Monday, April 30, 2012

Random Who Report: Planet of Fire (1984)

DVD cover and Amazon link

While classic Doctor Who stories often have the feel of movies, it was still a weekly television show. Sometimes episodes had to fill functions in a larger story, and for Planet of Fire a number of those functions intersected- the departure of a compaion, the arrival of a new one, dealing with a recurring character and giving us another round with one of the show's most popular villains. Peter Davison's penultimate story works pretty well under these circumstances, and if it lacks a certain urgency, it makes a good pause for breath between two much grimmer serials.

Random Movie Report #105: The Iron Rose

Iron Rose Blu-Ray cover and Amazon link

Jean Rollin has a style that's easy to pick up on, not so easy to love. His films' languid pacing and emphasis on bleak but atmospheric images makes his approach comparable to Bergman or Tarkovsky, with the crucial difference that neither of them ever made films about lesbian vampires. The Iron Rose- which, to be fair, is not about that either- is a particularly difficult and abstract film, one I'm not entirely sure what I think about some weeks after having seen it. It's as much an experience as a film, and while it's slow and not terribly satisfying, there's the nub of something powerful in there.

A boy (Pierre Dupont) and a girl (Francoise Pascal) meet at a party, make a date to go biking together, and end up at a cemetery, where the boy leads the girl into a crypt so they can make love. (Apparently this works. Single guys, take this down.) Time passes, pleasantly we assume, and when they climb out, it's night and they have no idea how to get out. The cemetery, being old and European, is a twisted maze of crypts, stones, and overgrowth, also featuring the occasional open pit to fall into. The girl slowly goes mad, developing an unhealthy obsession with death- one that may have always been there, even if she was reluctant to enter the place to start with.

So that is more or less the entire film. Two people are in a graveyard, trying not to be; it's a plot that, with a little trimming, could have been a Night Gallery episode. As a result, it's kind of slow going, and it's hard to work out any progression in the story- there's no sense that they're getting anywhere, so the only real driving force is the breakdown of the girl's sanity, which as the above paragraph indicated isn't really consistent to start with. The film mostly foregoes a music score in favor of ambient noise, which gets a little annoying after a while.

And yet there's something here. The upside of the whole mood piece approach is that Rollin is genuinely good at creating mood. There's a palpable sense of isolation and displacement in the images of the graveyard, and it's easy to believe the two characters are lost, because all we see are spots of light illuminated in a tangle of blackness. The place is old and filled with loose bones and skulls, and the silence is palpable.

The thinness of the characters seems deliberate, though it makes the girl's madness harder to process- it seems like it has something to do with the boy becoming agitated and violent at being lost, but it's hard to piece together a sequence of events in something deliberately plotless. Pascal is alluring in her way, just captivating enough to help anchor our interest, but both she and Dupont have to struggle with a script that gives them very little motivation.

As I've said in the past, atmosphere counts for a lot. The power of film to transport us to somewhere else is one of the reasons I love it, and really managing that is no mean feat. The film is based on a poem by Tristan Corbiere, and perhaps its idiosyncrasies stem from the fact that it doesn't stray very far from the poetic form- the aim, in the end, is to present images, not take us through a story. I'm not sure the picture is entirely successful in this regard, since it does still have to keep us engaged and it doesn't always do that, but what's there is more than enough to be worth a look.

Based on the poem by Tristan Corbiere
Scenario by Jean Rollin
Dialogue by Maurice Lemaitre
Directed by Jean Rollin

Grade: B-

Thursday, April 26, 2012

In Theaters: The Cabin in the Woods

Poster via Internet Movie Poster Awards

Despite sitting on the shelf for a couple of years, The Cabin in the Woods feels pretty fresh. A lot has been written about how there's more to the plot than even the seemingly revealing trailers let on, and it's definitely a challenge to write about this without giving something away. Suffice it to say, Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon's film is an imaginative take on horror movie tropes that goes beyond simply referencing them, to questioning the need for their existence. If it isn't quite as surprising as it tries to be, it still manages to create some genuinely transgressive thrills.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Frasierquest 4.22: Ask Me No Questions

Frasier contemplates, Daphne doesn't.

Niles: Do you think Maris and I are meant to be together?

Frasier: Right, well, that's a tough question. Well, perhaps, the better question would be do you think Maris and you are meant to be together?

Niles: I serve you up a question, you clumsily bat it back to me. We've hardly missed our squash game at all.

"Ask Me No Questions" feels like an earlier episode, something built around a simple, straightforward psychological concept. Frasier is handed a difficult question by someone who very much trusts his answer, and his obsession with getting it right drives him mad. It's a story that plays on Frasier's high opinion of his own importance and the awkwardness we all feel when put on the spot. On the heels of "Are You Being Served?" it looks more at Niles and Maris' changing relationship, and raises some questions of its own which aren't answered right away.

Still going through marital counseling, Niles asks Frasier if he thinks he and Maris are meant to be together. Frasier tries to deflect or ignore the question at first, but Niles seems insistent. He then plans to tell his brother what he thinks he wants to hear (i.e., "Yes"), but Martin reminds him that Niles values his opinion and trusts what he says. But Frasier doesn't know what to say, and he starts to obsess. His focus on the question jeopardizes his date with a smitten coworker (Cindy Katz), and eventually sends him wandering the streets looking for an answer.

This is a speedy episode, focused on one thing and able to explore it to the fullest. There's a subplot about Martin and Daphne exchanging gifts while managing to anger each other at the same time, but the episode focuses almost entirely on Frasier's attempt to resolve his dilemma, and it benefits from that. We learn more about Frasier in the process than we do about Niles and Maris; he's always been one to obsess, and as shown here it leads to indecision, because he values his own opinion too highly to make a decision quickly.

But even if the episode is mostly about Frasier, we do see a little more of Niles and Maris' developments. On the whole, things are going well- they're going to the sessions, and Niles' reports are hopeful. This contributes to this episodes' feeling like a throwback, with the two almost a happy couple again, even if we're as unsure as Frasier about whether it can last. And it provides another appearance by the ever-adorable Marta, who is now learning how to be fashion conscious.

I actually like the Martin/Daphne subplot, though they've been getting thrown together a lot by this point. I've never been in the escalating gift situation myself, but it seems to reflect their personalities quite well- Daphne does a sweet thing because she's a nice person, Martin is worried about the rules of when you give gifts and why. They'll hopefully be getting more to do soon than just get on each other's nerves.

As we finally close in on the season finale, we're seeing some changes, and one of them is that Niles and Maris are within hailing distance of reconciliation. In this episode they even sleep together, a big hop back into dangerous territory. Frasier reveals in this episode that he doesn't think this can work out, but we don't know for sure. It's a nice ambiguous note on top of a fun, speedy episode.

No Guest Caller

Written by Dan Cohen & F. J. Pratt
Directed by Jeff Melman
Aired May 20, 1997

Marta: Missy Crane very different, nicer to everyone, and this time no happy pills! For my birthday she give me a beautiful Chanel makeup bag. Is a knock-off, but is big!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Random Movie Report #104: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Munchausen cover and Amazon link

It's both ironic and understandable that an enchanting fairytale like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was an absolute nightmare behind the scenes. It was one of the biggest flops of its day, largely due to Columbia Pictures' decisions not to support a film greenlit by the last administration and to only strike a grand total of 120 prints during its entire theatrical run. But you can't say it doesn't deliver. Indeed, it's one of the most straightforwardly satisfying movies Gilliam's ever made, a wonderfully overstuffed, chaotic spectacle designed to leave the viewer dazed, tired, but happy. Gilliam clearly doesn't believe in leaving 'em wanting more, but his excess has a purpose, and at the core of the film is an affirmation of mad fantasy in the face of insurmountable sanity.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Random Movie Report #103: At the Earth's Core

At the Earth's Core DVD cover and Amazon link

In the wake of John Carter's unjust reception, I find myself taking a look at another attempt at bringing the fantastic literature of Edgar Rice Burroughs to the screen. At the Earth's Core is a film carried by its weirdness; it would be a bog standard adventure movie if not for just how strange everything it presents is. It's realized on a fairly low budget, so the presentation is inconsistent at best, but the overall experience is memorable.