Thursday, January 11, 2007

Review: Children of Men

A Universal Pictures release 2006
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Writing credits:
Alfonso Cuarón (screenplay)
Timothy J. Sexton (screenplay)
David Arata (screenplay)
Mark Fergus (screenplay)
Hawk Ostby (screenplay)
P.D. James (novel The Children of Men)

In 2027, as humankind faces the likelihood of its own extinction, a disillusioned government agent (Clive Owen) agrees to help transport and protect a miraculously pregnant woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey) to a sanctuary at sea where her child's birth may help scientists to save the future of mankind.

Children of Men is easily the best science fiction film of the past year. As director Cuarón's follow up to Harry Potter 3, the film is expertly handled, convincingly portraying a dying world some twenty years into the future. What makes this film work is the use of a 3rd person style hand-held camera - it follows the characters around, immersing the viewer in the world as if they were running with Clive Owen. Quick pans and sweeping camera moves allow for a rich, realized atmosphere that is grounded in realism. That said, the story has some holes and could have been stronger, particularly in terms of characterization. While none of the performances are bad here, the characters simply feel like sci-fi stock. But if you're looking for the cinematic equivalent of a roller coaster ride, this may be as good as it gets.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Revisit: Four of the Apocalypse, Zombi 2

A Coralta Cinematographia production 1974
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Writing credits:
Ennio De Concini (screenplay)
Bret Harte (story)

Utah, 1873. Four petty criminals, including gambler Stubby Preston (Fabio Testi), pregnant prostitute Bunny O'Neal (Lynne Frederick), drunkard Clem (Michael J. Pollard), and the mentally disturbed Bud (Harry Baird) are left for dead in the desert. The quartet travel aimlessly looking for food and water while they are harassed by a villanous Mexican bandit named Chaco (Tomas Milian), whom Stubby vows to kill after the bandito sexually assaults Bunny.

A Variety Film production 1979
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Written by Elisa Briganti

A zombie is found on board a sail boat drifting off the coast of New York. The daughter of the owner of the ship, Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow), fears her father, a famous scientist that was exploring the Antilles, may be in danger. Along with journalist Peter West (Ian McCulloch), Brian Hull (Al Cliver), and Susan Barrett (Auretta Gay), she travels to Matul Island to investigate what might have happened to her father. Once in the tropical island, they meet Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson), who is trying to find a cure to a disease that brings dead back to life, turning them into zombies that eat human flesh.

Lucio Fulci is perhaps best known for making some of the most gory horror films of all time, including The Beyond (1981) and The New York Ripper (1982). His films are characterized by excessive amounts of blood and graphic depictions of violence and torture, often mixed with themes of the supernatural. A widely recognized cult figure, Fulci's films were ignored by critics upon their original release, and his body of work has generally been dismissed as exploitation due to the graphic nature of his films. However, Fulci is a master of genre, and quick glance behind the gore shows a smart filmmaker who can work past cliche to create original genre pictures with strong social commentary.

Fulci got his start making spaghetti westerns, with Four of the Apocalypse being one of his best efforts in the genre. Apocalypse came at the tail end of the spaghetti western era, and it shows - ten years after Leone's The Good, The Band, & The Ugly, Apocalypse demystifies the genre even further, presenting a version of the American West fueled by whikey, bloodshed, and psychadelic rock. The violence in this film is more colorful than that presented in earlier spaghetti westerns, and anticipates the splatter style horror gore that Fulci would become known for in the future. The way people's sides burst when they are shot, the bright red, almost paint like blood, the intense close-ups of victim's eyes in torture scenes - very typical of the late 70's/80's Italian horor style.

Actor Fabio Testi once described Fulci as having "this gift of communicating things that are ridiculous paradoxes", and in many ways it is true. Fulci is a master of the reversal; his films often exhibit the idiosyncrasies of a genre, as well as human nature. Zombi 2 finds it root in the most early of zombie movies, using voodoo as a source of revival rather than man made chemicals. Fulci creates an interesting paradox between the ideas of western religion and Christiany versus that of voodoo throughout the film - take, for example, the scene in which zombies begin to rise out of the jungle cemetary ground, and Peter West smashes them down with a large cross. Fulci puts a lot of emphasis on cross-based religious imagery throughout the film. Likewise, Apocalypse is full of paradoxes that defy expectation. The sheriff that sits back as his town is ravaged by gunmen, the town made of only men are more than just ironies. Much of the film is presented in a full circle or mirrored fashion; everything that is introduced is, at some point, dealt with in an opposing way. This type of mirroring is what makes Fulci rise above mere splatter - he presents both sides before laying all to waste.

Tarrantino often cites Fulci as an inspiration, and I can see why - he intelligently resituated both the horror and spaghetti-western genres while keeping true to their forms. That said, Fulci needs some serious academic re-evaluation.

Fans of either of these genres would enjoy these pictures, though they are not for the faint of heart.