Fragmented Films from somewhere in 2013

In 2013 when Streetpress Australia downsized the size of their magazine they cut my cult dvd column. Another media outlet expressed interest in picking it up. I wrote this for them and never heard from them again. I wonder why? I just found it while cleaning up my computer. Enjoy…

dead-sushi

Not enough horror films encourage alcoholism. When monstrous evil aliens drop by to dine on human flesh, we’ve usually got a gaggle of disparate folks thrown together and forced to draw upon their diverse range of skills to survive. Grabbers (Monster) asks what if their only skill is drinking?
It’s the kind of film that you’d expect could only have been conceived of within the confines of a pint of beer, because in a peculiar plot twist blood spiked with alcohol is fatal for these slimy squid like bloodsuckers.

Set on a small sleepy Irish island, when the police chief goes on leave, his burnt out drunken protégée is left in charge, alongside a tea toting ring in from the mainland.

Grabbers owes a lot to Matinee monster horror films of the 50’s, though it’s very much a playful homage. Its mixture of horror, comedy and romance stands alongside Gremlins or 1990’s Tremors, where the monsters, whilst fearsome are also mined for their absurdity and barely a terrifying scene is allowed to go by without a wisecrack or two. The comedy in the main comes from the eccentric island inhabitants relieving each other of urine, and the thick at times barely penetrable Irish brogue. There are “feck’s,” and “gob shite’s” flying thick and fast from this rough and ready lot, as the townspeople do the only sensible thing and get absolutely cement trucked when the monsters come calling.

If you believe that this kind of premise raises a few comedic possibilities then you’d be right, and the execution is much classier than you would expect. It’s shot with real imagination and the effects, particularly the CGI are not only convincing but terrifying.

Perhaps what’s most fun about Grabbers is the kind of reverse horror morality at play. The notion of getting ‘shit the bed’ paralytic as a tool to defeat the evil runs counter to the conservatism of the 50’s monster mashes that the filmmakers hold so dear. But we’re now living in a post Shaun of the Dead world, and subverting the rules and poking fun at the archetypes of the past is now considered post ironic irony, or some such detached but knowingly cool combination of words.

Even the romance angle, whilst questionable whether necessarily required, is handled with a certain believable sensitivity, making Grabbers possibly the only booze soaked slimy bloodsucking alien flick that also works for date night. Drink up – maybe you’ll get some action.

There’s one scene above all the others in Dead Sushi (Madman) that could ruin date night forever. Once witnessed it will never leave you. You could call it an ‘eye worm,’ something that will have you replaying the wrongness over and over inside your head attempting to comprehend what the filmmakers were intending and sending yourself spare in the process. The head sushi chef is having an affair with the owner’s wife. When they kiss she asks if they could kiss in the ‘special Japanese’ way. The chef dutifully cracks an egg into his mouth and puckers up; with the couple swapping the raw yolk repeatedly each time their lips meet. The actors are struggling, their gag reflexes working overtime; you can’t fake this kind of disgust. The act raises many questions, but one drags itself above the throng. What the hell were they thinking?

Yet egg yolk swapping has a precedent. It first arrived on screen in the 1985 Japanese comedy Tampopo, though where those filmmakers found it is a complete mystery. On the interwebs the practice has captured the imagination of the masses, with illuminating comments like “I think it just ruined Asian chicks for me,” under clips of the offending scene. It would be somehow reassuring if it could be traced back to an ancient ritualistic erotic tradition, though more than likely its just a freaky gross idea that the director thought up and wondered if he could convince his actors to do it.

The only explanation as to why it pops up again in Dead Sushi is that the filmmakers caught Tampopo and thought it was just the right mix of stupid and gross to steal. It’s the work of Nobaru Iguchi (Machine Girl) whose motto is special effects first, concept second, and plot, well I’m sure we’ll get to that at some point. It’s the tale of humble sushi that has been brought back from the dead, learns to fly, and develops big teeth and an insatiable thirst for blood. With rice spewing zombies and a giant tuna monster, words like outlandish and silly don’t even touch the sides of Dead Sushi’s hysterical world.

But when you pare it down Dead Sushi is simply a cautionary tale about what happens when our food tires of being eaten and decides to turn the tables. It’s a must see for all people who have eaten food in the past or are considering doing so at some point in the future.

In the late 70’s US B-movie producer Roger Corman had one of those genius ideas that only a sleazy low rent slimeball can, one that he hoped would not only get the kids jumping but could earn him some coin in the process: Disco High School.

It practically sells itself. Rebellious high school shenanigans with kids sticking it to the man over a funkyfied soundtrack of smooth groovy disco. This was why his films never lost money no matter how inept. They usually hitched themselves to a fad, a craze or a bigger budgeted more hyped film that would take care of the publicity for them. You could call Corman many things: cynical, exploitative, parasitic, a peddler of crap, a cinematic sweatshop owner, but you can’t deny that for over 60 odd years he’s had his finger on the pulse and his hands in the till.

Unfortunately Corman took his idea to director Allan Arkush (later to helm Caddyshack 2) and writer Joe Dante (Gremlins) who took it upon themselves to dissuade him and destroyed his disco dream. Corman himself appears in the extra features mistakenly explaining that the kids knew better. They proposed Rock and Roll High School (Umbrella) and Corman, with his eye on the green agreed.
So in an iconic moment the director went into the offices of Warner Brothers and asked for a band. He was offered a hot edgy new rock band on the proviso he could control their wild hedonistic ways. Ultimately he didn’t go with Van Halen, but this experience does illustrate how this film was put together.

Arkush eventually chose punk rock icons The Ramones and they are the only reason we’re still talking about this film some 34 years later.

It’s a very odd fit. A low rent Grease with a much better soundtrack. The film is cheesy, with stupid sight gags, bad dialogue and hopelessly clichéd characters. It’s your typical run of the mill 30 year olds pretending to be teenagers flick. Much of the humour either falls flat or is inexplicable. But then something strange happens. Perhaps it’s nostalgia, but every time The Ramones are on screen it’s riveting. That’s despite the fact that they oscillate between creepy behaviour like Dee Dee popping up playing his bass in a teenage girls shower, and total cringe inducing acts like making one of the kids an honorary Ramone. Wisely however Arkush films lengthy sections of their live show with tunes like Blitzkrieg Bop, Teenage Lobotomy and California Sun and weirdly enough it’s some of the best concert footage of any band you will ever see.

Some questions remain however. Who thinks high school was ever even remotely like this? How was Arkush allowed to go on to direct episodes of Melrose Place and Dawson’s Creek? And why does Marky Ramone have more hair now than he did then?

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Fragmented Films August 2013

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Will Ferrell is a genuinely funny guy for about ten minutes or so, twelve if he’s on a roll, and fifteen if you give him a rubber chicken. If you put a clever well-written script in front of him, like Step Brothers for example, he can stretch it to over an hour. If you choose not to, believing that his innate funniness will carry your film then you’ll end up with something like Casa De Mi Padre (Madman)- which is probably Spanish for close but no cigar. A homage to Mexican soaps it’s as faux cheap, clunky and as knowingly kitsch as you would expect. They have a lot of fun with fake background scenery that doesn’t quite match up, manikins inexplicably cut into passionate sex scenes, even a terrifying close up of a bad guy’s aviator sunglasses to reveal, well, the camera crew and a bored kid eating an apple in the reflection. Halfway through the film it’s paused due to, according to the narration, a stunt coyote getting into the cocaine and tearing a mountain lion apart. The performances are deliberately stilted, raised eyebrows abound, as do continuity errors and disjointed jump cuts. This is Ferrell ‘s first Spanish language role, implausibly playing a Mexican rancher struggling to keep his family together against the ruthless drug cartels encroaching on their land.

The biggest surprise is the presence of the dynamic duo of Mexican art house cinema, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna in their fourth film together. You may remember them from that infamous three way in Y tu mama también.  Here they play rival drug barons, and Bernal in particular, in a white suit, cowboy boots and smoking cigars has a great time hamming it up. We’re inches away from Naked Gun territory here with some great, truly absurd moments, like Diego snorting cocaine lined up to spell Raul, his character’s name. But moments don’t make a whole, and Casa De Mi Padre is a reminder that there’s only so much mileage you can generate from what is ostensibly a one-joke film. No matter how good that joke is.

It’s strange to think that Stanley Kubrick, the eccentric exacting genius behind The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey could have a missing film. Yet oddly enough his one-hour feature debut has been remarkably elusive since it first screened in the early 50’s. It shouldn’t be so surprising as Kubrick, always the obsessive over the top control freak, has been known to exert undue influence over every aspect of the filmmaking process – to the point where he withdrew A Clockwork Orange from theatres in the UK in the wake of copycat violence. You’d have to assume that it’s only his passing in 1999 that has finally allowed Fear and Desire (Via Vision) to see the light of day.

It’s a peculiar experience watching it for the first time some 60 years after it was conceived – particularly in light of his legacy. In 1953 this kind of existential war movie was really quite a novel concept. A couple of decades later, post Vietnam, the desire to delve into the subconscious trauma of war kicked up a notch, spearheaded by the likes of Apocalypse Now, though more recently its evolved into impossibly beautiful philosophical tone poems from Terence Malick (The Thin Red Line). So between Malick’s more nuanced approach to tangential interior monologues from multiple characters, and Kubrick’s own formidable reputation for exacting greatness, the precocious 24 year old who began this rough and ready film with $10,000 from his pharmacist uncle, doesn’t really stand a chance.

It starts out like a boys own adventure, with a squad of archetypal soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. We’ve got an earnest assertive lieutenant, a rough as guts sergeant alongside two traumatised privates attempting to get back to the front after their plane has crashed. It appears the stage is set for some good old fashioned patriotic battles against the odds, demonstrating the bonds and ingenuity of the unit as they give Jerry what for. But Kubrick has other ideas. He never names this war, or the enemy and the violence is horrific and confronting for all involved. He also introduces themes that would continue to fascinate him over the course of his career, notably the trauma of war and the slaughter of innocents. The way they’re addressed in Fear and Desire, whilst less assured, is still quite reminiscent of his later approaches, with Kirk Douglas in 1957’s Paths of Glory and Matthew Modine in 1987’s Full Metal Jacket.

One scene in particular stands out. When a pretty young peasant girl stumbles across the squad they tie her to a tree, getting the youngest, least stable private to guard her. The private, played by Paul Mazursky (later to direct Down and Out In Beverly Hills), really begins to unravel; the despair at their predicament combined with his own sexual desire for the attractive mute girl sends him over the edge. Kubrick expertly builds tension here but there’s something else, a certain uncontrolled menacing weirdness that he would later touch upon with Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance in The Shining, and Vincent D’Onofrio’s mental disintegration in Full Metal Jacket. Here it’s hard to say whether the discomfort is elicited from Mazursky’s creepy unhinged performance, or Kubrick’s claustrophobic cutting, but it’s a scene that will stay with you.

Admittedly at times some of the monologues are pretentious, self indulgent and kind’ve cringe inducing, and you wouldn’t be out of line to suggest the script is a little clumsy. Yet there’s also a lot to like -particularly Kubrick’s photography. Rarely has a first feature been shot so well, with such an innate understanding of how to get the most out of natural light.

Initial poor reaction to the film reportedly reduced Kubrick to tears, and later in life he dismissed it as amateurish, buying up all the prints he could find and ultimately destroying the negative. Yet his reaction against Fear and Desire shouldn’t be read as anything more than a control freak unable to cope with the one moment he wasn’t able to exert his total control over the cinematic form. But perfection in cinema is boring. Barry Lyndon taught us that. And whilst Kubrick might have been embarrassed about wearing his youth, hunger and inexperience on his sleeve, for the rest of us Fear and Desire is a unique insight into one of the giants of modern cinema.

Fragmented Films August 2013

Grabbers

Not enough horror films encourage alcoholism. When monstrous evil aliens drop by to dine on human flesh, we’ve usually got a gaggle of disparate folks thrown together and forced to draw upon their diverse range of skills to survive. Grabbers (Monster) asks what if their only skill is drinking?

It’s the kind of film that you’d expect could only have been conceived of within the confines of a pint of beer, because in a peculiar plot twist blood spiked with alcohol is fatal for these slimy squid like bloodsuckers.

Set on a small sleepy Irish island, when the police chief goes on leave, his burnt out drunken protégée is left in charge, alongside a tea toting ring in from the mainland.

Grabbers owes a lot to Matinee monster horror films of the 50’s, though it’s very much a playful homage. Its mixture of horror, comedy and romance stands alongside Gremlins or 1990’s Tremors, where the monsters, whilst fearsome are also mined for their absurdity and barely a terrifying scene is allowed to go by without a wisecrack or two. The comedy in the main comes from the eccentric island inhabitants relieving each other of urine, and the thick at times barely penetrable Irish brogue. There are “feck’s,” and “gob shite’s” flying thick and fast from this rough and ready lot, as the townspeople do the only sensible thing and get absolutely cement trucked when the monsters come calling.

If you believe that this kind of premise raises a few comedic possibilities then you’d be right, and the execution is much classier than you would expect. It’s shot with real imagination and the effects, particularly the CGI are not only convincing but terrifying.

Perhaps what’s most fun about Grabbers is the kind of reverse horror morality at play. The notion of getting ‘shit the bed’ paralytic as a tool to defeat the evil runs counter to the conservatism of the 50’s monster mashes that the filmmakers hold so dear. But we’re now living in a post Shaun of the Dead world, and subverting the rules and poking fun at the archetypes of the past is now considered post ironic irony, or some such detached but knowingly cool combination of words.

Even the romance angle, whilst questionable whether necessarily required, is handled with a certain believable sensitivity, making Grabbers possibly the only booze soaked slimy bloodsucking alien flick that also works for date night. Drink up – maybe you’ll get some action.

dead-sushi

There’s one scene above all the others in Dead Sushi (Madman) that could ruin date night forever. Once witnessed it will never leave you. You could call it an ‘eye worm,’ something that will have you replaying the wrongness over and over inside your head attempting to comprehend what the filmmakers were intending and sending yourself spare in the process. The head sushi chef is having an affair with the owner’s wife. When they kiss she asks if they could kiss in the ‘special Japanese’ way. The chef dutifully cracks an egg into his mouth and puckers up; with the couple swapping the raw yolk repeatedly each time their lips meet. The actors are struggling, their gag reflexes working overtime; you can’t fake this kind of disgust. The act raises many questions, but one drags itself above the throng. What the hell were they thinking?

Yet egg yolk swapping has a precedent. It first arrived on screen in the 1985 Japanese comedy Tampopo, though where those filmmakers found it is a complete mystery. On the interwebs the practice has captured the imagination of the masses, with illuminating comments like “I think it just ruined Asian chicks for me,” under clips of the offending scene. It would be somehow reassuring if it could be traced back to an ancient ritualistic erotic tradition, though more than likely its just a freaky gross idea that the director thought up and wondered if he could convince his actors to do it.

The only explanation as to why it pops up again in Dead Sushi is that the filmmakers caught Tampopo and thought it was just the right mix of stupid and gross to steal. It’s the work of Nobaru Iguchi (Machine Girl) whose motto is special effects first, concept second, and plot, well I’m sure we’ll get to that at some point.  It’s the tale of humble sushi that has been brought back from the dead, learns to fly, and develops big teeth and an insatiable thirst for blood. With rice spewing zombies and a giant tuna monster, words like outlandish and silly don’t even touch the sides of Dead Sushi’s hysterical world. But when you pare it down Dead Sushi is simply a cautionary tale about what happens when our food tires of being eaten and decides to turn the tables.  It’s a must see for all people who have eaten food in the past or are considering doing so at some point in the future.

Fragmented Films random column from 2007

elizabeth-taylor-in-boom-elizabeth-taylor-7512118-500-359

Boom (DV1). Elizabeth Taylor in a role she was much too young for. Boom. Richard Burton in a role he is much too old for. Boom. It’s Richard and Lizzie simmering, their violent chemistry on screen yet again. Richard isn’t quoting Shakespeare, it’s a Tennessee Williams screenplay from his own play, and Lizzie gives a remarkable performance as the world’s richest woman, a recluse slowly dying in her spectacular Mediterranean villa amid servants and sycophants. Boom. The performance is so remarkable that back in 1968 she seems to be tapping into herself later in life, some 40 years on, capturing the power, the regret, the manipulation, and the fear of impending death. Boom. Burton is the wandering poet, dashing in black, nicknamed the ‘angel of death’ due to his propensity for turning up at the bedsides of rich dying older women. Boom. It’s typical Tennessee, a claustrophobic emotional potboiler, a ponderous thematic roller coaster, and these two devoted thespians revel in it. Boom. Tennessee reportedly believed this the best adaptation of his work, and it’s much darker than A Cat on a Hot Tin roof or A Streetcar Named Desire. Yet Boom is infinitely more elusive and obscure. It’s directed by Joseph Losey (Modesty Blaise/ M) and features a tumultuous Mediterranean score from John Barry. John Waters (Polyester) calls it the greatest failed art movie ever with a healthy degree of admiration. Boom. It’s opulent and excessive; the plot almost takes a backseat as Burton and Taylor ravenously circle each other. Boom. It all takes place high on the cliffs as the waves, echoing the emotional unrest and violence of the story continue to crash violently into the rocks. Boom.

This story of three generations of the one Hungarian family is not exactly a coming of age story, more like a cumming of age story if you catch my drift. And the sexuality that is being awakened is not that of an awkward pimply teenager, rather it’s a dirty dimwitted officer who awakens it inside a freshly slaughtered pig.  And that’s just the beginning. The work of Hungarian filmmaker Gyorgy Palfi is equal parts high art, exploitation, surrealism, and fable, yet it’s gorgeously filmed with such a mischievous understanding of the cinematic language that you can’t help but be enthralled. In fact it’s virtually indistinguishable from Amelie, except Taxidermia (Siren) possesses a little more masturbation, projectile vomiting, obese sex, animals chewing on the internal organs of humans, roosters pecking penises and the odd decapitation. Wrongness has never been this right. Despite its extremities the film is filled with these incredible delicately nuanced moments of ordinary confusion that teeter on the edge of realism before choosing a more imaginative less restrictive path. The score, in part from Brazilian Ninja Tune artist Amon Tobin is right on the money, vicious and minimal. It’s hard to know what this is. A warning about the dangers of elite sports? Of the lure of stuffing dead animals? Or coveting thy sergeant’s scary looking wife? It’s a portrait of a family who never really had a chance possibly due to some form of defective gene that carried through the generations. Gyorgy Palfi may not yet be household name, but you can’t make a film like this and not get arrested, I mean noticed.

Robot Chicken Season 2 (Madman) is stupid. And it’s a testament to the lowest common denominator half brain dead, half medicated audience that it’s so popular. If you watch way too much bad American TV, take mind numbing drugs and like watching puppets violently attack each other in incredibly wrong ways then welcome home. It’s claymation and barbie dolls doing terrible terrible things to each other, things that Barbie’s shouldn’t even know about. All those half thought out what if’s as you pass around your medicinal device all appear here in various forms. Horny pedophile unicorns, idiots with time machines, Sex and the City crossed with the Golden Girls, a happy skit called morning wood, robots humping washing machines, psycho hungry hungry hippos. There’s skits that delight in reliving franchises like Star Wars, and Harry Potter of urine, but what they do to hangman, space invaders and spy hunter is just plain wrong. They delight in digging up the b-grade, Corey Feldman and Corey Haim saving the Bush twins, Owen Wilson, Don Cheadle, Ben Stiller, even Dr Who pops up. If you are a nerd with bad taste you are home. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Some of it is amazing, other bits are quoting pop culture references so obscure that the nerd who can decode it has not been invented yet.

 

 

 

Fragmented Films May13

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So who deserves to die?

“People who hi five, people who dress their babies in band t-shirts,“ offers the precocious teenage wannabe mass killer, “middle aged women who call their tits the girls. “

Welcome to the gospel according to God Bless America (Eagle), a strangely moralistic film that takes a sledgehammer to America’s pursuit of the lowest common denominator.

Drowning in a misery of obnoxious reality TV, evil right wing political commentators, white trash neighbours and a kid that doesn’t want to know him; Frank (Joel Murray) has it all. And it’s hurting the hell out of him. Surrounded by celebrity-obsessed zombies he can’t relate to, a series of tragic circumstances finds him on the couch with a gun in his mouth when suddenly his social conscious awakens. Perhaps there are others more needy of the bullet than him. It’s Falling Down meets Heathers, Natural Born Killers meets Juno, about as subtle as napalm, but at least 17 times funnier.

Bobcat Goldthwait. You remember him right? That annoying guy from the Police Academy films? No not Steve Guttenberg, the other one, the guy with the grating voice, whose main weapon of choice was screaming at people inches from their face. Post Police Academy he reinvented himself as a bitter burnt out stand up comedian, the humour coming from his black as pitch observations. He’s now channelled his weary sarcasm into cinema, and his fourth film God Bless America is pitch perfect. With caustic monologues about reality TV, the vacancy of celebrity obsession and a body count that includes babies, celebrities, random cinemagoers, reality TV contestants, and religious fundamentalists, it’s a film with a solution that is actually part of the problem. It’s lowest common denominator solutions to lowest common denominator problems, but then it’s hard to disagree that an AK-47 wouldn’t improve American Idol exponentially.

Graham Dorrington is on a quest to fly a new kind of airship balloon over the rainforest canopies in Guyana on the North coast of South America.  Beset with problems, he’s haunted by the death of a friend on a similar expedition years earlier, making him the perfect driven yet conflicted subject for German auteur Werner Herzog.

On the initial flight, they want to test it alone, but Herzog forbids it, and it’s remarkable watching Herzog bully his way onto the airship. White Diamond is one of Herzog’s best, in the way his films can be great, obsessive, beautiful, meditative, self indulgent, tangential, and mystifying, It’s part of a double blue ray box set Werner Herzog: Documentary Collection (Shock), which also includes the Flying Doctors of East Africa, La Soufriere, about the desertion of the island of Guadeloupe in the wake of an impending volcano eruption, and 2009’s Encounters at the End of the World.  “Who were the people I was going to meet at Antarctica at the end of the world and what were their dreams?” Herzog asks. The beauty of Herzog is that he’s comfortable with multiple ideas and tangential narratives. His own madness the perfect tool for eliciting highly personal information from the fellow eccentrics he uncovers along the way.

 

Fragmented Films April 13

Brood 8

It’s hard to know in which guise he’s more repulsive, as pre teen masturbatory candy, playing the vacant mumbling vampire boy in the Twilight cult, or here as the golden child of high finance, disconnected from the world outside as he cruises Manhattan in his stretch limo. Cosmopolis (Icon) is Robert Pattinson laying claim to being more than a vacant pretty boy, by playing a vacant rich boy and getting a David Cronenberg project of Dom Delillo’s unreadable book green lit. It’s meant to be a Heart of Darkness style journey into the machinations of the uber rich, using Pattinson’s inbuilt vacancy as a cipher for wanton materialism. To a large extent it’s successful, with various sycophants, his doctor (doing his daily prostrate exam), ex lovers, and teenage Wall Street geeks entering and exiting his orbit. It’s quite a surreal journey, an intelligent, humorous blur of ideas that just wash over you, though it’s let down by the forced climax of a poor little rich boy just trying to feel.

There was a time before his literary adaptations of Burroughs, Ballard and Delillo that the name Cronenberg caused involuntary brain enemas and the need to wash until your skin bleeds. In fact his early almost clinical horrors should come with warnings about the damage they can do to still developing psyches. Sure you may have seen bucket loads of gore, sack loads of suspense, as well as a gaggle of seedy and perverted horrors, but they’ve rarely been this intelligent, this manipulative and as a result this terrifying.

1979’s The Brood (Umbrella) is creepy and wrong. Oliver Reed plays an egocentric doctor who experiments with a radical new treatment “psychoplasmics,” that encourages patients to release pent up rage through Gestalt like role-plays. Reed plays Dr Raglan with just enough menace, revelling in his highly manipulative therapy. When a series of brutal murders are carried out in town by creepy midget parka wearing monsters, and the husband of his favourite patient starts poking around, it all starts to fall apart for our good Dr. Of course it wouldn’t be Cronenberg without a spot of body horror, and this is probably the best place to mention that it’s the first time The Brood has been released uncut, and on Blue Ray too.

The following year Cronenberg hit the jackpot with Scanners (Umbrella). The tag line is brilliant. 10 seconds: The Pain Begins. 15 Seconds: You Can’t Breathe. 20 Seconds: You Explode. It’s a tale of telepaths, people who can control others with their minds, but most people refer to it as ‘that exploding head movie,’ because make no mistake, you’ve never seen a cranium combust as magnificently as this. It’s the Citizen Kane of exploding heads; in fact the final battle scene is one of the most remarkably violent duels you’ll ever see, all without any physical touch. It features ubiquitous cranium gore as a metaphor for what’s happening to your own brain whilst watching, because lets face it, you’re not going to escape unscathed when you watch Cronenberg in his prime.

Fragmented Films March 2013

holy-motors

When you’re a hot new director the suitors come calling, studios, the moneymen, famous actors, musicians, and the world is your oyster. Budgets inevitably rise but you’ll make it back, after all you’re an auteur. And given you’re such a genius why not get a little outlandish and do that passion project, you know, that musical about the life cycle of a toad, or how about a Western on roller skates?

This kind of delusion is called the Cimino syndrome. After the Academy Awards of Michael Cimino’s Deer Hunter in 1978, his follow up Heaven’s Gate sunk a studio. His subsequent films have been tainted with his wounding, attempting and failing with by the numbers films like Desperate Hours, before all but disappearing in 1996.

But what if you went the other way? You know, go for broke.

In 1991 Leos Carax made Lovers on the Bridge, the most expensive French film at that time, and whilst popular, it still lost a bunch of money. His last feature was 1999’s controversial incest drama Pola X and since then, perhaps not surprisingly, he’s struggled to get films financed.

With Holy Motors (Icon) you can see why. This film is too good to make money. No wait, too surreal to make money. It comes from a tradition that owes as much to Jodorowsky as Bunel and Cocteau. The beginning is pure Alice in Wonderland, with our main character Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavent) discovering a hole in the wall through which he finds a passageway. In a peculiar moment of cultural zeitgeist the conceit mimics Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, in which the main character cruises around town in a white stretch limo, chauffeured to various appointments. Yet the paths diverge dramatically as Oscar alters his appearance and behaviour dramatically for each appointment. It’s never clear who these appointments are with, and who has arranged them, yet there is an almost collective delusion at play as participants treat him as a father, lover, beggar, you name it. Eva Mendes pops up, as does Kylie Minogue and she is remarkable. Depending on how you see it, the ending is either a slap to the face or complete genius. Nothing in cinema has prepared you for this. For God’s sake give this man more money. We can’t wait another 13 years.

Speaking of surreal and wrong with no easy answers, it’s season cinco for Adult Swim’s Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job (Madman). We’re talking base humour about dihorrea, male lactating, and bad health advice that’s distended, spazzed out and held for too long beyond all uncomfortableness until the gross out idiocy achieves some kind of transcendence. Or doesn’t. It’s a world of dodgy infomercials, marginal chat shows and cheesy skits that hurt as much as they humour. This is surrealism updated for the burger generation, viewed through a prism of ineptitude and z grade television sheen. It’s outsider humour, where not only do they celebrate the random lunatic muttering to himself on a street corner, they give him a recurring role. Not unlike their multitude of guest stars including Marilyn Manson, Ted Danson, Ben Stiller, Patrick Duffy and Will Ferrell as a clown breeder who doesn’t fiddle with his stock.