Tag Archives: John Frankenheimer

CAPSULE: LOST SOUL – THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ‘THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU’ (2014)

DIRECTOR: David Gregory

FEATURING: , Fairuza Balk, Edward R. Pressman, Robert Shaye, Tim Zimmermann, Rob Morrow, Marco Hofschneider, Graham Humphreys

PLOT: A documentary on the troubled production of 1996’s flop The Island of Dr. Moreau.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While there are more than a few weird stories featured in the film, a documentary about a film that ultimately did not get made is in itself not that weird anymore—there’s practically an entire genre now.

COMMENTS: The 90’s adaptation of H. G. Welles’ The Island of Dr. Moreau has the reputation of being among one of ‘the worst films ever made’.  That is an overstatement; the film’s actually a pretty decent time-waster, on its own terms. However, it is not among the greatest films ever made, and certainly not among ‘s best work (though I’d watch it over Reindeer Games anytime). At times, Moreau is an entertaining, muddled batshit mess, though it wasn’t intended to be.

It was meant to be the major studio debut of Richard Stanley, who, after making Hardware and Dust Devil (two films that I believe should be List Candidates), was poised to make the ultimate version of Moreau. Instead, it became a nightmare of production which ended up with Stanley tossed off of the film and replaced with veteran director Frankenheimer—yet the nightmare continued.

For years, stories have bounced around what actually happened. Lost Soul attempts to finally set the record straight about Moreau, to give a glimpse at what Stanley originally envisioned and to present what actually happened, as well as can be established from all of the guilty parties who consented to be interviewed. It’s a fascinating “unmaking-of” documentary that’s also illuminates the age-old conflict of Art vs. Business.

While it is a good accounting of the production, it isn’t by any means the whole story: noticeably absent from the doc is any input from , or , and Stanley doesn’t quite completely come clean about his state of mind at the time… but what’s there is suitably fascinating and quite damning. Actor Rob Morrow’s account of his experience, which I believe is the first time that he’s spoken at length about the film in any setting, is one highlight.

Filmmaking has largely become demystified over the past 30 years, but after watching Lost Soul, you will wonder how anything even halfway decent ever makes it out of the Studio Process.

DISC INFO: Severin Films has handled the recent releases of Stanley’s films to home video in grand fashion (great transfers with excellent extras), so of course there’s no exception with Lost Soul. For the hardcore Stanley/H.G. Wells/Moreau fan, the 3-disc ‘House of Pain’ Edition is the one to go for. The documentary is on Blu-ray disc, along with outtakes from several of the interviews (for those who couldn’t get enough of the already dishy stuff used, check out what’s dished in what they DIDN’T use…); a gallery of concept art by artist Graham Humphries with commentary with Stanley; an audio interview with , who was intended to have a cameo in the film; an archival interview with John Frankenheimer; plus several smaller featurettes. The second disc— “The Wells Files”— is a DVD with the featurette “H.G. Wells On Film” with scholar Sylvia Hardy and another with Stanley talking about Wells’ work, and specifically on the themes in “Moreau” that attracted him. The most notable feature is a recently discovered German silent film, Insel Der Verschollenen (Island of the Lost) which appears to be the earliest film adaptation of Welles’ story (and which maintains the tradition of deviating wildly from its source material). There’s also an Easter Egg hidden on this disc… The third disc is a bonus CD-ROM, an audiobook recording of Wells’ novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau” read by Richard Stanley. If that’s too much immersion, then just go for either the 1 disc Blu-ray or DVD edition (buy), which only feature the movie & movie related extras, eschewing the bonus discs material on Wells.

Richard Stanley

The Island of Dr. Moreau script – Screenplay by Richard Stanley, Michael Herr and Walon Green

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: “The creation of the H.G. Wells’ story’s third official screen incarnation was beset by disasters even more bizarre than the delirious mess of a feature finally released in 1996, with stars Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer reportedly rivaling even Mother Nature as destructive on-set forces… David Gregory’s pic can hardly help but fascinate with its mix of archival materials and surviving-collaborator testimonies.”–Dennis Harvey, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: SECONDS (1966)

DIRECTED BY: John Frankenheimer

FEATURING: Rock Hudson, John Randolph, Will Geer, Jeff Corey, Murray Hamilton, Frank Campanella, Salome Jens

PLOT:  A middle-aged businessman in midlife crisis gets a second chance at life—but it comes at a steep price, and there’s a morbid catch.

SECONDS-2


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Seconds offers us a unique, unusual plot, one that will really stick in your memory. You’ll carry the story and its lesson for the rest of your life because it directly treats concepts that nearly everybody can, or knows they eventually will relate to:  growing old, midlife crisis, looking back and wondering if we made the right choices, and ruefully contemplating the what-might-have-beens. What can we be doing now to make sure we don’t have regrets? Despite the dramatic, hard-hitting effect the writers and director bring to these concepts, however, Seconds is a straightforward, conventional film. The story is offbeat as hell, but the movie isn’t weird.

COMMENTS:  Dramatic and disturbing, Seconds is a dark, brooding predecessor to middle-class America mid-life crisis films such as the blackly-comic Middle Age Crazy (1980) or the light-hearted and less substantial This Is 40 (2012). Yet, while those films allow us to laugh off the grim prospects of getting older, Seconds grinds on us and strikes a nerve.

Wealthy banker Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) has it all. He went to the right Ivy League school, joined all the right fraternal organizations, and married the right woman. Yet, at middle-age, something’s missing.

In Sinclair Lewis’s classic novel “Babbitt,” the book’s namesake awakens each morning from a blissful dream of being a carefree youth cozying up to an enigmatic and beautiful girl to greet the dread of reality: a frumpy wife, his own greying countenance, and the unsatisfying banality of another tedious workday. Like Babbitt, Arthur Hamilton feels frustrated and empty. Maybe it’s because Arthur looks like an aging John Randolph. Or could it be because at middle age, Arthur isn’t so sure that the life he toiled away for is the one he really wants?

It’s hard to imagine that it is. Arthur is clearly bored and bothered. Even more telling, Arthur and his wife don’t sleep together anymore. The Hayes code hold-over separate beds don’t help the romance.

And Hamilton is beyond staunch; he’s gosh-darned uptight. Racked with tension, beaded with sweat, coiled up, we want to hand him a Hawaiian shirt, a Mai-Tai, and tell him to loosen up.

We’re not alone. Someone from Arthur’s past also has him sized up as a walking time-bomb of seething non-fulfillment.

A mysterious phone call from a dead school chum (Murray Hamilton) breaks the routine. After the phone call Hamilton receives a mysterious address, at which he arrives after following a chain of clues. Arthur Hamilton’s life is about to change.

In return for his life insurance payout and a hefty chunk of his sizable estate, Hamilton joins a secret society—one which, after months of super-nutrition, exercise, hair restoration, testosterone therapy, and state of the art plastic surgery, transforms him into—wait for it … wait for it …  young, virile, ROCK HUDSON!

And that’s not all. Under hypnosis, Arthur learns that what he really wanted to do in life was to be an artist. The organization he’s joined has that Continue reading CAPSULE: SECONDS (1966)