Reflections of the Third Eye
22 April 2013
Snake Eyes (1998)
Now Playing: Creedence
Topic: S

Popcorn quiz: Brian De Palma made Snake Eyes because he (A) Wanted to do a single-take sequence that surpassed the one Scorsese had in Goodfellas; (B) Was curious about how Carla Gugino would look in tight silk clothes; (C) Figured he could use some of Nicholas Cage's hyper intense cocaine buzz presence while the guy was still A-list material?

These are all valid reasons for making a movie, especially if you've paid your dues three times over like BDP had. Whatever his intentions, the end result is wholly and uniquely identifiable as his creation, which means that I enjoy it. In fact, I enjoyed it more on the second viewing than the first, and this is not due to some dubious theoretical insight like the intellectualized film student snobbery frequently hung around the director's neck.

Au contraire, ma freres, I actually took greater note of the storyline and characterization this time. Not that it's particularly outstanding, but it's there for the viewer's attention, and I believe the dazzling single-take exposition offsets the balance of the entire movie on the first viewing. This extremely complex and magically realized tracking shot will probably be the only aspect of Snake Eyes to linger in the cinema annals, even if De Palma allowed himself a few loopholes (four or five camouflaged cuts during the 20-minute sequence) to make his mad enterprise work.

Film students and movie-lovers alike enjoy the virtuosity and sheer fun of this grand opening, and unlike some of BDP's earlier showcases it is both appropriate to the theme and context of the movie (a big night with lots of tension in the air) and a very effective exposition which introduces the major characters and a number of details relevant to the mystery conspiracy that is the main plot element. The only problem, then, is that the viewer may still be digesting De Palma's tour de force and maybe hope for even more, while the storyline is rapidly evolving into new intricacies.

The movie carries its comic book exaggerations with pride, and the sense of aesthetic playfulness is brought home by a dazzling use of bright colors in basically every shot, until the appropriately dark and murky ending. More movies should look like this, a true feast for the eyes on a level of pure, non-intellectual perception that makes it almost psychedelic, in the sense that hallucinogens can make each color look a little brighter than usual. Equally appropriate is the obvious use of studio sets for the entire movie, making everything look shiny new and slightly unreal. The casino where the action takes place is basically one gigantic set piece, and it's easy to imagine the fun De Palma and his assicoates had in designing the sets in combination with the fluid camera-work.

In accordance with the title there is a strong focus on eyes, in various symbolic and physical representations. Gary Sinise's sinister military officer turns the metaphorical 'snake eyes' of the title into an actual facial aspect, becoming less human and more cold and deviously reptile as the movie progresses. Perhaps this ocular theme justified use of POV flashback sequences (some which are actually 'false') that occur three times, but they are largely unsuccessful and distracts the viewer by inserting new dimensions to little effect. In typical BDP fashion the inspired creativity goes one step too far, but its more of an annoyance than truly damaging.

Nicholas Cage was at the peak of his career around this time, and his hyper-active police detective seems determined to outdo the egocentric cocaine excesses seen in Face/Off. Unfortunately we are never told why his character behaves like a race horse on steroids. One might argue that Cage's performance is in line with the general larger-than-life tone of the movie, but it fails to add or expand on that tone, and makes for an awkward transition to the weary, disenchanted person he becomes towards the end. Gary Sinise on the other hand acts like he understands the movie completely, and while his performance also becomes weighed down by the exaggerated demands of the script towards the final scenes, the convincing military persona and gradually demasked 'snake' of the title is a major asset. Carla Gugino is very comic book-like as a reluctant heroine, actually more comic book-like than in Sin City, and while charming in presence her character isn't given enough respect by script or direction. The rest of the cast isn't bad but strangely forgettable, in view of how De Palma on occasion loads his movies with good casting and quirky minor parts.

If you've only seen Snake Eyes once, see it again. I'm not so sure how it would hold up for a third viewing, though. 7/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 2:08 AM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:42 AM MEST
20 April 2013

Topic: *Memorabilia & such

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 10:02 PM MEST
Spartacus (1960)
Now Playing: late night ambience
Topic: S

This is not a full-blown review of Spartacus, which you are likely to have seen and certainly owns no shortage of critique, from Kubrickians and others. Rather, I figured I'd post some random thoughts from my most recent viewing.

The background you know; Kirk Douglas commanded the project and fired the original director after shooting had begun, in his place Douglas recruited the up and coming Stanley Kubrick, who had impressed the Hollywood star when the two collaborated on the much-respected Paths Of Glory (1957). Both Douglas and Kubrick embarked on the Spartacus rescue mission with their own private agendas, which didn't prevent the film from becoming a commercial and critical success.

The first thing to observe is that the movie has aged fairly well. It looks and feels "old" in the sense of a classic Hollywood production, but only rarely does it seem dated. This era saw a number of ancient epics such as Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, El Cid et al. Of these, Spartacus is clearly the most relevant experience for a modern viewer. This is not due to some particularly brilliant directing from Kubrick, who does a skilful but fairly traditional job on the massive Cecil B DeMille type sequences, and lets the actors dominate the smaller scenes. One could say that if Kubrick's objective was to add a successful A-list movie to his resume', he did it just right. Thanks to the strength of the story, the frequently terrific acting, and a shrewd use of classic plot devices, the movie ages with dignity, like an old Bentley.

But it takes a few particular actors and scenes to make Spartacus a living experience rather than just a grand exhibition piece. Top honors must go to Charles Laughton who plays his scheming, powerful yet goodhearted Roman senator as though it had been custom-made for him. It is a wonderful display of a kind of larger than life performance that would fall out of fashion a few years later, and has never really returned. Laughton turns his Gracchus into a vividly alive and generous Falstaff kind of man, while on another level he is a survivor among the backstabbers in Rome and undoubtedly one with blood on his hands.

Yet this exquisite package isn't all that the viewer perceives, because Laughton's presence carries just enough of a hint of irony, like a quick wink of the eye, to remind you and the crew and probably himself too, that this is all theatre. This meta-comment is effective for several reasons, the simplest one being that it is true, it is all theatre and the audience is granted the intelligence to share this consensual hallucination with Laughton and Olivier and the other great actors.

Furthermore, the setting of the senate in Rome resembles a stage where political monologues and dialogues determine the nation's future, and the scenes in this milieu, strongly dominated by Laughton, emerge as a kind of play-within-play in Shakespeare's manner. This observation suggests another undercurrent to Laughton's multilayered presence; the enormous tradition of stage productions set in the classic Rome of Spartacus, leading by way of Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar all the way back to the playwrights and rhetoric masters of the ancient high culture. In addition to bringing to life his admirably vivacious Gracchus, Laughton's subtle meta-performance reminds us of the extraordinary context, even in a commercial Hollywood movie, of a Roman stage.

Of course, Laurence Olivier and Peter Ustinov hold their own ground as thespians; Olivier's complex, ambivalent Crassus bringing much of the same Shakespearean nutrition to the table as Laughton, while the younger Ustinov represents a slightly more naturalistic and less formalized kind of acting. The scenes between Laughton and Ustinov are not only wondrously entertaining, but also make for a passing of the torch, to some extent.

The American actors can't help but suffering in the Anglofied tone of the movie, and there is an awkward clash between traditions at times, such as Olivier and his brother in law (Broadway actor John Dall) who seem to be in separate movies. Kirk Douglas, whose movie it after all is, does a good job in emphasizing the physical aspects of his Spartacus; a commanding example of the hero in his most visceral incarnation. With this choice comes a natural lack of insight behind the righteous warrior mask of Spartacus, whose entire emotional life is distilled down to his love for Varinia (a very beautiful Jean Simmons). The hero archetype rests comfortably on Douglas' broad shoulders, but it also shifts the thematic bias away from the notion of the 'rebel' to that of the 'warrior', and turns Spartacus into more of a war movie than it maybe should have been. Compared with Ridley Scott's Gladiator, Spartacus finds a presumed rebel becoming a field general, while Gladiator finds a field general becoming a rebel. The later movie gains in emotional pull from this characterization of the hero role.

Kubrick may not have left too strong a mark on this movie, except for its general excellence, but the memorable final scene stands out enough that it hints of the unique ideation of the great director. As the crucificed hero suffers on the cross, his wife and new-born child stand by and silently weep, unable to reveal their identity. It's a heavy, archetypal scene, if not outright psychedelic then certainly Jungian, and it is a fitting apex to a closing reel that also saw Olivier and Douglas finally meet in a scene which brilliantly contrasts two types of power--that of the office and law, with that of nature and the common man. While the overall bias towards a gung-ho war movie reduces the movie of its potential multi-layered quality, there are enough moments of depth and ambivalence to satisfy the psychedelic mind, and the closing scene in particular is almost Dali-esque.

A final thought: Kubrick does well in exploting the studio resources and huge number of extras at his hands, and creates a movie that truly looks expensive, even today. At the same time, many of the sets still look like studio back-lot creations in a manner typical of older Hollywood movies, and it's unfortunate that not more filming took place in actual outdoors settings. This effect is compounded by a curious presentation of Southern Italy as about the same size as your local neighborhood, so that slaves on the run keep bumping into one another in the most unlikely fashion. These two drawbacks are perhaps the strongest reminders that the movie belongs to a much earlier era and different audience attitude than Scott's Gladiator.

NOTE: the reinstated scenes featuring a subtle (or not so subtle) homosexual undertone between Olivier and young Tony Curtis are quite worthwhile and contribute to the modern and more ambiguous aspect of Spartacus. The sequence is slightly inferior technically and you can tell where it begins and ends, but it nevertheless is a vital addition to the film. Anthony Hopkins was apparently hired to imitate Olivier's voice as the original soundtrack had been lost, while Curtis was still around and redid himself.

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 12:49 AM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:41 AM MEST
14 April 2013
Two-Minute Warning (1976)
Now Playing: Spirit "Family That Plays Together"
Topic: T

I actually picked this one up by accident as I was looking for Peter Bogdanovich's debut movie The Sniper, and the two movies have very similar titles when translated into our local language. That the actors didn't match up or that the year was off by 8 years apparently didn't register with me, but that's what late-night binge-shopping on the internet is all about.

As luck had it, Two-Minute Warning turned out to be highly enjoyable and I would surely have seen it sooner or later anyway. I have no memories of its original run back in 1976-77, but it clearly belongs to the genre of 'disaster movies' that were in vogue in the mid-70s, sometimes involving Mother Nature, sometimes terrorists, and sometimes both. Those familiar with John Frankenheimer's Black Sunday will recognize certain elements instantly, the most obvious being an assault taking place during a football game. However, Two-Minute Warning is the earlier of the two and holds its own ground well. I was particularly impressed with the pacing and scene transitions, and the editing received a well-earned Oscar nomination.

Director Larry Peerce is not a major Hollywood name, and at the time of this movie he was a veteran of mainly TV work, and in the later part of his career he did more TV and a number of low-profile romantic dramas for the silver screen. Though unfamiliar with his oeuvre I suspect that Two-Minute Warning may be the best thing he put his name on. It's not a 'New Hollywood' movie per se, but like Don Siegel and Sam Peckinpah there is a natural affinity with the grim realism that the new generation favored. Based on a novel the script is tightly written as it unfolds, minute by minute, the desperate hunt for a crazy sniper whose next move no one can predict. Charlton Heston is a less than ideal choice for the main part, and John Cassavetes seems overly intellectual for a SWAT team leader, but the two get a fairly enjoyable tougher-than-thou chemistry going. It's interesting to speculate what a truly progressive casting job, such as in Dog Day Afternoon, might have brought out from this movie. But this is not really an actor showpiece or a character study, but a straightforward action thriller, and should be judged as such. I do sense a bit of Don Siegel as general inspiration, and the surprisingly bleak plot twists towards the end recall the chilly moods of the first two Dirty Harry movies, as an example, as does the sniper theme and the extensive use of real, outdoor locations rather than studio sets.

The cast is wide enough to look almost like a multi-story ensemble piece, but all the cords are tied together towards the end in an effective manner. Beau Bridges appears as a blue collar family man who suspects something's wrong, while Gena Rowlands has an unexpected but funny part as an ageing Southern belle. We're also treated to TV heroes David Janssen (The Fugitive) and Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple). Martin Balsam's presence brought Pelham 1-2-3 to mind, another quality disaster movie from the time. I deserve a moderate pat on the back for spotting Robert Ginty (of early video rental B-movie classic The Exterminator fame) in a 1-line part.

As a final note in praise of the direction, Two-Minute Warning features some of the best 'crowd hysteria' scenes I have seen in a movie this old. This is a very challenging task where just one extra not giving his all as the panic ensues can ruin a whole shot. But the scenes feel very real, near-documentary at their best. 7/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 8:35 PM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:40 AM MEST
8 April 2013
Topic: *Memorabilia & such

"I just do eyes"

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 9:14 PM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:40 AM MEST
Thor vs Lucky Number Slevin - 100 mcg capsule reviews
Now Playing: Parameter "Galactic Ramble"
Topic: L

A couple of quick takes on things recently watched....

THOR (2011) turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable and amplifies the impression that Hollywood may have figured out, finally, how to handle these Marvel comic heroes. Iron Man was the first step in the right direction, Avengers was eminently entertaining, and Thor pretty much so too. I get the feeling that someone in charge realized that these movies should be a concern for a much wider audience than nostalgic ex-teenyboppers, and so they lost the lame, Disneyfying strain that made almost all the earlier instalments shallow and impersonal. Choosing Kenneth Branagh to direct certainly indicates a motion away from the by-the-numbers instalments in the Spiderman and X-Men series. That's not to say that Thor is a particularly brilliant movie, but you don't need to care one iota for the old comic book (which I always found silly) or even know that it exists in order to enjoy this dynamic, expressive and surprisingly funny popcorn movie. The main character comes across as a surfer more than a jock, and the casting is pretty solid (Loki is bulls-eye; Anthony Hopkins as Odin perhaps less so). A straightforward yet arresting storyline, an evil-looking enemy clan led by a superbly menacing Colm Feore, and tons of beautiful CGI panoramas. If there is a sequel I look forward to it. 7/10

LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN (2006) is something different altogether, basically a late addition to the very long -- perhaps too long -- lineage that goes back to the two-fisted mid-'90s impact of Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting. British director McGuigan did the very violent and slightly disturbing Gangster No 1 prior to this, but the uncompromising tone of that flick isn't really on display here, until towards the end. Prior to that it bounces along nicely as an unfazed Josh Hartnett gets dragged into a gangster rivalry with the typical near-parody style of early Tarantino. However, the script pulls out an increasing flow of twists that should surprise even one familiar with the genre, and the resolution near the end is quite effective, not just for its intrinsic logic, but because it goes hand in hand with a sharpening of the overall tone of the movie. And just as you enjoyed that closure, another twist comes along. Credibility is stretched, of course, but the rules of the aesthetic universe are never violated, and so it works. The oft-maligned Hartnett is unusually well-cast in a role that looks back to his break-through as a cool, self-serving slacker in The Faculty, while Bruce Willis does one of the colder hit-men you've seen. Oddly, grand elders Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley are less successful, the former just going through his usual black patriarch motions, the latter seemingly at odds with his lines of dialogue. The producers could have saved a lot of money by hiring lesser name actors who would have brought more energy to these characters. Lucy Liu is as pretty as ever and gets a part with direct involvement in the plot, rather than just a love interest. Not a perfect movie or even a great one, but in this crowded genre a highly competent addition. 7/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 8:59 PM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:39 AM MEST
7 April 2013
The Ninth Gate (1999)
Now Playing: Flashback vol 6 (Antar)
Topic: N
Roman Polanski making an occult movie seemed fairly intriguing to me, and for the first half or so I really enjoyed The Ninth Gate. The concept of the devil's engravings was spot on for the genre, and the use of various European locations added to the atmosphere. Unfortunately - like others have remarked - the last 10 minutes didn't really work, and this affected the impression of the entire movie which sort of fell apart in retrospect.

On the plus side, there were some striking images - like Frank Langella's fire scene, or the wheelchair/fire scene - that only a first-rate filmmaker like Polanski could come up with. Like other viewers I thought about Eyes Wide Shut during some scenes, but that was a much more serious and developed movie. I liked Johnny Depp's performance, though his character was unsympathetic and he didn't seem as focused as in Donnie Brasco for instance. Those who like me have dabbled in rare book or rare record dealing may take a special interest in The Ninth Gate as Polanski in passing gives a sardonic but believable peek into the mechanics of that trade.

Someone called this a 'lazy' movie by Polanski, and I guess that's a good description. You can see the talent and the fun he had, but there was no real commitment. 6.5 / 10.

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 9:22 PM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:38 AM MEST
3 April 2013
Mission To Mars (1998)
Now Playing: Real Madrid-Galatasaray
Topic: M

I am not sure why Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars has provoked so much dislike. Most of the supposed flaws - the stiff, mannered 1950s style acting, the highly dramatic music score, the plot clichés - should be regarded as deliberate references to the cinematic history of science fiction, which is exactly what one would expect from an unrepentant film student like De Palma. My guess would be that the audience failed to understand the intentions behind this movie, not least those who were expecting another one-dimensional Armageddon-type blockbuster. Misapprehension has been a familiar refrain through much of De Palma's career and seems particularly unfortunate here, as this is a movie that is easy to like if you let it. Most importantly, it carries a generous portion of the key ingredient that sci-fi genre fans refer to as 'Sense of wonder'. At the same time, this is no 2001, as a closer scrutiny reveals.

On the minus side, the exposition is very weak, especially by De Palma standards (recall the dazzling openings of Bonfires Of The Vanities or Snake Eyes). Furthermore, the stereotyped acting of Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins in particular, though humorous and appropriate from a genre history viewpoint, can't help but diminish the dramatic impact of the movie, especially as De Palma simultaneously asks us to care for these characters. The sets are uneven, with the makeshift Martian base failing to convince.

On the plus side is an interesting plot idea, presented in a backward fashion and revealed towards the end in a much more elegant way than the highly similar plot element in Prometheus; some stunning visual effects and camera-work that are trademark De Palma, several intense and dramatic scenes also typical of his self-confident direction, and the aforementioned 'sense of wonder' (not unlike Contact) which is something that cannot be nailed down but needs to be experienced. The logic-defying and sometimes ludicrous plot-twists and character inconsistencies that have been the largest recurring problem in De Palma's movies are almost (almost) entirely absent here; the story moves along on a steady, even keel, much like the old Hollywood movies it resembles.

To my mind this movie's merits by far outweighs it flaws, and it is unfortunate for Brian de Palma that he again had to suffer from the audience's misconceptions and ideas about genre movies, rather than being judged as the talented, serious filmmaker that he is. I loved this movie, and rate it among his best. 8/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 10:05 PM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:38 AM MEST
Single sentence review of Prometheus (2012)
Topic: P
Finally watched Ridley Scott's Prometheus after hearing very mixed opinions to it and, uh, it was that sinking experience where things start out looking really cool, and then there is something, after 10 minutes or so, just some little bit of poor acting or illogical behavior, that makes you go "hmm?", and then you keep watching hoping for it to pick up the trajectory towards the great movie it should be, but then there is another wrong detail, maybe a little bigger, and then comes something really fucked up that belongs in a B-movie, and you begin to realize that this isn't a great movie or even a pretty good movie but in fact a failure, a hack job, a grand gesture full of sloppy wrinkles* and when it's over you're in a strange mood because you still recall the great, imaginative, thought-provoking movie you thought it might be, and patiently waited for while irritation built steadily for two hours.

*I wrote the one-sentence review about two months ago, and have since found that images and scenes from the movie keep popping up in my head, so clearly it worked on some level. I can't think of any other movie with such a gap between the visual style (brilliantly memorable) and the story (poorly written, poorly handled). Finding Ridley Scott in the same fold as Dario Argento and Brian de Palma** is a bit surprising, but he actually outdoes these loose cannon-auteurs in both good and bad ways. Does this mean Prometheus will become a cult movie? Or will the cringeworthy idiocies of the script linger as its tombstone?
**Speaking of de Palma, Prometheus borrows several key ideas from de Palma's Mission To Mars, an underrated work which despite its modest resources is superior as a total film in my view.

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 5:02 PM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:37 AM MEST
Drive, He Said (1970)
Now Playing: Tourniquet on RPC
Topic: D
For no obvious reason, local TV decided to show Jack Nicholson's half-forgotten and generally un-loved directorial debut Drive, He Said (1970) the other night. This one has been hard to find (not out on DVD until 2010) and I happily crossed another obscure New Hollywood title from my viewing list.

This joy over-shadows the actual watching experience, as this isn't a very good movie, even if it has all the vital bits present (BBS production, Bruce Dern, realistic settings, Karen Black, jump cuts, shakey-cam, context-less shots, the whole French '60s shit). The poor casting is a major problem, which seems curious with JACK directing, but the main guy is a pretty terrible actor, lacking both talent and experience. The actor portraying the increasingly psychotic best friend makes a scenery-chewing effort that doesn't really work but at least keeps you awake. The others range from annoying to OK, but except for Dern and Black basically no one went on to a real acting career... which confirms the poor casting. The only exception is Mike Warren who became a major TV name with Hill Street Blues, and he does well here.

Anyway, some scenes are terrible, some are confusing, and in a few rare cases things work. The story isn't a story as much as a mood, but that is basically what one expects with these early '70s New Hollywood outings. The main character is torn between following his counterculture buddies quest for freedom and revolution, and to pursue his basketball career and turn pro. The End. Well, almost, there's a jumbled love story involving Karen Black also. I predict that people who aren't used to watching these type of dated period movies will find Drive, He Said a boring chaos. Even with the spirit of anarchy at the time, the movie proved too untogether for both audiences and critics. Nicholson soon realized he'd made a mistake, and bought out the rights and all copies in order to bury it. 5/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 4:36 PM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:36 AM MEST
Timothy Leary's Last Trip (1997)
Topic: T

The first half of this 55-minute documentary is a recap of the early/mid-1960s LSD scene, when both Timothy Leary & Ken Kesey rose to prominence. There is lots of Merry Prankster '60s archive footage, some of which I didn't immediately recognize, and which may be unique to this feature. There's also some interesting old Leary footage, the bulk of it from the circa 1974 interview also seen in Timothy Leary's Dead. Some minor errors occur in the chronology and presentation of events, the most amusing (possibly a Prank?) assigning Wavy Gravy's name to a photo of Tiny Tim!

The second half of the movie concerns Leary's last 'trip', which turns out to be two trips -- one to a Hog Farm commune get-together in 1995, with some historically important footage of Kesey and Leary hanging out together. Contemporary interviews include original Pranksters George Walker and Wavy Gravy (looking great, like an old Polynesian tribe chief), and Kesey & Leary. Interspersed throughout is an interview with Leary from a studio (or his home), which I think is unique to this movie. There's some on-stage footage with Grateful Dead type music and Pranksters in costumes, and Leary giving the event his benediction.

Leary's 'second last trip' is a meeting on Internet between himself and Kesey, shortly before he died. It's pretty amusing to see the funky connection and very old-skool Netscape browsers this many years later. Not much of importance is said, it's mainly an exchange of greetings done in accordance with a technology shift that Leary, always the futurist, understood and embraced.

The director O B Babbs (Merry Prankster legend Ken Babbs' son) appears as a narrator here and there, and does a good job; and his handsome male-model looks are no drawback. There's a certain student film feel to this, but those familiar with what's been coming out of the revived Prankster nexus in Oregon will recognize and enjoy the home-made charm. Sentimentality is present, and may have been given a boost by the passing away of Jerry Garcia around this time, but considering who we are dealing with, there's certainly room for, and a need for, documentation.

Like Timothy Leary's Dead this movie has some specific, minor flaws, but combining these two fan-oriented DVD features you get a terrific view of Leary, the modern (post-1960) history of LSD, and a substantial dose of the equally important Merry Pranksters. A certain interest in the subject and personages is required, which I have no lack of. For those demanding a more refined cinematic coverage of some of the same topics, the more recent Magic Trip documentary should be the first stop. 7/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 12:26 AM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:36 AM MEST
The Fury (1978)
Topic: F
One of Brian De Palma's lesser known works, at least around where I live, I recently watched The Fury for the first time in 25 years. I had forgotten that I had actually seen it before, but as the movie progressed, I began recognizing certain scenes, while a lot of the rest seemed completely unfamiliar.

This is I think typical of this movie, and a lot of De Palma's films -- there will be long sequences with dull dialogue where you wonder why they weren't edited down, and some dubious acting and bizarre plot twists, and then suddenly there will be a sequence of 5 or 10 minutes that is just dazzling. De Palma here had a finalized story-line to work with (from a novel), and didn't script himself, which is good news for those familiar with some of his auteur derailments.

At the same time, the script of The Fury shows some of the director's typical weaknesses (lack of logic, inconsistent characters, etc), and it's too bad that a third party wasn't brought in to tighten up the narrative flow, strengthen the logic, and remove weak dialogue. So, ultimately, it looks very much like a typical De Palma work, a B-movie with some dazzling cinematography and a few quite powerful scenes.

The good news is that the basic premise of the story is pretty interesting and at least to me in 2007, one of the assets of the movie. The notion of the two young psychics, both victims rather than masters of their powers, is an arresting idea, and while the terrorist angle is unnecessary, I could imagine someone turning The Fury into a pretty good movie today.

The second asset is, to my mild surprise, Amy Irving, who delivers a terrific performance, and actually seems a little too good for this occasionally hokey movie. She's believable, convincing, and often moving. I read some snide comment about her over-preparing for B-movies, but for The Fury at least, I am grateful for this commitment. Her shock at her own uncontrollable powers is brilliantly performed, and makes for those sudden jumps in your attention, when the movie has dragged on for too long. Very nice work.

The other actors seem to work on routine; Kirk Douglas acts as if he's in a B-movie about spies, and has some bad dialogue to deal with. Andrew Stevens looks right for the part, and while not a convincing actor, his creepy hunk presence seems appropriate, especially towards the end of the movie. Cassavetes is OK, but not more, and looks somewhat uncomfortable with his black suit and busted-up arm.

Some of the camera-work is excellent, and as always with De Palma, there are a few show-off pieces where he goes into long complex montages that aren't really motivated by the context or narrative development, but are nevertheless exciting too watch. The feeling is, as often, that a lot of the other stuff in the movie he doesn't really care for, as long as he can deliver these 5-minute masterpieces of cinema craft here and there.

Ultimately, thanks to the arresting basic premise, the occasionally masterful direction, and the performance of Amy Irving, I enjoyed The Fury a little more than I expected to. I can see how it may appear ludicrous or bizarre to others, but that wide range of responses is what you get most of the time when the director is Mr De Palma. 7/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 12:02 AM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:35 AM MEST
2 April 2013
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Topic: S

I didn't get to see Sherlock Holmes until now, but its rather favorable reception upon release had me curious, along with the surprising casting choices. It marks Guy ‘Snatch’ Ritchie's return to A-list movies after a long slump that involved serial career-killer Madonna among other things. Ritchie's direction here is full of self-confidence, although some might feel that the Tarantino school of kinetic action and playful meta-cinema is getting old.

I wanted to like this movie, and for the first 15 minutes or so, I felt that its bold take on the Sherlock Holmes mythology worked well. But then, just like with Prometheus, false notes began to appear here and there, and they seemed to grow louder with each re-occurrence. Casting a very American method actor like Robert Downey in a role whose outward appearance has been defined by the artistocratic features of Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett is a daring choice that borders on the bizarre but, again, for a while it seemed to work. Downey has earned a reputation of being a very gifted actor, and even when he's in deep water he remains watchable. But his take on the role seems almost like an understudy variant of his 'Tony Stark' (Iron Man) character. He expresses at least two different simultaneous emotions in every shot, which is useful in psychological dramas or to inject depth into airhead Marvel movies, but is not something you would link with Victorian Britain and its ritualized use of outward control and the stiff upper lip, nor does it conform in any way to the way Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed in the past, least of all in Conan Doyle's stories.

It is billed as a Sherlock Holmes movie, and makes extensive use of details from the Holmes myth, but neither the protagonist nor the basic plot bear much resemblance to the stories that made Holmes world famous. To begin with, there should be a distinct crime and an associated mystery, which form the riddle for Holmes' logic to disentangle. Everything else should be secondary to the carefully constructed problem which the great detective is to solve with his deductive reasoning. This movie isnt't like that; it's more like a Jason Bourne film set in 1890 London. Some of this is clearly on the director's wishes, but too much of the most recognizable elements of Holmes are sacrificed. The jarring feeling is amplified by a narrative that confuses intelligence with arcane knowledge, as if Holmes was in line for a sequel to The Da Vinci Code. Deductive logic, the type of intelligence championed by Doyle and incarnated in Holmes, is hardly ever put on display in the film. The type of audience participation that comes with classic murder puzzles, where the reader/viewer can try to match his wits with the detective is made near-impossible by the confused, uncomprehending way Ritchie & co deals with Holmes’ methods of logic and objectivity.

Instead of delighting in the man’s brain power, we are treated to a number of overlong fistfights and slow-motion explosions that seem targetted at a bonehead audience who liked Ritchie’s Brit gangster flicks for the wrong reasons, and have never heard of Conan Doyle. At its worst, Sherlock Holmes feels as if someone who owned the movie rights to the character name used it to cash in by making a movie that drew on several recent successes and whose hero just happens to be named Sherlock Holmes. It is so removed from the Holmes universe that the hero and film could have claimed to be 100% original and named something else, 'Reginald Clark, Victorian Superhero' or whatever, but of course many more people will go to see a 'Sherlock Holmes' movie.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the script; the plot was overwraught and its fake magic too similar to recent successes The Prestige and The Illusionist. It is historically accurate to depict magick activity within English society during the fin de siecle era; the problem is that this theme of magick rarely or maybe even never entered Doyle's Sherlock Holmes canon. So even in its subject matter, the movie manages to distance itself from the canonical source. The classic Holmes stories are often eerie and ghostly, but this is due to the seemingly inexplicable mystery that Holmes is to solve, combined with a clever use of gothic or exotic details. 'The Sign Of Four' is masterful in this respect, and the fine TV series with Jeremy Brett captured this eerie suspense well. This movie, however, is not about creepy atmospheres and spooky details; it's loud and brash whereever it goes. For someone like me, who grew up with Doyle's stories, this film is more an insult than anything else; Downey's drastic reinterpretation of the role is one thing, but the scripts' attempts to replace deductive intelligence with obscure knowledge lacks all justification.

On the upside, Jude Law seems comfortable with his rather young Dr Watson, and he goes some way to keep the movie on an identifiable stylistic track. Rachel MacAdam is pretty and likable, but hardly ideally cast for an international jewel thief, with her high school girl demeanor. Mark Strong is good as the main villain, and the minor roles are generally well executed. Except for some mediocre CGI, Victorian London is convincingly rebuilt and the movie makes excellent use of both muddy streets and landmarks new (London Bridge is shown under construction) and old. Similarly the costume work is impressive, offering lots of variation in fabric, patterns and styles, despite the supposed uniform dress codes of the era. The clothes look used and worn, for an additional nice detail. The only dubious note is a bizarre Gary Numan-like jacket worn by 'Dr Watson' in a restaurant scene.

This movie clearly works better for those unfamiliar with the classic Sherlock Holmes universe, which it has little in common with. But the plot is too clichéd and comic book-like to turn this into a period action story that truly works, and the viewer is left with a movie that has all its best elements in the periphery, while its core is insufficiently thought-out and unsteadily built. I'm not sure why Sherlock Holmes was so enthusiastically received, but I suspect it rode on the trend of comic superhero movies, an angle which Robert Downey's presence and performance amplifies. 6/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 12:17 AM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:34 AM MEST
29 March 2013
Emperor Of The North (1973)
Topic: E

This week's obscure '70s movie is EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973), an archetypal tough-guy-duel set during the Great Depression. Lee Marvin is the experienced hobo vagabond who knows every trick of the road, Ernest Borgnine the sadistic train conductor who kills hobos who try to get a free ride on "his" train. It turns into a battle of wits and strength while the entire hobo community roots for Marvin's character*. Added to the basic story is a young hobo in training, an obnoxious smart-mouth played by Keith Carradine. Marvin reluctantly takes this kid on as a protege while trying to outsmart Borgnine, let alone survive. The movie is brilliantly shot by a director and cinematographer who clearly loved the challenge of shooting trains in a (Northern California) rural setting. Although not a high-budget movie the attention to detail is excellent, and the portrayal of the hobos as essentially proud men hit by hard times who maintain their special code seems convincing. Apparently Jack London's vagrant novels were an inspiration. No one can go wrong casting Marvin and Borgnine who both excel at their classic typecast best--Marvin tough as hell but a decent man, Borgnine tough but vicious and evil. The final battle between the two is a fitting ending to the movies, neatly closing the arc from an equally effective exposition.
Director Robert Aldrich (best known movie: "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?") was no 'New Hollywood' auteur, but much like Sam Peckinpah his feel for realistic, grim action makes for a movie that has aged well--much better than, say, "Kelly's Heroes". So what is the problem? Well, Keith Carradine's part was not well-written, and he was apparently unable to improve or solve its problems. The thing to do then is to underplay the part and let the audience fillout the blanks, but unfortunately young Carradine** goes the otherway and overplays his part, with absurd and unfounded mood shifts and a general lack of conviction no matter what he does. His final scene in the movie is fitting, not just for his character, but for Carradine himself. Apart from this, a rather fine movie worth seeing. Note: there is not a single female character in the film. The IMDB rating is pretty good and I concur (7/10).

*1980s movie "Runaway Train" borrows quite a bit from this one.

**Turns out this was Keith Carradine's debut in a major feature. I guess he has enough screen presence not to have his career ruined by the bad acting here. A little later he did "The Duelists" with Harvey Keitel -- another forgotten '70s movie and in fact Ridley Scott's first movie -- and there was nothing wrong with his performance there

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 12:51 AM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:34 AM MEST
28 March 2013
The third eye opens
Now Playing: Robin Hood (2010)

Welcome to this movie blog, edited and maintained by Patrick, i e: me. Some of you may know me from, my long-running website devoted to psychedelic culture, or from the two books I've published on the same subject.

Reflections Of The Third Eye is a little different from those enterprises, in that it's not presented from the perspective of a devoted specialist. Rather, it is a non-expert's take on movies he has recently seen, non-scholarly but potentially informative and hopefully entertaining.

Old, new, famous and obscure movies are all featured here. I have a special love for the so-called 'New Hollywood' cinema, meaning basically American 1970s movies, and the blog will feature a lot of those. Also, with my psychedelic orientation, I take a certain interest in movies that are in some way or other related to hallucinogens or altered states.

Feel free to comment, complain and suggest. This is partly intended as a movie review repository for my own use, and will be kept alive as long as the creek don't rise and the mill ain't closing.

My favorite movies? Easy. There are four which stand head and shoulders above everything else in my world: Apocalypse Now (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Taxi Driver (1976) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

 On with the show...

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 11:52 PM MEST

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