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Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi: Endless Poetry, The Projected Man & Blade Runner 2049

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, April 8, 2018 07:20pm | Post a Comment

Movie Moment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to the second Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi, where I review new releases on Blu-ray and DVD. This month I review a new movie by surrealist wild man Alejandro Jodorowsky, a classic monster movie from the sixties, and the stylish new sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner 2049. Everything reviewed in this column came out in the past four months. So here we go:

Endless Poetry, Alejandro JodorowskyEndless Poetry, ABKCO:
Alejandro Jodorowsky is in his late eighties but he's still making movies. Cinema's arguably greatest maverick is not going quietly into that great night. In fact, this is the second film he's put out in the past five years. Both films have been biographical in nature although, like the rest of Jodorosky's films, reality is often just a launch pad for his surrealist flights of fantasy. Just like Federico Fellini, in Jodorowsky's movies it's hard to tell where reality ends and fantasy begins. In fact, this movie has some obvious nods to Fellini films such as 8 1/2 and Juliette of The Spirits. But make no mistake, this movie is pure Jodorosky and goes to places Fellini could never imagine. Just like the rest of his films, there are things in this movie you'll never be able to unsee. There is one scene that depicts a performance art piece where an armless man enlists audience participation to help him caress and make love to his wife that is one of the more disturbing things I've seen in years. Let's make a check list for this film: Random disemboweling? Check. Love triangle with a dwarf? Check. A mother whose only way to communicate is by singing opera? Check. A parade of skeletons? Check. Weird Freudian sex? Check. Strange orgies of psychedelic art? Check. In fact, this checklist could go on almost forever, because on one level this is a mere biography and on another this is a movie about life, the universe, and everything. This film and it's predecessor are the works of an artist at the end of his life trying to teach us the lessons he has learned and what it all means. On a certain level, this is one of the drawbacks of the film. Endless Poetry is not as good as The Holy Mountain, El Topo, and Santa Sangre because those films were delirious searches for the truth, whereas this film is made by a man who has his answers and wants to explain them to us. It's a calmer more controlled work. That difference in tone makes this a more, dare we say, "traditional" film than Jodorosky's early deranged masterpieces. But that is no slight against this picture; the only one Jodorosky is in competition with is the earlier version of himself. This is probably the most crazed and surreal movie that will be released this year. Jodorosky is still in a category unto himself.

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A Brief History of the Alien Films in Honor of the Release of "Alien: Covenant"

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, September 19, 2017 05:47pm | Post a Comment

Aliens CovenantBy Jon Longhi

The newest Alien movie, Alien: Covenant, came out on DVDBlu-Ray, and 4K-Ultra HD this month and is available at Amoeba Music, so now is as good a time as any to revisit the history of the Alien franchise. First, it’s important to point out that if it weren’t for the cracked phantasmagorical genius of Alejandro Jodorowsky there would never have been an Alien franchise.

Back in the mid-1970s, he assembled one of the greatest creative teams in history to make a film version of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune. Jodorowsky’s movie was going to be a loose interpretation of Herbert’s novel that used the book as a springboard for Jodorowsky’s own psychedelically cosmic ideas. Even though he had lined up Pink Floyd to do the soundtrack; H.R. Giger and Moebius to do do the visual and costume designs; Dan O’Bannon to do the effects; and Mick Jagger, Orson Wells, and Salvador Dali to star in it, Jodorowsky still couldn’t get the film green-lighted. The studios saw the director as too outlandish to be marketable. The great irony of all this was that Jodorowsky took his Dune material and turned it into some of the most successful graphic novels in history. The creative team he assembled went on to be some of the biggest movers and shakers in pop culture. The first cinematic collaboration that came out of the wreckage of Jodorowsky’s Dune was a couple years later when H. R. Giger teamed up with Dan O’Bannon to make the first Alien movie. The film became an instant classic and the iconic monster Giger created fuels the franchise to this day. All this is wonderfully explained in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.

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Exodus shocker -- the latest Hollywood Bible cartoon isn't very realistic

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 17, 2014 09:06am | Post a Comment

The other day I found out that some people are outraged by the casting in a Hollywood film -- in this case Ridley Scott's latest effort, Exodus: Days of Future Past (or whatever its full title is). They're apparently so upset that they're boycotting it, which is something I do with all but one or two Hollywood films every year although I refer to it simply as not paying to see it.

The problem that the boycotters have, it seems, is that Exodus is almost completely historically inaccurate (It's safe to guess that most of the Egyptian and Jewish characters are most portrayed by Anglo-Saxons and presumably speak Modern (if pretentious) English with a modern British accent, or approximation of one. Without having watched a trailer I'd guess that there aren't a lot of apparently Middle Eastern Africans portraying Middle Eastern Africans and the actual actors of African descent are used entirely for background color and supporting roles). 

Apparently these scandalized and offended won't-be viewers have never seen a Hollywood film before... or assumed that they'd somehow completely change their raison d'etre. Even at Hollywood's artistic peak in the 1930s, racial sensitivity and historical accuracy were not exactly hallmarks of Hollywood films -- making loads of money was, and that's what they did and they did it well. At one point Hollywood made loads of money with elaborately choreographed, brilliantly scored, escapist musicals. Nowadays Hollywood makes loads of money with loud CGI superhero cartoons. Sometimes -- rarely -- art slips through the cracks. Much more often big, dumb-looking movies like Exodus get released that look rather like the big, dumb movies that Hollywood was mostly pumped out for the last 90 years.

Sometimes these big,dumb movies made by Ridley Scott, a once-briefly-interesting filmmaker more than three decades ago made two excellent films (Alien and Blade Runner) and one not-great-but-enjoyable one, Legend. After a few years of light fun with gender (White Squall, GI Jane, and Thelma & Louise), Scott made the Gladiator, a truly old fashioned sword 'n' sandals epic in which Anglo-Saxons with British accents played sanitized, dehomosexualized Romans. It made no efforts at accuracy (no one spoke Latin, the statues were all unpainted, there was nary a priapus to be found, the meaning of thumbs up and thumbs down were reversed, &c). It was also, as a film, not good -- but it made loads of money and apparently convinced Scott that he could be this generation's Cecil B. DeMille. Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood followed -- neither of which looked any good and both of which I thus ignored, sorry, "boycotted."


So setting aside the fact that you're a grown-ass adult who apparently was considering watching a film based upon a book of the Torah, my question to the boycotters of Exodus is this: Why would you expect anything more or different from either Ridley Scott or Hollywood? Were you somehow misled? Did you see the trailer for Exodus in an arthouse, film festivalforeign language cinemagrindhouserevival housemuseum, on MUBI or somewhere else that good films are routinely screened -- or was it before some dumb, loud movie you watched in a multiplex? [I'm not not suggesting that I'm somehow above magical thinking. Every autumn morning in Los Angeles I put on a sweater somehow thinking that I'll will it to cool off and possibly snow but when it's hot by noon I curse my own stupidity and not the predictable weather.]

More importantly, If you want to see an historically accurate or artistic film set in Africa and depicting Africans then why on Earth are you turning to an industry whose best known "African films" were shot on a Culver City sound stage and starred Johnny Weissmuller? If you want African food do you go to Souplantation and wait for the chain to one day change their menu or do you go to an African restaurant? If you want African music, you go to the African music section (or store). So why, if you want racially sensitive or accurate portrayals of African history or culture wouldn't you go to the source?


If you want realistic, artistic African films depicting Africa then why don't you watch African films?
 If you really have your heart set on Biblical films, with the slightest effort you'd have come across Cheick Oumar Sissoko's La Genèse is a widely available at all finer video shops and is a good Bible film made in Africa by an African director and an all African cast. La Genèse was released on video in the US by Kino Video, who've released a lot of African cinematic masterpieces. Other widely-distributed, English-subtitled African classics are available from New Yorker Films, Facets, and Film Movement. If you live in a respectably diverse city, you could also try an African market. I'm just saying, maybe if you want to see sensitive, intelligent cinematic depictions of Africans, watch more African films than just District 9.

In case you need to be reminded, there are about 196 sovereign countries on our planet today and of them, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, ChadChile, China, Colombia, CongoCosta Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, the UK, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Vietnam are all have film industries and/or filmmakers who regularly produce films that quite often are more intelligent, more artistic, more honest, more insightful, and more culturally sensitive than their Hollywood counterparts. 

It is 2014 and you have options. Assuming that you're reading this on a computer and not a print-out, you have electricity which means you have internet and are not required to rely solely (or at all) on Redbox. There is no reason you'd have to watch a Hollywood film unless you're a film reviewer or your friend is involved in the production. This should be cause not for complaint but for celebration. 


*****

Follow Eric Brightwell


Some Weak Stitching: What I Didn't Like about Prometheus (2012)

Posted by Charles Reece, June 10, 2012 11:56pm | Post a Comment

Finally, Ridley Scott returns to what he does best, science fiction. And Prometheus is the best looking and visually imaginative example of the genre since his Blade Runner. The writing is hackneyed, however, existing only as a cheap frame to support the spectacle. The film begins with a staple of classic SF, the extraterrestrial explanation of abiogenesis (borrowed from The Chariot of the Gods), which doesn't make a lick of sense, and ends with a cosmic duel to the death between the unstoppable penis and the unmovable vagina, which is about all I could ask of a movie. Going with the idea that literary SF is the "literature of cognitive estrangement," the "critical genre par excellence,Carl Freedman has expressed skepticism that -- with few exceptions that prove the rule (e.g., 2001) -- the cinematographic version will ever rival its written counterpart because of "an aesthetic hegemony of special effects that is fundamentally antithetical to the conceptual core of science fiction itself." However, if Prometheus says anything interesting, and I believe it does, it's mostly as an effects-laden spectacle, which I'll get to in my next post. For now, I'm going to focus on trying to make sense out the story, or, more accurately, question the nonsense. (I assume anyone reading this has already seen the movie, or doesn't care about spoilers.)

The origin of life -- or, at least, humanity as we know it -- in the prologue involves a hairless, bluish-white humanoid bodybuilder drinking some black goo, which causes his body to dissolve into a waterfall some time in Earth's distant past. The desolate, inorganic landscapes during the credits suggest a primordial world, but I'm not sure whether this scene is actually supposed to be the origin of all life (3.5 billion years ago), or if it's what gave the great apes the evolutionary advantage some 14 million years ago, or if it's what resulted in the modern human 200,000 years ago. Regardless, the genetic jumpstart occurred at least 200,000 years ago. This leads to a lot of problems in the script that shouldn't have been all that difficult to rectify had anyone in this $130 million dollar project bothered checking Wikipedia:

(1) When there's a DNA comparison later on in the film between humans and Engineers (as the father species comes to be called), it turns out to be a perfect match, even though there appears to be about as much difference between us and them as between us and apes. Surely merging the Engineer's DNA with the black goo and our ancestral gene pool would've developed some genomic differences, which would've led to the phenotypical differences on display in the film (e.g., they're completely hairless, have super-strength, are at least 2 feet taller, and their eyes are completely black). This becomes an even bigger problem if the evolutionary martyrdom sparked all of life, since we'd be about as genetically close to the Engineers as to the first single-cell organism.

(2) Speaking of which, why would this goo that transforms living creatures into larger, more complex living creatures turn the sacrificed Engineer into a bunch of single cell or smaller organisms? If his DNA was so close to our own, wouldn't he have transformed into an even stronger monster version of himself just like the contaminated geologist, Fifield, does later in the film? Also, the goo clearly doesn't have an effect on inorganic matter as demonstrated by David's handling of it on his finger. Thus, it couldn't be a true abiogenetic agent, turning the inorganic into the organic, meaning that the prologue takes place sometime after life began.

(3) In the film, the android David studies all the oldest languages in order to communicate with the Engineers, just in case our linguistic systems developed from theirs and their language hasn't changed any sense the dawn of man (a reasonable hypothesis, since language hasn't developed much on Earth in that time). Since the development of modern language in homo sapiens is estimated to have occurred somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, that leaves a lot of lag time where the Engineers had to hang out on Earth waiting for us to develop to the point of handling their advanced syntax. Were they building all those advance Gigerian monuments that they leave on all the other planets? No, they were painting crude pictures on cave walls, or teaching our ancestors how to do it. Which leads me to the next problem:

(4) In order to have influenced these 35,000 year old cave paintings that the two lead scientists, Charlie and Elisabeth, discover are maps of a constellation that can only be seen with the advanced technology in the year 2093 AD, the Engineers must have been on our planet even more recently. Where are are all the technological remnants? They had space ships back in the prologue! They quite obviously build stations on every planet they colonize or terraform. They couldn't have raised the first ancestor of Giger in a hut somewhere to build an elaborate phallic monument? They obviously weren't hiding their existence, since they taught us humans where they came from (or, at least, where they keep their weapons) in order to paint it on cave walls all over the planet.

(5) They did teach us the technology of writing, since not only is David able to talk to the Engineer he meets, but he's also able to read all their symbols and use these symbols to control their spaceships based on a combination of ancient Sumerian and Egyptian scripts (because all that it takes to fly an American airplane is to know English orthography). And, now, we have the Engineers hanging out on Earth until around 3200 BC, because that's about the time writing began.

(6) Why did the black goo make such minor and gradual genetic changes resulting in homo sapiens? It's shown to create 3 feet long, face-fucking alien cobra snakes from itsy-bitsy meal worms and capable of impregnating an infertile woman with a squid creature that grows to room-sized proportions in a couple days' time! Shouldn't we have been able to pick up language, advanced technological skills, etc. in relatively short order? That is, if we're the Engineers' phylogenetic twins after the gooey transformation, why did it take so long to develop space travel when they were with us, presumedly teaching us stuff (like art, language and where they came from) for at least 150,000 years? On our own (as in not on the History Channel, but in the real world without any alien manipulation), we went from developing a writing system to the moon landing in around 5,000 years. If I were to ask the Engineers anything, it would be, "why does your educational system suck so bad?"

Along with the poorly thought out scientific ideas, there are just so many sloppy plot contrivances: There's the problematic tendency for characters to act in ways that don't fit who they are (e.g., although he's an archaeologist, Charlie goes on a depressive bender after finding proof for his theories in the nonliving remains of a superior species that brought humans into existence, because he wanted to talk to them -- this serves no purpose other than to set up a discussion between him and David about meeting one's creator); and characters mysteriously figure out needed information (e.g., the Prometheus' captain is sure they're on a WMD site for the Engineers, David somehow discovers that the Engineers were planning on destroying the Earth because he's seen their map, and Elizabeth is evidently a medical expert even though she's an archaeologist); or how about everyone always being right where they need to be for the plot to continue (e.g., Elizabeth just turning up at the room where old man Weyland is, or her immediately finding David's decapitated head in an alien ship that's been crashed landed and turned over); and the baffling failure or inconsistent use of technology (e.g., the advanced medical machine is only capable of operating on a man's body, despite the well-integrated work force on these ships, and Fifield and Milburn get lost so they can be first victims, even though they're in radio contact with people on the ship who are capable of pinpointing all movement within the alien terrain). ... Aargh, I must stop thinking about this.

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