situation of money coming late to the station. He acts and saves lives with a flick of a switch. Dealt with a sincere film making, “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is the classic the genre deserves. Films like this “Marathon Man” and “Three Days of Condor” reminds me how thriller was once upon a time.

"Rubber" (2011) - Movie Review

Calling “Rubber” bizarre, weird or absurd might be putting it mildly. Quentin Dupieux’s film is the most ridiculous, experimental and unexplainably engaging film I have seen in a very long time. Told with an unforgiving nature of experimentation, this is a film which might even question and test the nerves of a very serious movie goer. Yet it has an odd element attached to it that keeps it funny for most part and evokes an underlying statement from the observer than the presenter.

It has a killer opening. A man in a remote open land stands holding a bunch of binoculars. A cop car comes and makes it a point to hit each and every chair which has no place of being there. A man in uniform, comes out of a trunk, knocks the driver door, gets a glass of water and gives out the ridiculousness of cinema and its absence of reason to its property and presentation to us the audience. He then dumps the glass of water stating the obvious that we will be witnessing one such. While we are thinking he has been addressing to us, he actually has been addressing to a group of people to whom the ridiculous man provides the binocular as they try to see the live film in front of them happening at a distance though not so far away from them. This is “Rubber”.

Amongst the rusty hot sands lays a sturdy tire. Dead, unmoving as any rubber tire would be, it suddenly begins to move. It gets itself up and begins wobbling around falling, picking itself up and moving on with no purpose. It encounters inanimate objects and shatters them with its power of vibration or the spectators name it as psychokinetic powers. What it goes with its journey and the people it meets and explode are irrelevant then why bother watching this film? Well, you have a very solid question out there but the madness to this method is inviting. Dupieux has both a point to make and to lash it out into threads of thin air. When you expect that the spectators of this freak show are going to draw some sense, he stuns you by making them behave in the nature of the film’s chaos.

“Rubber” has one concrete thing going on which is the cinematography and Quentin Dupieux takes that job along with editing. It angles through the tire’s perspective which spoofs crazy psycho thrillers and low budget horror films. The strangeness in “Rubber” soon throws you off even with the complete awareness of the conscious frenzy Quentin puts through. Soon enough you are both drawn away and towards it simultaneously.

The idea of having no point to the presentation might annoy or might even offend certain moviegoers as there are effective ways to do that in a much more entertaining and meaningful fashion. Instead Quentin goes for the extreme and he is right about it. Any other manner in which he would have made it the way audience would have wished might make it another flick that pokes fun of this genre. He wants to stand alone from the crowd and if it means to be standing alone literally shunning his viewers, then so be it.

The actors in this film vary from very good acting to terrible performances. Stephen Spinella does a stellar job of believing in this narrator, presenter and participator while Daniel Quinn steals the worst performance as the motel owner. Even in that I am not sure whether Quinn’s performance is intentional or not. Nothing can be concrete about a film like this.

There is no way I would be able to watch “Rubber” again but I might definitely recommend it to any one. They might hate me or adore me or plain and simple stamp me as a crazy goose with further odd movie taste. Regardless they would have gone through an experiment that can only called an odd journey of a presentation of nonsense, comedy, non-existing statements, existing agendas and simple madness with crystal clear imagery.