Dust Devil: The Final Cut

Dir. Richard Stanley, 1992. Starring: Robert John Burke, Chelsea Field. English/Afrikaans. Horror.

Dust Devil has suffered from a bad reputation ever since Harvey and somebody Weinstein eviscerated Richard Stanley’s cut of the film from 108 minutes to 87 for its ill-fated theatrical release. Stanley’s previous feature was the cult hit Hardware, which was noted for having made back its micro budget many times over as a video store hit. Why the Weinsteins chose to lop off 20 minutes and remove all the sense from the film is a bit of a mystery. Hopefully, Dust Devil: The Final Cut will redeem the film in the eyes of those who had seen it previously and introduce this gem to a new generation of horror fans.

Set in an arid, remote region of South Africa, Dust Devil follows an enigmatic serial killer (Robert John Burke), half man-half demon who follows the lonely highway, making love to and then killing depressed women. The killer uses ritual magic, attempting through his murders to transcend the earthly plane so he can return to the spiritual world. The desert setting gives the film a Western atmosphere as does the casting of an American actor in the drifter-killer role. Whether there are supposed to be additional political connotations in an American man using African magic and killing white African women is an unresolved quandary. Wendy, a narcissistic housewife, leaves her brutish husband, eventually crossing paths with the handsome killer. The fact that neither the killer, nor Wendy, nor her husband are likeable characters and the latter two are idiots, makes the final battle all the more enjoyable. By liberating you from sympathizing with the protagonists, Stanley allows the viewers to consider the killer’s motivations objectively and also enjoy the resulting bloodshed more thoroughly.

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Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Dec 6, 2008 2:59pm

Morgan!: A Suitable Case for Treatment

Dir. Karel Reisz, 1966. Starring: David Warner, Vanessa Redgrave. English. Classics.

I volunteer, in an unofficial capacity, that David Warner could play with intelligence and wit any part offered to him. Misogynistic art film buffs will fondly remember his uncredited role in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, 80s comedy fans know him best as vampire hunting Professor McCarthy in My Best Friend is a Vampire, and a certain blog writer can’t choose between his best performances, as Evil Genius in Time Bandits and Jack the Ripper in Time after Time. Warner’s rugged, sculpted features and his Royal Shakespeare Company training have made him one of the most versatile and charismatic film actors, on par with other distinctive, powerful talents like Stephen Rea and Harvey Keitel. Warner gives his leading man performance in Morgan! with such ease and virtuosity, it’s incredible that he’s so often been relegated to smaller roles. His is a rather unlikeable character:  a juvenile underproductive artist with a complex involving gorillas and Communism, financially supported by his soon to be ex-wife. Vanessa Redgrave does a lot with a thin role as his rich, unappreciated spouse who has transferred her affections to Morgan’s oleaginous art dealer. Already suffering from (or in Morgan’s case thoroughly enjoying) delusions and fantasies, his wife’s ambivalent reaction to his attempts to win her back makes him lose his grasp of reality.

Morgan! is a seminal film in the Mod movement that flourished in England during a short period from the early to mid-1960s. Mod filmmakers like John Schlesinger, Richard Lester, and Karel Reisz transitioned from “kitchen sink” documentaries funded by the British government to Mod’s more vibrant, stylized aesthetic, some of them then continuing on to more commercial careers. While there has been controversy amongst sociologists as to whether the Mod movement was a working- class rebellion against mass-produced culture or an embracement of consumerism across class barriers, Mod filmmakers firmly posited Mod style as a youth-oriented rebellion against the previous generations mores, characterized in film by a stylized aesthetic and structure, portrayals of sexual liberty, and a quirky, if hit-or-miss sense of humor.

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Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Dec 6, 2008 2:48pm

The Cruise

Dir. Bennett Miller. 1998. Starring: Timothy “Speed” Levitch. English. Documentary.

The hook of The Cruise is that most New York tour guides are jaded wage slaves repeating the same statistics and soulless anecdotes to dozens of tourists every day, but “Speed” views his “loops” as an opportunity to communicate the transcendental joy of being alive in New York, a city he anthropomorphizes in different forms, giving the film a second character, and in a sense a plot. Miller operated the camera himself and he manages to shoot New York with a sensual, humble idiosyncrasy worthy of “Speed” himself. The last shot of the film feels a touch contrived, but the presence of the World Trade Center’s erstwhile towers will haunt any viewer.

It’s difficult, and perhaps impossible to impart the appeal of the documentary The Cruise without quoting its protagonist Timothy “Speed” Levitch at some length; this is in itself a disservice to any potential viewer of The Cruise because the poetry of Speed’s erudition is best seen “live”, being delivered spontaneously by the man himself, rather than being read. Speed’s hyper-articulateness must be heard to be appreciated. To listen to Speed’s quotidian orations is to discover a human being who can extemporaneously compose sentences of Jamesian complexity. So fear not, gentle reader. His words are yours to discover.

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Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Nov 19, 2008 7:45pm

Enemy Mine

Dir. Wolfgang Petersen, 1985. Starring: Dennis Quaid, Louis Gossett, Jr. English. Science Fiction.

Uncle Davidge’s Cabin Enemy Mine joins a long list of Hollywood films using alien-human tension as an allegory for race relations. The line begins with Robinson Crusoe on Mars, a 1960s space opera currently released by Criterion with a beautiful new transfer. Departing from the Daniel Defoe novel, the Friday character is not black, but he is still a slave, and the fact that he’s an alien, as well as his lowly status, still positions the white explorer as the Other’s protector. During the Cold War science fiction films used the alien-human dichotomy again to symbolize the lack of understanding between communist and capitalist ideology, sometimes propagandistically (Don Siegel’s chilling 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers), sometimes as a sympathetic plea for understanding (from Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still all the way to James Cameron’s The Abyss). But concerns about racial equality remained, addressed in various forms from the original Star Trek series to John Sayles’s underrated, overlooked masterpiece Brother from Another Planet.

In the year 2092 we’ve achieved world peace (I guess there must have been some glitches after Obama achieves it in 2009) so the human race decides to devote itself to exploration and economic development of the far reaches of space. On the course of its journey it discovers an alien race with imperialistic ambitions of its own, the Draks. During a VERY Star Wars-esque fighter plane battle, human pilot Willis Davidge (Jerry Lee Lewis, a.k.a Dennis Quaid) and Drak pilot Jeriba (Dolph Lundgren’s pursuer cop in The Punisher, Louis Gossett Jr.) are shot down over an uninhabited and hostile planet. Initially distrustful of one another, Davidge and Jeriba soon learn the other’s language, and form a close, fraternal bond. Davidge soon discovers that the contents of Jeriba’s prized book contain the same teachings as the Bible, because “truth is truth, no matter in what language.” Enemy Mine is full of warm scenes of brotherhood and life lessons learned, set against majestic, fully-rendered matte paintings. (Matte paintings, when special effects were beautiful.) Although Jeriba’s skin is a tawny brown and he is played by an African-American actor, the differences between Davidge and he are treated as primarily cultural, until a third-act racial twist involving Robinson Crusoe-esque scenes of slave labor and benevolent white protection. Although the film has a positive message and good intentions, Davidge’s near single-handed rescue of a gang of enslaved Drak miners projects a message redolent of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that racial equality will come at the hands of enlightened and sympathetic whites, rather than Black agency or even integrated effort. The simplistic treatment may come from director Wolfgang Petersen’s German nationality and hence a lack of experience with the subtext’s subject matter. These faults are minor in comparison with Enemy Mine’s many virtues: an epic story centered around two isolated “Waiting for Godot” type characters, excellent production design, and an idealistic, if flawed, message.

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Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Nov 8, 2008 4:36pm

A Disquisition on Magnum P.I., Season 3

1982-1983. Starring: Tom Selleck, John Hillerman, Roger E. Mosley, and Larry Manetti. English. TV.

Magnum. Magnum, Magnum, Magnum, Magnum. Saying that name, (and for you, gentle reader, seeing it) just makes me feel better.

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Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Aug 27, 2008 3:59pm

Radio On

Dir: Christopher Petit. 1979. Starring: David Beames, Lisa Kreuzer. English. Cult.

There are multiple attitudes through which one can examine the film Radio On. It’s another example of the phenomenon of a film critic becoming a director. Christopher Petit was the editor for the film section of Time Out London from 1973 to 1978, and though he never achieved the notoriety of the Nouvelle Vague directors who once wrote for Cahiers du Cinema, his film career has turned out far better then Roger Ebert (who penned the script for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) or Susan Sontag (who lost some of her critical credibility for the ill received Duet for Cannibals). Radio On is also a unique British-German coproduction, written and directed by an Englishman, but produced and shot by two Germans, Wim Wenders and Wenders’ ubiquitous cameraman Martin Schäffer. The art direction of the film is best compared to David Bowie’s album cover for Low, no coincidence considering Bowie’s “Heroes/Helden” is the song that starts the film. Actually, Radio On might one day be added to the list of films that will be better remembered for their soundtrack’s significance than the film’s cinematic merit. The film makes prominent use of hipster favorites like Kraftwerk, Ian Dury, and Devo, and includes a cameo from Sting in one of his first roles. Now Sting is not a hipster favorite, and probably never will be after boasting of his tantric exploits to multiple media outlets while promoting his adult contemporary hit “Desert Rose” in a slick Jaguar commercial. That doesn’t mean that we should forget Sting is a gifted actor, his performance in Brimstone & Treacle being a particular favorite.

It’s perfunctory to synopsize the plot in any film review, but here it seems somewhat irrelevant. A factory DJ drives to Bristol to investigate the mysterious death of his brother, but the plot is only a pretext for long periods of listening to the radio broadcasting the hip music and chaotic news reports of Northern Ireland bloodshed and conservative outrage that prevailed in Thatcherite England, as well as to look out the window at the excellently photographed landscapes. Once the DJ arrives in Bristol he becomes distracted by a German woman (Lisa Kreuzer) looking for her five-year-old daughter, Alice. This is a clumsy attempt by Wenders to expand the narrative of one of his own characters from his 1974 film Alice in the Cities, where Kreuzer plays a woman who abandons her daughter nine-year-old daughter of the same name. Wenders tries to create an impromptu prequel and belatedly illuminate the viewers of his previous film that Alice’s mother had once traveled to England to search for the child she would subsequently abandon. Considering Radio On is so sensitive to the politics and music of the decade it occupies, it was unwise of Wenders to ignore the glaring asynchronicity of Alice being five in 1980 and nine in 1974.

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Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Aug 4, 2008 3:01pm
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