Review: Wild Side (1995)

“I take offence to that, the rape of my protégé. You know what you get for rape? 10 years in a cell with a gorilla! A psycho gorilla!”

The film that killed Donald Cammell.

A seedy neo-noir with the usual things to say about the relationship between sex and power, Wild Side is elevated by director Donald Cammell’s sensuously offbeat vision and the most Christopher Walken performance I’ve ever seen Walken do. He wears a jet-black wig in this movie and screams about having to go to meetings. He’s simultaneously distancing and entrancing.

Anne Heche stars as a banking exec who moonlights as a high-end escort. She gets tangled up in a sting operation set up by an undercover rapist cop (a hyper-macho Steven Bauer) to take down Walken’s corrupt financier. Unfortinately, Heche can’t help but fall in love with Walken’s girlfriend, played with effortless magnetism (but little actual character) by Joan Chen. Things quickly spiral out of control, as they are wont to do.

This is essentially soft-core Hitchcock, a rote erotic noir narrative that’s enlivened by the intensely strange script. Every scene goes on a little too long, every exchange a purple whatsit of psychosexual tangents, every line just a little off. Cammell shoots everything with his customary flat bloom lighting that pushes everything into a dream-like realm that is always suggesting someone is about to have photo-ready sex, even when no one is fucking. Cammell compounds the discomfort by vacillating between rapid fire cuts and languid long takes, constantly pushing the viewer off balance and almost, almost making them forget that what they’re watching is trite BS.

Tragically, this would be Cammell’s last film. Originally made for an exploitation production company with the promise of classing the place up, Wild Side was eventually taken away from Cammell and edited against his wishes. He killed himself. A couple of years later, friends and collaborators put together Cammell’s original vision.

I watched that cut.


Review: Murderlust (1985)

The quotidian misogynist.

Thoroughly pleased by its ability to create consistent discomfort, Murderlust finds great power in following its fucked-up protagonist in extreme, banal detail.

Our main man is a Sunday school teacher and security guard who moonlights as an explicitly misogynistic serial killer. We are not privy to the origin of his hatred, all we are given is the procedure to every aspect of his life. We follow our moustachioed asshole as he attempts to pay rent, as he rises up in the church, as he tries to go on dates, as he just lounges around his apartment. All the while, he contemplates killing the women he finds so dire. Murderlust is not gory, it’s not particularly exciting, but it is compellingly tedious. By bathing us in the whole existence of this self-loathing killer, director Donald M. Jones is able to acclimate us to his worldview, the true boredom that permeates every aspect of his life; when the murders finally do occur, they become cathartic, for him and the audience – finally something of interest.

And that’s the rub, the true power of this film. Jones forces us to empathise with this psycho, if only on a very primal level, partially created by our expectations of horror movies. Truly sickening shit that made me feel dirty.

Well worth a watch.

Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

So immaculately designed to be of a future aesthetic that really hasn’t existed since the late 90s that it’s hard for me not to at least fall a little under its spell. Johansson brings a Deneuve-like blankness to the role that’s perfect for the role, recalling her amazing work in Under the Skin. As a person who never really cared for the original anime’s goofy sci-fi, philosophical speeches, this one’s purely superficial interest in those aspects worked for me. It moves like the original never did, probably because this is an action movie, first and foremost.

As for the whitewashing controversy – well, yeah, it’s still fucked at a very basic level. However, I was surprised to find that the writers had at least attempted a justification for it, a justification which has thematic threads throughout the script. Whether or not this was a post-controversy rationalisation, the choice the filmmaker’s make is purposeful and almost works. Ghost in the Shell attempts to be a commentary on a post-nationalist, globalised culture – one that informs its very production and the way film distribution is changing day to day. Is globalisation the result of the still lingering tendrils of imperialism? What will be its effect on the future? These are the questions that the film raises when it reveals the origin/rationale for The Major’s race.

Now, the big problem with this approach is that the film doesn’t actually make a statement regarding those questions. There’s no opinion posited, even though it feints at the obvious negative. And so it ends up feeling half-assed, insensitive. Which, I guess actually plays into the heart of its explorations.

Review: Blonde Death (1984)

“What’s wrong with a dad letting his daughter wear her momma’s big heels and walk all over daddy’s face?”

I went into this expecting an entertaining ineptitude, and nothing more. I was happily surprised to find that, while such ineptitude exists, it is clearly the result of a refusal to compromise a vision, not a lack intelligence or craft.

Every line in this film is gold and utterly quotable. It’s a hilarious, angry, screaming shit on the face of suburbia, consumerism, organised religion, sexuality – anything and everything under the sun. Writer/director James Dillinger was once called the “angriest gay man in Brooklyn” and he lives up to that title. He wields his wit like a crowbar, and every blunt joke and rant hits in a powerful, if obviously blunt fashion. This is a film where (SMALL SPOILER) the characters sneak into Disneyland (and actually film there) and poison the entire park with cyanide Tang. Take that, Escape from Tomorrow. James Dillinger, bless his bastard soul, rips my throat out and makes me cackle with what’s left.

To end this review, a bunch of wonderful quotes:

“Nice girls FUCK.”

“I’m so sexed up right now, I could pump it to a weasel in a mini-skirt.”

“When that bible study retreat collapsed, I just snapped.”

“We may even die!” “As long as you’re inside me when it happens.”

“Redneck pork belly duster driving can’t even tell a cli-TOR-is from a broken fan belt!”

“We went for a windswept drive through the vast mediocre swaths of Orange County.”

“We’re going to be one big happy menage-a-twat.”

“I haven’t cried since I saw ET, but this is too much.”

And, finally,

“Sure beats watching MTV.”

Review: Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)

“There is no end.”

A feral, feverish nightmare of a film that is well worth your time.

The first hour is basically just abstraction, speeding through the suggestion of plot rather that a real thing. Then, it becomes a nonstop brutal whirlwind of action, so vicious and surreal that it’s both darkly comic and terrifying.  It’s essentially a horror film, bringing up questions of free will and identity – are you the product of your choices?  What if your choices were illusions, a series of pieces set from the start? If you are without choice, if you have no input on where you end up, are you really anything other than a vessel for others?

When Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning finally reaches its conclusion in a fight with a phantom-like, face-painted Jean Claude Van Damme, it feels less like a release and more like a quiet failure, the only victory in the fact that no one has to kill anyone for at least a little while.

This film will haunt me.

Review: White of the Eye (1987)

“He offered me homemade peanut-butter. What do you think that means?”

A serial killer is murdering house-wives in a ritualistic fashion across an arid southern city. The top suspect is David Keith’s Paul, a hi-fi stereo installation man who is known for letting the soundscape of a room echo through his head.

White of the Eye quickly pushes aside its serial killer mystery for a blown out, surreal character study of the enigmatic Paul, a man who seems to represent the corruption of American idealism. He’s described as once having dreams, of being the most intelligent man of his town – and now he makes his living selling sound equipment to bored housewives. This is a tale of consumerist possession. His wife, Joan (played by Cathy Moriarty), used to wear her clothes furred and her hair feathered, signifiers of a style long gone – and now she looks like every other woman on the block. The far out hippie spirituality of times past has been replaced with a new, darker kind. Paul is a spiritual man, but he enacts his ritual through the installation of stereos, letting the echoes blast through his skull, having a religious experience by embracing an empty system. And he brings in the old as well, pulling in aspects of Native American religion into his world, embracing a broken form paganistic yuppiedom.

It’s surreal and uncomfortable, lurid and philosophical, melodramatic and horrific – it’s a million things, many of which don’t seem to mesh on paper but come together to something magnificent on film.

Review: Sonny Boy (1989)

“Sonny Boy’s my kid. I made him what he is. And he ain’t no painter.”

A low-rent thief (Brad Dourif) accidentally kidnaps a baby when he steals a car. His boss (Paul L. Smith) and transgendered wife (played by David Carradine with remarkable grace and power, especially considering the type of movie surrounding) decide to raise the child, albeit as a feral instrument of destruction with no tongue. The titular Sonny Boy eventually escapes his twisted family, and his adventures bring unwanted attention upon his family.

On paper, this reads like a grimy Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip-off, but writer Graeme Whifler and director Robert Martin Carroll play it essentially straight, transforming what could be campy horror into surprisingly affecting melodrama. Their secret is sincerity; no matter how horrific or crazy the events depicted, the creators treat them simply as more obstacles to these characters’ happiness. This is a film in which multiple people are murdered via cannon, a film in which Brad Dourif gift’s his recently severed thumb to the boy who bit it off, a film in which a doctor is discredited due to his use of monkey parts – and it is still enormously affecting.

The surprisingly poignant core is helped immeasurably by the performances and score. Everyone here is incredible, especially the aforementioned Carradine and Michael Boston, who brings soul and pain to the mute Sonny Boy. Carlo Cordio (who also scored Troll 2, so I don’t know what’s happening) treats everything with an almost cheesy tragedy, a lilting harmonica that would be ridiculous if it didn’t cut through the insanity so well. And that’s saying nothing of the theme, sung by Carradine himself.

This is a film about devotion and unconditional love. It’s about what it means to love someone because of their flaws, because their flaws are who they are. It’s about being able to see the good in the worst, about finding love in a heart that seemed cold, and about learning to see one’s self as loveable. It’s about love in all forms, in all its power – good and bad.

I’ve been trying to convince myself out of this rating, because it seems kind of crazy, kind of impossible. Sonny Boy, on paper, is not a particularly great movie. Somehow, though, everything comes together in a singular alchemy of exploitation craziness and wistful burden.

There’s something to be said for sincerity.