RETRO REVIEW: The PREDATOR Hunts Some Schwarzenegger Again at Splatter Cinema at the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: May 13th, 2014 By:

Splatter Cinema presents PREDATOR (1987); Dir. John McTiernan; Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Peter Hall, Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura; Tuesday, May 13 @ 9:30 p.m. (photos and merch table open @ 9 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema has partnered with the Plaza Theatre once again to take a rare field trip out of the horror landscape and into 1980s action cinema territory. This time, we’re treated to the sight of Arnold Schwarzenegger beating the holy hell out of an alien invader in PREDATOR!

For a movie that started out as a joke, it’s not half bad.

See, what with Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa having just taken down the Soviet Union in ROCKY IV, the joke started going around that Sly was going to have to take on an alien in his next picture. Hollywood being Hollywood, someone said “that’s not a bad idea!” and moved on it before Stallone could. Hollywood again being Hollywood, it was developed into an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, and its cast peppered with only-slightly-less-alpha personalities like Carl Weathers, Bill Duke and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Mix well, and you’ve got yourself a 1980s action movie stew going.

And it’s really not much more complicated than “Rocky vs. Alien” when it comes to the plot, either. A paramilitary team is sent into the jungles of Central America, ostensibly to rescue a government official, and gets picked off—one at a time—by an interstellar hunter looking for human trophies.

What, you were looking for subtext and depth? C’mon, it’s a movie whose express purpose is to have a bunch of sweaty, muscle-bound goofballs throw one-liners at each other in between action movie setpieces. If you were to analyze the movie’s blood, the results would show that it’s made up of 50% testosterone and 50% adrenaline. Now, that’s far from a condemnation: when it comes to this kind of movie, PREDATOR does everything right. It may not transcend the sub-genre of “80s Action Movie” into mainstream consciousness quite like LETHAL WEAPON or DIE HARD does (indeed, unlike those films, it was widely panned upon release), but what does set it apart is its willingness to transcend its genre in other ways. Instead of aiming up like the other movies mentioned, it reaches out laterally into the other fields of science-fiction and horror to make its mark. And, like any good exploitation movie, it doesn’t waste any time letting you know why it’s reaching out laterally, it just does it. It steals whatever elements it wants to take and then rocks along at a million miles an hour before you can even think to question anything about why it’s doing what it’s doing. It ain’t got time to bleed.

And it’s got a metric ton of visceral thrills. The special effects are grisly and effective (the Predator does skin his victims, after all), but beyond that, the entire movie feels like these people are literally fighting to stay alive. Part of that may have been due to the absolutely abysmal filming conditions. First-time director John McTiernan helmed the picture (writer/director Shane Black was cast in the movie in order to keep an eye on him and to provide some last-minute rewrites), and the jungle locations proved difficult to shoot in. Heat lamps had to be used constantly because of the near-freezing temperatures of the season, the water filtration system broke down and everyone was suffering from explosive diarrhea, actor Kevin Peter Hall was blind inside the Predator suit and still had to pull off fight scenes, and everything and everyone was covered in mud and leeches.

Not that this was any APOCALYPSE NOW, mind you. Schwarzenegger did manage to fly off in his private Lear jet for three days to marry Maria Shriver in the middle of filming. But it also doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to work on, either.

The end result, however, is a lot of fun. And that’s all it’s really supposed to be, when you get down to it. It may sound like a near-insult to say that it’s among the best of a disreputable genre, but to paraphrase Joan Jett, who gives a damn about a bad reputation?

Not me.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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RETRO REVIEW: JODOROWSY’S DUNE Celebrates One Man’s Passion to Take Cinematic Audiences to Another Planet

Posted on: Apr 29th, 2014 By:

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (2013); Dir. Frank Pavich; Starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, H.R. Giger, Michel Seydoux;  Now playing at UA Tara Cinemas @ 4:45pm and 7:15pm.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Frank Herbert’s DUNE is a paradox. It’s a novel of fantastic scope, high adventure and spirituality that hangs on a deeply personal space opera plot. In short, DUNE is everything a movie producer wants in a blockbuster film.

On the other hand, the same material that makes Herbert’s novel so appealing renders it a whopper to reel in. The story is dense and inaccessible, the setting weird and unwieldy, and everything that happens is in pursuit of a drug that alters your consciousness and expands your mind. That’s a hard sell in Peoria.

DUNE is like a siren sitting on an enormous safe full of cash, and great filmmakers have sunk to the depths trying to crack it. Perhaps the greatest is David Lynch, a true visionary of the art form, whose turgid, silly 1984 adaptation clearly got away from him. Rumors abound that prior to Lynch, names like Ridley Scott, David Lean and even Jack Nicholson all considered giving it a go. A 2000 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries had its merits but came woefully short. The fact is that the story of DUNE as a movie is written with the misfires.

Before all of these failures, there was Alejandro Jodorowsky. The Chilean-born surrealist behind art house smash EL TOPO (1970) and the breathtaking, bonkers THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973) [NSFW] built a team in the mid-70s—not of technicians, but of “spiritual warriors”—to bring DUNE to the screen for the first time. What he created was a landmark of cinema history, an impact crater that shook the industry and left a mark on pop culture that’s easy to identify even today. Not bad for a movie that wasn’t even made.

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE, a new oral history of the film that never was, begins with an interview from DRIVE (2011) director Nicolas Winding Refn in which he claims Jodorowsky once walked him through the screenplay and storyboards step-by-step, making Refn the only person who has actually seen his version of DUNE. The documentary tries to rectify that to an extent, filling the screen with storyboards and animated concept art that gives audiences a glimpse at what could have been a cinematic mind-trip to rival that of Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Jodorowsky, you see, had no interest in the pop and whizz of traditional space opera. He believed that with DUNE he had a responsibility to change the world, to alter the minds of those in the audience and to provide the experience of tripping on LSD without the pesky need to actually take the drug.

And then he asked Hollywood studios for millions of dollars.

In the story between Jodorowsky’s inspiration and the inevitable collapse lies a truly inspired documentary, one that breathlessly fawns on the director and his vision, but still allows Jodorowsky (now in his 80s) to work himself into a puckish frenzy describing every wild shot or audacious casting choice or the moments where his artist’s indignation causes friction with his crew. (Evidently Pink Floyd was really into hamburgers, that most banal meal.) Watching Jodorowsky rant is almost a bigger draw than the fragments of his lost film. This is a man who once talked Salvador Dali into playing the crazed emperor of the universe, and his charm still shines through in his advanced age, even if he is prone to halting interviews to play with his cat or indulge in an inappropriate metaphor or two.

The story of his film, as painted by Jodorowsky and the others, is an unlikely “team on a mission” tale as the director assembles his collaborators, from the late Dan O’Bannon (DARK STAR, ALIEN) to comic artist Moebius, HR Giger and the French progressive rock band Magma. Every time the peak of the story is seemingly reached, it just gets bigger. By the time a burning giraffe gets a mention, it’s just another oddity to throw onto the pile.

Of course, Jodorowsky never misses an opportunity to find the metaphysical in the moment, and likewise the documentary becomes about something more than a lost artifact of cinema history, but also about life and loss and the very-human need to create. It’s a credit to Jodorowsky’s vision that shortly after his project fell apart, other science fiction films began to hire his team (O’Bannon, Moebius, and Giger were all hired by Ridley Scott for ALIEN) and gradually his failed effort flowed out and gave life to other projects, films and stories that would alter the course of the movies in a very real way. Although DUNE was never made, its influence is everywhere. The documentary makes a compelling argument that the lost DUNE is a keystone project. It’s death guided the subsequent four decades of genre cinema, but if it had lived. . . well, then maybe it would have changed the world.

Maybe the money guys were right. Maybe the film had no chance of achieving its ambitions, and there may have been little chance of making back its budget even if it did. But, then, one never knows. Jodorowsky still hopes for a DUNE animated film that incorporates his script, and now that you mention it, advances in special effects and a renewed interest in smart science fiction may have created an environment that’s ripe for a DUNE revisitation. An attempt led by Pierre Morel fell apart back in 2011, but maybe the right director can finally crack this nut.

What could go wrong?

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE is now playing at UA Tara Cinemas. Get tickets HERE.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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RETRO REVIEW: OBEY! Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Command You To Witness John Carpeneter’s THEY LIVE.

Posted on: Apr 7th, 2014 By:

Splatter Cinema presents THEY LIVE (1988); Dir. John Carpenter; Starring Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster; Tuesday, April 8 @ 9:30 p.m. (photos and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Ah, THEY LIVE. It’s long been a slippery little beast. Much like 1982’s THE THING, it performed less-than-admirably at the box office when it opened. And, again like THE THING, while critical reception at the time was favorable, it has only recently come to be considered one of John Carpenter’s best films.

Me, I’ve been on board since I first saw it back in the waning days of the Reagan administration.

I mention the time frame because, by Carpenter’s own design, it’s practically impossible to look at the film outside of the realm of the political. Let’s not mince words here: for all the machismo, violence and existential horror John Carpenter’s films may tread in from time to time, the director is a hippie at heart. He took a minute to look around in the 1980s, saw the emphasis on crass commercialization and the worship of wealth encouraged by the Reagan Revolution and was pissed off. But by merging his anger and aggression with his borne-of-the-‘60s anti-right-wing politics, he created a movie that’s more of a piece with the radical political stances of hardcore punk acts like MDC, D.O.A. or the Dead Kennedys. For in this movie, it’s not just that the rich and powerful elite are evil; they are actually not even human.

The premise of the film is a simple one: a drifter named Nada (Roddy Piper) discovers that the oligarchs who rule planet Earth are in fact aliens in disguise, exploiting the planet’s resources for their own benefit before leaving it once they destroy the environment via global warming. They keep humanity in the dark, and their appearances obscured, through television signals that brainwash the public and transmit subliminal propaganda commanding the populace to “OBEY,” “SLEEP” and “CONSUME.” Faced with this knowledge (and able to see through the haze of brainwashing thanks to some specially-designed sunglasses), Nada has only one option: rip the system.

And like listening to, say, D.O.A.’s WAR ON 45 or the Dead Kennedys’ FRESH FRUIT FOR ROTTING VEGETABLES, once the movie gets going, it’s a shot of pure adrenaline. It’s fast, it’s funny, it’s violent (there’s an epic 5 ½ minute fist fight between Roddy Piper and Keith David that is both thrilling and hilarious), and its sardonic ridicule of the rich and powerful—and those who kowtow to them—as anti-human scumbags makes you wish that the Revolution would be something as easy as tearing down a TV broadcast antenna.

[Note: the utilization of a television station to promote things like a particular political ideology, rampant consumerism, stratification of the classes and glorification of material wealth should not be confused with any reality—past, present or future. OBEY.]

At the time, the casting of Roddy Piper as Nada was seen as an enormous misstep by Carpenter. This was just after the WWF (now WWE) became a pop culture phenomenon, and “Rowdy” Roddy was one of the federation’s most famous athletes. However, crossovers into mainstream media outside the ring (Hulk Hogan’s appearance in ROCKY III and his starring role in NO HOLDS BARRED, for instance) were seen as curiosities at best. So Piper’s role—which many saw as ideally meant for Carpenter’s most frequent leading man, Kurt Russell—was viewed with a jaundiced eye right from the start. But his performance is an able one. He brings a raw, brutal physicality to the part that wouldn’t suit Russell quite as well, and he comes across as a stoic “man out of place” in a way that would surprise anyone familiar only with his hyper-confident, loud-mouthed wrestling persona. He pulls this off in such a successful way that when he comes closest to the “Rowdy” attitude he was famous for—such as when he first puts on the sunglasses and sees people as they really are—it truly sells the shock his character is supposed to be feeling. His performance has simply aged well and holds up in a time where the wrestling-to-movie transition is more accepted (thanks, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson!).

Keith David, as Piper’s friend Frank Armitage (also the name Carpenter used for his writing credit; an allusion to Henry Armitage from H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”) is, as always, excellent. He brings a necessary gravitas to the film, keeping the satire and fantasy grounded in the real world. Meg Foster as Holly Thompson, Nada’s love interest, is mysterious and alluring; her motives constantly under question, her understated performance never telegraphs where her allegiances truly lie.

And, as to be expected, Carpenter’s classically-informed composition techniques further show him to be a master of the Cinemascope frame. For a meager $3,000,000 budget, Carpenter makes the most of his downtown Los Angeles locations and creates a series of visually striking setpieces and shots. Tightly edited and winningly scripted (it’s one of the best films Carpenter has ever written on his own), it never lets up.

So get your sunglasses on, stock up on bubble gum and get ready for some alien-elite-ass-kicking!

[Note: Just don’t get any fancy ideas, humans. OBEY.]

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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RETRO REVIEW: LA BELLE ET LA BETE: Jean Cocteau’s Masterpiece of Gothic Fantasy Gets Rare Big Screen Treatment at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Apr 7th, 2014 By:

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE) (1946); Dir. Jean Cocteau; Starring Jean Marais and Josette Day; Tuesday, April 7 @ 7:00 p.m.; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

As part of their Midtown Cinema Classics series, the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema is bringing one of the greatest works of filmed fantasy to the big screen in a stunning new digital restoration: Jean Cocteau’s immortal BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

“Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim, and that this will cause him shame when a young maiden takes up residence in his home. They believe a thousand other simple things.

“I ask of you a little of this childlike sympathy and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s ‘Open Sesame’:

“Once upon a time…”

Jean Cocteau

Painter, poet, novelist, designer, filmmaker: all these and more were the simultaneous identities of Jean Cocteau, an artist so brilliant that one medium could not contain the full range of his talent. And much like the man himself, the handful of films he created transcend any categorization or pigeonholing. They are poems written in light and shadow; full of visionary imagery and drawing from painterly influences to create moving works of art that continue to resonate through the years. His films are bountiful feasts that fill your plate every time you return to the table. And while this is particularly true of his Orphic trilogy (THE BLOOD OF A POET, ORPHEUS and TESTAMENT OF ORPHEUS), those films—as great as they are—stand in the shadow of his singular masterpiece, LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE, or BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

I’ll spare you a detailed plot summary. It’s a tale that has been told and retold so often that it has become part of our collective genetic memory at this point. The lovely Belle is forced to live in the kingdom of the cursed Beast to repay the actions of her father (he steals a rose from Beast’s garden). Beast falls in love with Belle, and proposes to her on a nightly basis; each night, she refuses, though she becomes more and more drawn to him over time. Their growing feelings are tested when he allows her to return to her home for a week and informs her that if she doesn’t return after those seven days, he will die of grief. However, she is unaware of the plans her scheming siblings and her previously intended beau Avenant have drawn up to ensnare Beast’s fortune while Belle is away.

Cocteau implores us in the film’s opening to view his adaption of the classic fairy tale with the eyes of a child. To let ourselves be carried away by the irrational and the dreamlike, rather than impose the hard-and-fast logic of the adult workaday world onto our experience. And with those eyes open, we are treated to a darkly magical manifestation of the fantastic. An atmosphere of love and loss hangs over the film like an embrace both heartfelt and sorrowful. Living faces peer from mantelpieces, human arms bear the torches that light a hallway, food serves itself for dinner. Meanwhile, as in a dream, details are introduced and suddenly abandoned: Beast’s five items of power (a rose, a horse, the key to his pavilion, a glove and a mirror) are vital objects in the story, yet when they are lost or stolen after their purpose has been established, we do not revisit them.

And, much as in any fairy tale told to a child, the implications of sexual tension are sublimated and find abstract release in symbols. Belle indicates her growing acceptance of Beast by allowing him to sup water from her cupped hands. Beast’s source of power is tied inexorably to the feminine: his pavilion dedicated to the Greek goddess Diana. A strike from Diana’s arrow transforms the loutish Avenant into another Beast, revealing the savage nature that lies beneath the veneer of the handsome gentleman. And it’s another feminine power that redeems our Beast and turns him back into Prince Ardent: the transformative effects of Belle’s acceptance and love.

Speaking of that transformation, what is perhaps the most interesting move Cocteau took in adapting this story is in creating the disappointment many feel when Beast is ultimately metamorphosed into Prince Ardent (who happens to unfortunately look exactly like the rejected Avenant). We, along with Belle, spend the entire film falling more and more in love with Beast, so it’s natural that when he is revealed as the prince after the death of his feral countenance, we are left wanting. It’s said that screen legend Greta Garbo shouted “give me back my beautiful Beast!” at the screen when she first saw the film. Indeed, Belle herself is left with mixed feelings about the whole arrangement, as she informs him that “I shall have to get accustomed to you” after his transformation. Cocteau later revealed that this was his intent all along, writing:

“My story would concern itself mainly with the unconscious obstinacy with which women pursue the same type of man, and expose the naïveté of the old fairy tales that would have us believe that this type reaches its ideal in conventional good looks. My aim would be to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: ‘And they had many children.’”

We can well imagine that Beauty may long miss—and may spend many days attempting to uncover remnants of—that beautiful Beast with whom she first fell in love.

Ultimately, what can I say about this movie? I could go on, lathering up further praise without ever coming close to expressing just how wonderful and magical LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE truly is. Suffice it to say that its wonders continue to reveal themselves nearly 70 years after it was released, and any chance to see this film should be leapt upon by any lover of cinema. What pushes its screening at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema into the realm of absolute necessity is the fact that they will be presenting the widely-hailed digital restoration which debuted last year to mark the 50th anniversary of Cocteau’s death. Years of print damage have been immaculately swept away to fully reveal the sumptuous detail of the film that Guillermo del Toro called “the most perfect cinematic fable ever told.”

Come. Accept the Beast’s invitation. Cast off the grind of the harsh realm of adult reality, look upon this film with the eyes of a child, and be swept away by the pure, dark, sublimely gothic bliss of the fantastique. There are few things in the world that compare.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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AFF REVIEW: A IS FOR ALEX Finds the Heart and Humor in Creation

Posted on: Apr 4th, 2014 By:

A IS FOR ALEX (2014); Dir. Alex Orr; Starring Katie Orr, Alex Orr and Daniel Kelly. Atlanta Film Festival.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Isn’t it about time somebody gave Fake Wood Wallpaper a blank check?

There’s some conflict of interest in that question, since the FWW team is based in Atlanta, and of course I, like most people, enjoy seeing a local team succeed. My support and praise, however, has more to do with access than homerism. To date, it’s simply been easier to see FWW’s films if you’re here in town, which is why I keep seeing them do more with less than just about anybody else in the indie scene. I’m ready to see them do more with more.

Last year, FWW and director Mike Brune hit the Atlanta Film Festival with CONGRATULATIONS!, a standout film due in large part to its aggressive strangeness. Fake Wood Wallpaper makes films as if allergic to cliché, and that remains true even as their newest film, A IS FOR ALEX, hikes into the most heavily-tread of indie premises, the disaffected man-child who needs to grow up. Director Alex Orr plays the man-child, a version of himself who doubles as an inventor when not bantering with his real-life wife (Katie Orr). Katie’s pregnant with the couple’s first child; he mopes in a corner, worried that he’ll suck as a father. For there the film unspools the usual scenes—the weeks progress and the baby grows, Alex doubts his ability to be a father, Katie tells him to stop crying in the bathtub. He can’t pull himself together. Is it true about those “brain chemicals” that make parents love their kids? Alex isn’t so sure.

And why would he be? Alex’s fears about impending procreation are justified by the world around him. The mechanical bees he’s invented to aid pollination wreak havoc across the city. A video of Alex’s early sex act lands his mother in jail. Every act of creation goes sour for Alex, like some mixed-up Midas with cursed genitalia. Meanwhile, Katie grows closer to the due date, carrying what could be Alex’s next big disaster.

This is deeply personal, even indulgent, material but A IS FOR ALEX is too self-aware to get lost in its own ennui. Orr is hyperaware of the traps this kind of movie can stumble into and bakes in some meta release valves to keep the shit from getting too real. Some scenes jump the fourth wall, pulling back to reveal the set and the actors on it, who usually discuss topics like the film’s sentimental tone or its planned artificial finale. Other scenes spiral into fantasy and elaborate computer effects. Other scenes appear to exist for no other reason than because they’re funny. A IS FOR ALEX takes great pains to engage its audience or at the very least apologize for dragging the viewers through Alex’s head. The film is indulgent—because of course it is—but the movie knows what it is and, most importantly, reminds the viewer that it knows this. I’m not sure the film could be even a moment longer than its 74 minutes, but its meta techniques carry it far while it’s here.

As the lead in his own film, Orr has a tough responsibility. It’s never easy to make a film so blatantly about yourself because if it sucks, audiences may get stuck in a negative feedback cycle: they hate the movie, so they blame the filmmaker, who sits there on the screen inviting that hatred, and so on and so on until somebody loses an eye. But Orr is pleasantly low-key, marked by such persistent self-deprecation that he’s easy to like. The tougher role belongs to Katie. While obviously very (for real) pregnant, she has to duck and weave through her performance, chafing at Alex’s aimlessness while never slipping all the way into the rote ‘disapproving wife.’ Katie’s breezy rapport with Alex (never a slam dunk with real-life film couples) grounds the film and elevates what could have been a thankless role into a highlight.

A IS FOR ALEX is an egotistical film by definition and yet it does almost nothing except take potshots at itself. As an act of creation, it’s as idiosyncratic as its creators. It invites you to laugh and enjoy the moment, and then prods you in the ribs for falling for it. Amidst all of the robot bees, jailhouse drama, and ads on the moon is a gently fretful movie about the anxiety of making anything—a person most of all, but anything, really, including movies. If the creator is flawed, as are we all, then what hope is there for the creation? A IS FOR ALEX suggests that these things, however stressful, tend to work themselves out along the road. I suspect the target audience for this one is small. Very small, in fact. As little as one tiny human being named Truman who will want one day to know how his parents prepared to meet him.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Retro Review | TAGS: None

AFF Review: David Gordon Green Opens the Festival with Above-Average JOE

Posted on: Mar 29th, 2014 By:

JOE (2014); Dir. David Gordon Green; Starring Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan; Atlanta Film Festival.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Gary (Tye Sheridan) has two father figures to choose from in David Gordon Green’s new movie JOE, which opened the 2014 Atlanta Film Festival on Friday night. On one side is Gary’s father Wade (Gary Poulter), a man whose natural charisma has been shriveled to jerky by alcoholism. On the other is Gary’s new employer, Joe (Nicolas Cage), an ex-con whose own raging addiction to violence has closed off his past and stunted his future. Joe struggles every day to stay on his wagon. It’s not clear if Wade ever made it on in the first place.  Gary’s choices aren’t ideal, but that’s just his lot. He’s a hard luck kid; having a choice in anything at all represents a significant improvement in his quality of life.

It shouldn’t be a surprise which side Gary ultimately takes, but then that’s a matter of plot, and JOE isn’t all that concerned with those kinds of details. Oh, there’s a clear narrative, but JOE is so detached that it buries its own exposition in the dirt, leaving its title character a mostly unsolvable riddle. This isn’t to the film’s detriment—Joe’s single glance at a woman in traffic says more than a page of monologue ever would—but it makes Green’s intentions clear. Green and screenwriter Gary Hawkins, adapting from Larry Brown’s 1991 novel, devote their energies away from the mechanics of the story and toward building Joe’s dusty world, molding gritty authenticity from the clay of the movie’s East Texas locations and the people in them. The story chugs along a familiar path of gunfire and redemption, but it’s the scenery along the way that makes the trip worthwhile.

Green (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, PRINCE AVALANCHE) is a longtime Austin native and has demonstrated a nagging irritation with falseness (YOUR HIGHNESS aside). He would be the first to notice a false note in his film’s environment, and so he eschews traditional casting and populates his movie with unknowns and non-actors. Poulter himself was a homeless street performer and breakdancer in Austin when Green cast him as Wade, effectively the film’s third lead. Rather than be overwhelmed by the sudden attention, Poulter instead steals the show, oozing a chewy realism in his performance that professional actors sweat blood trying to replicate. He’s magnetic to watch, precisely because you don’t know what he’s going to say or do next. There’s nothing premeditated or restrained about Poulter’s performance. He never once seems like he’s acting. In the Q&A after the screening, Green spoke of how he met Poulter on the streets, and then brought the crowd low by revealing that Poulter died shortly after filming completed, still on those very same streets.

Green likewise identified a group of workers who feature prominently in the film and admitted that he simply picked them up one morning at a spot for day laborers, giving them a day’s pay for their work on the film, and inviting the standouts to become a part of the cast. Those workers—as well as gas station attendants, barflys, and bums—contribute to JOE’s naturalism that brings its barren, cruel, arbitrary world to terrifying life. One might assume that placing Nicolas Cage—the actoriest actor who ever did act—in the midst of all of this cinema verite would result in a violent clash in tone, but as per usual, Cage refuses to be outdone by reality. In fact, his rare moments of exaggerated Cage-ness (such as a cringeworthy limp he adopts late in the film) serve to make him seem larger than life, bigger than this no-horse town, and barely in control of his temper. Cage always works best as a lead actor in those moments when his controlled lunacy serves the character rather than becomes the character. In the case of Joe, it’s a surprisingly easy fit.

Sheridan likewise continues to demonstrate a talent beyond his years, just as he did in last year’s AFF opening night film, MUD. Without his sincere and seemingly effortless performance, there would be no hook on which to hang the proceedings. As Gary, he plays one of those saintly children who haven’t yet figured out just how heavily the world is stacked against them, and would be too stubborn to give up if they did. His relationship with Joe is easy and believable, and you can understand why he’s the type of kid it might be worth going into battle for.

JOE is filled with atrocity—children and animals, in particular, have a bad time—but it’s a well-crafted and sometimes surprisingly-warm film. It’s also specifically Southern in a way that’s tough to find and impossible to fake. That makes JOE a particularly nice fit for the AFF, and it sets the tone, and raises the bar, for the festival still to come.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Retro Review | TAGS: None

AFF PREVIEW: LIMO RIDE Takes a Trip Down Insanity Lane

Posted on: Mar 29th, 2014 By:

Atlanta Film Festival presents LIMO RIDE (2013); Dir. Gideon C. Kennedy & Marcus Rosentrater; Sunday, March 30 @ 6:30 p.m.; 7 Stages Theatre; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp

People in the business hear it all the time. “You make movies? I have this great idea for a movie! It’s about this crazy thing that happened to me and my buddies one night…” What inevitably follows is exactly the kind of thing that should, in fact, never be a movie. It’s a sad truth, but bar stories aren’t actually rare. Everyone has their one wildest night, and because of that most of these stories are only interesting to the people who were actually there. It’s like making a movie out of the time you got stuck at the airport—worst night of your life, but nobody else cares.

So what kind of story gets a pair of filmmakers to say yes? It has to be one that’s bigger than life, completely unbelievable. The story needs heroes and villains; car chases and cops; friendship and betrayal. It has to be, in short, the biggest bar story ever told. Such a legend exists in Mobile, Alabama, a story already told and retold among the drunk and the rowdy. It’s the ultimate ‘bad night out’ and now, at last, its big screen destiny has arrived.

LIMO RIDE chronicles the true saga of a group of extreme young men and one wasted, mostly-terrified young woman as they rent a limo for New Year’s and ride it straight into a nightmare of drugs, booze, bad behavior and shitty luck. Shot as a quasi-documentary—crime-show-styled reenactments accompany voiceovers from people who were there—the film still plays like an outrageous piece of fiction. This isn’t a story of one bad decision. It’s an ensemble of idiocy, a mosaic of mishaps. It also happens to be pretty darn funny.

Audiences of LIMO RIDE are likely to fall into two camps: one group will compare the events on screen with their own rowdy adventures and thank their conscience for never letting them get this far off track. The others might just take this film as a challenge. Limo drivers of the world beware. Anyone attempting to top this night is likely to end up with the greatest story nobody knows because nobody who saw it lived to tell the tale. LIMO RIDE is an odyssey of rock bottom. Even its own participants seem to realize that lines have been crossed, and that their lifestyle has taken them too far.

Of course there’s more going on with LIMO RIDE than the humor or the wait for the next big event to drop, including a subtle examination of the ways in which we transform memory into mythology. There’s also an open question as to how much is happening to these guys and how much they’re bringing on themselves. (for example: one character unleashes a nasty racial slur on another, then fails to take responsibility when that goes poorly.) But perhaps it wouldn’t be wise to dwell too much on the academic implications of what these men are doing. I’m relatively sure it never crossed their minds.

LIMO RIDE screens at 7 Stages Theatre on Sunday, March 30, at 6:30. 

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Retro Review | TAGS: None

Long Live the New Flesh! Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre present VIDEODROME!

Posted on: Mar 6th, 2014 By:

Splatter Cinema presents VIDEODROME (1983); Dir. David Cronenberg; Starring James Woods, Deborah Harry and Jack Creley; Tuesday, March 11 @ 9:30 p.m. (photos and merch booth open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s one of those great instances when a bloody, nightmarish horror flick gives you something important to chew on afterwards. Splatter Cinema is back at the Plaza Theatre to take a mind-bending trip into the head of David Cronenberg with what may be his best film to date, VIDEODROME!

I’ve got something I want to play for you.

There are horror movies, and there are horror movies. And then, there are David Cronenberg movies. Easily one of the most facile writers/directors in blending the highbrow and lowbrow, his films typically explore themes and concepts that appeal to the art film crowd while simultaneously delivering the kind of gut-level shocks and bloody special effects that made his movies a mainstay in the pages of FANGORIA. And while other films of his may have appealed to broader audiences and been more financially successful, or even dealt with headier concepts (like the nature of humanity itself in THE FLY), nothing compares to his masterpiece, VIDEODROME.

I’m looking for something that will break through. Something tough.
–Max Renn

It’s 1983 Toronto, and Max Renn needs new programming for his TV station, channel 83 or CIVIC-TV. (“CIVIC-TV: the one you take to bed with you!”) His associate Harlan, who runs the station’s pirate satellite receiver and descrambles international broadcast feeds, calls Max down to his office to show him a curious new program seemingly originating out of Malaysia: Videodrome. It’s nothing but brutal violence. No plot. No story. And if it’s faked, it’s very realistically done. But it also carries a strange mind-control signal, and Max soon finds himself hallucinating wildly and caught in a war between the two parties who want control of Videodrome.

The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.
–Professor Brian O’Blivion

Central to the plot of the movie are the philosophical statements of Professor Brian O’Blivion, one of the co-creators of Videodrome. Based upon Marshall McLuhan (whom Cronenberg had studied under at university), his in-film theories about the extension of “the screen” as a new part of how we view the world take the film far beyond just a tale of good and evil and into an examination of how we process what we expose ourselves to. In the Professor’s view, television is integral to functioning as a society, and his daughter extends this theorizing into the brick-and-mortar world by running the Cathode Ray Mission, devoted to allowing the city’s homeless to watch TV in order to better acclimate them to the world we live in. They’re not only showing their flock what the world is like, but the reality that the rest of the world is embracing so that they can better fit in. Ultimately, the Professor’s philosophy comes down to a central question: who is programming the signal you’re tuning into? Are you passively allowing others to create your reality, or are you seizing autonomy and programming it yourself?

I think we live in overstimulated times. We crave stimulation for its own sake. We gorge ourselves on it. We always want more, whether it’s tactile, emotional or sexual. And I think that’s bad.
–Nicki Brand

If there is a single criticism I have of Cronenberg’s questioning, it is that it’s possibly too naïve. I think he raises numerous issues that have real relevance to our contemporary media fascination, but he didn’t (and quite probably couldn’t) have predicted the extent to which the screen has come to dominate our lives. I mean, how long has it been since you’ve looked away from the screen on which you are reading this article? How long will it be before you look at another screen—a TV, your phone, your tablet, your laptop? How much screen time do you log in at your job? And, further, what is your emotional relationship with those screens? How many friends do you have whom you only contact through the screen? How many acquaintances have you made via Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr that you have never physically met? Are those people—and the feelings you have for them—any less real because they seem to only exist in pixels and sets of ones and zeroes? How much of your reality is dictated by the screen you are looking at right now? And, back to Cronenberg’s question, who is in control of what you are seeing?

But why would anybody watch it? Why would anybody watch a scum show like Videodrome?
–Barry Convex

In the world of the film, control of the Videodrome signal is in the hands of Barry Convex, head of Spectacular Optical (“We make inexpensive glasses for the third world and missile guidance systems for NATO. We also make Videodrome, Max.”). Covex wants to toughen up North America by ridding it of the kind of degenerate low-lifes who would get off on a show like Videodrome. And it’s between the idealistic O’Blivion (who believes that the Videodrome signal can be used to create a new, direct relationship between video and our bodies) and the fascistic Convex that Renn finds himself, his programming being rewritten by both sides. From the film’s start, Max’s programming and re-programming results in violent hallucinations. We, the viewers, are never entirely sure if what we’re seeing is objective reality or Max’s imagined reality brought on by video feed. But as O’Blivion states, there is no real difference. Reality is entirely subjective, and our perceptions dictate what our reality consists of. (And, anyway, the ultimate irony is that there is no objective reality we are viewing—we are watching an imagined scenario enacted by James Woods, Debbie Harry, et al. and directed by David Cronenberg. Note how many frames we see within the film, informing us that what we are watching is constantly being framed by unseen hands.)

This film is the first of a Cronenberg trilogy that wrestles with the questions of addiction, the subjective nature of “reality” and whether the distinction between the real and imagined makes any difference. In this film, the addiction is to the screen. The other two films are NAKED LUNCH (in which William Lee’s submission to addiction and descent into drug-induced hedonism in the Interzone blur the lines between fantasy and reality) and EXISTENZ (which basically transposes the storyline of VIDEODROME into the immersive world of video games). Clearly, the issues of releasing control of your own programming to outside sources and who is ultimately responsible for crafting your own reality loom large in Cronenberg’s artistic output.

What are you waiting for, lover? Let’s perform. Let’s open those neural floodgates.
–Nicki Brand

Legend has it that Cronenberg was inspired to make this film after a viewing of Joe D’Amato’s infamous 1977 sexploitation flick EMANUELLE IN AMERICA. The film contains a snippet of an 8mm torture loop that leads journalist Emanuelle to uncover an international snuff film ring. The seemingly incongruous inclusion of this brutal footage in what was billed as a Big Sexy Movie (the matter is introduced and dropped at the tail end of the picture with no real justification) led Cronenberg to explore that juxtaposition in VIDEODROME. And while it may be easy to see the film as a criticism of the media’s exploitation of sex and violence to entice viewers, Cronenberg is more complex than that. He doesn’t really take a stand for or against it. While our hero Max Renn glibly defends his TV station’s programming as catharsis for viewers who can’t turn to the real world to vent their subconscious (interesting, given that the Videodrome signal breaks down the barrier between TV and the “real“ world and unleashes that catharsis across what becomes a false boundary), he is also depicted as a total sleaze, so it’s hard to take his explanation at face value.

But Cronenberg himself, outside of the film, has long used a potent mix of eroticism and brutality as the materials with which he crafts his films. Whether it’s the murderous hedonism of SHIVERS, porn star Marilyn Chambers spreading violent madness in RABID or the car accident fetishism of CRASH, Cronenberg has long embraced the taboo duo of sex and violence in his work. So it’s not a blanket condemnation of the raw materials he’s engaging in, but a criticism of intent. In the film, witnessing extreme violence makes the viewer more open to receiving the Videodrome signal, and thus easier for Convex’s team to control or subdue. Cronenberg isn’t asking the viewer to eschew the primal pleasure that comes from viewing sex and violence, but to question why it’s being presented; to, again, seize autonomy and control your programming.

So, yeah. This is a heavy flick. Deals with some weighty issues. But it’s also wildly entertaining. VIDEODROME handles its subject matter with a fair dose of wit and satire. While it’s ultimately a grim parable, James Woods’ high-energy performance rockets the movie along at a brisk pace. With an actor even a slight bit more leaden than Woods, the film would slow to a crawl and collapse under its own weight. Debbie Harry as Nicki Brand delivers a memorable performance that would never lead you to believe that she was a relative newcomer to acting. It’s one of the few believable “rock star-to-actor” transitions you’ll see. Cronenberg effectively captures the scenes of S&M between Woods and Harry with the right combination of disturbing frankness and eroticism, while Rick Baker’s effects work ratchets up the film’s increasingly surreal tone. (Never before has a TV cabinet been more sexual!) Some of the film’s visuals—particularly the flesh-gun that Woods’ hand becomes—evoke the nightmarish visions of H.R. Giger. It is one of the few movies that would play just as well at MOMA or in some grindhouse theater of years gone by. It’s a masterpiece from one of the cinema’s most accomplished directors. It is not to be missed.

But be careful. It bites.

Long live the new flesh.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Vive la France! Emory Cinematheque: Dousing Atlanta in Art-House Films & Cinema of the French-Persuasion during Their Spring 2014 ‘Global French Cinema’ Series

Posted on: Mar 4th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Contributing Writer

Emory Cinematheque offers art-house films to the masses! They’re available to the critics, film-students and all film-lovers alike! Their retro-tastic line-up of critically-acclaimed films, all screened in 35mm, is available free to the public every Wednesday night during each semester’s series.  Their Spring 2014 ‘Global French Cinema’ series runs through April 23 with all films being screened in room 208 of Emory’s White Hall at 7:30 pm, almost every Wednesday.  ATLRetro caught up with Dr. Matthew Bernstein, Chair of Emory’s Film and Media Department as well as Dr. Charlie Michael, Professor in the French and Italian Language Department at Emory and curator of the series, to discuss their love of French cinema and its profound international influence on filmmakers worldwide throughout the history of cinema.  Let Emory Cinematheque quench your thirst for all things retro, French and cinema-tastic!  

“The reach of (Jean) Renoir’s films was enormous,” Bernstein explains and was one of the reasons why Jean Renoir’s LA GRANDE ILLUSION/GRAND ILLUSION (1937) was the screening that kicked off the series. Given that the focus is French films in a global setting, it made absolute sense. Bernstein further went on to share a tidbit of film trivia: “Twentieth Century-Fox wanted to remake it with John Ford directing. Ford rightly demurred, saying it could not be replicated.” And rightly so! Renoir’s anti-war masterpiece, dubbed by Nazi Propaganda Minister Goebbels as “Cinematic Public Enemy No.1” was released on the eve of World War II, not only showcasing Renoir’s humanity but also touching on the harsh realities of nationalism, classism and anti-Semitism. The epic was one of the first prison escape movies, leading the way for a plethora of replicas attempting to reach the same peak, visually and emotionally.  The film proved so inspirational that even Orson Welles said that it would be one of two he would take with him, “on the ark” (Dick Cavett interviews Orson Welles, July 27, 1970).  American film lovers and critics alike agreed with the enormity and significance of Renoir’s work of art, when it became the first foreign-language film nominated for Best Film at the 1938 Academy Awards. 

“I think the 1960s New Wave probably still holds the mantle as the most influential movement in French filmmaking history,” notes Michael. Thus their next choice was an easy one, as Jean-Luc Godard is one of the most prominent members of the movement.  Godard’s PIERROT LE FOU/PIERROT THE MADMAN (1965) was touted as an apex in the French New Wave and considered Godard’s last ‘frolic’ before delving into his more radically political cinema. Godard dubs his protagonists as “the last romantic couple,” their love being the last shard of humanness left among the clouds of chaos that surrounds them. This tactic has been replicated time and time again in many modern films. Renata Adler, of the New York Times, described Godard’s chaotic and drastic hero as one whom, “ultimately wraps his head in dynamite and blows himself to bits,” but added that, “it is in part a delicate, sentimental love story.” (New York Times, January 1969)

Renior, Truffaut and Godard seem to be the usual suspects at most French cinematic events.  Michael notes, “The insertion of the word ‘global’ in front of the word ‘French’ in the title of the series is meant as a gentle push back against the sorts of common assumptions we have about foreign films.”  His goal was to redirect assumptions that French filmmakers only created their art in France. That couldn’t be more true when thinking about Ousmane Sembene’s first feature-length film, LA NOIRE DE/THE BLACK GIRL (1966).  Senbene has been dubbed the “Father of African Film” and this film in particular was the first Sub-Saharan African film made by an African filmmaker to receive international attention.  It’s the tale of a young Senegalese woman who abandons her home in Senegal to work for a wealthy French couple in France.  This film gracefully touches on history at its most repulsive – colonialism, racism and post-colonial identity – through the eyes of its heroine.

“French cinema and American cinema have a long, long, love-hate relationship,” says Michael, with regards to film as art and film as entertainment.  “Ever since the Lumieres and Edison, the two traditions have been inspiring each other and measuring themselves against one another,” he adds.  This dynamic can be seen clearly during their screening of  LA NUIT AMERICAINE (AMERICAN NIGHT)/DAY FOR NIGHT (1973), French New Wave alum Francois Truffaut’s dark comedy about filmmaking and his slight jab at the artificiality of American-style studio films. The film’s title speaks volumes regarding the director’s disregard for the artificial and the manufactured. Truffaut’s film within a film, not only spotlights the personal and chaotic lives of filmmakers over a short period of time and all the mishaps that go along with creating a film, but he also brings into question whether films, the end products, are more important than the lives of those who create them. 

“France’s youngest, flashiest and most visually-inventive of Jean-Luc Godard’s heirs”, Leos Carax,  makes his appearance with his second film, MAUVAIS SANG (“Bad Blood”)/THE NIGHT IS YOUNG (1986). Michael’s post-modern pick for the series, it will take you on the darkly-tinged 1980s journey of a French bad boy who falls for a beautifully tragic and very unavailable American girl. The film aims to “re-incorporates the post-modern slickness of US advertising,” while exposing the cinematic game of ping-pong that has been played between the US and France since the beginning of the art form. Carax’s film screams modern ’80s melodrama and has a film score including music from David Bowie. Still at the same time, the director pulls from his cinematic forefathers’ influence, as Richard Brody of the New Yorker explains, “with an emotional world akin to that of Godard’s early films, a visual vocabulary that pays tribute to his later ones, and a magical sensibility that owes much to Jean Cocteau, Carax allegorizes the burden of young genius in a world of mighty patriarchs who aren’t budging.” (Richard Brody, New Yorker, December 2013)

As much as French filmmakers enjoy taking a cunning jab at their American counterparts, from time-to-time they also enjoy a nice, swift kick to the rear with regards to their own industry. This can be seen in Olivier Assayas’ satire, IRMA VEP (1996) and his pictorial view of the contemporary French film industry.  Assayas’ film-within-a film technique, previously used by Truffaut and his other filmmaking forefathers, lays the framework that unfolds the beautifully tragic life of a filmmaker, well past his prime,, attempting to revive his career in an industry that has blown past him, by remaking and  modernizing Louis Feuillade’s classic silent film, LES VAMPIRES (1915).  Assayas, through his satire of the current French industry, was able to get back to his roots, or as Manohla Dargis of LA Weekly puts it beautifully, “There’s not a false note in IRMA VEP, not one wasted image, nor one superfluous move of the camera. [Assayas discovered] a native cinema as querulous, alive and magical as [French cinema] was, once upon a time.” 

The series then sends the viewer on a journey to Tunisia with the screening of Abdel Kechiche’s LA GRAINE ET LE MULET/THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN (COUS-COUS) (2007).  From the director of 2013’s BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, this film follows an aging and displaced immigrant and his family trying to begin life anew by opening a family-run restaurant.  Kechiche touches on the universal theme of what to do next when life throws you a curve ball.  In this case, Kechiche’s hero takes that curve ball and attempts to turn it into a thriving restaurant and new life for him and his family. 

Directed by Agnes Varda, lifetime filmmaker and French New Wave alum, LES GLANEURS ET LA GLANEUSE/THE GLEANERS AND I (2000) was included in this series because it, “speaks out against our global problem with consumption and waste,” Michael says. The documentary is shot completely with her hand-held digital camera in a  total abandonment of the usual high-end equipment. That personal element, she said, took her back to the early short films she shot in 1957 and 1958. She told Melissa Anderson of Cineaste Magazine during a 2001 interview: “I felt free at that time. With the new digital camera, I felt I could film myself, get involved as a filmmaker.” Varda’s documentary follows the lives of various kinds of gleaners throughout the French countryside. (M. Anderson, Cineaste Magazine, 2001)

The series then crosses the Atlantic to Canada and Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s play by the same name, INCENDIES (2010). This movie takes the viewer on a nonlinear trek through time, using a dead mother’s flashbacks between present-day Quebec and 1970’s Lebanon as a pair of twins try to untangle the mystery of their mother’s life and the lack of their father in their own.  M. O’Sullivan of the Washington Post describes Villeneuve’s film as, “A horror movie, a love story and a mystery, each thread of which is so expertly interwoven into the larger narrative that it is impossible to separate any one strand from the other.” (M. O’Sullivan Film Review, May 2011)

The French aren’t always so sophisticated, artsy and stuck-up, as proven with the series’ next film. Michel Hazanaviciusparody, OSS 117: CAIRE LE NID D’ESPIONS/OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES (2006), represents a layer of French cinema rarely seen when offering up such a series.  Kudos to Michael for throwing this one in! OSS 117 spoofs ’50s and ’60s spy films, following the exploits of a French secret agent in 1955 Cairo. Curt Holman, Creative Loafing noted that, “CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES looks like a perfect artifact from half a century ago, but its political satire smells brand new.” (Curt Holman, Film Review, June 2008)  Hazanavicius is better known for his throwback to the ’20s retro-style film, THE ARTIST (2011), which won five Academy Awards.

Finally, Emory Cinematheque screens Marcel Carne’s celebrated three-hour, two-part epic, LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS/CHILDREN OF PARADISE (1945), set in the 1820s and 1830s Parisian theatre scene and filmed during Germany’s occupation of France during World War II.  Follow the mime, the actor, the criminal and the aristocrat as they pine over the gloriously beautiful courtesan.  During a 1990 interview with Brian Stonehill for Criterion, Carne responded to his question about the New Wave Critics’ aversion to studio films, stating that Francois Truffaut once told him, “I would give up all my films to have directed CHILDREN OF PARADISE.” (Exerpt from 1990 Criterion Audio Interview). In the original American trailer for the film, it was described as, “The French answer to GONE WITH THE WIND.

Both Michael and Bernstein have enjoyed and continue to express gratitude for the opportunity to share their love of cinema and in particular, during this semester’s series, their love of French-language cinema.  “Frankly, it was difficult not to show more films from that period [French New Wave] in this series – but I really think there are other great stories to be told and films to be seen.  French-language filmmaking is so deep, rich and varied,” explains Michael.  Bernstein notes that, “Truffaut and Godard and their cohorts (of the French New Wave movement) reinvented film language and influenced filmmakers the world over, while inspiring the greats [Coppola, Scorsese, Paul Schrader, et al] and continuing to have a hand in the production of modern films.”

See below for a full screening schedule and make sure you make it out to Emory Cinematheque for the remainder of their Spring 2014 ‘Global French Cinema’ series!

Full Screening Schedule:

1/22/14 – ‘La Grande Illusion’ (1937) – Jean Renoir
2/05/14 – ‘Pierrot le fou’ (1965) – Jean-Luc Godard
2/12/14 – ‘La Noire de…’ (1966) – Ousmane Sembene
2/19/14 – ‘La nuit americaine’ (1973) – Francois Truffaut
2/26/14 – ‘Mauvais Sang’ (1986) – Leos Carax
3/19/14 – ‘Irma Vep’ (1996) – Olivier Assayas
3/26/14 – ‘La graine et le mulet’ (2007) – Abdel Kechiche
4/02/14 – ‘Les enfants du paradis’ – (1945) – Marcel Carne
4/09/14 – ‘Les glaneurs et la glaneuse’ (2001) – Agnes Varda
4/16/14 – ‘Incendies’ (2010) – Denis Villeneuve
4/23/14 – ‘OSS 117: Caire, le nid d’espions’ (2006) – Michel Hazanavicius

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RETRO REVIEW: Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Unearth a Blood-Soaked Valentine With CEMETERY MAN!

Posted on: Feb 9th, 2014 By:

CEMETERY MAN (1994); Dir. Michele Soavi; Starring Rupert Everett, Anna Falchi and François Hadji-Lazaro; Tuesday, February 18 @ 9:30 p.m. (photos and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Bringing classic gore flicks back to life is the mission of Splatter Cinema, and this Tuesday’s engagement at the Plaza Theatre is a special one indeed: Michele Soavi’s brilliant CEMETERY MAN!

Along with his compatriot, Lamberto Bava (son of the legendary filmmaker Mario Bava), director Michele Soavi breathed a bit of life into the twitching corpse of the Italian horror renaissance kicked off by Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Both worked under Argento as assistant/second unit directors, while Soavi took on acting roles in a number of Italian horror films as well (that’s him as the metal-faced mystery guy in DEMONS and as the boyfriend forced to watch his girlfriend puke up her intestines in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). And while Bava’s films typically went for the blunt, straight-ahead shocks of DEMONS and gialli like DELIRIUM, Soavi typically gravitated toward the surrealistic and fantastic elements of SUSPIRIA and THE BEYOND. 1989’s THE CHURCH and 1991’s THE SECT—both made under the auspices of Dario Argento’s production—both showed the kind of promise that he held as a filmmaker, but were hindered by scripts that drew too freely from highly influential works (THE CHURCH hews closely to Argento’s SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, while THE SECT is ROSEMARY’S BABY redux).

But once out from under his mentor’s wing, Soavi soared with perhaps the last great film of the Italian new wave of horror, CEMETERY MAN (released in Italy with the much better title, DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, a pun on the main character’s name which translates as either “about death and about love” or “about the death of love”).

Francesco Dellamorte is the caretaker of the Buffalora cemetery, assisted by his mentally handicapped assistant Gnaghi, who can only speak the syllable “gna.” Dellamorte’s humdrum life consists of maintaining the grounds, crossing out the names of the dead from phone books and killing the reanimated corpses that rise after seven days of interment…all of which he undertakes with the same bored stoicism. It’s a job, after all, and shooting the zombies is easier than going through the paperwork needed to get any help. When he becomes infatuated with a young widow and Gnaghi falls for the mayor’s daughter, however, things take a turn for the worse.

Soavi’s film is full of delightfully dark comedy and the kind of atmosphere the Italian horror scene hadn’t witnessed in years, comparable to the best of Bava, Fulci and Argento. The tone and visuals not only echo the best of Italo-horror, but also the best of Terry Gilliam’s works—no surprise, as Gillaim devotee Soavi was second unit director on 1988’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN and reportedly shot about a quarter of that film. Rupert Everett is especially effective as Dellamorte, bringing the right amount of pathos and longing to his dour role, while still delivering believable doses of sarcasm, wit and violence. And while the film isn’t quite as graphically violent as many of its Italian zombie counterparts, its effects (by maestro Sergio Stivaletti) are expertly pulled off.

It’s a rare film that can combine detailed character study, an exploration of the joys and pain of love and romance, rollicking comedy, explosive violence and the inevitable reanimation of the dead. But CEMETERY MAN is it. If just about anyone else tried to do it, it would likely come out as pretentious and scattershot, but Michele Soavi is the man who proved it could be done and done successfully.

Unfortunately for the Italian horror film scene and its fans, Soavi retired from feature film work after CEMETERY MAN to care for his ailing son, though he took on some television work in the years following. And while rumors of a return to horror have been suggested (with news of a potential sequel to CEMETERY MAN floated over the past two years), Soavi’s resurrection remains something the faithful still anticipate with bated breath.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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