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Alex Connolly

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Surruptitious Celluloid - Cinema of Shame

by Alex Connolly » Sat Jul 12, 2014 8:06 am

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"Mother! You're alive!"
"Too bad. You...will die!"
Kitana (Talisa Soto) to Sindel (Musetta Vander) in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)


We all have our bad films we love. If we don't, we're lying to ourselves or cutting off our snobby noses to spite our faces. Here, let us celebrate not only the tragedies and projects destined to live on in infamy or ignobility, but also the unsung and misunderstood - in true SoS style. Be merely a quote, or a full-blown analysis, let us walk - hand in hand - through the silver screen of the broken and broken-hearted.

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The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
Appleseed α
Bani Adam
Battle: Los Angeles
Beyond The Black Rainbow
The Dentist
eXistenZ
Filth
The Fourth Kind
The Holy Mountain
Maps To The Stars
One Point O / Paranoia 1.0
Predators
The Rover
Theodore Rex
The Signal
Last edited by Alex Connolly on Thu Nov 06, 2014 11:41 am, edited 11 times in total.
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Re: Surruptitious Celluloid - Cinema of Shame

by Alex Connolly » Sat Jul 12, 2014 12:58 pm

The Fourth Kind (2009)

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I am a huge alien abduction and UFO freak. No qualms, no regrets. I love the paranoia, the pop culture, the allusions to conspiracies and military-industrial complexes. But ever since the end of TV shows like The X-Files and Dark Skies, there's been little left to entertain on the topic. We're a long way out from films like Fire In The Sky and Communion. I am a parched pundit. The glass is sadly empty.

The less we say about the movie unrelated to the TV series, 2013's Dark Skies, the better. What a muddled joke, with a terrible climax and a complete waste of the concept.

In 2009, Olatunde Osunsanmi released his strange science-fiction horror film The Fourth Kind to almost universal panning, so much so that I didn't bother until a few years later. It currently enjoys a single star and 19% on Rotten Tomatoes. No Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, but then, what is?! However, one evening, I decided the time was right, and with expectations markedly low, I dove in to see what Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas and company had achieved.

I was more than pleasantly surprised. I was delighted. While not perfect, this was fresh and engaging and treated the subject matter with the right level of introspection.

Set within the town of Nome, Alaska, psychiatrist Dr. Abigail Tyler (Jovovich) finds herself in the midst of patients reporting eerily similar nocturnal occurrences when undergoing hypnotherapy, with the plot thickening when she herself finds evidence of her own strange encounters.

What makes this particular film so engaging is the way they splice 'found footage' alongside dramatization. In certain scenes, one half of the screen might show Jovovich's character running a patient through a session, and the other, video feed footage of the alleged actual hypnotherapy. It's a great contrast and I found it a very compelling piece of cinematography. Other times, it's simply the 'real footage'.

Moreover, this isn't really a film so much about abductions, but the frailty of the human psyche and how much trust one can place on whether certain events are true or merely hallucinatory hypnagogic states, especially when combined with emotional distress.

The cinematography is stunning, with a fine score by Atli Örvarsson. The film climaxes effectively, inserting esoteric phenomena that would please any Erich von Däniken fan, but never truly diverting from the focus of this being not so much about what lies without, but within. Uneasy moments abound, and the character portrayals - both within the found footage and the deliberate reenactment - are mostly quite good.

It has its flaws, one of them certainly being made outside of the UFO zeitgeist - which, in my opinion, contributed to its lackluster critical reception - and maybe won't surface as a misunderstood cult classic in years to come, but The Fourth Kind is at least interesting. It's delightfully subversive, from the moment Jovovich speaks directly to the camera at the beginning, saying that this entire film is a recreation of events and archive of recorded footage, to having allegedly true and rather chilling MUFON/law enforcement phone conversions with UFO witnesses playing over the end credits.

Not for everyone, and disagreements about, but you don't get films like this very often.
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Re: Surruptitious Celluloid - Cinema of Shame

by Beige » Sat Jul 12, 2014 2:22 pm

Weird film thread! Ooh! Ooh!

Is this where I re-mention that I've been on a Shaolin kick lately after reading Pang the Wandering Monk? It's true. Anyway, thanks to prompting and suggestions from some of you I went ahead and acquired a bunch of random Asian movies which have been making the rotation.

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We started off with the 36 Chambers of Shaolin, one of the all time classics of the kung-fu genre and one which I hadn't seen up until just a few weeks ago. Classic premise: In Ancient China some manchurian assholes roll up into town and start subjugating everyone under the fist of the man. When the troops put the torch to the local school and murder the lovable yet counterinsurgent sensei there, a heartbroken and vengeful student goes on a journey to the mysterious shaolin temple up in the mountains to learn kung-fu.

What was remarkable for the movie at the time (and still is, I guess) is that 75% of the movie is just shaolin training montage. This movie aimed to pull back the curtain about the reputedly true methods the monks use to harden you from a doughboy to hardened badass, so get ready to watch more than an hour of young padawan doing things like walking through chambers of hanging sandbags working on his headbutt and trying to walk on water across thinly scattered driftwood.

Naturally, the story also involves our hero learning that he cannot fast track the 36 chambers (we all loved the scene where he audaciously attempts the final chamber despite being only level 1 at the time), and that kung-fu is more than just punching and kicking but a philosophy and lifestyle as well.

Of course, the final scenes where he descends from the temple like a Bodhisattva of whoopass and proceeds to dispense (calm, measured, brutal) justice on the manchurians is solid gold.

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Oh, also the whole movie is meant to be quasi-historical, with our hero being a sorta real shaolin mythical figure who is credited in kung fu history with the invention of the 3-part-staff. Spoiler, the 3-part-staff features prominently in the final battles.
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Alex Connolly

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Re: Surruptitious Celluloid - Cinema of Shame

by Alex Connolly » Wed Jul 16, 2014 6:54 am

eXistenZ (1999)

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It is certainly no cinema of shame, and undoubtedly seen by many, but if you haven't seen David Cronenberg's twisted techno layer cake and you happen to like video games, it's the best damn observation of the medium yet achieved. It speaks the language of video games with such an eye for the quirks and idiosyncrasies that eXistenZ should be part of the associated literacy.

Much like Cronenberg's earlier work on the topic of technology and human interaction and relationships therein, eXistenZ takes the video game medium and examines a strange future where biological and organic systems have replaced electronics in the field of virtual reality. Allegra Geller, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is a prodigous programmer at the forefront of this brave and exciting field, who we find testing her new creation with a focus group. Events at the test spiral out of control after an attempted assassination by a 'realist' fanatic, and her journey with PR man Ted Pikul (Jude Law) begins.

eXistenZ a warped tale, and discussing more of the story would ruin the complex mind-bender Cronenberg fashioned. However, what's worth discussing is the strange cavalcade of characters and settings within the film.

If Shenmue were a reality, but retained the endearing stilted dialogue and dispositions of its cast, it would be something very strange. If the bizarre settings we inhabit in games were isolated, replete with their detached metaphysical drift, it would be curious and perhaps unsettling. In eXistenz, we see cinema within that dialect. It touts the NPC character oddities as games do, but here, it is by intention, rather than it being solely the product of dramatic ineptitude and budgetary constraints. The settings are picaresque constructs, tied into the tale because - well - that's what games do. Justified on mere suggestions, filled with the simulacra of reality, but everything having a high-strangeness about it.

Not to mention, where Inception was utterly trapped in low-level imagination, eXistenZ feels ahead of the game - no pun intended. Made on a fraction of the budget, this film does far more with the concepts of reality and virtual or imagined constructs than Nolan's effort, but feels far more intimate. It is a dark techno-horror with panache and humour, closer to the Gilliam camp than anything out of the Hollywood sausage machine.

There's plenty more to discuss, pertaining to virtual motivation, the notion of the avatar and transference/concept of behaviour, but in short, eXistenZ is simply a marvellous piece of cinema. No shame here. None at all.

Death to the demoness, Allegra Geller.

(Also, if that floats the boat, Gillian Rubenstein's YA fiction Space Demons, Skymaze and Shinkei are recommended)
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Re: Surruptitious Celluloid - Cinema of Shame

by Angry Jedi » Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:07 am

My goodness, a film I've actually seen!

I don't watch many movies generally these days, but I have seen eXistenZ, and really liked it.
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Re: Surruptitious Celluloid - Cinema of Shame

by Alex Connolly » Wed Jul 16, 2014 12:26 pm

Angry Jedi wrote:My goodness, a film I've actually seen!

I don't watch many movies generally these days, but I have seen eXistenZ, and really liked it.


It's a modern classic. 90s tail-ender with everything intact. Has aged marvelously.
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Re: Surruptitious Celluloid - Cinema of Shame

by Alex Connolly » Wed Jul 16, 2014 1:00 pm

The Dentist (1996)

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Okay. Here's some shlock. I saw this film eons ago, primarily because there was nothing else on the shelf at a friend's house. How he came into possession of it, we never knew. But here it is. And it has lived on in personal infamy beyond all measure.

With all its token ducks in a row, The Dentist tells the tale of oral hygienist Doctor Allen Feinstone (Corbin Bernsen), a man who has it all. A beautiful wife, a big house and his own practice, Feinstone is the epitome of success. But below the surface, tensions mount. Feinstone, obsessive and highly-strung, spies his wife, Brooke, cheating with their pool man, which sets off a chain of events that lead to the horrors within and without the practice. A tale of revenge, of dental carnage and personal, if futile, vindication.

Brian Yuzna of Re-Animator fame takes the low road here, doing what he can with a languid screenplay by Stuart Gordon (incidentally, the director of Robot Jox). It feels like it could have been a decent thriller, had it not dwelt in such pedestrian fashion on conventional fears. But, in the end, The Dentist is nothing more than a hollow pretender to Marathon Man, lacking the vision and complexity of John Schlesinger's 1976 tormented tale of violence and escapism.

The tagline of The Dentist is as follows:

It's been six months.

Time for your check-up!


Regarding this film, it's nothing but cavities.
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Re: Surruptitious Celluloid - Cinema of Shame

by Rampant Bicycle » Wed Jul 16, 2014 4:58 pm

Please tell me I am not the only person who thought immediately of this:



Man, so many bad horror films. I'll have to think of some to post here later... :)
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Alex Connolly

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Re: Surruptitious Celluloid - Cinema of Shame

by Alex Connolly » Thu Jul 17, 2014 7:39 am

Rampant Bicycle wrote:Man, so many bad horror films. I'll have to think of some to post here later... :)


The perfect fuel to balance this thread out. Go, go, go!
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Re: Surruptitious Celluloid - Cinema of Shame

by Alex Connolly » Thu Jul 17, 2014 1:00 pm

One Point O / Paranoia 1.0 (2004)

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Whether being listed within Snarkerati's Top 50 Dystopian Movies of All Time makes it any more appealing, Jeff Renfroe and Martein Thorsson's Kafkaesque cyberpunk tale is certainly worth seeking out, especially for scions of Dick or Gibson on his darker darker days.

Jeremy Sisto plays Simon J., a reclusive network engineer with a deadline, who starts to find empty packages within his apartment. The continued and unnerving delivery of these enigmatic packages leads him to start investigating his neighbours, uncovering their bizarre behaviours and predilections. From a strange artificial intelligence to virtual reality sex, Simon starts to consider this is all part of a corporate conspiracy, tied into the project he is so desperately trying to finish. Under pressure from his contractor, he begins to fall apart at the seams, his psychosis suddenly manifesting in an inexplicable desire for particular comestibles. The tale builds to a tormented climax, one with a relatively satisfying pay-off.

Plus, extra points for having Lance Henriksen in a classic post-Frank Black role.

The film features a lot of claustrophobic, low-set camera work and dank lighting, evincing Sisto's well-conceived portrayal of a fragmenting psyche. One Point O is a sweaty and confined film, taking place primarily within the apartment building, balanced by slivers of refreshing and very necessary outdoor scenes. Renfroe and Thorsson's screenplay has just enough bite and strata to it, without feeling the need to dip too deeply into jargon or meandering philosophy to prove itself, bolstered by a minimalist sound design perfectly in keeping with the kind of paranoid ear-to-the-wall elements of the film.

One Point O does move at a glacial pace, which sets it apart from more kinetic fare like eXistenZ in dealing with layers of reality and unreality. However, featuring Lynchian characterisation on certain levels, there's enough here to satisfy pundits with an eye for the quirk and a palate for the saline and grit.

Cybernetic thumbs up.
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