Archive for Terry Gilliam

The Cabinet of Sr. Del Toro

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2022 by dcairns

I wasn’t sure I’d love Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities — I’ve been disappointed by his recent output — but four episodes in I’m impressed.

The weird decision, to me, was to open with the weakest of the four, Lot 36 — I was taught you should start with your strongest episode, and put the other best ones in second and last place. Here, regular Del Toro cinematographer Guillermo Navarro directs a lackluster spookshow from a story by the man himself, but I would barely call it a story. It’s an EC Horror comic — nasty man meets nasty fate.

In effect, we get Tim Blake Nelson being a one-note pig-man for forty minutes or so and then a supernatural comeuppance. The shambling monster is quite good. But the idea of a horror story being a long character study (with only a couple of BAD characteristics to study) followed by a horrible death is surely dated now.

Vincenzo Natali’s Graveyard Rats, from a story by Henry Kuttner shows the same tropes done with zest and imagination. It has terrific production design (though it suffers from some very familiar Toronto warehouses being repurposed as residential streets) and a very colourful central performance by Natali’s favourite actor, David Hewlett. Unlike Nelson, his graverobber character given just enough attractive/sympathetic qualities to carry us through (he’s educated, uses language with glee, is an underdog). There’s a lot of gross-out stuff and some crawl-out-of-your-skin discomfort.

The tone is black comedy with a lot of sadism — it made me realize that viciously tormenting your protagonist is weirdly more acceptable if he’s undeserving — part of why I like EVIL DEAD II better than ARMY OF DARKNESS (Ash seems better as a victim of fate than as an asshole). There’s a very slight disconnect in the approach — if comedy is bad things happening to someone else and horror is when they happen to YOU (and this is a hugely reductive set of definitions), comedy-horror needs to be able to somehow be in two places at once, or shuttle nimbly back and forth between distant and close-up.

(Maybe, if tragedy is close-up and comedy is long shot, comedy horror is extreme close-up with a wide-angle lens, the distortion creating a sense of distance out of the uncomfortably close.)

What’s very odd is that episode one and two, grouped under the heading Scavengers and dropped on Netflix on the same night — tell exactly the same story. It’s just that Del Toro and his collaborators (including writer Regina Corrado) tell their story leadenly and Natali tells his with skill. A horrible man with a morbid profession is threatened over his debts and seeks buried/hidden treasure, gets entombed with a predatory menace, the end. They both try to freak us out with severed fishheads.

You can sort of see how, having accidentally made two versions of the same thing, Del Toro would choose to pair them up. It kind of draws attention to the mistake, though. It’s harder to see how you could actually let this happen in the first place. It reminds me of one of my favourite clangers — Terry Gilliam’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN and Terry Jones’ ERIK THE VIKING both have their protagonists’ ships attacked by whales, which are then induced to sneeze them to freedom. Not only does the scenario derive from Disney’s PINOCCHIO (the literary Munchhausen merely gets swallowed by a fish, I think), and not only were the two Terries Monty Python colleagues, but both films were produced by Prominent Features, the Pythons’ movie company. Yet nobody spotted the repetition. HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?

Moving on: David THE EMPTY MAN Prior’s The Autopsy makes things as up-close-and-personal as you could wish for, with deeply sympathetic performances from F. Murray Abraham and Glynn Turman (star of J.D.’s REVENGE, my favourite fantasy blaxploitation movie). How up-close? Significant portions of the action take place inside the hero’s body and mind.

David S. Goyer adapts Michael Shea’s story in a way that’s consistently intriguing — where it could have plausibly played out as a much shorter, tightly contained one-room grand guignol tragedy, it seems to benefit from its peculiar, fragmented structure. There’s MORE tentacular unpleasantness (Cthulhu makes an indirect cameo in Rats) but the extreme body horror is part of the story and the story is very satisfying. Amazing music and sound design, including I think a trick I’ve never encountered, where the mechanical throb of a colliery exterior gradually morphs into a piece of suspense music.

Luke Roberts finds a way of playing a space vampire that’s remarkably credible.

Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Outside, scripted by Haley Z. Boston from Emily Carroll’s story, is another black comedy, this time a satire of the cosmetics business and I guess you could say toxic femininity. Terrific performances from Kate Micucci, Martin Starr and Dan Stevens (channeling Matt Berry’s unique phrasing through an Americanized German accent) and a deft use of the wide lens grotesque style — this eccentric coverage doesn’t always cut well, as we see in AMSTERDAM, but here it really works.

This one made me feel really ill, in a scene where violence erupts and Starr’s deeply likable, innocent performance seems to inhabit the realms of comedy and tragedy at the same time. I think there’s a missing bit of character development — it SHOULD come out in the closing shot, a tour-de-force sustained reaction from Micucci (more usually hired as a voice actor, now we discover that she is of course a stunning physical performer) — I think she needed one more note to hit the undertone of self-awareness gnawing at the edges of delusion just a touch more.

But even if I’m left feeling the episode doesn’t entirely come off, it feels like a remarkable set of experiments packaged together.

Lovecraft episodes drop today. My view is that Lovecraft has never been filmed in a way that feels remotely like Lovecraft or is good. So, everything to play for.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2022 by dcairns

From Criterion, Terry Gilliam’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, from Masters of Cinema THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI in 4K.

For Criterion, I got together with ace editor Chase Barthel to make a video essay charting the long and one would have to say STORIED history of Baron Von Munchhausen from real-life figure to literary character, illustration subject, movie star and even radio dialect comedian. Huge fun to do, allowing me to mess about with Mssrs. Méliès, Cohl, Zeman and Von Baky, as well as Cruikshank, Rowlandson and Gustave Doré.

CALIGARI is an upgrade from the earlier Blu-ray and ports over my earlier video essay edited by Timo Langer.

Another, smaller (but choice) Criterion announcement to follow soon.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 11, 2021 by dcairns

Picked up some shelving in the street, redistributed the physical media collection, which keeps expanding recklessly, due to charity shop bargains. The discs Fiona & I have worked on are still stacked vertically in the hall by the bathroom, and now reach up to my nose.

There’s another set of shelves still out there, and I’m tempted to grab them only there’s nowhere I can put them without obstructing access to other shelves or rooms. But I might try anyway. Tempting to subdivide the flat up with shelves, into a Borgesian labyrinth. I think Fiona would allow this so long as I ran coloured threads to mark things out.

Here you can just about see DePalma to Gilliam. The new space allows me to leave a tiny bit of room for the net, inevitable arrivals, but I know from experience it won’t last long enough. Why, I ask, do I even own CARRIE, a film I don’t like and won’t watch again? Just on the off-chance, or because I like owning things, prefer to have eleven DePalma films rather than ten? But then, it’s inconsistent of me to have gotten rid of the wretched DOMINO, surely? Conversely, the only reason I own seven Stephen Frears films is that I haven’t seen four of them, and might one day feel like popping one in the Panasonic. The three earliest ones in the collection are ones I like. Would like to own GUMSHOE.