Thursday, February 27, 2014

Vampyres (1974)

Title: Vampyres (1974)

Director: Jose Ramon Larraz

Cast: Marianne Morris, Anulka, Dziubinska

I’ve been catching up with the whole Lesbian Vampire sub-genre and it’s been a trip. Weirdest thing about these movies is that most of them are very well made and beautiful to look at, also, most of the time they lean more towards being artful and beautiful to look at. Vampiros Lesbos (1971) and The Living Dead Girl (1982) surprised me in that way, as did Daughters ofDarkness (1971), which I like to call 'the classy one'. Vampyres always gets mentioned as an important part of the sub genre, so I decided to finally give it a spin. Up to this point, I’d seen nothing but good lesbian vampire movies, this I’m sad to inform was the first of the bunch to disappoint me. Why? Well, my disappointment lies in the film being so simple minded, I mean, there’s no meat to this film. The story starts with these two lesbian chicks making out in bed and suddenly this mysterious dude comes in and shoots them. Talk about coitus interruptus! So anyways, after that they become vampires. Their modus operandi in order to feed is to use their female powers on men who pass by their castle. Then they ask for a ride and wham, guys fall in the trap like flies on a spider web.

I don’t mind simplicity in a film if said film compensates with something else, like for example style, or action. Gore will do the trick as well. Maybe even funny elements? The only thing this film has to offer is nudity, and tons of it. These vampire girls are naked practically throughout the whole film, in fact, the film starts with the girls naked in bed! I don’t complaint when there are beautiful women up on the screen, but when that’s all the film has to offer, and everything else falls flat, then the film feels like a poor excuse for a porn film. It feels empty. I mean, this literally feels like soft porn. I didn’t get this empty feeling with films like The Vampire Lovers (1970) or even Vampiros Lesbos (1971). In those films, the nudity is tantalizing and yeah, why not, gratuitous, but at the same time, the nudity wasn’t these films main focus, the nudity is like an extra. Plus, there was always the beautiful cinematography, the locations, the atmosphere, the gore! Vampyres lacks a lot in all these places, all it has going for it are the naked girls, everything else is simply put: boring as hell.

The films plot reminded me a bit of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) because it is a film about women using their sensuality to reel in their victims, unfortunately, Vampyres has none of the shock value seen in Hellraiser. The film did have a couple of chances to be shocking, but it completely wasted them to completely bore us to death. For example there’s this scene in which the girls feed on this guy, and we see blood all over the place, but where are the wounds? The blood seems simply put on the actors before filming the scenes, it wasn’t gushing out of any wound. And speaking of wounds, there is this one scene that kind of got my attention in which one of the vampire girls slits this dudes wrist and starts sucking on the open wound, it was a pretty nasty sequence, which by the way just went on and on and on. I have to admit it had me cringing, but unfortunately that’s as far as this movie went in terms of getting a reaction from me. The other thing I did enjoy where some of the shots of the castle during the night, these scenes where truly eerie, made even cooler because this is the same castle in which The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) was shot in! I thought I recognized that castle!

Now if you’re the kind of person who is satisfied with a film that focuses entirely on nudity and sex, then by all means indulge! These actresses are beautiful and well, they do go down on each other on more than one occasion. Speaking of the sex scenes on this movie, they are feral, almost animal like. The girls are vampires so that’s to be expected I guess, but one dude is like all beastly when he has sex with one of the vampire vixens. So anyhow, I wasn’t impressed at all with this one, I’d recommend it to hardcore fans of vampire films, but even then you might be disappointed because there are no fangs, no gore and none of the traditional things you’d expect to see in a vampire film. You almost feel like these girls are simply weird girls who like to drink blood. Vampyres was my first real disappointment in the lesbian vampire sub genre, I recommend seeing other films in this genre before wasting your time with this one.

Rating:  2 out of 5 


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Robocop (2014) vs. Robocop (1987)

This comparison between Robocop (1987) and Robocop (2014)comes from a hardcore Robocop fan, who truly freaking loved the original. I mean, when that first movie came out, it was the talk of the town, I remember. All my buddies and I could talk about was Robocop and how cool it was. How awesome was Robocop to me? Well, this is how cool: I made a mini comic that was a parody of Robocop! I called it ‘Bobocop’, the series went on for five whole issues! My 12 year old self loved this ‘R’ rated film, I worshiped this freaking movie. Thinking back, I was a pretty tough kid, I mean, I loved this hardcore ‘R’ movie that included scenes of drug abuse, nudity and hardcore gore! I mean, here’s a movie where Alex Murphy, a Detroit City cop literally gets his brains blown out by the bad guys! But then again, that’s what I liked about it; how over the top it was. How hardcore was Robocop? Well, let me put it this way, in the original film, when the Robocop project gets green lit, the guy who was spearheading the project goes and gets a couple of hookers, sprays some cocaine on their breasts and snorts away to celebrate his success! Want more? Well, in that first film, a bad guy gets a vat of chemicals poured on him and we see his flesh melt off his bones! Basically, this movies modus operandi was called overkill. And you know what? That’s the way I liked it! That was director Paul Verhoeven’s way, many of the movies he made during the 80's and 90's were always over the top with their violence. If you don’t believe me, then check out Total Recall (1989), a film that was criticized for its bucket loads of blood and disregard for human life.

Paul Verhoeven directs

But it’s like Verhoeven says, the violence in these movies is an exaggeration of real life, cartoonish in some ways, in other words, it’s all in good fun. Which is exactly what I loved about Verhoeven’s Robocop, the shock value. And let’s talk a bit about that, I didn’t watch a film like Robocop for how deep it was or how it touched upon what it means to be a human, as a kid I devoured Verhoeven’s film for the cheap thrills, the shock value, that jolt of electricity that you get when Robocop slashes Clearance Boddicker’s throat. It’s what made these movies fun. Not that I’m some sort of blood thirsty violent person, I’m actually quite the peace loving dude, but I love the shock in movies like Robocop, it was never, not for one second boring! Of course, I also loved that science fiction angle; I loved that Robocop was a cyborg and I loved ED-209. In the end, to my twelve year old mind, Robocop was an irresistible mix of science fiction, action and shock, what’s not to love? And I’m not just talking through my nostalgia goggles here, I still think Verhoeven’s Robocop is a solid film with an amazing cast in every single role. Heroes took chances and risks, I mean, Alex Murphy was a brave guy! So was Lewis. The villains where scary dudes, Clearance Boddicker, that guy was really evil in that movie, it took me a while to see that actor as anything but the villain from Robocop. You felt a certain kind of energy through their performances, which is something I didn’t get from the new one. Everyone is so one note on this new film, it was nauseating! Where was the anger and fury on these people? Doesn’t anybody feel? Point is the old Robocop was an intense, solid film all around.  The action was so intense and in your face, it just felt real.

In contrast, this new Robo does not deliver the same levels of intensity, which is sad. Now, when I first heard about the news of a Robo-remake I was excited as hell because I’d been needing a new dose of Robo action. I wanted more Robocop, even if it was through a remake. I was thrilled with the prospect of a new Robo film, and I have to admit that in certain moments of the new film I was genuinely excited to see Robocop again, unfortunately the cons outweigh the pros on this one.  Of course, as it is always the case when the remake of a beloved franchise is announced, film buffs and geeks all across the world shouted sacrilege. I’m not the type to immediately hate a remake because as I’ve said a thousand times before, there’s the off chance that it might be one of the good ones. I was seeing a lot of good things in the previews. In all fariness, the remake does not warrant the intense hatred it’s been getting. It actually has some good ideas. For example, I liked that whole idea about the United States using robots to invade (read: conquer) other countries, the military applications for Robocop where not ignored, this is an element we never saw in previous Robocop films. They dwelled a whole lot more on the technological advances that allow these people to merge a man with a robot. They explored the ideas of what makes a cyborg a cyborg a whole lot more than on Verhoeven’s film. But then again, therein lies part of the problem; while the first film glazed over a lot of the logic in order to make room for the fun stuff, this one wants to be a bit more cerebral.

They spend too much screen time explaining everything; which by the way is something that a lot of films are doing nowadays; they analyze things to death. The original film didn’t explain everything about Robocop, we were meant to take certain things for granted, we found our own explanations in our minds. We as an audience connected the dots in our heads. Not so on this new film where they explore ideas to death. The problem with that is that after seeing Verhoeven’s Robocop and watching this new one, I swear I felt like a junkie with freaking withdrawal symptoms, I needed my jolt of shock! I needed that fun factor turned up! Sadly, this is a problem with films nowadays, they want to be so politically correct that they are no longer fun. They don’t want Alex Murphy to say fuck, they don’t want drugs, they don’t want blood, they don’t want  gore…we my friends are living in an age where action films are being sensored, the action film as we knew it no longer exists. We are living in an age where films simply have no guts. I know that studios want to make more money, and that making films PG-13 is a way to do that, but damn, seriously, is every single thing that Hollywood makes going to be watered down? Is everything going to be made for pre-teens?  

And here’s part of the problem with the Robocop franchise, it started out as a hardcore action franchise for adults. The first two films were ‘R’ rated sci-fi films for adults, but once they got to the third one, well, the owners of the Robo franchise decided to turn it into a franchise for kids. By then they had made Saturday morning cartoons of Robocop, a television series, toys, video games and even comic books, all made for children, which makes no sense whatsoever. I mean, why would you want to make a cartoon series for children based on a movie where Robocop’s creator snorts cocaine from the breasts of a prostitute? You know what I mean? From inception Robocop was a very adult series of films, but Hollywood thinks Robots, and they immediately think kids and toys. Which is the reason why by the time the franchise arrived to its third film, well, Robocop had a little kid sidekick. It was also by the third film that the studio decided to make Robocop a PG-13 franchise. And you know how that story goes, Robocop 3 (1993) turned out to be the worst film in the franchise because it wasn’t the Robocop that we knew and loved, it was by then, a watered down version of the first film.

More of this please! 

Which, I’m sad to say is what we get with this new Robocop film. This is not to say the film doesn’t have its moments. I mean, I love Robocop itself, how he looks when he puts the visor on and aims his gun is positively cool. I loved seeing Robocop in action, sadly there’s not enough action to be had, and what action we do get, is computer generated. On the first film when Robocop gets shot to death by all those cops, you can practically taste the gun powder and the shards of glass, you felt an intensity in Peter Weller’s performance, even through the helmet. Weller’s eyes and mouth expressed the pain; I felt sympathy for Robocop in those scenes!  On the new one I didn’t feel for the character. Joel Kinnaman was a bad choice to play Robocop, it’s the biggest bit of miscasting since John Cusack playing Nixon in The Butler (2013). I felt no sympathy for this Robocop because I didn’t care for the guy, there were no moments in the film where I connected with the character. In the first we felt we were Alex Murphy, a cop out on a new turf, Detroit. On this film the city is not a character and neither are the people who inhabit it, in the old one Detroit was a hell hole you did not want to live in. And then there's Kinnaman, why fill a movie with all these stars and then leave the most important role in the film to a complete unknown? You know how much better Robocop is because Peter Weller’s in it? A whole lot better! I’m sorry, but Kinnaman even looks goofy in his robo gear. And speaking of Robo gear, I was willing to give the film a chance in this department, but the black was a bad choice. Here’s the thing, they should’ve left him looking all metallic, whenever Robocop looks metallic in the new film, everything was so much better! If it aint broke don’t fix it. Robocop is not black, he’s metallic!

One of the biggest problems with the film is that nothing feels tangible or intense, the film felt as cold as the robots it portrays. My advice to Hollywood is: stop doing entire films in CGI! However cool you guys think everything looks, things just don’t feel real. Use freaking computer animation sparingly dammit! The minute I saw a computer generated Robocop jumping through the air in the previews, I knew something was rotten in Denmark. So my final say on this is that the first film is still superior in every single way possible. I gave this one a chance; I gave it the benefit of the doubt and while it has some cool moments and shots, the film as a whole felt like it was missing what made the old one so much fun to watch, Hollywood is an old man afraid to have fun these days. When it started, Robocop was a concept made for adults, it had biting satyre! I mean, beneath all that shock and action, the film made fun of society. Basically, what happened with this new Robocop remake is the same thing that happened with the Total Recall (2012) remake, while enjoyable to some extent, they took away the edgy, fun elements, it brings down the film if you ask me, it makes it less than what it was. And you know what I say to that? Boo, is what I say. I want my fun movies back. Bring back the freaking eighties because I don’t like what action films have become. Simply put: they don’t feel like action films anymore. If you want to see what all the hoopla is about go see this new Robocop movie, I’m not calling it a bad film, I’m calling it a watered down version of its former self. Shame on you Hollywood, you know what we want, you’ve just decided not to give it to us. 

Robocop (1987): 5 out of 5

Robocop (2014): 2 out of 5

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Blood for Dracula (1974)

Title: Blood for Dracula (1974)

Director: Paul Morrissey

Cast: Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Vittorio De Sica

During the 60’s and 70’s Andy Warhol was one of the biggest names in pop art, he was a rock start of the art scene. Warhol was a creative tour de force, one of the many offshoots of his art was film, he directed over 60 films and some 500 black and white short films. Some of the more amusing ones I can mention are Vinyl (1965), which was an early adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, and Batman Dracula (1964), a short film Warhol did without the permission of DC Comics which paid tribute to the famous comic book characters! I bet you didn’t know Warhol had done that! Warhol’s films were sexually charged, including graphic sexual acts, drug use, transgender characters, homosexuality; basically, the dude didn’t care for conservative views. He wanted to shake things up! Some of the films were really trippy and experimental stuff like for example his first film was called Sleep (1963), it consisted of six hours of a poet named John Giorno,  sleeping. He also made another film called Blow Job (1964) which consisted of 35 minutes focused on the face of someone receiving oral sex. So anyhow, sometimes he’d show these movies to the world in art exhibits, porn theaters or nightclubs because regular theaters wouldn’t dare show them. Since his films were considered “socially unacceptable” or offensive, well, theaters would get raided, and cast members even arrested!

A pic from Andy Warhol's Batman Dracula

This was a crazy period in Warhol’s life, Warhol and his pals would get together in a studio of his called ‘The Factory’ where they would have orgies, take all sorts of drugs and make films and art together. That all ended on June 3, 1968 when a lady named Valerie Solana attempted to murder Warhol by shooting him in his own studio. After that life changing event, Warhol became more reclusive and entrepreneurial, one of his many business ventures included producing commercial films, two of these Warhol produced films ended up being horror films: Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and the film I’ll be talking about today, Blood for Dracula, also known as Young Dracula. Warhol had nothing to do with the creative side of these films, he only produced them, Paul Morrissey was the guy who directed them. Blood for Dracula is all about Dracula taking a trip to Italy in order to find a virgin he can marry. In a nutshell, Dracula needs to drink the blood of a virgin or he will die! So Count Dracula takes a trip to Italy, because according to Anton, Italians are very religious people and are more inclined to have virgins in their families! Dracula tells his servant: “If you really were clever, Anton, you would bring me a Virgin from Italy and I wouldn’t have to go!” Not a bad idea Dracula, but then we wouldn’t have a movie now would we?

I found Blood for Dracula entertaining for various reasons, number one being that it felt like a Jean Rollin film because it mixes beautiful vistas and locations with nudity and gore. This is something I love about a lot of these low budget vampire films from the 70’s they always shot in beautiful locations and real castles. In the case of Blood for Dracula, director Paul Morrissey decided to shoot in Italy. Since it was Andy Warhol, an artist, who served as producer, the filmmakers were given the freedom to go totally nuts and film whatever the hell they wanted, which was probably the reason Blood for Dracula was given an ‘X’ rating. It was cut down and edited a few times when it was first shown in theaters, but thank the film gods we can now see the complete version of the film in all its sexually charged, blood soaked glory. I recommend the Criterion edition of this film, and the version released by Image films, because they are the most complete versions you can get out there, this way you’ll get all the gory goodness you’re supposed to get with this film.

Now, what makes Blood for Dracula a keeper? Well for starters it’s got this over the top performance from Udo Kier! Both Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Blood for Dracula were career defining films for Kier and now I can finally see why, this Dracula looks kind of weak and flimsy, he doesn’t seem to pose much of a threat, yet slowly but surely he finds his way into these girls beds. A huge part of what makes this film entertaining is Kier, he is unintentionally funny. When he doesn’t get his blood fix, he goes into these hilarious fits, where his whole body shakes, you gotta see it to believe it. When he drinks blood from a non-virgin, well, he starts to vomit all the blood he just drank, and well, Kier plays it extremely over the top, it also makes for a cool visual. So yeah, this version of Dracula is kind of funny. You haven’t lived until you hear Udo Kier screaming at the top of his lungs: “The blood of these whores is killing me!” Funnier still is watching Dracula discuss social issues with a communist/farm boy. This film reminded me a bit of Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl (1982) because it saved the best of its gory goodness for the last ten minutes, the gore is pretty impressive. But then again, Udo Kier was no stranger to gore and violence, one of the very first roles to put him on the map was an extremely violent film called Mark of the Devil (1970), that one was so gory they offered you barf bags at the door in case you suddenly wanted to vomit mid picture!

Like a Jean Rollin film, Blood for Dracula has excessive amounts of nudity and erotic scenes. The nudity is gratuitous, but since this film was produced by Andy Warhol an artist known for graphic nudity in his own films, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that Blood for Dracula has lot nudity in it, in fact, I’m sure it was expected from film goers and used as a selling point by the studio. So what we got here is a sexy, erotic version of Dracula, which makes perfect sense; eroticism has always been an element that permeates any good Dracula film. Dracula has always served as an allegory for male sexuality. He is often times played as this incredibly strong sexual presence that will melt the ladies away. With its overt sexuality and communist political views, Blood for Dracula was a film that was fighting the status quo of things, a film tailor made for members of the counter culture. Mario, the strapping young servant of the house, is one of the characters used to push communist political views, he is disgusted by rich people and pretty much does whatever he wants even though he is a servant of the house. He has sex with all the ladies in the film (sometimes two at a time), thinks that rich people are trash and that socialism is the future! Again, the dialog is hilarious, in one scene Mario is having a conversation in which one of the girls tells him that Dracula’s interested in marrying a virgin and then he asks “So what’s he doing with you two whores?” I just couldn’t help laughing at some of the bits of dialog and situations. I guess we could say this is an unintentionally funny version of Dracula, but a lot of it has to do with Udo Kier and his performance, which is very entertaining, he’s like this bitchy whiny version Dracula.  

I see these Paul Morrissey/Andy Warhol horror films as a response to the success that the Hammer horror films were enjoying back in those days. Warhol simply saw a way of making some money. I gotta say the results were pretty entertaining and highly watchable! I have no idea if these films were successful or not, my guess is they weren’t because we didn’t see more of them, but I would’ve loved to see Andy Warhol’s take on other monsters. Imagine Warhol’s take on The Wolfman? With Kier as the Wolfman and Joe Dellesandro as Ben Talbot? Or Kier as The Mummy? Kier and Dellesandro could have easily been to Warhol’s films what Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were to Hammer Films, but alas, we only have the two horror films they produced, which is good enough for me, these films are a fun watch and bonafide cult classics, highly recommended for a night of sexy silliness, Paul Morrissey style!  

Rating: 4 out of 5

Monday, February 10, 2014

Her (2013)

Title: Her (2013)

Director: Spike Jonze

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams

In order to truly understand Her, I suggest you first watch Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003), you see, there’s a connection between both of these films; one comes as a response of the other. This is not to say that you can’t get anything out of watching the film without understanding its back story, but you’ll get a whole different perspective on them once you understand where they are both coming from. So this is how it goes: once upon a time not so long ago, Sofia Coppola, the youngest daughter of legendary film director Francis Ford Coppola, grew up with quirky music video director named Spike Jonze; their friendship blossomed and grew until in 1999 they ended up getting hitched. So anyhow, to make a long story short, their marriage ended in 2003. In order to deal with the divorce Sofia Coppola, though denying it a first, wrote and directed a film that expressed her feelings on the break up; that film ended up being Lost in Translation (2003), which curiously was released on the very same year she divorced Jonze.

In Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansson plays a woman who’s married to a photographer, played by a very loopy Giovanni Ribissi. The photographer is so wrapped up in his career that he completely neglects Scarlett Johansson’s character and she ends up befriending a much older man played by Bill Murray; they end up developing a platonic romance even though their age difference is huge. The loopy, sort of absent minded photographer was actually Sofia Coppola’s version of Spike Jonze. The way I see it, that character was a cartoon like version of Spike Jonze, it’s how Sofia Coppola saw Jonze. So if we are to read between the lines, we can deduct that Coppola felt neglected by Jonze during their marriage because he was so wrapped up in his film career, which was beginning to take off back then. “I was trying to figure it out when I was writing that” she said in an interview to ONTD. That’s one thing I can say about the Coppola’s: they make very personal films that talk about their life experiences, sure they’ll deny the hell out of it if you ask them, but truth is, they are simply sharing their life experiences with us. Beautiful thing about these films is that even though they are extremely personal in nature, we can still enjoy them and get a lot out of them because they are genuine reflections of the human spirit, of what it means to be ‘us’. Her is another good example of an extremely personal film; detailing the thoughts and situations that go into a divorce. 

Jonze sets up a shot

So, fast-forward ten years later and now its Spike Jonze’s turn to address how he feels about that divorce. From what I can tell after watching Her, I think it’s safe to say that it was Jonze who ended up the most heartbroken from that divorce and he projects himself in the character of Theodore; a very sensitive man who truly misses his wife and can’t seem to stop remembering the good times he had with her. This film feels as if ten years later, Sofia Coppola still lingers in Spike Jonze’s soul. In that same interview to ONTD , Sofia Coppola mentions that “Spike didn’t end well” so I’m not just talking out of my ass here. Jonze was truly broken up and we can definitely pick that up from watching Her. So, it is understandable then that the main character in Her; Theodore Twombly, is mopy and anti-social; he can’t take the fact that he is about to divorce his wife Catherine of many years; who by the way looks a heck of a lot like Sofia Coppola! 

Many other things let us know that Her was made in response to Lost in Translation; Scarlett Johansson was the main character in Lost in Translation, while on Her she plays the voice of the operating system for which Theodore falls head over heels for. In the film, Theodore and Catherine grew up together which made the divorce that much more difficult, same as with Jonze and Coppola who also grew up together. Actually, if we want to get really detailed, some shots in the film are extremely similar, starting with Theodore’s room which looks a heck of a lot like Scarlett Johansson’s hotel room in Lost in Translation. Point is, if you want to really understand Her, you should watch Lost in Translation while keeping all these things in mind. Just remember that in Her, Theodore is Spike Jonze’s alter ego, while in Lost in Translation Charlotte was Sofia Coppola’s alter ego. The difference between the two films is that they are told from different points of view, one film is from the female perspective, while the other shows us the males point of view; which instantly makes both films all the more fascinating to me. It's like hearing both sides of the story; interesting thing is that both of them make sense in their own ways. They both got interesting points to make, and we can learn a lot from both films. 

But trust me, you don’t need to know any of this to enjoy Her, seen without all the context behind it, you can still get a lot out of it. The film works on two fronts:  it works as a comment on relationships, break-ups and male/female dynamics, while at the same time it throws a bit of commentary on society’s current obsession with social media and technology. Her is not for everybody, its a very cerebral film, which relies heavily on dialog, so if you like that in your films, you'll love Her. It seems to me that a lot of people where having a difficult time digesting the fact that Theodore was falling in love with a computer program. But you can’t go in thinking this is a silly premise, after all, this is a science fiction film, we are here to escape into a fantasy world where anything can happen. Her takes place in a slightly futuristic version of L.A., which by the way, Spike Jonze brilliantly shot in China, making China look like a futuristic version of L.A. How genius is that? So anyways, be ready for a film in which the main character falls for an artificial intelligence. What I loved about it is how Theodore’s obsession with his computer program represents our obsession with technology, an obsession that only serves as a way to alienate us from real human contact. Take a bus or a train and you’ll see more than half of the people connected to their phones, i-pads and I-pods, sometimes all at the same time! Are we growing apart as a human race? Are we in desperate need to reconnect with our fellow humans? Well yes we are and I’m glad we have films like Her to point that out.

Rating: 5 out of 5   

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dark City (1998)

Title: Dark City: Director’s Cut (1998)

Director: Alex Proyas

Cast: Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, Kiefer Sutherland, William Hurt, Richard O’Brien  

Dark City was a victim of the Titanic syndrome, an ailment that struck any of the films that were unfortunate enough to be released during the time that James Cameron’s Titanic (1998) was cruising through theaters. But let’s face it, Titanic wasn’t the only element Dark City had going against it. To begin with, Dark City is a dark brooding film that most people would find either: a) boring b) confusing or c) too talky. But for the right group of people, Dark City would prove to be an engrossing, gothic tale of lost identities and discovering one’s true self, one’s true potential. You see, this is the story of John Murdoch, a man who wakes up one day, not knowing who he is. He does know one thing though: something is seriously wrong in this city! You see, a strange thing happens when the clocks strike twelve; everyone in the city falls asleep and things begin to change. Literally, the whole city begins to contort and twist until by the end of the event, the city is completely different, and as the city changes, so do the people who inhabit it. At one point you might have been a humble blue collar worker, but by the end of the change, you might end up being a member of high society. Strange beings dressed in black go around the city changing things, what’s really going on here? And why doesn’t John Murdock fall under the spell that everybody seems to be so susceptible to? Is there something special about John Murdoch?

Dark City was yet another one of those movies that studios don’t know how to sell. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about films is that when a studio and a director get cold feet, the movie will suffer.  The problem is the general feeling of uncertainty as to how audiences will receive the film. Once this happens, the studio looses faith in the project and they won’t market it properly, because they figure what’s the point of spending money in a movie they think will tank? On top of that, the filmmaker looses faith in his original vision which usually means he or she will edit the film down to a more digestible form, dumbing it down in hopes that audiences will “get it”. A similar thing happened with Ridley Scott’s fantasy film, Legend (1985). When Scott turned in his cut of Legend and showed it to a test audience, the film scored horribly. Scott, terrified that his movie would tank edited the film down, shot a couple of new scenes to make the film “cooler” and added the more contemporary Tangerine Dream soundtrack as opposed to the original classical score. Sadly, the film tanked anyways. In situations like these, I think it’s best for directors to stick to their guns and their original artistic vision. But they never do, because when there’s so many millions of dollars at stake, everybody gets cold feet. Especially when this is your second film and you want to establish yourself as a profitable filmmaker the way Proya’s was at the time of making Dark City.

So Alex Proyas made the changes he had to in order to make Dark City more digestible to audiences. He added in a voice over that “explained” everything before hand to audiences, not unlike the voice over that was added to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). I’m using Ridley Scott as an example a lot because he is a director that has faced this situation often, making a film that studios are uncertain of. Weird thing with films like this is that years pass, the film becomes a cult classic and then the inevitable “director’s cut” of the film is released, which is what happened with Dark City.  People discovered it on home video after its initial theatrical release and then got its directors cut. The changes aren’t all that huge, but they do make the film more complete. The biggest changes I detected were the elimination of the introductory voice over, some scenes are longer, with more expository dialog, also Jennifer Connelly actually sings with her own voice in her night club scenes, as opposed to getting her voiced dubbed the way it was in the theatrical cut.

The film is strong both visually and thematically. Yet when it was released, its stylish gothic visuals brought some critics to actually label Dark City as style over substance type of film, which couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything this movie is all about substance. Society is being analyzed by those in power, who constantly shift things around. Those scenes in which the whole city landscape twists and contorts are representative of the constant urban renewals. In the film, society sleeps while those in power, hiding behind shadows and darkness manipulate everything, if that isn’t representative of the world we live in, I don’t know what is. The main character, John Murdoch speaks volumes about those of us who are awake, those of us who aren’t sheep, we know something isn’t right. The main character is confused, because life is a mystery, but he moves on, searching for that ultimate truth. I love the fact that he gets things done because he develops mental powers, literally making things happen by using his brains. What Alex Proyas is speaking about here is not conforming, not being a follower but rather, that we should take control of our lives, literally changing our surroundings until we find ultimate happiness. But there’s always that constant search for the truth inspite of all the distractions and the muddled facts.

Dark City is not without influences. It reminded me of Metropolis (1927) (something that Roger Ebert, a staunch defender of Dark City also agrees with) because the city is a like a main character. Same as Fritz Lang’s amazing futuristic vistas in Metropolis, a lot was put into making Dark City’s titular city a wonder to behold. Alex Proyas mixed old school filmmaking techniques with some new ones by using miniatures, paintings and computer generated images to bring this mysterious Dark City to life. The art direction is outstanding, Proya’s use of lights and shadows and the wardrobe makes everything look retro with lots of film noir going for it. Thematically speaking they have similarities as well because both films deal with class issues, albeit in different ways; for example in Metropolis society is presented with the idea that the rich and powerful and the working class should work together for the benefit of all, a sort of idealistic take on the matter, while Dark City takes a diametrically opposed stance, it wants to wake up the sleeper, the worker bee. It proposes the idea of waking up the sleeping masses so that they can become masters of their own destiny, cutting through all the bull crap that was inserted in their mind from inception. So as you can see, the film is not a flimsy one, it has lots to say. Top all that with a great cast, including Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, Kiefer Sutherland and William Hurt and astonishing gothic art direction and you’ve got yourselves a winner of a movie meant to be enjoyed for generations to come.

Rating: 5 out of 5  


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