Was sick this weekend and so saw a lot of movies while zoning in and out of fever/pill induced sleep. In no particular order
Farewell to the Ark
Very self consciously arty Japanese film that is supposedly inspired by 100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's most overrated book. I don't remember anything of the book now, other than it bursting to the seams with Joses, Arcadios and Buendias and endless permutations and combinations of these names. I gave up halfway through, totally pissed off, wondering which Jose, Arcadio or Buendia was being referred to at a particular point of time. While not as aggravating as the book, the film lets some of its really good ideas get diluted somewhat by its pretensions. Sutekichi lives with his wife Su-e (also his cousin) and is constantly frustrated in his sexual pursuits by the chastity belt that she wears. He also is a perennial source of mirth for the rest of the village who think he's impotent. After being mocked shortly after winning a cock fight (not what you think!), Sutekichi stabs his brother/cousin Daisaku. In a state of panic, he flees the village accompanied by Su-e. After travelling three days and nights, they find themselves back where they started. Sutekichi begins to be haunted by Daisaku's ghost who suggests he write down and name everything he comes across lest he forget what they are called and what they are for. Sutekichi totally loses it, labelling everything including himself and Su-e. At this point, you wonder if the chastity belt is itself not just a figment of Sutekichi's imagination.
Interspersed with this principal narrative arc is a lot that can only be filed under random weird stuff - all the clocks in the village save one being destroyed and a popular belief that instead of just telling time, a clock creates time (this results in a huge brawl later on in the film when a second clock emerges, leaving people confused as to what the 'real' time is); a wood nymph that Sutekichi dreams about but can never touch for the fear of being killed; a large hole in the middle of the village used to send letters to the world of the dead; some kid falling into said hole and crawling out of it to become alpha male of the village. It's interesting enough while it lasts but a little too WTF for my comfort. Nowhere near as bad as recent films by David Lynch, though.
A very interesting science fiction film that's let down a good deal in the last 10 minutes or so by too pat a resolution and a very bogus 'surprise' end. Max works on a space station with an eccentric irascible scientist (played brilliantly by Klaus Kinski). The lonely and horny Max spends his time watching old b/w films, playing videogames and getting aroused by tepid instructional videos on sex. And then, much to his (and the professor's) delight, three visitors, including a woman, arrive at their space station. It turns out all three are fugitives from the law, and one of them is smart enough to realise that if they play their cards right, they can leave a lot richer than they arrived. Things go downhill rather quickly, with the scientist's latest creation serving as a catalyst. For fans of Metropolis (which it liberally references) and Philip K Dick, provided you are willing to forgive a contrived, silly conclusion (something that PKD himself was no stranger to, on occasion.)
Calamity of Snakes
Don't watch this if you like snakes. Don't watch it if you hate snakes. I'd go so far as to say, try to avoid this film entirely and pretend it doesn't exist. This is a production from the early 1980s - plumb in the middle of the most badass and bloody period in the history of cinema and from a place (Hong Kong) that was the absolutely uncivilized unregulated badlands of moviemaking. This is the industry that gave us tasteless trashterpieces like 'Crippled Masters' a standard order revenge kung-fu flick that distinguished itself by using a genuinely armless and limbless duo as its heroes. While that film was almost classy, and in its own way, very thought provoking (can you still sympathise with handicapped people when they can kick your ass just as soon as look at you?), Calamity
is just distateful. Director William Chang seems like the guy who would laugh his ass off at the people who put up the 'no animals were harmed during the making of this film' notices, and then probably slaughter and eat their pets right before their eyes. Anywhoo, LOTS of snakes die horrible painful deaths in this film. A conservative estimate from me would put the number at around 400. It's quite possibly 10 times that number if Chang went in for multiple takes.
A corrupt builder discovers a CALAMITY of snakes (this really should be the collective noun) on the site of his latest project. While the vaguely liberal hippie architect makes ineffectual noises about relocating the critters, the builder leads by example, leaps into the cabin of an earth mover and begins to quash them to death. The ones who escape are slaughtered via shovel and stick. The only positive thing that can be said for this grotesque spectacle is that a LOT of the footage is reused - so derive from that what little consolation you can. The scene shifts to a bar where snake meat and blood are the principal items on the menu. More graphic snake slaughter ensues as the workers from the previous scene gorge themselves. Soon, the snakes have had enough of this shit and launch attacks masterminded by a couple of boa constrictors who are, in this film's warped reptilian cosmology, the Gods of all other snakes. By the end, vast acres of snakes have been burnt, beaten, bitten, kung-fu punched and gassed to death.
I am going to ramble here for a while, so feel free to skip. In spite of everything against it, (and there's LOTS just in terms of pointless snake slaughter; there's also super annoying comedy sequences) this still manages to be a fairly entertaining film. You are almost always wondering how the fuck the director pulled it off, considering almost every single principal character in the film (and megalithic fucktons of minor characters) are literally covered in snakes for large parts of it. In terms of sheer numbers of animals slaughtered, this film makes Cannibal Holocaust look like a Disney movie. And yet I consider Cannibal Holocaust the worse of the two. If anything, it's because (apart from the restaurant scene), the characters seem a lot less mean spirited and seem to derive no great joy from killing snakes. It's just something to be got over and done with. And some of the scenes are genuinely spectacular: like the fire department (dressed in weird silver suits, for some reason) filling corridors that are practically choked with snakes, with an enormous white cloud of poison gas, sending the critters cascading off the walls and the ceiling. While Chang seems quite fucked up and mad, it is nothing short of incredible that he managed to pull such a film off almost entirely devoid of special effects.
Massacre Mafia Style
More like Lunch: Mafia Style
. I stumbled on this film after seeing the awesome trailer for Gone with the Pope
(WARNING: NSFW). Duke Mitchell a cadaverous badass who looks like cancer after a bad haircut walks around with his Luciano Pavarrotti lookalike buddy killing people seemingly at random. It turns out Mimi (Mitchell) is the son of the old Godfather who was exiled back to Italy by the rest of the mob. He announces his return to America in style, by kidnapping one of the most respected mafiosos and chopping his thumb off. And then shows up at the guy's son's wedding reception, giving the ransom money as a gift. Strangely enough, instead of ventilating him, the rest of the rich Italians laugh like this was a funny if slightly off-colour joke and welcome him into their fold. It turns out that Mimi is the only really bloodthirsty Italian left. The rest of the mob has gone 'legit' and frankly can't be arsed. They keep talking about how the cops have gotten tough but considering Mimi never gets so much as a parking ticket and mows down more people than there are in Bhutan practically every day, one is really not so sure.
The film is sadly not as saturated with violence as one would've liked it to be - mainly because Mitchell was shooting with NO budget at all. A lot of the film has a home video feel to it with people sitting around tables eating, while Mitchell launches into these weird rants. These rants leave your mind well and truly fucked since they effortlessly straddle the yawning gulp between the unintentionally hilarious and genuinely affecting. The last rant is particularly spectacular: Mitchell rails against Free Love and how its really put a damper on the pimping business; on how the blacks have taken over crime; how the mafia is just a joke and subject for books and films and how no fear of death, god, religion or family is a very very bad thing. A movie that's weighed down by its lack of budget and some dull bits, but nevertheless one well worth tracking down.
Night of Fear
A film that predates The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and strips its already stripped down plot to its absolute bare minimum. A woman spends around 40 minutes of the film's 50 minute running time being terrorised by a bearded maniac with a spade. There is NO dialogue - only shrieks from the woman, grunts from the man and the squealing and chittering of his pet rats. The conclusion is one of the most shocking, cynical and mean-spirited things I've ever seen.
House of Long Shadows
A kindly hilarious romp through the cliched haunted house/cursed family chestnut. A writer looking to win a bet shows up at an apparently abandoned castle in Wales only to be periodically interrupted by the arrival of an increasingly strange assortment of characters, most of whom seem to know each other. Stars Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, with Price totally stealing the show. A last hurrah for the more gentlemanly sort of horror before the 80s, with its infinite variants on the slasher theme took hold totally.
Tere Bin Laden
Surprisingly funny film on a down and out TV journo trying to make it to the US by faking a video recording with Osama. It has a LOT of subtle blink and you'll miss them jokes that poke fun at both our terrorist state of a neighbour and the highhandedness of American foreign policy. This film looks to have spent a while in the cans, though, given most of its references are to George Bush.