Category Archives: Fantasy

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

cult film rocky horrorDirector: Jim Sharman

Writers: Richard O’Brien (original musical play), Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien (screenplay)

In 1973, an Australian named Jim Sharman directed a musical called The Rocky Horror Show. The musical was a success and, in 1975, was made into a film that soon gathered a cult following.

Brad Majors and his fiancee Janet Weiss (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon), having just got engaged and seemingly destined to lead a very conventional life together, have a flat tyre during a thunderstorm and seek shelter in a rather eerie castle. Here they meet Dr Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry), self-proclaimed ‘Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual Transsylvania’ and alien scientist, his servants Riff Raff and Magenta (Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn), groupie Columbia (Nell Campbell) and a host of other odd and interesting characters. Frank N. Furter has created a ‘muscle man’ and, to applause from his guests and servants and to Brad’s and Janet’s dismay, brings to life the ‘beautiful creature’, Rocky Horror (Peter Hinwood). This is followed by a violent intermezzo with Frank’s and Columbia’s former lover Eddie (Meat Loaf), a wedding between Frank and Rocky, a large amount of seduction, a bizarre floorshow and extra-terrestrial encounters.

The film is a parody of old horror and sci-fi films replete with all the stock ingredients – mad scientists, spooky castles, aliens, sex, gore, romance – with catchy music and remarkable costumes thrown in. It shows reckless abandon, decadent danger and carnal enjoyment, contrasted beautifully by Janet and Brad’s polite, repressed behaviour. Playing with identities and gender roles, and with the idea of taking risks and letting go, it brought together people who liked to do something different and not follow the rules. ‘Don’t Dream It, Be It’, as the song goes. Costume designer Sue Blane claimed that the musical, with its ripped fishnet stockings, glitter and dyed hair, influenced the punk movement, and we’re inclined to agree. Provocative, camp and funny, it still rocks today.

Singalong now!

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Pan’s Labyrinth (aka. El laberinto del fauno) (2006)

Director – Guillermo del Toro

Writer – Guillermo del Toro

This film has a harrowing beauty that lingers with the viewer long after the credits have rolled. Set during the Spanish Falange era in 1944, a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), the stepdaughter of oppressive captain Vidal (Sergi López), finds sanctuary in a fantasy haven at the bottom of her garden that leads to a deep underground labyrinth. The fantastical creatures that she encounters assist or assail her, causing her to gradually confront the reality of the situation unfolding around her by cloaking it with her imagination. The monsters are truly wondrous, and often terrifying (see below), conjuring visuals that have been rarely matched in their vibrant fairytale quality and richness of colour.

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There are chillingly dark themes at work, dealt with in an extremely sensitive, yet imaginitive way. The emotional power of the interweaving storyline is a deeply moving experience when it tragically unfolds.

This is the trailer with the husky-voiced man to tell you more about it, as I don’t want to give anything more away, but strongly recommend that you watch this film.

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Brazil (1985)

Brazil (1985) Poster

Director: Terry Gilliam

Writers: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown

Some films are so finely detailed that they require repeat viewings to appreciate  the extent of their content. This is more than true of Brazil, which manages to squeeze an entire retro-futuristic city into its compact time frame, replete with hallucinogenic dream sequences featuring giant samurai warriors, talking brickwork, and other flights of fancy, along with a serious message behind the wickedly grinning facade.

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You could consider Brazil to be ‘Monty Python Does 1984’, but there are many essential differences between it and those elements. There aren’t any knights who say “NI!” or giant feet crushing anybody from above, for starters. 1984 itself is a critique of blind obedience to authoritarian regimes. Instead, Brazil mocks the mayhem of tangled bureaucracy. People are chewed up by long working hours, an oppressive political system, and excessive red tape. There are certainly bullying security to enforce the rules, keep people in their place and suppress the rebel terrorist threat, but these are nothing compared to the web of repression woven by emotionally blackmailing management. Desk clerk Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is in charge of the thankless task of processing data concerning suspected dissenters. He discovers an error in the system that has led to a wrongful arrest, and seeks to do the right thing by rectifying it. This, in itself, causes problems, something that the regime does not like. Everything must run smoothly and according to the rules. As one domineering technocrat bawls at Sam when he goes to express his concern about a mishap, “Mistakes?! We don’t make mistakes!” In as unbending a system as this, people get swallowed whole.


Sam is disillusioned and also becomes enamoured by a woman who he has dreamed about, Jill Layton (Kim Greist), but who he weirdly happens to then meet. She takes him away on a voyage of discovery, sprinkled with danger and adventure along the way, as well as meeting the actual dissenter, a rebel plumber by the name of Harry Tuttle (a riproaring Robert de Niro at his very best), and invoking the disapproval of his best friend Jack Lint (a wonderfully malevolent Michael Palin). We explore the very nature of escapism, and how our daydreams can become reality, but we have to be very careful about how we pursue them.

Brazil is a truly haunting film that reveals some bitter truths about the modern condition (and the ending is to die for!).

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The Exterminating Angel (1962)

The Exterminating Angel (1962) Poster

Director – Luis Buñuel

Producer – Gustavo Alatriste

Writer – Luis Buñuel

A quiet uprising of servants is fomenting as they talk about leaving while a banquet for the decadent upper middle classes is held. The everyday quirks and eccentricities of the stuffy rich elite slowly emerge, as do their hidden desires and prejudices. Windows are smashed, trays are dropped by discontented servants who promptly leave, and what’s that under the table?

The guests of the feast comment on the rude behaviour of the servants, and each other, chattering and sniping with some cracklingly witty, barbed lines, and then more mysterious matters begin to occur. The dinner guests find themselves stuck in an uncomfortable situation, unable to free themselves, frozen by some strange compulsion. Their encumbered state means that they become desperate and competitive for survival, cantankerously pecking at one another for status and authority. The smarter and more sympathetic of the group attempt to fathom the circumstances of the mystery, but it evades their wits, and some even end up losing them.

The group becomes sequestered in its own tempestuous world that exists within the confines of the stately mansion, not considering any of the activities happening outside. Their closed world offers them no sanctuary, it is just a stale, stagnant pool to listlessly stew in. Some may be affronted by the delineation of the upper classes in such a clear, unfettered way, which was just what Buñuel intended. He pulls no punches, and exposes the rotten core of their empty, hypocritical existences in a highly original and innovative way. Recommended to those who don’t like to be spoon-fed with obvious, predictable slush.

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Birdman (2014)

Birdman

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Writer: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alexander Dinelaris, Nicolás Giacobone, Armando Bo

There’s a lot to dislike about Birdman, but somehow it’s likeable despite all of that. The characters are egotistic maniacs, swerving around from one calamity to the next, but perhaps that’s one or maybe two reasons why it works. This is the very nature of putting on a theatrical production, which is what the film is ostensibly about, and day to day life, which is also what the film is about, if you’re a fading movie star who’s trying to break into Broadway, at least. The film is bound to garner interest from the Hollywood players and their New York Broadway counterparts as there’s nothing more that they love than talking about themselves, and again, this is what is laid out bare in the film. It doesn’t balk from that. It relishes in it, and all of the small quirks and foibles, as well as quite a few major ones, in the business. It almost has an in-built “get out of jail free card” factor to deflect any criticism by voicing it itself through the characters, in their resentment of critical reviewers, making anyone who denounces is sound like they missed the point, but it can still be picked apart in its constituent pieces and examined at arm’s length, and ought to be.

Let’s look at the visuals. They were fantastic, with rolling dolly shots wheeling around the performers, seamlessly and painstakingly edited together to create a flowing torrent of visceral emotion. The special effects didn’t impose themselves either, except where intended, and enhanced the blurring between reality and what was in the protagonist’s mind succinctly.

The protagonist is Riggan Thomson, played by a bewrinkled and balding Michael Keaton, whose better days are behind him, but always following him around, like the imaginary figure of the Birdman who is a clear parody of the Batman that Keaton deftly played in the ’90s. Only the bat, that figure of the dark, unknown psyche, is transferred into the day, bringing the inner thoughts out into the light. There are a lot of metaphorical, literary and philosophical references like that in the film. It’s very post modern and self-reflexive, with elements of Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, Jorge Luis Borges’s magic realism, Shakespeare’s plays within plays, Brecht’s alienation, and other theatry devices such as these to detach the viewer from the spectacle in front of them.

Ed Norton’s character, Mike Sheener, is obsessed with his performance being as real as possible, a knowing reflection of Norton’s own reputation, and he goes to untoward lengths to give it that absolute verisimilitude. He is an obnoxious arse, but everything he says and does eventually turns out to be infallibly true. There seems to be a lot of nod nods and wink winks contained in the script, but it doesn’t totally overwhelm the proceedings, making it a completely obnoxious incestuous actor love fest, although it does often come close, perhaps veering over the line a couple of times, which seems to be why some people are left a little cold by it. That said, it’s probably supposed to, but perhaps it could’ve had a bit less of the knowing nudge nudge business for its own self-referential sake and a few more characters who weren’t abysmal narcissists, but that’s the subject of the film, so why not? Riggan’s long-suffering wife (Amy Ryan), disaffected daughter (Emma Stone), neglected mistress (Andrea Riseborough), insecure co-actress (Naomi Watts)  and theatrical mentor (Zach Galifianakis) have a lot to deal with.

The dressing gown scene was very funny, but also symbolic of the plight of Riggan Thomson’s himself. In a similar way to the film Mephisto, he is left open to the elements and when exposed is seen and recorded by hordes of intrigued onlookers in Time Square, much like the whole celebrity media circus itself encapsulated in luscious, swimming visuals.

There are hints of mental illness and psychological instability scratching away at the surface here, delicately and subtly portrayed by Keaton and the supporting cast that would be deserving of its much-talked-about Oscar.

The cool, offbeat jazz drumming of Antonio Sanchez underscores the film perfectly, giving it that jilted jazz vibe throughout (possibly a reference to Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker?). The film reeks of New York in all its grotesque glory, and in a way is an ode to what the city has to offer – the fleeting, flighty charms of fame, and the gritty earth of reality. As the asteroid of Riggan’s career plummets to Earth, he becomes reborn like a phoenix, and finds some kind of solace in his more humble recognition that the play isn’t always the thing. The are many funny moments too, so a recommended watch for those who are after something that isn’t the usual Hollywood fodder.

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Eraserhead (1977)

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Director – David Lynch
Producer – David Lynch, Fred Baker (uncredited)
Writer – David Lynch

Eraserhead is not the sort of film that you see every day. If it was, people would be even more confused than they already are. Eraserhead is a film that follows the daily routine of its main character, Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), a mostly mute, melancholic man who has a stack of hair to rival Marge Simpson herself, and an awkward gait that shows his uncomfortability within his world and in all that he does. And boy, is it an odd world! There are chicken-headed babies and clanking pipes connecting up to the Lady in the Radiator (Laurel Near), who sings an eerie song whilst dancing, as industrial noise erupts around them; and those are the relatively explainable parts. Then there’s the angry girlfriend, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart), who keeps having unusual fits, the Man in the Planet (Jack Fisk), the seductive, elusive neighbour across the hall (Judith Roberts) giving Henry strange glances, and other obscure, irrational happenings. It’s all very peculiar.

The film possesses echoes of German Expressionist cinema and surrealism, but it creates a unique landscape of its own. It is probably the nearest thing to a dream that has ever been captured on film, but it’s by no means a pleasant dream. It is our daily lives dissected and reconstituted into vicious visual representations. To say that it is just art is to understate just how original it is. It’s an unsettling masterpiece.

Sing along now!

Get your own copy of Eraserhead on DVD here!

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The Fisher King (1991)

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Director – Terry Gilliam

Writer – Richard LaGravenese

With the recent demise of affable funnyman Robin Williams, it seems fitting to reappraise some of his less well-known roles. One of the most textured and inspired is that of Parry in The Fisher King.

Appearing opposite the imposing force of Jeff Bridges could freak some actors out, but not the sprightly, energetic Williams, who is freaky enough, and whose ebullience is deftly reserved here, just enough to bubble along, but not overwhelm, injecting the film with a vital exhuberance. Williams gives a humble, dignified portrayal of a guy who has fallen on hard times due to an incident earlier in his life. Through their interactions, the status-craving DJ Jack, played by Bridges, comes to learn that there is more to life than the material world around us, and to appreciate the little things that are often over-looked. It is the understated force of humanity that Williams brings to the picture that makes the screen sparkle. Let’s enjoy it while we can. Altogether now, “I like New York in June, how about you?”

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