Hello, AsimovLives here.
For me, to be a movie geek is to be more than a passive consumer of movies and their related merchandise. To be a movie geek is to be a custodian of cinema. And few things give me more pleasure as a film geek as to communicate with my fellow geeks about films. In particular, to help others know about obscure, little seen good movies and help the later get more exposure. It’s immensely satisfying for me to turn somebody’s attention toward a movie they haven’t seen before and enjoy. The same has happened to me quite often. Not all movies I love, including some of my favourites, are movies I discovered on my own but were referred to me.
As such, I’d like to call attention to you, dear reader, some movies I enjoy a lot and would love to help make them more well known by doing so.
This list is not complete or comprehensive. There are a lot of films left out or were simply not included because the list is long as it is. Hopefully more will come in another circumstance. And as much as this article is to name movies, I also hope in the discussion panel others will call attention to their own movies they love and they believe should be better know by others, a “quid pro quo”, if you will.
All films mentioned below are movies I think, and I am absolutely convinced with utter certainty, are very good movies that deserve to be discovered or rediscovered. Quality and (relative) obscurity are the thing here.
And here we go:
Seconds (USA, 1966)
A middle aged man is given the chance to start a new life anew as long he completely cuts all ties to his old life. And with that a new look to go with it via advanced plastic surgery. But as he will later realize, the hardest baggage to leave behind is himself.
A low-key science fiction movie that emphasises character study over spectacle, though the execution of the story makes it an enthralling experience from beginning to end. The style, both in cinematography and editing, is radical even by today’s standards, one can only imagine how it looked like back then. It’s one of John Frankenheimer’s best but most neglected films. It’s surprisingly mature for an Hollywood studio movie, it never goes for cheap melodrama instead relaying on understated but potent emotions. A welcome surprise is the excellent acting job from star Rock Hudson, never better. Also of note is the excellent score by Jerry Goldsmith, one of his best but less known works.
Messiah of Evil (USA, 1973)
A young woman goes visit her artist father who lives in a remote seaside village. As soon she arrives things make a quick turn for the weird. Her father’s diary tells the story of a man gone mad by believing he is already dead yet living. She is helped in her search for her father’s disappearance by a charming stranger. And then things get even weirder.
I already had the pleasure of talking about this film with fellow Supernaught Detective Dee on a mini-podcast. “From the makers of Howard The Duck”, I joked. It’s true, but it’s so unlike that film. Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz intended to make an American horror film but with an art and European style and sensibility, and by golly they did it. But artistic ambitions aside, this is a very effective horror story that relies on atmosphere and mood, with occasional shocking imagery, to sell dread and scares. If you love off-beat but rewarding horror, this is a must seen.
Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (USA, 1973)
Jessica is a young woman recently released from a mental hospital, recovered from a mental breakdown. Her dedicated boyfriend takes her to a new house in a remote village. She is fascinated with cemetery art, and in one of her art visits she notices a strange eerie young women watching her from afar. Installed in her new home, everything seems like a dream of a new life come true. But soon strange things start happening around her, and all seems related to a new acquaintance, a young woman who looks like the cemetery girl she met before.
The more I watch, the more respect I gain from horror films made in the 1970s, be they Asian, European or Americans. This was a time when it seemed the order of the day was to create moody scary films that relied on atmosphere and tension to deliver the scares. This film is a glorious example of that. I knew nothing about it until very recently, and this was a very pleasant surprise. While it’s a respected film among certain circles of the horror genre fans, it’s still a very neglected title. A real must see.
Beyond The Black Rainbow (Canada, 2012)
1983: Elena, a teenage girl, is held prisoner in a New-Age institute. Her jailer/psychiatrist Dr Barry Nyle, tries to spur her out of her self-induced emotional shut-down. Soon it seems his intentions are more then mere therapy: She exhibits signs she has parapsychological powers, and he also seems to have taken a rather more carnal interest in her as well.
This film begs description. To describe its elements is lesser than the sum of its parts. Truly a movie to be experienced. Visually, aural, music, the mood, the unconventional acting, all make for a rather unique film experience. This film is inspired by elements from horror and science fiction films of the 1960s to 1970s to 1980s, some well recognizable, but done in a way that combined makes for a unique film like few others, thus director Panos Cosmatos achieves what other filmmakers with more experience and financial and material means often fail to accomplish.
The cinematography is glorious to behold, the production design exquisite, and the music is phenomenal. The editing goes for a non-linear technique, giving the film its own particular and peculiar style. The story is told on a very elliptic fashion: at first watch, the immediate impression will be of befuddlement, but further watching makes easy what at first looked confusing and confounding.
This film has become one of my favourite films, and often I use it as a conform food film: whenever I grew tired of the usual blockbuster simpleminded bullshit, I watch this to remind me what movies made for the love of the medium is all about.
THX-1138 (USA, 1971)
In an undated future in an unnamed underground city, our matriculated hero tries to find humanity and love where such things are outlawed.
George Lucas’ first feature length movie, an unique movie like no other, and like no other he has made or been responsible since. It only make it be precious cinematic jewel it is.
I already wrote a review of this film in this site. I held this film in absolute awe. If you are a science fiction fan, you ought to see it. It also teaches that there’s more to George Lucas than just Star Wars.
The Duellists (UK, 1977)
Two Napoleonic army officers engage with each other in a duel that last unresolved for 16 years, due to being constantly interrupted. Worst, none of them even know for sure why the thing began in the first place. But honour demands it, at the cost of everything else, their lives included.
This is Ridley Scott’s first film. And what a debut it is. Scott came into cinema fully formed, thanks to his vast experience in making commercials in which he help pioneer the narrative commercial with cinematic production values.
The story is engaging, the production exquisite and historical accurate and it’s a gorgeous film to behold. The acting is top notch from recognizable talented actors. But the film is dominated by the leads Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel. At the time it was joked about this two very American actors playing French officers, but it’s impossible to see anybody else in these roles, they look the part and they play the part to perfection.
Even fans of Scott know little or nothing about this film. Scott himself jokes only recently the movie made its budget back, which is saying something as even back then this was a very low budget movie (not that you would it just by watching, how sumptuous looking it is). A true must watch.
Cypher (Canada, 2010)
A bored lowly corporate executive decides to spice up his life and income by accepting to be a corporate spy for a rival company. But on his first mission, he immediately gets involved in a complex spy-game that makes him have to play double and triple agent to people he has no inkling what their agendas are about. And then there is this mysterious woman who he keeps crossing paths with and seems to both help and push him into more danger.
Director Vicenzo Natali is better known for his films “Cube” and “Splice“. Somewhere in between those two is this little known but engaging and thrilling SF spy thriller. As usual with Natali, he makes a meagre budget look like the film cost 20 times more to make. Natali is also depressingly unique among most filmmakers making SF today in that he truly and absolutely gets the genre. Understands and loves the genre. Whenever I see criticism of his movies, it is obvious to me that is just because he is ahead in the game and even the fans have yet to catch up.
The acting from Jeremy Northam is brilliant, one of the best acting jobs in recent SF. The look of the film is possibly the richest Natali has ever done for any of his films. A most pleasant surprise.
The Conversation (USA, 1974)
This is the story of a highly skilled surveillance expert who ironically lives an extremely private life. In his last assignment, he tracks down the conversation between two lovers. Listening to the tape, he becomes convinced he caught wind of a plan to have them murdered, which triggers a desire to protect or at least reach out to them, motivated by a personal failure from his past.
This film got lots of kudos at the time of release. It was nominated for quite a good few Oscars, making Coppola compete with himself with this and The Godfather Part II. It says something that this film’s quality. And yet, today it’s one of Coppola’s most obscure and least known films. Hell, people know more about “Once From The Heart” than this.
A lot could be said about it, but it can all be summarised just by calling it a masterpiece of cinema. Which it is. Even for a genre fan this film can appeal to the importance it gives to technology, of which some real life surveillance tech has not yet caught up to this film, thus effectively also making it a bit of a SF film, which Coppola himself acknowledges.
Gene Hackman’s acting is off the charts, this magnificent actor rarely being better. The cinematography is also to be commend, its qualities are subtle, this was the first film to use computerized camera movements and zooming, all to give the film a look as if the whole film was shot through a surveillance camera. 1970s paranoia thriller at its best.
Vengeance is Mine (Japan, 1979)
Based on real evens of which it sticks pretty closely with only names changed, this film tells the life story of a man who graduates from youth aimlessness to petty criminality to murder and depravity, leaving behind a trail of death and madness.
Detective Dee has already mentioned this film in past article, and it was his that made me finally watch this film. So, his article did for me what this article intends to do for the reader.
This is truly one of Japan’s greatest films. Japan is a country with lots of cinematic jewels and thankfully they were not just limited to Akira Kurosawa’s films. There’s truly an embembarrassment of cinematic riches from so many talented filmmakers through the decades, with director Shohei Imamura being one of the top talents, if this film is any indication.
This film is commendable for the absolute dedication to make the film look like filmed reality, almost like a live documentary. It’s also one of the most realistic and accurate depictions of what a psychopath is like.
The acting in the film is of high quality, but in the end the film belongs and is dominated by the lead Ken Ogata. Deservedly, the film earned a load of awards at the time, but today it’s not that well known, especially in the West. It’s about time to have that changed.
The title of this film has baffled many. But a possible explanation, if we take into account that the main character came from a catholic family, is as a reference to this passage of the Bible, Romans 12:19:”Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.””
The Sand Pebbles (USA, 1965)
An individualistic sailor of the US Navy serving in the gunboats in 1920s China clashes with the hierarchy and with the historical events that are brewing around him. And nothing is ever simple.
This film was a big success at the time and even earned a few deserved Oscar nominations. Today it’s rare I find somebody who has also seen this film even among my fellow geeks. Which is a pity because this film is suberb. This film is a masterpiece. The first time I watched it my mind was blown by how realistic, by how mature, by how relentlessly intelligent this film is. Nothing about this film is about easy choices, everything about this film is about the complex and unseen consequences of a person’s actions, no matter how good their intentions are… especially the good intentions. The film does a magnificent job in showing that no matter how individual we want to be, no matter how much we try to stay out of the picture, everything comes back to you, and in fact, the more you stay away the more things bite you back.
Everything about this film is top notch. The cinematography makes good use of Taiwan’s natural beauty to portrait the Yangtze River regional beauty (in lieu of filming in China which was impossible at the time). The cast is quite brilliant and at the time most names were pretty unknown in an American film audiences, as save for Steve McQueen, everybody else were either actors from television, film bit part players or even foreigners from the UK. But the real standouts are McQueen and Mako (the later even won an Oscar). I admit I’m not much of a fan of McQueen, but his acting in the film is phenomenal, and his nomination was more then deserved. This film was a passion project for both McQueen and Robert Wise (the later did The Sound Of Music as a favour to the studio so they would finance this).
Of particular note is also the score by Jerry Goldsmith, many considering it to be his first true masterpiece (of the many of his career). The opening theme alone sets the theme and the mood of the film brilliantly, like all good scores should. I can’t urge people enough about this film, it is magnificent.
Following (UK, 1998)
A young man has an habit of following random people he meet in the street, to spy on their behaviour. He justifies himself as research for his writing career, but perhaps there’s something more to it. until one day one of his marks confronts him. This man, who calls himself Cobb, turns the young write’s life completely upside down.
This is Christopher Nolan’s first feature length film. It was made for peanuts, but already then you can see his filmmaking skills and confidence was already there. This film also helps prove the often believed theory that true talent can only emerge if a filmmakers starts small, cutting their teeth on the trade as they progress.
But besides that, this is just a damn good fun, intriguing thriller to watch. The non-linear narrative helps build the suspense from the first to last frame. It also proves that Memento didn’t just come out of nowhere, there was already something before of merit. This is the genesis of one of the most talented and intelligent filmmaker working today, and already heralds many of the good things to come.
Vanishing Waves (Lithuania/France/UK, 2012)
A technician in a revolutionary neuro-connection technology volunteers to test a new tech to help reach the mind of a comatose young woman. The first try is a staggering success, but he decides to keep it a secret and downplays the achievements. And the reason might be, he just met the woman of his dreams in the mindspace of their shared minds.
Adult science fiction that deals with matters of relationships, feelings, love, sex, responsibility. How would think of that in today’s filmed science fiction which is dominated by movies aimed for a teenage market? This film is like a throwback to the intelligent and mature science fiction films of the 1970s. I miss those! Thankfully some filmmakers do too and do something about it by making modern movies in that vein. And it also helps this film is truly good. And yeah, it does have quite a bit of sex.
Star Wars (USA, 1977)
A young man dreams of escaping his dreary life in a desert planet by having adventures across the galaxy. Then events conspire to put him in the middle of a desperate fight where he proves instrumental to stop the greatest threat the galaxy ever faced.
It might sound like I’m taking the piss for including this film in this list, but I abide by my decision. The success and popularity of this film is beyond discussion. Or rather, the popular image of this film, which has reached memetic mutation beyond anything that ever existed before or after. But this popular construct is far bigger then the film itself it spawned from, to the point it submerges it. But hidden in the middle of all this haze is a charming film deliberately made for children but made with such uncommon care, dedication and sophistication that it also appeals to a adult audience. Because Star Wars is a film that many have watched but few have seen. Seen for what it truly is. And it’s about time this charming movie gets to be itself again.
The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (Belgium, 2014)
A businessman returns home and doesn’t find his wife there. He looks around the apartment building but no sign of her. But he does met some strange neighbours, one of them an old lady who tells the strange story of her husband disappearance. And a police detective arrives to take on the case, even if the husband doesn’t recall having called the police.
From the makers of Amer comes another psychedelic Neo-Giallo film like only they can make. Visually stunning beyond description. Again the score is reused music made for 1960s and 1970s Giallos and Italian horror films. This time there is a straightforward story being told, but in an elliptic fashion and with such strong visuals it might give the idea otherwise. Sadly this film has been seen as misogynistic from some quarters of the film reviewing members, which is a strange accusation given that one of the writers and directors is female herself. Typical kneejerk nonsense written when one is left baffled and without easy answers but too much ego to admit.
If for nothing else, this movie should be seen just for the visuals and editing alone. but more than that, this is one of the most honest and heartfelt love letters to a genre.
Bullet Ballet (Japan, 1998)
A salaryman arrives home to find his girlfriend committed suicide, when just 15 minutes before she had a very romantic phone call with her. But it’s not her suicide itself that baffles him but the manner: by gunshot. Given how hard it is to get a gun in Japan, he becomes obsessed with how she got one and to get one too for himself. In his quest he crossed path with a group of youth criminals, and in particular he connects with the girl of the group, a lost soul desperate to find a purpose in life in the middle of the dreary greyness of modern life.
Shinya Tsukamoto might be better known to genre fans for his Tetsuo trilogy movies. But for the most part his career is made of personal dramas. Very eclectic and strange dramas, I must be add. But it’s his undeniable talent and imagination, often coming up with film stylizations that only get caught up by mainstream cinema a decade or two afterwards.
This film is another of his love-hate letters to the city of Tokyo. A tale of modern life alienation which spans different generations, all with the same angst but dealt (or not dealt with) in different ways, the older generation by immense self-sacrifice, the middle aged generation by obsession with work and the younger generations by rebelling against established values. But in he end all are lost souls eager for connection, even is unawares.
Encounters At The End Of The World (USA/Germany, 2012)
Werner Herzog was given a task to make a documentary about a modern world subject. Unable to have his question answered to why didn’t monkeys evolved to be able to use goats as riding animals (it doesn’t even make sense in context, something Herzog admits himself), he turned his attention to the people who live and work in the truly only place on Earth that can be called the end of the world: Antarctica. There, he meets a variety of interesting and strange people, from the fork-lift operator/philosopher who gives the movie its title, the world’s most tasty and addictive ice-cream sundae at the South Pole base, a meteorologist who daydreams of sailing on a iceberg, a group of biologists who spend their downtime watching 1950s science fiction monster movies, a woman who lived a very active life full of events and makes them all sound utterly boring beyond conception, and suicidal penguins.
The movie was nominated for an Oscar and yet I have not met many people who have seen it. It is my favourite of Herzog’s documentaries, no mean feat if he has a career made of excellent ones together with his fiction films.
The film is beautiful, helped by the austere beauty of the continent, and the people interviewed are fascinating in their human richness, a common thread in all of Herzog’s documentaries. For some reason, this one struck me the most, and I hope more people get to see this masterpiece.
Empire of The Sun (USA, 1987)
Jim, a young British boy son of a diplomat stationed in foreign quarter of Shanghai in the early 1940s has his life turned upside down when Japan declared war on the allies and invades. Separated from his family, survival became his daily game. He allies with a scheming American deserter and with friends of the family who try to still have a measure of civility and normalcy in the hard conditions of a concentration camp. And still, he keeps dreaming, but reality comes crashing down on him with harsh life lessons.
At the time, and probably still to this day, this is Steven Spielberg’s less successful film. At the box office and then at the critic and public opinions. Which is utterly absurd. I say this with total conviction, this is not just one of Spielberg’s unjustly least seen of his movies, it’s also his best. This film is the crowning achievement of his earlier career. All his movies he made before were to reach this point. And I say also with utter conviction, this is Spielberg’s best film, period. It’s also not one of his easiest either. A movie about one of the harshest events on the 20th century but seen from the perspective of a dreamer child makes it for Spielberg’s strangest, most surreal film of his career. Not everybody seems to be able to connect with the inevitable mismatch of style, visuals and content, but for those who do, this is a treasure of a film. This is the type of film that justifies a filmmaker, and this is it for Spielberg.
Come and See (USSR, 1985)
Byelorussia, 1943: Flyora, a 16 years old boy, wants to join the partisans to fight the Nazis invaders, even securing a rifle, against his mother’s wishes, who tries to dissuade him to no avail. In the partisan camp he proves to be enthusiastic, but the partisans take pity of him on account of his youth and decide to leave him behind together with the beautiful girl Glasha. They bond over being outcast by the partisans, for being so young and barely surviving from a bombardment and assault by Nazi troops on the abandoned camp. Flyora takes Glasha to his village but everything is strangely quiet. Glasha intuits what has happened and sees the bodies. Flyora and Glasha escape to a swap where they find the remaining villagers. Flyora is by now shocked and disillusioned, and things only get worst. Much, much worst.
It’s often said that anti-war films fail because unwittingly they end up making war exciting despite intentions. This movie proves otherwise, that it is possible to make a anti-war film and make war look like nothing other than total misery and relentlessness horror.
Where in other movies the protagonist reaches desperation and disillusionment by the end of the film, in here it’s not even on the midpoint of the film. This movie goes further.
The events are mostly presented from Flyora’s perspective. The centerpiece of the film is the arrival of the Nazis to a village and the round up and massacre. The sequence is filmed almost like a documentary: The Nazis act very casually, like they are having a party, toying with the captives, cracking jokes, drinking and eating, while the commander just looks bored. It’s the banality of evil as it has rarely been so successfully captured on camera. All reflected on the face of the protagonist himself, where we see him age from 16 years old boy turn into an old man.
This film was commissioned by the Soviet State on the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII. Freed from commercial considerations, director Elem Klimov went all the way to depict the describable. The music is mostly strange atonal electronic sounds interspersed with well known German classic music, in particular the use of Mozart’s Requiem in the final scene. Such soulful music made by the very people depicted as the enemy does impact a powerful message.
The camera work is 80% done with Steadycam, in one of the most brilliant and effective uses of the technology. The sense of being there is unmatched.
No other word can describe this film as masterpiece. Klimov himself felt he couldn’t match so he stopped making films after this. We can understand why watching it.
A title card inform us that 618 villages in Byelorussia all their inhabitants were massacred, about 1/3rd of the country’s entire population. Sometimes, cinema is important. And this film proves it.
Fires On The Plain (Japan, 1954)
The Philippines, 1945: Private Tamura has tuberculosis and as such is seen as a burden to the exhausted Japanese army . He’s sent to the campaign hospital, but there he’s also sent away because he’s not ill enough, meaning, near death. Tamura roams the countryside, hoping to find fellow soldiers who take him. Along his voyage he meets villagers who feign hospitality so to kill him unawares, fellow soldiers who have fallen into despair and distrust, and always, the ever present hunger, for every soldier is famish from the lack of food around. Until he finds a group of soldiers who have solved the food scarcity by resorting to eat “monkey meat”, an euphemism for cannibalism. For a while, his tuberculosis saves him from the attentions of the more desperate, until he will find somebody desperate enough to not care… or who has grown a taste for “monkey”.
It’s not enough to have intentions to make an effective anti-war film. You have to know how to do it. And that’s to face the horror face front, something most filmmakers are unwilling because, well, it’s horrific. Kon Ichikawa felt obliged to film war in all its horror, a personal obligation on account of his own experience during the war. And nothing else but the truth would be acceptable. Considering this film was made only 9 years after the war and the way he depicts the soldiers of the former Imperial Army, in all its ugliness and desperation, few other films have gone this far.
The film is strangely beautiful while at the same time horrific. So often the movie resorts to black comedy only to jump into a scene of serenity and then jump to utter horror and back again.
The film is also a meditation of how far we should take hope when it n longer makes sense to have it. The main character is catholic, already putting him at odds with the rest of his countrymen. A main character whose faith’s rituals perform Eucharist in a story that is about people resorting to cannibalism is no accident.
For quite a while this film was hard to find in the west. I watched it by luck on television and I’ll never forgot it. Luckily for us, today the film is readily available on home video on Criterion. It’s time to discover this masterpiece.
Barry Lyndon (USA, 1975)
Redmond Barry life takes a turn when his father prematurely dies on a duel over a petty grievance. Then he’s manipulated out of the life of the girl he’s in-love for the sake of a profitable marriage. Trying to make a living in the army, on his first contact with battle he deserts. He robs the belonging of a cavalry officer and passes for one but his ruse is soon discovered by a Prussian captain who forces him to chose between hanging or re-enlistment in the Prussian Army. Barry chooses the later. But the super-regimental life in the new army only makes him shed his remaining idealism. His gallantry earns him enough trust to be used by the secret services. His first mission is to spy on a fellow Irishman suspected to be a spy. However, Barry can’t bring himself to do it and confesses to his compatriot. The two plan a daring double agent game that allow them to escape Prussia to the more friendly airs of France. Barry, by now a full cynical, woos a healthy heiress and make himself Lord Barry. But the harsh live lessons he learned makes him ill prepared to live the life of a gentleman.
Irony: the most Oscar nominated film directed by Stanley Kubrick is also his least know. In fact, so often I’ve heard people not even knowing it exists, despite being fans of his other works. I myself made this movie known to friends of mine who wee oblivious to its existence.
This film is probably the best candidate to the award of the Most Beautiful Looking Film Ever Made. Words don’t do it justice. You have to see to believe. Another memorable aspect of the film is the superb period music used in the film. Watching this film, Handel’s Sarabande will become your new favorite classic music piece, it’s so associated with this film like Also Sprach Zarathrusta is to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
And then there’s the attention to period detail. This film makes me believe we are in the 18th century, like a documentary made at the time, so believable is the illusion created. It has never been surpassed, before or since.
Kubrick had a career of making masterpieces on a regular basis, and this is no exception, the only difference is that it’s just far more obscure. Time to change that.
Computer Chess (USA, 2014)
Houston, Texas, 1984: A peculiar chess championship event is happening on a cheap hotel. Computer programs are used to play chess, not against human opponents but against each other. Each computer has a team of dedicated computer scientists, aka, nerds, and this time, for the first time ever, one of the teams has a woman in it! As the championship progresses, one of the programs loses in a very strange and unexpected way. When one of its technicians run to programs, he makes a startlingly discovery: the program only decides to plays against human opponents. Meanwhile, we follow the lives of other participants, witness their aspirations for the new emerging computer technology, room reservations failure, and the other event booked in the hotel, a new age group seeing free love and free mind and how the two eventually clash.
Few films have managed to get the spirit of the type of people involved in the earlier days of computer technology this film. This is the time when nerds were not chick but fashion victims, when they were uncool. The film derives a lot of comedy from that, but never at their expense. It helps that most of the cast is made of authentic computer technicians, which just proves that nerds will always be nerds no matter the times.
The best way to describe this movie is to call it a strange off-beat comedy. The mood and style will be unsettling at first, but if you get used to it and embrace it, you are in for a unique film experience.
Part of what makes this film feel so unique and yet capture the mood of the time so well is that it was filmed with an old Sony Tube Video Camera. It gives the film its unique look and it redefines the concept of beauty in cinematography. The soundtrack is mostly electronic sounds or subtle musical cues, but once in a while it features the songs of Collie Ryan. She is an obscure songwriter-singer but her songs are mesmerizing. You will want to hunt down her discography.
The turn to science fiction the film adopts midway through the story might seems like an abrupt turn, yet it’s done in a very casual way, in such a mater of fact way that we have to come to the conclusion that was the whole point.
I find this movie to be quite clever, very amusing and interesting. And darn funny.
Gozu (Japan, 2003)
Minami, a low level Yakuza footsoldier, is given an uncomfortable mission. He has to escort his “brother” Ozaki, who has clearly gone insane, to another town so that the local Yakuza can kill him and not implicate his boss. But midway through the voyage, Ozaki just dies. But when Minami returns from making a phone call in a restaurant, Ozaki has disapeared from the car. This begins Minami’s desperate search for his “brother” and the very strange people he meets and the weird surreal circumstances he finds himself mixed with.
To call this movie surreal is an understatement. It’s also absolutely hilarious. It’s one of the most hard to define movies you can ever watch. Superficially it’s a Yakuza crime thriller, but nothing is normal about it. It’s like David Lynch on acid!
A possible interpretation of this film could be the sexual awakening of Minami. He seems to be an asexual person, utterly uninterested and avoiding of any type of sexual contact,and the universe is having none of that and puts him in constant situations that makes him confront his aversion. Well, maybe, I don’t know, your guess will be as good as mine. but one thing for sure, this movie is so bloody funny!
The Quiet Earth (New Zealand, 1985)
Scientist Zac Hobson awakes to find the entire world’s population is gone. They just ceased to exist, disappeared without trace. He suspects it’s a consequence of a secret project he was working of which his team had warned about. Wrecked with guilt, he spends his days alone on Earth either having fun by child playing with the things he couldn’t had done before, or setting up mock governments, cross-dressing, or raging against God for having spared him. Eventually he reaches a low point and tries to end it all. But he bound to bounce back and accepts his new reality. Until reality changes again.
This low key yet very smart science fiction is one of those cult classics that even for those circles is pretty unknown. but those who do know it love it. Mostly, the film is a tour de force acting job from the late Bruno Lawrence. For those convinced that science fiction is just a mere excuse for showing off special effects, all they need is to watch this to know otherwise.
Cabiria (Italy, 1914)
When her home villa is destroyed by the eruption of Mount Etna, young child Cabiria and her nurse Croessa are captured by pirates and sold to Rome’s arch-enemies, the Carthaginians. As it so happen, two Roman spies, the roman centurion Fulvio and his faithful servant Mastice are stationed in Carthage and soon get notice of the young girl’s predicament. They save her from being sacrificed in the Temple of Moloch but their escape is curtailed, and whole Fulvio escapes but Mastice is captured and chained to a grind wheel. Cabiria, who had been hidden, is discovered by Sophonisba, a Carthaginean aristocrat who takes her under her wing. 10 years later and Rome is at war with Carthage in the Second Punic War. As Hannibal is invading Italy, Fulvio is the aide to roman general Scipio. Wanting to break Hannibal’s hold in Italy, they decide to curtail Carthage by forcing the Numedian king to turn to Rome’s side. Fulvio sees this as an opportunity to free Mastice and fulfill his vow to Cabiria. Fulvio infiltrates on Carthage and frees Mastice, wreaking merry havoc during their daring escape. But in the desert, they are captured by the Numedians and taken to their King. The King proves volatile in his choice of allies, but Sophonisba, now his domineering wife who has a raging hatred for the Romans wants nothing but his husband total commitment to Carthage. Cabiria by now called Elissa has grown up into a beautiful woman and she’s the queen’s handmaid. Fulvio finds her and falls in love, thus adding to his own sense of obligation his love for her. Much adventures follow.
Before Birth Of The Nation, there was Cabiria. If you want to know the cinematic genesis of all the adventure and historical epics, this is it. But more than a history footnote, this movie is just plain fun! Made more then 100 years ago, it still retains its entertainment qualities. So many elements that people enjoy in an adventure movie of today are present and accounted here. It’s surprising that this early in the history of cinema and such things as complex settings (historically realistic for the knowledge of the time) and a desire for complex storytelling with the invention of techniques unique for the film, of which includes special effects never done before, like the Etna eruption or the naval siege of Syracuse or an attack of the Numidian’s capital city walls . It’s epic writ large at the time when… well, this is the movie that invented epic cinema, matter of fact.
And everybody will love Mastice. He was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the time, the great cinema strongman. Remember that scene in John Milius’ Conan The Barbarian where Conan is chained to a grain wheel and forced to push it around for years? Taken from this film! Yeah. That is just one of the many ways this film was influential to movies to come. So much you know and see in films had their origin here.
And as I said before, more then all that, it’s just a damn fun entertaining movie to watch, even after all this years.
The Uninvited (South Korea, 2003)
One day Jung-won, an interior architect, is riding the subway when he sees two young girls opposite him. When they get up to leave he makes a token effort to stop them but lets them go anyway. The next day he hears in the news that the two girls were found dead, murdered. Late that evening he sees the two girls seated at his diner table. He meets a mysterious young woman called Jung Yeon, in therapy for the death of her children, murdered by her closest friend. Jung-won feels an immediate connection to Jung Yeon and visits her. The later tells him both are gifted with shamanic powers, but they are dormant in him. She sense he has suppressed traumas and offers to make him remember. She recovers an hidden memory of the brutal death of his father and brother. But instead of bringing him catharsis the revelation only makes him more mentally unhinged. His fiance breaks with him, believing he’s having an affair. Alienated from his foster family, Jung-won blames Jung Yeon for his new misery and breaks contact. The later, having found in Jung-won an emotional anchor, also falls into deep depression. Her friend, who was awaiting trial, kills herself. Her former husband re-enters her life and seems to want to take control of her life. But not everything is as it seems.
There are movies that have certain scenes designed to have two different interpretations depending on context or rewatchability. But what about a movie where 90% if not the entire movie was designed to be that way? Such is the case with The Uninvited. In this film, there are scenes that have three possible interpretations! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie this subtle, this rich in possible meaning and interpretation. Everything about this movie is about how you see it, the context and subtext and new perspectives from rewatchability. A movie like A Tale Of The Sisters was already rich in such presentation, but this one goes one step further. Usually movies that go for this are very art-house and symbolic, but his is a horror film made for mainstream audiences and yet as far I know it was never done to this extent.
The acting, especially from the two lead actor, Park Shin-yang and Jun Ji-hyun (known in the west as Gianna Jun), is superlative. The later in particular proves she has far more to her then just her stunning looks but a genuine formidable acting talent.
Often I like to call attention to little known movies, with this one I want to climb to the rooftops shouting about it.
Europa Report (USA, 2013)
Near future: Europa One was mankind’s first attempt to reach the outer solar system, its main mission to land on Jupiter’s moon Europa in search of extra-terrestrial life. But days after their landing, it stop reporting. Via recordings from the surveillance cameras aboard the ship, the events to that faithful even are reconstructed. Midway through the mission, the ship’s comm were damaged by a solar burst. The attempt to repair the external antenna with an EVA went wrong and caused the death of the leading engineer. The crew decided to keep going with the mission regardless. Arriving at the Jupiter System after a near 2 and half years travel, they land on Europa without trouble. But they miss their landing point by a few miles, and as such the ice sheet is thicker than they were trained to deal with. The biologist convinces the rest of the crew that it’s imperative she has to go on a space walk to the original designated place. From there, things became much more complicated and deadly.
I’m convinced there is going on a small renascence of the hard-core, realistic type of science fiction, both from filmmakers and audiences alike. While fantasy SF still dominates the genre in cinema, it’s worth noticing that there has been a steady production of more realistic and plausible type of hard-Sf films happening recently. Movies like Moon, Gravity, Europa Report itself, Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian, this can’t just be coincidence. There is a noticeable portion of the audiences today that are drawn and captivated by this more reality based, procedural type of science fiction/space stories, and likewise for filmmakers, this type of films present a great artistic and technical challenge that many just can’t resist. I’m in the form belief that this type of SF stories are far more challenging to make, not only because it’s hard to portray realistic scenarios and make them convincing onscreen, but ironically, they demand more imagination from the filmmakers to pull them off. I really hope there’s far more of this to come in the near future.
As for Europa Report itself, the film is a small marvel of what the filmmakers were able to achieve with such a limited budget, making the film look more expensive than most movies with ten times more budget.
The movie is also excellent in portraying scientists very much as they are, and especially their sense of wonder in discovering new things, of which actress Karoline Wydra excels as the mission’s biologist.
A very lovely throwback to intelligent SF cinema of the 1970s, a must see if you love SF.
Excision (USA, 2012)
Pauline is a very peculiar girl. She’s disheveled, unwashed, rude, unpleasant, unbearable and unapproachable, and that’s just as she likes it. Despite being a very poor student (her complete disinterest for studies helps) she somehow lives under the delusion she will one day be a surgeon. But her desire for that profession is less about any desire to help others but it comes from her sexual attraction to blood and mutilation. Her mother has basically given up on her, more concerned about her younger child Grace who is slowing dying of cystic fibrosis. Grace is the complete inverse of Pauline, and yet the sisters have nothing but total love and devotion for one another. Grace might be the only person in the world Pauline has any concern for. Pauline’s life in school and at home deteriorates the more she indulges in her demented aspirations and lusts.
Two things to point out about this film: One, the premise and characters created for this movie are winners. The character of Pauline is an enthralling unique original creation. And orbiting her is a slew of minor characters, all interesting and often times darkly funny in their own form of madness. Two, the acting of AnnaLyne McCord. I knew nothing of her before watching this film. After I watched it and was dazzled by her acting, I looked her up on IMDB and was stunned by how different she looks from her character. But the transformation is not merely cosmetic. Like Charlize Theron in Monster, it would be nothing without great talent beneath the make up.
Director Richard Bates Jr is one to look for.
Devoured (USA, 2013)
Lourdes is a Salvadorian young woman who immigrated to the USA to save enough money for an operation her child back home so desperately needs. Her entire life is spend working hard at the bar-restaurant that employs her and back home to her Spartan lodgings where her only “luxury” is an old television set. She wants to keep a low profile, just doing her job and earn her pay, but both her great beauty and perceived aloofness inspires the unwanted attention of the Chef and some of the more unpleasant patrons. This and her loneliness starts to take a toll on her. And things make a turn for the worst when she is the target of a malevolent ghost.
The film begins as a character study of a lonely immigrant and her sad life. It’s impossible not to be moved by her loneliness and sacrifices. The lead is played by Spanish actress Marta Milans, and she’s a revelation. The entire movie basically is on her shoulders, and she carries it magnificent. There is barely a scene without her. It might be a peculiar statement to make but maybe this horror movie can make people feel more for the immigrant’s plight than a more conventional drama. Your heart will break for her, and that’s even before the apparitions make their entrance to the story. This film makes me eager to see more of the director and lead actress. Muy bien!
The Trial (France/Italy/Germany, 1962)
One morning Joseph K. is woken up by two agents who accuse him of an unspecified crime. Distressed, K. tries to know who and what he’s accused, but the agents give him vague non-answers and leave. Back at work, he finds himself in trouble with the office chief and… well, if you actually need to be informed of the plot of this movie, you really should read more! It’s based on a very well known Kafka book.
While the novel this film is based is one of Kafka’s better know, the contrary is true about this film by Orson Welles. Which is a pity, as it’s one of his best, worthy of being in the company of such as Citizen Kane and Touch Of Evil. It was Welles’s own personal favorite of his films. Seeing it it’s not hard to understand why. It has the same rich visual style as Citizen Kane and the same thematic ambitions. Interestingly, there is a science fiction element to it, as one scene is devoted to a criticism of the computerization of modern work and society (the story is transposed from the original’s 1920s to the 1960s of the film), and the style of the film and the vague setting often reminding of SF dystopias of the kind were being produced at that time both in literature and cinema. The acting is excellent, with Anthony Perkins as Joseph K. and Welles himself as the Advocate as stand-outs.
Letters From A Dead Man (USSR, 1986)
In an unnamed city after a nuclear war, lives Rolan Bykov, an old man and a former nuclear physicist. His day is spent taking care for his dying wife, looking out for the people under chis charge who live in a library turned into a fallout shelter, and going outside looking for food and amenities while crossing a ruined city full of dead people laying on the street, severely enforced martial law and the perpetual scarcity of everything. Bykov somehow blames himself for the disaster that befallen the Earth, and the disappearance of his son in the minutes after the first bombs fell. It’s for him he writes letters every morning and night, hoping to meet him again. But as the story progress, he has less reasons to believe he will ever see his son alive, while more people under his charge die from radiation sickness related diseases. Meanwhile outside, the situation deteriorates and the police forces resort to more brutish methods. But the arrival of a group of children gives Bykov a new sense of purpose. But how can hope endure in a world without hope?
It would not be completely appropriate to say this film is the soviet response to the american film The Day After. And yet, the coincidence of year of production of both and the theme itself can’t help but bringing that to notice. But this film is an entire whole different thing. More melancholic, more philosophical, with a different approach to the intimate portrait of victims of an avoidable apocalypse. And yet, this and the aforementioned The Day After were both made at a time when it seems a nuclear war could happen, or would be inevitable, thanks to the re-heating of the cold war during the first half of the 1980s.
The imagery is without mercy: the cinematography has a sodium light coloring that almost approaches a sort of sicking black and white. In the ruin sets (filmed in parts of cities that hadn’t been rebuilt since WWII) there is not a single scene outside the bunker that doesn’t have one or more dead bodies. The effect is quite potent. But the film goes for a melancholic mood rather then horror. It’s not that what’s shown is not horrific, it is. The perceptual question is, does humanity deserves to survive if it can creates such horrors to itself?
The final images is ambiguous, is it a hopeful ending or just s futile children’s crusade? The film provokes questions and invites answers from the audience, but it doesn’t provide a conclusive clue. Perhaps in a world where more questions were raised and less definitive answers existed, apocalypses of any kind would be avoided. As true then as it is now.
So this is it. So much more could be put on this list, but this is long already. Perhaps another time, who knows?
I hope you have enjoyed this. As always, thank you for reading.
This is AsimovLives, signing off. Have a better one.