In today’s long-delayed Journal we look at the recent films HITCHCOCK, LIFE OF PI and PHANTOM and I make a promise to try to be better about keeping up with this stuff.
And man oh man, have I ever fallen behind on this. This is only a smattering of what I’ve watched. What’s the delay? Well, look at the bottom of this review where I typically put the stuff being watched for our podcast, FILM GEEK CENTRAL PRESENTS: THE FILMS OF 1985 and you’ll see one reason. Add to that my work on a new web series and other procrastinations and you’ve got a perfect storm of putting things off for far too long. So, to quote Superman at the end of the SUPERMAN II theatrical cut, “I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. I promise I’ll never let you down again.”
Of course, if you believe Bryan Singer, Supes almost immediately left Earth for close to ten years after saying that. So, hey who knows what will happen?
FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 29
HITCHCOCK (2012) – At the beginning of this film, Alfred Hitchcock is one of the biggest directors in the world. NORTH BY NORTHWEST is sure to be his biggest hit yet. But some of his peers are starting to turn on him. There is a belief that his appearances on television have cheapened his image. Critics have accused him of repeating himself and have begun citing newer directors like Claude Chabrol and Henri-Georges Clouzot. This is when Hitchcock gets the idea for PSYCHO. A violent story inspired by real-life crimes, shot in black and white, on a low budget and which violates some of the sacred laws of what people expect in a Hollywood movie.
Hitchcock fights many of his demons when making the film, demons that are sometimes played out in scenes where he imagines himself conversing with Norman Bates’ inspiration, the Butcher of Plainsfield, Ed Gein (Michael Wincott). He has a definite sense of lust and obsession for his younger actresses, even if it is as a Svengali. He is consumed by jealousy when he imagines that his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) is having an affair with another writer (Danny Houston). And to her credit, Alma also tries to valiantly deal with being Hitchcock’s greatest supporter and collaborator, but always existing in his shadow.
This is the great revelation of HITCHCOCK. It’s a film about filmmaking, but it’s also about the tortured psyche of those who should be happy because they have it all. But we all face our own demons, even artistic geniuses and these are the scenes in which HITCHCOCK really shines. Having said that, I would have loved to see more details about the filmmaking process put in this film, itself a pretty fascinating ordeal that has gone down in history as the stuff of Hollywood legend. As it is, HITCHCOCK is a film about relationships, psychological frailties and personal triumphs. The actual filming of PSYCHO is just another McGuffin. ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)
LIFE OF PI (2012) – Based on Yann Martel’s novel, LIFE OF PI tells the story of Pi, a boy who while in India, develops a love for God in all things, being a believer in Christianity, Hinduism and Islam (Some people from varying faiths have taken issue with this plot element – congratulations, you’re what’s wrong with the world). When his family decides to sell their zoo animals and emigrate to Canada, he boards a ship with his family. The ship is lost at sea and he is the only survivor, precariously sharing his life raft with an orangutan, an injured zebra, a hyena and especially a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Ang Lee’s film is about survival. But more than simply being a story about a castaway, it’s a story about how one needs to change emotionally and psychologically in order to achieve their own survival. Who becomes your friend and who becomes your enemy? What happens when your faith is tested? And more importantly, does one need to sacrifice their humanity in order to ensure their survival? It’s these elements that are the best in LIFE OF PI. Naturally, it does not translate the film’s complex and philosphical inner monologues to the big screen, but I was surprised how many did survive the transition from the written page.
Ang Lee has also been celebrated for making a visually-striking film. This is at once a great strength and weakness for the film. The film is pretty beautiful, with deep colors and such. However, often the film sacrifices depth of story for the beauty of its imagery. The infamous scene of a whale jumping over the raft (not in the book, where this sequence plays out differently) is a good example. It’s a gorgeous shot, but it’s also pretty silly and is ultimately pointless in the grand scheme of things. Likewise, Ang Lee would really prefer it if you watched this film in 3-D. As if to illustrate this point, he’s constantly throwing CGI creatures and whatnot at the screen in delirious set-pieces designed to enhance the format. You compare this to Cameron’s AVATAR or Raimi’s OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, both of whom used 3-D to compliment the story and make it all part of the ride. That may have been what Lee was going for here, but the 3-D comes off as what it has always been – a gimmick, and one that takes the viewer out of the story. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
PHANTOM (2013) – During the Cold War, a Soviet sub commander (Ed Harris) is sent out one last time, on the same deteriorating boat that he started out on. Along for the ride are several high-ranking Soviet intelligence officers who are testing out a new weapon called the Phantom. As the sub continues on its journey, tensions begin to mount and a mutiny is staged by the officers who are working against the orders of Soviet high command. Their goal is to start a nuclear war with the United States, a war in which because of the Phantom, these zealots believe the Soviets will emerge unscathed.
PHANTOM proudly boasts that it is inspired by actual events. But if “based on a true story” is something that is completely different than an actual true story, the “inspired by actual events” line is really just a signal that everything is pure supposition and fantasy. Yes, there really was a Soviet nuclear sub crew that had a similar fate to the one in PHANTOM (which the movie spoils early on, but I won’t here) and yes, there really was development on a weapon similar to the Phantom. Everything else is pure potboiler stuff.
And that’s fine. As a Cold War nuclear sub thriller, PHANTOM is a pretty good one. Like Sam Peckinpah’s CROSS OF IRON Americanized the Nazis in the model of a war movie, PHANTOM has its Soviets using American accents in their tale of Cold War intrigue. It’s a pretty effective film for the most part with Ed Harris and William Fichtner turning in good performances. But the film makes a fatal flaw by casting David Duchovny as a villainous KGB madman. How does Duchovny play this part? The same way he plays everything else and it doesn’t work. Add to that an unsatisfying ending and things start to fall apart with the film thankfully wrapping up before it wears out its welcome. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
The following films were watched for review on an upcoming episode of FILM GEEK CENTRAL PRESENTS: THE FILMS OF 1985. This is our podcast in which we review every film released in American theaters during 1985, on its corresponding weekend in 2013. Check out the shows we’ve already done and look at some of the films yet to come, including:
And holy Toledo, just look at them all!
ALMOST YOU (1985) – Griffin Dunne plays a guy who is sick up his upper middle class New York existence. He wants out of his marriage, out of his job and he proves this by not caring about his work, neglecting his wife and engaging in the occasional extramarital affair. When his wife (Brooke Adams) injures herself, she gets a nurse (Karen Young) to care for her at their apartment. Dunne takes to the nurse and starts to have a fling with her. Meanwhile, the nurse’s actor boyfriend (Marty Knox) sees what’s going on and gets close to Dunne to hold onto her.
CREATURE (a.k.a. TITAN FIND) (1985) – A space expedition races against their corporate competitors in investigating an ancient trove of alien lifeforms found on Saturn’s moon of Titan. When they crash on the planet, they have to figure out a way off the rock before their air runs out. But uh-oh, it looks like their competitors already found the trove and they unleashed a violent alien predator which is now absorbing the astronauts’ consciousness and then eating them.
DELTA PI (a.k.a. MUGSY’S GIRLS) (1985) – A group of loud, wild, debaucherous sorority sisters struggle to pay their debts to their sleazy landlord. A couple of young entrepeneurs approach them with the idea of entering a mud wrestling contest to win a $100,000 prize. So, the girls pack their elderly house mother (Academy Award winner Ruth Gordon) and travel to Vegas where they enter the contest and run afoul of locals with mob ties. Co-stars the late singer Laura Branigan, Eddie Deezen and Kristi Somers.
THE DUNGEONMASTER (a.k.a. RAGEWAR: THE CHALLENGES OF EXCALIBR8) (1985) – Paul (Jeffrey Byron), a young computer whiz, is abducted along with his girlfriend by Satan himself (Richard Moll). To win back their freedom, the demon challenges Paul to seven challenges where Paul can use his knowledge of technology (and lasers) to battle the more mystical obstacles set in his path. This Charles Band production utilizes seven directors, each handling a different challenge segment. In addition to Band, the film is also handled by David Allen (special effects whiz and director of PUPPET MASTER II), John Carl Beuchler (TROLL, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII), Steven Ford, Peter Manoogian (ELIMINATORS, DEMONIC TOYS), Ted Nicolau (TERRORVISION, SUBSPECIES) and Rosemarie Turko (SCARRED).
THE EIGHTIES (a.k.a. LES ANNES 80) (1983) – Chantal Akerman’s strange, provocative film features a number of people doing line readings and performing bits from a musical being made by a largely unseen crew. The pieces all come together in the last third of the film as the musical is performed in full. Akerman is noted for her strange narrative style which focuses on people and the space their operate in over a more traditional progression of story.
ENORMOUS CHANGES AT THE LAST MINUTE (1983) – Based on the stories of Grace Paley, this anthology features three stories featuring women trying to deal with life on their own. One women deals with the exit of her deadbeat husband, leaving her to raise her kids on her own. Another deals with her ex-husband exerting influence over her father so that she has no one to turn to. And finally, a middle-aged woman has an affair with a younger man which results in a pregnancy, one she resolves to go through on her own.
FRATERNITY VACATION (1985) – Two fraternity studs and one nerd travel to Palm Springs for fun, sun and mostly sex. There, they try to get their nerdy friend to loosen up as they make a bet with a rival frat over who can score with a beautiful woman staying at a nearby condo. This film features a cast of pre-stardom Hollywood types and notable character actors, including: Tim Robbins, Stephen Geoffreys, Britt Eckland, Amanda Bearse, John Vernon, Barbara Crampton and Kathleen Kinmont.
LITTLE TREASURE (1985) – An aging stripper (Margot Kidder) travels to Mexico to reconnect with her dying, estranged father (Burt Lancaster). Before he passes away, he tells her of a fortune from a bank robbery which he buried in a ghost town in New Mexico. She falls for an American living south of the border (Ted Danson) and together, the two try and make a life together while searching out the buried treasure.
RAPPIN’ (1985) – Mario Van Peebles gets out of jail and returns to his neighborhood with a hot fresh sound called rap – it’s the way people in the community say what they’re feeling. At least, that’s what the film says. So, they rap about colors and food and come against an evil douchebag rival and the scummy businesspeople trying to force people out of the neighborhood. This was a Cannon film directed by Joel Silberg, both of whom were hoping to capitalize on the success of BREAKIN’ from the year before.
REMBETIKO (1983) – This Greek film follows a woman named Marika from her birth in 1919 to her eventual death in 1956. Throughout her triumphs and tragedies, she is immersed in the world of Rembetiko, a form of Greek folk music which arose from the refugees during the early 20th century. Through this music, the film chronicles the many hardships Marika encounters from her fractured family life to her many loves and losses.
RUSTLER’S RHAPSODY (1985) – This film imagines what it would be like if the singing cowboy films of the 1930s and 40s never went out of style. Rex O’Herlihan (Tom Berringer) is a singing cowboy who is now entering his 48th town, one that is the same as every town that came before and full of the same people. But when things suddenly don’t go as planned, O’Herlihan doesn’t know how to react or how to continue being the singing cowboy he has been for all these years. This spoof co-stars Andy Griffith, Marilu Henner, Sela Ward, G.W. Bailey, Fernando Rey and one surprise bit part from someone who is no stranger to western dynasties.
TERMINAL CHOICE (a.k.a. DEATHBED) (1985) – This Robin Cooked-styled medical thriller has a hospital investigating the graphic death of a patient who received a lethal drug overdose. All eyes are on the troubled, alcoholic doctor who was her attending physician. But could the murder actually be a product of the automated computer system in the hospital and if so, who is pulling the strings at a computer terminal which begins killing patient and medical staff alike?
Total films watched in 2013 so far: 129