Monday, April 20, 2009

Rabid (1977)
CANADA --- horror

Dir: David Cronenberg

We all know the dangers of modern medical science. One week some research study suggests something's bad for you, the next week it's good. The fact of the matter is, as the old adage goes, nothing is in exact science, this certainly goes for the practicing medicine. In this early directorial effort and companion piece to his debut film "Shivers", master of horror, David Cronenberg dives into his common theme of body horror once again. A young couple (played by the late Marilyn Chambers and Frank Moore) get into a terrible accident while on a country motorcycle ride in rural Montreal.

Rose and Hart sustain pretty bad injuries, but Rose gets the worst of it when the bike lands on top of her. They are rushed to the hospital, where the doctors must attempt a radical emergency surgery on Rose. The process basically involves taking skin tissue from one healthy part of her body and grafting it to her burnt and damaged skin. Being a new process, one can expect side effects, and this one is the crux of the film. As Rose begins to develop a hunger for human blood in which she sucks through a mutated growth of a stinger under her armpit which penetrates its victims even through clothes and with a simple hug. She in turn leaves the victims in an almost zombie-like state, in which they also begin craving blood. Soon enough, Rose is on a feeding frenzy and unlike "Shivers" where just an isolated apartment building is contaminated, the entire city of Montreal is on alert, and the military gets involved when the province of Quebec is threatened.

This is, of course, essentially the closest we may get to a Cronenberg vampire film. It is also a commentary on sexual disease, something Cronenberg seems to have been a prophet of. Here we get a couple of soon to be trademarks for the director with motorcycles (Fast Company), sex (explored in nearly every film), medical science (again in nearly every film), and of course body horror. Exploitative in nature, Rabid was to originally star Sissy Spacek of "Carrie" fame, but producer Ivan Reitman suggested porn star Marilyn Chambers who would make this her only starring role in a somewhat mainstream film. She was one of the first to do so until Traci Lords years later. Watching this film years later, you see the start of two careers, one of which sky-rocketed the other not so much.
Marilyn Chambers RIP (April 22, 1952 - April 12, 2009)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) (1984)
JAPAN --- science fiction/animation

Dir: Hayao Miyazaki

An early Miyazaki directorial effort, he explores issues of paficism and an environmentalist stance that he would return to in some form or another throughout his career. This one being birthed from a serialized manga in a magazine run by producer/Studio Ghibli founder Toshio Suzuki . Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) originally found its way to North American shores through distribution by New World Pictures under the title Warriors of the Wind; a severely cut version of the film.

In an indetermined future land, the earth is slowly succumbing to a fungal virus spreading across the world called the Sea of Decay. Nausicaä is a brazen young princess of the Valley of the Wind. She possesses the uncanny ability to communicate with all creatures of the land, including the gigantic insects that roam the earth. Some of these creatures are infected by the Sea of Decay.

With the assistance of a sage drifter called Lord Yupa, the peaceful seaside village of the Valley of the Wind must protect an ancient giant warrior embryo which was obtained by a flying ship which crash landed. Nausicaä must defend her land from a warring faction of Tolmekians who murdered her father and take her village hostage. They abduct her and force her to help resurrect the giant warrior to destroy the Sea of Decay and everything in it. Nausicaä reluctantly goes along until she can formulate a plot to stop the Tolmekian queen Kushana, to save the giant Ohmus from utter extermination.

A sort of sci-fi precursor or companion piece to fantasy Mononoke-hime (Princess Monokoe), Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind), Miyazaki seems incapable of making anything less than a masterpiece. As anime goes, the western world became enamored by Japan's no-holds-barred, provocative style of adult storytelling that wasn't specifically designed for children. Miyazaki has come along and actually showed us we can still talk to children without talking down to them. Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind), is another testament of Miyazaki's terrific style, with a blend of Jean "Moebius" Giraud style designs through a Frank Herbert storytelling scope, this is one early effort that's not to be dismissed or missed.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon) (1956)
--- fantasy

Dir: Albert Lamorisse

I first saw this film like many people my age did, in school. My viewing was caused by either a snow day or rainy day during recess in Elementary school, and the staff stuffed all of us kids in an auditorium to watch Tom & Jerry, Looney Tunes, Woody Woodpecker, and Pink Panther cartoons. Somewhere in the mix, they showed the Albert Lamorisse short film Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon) and till this day I have never forgot it. It has stayed with me.

The virtually silent film that runs about a half hour is simply about a boy’s journey around his neighborhood in Paris, France. In tow he has a sentient helium-filled bright red balloon that he carries on a string. Everyone he meets is enchanted by the boy and his balloon. Most of the adults react with a smile, but some adults seem like their hearts are too hardened and try to get rid of the balloon and separate the boy from it. However, at the end of the day, the boy prevails with his balloon by his side like a pet.

He takes his floating friend everywhere he goes seemingly bringing wonder and curiosity to everyone he encounters. The only antagonists in this film appear to be a mass of neighborhood school boys who persistently try to capture the red balloon for themselves. Their intent does not seem to be as affectionate as its owner. In a climax that feels every bit like The Lord of the Flies, the boys do get the balloon and puncture it with rocks and slingshots, virtually destroying the little boys' friend. Until, that is, all of the balloons in the city congregate to find the boy, and lift him up over the city.

Again, I bring up the film motif of the Alien Visitor that can be most visible in films like Steven Speilberg's E.T. The Extraterrestrial and John Carpenter's Starman. A lonely boy from a seemingly single-parent home makes an alien friend, shows him the world, and is antagonized and destroyed by authorities or those who simply do not understand. Yes, the finale of the film, is most certainly allegorical of a Christ-like resurrection. The film also feels like your a voyeur watching a personal home movie, or bordering on documentary style. Beautiful simplistic cinematography shines throughout. It stands to reason why the film has had a lasting impression with children and adults who connect with the child at heart.