Archive for John Landis

Mixed Emotions

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 28, 2020 by dcairns

I wanted to like Brian DePalma’s DOMINO, like a lot of people I think (some DID like it), but I couldn’t. It is NOT a good movie, imho. And I don’t even know why I wanted to like it, since I don’t think of BDP as a particularly nice character who deserves more success. But, since I’d bought a cheap secondhand copy and was watching it, I would have liked it to be entertaining. And he’s made some good movies — we can all disagree about which ones, which in a way is even better — so one would like to see a modern film with the vibe of (for me) SISTERS, OBSESSION, THE UNTOUCHABLES or even one of the really unpleasant ones, just for a change.

This Euro-pudding, which BDP did not write, may occupy the sort of place in the DePalma oeuvre that BURKE & HARE does for John Landis. “Want to come to some drab country and film this crappy script?” “Sure, I’m free this week!”

I exaggerate. Denmark is probably much nicer than Scotland, where I live. And they made REPTILICUS, which Scotland SHOULD have made.

What you get is the mannerisms of the director without any of the pleasure. BURKE & HARE has director cameos by Costa-Gavras and Michael Winner, and virtually no laughs (Paul Whitehouse squeezed a reluctant guffaw from us by main force). DOMINO has would-be Hitchcockian set-pieces and Pino Donaggio aping Bernard Herrmann on the soundtrack and a creepy interest in hi-tech voyeurism (ISIS execution videos, this time).

Fiona: “Thanks a lot, Brian, I’ve spent the last few years AVOIDING that kind of imagery.”

I point out that it’s an incredibly lame reenactment since the movie doesn’t show the head coming off. The whole point of snuff movies is presumably the “frenzy of the visible,” showing the moment of death in horrible close-up. Everything to do with tech in the film is unconvincing, including the heroine’s phone photos of her holidays with boyfriend “Lars Hansen”:

The movie ends with YouTube exploding. Extremely poor.

Someone on Twitter did point out that the subplot, in which a vengeful Arab character is recruited by Guy Pearce’s dastardly CIA man to bring down a terror cell, and he kills his way through the organisation, driven by rage, would make a much better movie than the main plot. Possibly, but not the way it’s done here. What’s certain is that the two storylines don’t help each other, they just diffuse focus.

Oh, and it begins with two cops, and one of them is older and has a nice, disabled wife. He’s going to get killed, I thought. And then I thought, a reasonably good twist would be to kill the young leading-man type guy, the guy whose girl sleeps in a modesty pouch for some reason. It might not make up for the crushing sense of predictability being experienced in the first place, but it would be a good surprise.

Also, the hero goes on duty and forgets his gun. And then his partner is killed and the bad guy escapes for reasons that actually have nothing to do with the forgotten gun.

Mostly this looks like a TV cop show. But they make some better TV cop shows in Europe.

I’ll say this, it’s a movie that’s ineffective and bad at least in surprising, incomprehensible ways. Why is it called DOMINO when there was a movie of that title fourteen years ago which did not do well and is usually remembered unfavourably? (I genuinely don’t know why this one is called DOMINO, in the sense of, what does it have to do with dominoes? It would only resemble dominoes if you had to knock over each piece with lethal force and they never, ever set off a chain reaction.)


Exhumed ex-humans

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2019 by dcairns

The credits of CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD aka LA NUIT DES VAMPIRES aka DER FLUCH DER GRUNEN AUGEN aka BLUTRAUSCH DER VAMPIRE  (1964/5) feature the guy with the greatest Halloween nickname ever, as his real name: Stane Sever.

It’s a West German-Yugoslavian co-production. Alone amid the Eastern block countries, protected by Tito, Yugoslavia made some fun cheesy horror movies in the sixties. Michael Reeves made his first film there, THE SHE-BEAST. This one, however, is directed by Akos V. Ratony, aka Akos Rathonyi, who was nearing the end of his thirty-year career.

Intrepid, boozy, sex-mad detective Adrian Hoven (later a PRODUCER of Euro-horrors) is sent to investigate a series of mystery deaths near a “famous grotto,” each fatality accompanied by a power cut. A story David Lynch might enjoy.

His car conks out just as he arrives at the inn — electromagnetic pulse? or something more sinister, but stupider? Amusingly, when power is restored the next day, the radio is still playing the same tune. That’s how it works, apparently: the radio will pick up where it left off, but maybe play slightly faster until it catches up with the current live broadcast. Either that or Radio Belgrade only has one record to play.

We meet a tavern keeper, a cavern creeper, a wise woman, an unwise woman, a professor who can make his big black candles flame up by breathing on them, like WC Fields, and a deaf mute who’s “harmless, really,” but keeps attacking people — plus he plays the accordion. Not that I’m holding that against him, but it seems inconsistent with his deafness. I suppose he can enjoy the vibrations though. Maybe that’s also why he keeps attacking people. He enjoys the vibrations from his fists thudding into them. While it was, in a way, refreshing to find a hard-of-hearing character portrayed in this unusual way, I felt the other characters were wrong to constantly refer to him as deaf. The thing about this guy isn’t that he’s deaf, or mute, or maybe slow-witted or whatever. The thing about him is that he’s a surly, violent arsehole. The dialogue should not be, “Don’t mind him, he’s deaf,” but rather “Don’t mind him, he’s a violent, surly arsehole. Or maybe do mind him, and give him the occasional punch in the breadbasket.”

There’s also a black manservant working at the local castle (John Kitzmiller from DR. NO). While he’s portrayed as superstitious re vampires, this is perhaps forgivable as he’s RIGHT. More interesting is the fact that the villagers are superstitious of HIM, because of his race, and they’re NOT right. Despite working for the mad scientist vampire troglodyte, he’s thoroughly decent.

I became convinced that at least one, maybe two of the dubbed voices were the same as one of the detectives in Orson Welles’ THE TRIAL. Well, those scenes were seemingly shot in Yugoslavia… but would they have been dubbed there? It seemed unlikely. But I couldn’t shake it. Maybe it was the cavernous echo, and that constipated quality dubbing actors all seem to have because they’re trying to voice three or four different characters. (Welles did a lot of the voices in THE TRIAL himself, and I’d always assumed he was doing that detective. With accompanying strain in voice.)

Really, really shoddy script — we never find out why there are power failures, though we do helpfully cut to the power station at the end where they’re puzzled, too. But old Akos seems to be having fun with a few spooky shots and clever transitions, and his native land has coughed up some good locations.

Am reminded that John Landis conceived AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF OF LONDON after witness a body being buried at a crossroads at midnight on location in Yugoslavia while he was working on KELLY’S HEROES. He later shifted the location to Yorkshire, because they both begin with a Y, I guess.

CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD stars Professor Henri Vollmer; Jo le Suedois; Dr. Mabuse; Quarrel; and Stane Sever.

Not the Sunday Intertitle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2019 by dcairns
From Z: “Any resemblance to real events or persons living or dead is not accidental. It is DELIBERATE.”

No intertitles in Costa-Gavras’ films, that I’ve been able to find. Plenty of writing on the screen, though.

Since the stories he tells are often based on true ones, or set in real historical situations, the use of text is sort of genre-appropriate. Although I don’t think we can really argue that it’s a technique taken from documentary — the history of fiction films starting with a superimposed crawl stating the time and place and what’s happening politically is a very long one — it’s true that this approach literally turns the film into a document for the duration of the text.

C-G can begin a film with a scene-setting graphic, as in UN HOMME DE TROP ~

Since this is a Harry Saltzman production, this MIGHT be the work of an uncredited Maurice Binder. I do hope so!

He can use a superimposed date to get over a jump in time, as in L’AVEAU, which cheekily identifies its first flash-forward as a hallucination, then treats the later ones as real ~

I like C-G’s experimental side. The relentlessly brutal L’AVEAU might be unwatchable without this ludic spirit.

The movie ends with Czech graffiti, subtitled. Does that constitute a kind of intertitle?


In C-G’s endings we sometimes learn about what happened after the events of the movie itself. Z has perhaps the best example of this ever, and it helps that the explanation of the title has been held back until the very end (spoiler alert, I guess) ~

It’s just a list of things banned by the Greek generals, culminating in the letter Z, which was forbidden because it could be used to say “He still lives.”

Where a Hollywood true story might tend to reassure us that the story we’ve just watched resulted in wrongs being righted (I’m generalising massively here), C-G tends to tell darker stories and he wants to send his audience out angry or determined, not reassured.

From SECTION SPECIALE — devastating in context.

I’m not usually crazy about the textual “future re-cap” ending. It can signify a failure on the scenarist’s part to effectively condense the true story into a cinematic narrative. And I usually find it a colossal cheat when it’s used in fiction films. I don’t like it in AMERICAN GRAFFITI *at all*. ANIMAL HOUSE, directed by C-G’s pal John Landis (who put C-G in three of his films as an actor, a record for this director-casting maniac) is OK because it’s parodying the form and the jokes are pretty good. MAGDALENE SISTERS is just confusing because the characters aren’t real, but they’re based on real stories… so are the hackneyed captions telling us about real people or fictional ones? It’s supposed to be devastating, but I found it irritating because I’m a pedant and a bad person, I suppose.

AMEN. (note the full stop) is a dicier example. It has two protagnists. One was a real person, Kurt Gerstein, a Nazi whistle-blower who tried to warn the world about the Holocaust while being deeply involved in it (it’s a fascinating and terrible story), the other is a compound character signifying various people in the Catholic Church who did various things to get the Pope to act (unsuccessfully). The film solves this conundrum by summing up Gerstein’s post-movie fate and remaining silent about the quasi-fictional Jesuit.

I would say that just as I slightly prefer Costa-Gavras’ more playful and quirky early work, where the nouvelle vague tricks in no way take away from the seriousness — in fact, they point it up — I prefer the use of text early on, because it has a similar wit. Playing with the docudrama conventions rather than subscribing wholeheartedly. Likewise, the two freeze-frames in UN HOMME DE TROP, capturing the moment of death for two characters, are much more striking than the standard-issue freeze endings of MUSIC BOX and BETRAYED, even though the latter, with the action actually juddering to a halt, is rather haunting ~