Film Review: The Elephant Man (1980)

Release Date: October 2nd, 1980 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch
Based on: The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Frederick Treves; The Elephant Man: A Study In Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Hannah Gordon, Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, Dexter Fletcher, Kenny Baker

Brooksfilms, Paramount Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!” – John Merrick

Few motion pictures are truly perfect. This is one of those few.

As far as I’m concerned, this is still the greatest thing that David Lynch has ever done. And while I like his visual style and artistic quirkiness, I’m not a big fan like many other film aficionados are.

That being said, this is his most normal picture. He doesn’t get overly bizarre and lost in trying to put his own dreams to celluloid. Here, he has a real story to tell and given a more defined framework, I think he excelled as a director with this movie above all of his others.

What’s strange about that, is that this is only his second feature film after the absolutely bonkers, shrill and disturbing nightmare known as Eraserhead.

The success of this film led to Lynch getting the offer to direct Return of the Jedi, which he turned down, as well as 1984’s Dune, which I like but ended up being such a bad experience for Lynch that he pretty much quit mainstream movies and went back to making bizarre, personal art films more akin to what he did with Eraserhead and his short films before that.

Anyway, this is a review of The Elephant Man and not a review of Lynch’s career.

I love that this was presented in black and white, as it gives it a truly timeless feel and it generates the same sort of aesthetic as many of the great classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s. It also has the same sort of cinematography, as it employs a chiaroscuro visual style with high contrast between light and shadow.

Given the film’s setting and the makeup of the title character, this visual style gives it a real majestic, classic cinematic feel that probably wouldn’t have been possible if this was released in color. It helps set the mood with the more horrific elements, while also giving the film a quality of old world naivete, which is important in allowing the audience to connect to the pure innocence of Merrick, the Elephant Man.

The picture is stupendously acted. Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt are absolute perfection in this and you really fall in love with both men through this incredibly emotional and very painful journey. But you also feel their emotion to the bone when the best parts of humanity find a way to outlast the worst parts. This is a film that is just as much about the darkness of humanity as it is about humanity’s light. That’s probably another reason why presenting this in black and white is so effective.

There are terrible human beings in this movie and frankly, it’s impossible to watch this and not be emotionally effected by that darkness. This is a really hard film to experience because of that but ultimately, a positive light does push the darkness back and while the ending is tragically sad, it’s also strangely satisfying knowing that the film’s subject left on his own terms in the only place he truly felt at home.

That being said, for me at least, this is one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had with a movie. It’s not something I can go back and watch often because it really does drain on your soul, even with the mostly positive outcome.

I have no idea what it is about this film that makes it a legitimate masterpiece. I think it’s simply a perfect storm of everything just working together, wonderfully.

The Elephant Man is truly cinematic magic in how it can give you both the worst of human nature and the best. It is an astounding, exhilarating and terrifying experience.

And again, it’s motion picture perfection.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: David Lynch’s earlier work, as well as other top notch period dramas of its era.

Film Review: Forbidden World (1982)

Also known as: Mutant (Australia, France, Canada), Subject 20 (Germany)
Release Date: May 7th, 1982
Directed by: Allan Holzman
Written by: Tim Curnen
Music by: Susan Justin
Cast: Jesse Vint, Dawn Dunlap, June Chadwick, Linden Chiles, Fox Harris, Raymond Oliver, Scott Paulin, Michael Bowen, Don Olivera

Jupiter Film Productions, New World Pictures, 77 Minutes, 85 Minutes (VHS cut), 82 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Welcome to the Garden of Eden. We play God here.” – Dr. Cal Timbergen

At this point, I’ve probably reviewed more films produced by Roger Corman than any other producer in the motion picture industry. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that he was my favorite and the fact that he literally has hundreds of pictures, means that I’ll probably still be reviewing his work for several more years. And that’s assuming that I can ever actually see all of his films.

Forbidden World came out in a time when Corman was making a lot of sci-fi space-centered movies. Where Battle Beyond the Stars was his Star Wars ripoff, this one was his Alien ripoff.

There were many movies that were “inspired” by Alien, however, and some of them are pretty good. This one, is actually one of my favorites but let me get into why.

To start, I love the overall vibe of this movie. It’s stylistically cool and it has pretty impressive practical effects from something in this era that wasn’t made by George Lucas or Steven Spielberg and for having such a small budget.

I thought the monster was pretty cool and while this takes several beats from Ridley Scott’s Alien it is still original enough to be a pretty unique experience. Plus, it’s disturbing in its own way and you can’t predict what’s instore just based off of what it’s ripping off.

I also think that the cast in this is pretty decent and better than what’s typical for a Roger Corman production. The lead, Jesse Vint, was a good, heroic everyman. I also enjoyed Dawn Dunlap and June Chadwick because… well, you probably know why. Dunlap is especially gorgeous and damn near perfect. Although, her screaming got to be a bit much.

Something interesting about this movie, which I discovered while researching it, is that James Cameron worked on the set design. Granted, these sets were built for another Corman produced Alien “homage”, Galaxy of Terror. However, many of those set pieces were recycled and reconstructed for this movie. I think it’s probably safe to assume that Cameron’s work on these productions helped him when he directed Aliens, the official sequel of the film this one tried to emulate.

Forbidden World is better than what one would probably expect. It has that patented Corman touch, borrows heavily from a better movie but it all comes together rather well and should entertain fans of ’80s sci-fi, practical special effects and Corman flavored cinematic craftsmanship.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman produced films of the late ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: European Vacation (1985)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s European Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: July 26th, 1985
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by: John Hughes, Robert Klane
Music by: Charles Fox
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Dana Hill, Jason Lively, Victor Lanoux, Eric Idle, William Zabka, John Astin, Paul Bartel, Robbie Coltrane, Moon Unit Zappa

National Lampoon, Warner Bros., 95 Minutes

Review:

“[repeated line] God, I miss Jack!” – Audrey Griswold

I was a bit underwhelmed by the first Vacation movie after revisiting it a few weeks ago. While I wasn’t a massive fan of this film series, as I’m not really a fan of Chevy Chase, they’re still amusing enough to hold my attention and make me laugh in spots.

Now having revisited the second movie, I like this one more. I think that the European setting made it better, overall, and I this set of Griswold kids is my favorite in the series, as a tandem.

While the original seems to be the most beloved of the series, with Christmas Vacation being a very close second, this is just more interesting, as I find the culture clash stuff funnier than the family just driving through the desert, meeting their redneck kin and then riding some rollercoasters.

This also has more action and a pretty good, high energy finale for an ’80s comedy movie.

Additionally, it fleshes out the kids more and gives them their own subplots apart from just making them accessories to their parents on a road trip. In fact, the subplots with the kids I found to be more enjoyable.

All in all, I’m still not in love with this series but it’s not a bad way to kill some time on a rainy day. There are much better ’80s comedies and much better ’80s comedic leads than Chevy Chase.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

Book Review: ‘Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide’ by Jim Luceno, Laura Gilbert

I remember this oversized hardcover coffee table book coming out around the same time as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull back in the late ’00s. I wanted it but didn’t buy it back then, as it was a bit pricey and I was pretty damn poor then.

Recently, a copy popped up on an eBay search and I bought it, as it was really cheap and still in great quality.

While “encyclopedias” like this aren’t all that necessary in modern times with Wikipedia and lots of fan-made very specific Wikias, the larger than life presentation of this book and all of its great pictures, art and images, makes me yearn for a time when books like this were more common.

It’s one small part of the book but the thing I really liked most about this was how it provided three-dimensional maps of many of the tombs, temples and secret caves that Indiana Jones visited throughout the film franchise.

This book delves into a little bit of everything, though.

This doesn’t only cover the films but it covers The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles television show, the novels, the video games and even looks at the comics.

Additionally, it covers all of these things in as much detail as you can in the limited space of a book chock full of imagery.

For diehard Indiana Jones fans, I’d say that this is a really cool book to ad to your library. Especially, if you can find a good, affordable copy online.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other reference books and guides from other Lucasfilm blockbusters.

Film Review: Body Slam (1986)

Release Date: November 21st, 1986 (limited)
Directed by: Hal Needham
Written by: Shel Lytton, Steve Burkow
Music by: John D’Andrea, Michael Lloyd
Cast: Dirk Benedict, Tanya Roberts, Roddy Piper, Lou Albano, Barry Gordon, Charles Nelson Reilly, Billy Barty, John Astin, Sam Fatu, Sydney Lassick, Afa Anoai, Sika Anoai, Kellie Martin, Sione Vailahi, Tijoe Khan, Freddie Blassie, Ric Flair, Bruno Sammartino

Musifilm Productions, Hemdale Film Corporation, 89 Minutes

Review:

It amazes me that I never saw this movie as a kid and I didn’t even know of its existence until I heard someone talking about the wrestler cameos on a wrestling podcast I regularly listen to.

I guess I have to assume that this wasn’t on the shelves in the dozens of mom and pop video stores I spent time in during my childhood. I mean, there’s no way I would’ve overlooked it back then.

The film stars Dirk Benedict, a guy I loved from one of my favorite shows at the time, The A-Team. It also stars one of my favorite wrestlers, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, as well as a slew of other WWF wrestlers from the time. Plus, it also has a few cameos from a bunch of wrestling legends.

Beyond that, you’ve got Tanya Roberts, who I have been crushing on ever since The Beastmaster, as well as Charles Nelson Reilly, John Astin, Billy Barty, Kellie Martin and an underappreciated character actor I’ve always enjoyed, Sydney Lassick.

So the cast is pretty good or at least, interesting. However, the story has a weaker foundation than a house of sticks in a flood zone. For the most part, everything in this movie just feels kind of random and not much makes sense.

That being said, I still enjoy some sequences in the film but most of those usually just deal with the wrestlers I grew up loving, playing versions of themselves doing wonky ass shit.

After getting to the end of the movie, I wasn’t really sure what the point of it was. It seems like it was a tailor made picture just to include the very charismatic Piper and his wrestling buds and really, there’s nothing else here.

That’s not to say I didn’t like Dirk Benedict. He was fine with what he had to work with but I do feel like he was wasted in this and it could’ve possibly torpedoed any real attempt at a movie career after The A-Team.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other goofy B-movies from the ’80s. Also, anything starring ’80s wrestlers.

Film Review: Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)

Also known as: Gamera 3: Jashin kakusei (original Japanese title), Gamera 3: The Awakening of Iris (alternative title), Gamera 1999: The Absolute Guardian of the Universe (UK closing credits title), Gamera 3 (unofficial title)
Release Date: March 6th, 1999 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito, Shusuke Kaneko
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Shinobu Nakayama, Ai Maeda, Yukijiro Hotaru

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, Nippon Shuppan Hanbai K.K., Toho Co. Ltd., 108 Minutes

Review:

“Every creature, however unappealing, fights to the last to survive. Humanity as well.” – Mayumi Nagamine

This is the last of the awesome trilogy of Gamera films directed by Shusuke Kaneko. With that, this also concludes the storyline of his reoccurring characters and brings to a close this version of Gamera canon.

I’ve got to say, though, Kaneko went out with a bang and this isn’t just my favorite Gamera film of his trilogy but it is my favorite Gamera film of them all!

This one took a longer break from its predecessor and with that, I think they had more time to fine tune it and refine it from a story and script standpoint to working out some of the special effects kinks.

The end result is a film that looks better and plays better than any of its predecessors.

I enjoy the story in this a lot and even if it doesn’t come across as wholly original (it feels like something lifted from an Ultraman episode), it still works for this film series and provides Gamera fans with a neat, energetic conclusion to possibly the best version of the property.

Furthermore, the enemy monster in this is really damn cool and it’s an unfortunate creature with a personal grudge against Gamera. Basically, the monster Gamera fights isn’t simply evil and its reason for fighting Gamera is pretty damn justified.

That being said, the third act of this movie is really f’n good. If you’re already a kaiju or tokusatsu fan, you should really dig it. The final battle is the best in the series and the final moments of the film are pretty heavy and emotional.

If Daiei really wanted to take Gamera seriously and give fans something great, this is where they truly succeeded. The two films before this one really set the ground work and built a solid foundation but this shows that their efforts paid off and the studio and director delivered.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

Release Date: December 3rd, 2010
Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Written by: Panos Cosmatos
Music by: Sinoia Caves
Cast: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Norry, Rondel Reynoldson

Chromewood Productions, Magnet Releasing, Mongrel Media, 110 Minutes

Review:

“[while holding baby Elena and before submerging her into the black goo] Your mother’s reabsorption into the cycle of life won’t be for nothing, my darling, Elena. You will be the dawning of a new era for the human race… and the human soul. Let the new age of enlightenment begin!” – Mercurio Arboria

I really dug Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy, a film that sort of came out of nowhere a few years ago that in some ways, boosted and reignited Nicolas Cage’s acting career. I don’t think that it was long-lasting but his role in Mandy proved that the dude can still bring it and excel when given the right part in a movie.

Cosmatos only has one other film and, at this point, it’s already over a decade old. It’s been in my queue since I saw Mandy, however, so I felt like checking it out was long overdue.

Now having seen this, it’s a picture that I’m really split on.

From the visual side of things, it’s pretty close to a masterpiece. From a storytelling point-of-view, it’s pretty sloppy, slow, pointless and boring.

Visuals can salvage a film for me, sometimes. The thing is, there has to be enough meat on the other side of the coin for me to give an extremely artistic picture a pass on its weaker points. This one just doesn’t have enough to make me care about what’s actually going on in the movie.

This has a lot of really cool, bizarre shit thrown in but I don’t want to watch a movie just to see a surrealist painting in motion, I want to connect to it on a visceral level that requires me to care about what I’m watching and the characters within it.

This is one of those films that introduces cool but underdeveloped concepts and ideas but then never really tries to make it make sense. Sure, you can draw allusions based off of bits of dialogue and clues but when the filmmaker wants you to do all the work and see it in your own way, which I assume is the case here, I find that lazy and it makes me think that there was never a clear vision to begin with.

The entire film plays like a dream. You see and experience wild and cool shit but when you get through it and try to piece it together, it’s just a big blob of cool visual shit and a rollercoaster of mixed and underdeveloped emotions. You just think, “Well, I don’t know what the fuck that was about but it was kind of cool in certain parts.”

All that being said, I can’t knock the acting. It’s pretty good even if every character gives a severely understated performance.

Also, the music and sound were really neat and interesting. It added to the surreal effect of the picture quite well.

In the end, I didn’t just find this underwhelming, I also found it to be disappointing. However, I’d still check out whatever Cosmatos comes up with in the future.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy, as well as other modern overly surreal movies like Under the Skin and Enter the Void.