Category Archives: Guest Reviews

GUEST REVIEW: MEET THE HOLLOWHEADS (1989)

Guest review by “Penguin” Pete Trbovich

AKA Life on the Edge

DIRECTED BY: Thomas R. Burman

FEATURING: , John Glover, Richard Portnow

PLOT: Henry Hollowhead works as the top meter reader for United Umbilical, and today’s his lucky break: his boss wants to come over for dinner, which Henry hopes will lead to a promotion. His wife Miriam fusses over making dinner for the special occasion, while the three Hollowhead children scamper about getting up to antics.

Meet the Hollowheads

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: We’ll let this quote from Keith Bailey’s Unknown Movies speak to it’s qualifications: “Even for a world of insanity that the Hollowheads lives in needs to be depicted with some kind of logic to it, to have some kind of (twisted) explanation for every unconventional gadget, location, and action. Otherwise, such a world is simply ‘How about I wear this suit to court, Mr. Soprano?’ weird for weird’s sake, with no point and no purpose except seemingly to put up as many bizarre things all chained together in a stream that could be best described as non-sequitur.” When a person whose whole gig is reviewing the most obscure movies possible levels the “weirdness for weirdness’ sake” accusation, you know it’s not your average cup of tea. On its own, the movie is an onslaught of colorful, even cheerful, but disturbing images. The highly cliched plot just lets its style take over the stage.

SUGGESTED INDELIBLE IMAGE: You could throw a dart at most any frame of this movie, but one scene defines it early on: eldest Hollowhead son Bud practices music in his room, playing an instrument that looks part trombone, part accordion, and part rubber chicken. Daughter Cindy enters to “tell Bud to choke it” but ends up singing along in accompaniment. As she sings “I feel good about myself; would not be anyone else,” the movie has by this time firmly established its stride and at the same time is bluntly telling us that it doesn’t care beans for our rulebook.

SUGGESTED THREE WEIRD THINGS: Tentacle for dinner; pulling the bugs off Spike; feeding grandpa

COMMENTS: Unlike many of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made, Meet the Hollowheads is very easy to describe: it is a 1950’s sitcom from an alternate dimension. There, we’re actually done! If you take any TV saccharine slice of suburbia, from “Leave It To Beaver” to “The Brady Bunch” to “The Honeymooners,” then run it through the filter of (pick one) , Terry Gilliam, or David Cronenberg, everything you’re imagining in that description is 90% of what you’re going to see. This movie starts with that premise and stays fearlessly committed to it to the last scene.

The Hollowheads’s world is a claustrophobic—perhaps even underground—domain defined by their household, other households whom we never visit, a corporation called “United Umbilical” which seems to provide every necessity of life, and two policemen who may even work for United Umbilical. There they dwell, in a colorful “Peewee’s Playhouse” set apparently taken over by Cthulhu: their lives revolve around tubes, pipes, ducts, tentacles, squishy life forms, valves, spigots, sludge, slime, industry, and “The Edge,” an apparent hazard spoken of in whispers by two of the younger cast and sternly invoked by mother Miriam, who warns them not to fall off as she sends them out for an errand. Dialogue is festooned with references to plumbing, sewage, and other mucky slang. A tentacle with an eyeball on the end lies untidily piled in a glass jar in the Hollowheads’s home, silently watching the events; we know not whether it’s a pet or an appliance.

When the boss shows up for dinner and begins the second half of the film, the evening degenerates into everything that can possibly go wrong going wrong. There’s a few laughs to be had, but nothing enough to point to this as a comedy. It’s more of an exercise in the avant-garde. Because our familiar frame of reference has been yanked out from under us in this alien environment, we have no clue as to how outrageous any character’s behavior is in this universe. Boss Mr. Crabneck is nasty and vile almost beyond description, and Station Master Mrs. Battleaxe at United Umbilical barely fills the kids’ order while threatening them with all kinds of slimy fates, but everybody seems to take these behaviors in stride.

The tilted world also affords a heap of innuendo. When Mrs. Battleaxe sneers “I suppose your mother thinks it’s our fault that her tubes are blocked?,” or when police advise the Hollowheads to have their drugged-out daughter “pumped,” or when Mrs. Hollowhead has to conquer a phallic section of waggling tentacle coming out of her kitchen dispenser before castrating—oops, we mean slicing—it to chop up for an ingredient, we can’t escape the feeling that this movie wants us to snicker at it. We haven’t even mentioned “softening jelly,” a substance treated as scandalous here, but we have no idea what it is.

But it’s too strange to be fully funny. If anything, this is a very punk style applied to a sitcom world. Like Repo Man or Tank Girl, it mixes the familiar with the bizarre, getting us to accept the perverse because all of the characters accept the perversity. Like the best of weird movies, it makes no attempt to explain or justify itself. We have intercepted a sitcom from another reality, and we’re not being given a peak into the rest of that universe. You’re free to come up with your own point or even dismiss it as having no point. But this movie does assure us that the people in its universe would no doubt find our own world equally baffling, were the interception reversed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A weird and wonderful cinematic misfire, alternately repulsive and ridiculous…”–Steven Puchalski, Shock Cinema (VHS)

 

 

DIRECTOR RETROSPECTIVE: JOHN CARPENTER

Guest review by Brandon Engel, a freelance writer specializing in entertainment and pop culture, as well as an aspiring filmmaker.

  is heralded by many genre enthusiasts as a “horror icon,” but his body of work extends into other genres. Though perhaps best known for his work on Halloween and his “Apocalypse Trilogy”—The Thing (1982), Prince of Darkness (1987) and In The Mouth of Madness (1994)—Carpenter has been writing, directing and producing genre films since the early 1970’s.

Halloween, released in 1978, ushered in a new era of “slasher” films, although originally Carpenter set out only to “make a film [he] would love to have seen as a kid.” His self-described “crass exploitation” film earned over $65 million at the box office. Not bad, considering that the film was made for a budget of approximately $325,000 and with mostly unknown actors (with the notable exception of Bond villain ). Although Carpenter admitted it wasn’t his favorite film, The Fog (1980) became a successful cult movie all the same, although critical reception was initially lukewarm. Rounding out Carpenter’s horror masterpieces is The Thing. Although The Thing proved to be a box-office disappointment, these three movies cemented Carpenter’s reputation as a master of the horror genre.

However, Carpenter has tried his hand at science-fiction as well. In fact, his first significant outing as director was the ultra-low budget feature Dark Star (1974), which he worked on with USC classmate Dan O’Bannon (whom you may recognize as the screenwriter for Ridley Scott’s Alien). The film was a parody of classic science-fiction films such as ’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Several of Carpenter’s other successful films integrate elements of science-fiction, such as Starman (1984), about an unlikely coupling between an alien and a widow fleeing from government agents, and Escape from New York (1981), about a dystopian future where a crime ridden United States has been forced to turn Manhattan Island in New York City into a maximum-security prison.

John Carpenter on the set of The Ward (2011)
John Carpenter on the set of The Ward (2011)

Every career has it high and low points, and Carpenter’s is no exception. After the dismal box-office performance of The Thing, Carpenter lost the opportunity to direct Firestarter, based on the book by Stephen King. In the 1990’s, he produced several flops including Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), Village of the Damned (1995), and Escape From L.A. (1996). Perhaps due to this decline in Carpenter’s popularity, his films Prince of Darkness (1987, about the Anti-Christ), They Live (1988, about aliens secretly controlling the human population) and In the Mouth of Madness (1994, about a Lovecraftian author whose fiendish imaginings become manifest) did not garner the attention they deserved.

After being semi retired in the 2000’s, Carpenter saw a resurgence of his work after remakes of his Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing and The Fog. In 2005, Carpenter returned to film, contributing to the Masters of Horror series for Showtime, a compilation of 13 different notable horror filmmakers. Reviews for his episode “Cigarette Burns” were positive, prompting Carpenter to follow up with the feature The Ward (2011). That film, whose plot follows an institutionalized woman named Kristen who is haunted by a mysterious and deadly zombie-like ghost, brought lukewarm reviews. One critic described the film as “just as good as most of the films in mainstream horror today.” Shallow praise for the “master of horror.”

Despite the fact that he never again realized his mass-market potential since the decline of his career began in the late 1980’s, John Carpenter has no doubt created a lasting legacy for himself, in horror, science fiction, and filmmaking in general. As was reflected in his recent interview with filmmaker  on the latter’s El Rey Network (available on DirectTV), Carpenter has had an enormous influence on many popular genre filmmakers currently working. His name will be forever associated with the rises and falls—the successes and failures—that are the mark of a lifetime spent in the entertainment business.

BLAXPLOITATION ZOMBIES: SUGAR HILL (1974)

Guest review by Brandon Engel, a freelance writer specializing in entertainment and pop culture, as well as an aspiring filmmaker.

What if a real zombie outbreak occurred during a zombie pub crawl? Imagine everyone liquored and latexed up to such a degree that nobody could differentiate the real zombies from the fake zombies. My point, I guess, is that this zombie thing has gotten out of hand.

Hearken back to a time when people were still appropriately freaked out by the living dead. Because of directors like George A. Romero, zombies became a fashionable cinematic device to address a myriad of social issues, starting in the late sixties. The films might have made more of an impression because zombies still elicited a strong reaction from viewers. Romero’s frequently remade and frequently cited Night of the Living Dead (1968), for instance, addressed the increasingly violent and sensational mass media coverage of the Vietnam war, and was notable also for featuring a black actor (Duane L. Jones) as the film’s leading man. Dawn of the Dead (1978), Romero’s follow up, offered a satire of North American consumerism by having a bunch of zombies putter mindlessly around a shopping mall.

Dawn also, incidentally, also featured a black male in it’s lead (Ken Foree), and even delved thematically into race issues with the extended segment that shows how the zombie apocalypse might manifest in the projects. But a few years prior to Dawn, the blaxploitation/horror film Sugar Hill (1974) had also appropriated the zombie motif to comment on race relations and social inequities.

The film was directed by Paul Maslansky, whom some may know as producer of the Police Academy films and Return to Oz (1985).  In the film, Diana “Sugar” Hill (Marki Bey) is engaged to marry the owner of a lucrative Haitian-themed bar. At the beginning of the film, members of a predominantly white crime syndicate approach Sugar’s fiance. When he refuses to acquiesce to the gang’s protection racket, Sugar’s fiance is beaten to death.

Still from Sugar Hill (1974)Sugar seeks the assistance of a voodoo priestess, Mamma Maitresse (Zara Cully), who in turn summons Baron Samedi, the Voodoo Loa who presides over funerals and acts a medium between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. Samedi enlists an army of Voodoo zombies to avenge Sugar’s lover’s murder. The white gangsters are picked off, one by one. One guy is fed to a pack of hogs. One guy is thrown into a coffin filled with dangerous snakes. Blaxploitation films usually depicted black characters in positions of power over the “archetypal white oppressor” character. The title character from Superfly accomplishes this by dominating the drug trade. Shaft and Cleopatra Jones were cunning law enforcement agents. Part of what makes Sugar’s story so compelling in the annals of blaxploitation/revenge films, however, is the supernatural element. The film even evokes the transatlantic slave trade directly by suggesting that Sugar’s band of voodoo zombies were all slaves transported to the United States from Guinea. So, it becomes a revenge film in a much broader sense. It’s not merely about Sugar avenging her boyfriend’s death, but she’s also avenging (symbolically, at least) the wide-scale oppression and dehumanization of her ancestors.

The film was produced by American International Pictures, who were eager to follow up on the success of their earlier blaxploitation/horror genre blenders Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream. Part of what distinguishes Sugar Hill is that it isn’t based on a piece of 19th century European literature, but is instead a more distinctly black American narrative which synthesizes elements of Voodoo iconography, fairy tales, and classic b-horror film tropes. It’s occasionally clumsy and highly stylized script offers all of the cliches that you’d hope for in a blaxploitation film.

While Sugar Hill is frequently overlooked (even by cult film fanatics), it’s now enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to midnight screenings throughout the U.S., and regular showing on ‘s El Rey Network. Vintage horror fans (especially anyone with a fondness for either blaxploitation or seventies Italian zombie films) should absolutely check this one out.

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE

Guest review by Terri McSorley

“I wanted to make a film that would give the people who took LSD at that time the hallucinations that you get with that drug, but without the hallucinations. I did not want LSD to be taken; I wanted to fabricate the drug’s effects. This film was going to change the public’s perceptions.”

Jodorowsky's Dune (2014)This is a quote from the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, directed by Frank Pavich. Director and writer has a small but extraordinary film resume which includes Fando y Lis, El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre. The quote could apply to any of these four films. I am a great admirer of this quartet of one-of-a-kind masterpieces. Jodorowsky’s unmade version of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel “Dune” went as far as a film could possibly go pre-camera; the proof lies in a monster-sized tome of ideas and sketches that looks to be a few thousand pages thick. Jodorowsky worked with Jean “Moebius” Giraud to create storyboards for every scene of the film. The sketches from this tome were used throughout the documentary. The interviewees include Michel Seydoux (the unfinished film’s producer), Jean-Pierre Gibon (co-producer), (director—Bronson, Only God Forgives), (director–Hardware, Dust Devil), Devin Faraci (film critic), Chris Foss (artist), H.R. Giger (artist), Amanda Lear (‘s muse), Diane O’Bannon (wife of the late Dan O’Bannon, who was going to supervise Dune‘s special effects), Christian Vander (musician—Magma), Gary Kurtz (producer—Star Wars trilogy, The Dark Crystal), Brontis Jodorowsky (Alejandro’s son, who acted in El Topo and Santa Sangre), and the centerpiece of the documentary: Alejandro Jodorowsky.

We are given a brief background on Alejandro’s career: his work in the theater and his first three feature length films. El Topo was so successful that he was given a million dollars to make The Holy Mountain. The Holy Mountain‘s success prompted a union with producer Michel Seydoux. Seydoux asked the director, if he could make any film, what would it be? Jodorowsky answered, “Dune.” Jodorowsky had not actually read Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and only knew of it because a friend had told him how fantastic it was. The director’s screenplay made many changes to Herbert’s story, including a significant alteration to the finale. This was definitely Jodorowsky’s Dune.

“I was raping Frank Herbert, raping like this. But with Love.”

With the script written, Jodorowsky needed to find the people who would help make it happen; “spiritual warriors,” in his own words. The talent that was going to be involved included many of my own favorite artists, actors and musicians. Dan O’Bannon was to supervise the special effects, artist Chris Foss would have designed the project’s spaceships, and H.R. Giger would have realized the Gothic planet Harkonnen. Pink Floyd would have created music for planet Leto, while Magma would have done the same for the Harkonnen. Jodorowsky’s cast was to be as follows: David Carradine as Duke Leto, Brontis Jodorowsky as Paul Atreides, Salvador Dali as the Mad Emperor, Amanda Lear as Princess Irulan, Mick Jagger as Feyd-Rautha, and  Continue reading JODOROWSKY’S DUNE

TASTE BREAKERS

“The author was compensated for writing this article by a third party. Nonetheless, it  was written specifically for 366 Weird Movies, and we believe the  information and opinions contained in this piece will be of interest to our readers.

“Taste Breakers” by Brandon Engel

It was recently announced that independent film production company A24, who have contemporary filmmaker Harmony Korine in their alum roster, has partnered with Direct TV for a new collaborative business model. Direct TV will help finance the production of A24 films, which will then premiere on Direct TV’s Video on Demand service one month prior to being released in theaters. The possible implications of this move for modern independent filmmakers are vast; Korine’s transgressive contemporaries at A24 and elsewhere could stand to benefit from the industry moving in this direction.

Thankfully, the world has always been populated by thoughtful, provocative artists willing to address societal ills and provoke public discourse through their work. The big question for these subversive artists historically has always been: “how do you secure funding for projects (let alone sustain yourself) without having to relinquish creative control of your content?”

Nowadays, as companies like Direct TV use “TV on demand” as a distribution vehicle for independent film and even begin to fund films themselves, and others use the distribution model that sites like Hulu and Netflix are establishing, where films can be streamed instantaneously, independent filmmakers may now be able to reconcile their financial needs with their creative ambitions more simply than ever before. What does all of this mean for contemporary filmmakers and present-day viewers? Here’s a look at three contemporary subversive filmmakers who just might provide some insight on that very question…

Lars Von Trier

Lars von TrierThe Danish filmmaker is reportedly plagued by phobias and anxieties, which isn’t the least bit difficult to believe if you’ve seen any of his films. There’s no disputing the fact that he’s an extremely important, and unique, presence in the world of international cinema. He helped establish the guidelines of the Dogme 95 collective, which are essentially a list of restrictions that filmmakers should abide by based on the traditional values of story, acting, and theme, while excluding the use of extraneous special effects.

His film Dancer in the Dark (2000) featured Icelandic pop star Bjork in the lead role of Selma. Selma is a blind Czech immigrant working in a factory in the United States in 1964. She is ultimately wrongfully accused of harboring communist sympathies, and perceived as a threat to the United States. The film is perversely celebrated for having one of the most upsetting endings in the history of cinema.

There is also Antichrist (2009), which received mixed responses from critics and audiences. The film tells the story of an unnamed couple ( and ) grieving the loss of their infant son, who Continue reading TASTE BREAKERS

THE POISONOUS IMAGE IN WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP (1999)

A note about the following essay, from the author.

Wisconsin Death Trip is a 1999 film directed by James Marsh, an oddball, morbid documentary inspired by a 1973 nonfiction book of the same title. The film is structured as a chain of anecdotes and vignettes about life in small-town Wisconsin in the late 1800’s. This was a period of depression and hardship, and the psychological toll it took on the populace is apparent: most of the anecdotes are about murder, suicide, and madness, provided with a total lack of context that makes them seem uncanny and inexplicable. The visuals are a combination of period black-and-white photographs and stylized reenactments, and all the accompanying narration is drawn from actual newspaper reports of the time.

The film is a dreamy, dissociative experience, the ramblings of a ghost walking through a funhouse of bad mojo. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend going in fresh, and then reading this essay afterward. As an analysis of the structure and subtexts of the film, this essay is intended to augment and heighten that pure experience, rather than preview it or assess it. It’s a beautiful, stark, unapologetically eccentric documentary, definitely worth a couple hours of your time. If it intrigues you as much as it did me, come on back, and hopefully you’ll get something out of the critical observations to follow.

The Poisonous Image in Wisconsin Death Trip (1999)

Still from Wisconsin Death Trip (1999)From the photographs and newspaper reports, the last decade of the 19th century was a tough time in rural Wisconsin. In the sick sunlight of a national and regional depression and a hard winter, a garden of small disasters sprung up, blossoming with incidents of suicide, murder, and delusion; this was where you could see the fragility of civil society and stoic reason, the hard ground of rationality cracking over the pressure of the uncanny. Wisconsin Death Trip–a 1999 Continue reading THE POISONOUS IMAGE IN WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP (1999)

THE THREE FETISHES: TRANSFORMATION AND ETHICAL ENGAGEMENT IN WALTER MURCH’S RETURN TO OZ (1985)

Guest essay by Jesse Miksic. Warning: this analysis contains spoilers for Return to Oz (1985).

The Three Fetishes: Transformation and Ethical Engagement in Walter Murch’s Return to Oz (1985)

There is a vast mythology out there, deeper and wider than Middle Earth or Hogwarts, and yet more intimate, more rooted in the flights of fancy and weirdness that writhe in the dirt of our collective childhood. This is the mythology of Oz, created by L. Frank Baum and articulated in his fourteen novels about Dorothy and her various companions. For over 100 years, it’s been dormant, waiting patiently to be mined for spectacles and narratives; unfortunately, most of us only know it by a single film, the celebrated 1939 adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The whole thing is tragic case of untapped potential.

There was one other notable film drawn from this mythology, however, and it vibrates with richness and rabid weirdness. This is director Walter Murch’s 1985 Return to Oz, a film sentenced by the cruel hand of circumstance to obscurity and cult status. Murch was a first-time director, and the film was generally considered too harsh and frightening for the children that would presumably make up its primary audience. It’s a sad outcome, because locked within this Labyrinthian orgy of a pseudo-children’s horror moviemare some mind-bending subtexts, glimpses of some interesting ideas about transformation, childhood, and ethical agency.

In this essay, I’ll be breaking some of those ideas down. Using three potent symbols – the ECT machine, the Magic Powder, and the egg – as guideposts, I’ll unpack some of the paradoxes and explorations of identity and transformation that underlie the film’s pixie-dust grotesqueries. I’ll show how these subtexts connect with ideas of ethics and responsibility, allowing humble little Dorothy to be the savior of a whole imaginary universe. Don’t expect too much… the film resolutely refuses to make sense, or behave in any linear or predictable way… but as with any genuinely eccentric film, this shouldn’t stop us from looking for the deeper ideas locked away within all the weirdness.

And so, without further ado – the first of the three fetishes of Oz:

I. The Electrotherapy Machine

“Now this fellow here has a face. Do you see it? There are his eyes, and this must be his nose, Continue reading THE THREE FETISHES: TRANSFORMATION AND ETHICAL ENGAGEMENT IN WALTER MURCH’S RETURN TO OZ (1985)

GUEST REVIEW: DARK SHADOWS (2012)

 is an actor, director, producer, and the owner of Liberty or Death productions.  He has directed several short horror films along with the feature To Haunt You, produced W the Movie, and previously provided us with a top 10 weird movies list.

Although I watch a lot of films, for various reasons I’m not huge on reviewing them. However, seeing as I’ve been a “Dark Shadows” fan for over 40 years and a Tim Burton fan since Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), I thought perhaps his new epic deserved a paragraph or two from me. I saw it this past weekend on the Hamilton IMAX screen in what seemed liked a rather depopulated theater, but I’m not sure what their usual Sunday crowd is like–perhaps everyone else was taking their mom to dinner for Mother’s Day. At any rate. . .

I had followed the dribbling out of info and photos over the past year or so and had seen the infamous trailer that makes the film look like “Vampires Suck Part Deux”. As a disciple of the original series, none of this sat any better with me than I think it did for most fans. Once more we have Tim Burton going his own way without much regard for audience’s expectations or their affection for the originals (think especially Planet of the Apes or even more so his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the latter of which I still haven’t managed to make it all the way through.) I can understand not working toward expectations, but is it always necessary to tread on sacred ground with jackboots? This being said I will consider Dark Shadows from two different perspectives: as a remake of the original series, and as another entry in the auteur’s canon.

Still from Dark Shadows (2012)Many fans of the original series are going to hate this film. Hands down. Jonathan Frid’s beloved, beautiful, complex, tortured Barnabas Collins has been morphed into a typically Burtonesque, overly made-up, funny pages version of the character, ripe for rendering into dolls and action figures. Johnny Depp‘s pancake makeup is so thick and obvious he constantly makes the viewer think of someone made up as Dracula for Halloween (indeed, one wonders if this isn’t partly the idea–this is Tim and Johnny’s Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: DARK SHADOWS (2012)

PROFESSOR GIBBERN’S PREPARATION: ANDREI ZVYAGINTSEV’S THE BANISHMENT (2007)

 Eugene Vasiliev is a Doctor of Philosophy and a member of the Russian Guild of Film Critics.  This detailed analysis of Andrei Zvyagintsev’s The Banishment was originally published (in Russian) at Ruskino.   

The Banishment, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s second feature-length motion picture after triumphing in Venice with The Return (2003), was received coldly by the audience.  After the first screenings, bewilderment reigned even among “advanced” cinema enthusiasts. Some applauded languidly, some grumbled discontentedly, and when cineastes read slashing reviews by renowned film experts, a torrent of criticism pounced on Zvyagintsev like tsunami on the province of Aceh. It seemed that curses and swearing would sweep yesterday’s favorite down to the ocean of oblivion, and Andrei would drown there along with Baluyev, Lavronenko, and Maria Bonnevie. Those who only yesterday had raved about The Return regretted their past admiration: as they said, “we were “bought” all for nothing at the time”. Those who had silently swallowed the success of The Return, felt relief at last by stating that “the movie is total shit”.

Still from The Banishment (2007)Yekaterina Barabash argued that Zvyagintsev had invented “spiritual glamor”: merciless in its form and meaningless in its content.  Yelena Ardabatskaya noted that it had been a difficult viewing experience since The Banishment has nothing at all in it: no people, no scents, only Emptiness.  Roman Volobuyev, who at first confined himself mostly to sneering, finally succumbed and began to speak his mind. According to him, even Mikhalkov, now an object of scorn, “is a complex personality, while Zvyagintsev is a single-layered structure; he is a good professional director, at the level of an average American TV series maker, who makes films about things he does not give a damn about – and out of mercenary motives at that, and because he works not in the world of  ‘My Perfect Nanny’ but in Russian, kind of, spirituality, his indifference and the fact that he knows nothing about those abstruse things that he depicts in his movies is the most terrible thing.”  Even peacefully disposed Sam Klebanov complained, “It seems as if it is repeatedly suggested that we should think about the meaning of all those religious parallels.  Perhaps, we did not think well enough, but somehow we have not thought up anything.”

I am not going to list all the complaints and accusations of displeased cinema experts and Continue reading PROFESSOR GIBBERN’S PREPARATION: ANDREI ZVYAGINTSEV’S THE BANISHMENT (2007)

GUEST REVIEW: ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1933)

Guest review by Scott Sentinella, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in “The Carson News”, “The Gardena Valley News”, “Animato”, “Videomania Newspaper”, “Cashiers du Cinemart”, Dugpa.com and ALivingDog.com.

DIRECTOR: Norman Z. McLeod

FEATURING: Charlotte Henry, Gary Cooper, W.C. Fields, Cary Grant, Mae Marsh, , Alison Skipworth, Charlie Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton, Sterling Holloway, and many others.

PLOT: A teenage girl named Alice travels through a mirror into a nonsensical fantasy world

Still from Alice in Wonderland (1933)

where animals talk, mad tea parties are held and queens threaten beheadings.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Because of the source material, and because of this version’s especially creepy use of bizarre, grotesque masks on many members of its all-star cast.

COMMENTS: Before Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland, every big-screen adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic book had flopped at the box office, and this early 1930’s curio was no exception.  Directed by Norman Z. McLeod (known for the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Horse Feathers), and with a screenplay by Joseph L, Mankiewicz (All About Eve) and William Cameron Menzies (better known as the art director on Gone With the Wind), this primitive-looking extravaganza rounded up some 22 stars from the Paramount lot and immediately hid most of them behind very unpleasant-looking masks and bulky costumes.  This Alice was made only five-and-a-half years before The Wizard of Oz, but some of the technology on display here looks like it was left over from the Victorian era.  (Incidentally, Alice’s then-starry cast now consists of three legends—Cooper, Fields, Grant; a lot of character actors familiar to viewers of Turner Classic Movies—Horton, Holloway, Ruggles; and then a host of performers unknown to even the most die-hard classic film buffs—-Jackie Searle? Raymond Hatton?) The results are a bit too disturbing, even for Lewis Carroll, but at least it captures the madness of the novel(s) in a way that Burton’s neutered, watered-down disappointment never really does.  Like most films based on Alice, this one liberally combines elements of both “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”  This time, Alice (Babes in Toyland’s Charlotte Henry) first finds her way through a mirror and then tumbles down a rabbit hole, where she meets the usual Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1933)