Titirangi Storyteller

Telling tales from around the world

Posts Tagged ‘Cult film

The Turd Sandwich

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“Life is a long turd and every day you have to take a bite.  But you can’t feel so sorry for yourself you piss on people – at least not the people who love you.”

turd sandwich

credits to South Park for this image - I couldn't quite get my head around making my own.

A quote from Mifune, Danish director Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s  1999 contribution to the Dogme 95 School – a rather good film actually, not fully appreciated for the number of levels in which it operated. This quote is uttered by a prostitute who’s been keeping her bratty younger brother in a posh boarding school – and he’s been wagging. She is beyond disbelief at his disregard for her sacrifice on his behalf. She’s been eating a lot of shit sandwiches.

Long after I’d more or less forgotten the film (and Dogme 95 – is it still in existence?) that line stuck with me. Certainly in this context it is true – but I realised it pretty much applied, if not to life in general, at least not my life in general, there are times, or have been times when it was absolutely true.

doilyWhen you’re young and starting out, you need to convince people to give you jobs, mortgages, let your children into their school – and everyone you try to convince gives you a little or sometimes not so little shit sandwich to eat. At first, well, you refuse – and rightly so. A shit sandwich, regardless of the paper doily on the serving plate is still a shit sandwich. But if you want the job, or the house or that elusive status symbol – you hold your nose and take a bite. Usually one is enough – and you can say ‘thank you, that was lovely,’ sign the papers and move on. You get used to it after a while – you need so many things…

But then, somewhere along the way, you might discover you don’t really want something that bad – you’re just not in the mood for a shit sandwich. Usually by the end of your forties your done with them. Oh sure, someone will offer you one every so often, but you politely decline and if it should somehow end up in front of you – well, you’ll just send it back. You are done with that.

thanks to the Japanese for tidying this image up for me...

thanks to the Japanese for tidying this image up for me...

Then boom! One day, when you least expect it – there it is, sitting on your desk, waiting for you. A big shit sandwich. All the toppings. It sure looks like someone’s gone to a bit of effort to come up with this. But why? Hmmm…

You KNOW there’s no way in hell you’re gonna eat that thing. Nope, ain’t gonna happen. You’ve got to send it back – that’s all there is to it.

Except… you don’t really know where it came from. Or why. Or…

You’re not going to eat it.

But where do you send it back to?

(Remembering not to go and piss on the people who love you in the meantime.)

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

06/07/2010 at 7:19 am

Spirited Away

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spirited_away-coverI 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.

spiritedaway2Drawing 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.

spirited_away-oldwomanA 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.

spiritedaway4Chihiro 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.

spiritedaway-trainJapanese 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.

spiritedaway1Miyazaki’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.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

18/06/2010 at 8:51 pm

I Served the King of England

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i_served_the_king_of_englandThis 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 distinguishedi-served-the-king-england-5 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.istkoe-marry 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.i-served-the-king-of-england-6 (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.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

12/04/2010 at 8:04 am

Posted in dreams, Writing

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Three from Luis Buñuel

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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.

Bunuel in Un Chien Andelou

Luis Bunuel in Un Chien Andelou

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…

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

29/11/2009 at 9:36 pm

Silent Hitchcock… Shhh…

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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?

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

18/11/2009 at 11:29 pm

Quelles Horreurs!

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devilscastle1896While 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!”


Alfred Hitchcock's genre-blowing Psycho (1960)

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.


George Romero's Night of the Living Dead

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.


Dead Again

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)


    Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange

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)



David Lynch's Blue Velvet

Leading Lights

  • 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 LugosiDracula – 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.
Vincent Price & Tim Burton ES

Tim Burton and Vincent Price on the set of Edward Scissorhands

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.

Jamie Lee Curtis in the original Halloween, from John Carpenter

Monster movies

  • Frankenstein
  • Dracula
  • The Mummy
  • Night of the Living Dead
  • Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Any Hammer Horror

Sci-fi horror

  • Alien
  • 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

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!

Social commentary

  • Soylent Green
  • 28 Days Later
  • It’s Alive
  • The Possession of Joel Delaney


  • Psycho
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  • Halloween
  • Friday the 13th and all their offspring


  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • Shadow of the Vampire
  • Repulsion (Roman Polanski)

Roman Polanski directs Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion (1965)

And many many more…

Have a horrific Halloween!

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

30/10/2009 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Writing

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Marlon Brando: More than a contender

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streetcarBy 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.

brando-marlon-wild-one-the_04But 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.

brando waterfrontWhile 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.

Brando, Wild OnePresley, 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.

brando_leo_fuchsThough 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 brando godfathermost 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 tangoBrando 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.

brando-supermanWhile 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.

Don-Juan-DeMarco-1206613022While 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.

With son, Christian

With son, Christian

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.’”


A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951

Viva Zapata

Viva Zapata

Viva Zapata, 1952

The Wild One, 1953

On the Waterfront, 1954

The Godfather, 1972

Last Tango in Paris, 1972

Apocolypse Now

Apocolypse Now

Apocalypse Now, 1979

A Dry, White Season, 1989

The Freshman, 1990

Don Juan de Marco, 1995

Test shot for Streetcar

Test shot for Streetcar

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

23/08/2009 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Film, Writing

Tagged with , , , , ,

On Location: New York!

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King Kong 1933

King Kong 1933

The five boroughs of New York having always been the stuff that movie dreams are made of. The American film industry may have been born across the Hudson River in New Jersey, but quickly moved to Manhattan and by the 1920’s, the city was buzzing with studios producing silent films. Then in 1926, Hollywood sprung up virtually overnight in the California desert and sucked the industry west. In less than two years, film production dropped nearly 60%. When tinsel town made the full conversion to ‘talkies’ in 1932 it vacuumed up the rest of the business, along with hundreds of Broadway-based New York writers, administering a last, mortal blow the city’s film industry.

Dead End Kids set, 1938. All Hollywood

Dead End Kids set, 1938. All Hollywood

Those writers, collecting fat paycheques in the California desert became homesick for the cafes, lights and glamour of Manhattan and set many of their films ‘back home.’ Hollywood’s answer to the missing skyscrapers was sets. At its peak, the studios had more than twenty standing sets recreating entire New York neighbourhoods, most notably Paramount’s five-acre ‘city’ including Fifth Avenue, Beekman Place, the Upper West Side, Greenwich Village and Soho.

As a result, many classic “New York” films such as King Kong, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and almost all of Humphrey Bogart’s early films with the Dead End Kids were shot entirely in Hollywood. When Samuel Goldwyn showed up on the set of Dead End, he became enraged that the set designer had littered the rundown buildings with rubbish and ordered it cleaned up, yelling, “There won’t be any dirty slums in a Goldwyn Picture.” Even Orson Welles’ masterpiece, Citizen Kane, was shot in California with location shots added for authenticity.

Until the 1970’s, virtually all moviegoers saw was an idealised vision of New York ‘City’.

How to Marry a  Millionaire, 1953

How to Marry a Millionaire, 1953

Of course there were some notable exceptions. Marilyn Monroe’s 1953 dazzler, How to Marry a Millionaire was shot in a Sutton Placeapartment and glimmers with the lustre of old New York money. Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (1954) stunned moviegoers with a wretched, filthy city bereft of glamour; and Marlon Brando’s tortured cry, “I coulda been a contenda!” evoked a desperation that still echoes.  In 1961, audiences got a taste of the ritzy East Side with Breakfast at Tiffany‘s, falling in love with Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly; and on the other side of town, a glimpse into the city’s racial problems with Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story.

Midnight Cowboy, 1969

Midnight Cowboy, 1969

While these films captured a sense of the city that could not be duplicated on a back lot, they retained many standard Hollywood production values, a gloss that separated the ‘real’ New York from its widescreen counterpart. Then in 1969, John Schlesinger’s X-rated Midnight Cowboy exposed an out of control urban jungle where a sickly indigent cripple, Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) and displaced Texas gigolo, Joe Buck (John Voight), struggle to survive in a rat-infested tenement. LA born Hoffman spat the ultimate NY line, “Hey! I’m walkin’ heah!” The film had an almost documentary quality, gritty and dark, its characters too lifelike to dismiss. Midnight Cowboy took Best Picture that year and New York shrugged off the Hollywood sheen.

Annie Hall, 1977

Annie Hall, 1977

While Schlesinger never made another New York film, the city brought forth three young filmmakers of its own who wrestled their hometown back from the celluloid imagination and ushered in a revolution; Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese. What these three knew was that a New York film has nothing to do with a beauty shot of the Statue of Liberty. It’s when the traffic and the rhythm of the subway beat in the script and the grime and glitter of the streets are the real leading lady. And she had two favourite co-stars, Al Pacino and Robert de Niro. Separately and together, these five defined the 70’s New York movie.

Serpico, 1972

Serpico, 1973

The 70’s were tough times for New York. The city was financially bankrupt. With the explosion in heroin and cocaine traffic, violent crime escalated out of control. The South Bronx became a burned out, bombed out war-zone. Feminism, gay rights, disco, the punk scene, Son of Sam, racial tension, the advent of the Yuppie… It was a city under siege; and Allen, Coppola and Scorsese, along with Sidney Lumet, opened their lenses and got it all down on film: Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Annie Hall, Taxi Driver, The Godfather I & II, Manhattan, Network, Cruising, to name a few. In the eighties they were joined by Spike Lee who set his films in black neighbourhoods and raised the real issues faced by minorities in the land of plenty with She’s Gotta Have It and Do the Right Thing.

She's Gotta Have It, 1986

She's Gotta Have It, 1986

And the more they filmed, the more Hollywood sent production teams back east. In the early 70’s there were only a handful of films shot in New York each year, by the end of the decade, it was more than fifty. That number tripled by the end of the eighties and doubled again by 2000. These days a visitor can’t help stumbling across a film set. I was there last July, strolling through Greenwich Village on a hot summer night. Turned a corner to find mountains of ‘snow’ on the sidewalk and piled up in front of a grocery; a half dozen actors ‘freezing’ in heavy winter coats while the rest of the crew sweated in shorts and jandals. That ain’t Hollywood. It’s all New York.


200 Cigarettes (1999), Risa Bramon Garcia
25th Hour (2002), Spike Lee
Annie Hall (1977), Woody Allen
Basquiat (1996) Julian Schnabel
Cotton Club (1984), Francis Ford Coppola
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), Susan Seidelman

Desperately Seeking Susan,

Desperately Seeking Susan1985,

Do the Right Thing (1989), Spike Lee
Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Sidney Lumet
Fame (1980), Alan Parker
Godfather I & II (1972 & 1974), Francis Ford Coppola
Goodfellas (1990), Martin Scorsese
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Jean Negulesc
In America (2003), Jim Sheridan
King of Comedy (1983), Martin Scorsese
Manhattan (1979), Woody Allen
Midnight Cowboy (1969), John Schlesinger
Network (1976), Sidney Lumet
On the Waterfront (1954), Elia Kazan

Requiem for a Dream, 2000

Requiem for a Dream, 2000

Requiem for a Dream (2000), Darren Aronofsky
Saturday Night Fever (1977), John Badham
Serpico (1973), Sidney Lumet
Shaft (1971) Gordon Parks
She’s Gotta Have It (1986), Spike Lee
Taxi Driver (1976), Martin Scorsese
West Side Story (1961), Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise

Thanks to Randolph Mase for inspiring me to dig this out!


Written by Titirangi Storyteller

31/05/2009 at 2:16 am

Mister Lonely

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mister_lonelySomewhere in Paris there is a very lonely Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) who doesn’t speak the language well, looking for his big break.

His agent believes in him, but he learns to believe in his Michael Jackson self when he meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton). She lures him to Scotland where she lives with her husband Charlie Chaplin and daughter Shirley Temple in a commune with a dozen other impersonators.

They are building a performance centre in the hope that once it is built, audiences will come. We are treated to enchanting performances from Madonna, the Three Stooges, Buckwheat and Sammy Davis jun, not to mention the Queen, who capture both the essence of the original characters and the isolation and alienation of the people behind them.

mister-lonely-herzogMeanwhile, in a remote convent in Panama, Father Umbrillo (Werner Herzog) delivers emergency food rations to area villages, the nuns sitting in the back of his rickety old plane, tossing packages out the cargo bay.

When the plane jerks, a nun falls out, and with her habit flapping furiously, she prays for the Lord to save her. She lands in a field, dazed but unharmed.

Tmr_lonely_09he rest of the convent soon take up skydiving sans parachute – a genuine miracle, which Father Umbrillo is very proud of, though he declines to jump himself. He decides to visit the Vatican and show the Pope.

Though the two stories never connect, they run on an emotional parallel, as director Harmony Korine takes us on a curious journey through a forgotten corner of the human psyche, examining our identity, our ability to do the impossible and just what it will cost us in the end.

minster-lonely_lMister Lonely is far more colourful and, if not life affirming, at least more life loving than Korine’s chaotic debut, the cult classic Gummo (1997). Unfortunately, there are no special features on the DVD.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

26/05/2009 at 10:54 am


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Director: Neil Marshall

doomsdayposterAny minute now, the deadly ‘Reaper’ virus will strike Glasgow. London will respond by rebuilding Hadrian’s wall, abandoning Scotland it to its fate. Few will escape. Life will go on…

…Until the Reaper mysteriously resurfaces in London in 27 years. A team of crack military scientists, headed up by uber-fit Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra, Boston Legal), will venture into that forsaken territory in search of survivors whose blood will contain antibodies to be used as basis for a cure.

When they arrive they will find a land ruled by opposing factions – one group gone back to its medieval roots reoccupying castles and eking out a subsistence living, headed up by a psychotic Malcolm MacDowell.

doomsday_viperThe other has taken refuge in cannibalistic 1980’s disco-punk, led by MacDowell’s psychopathic son Sol (Craig Conway) who pales beside uber-girlfriend, Viper (South African stuntwoman Lee-Anne Liebenberg, virtually stealing the flick in her first feature role).

Anyone for a barbecue?

doomsday32This B-grade splatter-fest rips directly from nearly every post-apocalypse flick ever made, most notably 28 Days (2000), the Mad Max trilogy (1979-85) and Escape From New York (1981).

Where did they get those weapons? The petrol? Who’s growing food? Providing the drugs? Designing those fabulous outfits?

Who cares???

doomsday4Terrible, nonsensical, full of plot holes – but anyone who loves a good yarn with the sound turned up to 11 will not be able to tear their eyes away. In the spectacular final car chase, set to with Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes”, Mitra drives a sports car through a bus, and I was cheering them on. Neil Marshall has stripped this flick down to the bare essentials – sex, drugs and rock’n’roll… It’s got  no class – but it’s got style and guts and a vision of the future no worse than the latest swine flu scare-mongers have got on offer. Bring it on!

Special features include three making-of featurettes and an entertaining commentary.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

13/05/2009 at 12:13 pm

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