Posts Tagged ‘Film’
I don’t often sit down to write a review intending to convince everyone that reads it to go see the movie in question. You’ve got your blockbusters, and chick flicks, action movies and art house films and raunchy teen comedies and sci-fi and kiddie stuff and so on and so on… and most people seem to know what they like. But Spirited Away is an extraordinary picture – for everyone. Still, an astonishing number of perfectly sensible adults refuse to go to an animated feature unless it’s Disney and they have to have some wee ones in tow. That is the dumbest of reasons to miss this.
Spirited Away is the latest work by Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese master who is a god to the Disney animators, which has been flawlessly dubbed into English by John Lasseter (Toy Story). It was co-winner of this year’s Berlin Film Festival running against non-animated movies; it outsold Titanic to become the top-grossing film in Japanese history; and it is the first film ever to gross more than $200 million before opening in the US.
Drawing heavily on Japanese mythology, Spirited Away is told through the eyes of Chihiro (voice by Daveigh Chase), a 10-year-old girl, travelling to a new town with her parents. She is deeply unhappy about the shift and leaving her old friends and schoolmates. As they drive through the woods, her father decides to take the family for a little exploration of a mysterious tunnel at the side of the country road. On the other side is what he believes is an abandoned theme park, but strangely the food stalls are overflowing with freshly prepared meals, but with no one to serve them. As Chihiro’s parents help themselves to a free meal, she wanders away and comes upon a wonderland, a towering bathhouse.
A boy named Haku appears as her guide, and warns her that the sorceress Yubaba, who runs the bathhouse, will try to steal her name and thus her identity. Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette) is an old crone with a huge face, reminiscent the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, who dotes on her grotesquely huge baby named Boh. Ominously, she renames Chihiro, who wanders through the structure, which is populated, like with little balls of dust that scurry and scamper underfoot.
In the innards of the bathhouse, Chihiro comes upon the boiler room, operated by a man named Kamaji (David Ogden Stiers) with eight arms, which perform a bewildering variety of functions. At first he seems as fearsome as the world he occupies, but he is no friend of Yubaba, and agrees to help Chihiro rescue her parents who have been turned into pigs.
Chihiro is forced into drudgery, scrubbing and cleaning the numerous tubs for a menagerie of guests. Trouble erupts when she accidentally allows Okutaresama, the spirit of the river, into the building. His body has absorbed the debris, waste and sludge that has been thrown into it over the years, so he is filthy and reeks so that no one can bear to be anywhere near him. She must prepare his bath, and as the detritus he has absorbed sloughs off, at one point actually yielding up a discarded bicycle, he is transformed from apparent victim to apparent predator.
Japanese myths often incorporate shape-shifting motifs, in which bodies conceal a hidden reality – and animation is the perfect vehicle for shape-shifting. Miyazaki does wondrous things with his characters: Okutaresama reveals his true nature, and Haku, Yubaba and even Boh are much more than they seem at first.
Miyazaki’s drawing style is rooted in classical Japanese graphic art, with subtle use of colour, clear lines, and realistic portrayal that suggests the true nature of the characters. Not fond of computers, he draws thousands of frames himself with painstaking attention to detail that brings the animation to life. This is one of the year’s best pictures in any genre. Bring a child if you must (though not a small one, as they would find much of Spirited Away quite distressing) – but don’t miss this exceptional film.
He’s been dead nearly thirty years now, but the man who practically invented the psychological thriller, conceived and delivered our very idea of filmic suspense, and took horror from 50’s b-grade kitsch into the realm of true terror continues to haunt the psyches of young directors hoping to emulate the master. It seems everyone from Gus van Sant (Psycho) to Anthony Perkins who played the psycho in the original and later directed Psycho III has had a go. I found a great article on /film covering the Hitchcock remake oeuvre – worth checking out.
His career spanned more than five decades, beginning in the silent era. (I wrote a piece on a couple of them last year.)
Yet it wasn’t until the mid 1930′s that his career kicked off with “The Man Who Knew too Much” starring Peter Lorre, but his move to Hollywood in 1939 and the gothic melodrama Rebecca that saw him begin a 25-year reign, where virtually every one of his films was a critical and popular success. He is still voted #1 director of all time in most movie polls.
If you’re curious, but don’t know which of Hitchcock’s 60+ films to begin with, here’s a good start. All of them are easily available on DVD, most with exquisite restorations. Dig in!
- Suspicion (1941)
- Dial M for Murder (1954)
- To Catch a Thief (1955)
- Rear Window (1954)
- North by Northwest (1959)
- Vertigo (1958)
- The Birds (1963)
- Psycho (1960)
- Rope (1948)
I have a secret love for action flicks – and there are those in my collection I can watch over and over and never ever get bored.
It hit me about half an hour into Once Upon a Time in Mexico that this might be the perfect date flick – as long as you’ve got the stomach for heaps of cartoon violence. For chicks, you’ve got Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Enrique Iglesias, Ruben Blades and bad boys Mickey Rourke and Willem Dafoe. For the blokes there’s non-stop action, shootouts, hi-jinks and some very memorable cameos from the incomparable Salma Hayek. And, there’s also one hell of story.
This, the third film in his Mariachi trilogy, is clearly director Robert Rodriguez’ baby. The first, El Mariachi, came in 1992, made on a budget of US$7,000. The second, Desperado, followed three years later, also written, produced, directed, scored, and ‘chopped’ by the director of the Spy Kids series. Though it is the third of the trilogy, the film stands on its own: fans may want to go back and uncover the earlier story, it’s not necessary to understanding this film. Come to think of it, Hayak’s character dies in Desperado but she’s back and hotter than ever here. So seeing the first two is strictly optional. They are out on DVD as a 2-disc set – should you go looking.
A Hollywood outsider by choice, Rodriguez works from an elaborate home studio in Austin, Texas, putting his films together with more can-do creativity than professional glitz. He shot Once Upon a Time in Mexico himself, in Mexico with a high-definition video camera.
A meltingly handsome Antonio Banderas plays El Mariachi, a gunslinger-guitar hero: a living legend – part man, part spirit. Then there’s Johnny Depp as Sands, a casually corrupt CIA agent with a penchant for disguise and chef-murdering, who recruits El Mariachi to foil a coup planned by the fascist General Marquez (Gerardo Vigil) with the help of drug lord Barillo (Willem Dafoe at his most sinister.) Where Banderas is all smouldering passion, Depp is indifferent. It’s a shame we don’t get more of Salma Hayek, but what we do get is unforgettable – the hottest woman on the planet.
Rodriguez takes full advantage of the small video camera, diving into the middle of the action. Careening at a dizzying pace; he becomes the camera, looking everywhere at once. And when he gets his footage to the chopping block he ups the ante, so the film is a Tasmanian Devil of a dervish, and you have the distinct sense that anything can happen. Yes, it is violent, but odd as it may seem, there is a joyful playfulness to it – blood that looks like raspberry sauce and the odd sense that Yosemite Sam might turn up any second, six-guns blasting. There is so much humour and plain silliness in the script and in Depp’s character (who actually asks a recruit, “Are you a Mexi-can or a Mexi-can’t?”), Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a tasty piece of eye candy. Highly recommended.
Ten year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her heavily pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) travel to a remote fascist outpost in the Spanish forest, where they will join her new husband, Capitán Vidal (Sergi López). A ruthless man, he is charged with dispensing the last of the rebels. Despite the risks to her health, he has insisted she give birth to his son where he is.
Capitán despises stepdaughter Ofelia, not least for her love of fairy tales. But deep in the woods, Ofelia has met a wondrous faun, who has given her three tasks to complete to prove her character. If she passes, she will be returned as a princess to her true home deep in the earth. Can she do it? Or will Capitán and the horrors of the real world devour her first?
This is one of those rare movies that pulls you into its heart so you share the suffering of each the characters. It is savagely brutal in the way classic fairy tales usually are, though this is balanced by the beauty of the otherworld. (Note – this flick is much too violent for young viewers to handle! Don’t be misled by the little girl on the cover.)
Guillermo Del Toro is a master of fantasy. In Blade II (2002) and Hellboy (2004) he brought comic book characters to life. Here he draws on his passionate love of classic fairy tales to create his own fantasy world, so delicately crafted the CGI special effects blend seamlessly and you are simply dazzled by all that unfolds.
The two-disc set is loaded with special features, including making of featurettes on set and costume design, cast and crew interviews, commentaries, storyboards and more. One of my favourite movies of all time.
This dazzler from the Czech Republic coyly weaves a subtle dash of magic realism into the life of an ordinary little man, a Prague waiter who dreams of becoming a millionaire. We meet Jan Díte (Ivan Barnev and Oldrich Kaiser) as he exits a Czech prison sometime in the 60s, grateful for the amnesty that has given him three months off his fifteen-year sentence. Relinquished to a collapsing old pub deep in the forest, he commences the DIY project of a lifetime and takes stock of his life.
His first job was selling sausages at the Prague train station, a lucrative enterprise, where he discovered that no matter how wealthy and distinguished people are, they’re always willing to get down on their hands and knees to pick up coins – a running gag, where he amuses himself by watching his betters crawl. From there it’s a pub and then a restaurant where he rises to headwaiter, deferring to the maitre d’ who has ‘served the king of England.’
When the 30′s bring the Nazis, Jan is torn between his love for the tiny German soldier, Líza (Julia Jentsch) and his country’s hatred for everything German. After having his sperm approved, he marries her and moves on to a posh hotel, which the Nazis have converted to a motherhood clinic, where Aryan blondes romp naked, waiting to be impregnated by German soldiers and he continues to serve.
Jan and Liza have a plan for after the war – stamps she has pilfered from the homes of deported Jews, which will make them rich. (When he asks where they were deported to, she merely shrugs, an alarmingly simple gesture of indifference that speaks volumes.) But his good luck always has an underside and things never turn out as expected.
There is a surreal sensibility that occasionally surfaces when Europe examines its recent history, a sense of helplessness and disbelief at the reality of what has happened, recently seen in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Oscar winning director Jirí Menzel (Closely Watched Trains, 1966) lures us into a slapstick comedy with profoundly deeper implications, you’ll be thinking about it for weeks.
High-brow Finnish horror washes all your sins away
Director: Antti-Jussi Annila
At first glance, this may seem like a standard horror flick, other than its setting – 16th century Finland. The Swedes and Russians have just ended 25 years of war and each have sent a party to define the new borders. We meet brothers Eerik and Knut, represent the Swedes, en route to the official rendezvous.
Whilst they are glad for peace, the endless years of war, away from their family has taken its toll and Eerik has become increasingly violent. He declares he has killed 73 people, including a farmer we meet as the film opens, who he claimed wielded an axe. Knut fears for the farmer’s adolescent daughter and locks her in the fruit cellar to keep her safe. As they set out for their destination, he asks Eerik to let her out.
They meet up with the Russians and together they come upon a sauna, built in the middle of the swamp. Nearby is a village not on any of their maps. The people are accommodating, but rather strange – and extraordinarily clean, forever washing themselves and their clothing. There are 73 people in the village, but only one child. And the girl in the swamp is calling more desperately.
This film is a mere 85 minutes long – but the script is so complex and multi-layered and the suspense so thick, it was a relief when it ended. Afterwards, watching the making-of documentary was almost cathartic – seeing how it was made took some of the chill away. A director’s commentary helps answer some of the questions left dangling at the movie’s end, but still – it’s one you will ponder for a while. One of my top choices for 2009.
Un Chien Andalou put both Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel on the map with its opening scene of a young woman passively submitting as her eyeball is sliced open with a razor. An eye-opener even today, in 1929 it was positively shocking – resulting in the movie running in theatres for nearly a year.
One can only imagine what audiences made of the ‘story’ that follows, a surrealistic dreamscape of murder, mishap, severed limbs and ants. Buñuel appears as the eyeball slicer and Dali as a priest dragged across the floor ahead of two pianos weighted with rotting, dead donkeys. Considering its popularity, one can only assume audiences were far more sophisticated than they are today. We demand logical story arcs that rise and fall, resulting in a satisfactory ending. This little flick makes me want to pick up a camera and make a film of my own and is a must-see for anyone with those aspirations.
Look for the two-disc DVD release. Also included on disc one – a 1986 British doco on the life and work of Salvador Dali, which serves as a fine introduction for those unfamiliar with the surrealist master – whose life mirrored his art – right until the end. We could however, have lived without the Alka Seltzer ads.
The second disc features Buñuel’s only documentary, Las Hurdes (1933) the story of a remote Spanish village where he first examines the corruption of the Catholic Church, a theme he continued to explore throughout his career. Also included is a doco from 2000 spanning his tumultuous career.
Between his early years as a surrealist filmmaker and his triumphant late-life career that began with Viridiana in 1961, Luis Buñuel made a dozen or so small-budget movies that were largely ignored by critics and audiences alike. Some were dreadful – a 1953 version of Wuthering Heights, where the producer insisted he use a cast comprised mostly of stock car drivers who had been prepped for a comedy. However, The Young One is the best of the lot and might be considered an overlooked masterpiece. Released in 1960, the year before Viridiana, it sits on the cusp of greatness – but you have to get your head around Buñuel working with an American cast in the deep South.
Bernie Hamilton plays Traver, a northern Black man on the run after a white woman accused him of rape. He escapes on a small boat and ends up on a game preserve island, managed by Mr Miller (Zachary Scott). Miller is dealing with the death of his handyman – and wondering what to do with the deceased’s granddaughter, Evvie (Key Meersman.) At first he considers packing her off to the mainland – but suddenly notices she is not the child he had thought. Indeed, with her pouty lips, long legs and casually swaying hips she is very appealing.
Hugo Butler’s brilliant and subtle script slowly intertwines Miller and Traver’s paths – shifting the balance of power as it is revealed that Traver is in fact innocent of rape and Miller, despite soothing his conscience trying to convince himself the illiterate Evvie is little more than a savage – guilty. It would sit well alongside the brilliant Tennessee Williams movies of the 50s and 60s. No special features on the disc, but the package comes with a sixteen page booklet containing a brilliant analysis of the film.
As good as The Young One was, it gave no indication of what was to follow. Viridiana took the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1961 and was promptly banned by both the Spanish government (who had financed the film) and the Vatican for its devious exploration of evil and, well, more evil.
Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is a beautiful young nun who hasn’t taken her final vows who visits her uncle and benefactor, the wealthy Don Jaime (Francisco Rabal). Struck by Viridiana’s resemblance to her late aunt, who died before consummating their marriage, Jaime becomes obsessed and ultimately drugs and rapes her.
Viridiana decides she can never return to the convent and opts to stay in the house with Jaime and save the world on her own, starting with the local beggars and homeless. She soon discovers that she cannot change what these people really are and is livid when they ultimately turn on her. Buñuel’s genius is in the exposition of Viridiana – she is not the pious young woman she at first appears, but an arrogant sycophant who ultimately has earned her downfall.
Buñuel followed this with seven masterpieces, including That Obscure Object of Desire and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgiousie. I’m waiting for them to arrive as a box set sometime soon…
Undoubtedly one of the very finest 20th century film directors, best known as the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock started his career in the early 1920’s. He made nine silent films, honing his directorial and story-telling skills. And while the man is worthy of a much longer thought, I recently acquired The Ring (1927) and The Manxman (1929), two beautifully restored melodramas that look like they were shot last week.
Danish actor Carl Brisson stars in both – his startling blue eyes, dimples and boxer’s physique resulting in one of the more handsome stars of the silent era. Though his film career fell victim to the talkie as his heavy accent made him an unlikely leading man, he went on to star in Broadway musicals and released a number of successful albums. His co-star in The Ring suffered a more horrid fate – finding herself out of work, Lillian Hall-Davis gassed herself and slashed her own throat in 1933 at 35. Czech actress Anny Ondra, playing the love interest in The Manxman, continued to work in film, shifting to Germany in the mid-30′s. There she met and married heavyweight boxing champion, Max Schmeling.
In The Ring, Brisson plays ‘One-Round’ Jack Sander a side-show boxer taking on all comers, saving his money so he can marry his girl, Mabel (Hall-Davis). One night he steps into the ring to find he’s met his match with Bob Corby (Ian Hunter), who takes his winnings and blows it on a silver bracelet for Mabel – which she coyly accepts. It turns out Corby is a professional boxer who takes Sander on as a sparring partner, dallying with Mabel behind Jack’s back. But even the most naive of men will eventually cotton on.
If The Ring were made today, it’d probably star Matthew McConaughey (who bears an amazing resemblence) and the starlet of the moment. However, the carny folk would undoubtedly receive far more politically correct treatment – and the flick is a reminder of just how much our culture has shifted in the last 80 years.
The Manxman is my favourite of the two, with Brisson playing Pete, a fisherman who goes off to make his fortune when he’s thrown out of the public house by his sweetheart’s father. He entrusts his best friend Philip (Malcolm Keen) to look after the lovely and coquettish Kate (Anny Ondra) while he’s gone. Philip and Anny become the best of friends, both aware that if Pete were not in the picture they would fall in love, though Philip is hesitant as he is from an upper class family and wishes to pursue a career in law. His family assures him she will never do.
When they receive news that Pete has been killed in an accident, they give in to the long-pent passions. Hitchcock has some fun here, euphemistically grinding some millstones stones in one love scene and having a ship ‘slip’ into a harbour in another. But before they can make plans, it turns out that Pete is still alive – and he’s coming home.
Hitchcock keeps a reign on his actors, limiting the overdramatising so often associated with silents, which can render them unwatchable. (However the use of lipstick and eyeliner on the male stars is a little bizarre.) He also stays away from quote panels, which disturb the pace of the film and remind me the film is silent, despite the score. Instead he relies on visual clues and expects you to do a little bit of lip reading. This was also a way to get around the censors, especially in the second film, dealing with adultery and fornication. I was on the edge of my seat here wondering how it would turn out.
These films are for Hitchcock fans, interested in his early works. He was still a young man learning his craft here, unlike Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Fritz Lang or F.W Murnau who were at the top of their game and produced stunning work. Indeed, Hitchcock appears to have begun his career more as a lightweight – focussing on love triangles. But he moved on…
Notorious, from 1946 with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains is my favourite Hitch – what’s yours?
While some of us object to the invasion of American Halloween and K-mart clad ghosts and goblins knocking at the door demanding treats, we would do well to recall that the holiday is rooted in the Druid Samhain – the last day of the ancient Celtic summer – a between-seasons day, when the dead walked among the living and the veils between past, present and future could be lifted in prophecy and divination. What better time to examine our deepest fears than how we’ve presented them on film for the last 110 years?
Horror is one of film’s oldest genres, with the first, George Méliès’ The Devil’s Manor made in 1896. Since then filmmakers have had a love affair with horror, though the genre is the most maligned amongst critics and move-goers alike. But scratch the surface of a Sandra Bullock fan and you’ll find someone who’s seen Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula over and over again; or an ageing hippie still quoting Charlton Heston from Soylent Green, “It’s people!”
Defining horror seems to be the problem. It ranges from pornographic violence (as anyone who’s sat through Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein can attest) to art-house (Shadow of the Vampire). People know what they like and pretty much hate everything else.
Folks who came of age in the fifties and early sixties tend to think of Hammer Horror monster movies, or Cold War paranoia and post A-bomb reality checks – when George Romero, Roger Corman, and Roman Polanski first made their mark. Even The Sound of Music director Robert Wise tried his hand at horror with The Haunting in 1963, an arty examination of a woman possessed by the spirit of a house. While still of interest as a psychological thriller, the film was dated even then, as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963) upped the ante with levels of graphic violence that had never been seen before. The sixties had an outpouring of B-grade horror flicks, most of which starred Vincent Price, Christopher Lee or Boris Karloff – all attempting to shock – though in reality, the trailers were always far more frightening than the films themselves.
Then along came George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968, where the dead rise up and eat the living – lungs, livers, hearts and entrails, in glorious black and white – no one had ever seen anything like that before. The film opened a floodgate and horror reached new levels of bloodletting, violence and gore as budgets got bigger special effects got better. It was as if the entire genre was reinvented in living colour, monsters, murderers, demons, and genetically mutated wildlife. While there certainly was quality horror produced in that time (The Exorcist, Jaws, Wickerman, Eraserhead, etc. etc.), the volume of horror was incredible and no social issue or pathology went unaddressed. The ultimate in paranoia was It’s Alive (1972) about a killer newborn, apparently driven to a frenzy in the womb over its mother’s ambivalence over whether or not to abort. And the wildlife gone mad! Jaws (1975), Frogs (1972), and James Cameron’s debut behind the camera with the horrendously awful Piranha II: The Spawning. Tobe Hooper’s splatter ‘masterpiece’ The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) (which I have never been able to sit through), set the standard for deranged killers and spawned a slew of copycat slayers, slashers, slicers and dicers – and gave birth to Michael Meyers in Halloween (1978), Jason in Friday the 13th (1980) and Freddie Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) at which point the horror flick literally lost the plot and collapsed under it’s own gore and guts and reran these last in what seemed like endless sequels that evolved into parodies of themselves, played more for laughs than for terror.
By the end of the eighties there was an enormous drop in the number of horror flicks produced, with a return to the level of quality of the 50s and 60s, with greater emphasis on psychological horror and suspense, and little sign of the 70-80s fondness for vivisection. But audiences seemed repulsed by the very word ‘horror’, so studios and directors went to great lengths to describe their films otherwise. Kenneth Branagh insisted Dead Again was a mystery romance and Francis Ford Coppola declared Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a drama, not a horror film (though he surpassed Tobe Hooper when it came to amount of blood spilled.)
Until recently, much of what we’ve seen has been self-parodying teen comedy/horror. But the genre is alive and well. Hannibal Lecter continues to make friends; Nicole Kidman wasn’t exactly slumming in The Others; we adored The Sixth Sense and the Blair Witch Project scared us witless. Virtually every film mentioned on these pages is now available on DVD. In theatres right now we’ve got The Locals, 28 Days Later, Identity, Hypnotic, and the ultimate face off arriving soon – Freddy vs. Jason. Go get scared!
Directors who’ve Dabbled in horror
- Kenneth Branagh – Dead Again (1991), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
- Francis Ford Coppola – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
- Stanley Kubrick – Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980)
- Adrian Lyne – Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
- Robert Rodriguez – From Dusk Until Dawn (1996) – co-written with Quentin Tarantino)
- Ridley Scott – Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982)
- Stephen Soderberg – Kafka (1991)
- Robert Wise – The Haunting of Hill House (1963)
Directors who specialise in horror
- John Carpenter
- Roger Corman
- Wes Craven
- David Cronenberg
- Tobe Hooper
- David Lynch
- Sam Raimi
- George Romero
Directors who cut their teeth on horror
- Peter Bogdonavich – Targets (1968)
- James Cameron – PiranhaII: the Spawning (1981)
- Francis Ford Coppola – Dementia 13 (1963)
- Brian de Palma – Sisters (1973), Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980) and the strange Phantom of the Paradise musical.
- Peter Jackson (see Director’s Cut, this issue)
- John Landis – Schlock (1971), American Werewolf in London (1981)
- Roman Polanski – Repulsion (1965), The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck (1967), Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
- Barry Sonnenfeld – Addams Family (1991)
- Boris Karloff – silent star who broke into talkies in 1931, forever defining the look and feel of Frankenstein. Went on to make nearly 100 mostly horror flicks – some ultra cheesy.
- Bela Lugosi – Dracula – 1931 – followed by a career as other monsters, mad scientists and megalomaniacs. Those made for Universal were high quality, but drug addiction and a disastrous personal life lead to ridiculous choices in later life – including the legendary worst movie of all time – Plan 9 From Outer Space, for director Ed Wood (the subject of Tim Burton’s biopic of the same name, starring Johnny Depp – in a cashmere sweater.)
- Vincent Price – Classically trained stage actor who turned to horror in 1953, and spent the next 40 years as the Master of Menace, often working with director Roger Corman.
- Christopher Lee – Hammer Horror’s perennial leading man, starred as Count Dooku in Star Wars Episodes 1-3 and as Saruman the White in Lord of the Rings.
- Jamie Lee Curtis – Probably the only woman who ever launched her career as a horror star – playing Michael Myers’ sister in Halloween, by managing to survive. Daughter of Janet Leigh, who played Norman Bates unfortunate victim in Psycho, she earned the nick ‘Queen of the Creepies’ with The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train (all 1980) and Halloween II (1981). Once she broke out, she refused to do another horror flick until Halloween H20: 20 Years Later in1998. Having made her peace, she returned in H8 in 2002 and will most likely star in H9.
Makers & shapers
- Alfred Hitchcock – directed over fifty films, virtually inventing the psychological thriller. Upped the ante in the horror genre with nudity and violence in Psycho in 1960. Followed by The Birds in 1963.
- Stephen King – The Source. Has had 25 of his novels made into films, Made for TV movies or television series.
- Terence Fisher – single-handedly created the Hammer Horror franchise with his 1957 remake of Frankenstein with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and followed it with 24 low-budget classics more over the next 17 years.
- George A. Romero – broke the boundaries for gore in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead and then topped that with Dawn of the Dead in 1978.
- John Carpenter – was paid $10,000 for directing the original Halloween.
- The Mummy
- Night of the Living Dead
- Nightmare Before Christmas
- Any Hammer Horror
- The Fly both the 1958 version with Vincent Price and the 1986 remake with Jeff Goldblum.
- Blade Runner – 1982
- Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
- The Day the Earth Stood Still
- Soylent Green
- 28 Days Later
- It’s Alive
- The Possession of Joel Delaney
- Texas Chainsaw Massacre
- Friday the 13th and all their offspring
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
- Shadow of the Vampire
- Repulsion (Roman Polanski)
And many many more…
Have a horrific Halloween!
By the end of his life, Marlon Brando was often portrayed as a buffoon, a colossal wreck of a man, whose personal tragedies dominated his life; irrelevant to moviegoers three generations removed from his tormented, “Stella! Hey Stellaaaaa!” Yet Brando’s sweaty muscle-bound Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire set a new standard of performance, conveying a natural savage energy that transcended the Hayes Code censorship still firmly in place in 1951. Without Brando, there would not have been Pacino, no de Niro or Leonardo diCaprio or Johnny Depp. Equally important, without Marlon Brando, there may not have been an Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger or DMX.
While Brando’s contribution to acting is undeniable and universally recognised, his contribution to the birth of rock’n’roll is often overlooked. The actor made a single singing and dancing turn in 1955’s Guys and Dolls where he proved once and for all that he could neither sing nor dance.
But Marlon Brando stirred up the primordial stew of unrest and youthful angst of the pre rock’n’roll 1950’s, straddling his own Triumph as Johnny Strabler, the leader of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (B.R.M.C) that terrorises the small American Midwestern town of Wrightsville in The Wild One in 1953. Unable to control the situation when a rival gang, headed by Lee Marvin (on a Harley) arrives and violence erupts, the exasperated sheriff pleads with Johnny, asking, “What are you rebelling against?” “Whaddya got?” was the response. The film was considered so potentially corrupting and inappropriate for a youth audience, that it was banned in Britain until 1968 and never shown in many American towns for fear of corrupting their fragile youth. Though the dangerousness of the gangs seems rather tame by contemporary standards, Brando’s depiction of Johnny remains on of the finest film performances of all-time.
While it would be a couple more years until Bill Haley and the Comets rocked around the clock in their pastel braided suits ushering in the rock’n’roll era, Brando along with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, inspired the far more dangerous and sexual ‘angry young man’ persona that would later define the attitude of rock’n’roll.
In 1954’s On the Waterfront, for which he earned his first Best Actor Oscar, Brando cemented this image as Terry Malloy, destroyed by corruption all around him, including the brother who raised him. Turning his back on his brother after he has Terry set up a friend to be murdered, he uttered the legendary, “I coulda been a contenduh!” which resonates in Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues and Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel.
Presley, Cochran, and Gene Vincent were insolent, rebellious, pissed off, and much to parents’ horror, were going to fuck your daughter – and she wanted them to, not unlike the innocent sheriff’s daughter Kathie Bleeker (Mary Murphy), in The Wild One, who finds herself falling in love with Johnny and says, “I wish you were going somewhere. I want to go somewhere. We could go together.”
Though his early films inspired a revolution that reverberated throughout the industry, as Brando moved into his thirties, he seemed a man divided. There was the man immersed in stardom, with his personal life an endless source of tabloid fodder and his choice of films seemingly based more on financing his excessive lifestyle (including the purchase of a string of Tahitian islands) than furthering his art. Then there was the passionate crusader, marching with Martin Luther King jun on Washington in1963, fighting for civil rights.
Though his box office appeal remained strong through the 60s, he made a string of mainstream films hardly worth revisiting, culminating in his only directorial effort, One Eyed Jacks, which was never released. Always plagued with weight problems, he was no longer the virile, muscle-bound youth, and moved into middle age as a sagging, dissolute has-been. The world thought it had seen the last of Marlon Brando.
Then in 1972, he returned triumphant as Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Aged and with his cheeks stuffed with tissue paper, Brando was at his peak as the all-powerful don, ruling the New York Mafia with an iron fist, invoked after he had ‘made an offer he couldn’t refuse’ to the offender. In one of the most controversial moments in Oscar history, he refused to accept the Best Actor statuette in protest of the treatment of Native Americans and sent the part-Apache Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to publicly refuse the award. John Wayne, standing backstage, was reportedly so enraged; he had to be restrained by a half dozen men as he tried to rush the podium to remove her.
Brando followed up with the X-rated Last Tango in Paris (1972), once again shocking audiences with the same raw emotion and primitive energy of his early films, as a recently widowed American in Paris who gets caught up in a sadomasochistic love affair.
While he continued to accept mainstream roles based on the size of the pay packet (most notoriously receiving the unheard of sum of US$4 million for little more than a cameo appearance as Jor-El in Superman (1978), he once again stunned the film world as the psychotic Colonel Walter Kurtz in Apocalypse Now in 1979. His portrayal of a renegade megalomaniac ‘ruling’ his personal kingdom in the jungle, so far out control the army has determined the only way to handle him is to kill him “with extreme prejudice,” in some ways, seemed to echo the actor’s own life. Making this film was so emotionally taxing for the ageing star he vowed never to undertake such a demanding role again.
While none of his later films proved earth shattering, The Freshman (1990) with Matthew Broderick and Don Juan de Marco with Johnny Depp (1995) are both worth revisiting, the former where he takes the piss out of his Godfather character, and the latter, one of my personal favourites, where Brandon proved that at the age of 71 and carrying 150 kg he could still play a romantic lead to a still lovely Faye Dunaway.
The eighty year old actor, thrice married and father to at least eleven children, passed away alone in an LA hospital on 30 June 2004. An actor until the end, he had at least two film projects in the works including Brando on Brando, a feature film about an Arab boy in search of the star. He was frail in his final weeks and French director Ridha Behi was uncertain that Brando, who was on a respirator, would be able to complete the film. “He looked at me,” said Behi, “and pulled the mask off and said, ‘I am ready. You just say ‘action.’”
MARLON BRANDO NOTABLE FILMOGRAPHY
A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951
Viva Zapata, 1952
The Wild One, 1953
On the Waterfront, 1954
The Godfather, 1972
Last Tango in Paris, 1972
Apocalypse Now, 1979
A Dry, White Season, 1989
The Freshman, 1990
Don Juan de Marco, 1995