Showing posts with label twilight time. Show all posts
Showing posts with label twilight time. Show all posts

Jun 22, 2020

ZARDOZ (1974)

Budding cineastes slowly developing their love for cinema in the Internet Age have likely become aware of Zardoz's existence through the infamous image of Sean Connery dressed as a viking by way of a Prince music video while grasping a rather modern looking pistol and smiling right into the camera. It's an image that invokes thoughts of, "Oh man, I need to see this...but, maybe later." 

Before it went out of print, home video distributor Twilight Time resurrected this strange title for another lease on life. The definition of a cult film, Twilight Time ran through its typical allocation of 3,000 units quicker than many of its other titles, and after having seen Zardoz for myself, I can understand why: it's so goddamned weird that it's clearly the kind of title that only appeals to a very few, and those to whom it does appeal, it appears pretty hard.

Frankly, I'm at a loss as to how I might adequately provide even the loosest iteration of Zardoz's plot, so I'm not going to try. Twilight Time's own synopsis:

Writer-director John Boorman’s fabulously bizarre Zardoz (1974) is a visually stunning science fiction/fantasy fable starring Sean Connery as the spanner in the works of a dreamily languid future society. A primitive Adam, Connery’s Zed charges like a bull through the china shop of a civilization from which all signs of lusty humanity have been drained.

Added to that: by film's end, Connery will end up in a wedding dress before he turns into a skeleton, all while holding hands with...another skeleton.

Zardoz is an entirely maddening, confusing, frustrating, highly amusing experience that cannot be easily summarized into mere words. To try would be to harvest from the film its identity, its uniqueness, and its complete lunacy. Zardoz is artistic expression unrestrained, anchored by the presence of former James Bond Sean Connery, whose involvement wrongly assures the most mainstream of audiences that he's made a film that appeals to everyone who enjoys going down to the cinemas on a Sunday afternoon looking for a brief slice of harmless escapism. Zardoz's "story" is baffling. Zardoz's "message" is baffling. That Zardoz was produced and distributed by a major motion picture studio is utterly baffling. But it's here: now, and for all time. It's recently turned forty-five years old, and its legend remains firmly intact. It's wonderfully and weirdly captivating, and deserves to be seen once. Though it may demand more than one viewing to fully appreciate how utterly mad it is, the jury will be forever out on who would ever do such a thing.

A good friend of mine put it best: "Sean Connery turned down both The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings because he 'didn't get' them, but he said yes to Zardoz."

You figure that one out.

Zardoz is less of a film and more of an experience. Like that fever dream you once had following your all-night puke-a-thon the last time you got that really nasty stomach bug from the half-KFC/half-Taco Bell, Zardoz probably makes sense somewhere in the outer-reaches of artistic creation, but here on Earth, it's frankly one of the most absurd and deeply abstract 105 minutes of your lifetime. What on the surface may look like a silly B-movie accidentally starring Sean Connery is actually an art-house experiment straddling the line between erotic thriller and science-fiction extravaganza purposely starring Sean Connery. Those interested by such a breakdown may possibly use Jonathan Glazer's 2013 film Under the Skin, another unorthodox film about cross-universe alien races driven by a deconstruction of sexuality, as a guide to determine what kind of experience Zardoz may provide. One thing is for sure: you've never seen anything like it.

Zardoz has spoken.

Apr 30, 2020


It’s a wonder to me that Pretty Poison isn’t more well known, or that it isn’t more celebrated beyond the hardcore and dedicated cinephile. While I find that staggering, I can possibly chalk that up to star Anthony Perkins' post-Psycho career, in that, after having created quite possibly the greatest screen killer of all time, how on earth is one supposed to live up to that? While I can understand that, it doesn't make it any less of a shame. 

The best kinds of dark comedies are those that don’t reveal their hand too early on in the running. As a plot progresses and becomes embroiled in more and more absurdity, and you start to realize that the universe in which you’re immersed is very askew and not adhering to the rules of normality, that’s when a dark comedy is at its most rewarding.

Going into Pretty Poison totally blind encourages that reaction. Following a fairly tragic beginning in which a young man is released from a facility for an as-of-yet unknown crime and warned by his parole officer of sorts to stay out of his head and knock off the fantasyland stuff, Pretty Poison at first presents itself as a film about a sad, lonely guy with no one to call friend or family, and who instead resorts to disappearing within himself in an effort to become more interesting and intriguing than he actually is. But, like all the best dark comedies, it’s as the plot slowly unfolds and he falls head-over-feels in love with a very young girl that his fantasy collides with reality in the most unfortunate way possible and leads to some absolutely bizarre and unexpected directions.

Anthony Perkins’ most famous role — that of Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary Psycho— haunted the actor for the rest of his days in ways both good and bad. Obviously Perkins knew following the reception of Psycho that Norman Bates was a once-in-a-lifetime role (even if he would go on to play the character three more times), but as can happen to many other actors, he was soon typecast. No one could look at the actor and see Anthony Perkins — they saw Norman Bates. And because of that, Perkins would be saddled with roles as the weird guy, the murderer, the sexual deviant — and in films of low caliber that Perkins’ talent far overshadowed. 

Eight years following Psycho‘s release, he played Dennis Pitt, not quite Norman Bates-lite, but definitely a character with some heavy emotional baggage that puts him in situations where he’s suddenly finding ways to dispose of dead bodies for someone he loves. (Sound familiar?) But unlike the sinister and brooding Norman Bates, Dennis Pitt is lively, charming, even funny; and Perkins — once you’re in on the joke — is an absolute hoot to watch. His dry, overly serious manner of impressing the beautiful Tuesday Weld’s Sue Anne Stepanek, a high school girl and majorette in the marching band, with his diatribes about secrecy and cloak-and-dagger generalizations is effortlessly funny. Even if in a not-so-obvious comedy, Perkins has never been more engaging and amusing in a role where he essentially spoofs the very dry Joe Friday from television’s then-current Dragnet.

But matching his stride is Weld herself, eagerly playing sexy and faux-naiveté for her own style of humor. And she does certainly come across as equally sexy and dangerous in the way director Noel Black intends — her using her body to weigh down one of their poor victims into the river to drown him, with her legs splayed open and her summer dress rolled back, goes a fine distance in bringing that realization to the screen. She’s charming in that girl-next-door way, but she’s also stunning and intoxicating in that forbidden schoolgirl way; her performance suggests that either she’s as entirely gullible as Dennis Pitt hopes she is, or she’s up to her own brand of mental espionage.

It was through sheer coincidence that about a day or two after watching Pretty Poison for the first time that I slipped in True Lies strictly for some leisure watching. Suddenly, the subplot about liar Bill Paxton attempting to woo Jamie Lee Curtis by spinning yarns about being an agent for the CIA and currently entrenched in a top secret mission suddenly felt very familiar. But, being that James Cameron has never met an idea he didn’t want to borrow, I guess it’s comforting to know that perhaps Pretty Poison hasn’t been totally forgotten after all.

Pretty Poison can easily be referred to as that other excellent film where Anthony Perkins plays someone not quite right in the head, while also being a fairly more obvious attempt at comedy when compared to Psycho (although rumors abound that Hitchcock always thought of his most famous film as a black comedy as well). Further, Pretty Poison proves that Perkins was a talented actor who remained fairly undervalued for the remainder of his post-Psycho career, never fully able to get out from under its shadow. 

Pretty Poison is now available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

Feb 27, 2020


The western world has its own idea of the samurai. In this neck of the woods, samurai are sometimes blood-thirsty, meticulously trained savages who can disappear at will like wisps of smoke. They can appear otherworldly, even supernatural, suggesting that it wasn't generations of enlightenment and formal training that has led to their legacy, but mysticism and black magic. 

And then you've got nonsense like Kill Bill where old men stroke too-long beards and revel in bawdy bullshit. In this age of Quentin Tarantino and Tom Cruise, the true essence of the samurai has become muddied and lost. This is where The Twilight Samurai enters to shatter your allusions and change so much of what you thought you knew about this ancient culture. 

Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanada) has had a rough go of it lately. His wife has died from consumption, leaving him to not only care for their two daughters with little money, but he must also contend with caring for his mother, whom he is sadly losing to her increasing dementia. To support his family as best as he can, he has taken to working in an accountant's office, utilizing none of his skills of a samurai. Seibei struggles to find worth in himself in a world rapidly changing and one that he feels is consistently letting him down. 

One of the reasons The Twilight Samurai is so effective as a film is the sheer normality of it all, which sounds like an unusual point of praise, but it's exactly this normality that gives the film its power. Seibei the samurai is not a wire-flying hero; he does not befriend a westerner to fight off the advances of a nearby warring clan. He is a widower, father of two daughters, son of a sick mother; an office drone like the rest of us forced to work in a lifeless environment doing lifeless work. And in the midst of all this, Seibi finds himself living in a world where the concept of the samurai is outdated and unnecessary. He is not only contending with the drastic turn his life has taken following the death of his wife, but he is also contending with his own worth as a person, and feelings of his own irrelevance. 

Though the story of an individual examining their own worth is a timeless one, the foreign environment in which The Twilight Samurai takes place is what drives the story into unique territory. It gets a lot of mileage out of presenting a character study of this sad man who, though he bears the sword, the robe, and the tied-back hair, feels nothing like the samurai whom he has studied to be. Because of this, Seibei feels intensely human and, at times, sadly relateable. He's been dealt a shitty hand, he's barely making ends meet at a job he loathes, and his co-workers, who repeatedly ask him to come out for drinks and who are always turned down, have begun calling him "Twilight Seibei," because he always makes it a point to get home before dark so he can care for his family. They mock him for his anti-social behavior, his appearance, and yeah, even his body odor. He suffers the same indignities as your basic blue-collar 9-to-5er - it's just that he happens to be a samurai, and never has such a respected and awed-over figurehead been so castrated and dehumanized to the point of humiliation. 

The Twilight Samurai is definitely not for everyone. At a running time of over two hours, and with samurai everywhere on screen all the time, but none of whom are doing cool flips or slicing men in half or other dumb Hollywood shit, preconceived notions have the power to conflict with the story. Make no mistake, though there are scenes in which the samurai exercise their skills, ultimately The Twilight Samurai is a two-hour character study about a broken man learning to feel worth again - and that's equally compelling as any wire-fight.

The Twilight Samurai is available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

Jun 12, 2019


There is a very real psychological phenomenon known as the bystander effect, which deduces that the more people present during an event which would normally require intervention to diffuse a violent or traumatic conflict, the less likely that anyone will do so. Basically, if two people witness something where intervention would be necessary, those two are more likely to intervene than if ten or fifteen people were at the same scene. The idea is that the feeling of responsibility for coming to someone’s aid becomes dispersed amongst all those who are present, and with everyone waiting for another individual to make the attempt, no one ultimately will. (Yay mankind!)

The Incident, which plays out as a bleak and uncomfortable combination of 12 Angry Men and The Taking of Pelham 123, is a cinematic embodiment of this phenomenon and a fascinating character study about fear, anger, racism, and loneliness. Like a Frank Weegee photograph come to life, the black and white photography not only captures the seediness and despair of a late ‘60s-era New York, it also provides every single character with an implied backstory about his or her experiences. Before they end up on that fateful subway train for an excruciating real-time 45-minute ride, we meet every single character. None of them are at particular high points in their lives: many are angry; some are victimized by their husband or wife or lover; some are excruciatingly lonely and looking for intimacy; and some are in a bad way and need help from someone waiting for them on the other side of that subway train ride. These characters bring their backstories and personalities to that subway ride and colors how they will react to the conflict unfolding within. 

Director Larry Peerce and writer Nicholas Baehr made a very New York film that is not complimentary of New York. Every single character is in a bad way; no one is happy. People aren’t just being victimized by two hoods on a train (with two audacious and excruciating performances by Martin Sheen and Tony Musante); they’re being victimized within their relationships, or by society at large, or by their own lives or desires. And on that subway train, some riders speak out against their harassers, begging them or even ordering them to stop. But some don’t. Some ride in silence, shying away from their harassers or even falling for their mock empathy. How some of these riders react to their torturers mirror how they reacted to their own partners before stepping onto that train. Likewise, those riders who exerted dominance over their own partners were soon dominated by one of the two hoods. It’s bloodcurdling yet fascinating to watch unfold — like a car wreck on the side of the road, only the audience sees it unfold in real time.

As the tension on the train car increases, the audience wants it to stop — would, also, like some of its characters, beg for it to stop. And an idea begins to creep in that there are a handful of young and able-bodied men on that train who could easily, if working together, disarm the two punks. But no one ever has that idea. Sure, as one after another they are victimized and terrorized, they trade awkward glances to other riders with pleading eyes, hoping for someone to intervene. But no one does. Everyone cowers, even behind those making empty threats to call the police — somehow, on a subway train, traveling 60 miles an hour.

For those who have never before experienced The Incident, it sneaks up on you like a sucker punch to the gut, sending you to your knees. It’s ugly, and bleak, and very cynical, and when it’s over, you walk away feeling as if you, yourself, were on that same subway train. There is very little physical violence used, beyond the very opening and the very closing of the film; throughout, however, it’s very psychologically violent, and doesn’t make for an easy watch. 

Those with strong stomachs and an affinity for challenging cinema need to ride this train. Those who don’t need the reminder that in this world it’s every man for himself need to get off at the next stop.

The Incident is now available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.