Uncharted (2022)

I’ve kind of gone off video games in the last ten years or so. Too many character options and upgrades and DLC and whatnot. I like to just plug in and play as in video games of old. Anyhow, Uncharted is one of the only games I can say I’ve played all the different series of — it’s simple treasure hunting fun and not too hard, doesn’t get much more complicated than figuring out some puzzles. The action is of course over the top, as you’d expect. 

This brings us to Uncharted (2022), the big-budget movie adaptation, with main guy Nathan Drake played by your friendly neighbourhood Tom Holland, and his ‘trusty’ sidekick Victor “Sully” Sullivan played by Mark Wahlberg. Yes, Holland does have charm to spare, but I’m not sure he was really up to playing Drake, who always seemed a little older and tougher in the games than here. Half the time, Holland seems like a little boy playing at being a pirate and so on. 

There’s a few set pieces lifted from the games, and as far as fan service goes, I thought the film did fine. Reviews have been pretty uniformly abysmal even for a summer blockbuster, and though the film is being considered something of a flop, it still made enough money at the box office that a sequel remains a real possibility. I thought the villains were duds, which is always a shame when you’re talking big-budget action. Even Antonio Banderas falls flat here; he was more menacing in The Misbehavers, for crying out loud. 

In short, while kids will probably love this, anyone older than 15 or so is unlikely to be impressed. Some seriously weak sauce, all in all. IMO Mortal Kombat (1995) remains the best video game adaptation. Considering it’s almost 30 years old now, that’s kind of sad.

Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)

Last night I watched Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), written and directed by the marvellous husband and wife team of Eleanor Perry and Frank Perry. If you’ve ever seen The Swimmer with Burt Lancaster, which the Perrys did a few years previous, you’ll know the sort of entertainment you’re in for: an acerbic character piece about someone at the end of their rope, exhausted and perhaps flirting with danger as a consequence. It’s an unusual film for its time in that the whole thing is essentially from a woman’s point of view; combine that with an intelligent script filled with memorable zingers and you’ve got a riveting watch.

This film concerns Tina Balser (Carrie Snodgress), who is married to Johnathan Balser (Richard Benjamin) and spends most of her waking moments tending to his every whim and notion. He is childlike and selfish, undeveloped to a shocking degree, and mean on top of all that. She becomes depressed and withdrawn, and takes a lover, the writer George Prager (Frank Langella in a positively revelatory role) who is himself a selfish jerk but with a crass self-awareness of the fact that would appear to appeal to Tina. 

Snodgress is fantastic and the role made her something of a star, as well as muse to Neil Young for a time. She won a Golden Globe for her performance and was nominated for Best Actress Oscar, losing out to Glenda Jackson (for Women In Love). Benjamin was so vexing here to me that, after half an hour of his hectoring, I had to pause the film and take a break. Doubtfully the desired effect, but a testament to the character and Benjamin’s passionate portrayal of same.

Finally, Frank Langella, who seems like a smoother, sexier version of James Woods (?). Though I remember him as Dracula first and foremost, I’ve become accustomed to seeing him play generally creepy older men, as in The Ninth Gate, for instance. So to see him play a creepy younger man was quite an interesting surprise. I assume that groovy hairstyle he’s sporting here is a wig, what do you think?

I won’t spill the beans on what happens, but I must add that the film’s ending is a real humdinger, indicative of the ‘downer’ endings of the period (which I love). It’s so seldom that a great film has an ending that kind of takes it up that extra notch, but I would argue this qualifies. Bring back fearlessness in cinema!

Foolish Male Faces On Sex Comedy Posters

A version of this piece appeared in my old blog, Dec 12 2010.

In the 1970s and 1980s there was a phenomenon of men appearing on film posters bearing what can perhaps be safely described as overtly dumb expressions. Particularly popular in the area of sex comedy, such posters typically feature a beautiful woman (seen head-to-toe), while about her on either side are the faces of 2-6 very average, even unattractive men who look as though they have lost all reasoning capacity, are in fact made fools, struck dumb by the beauty they see before them.

From Jack Stevenson’s Fleshpot: cinema’s sexual myth makers & taboo breakers —

“In the excessive content of the Italian sex comedy, the constructed nature of masculinity is revealed… the sexual space of [these films]… are so over-the-top in their celebration of heterosexual ideas that today they are almost parodies”

Are such posters, and their images of men as idiotic figures of moronic lust, conservative, retrograde? Certainly their brief popularity in mid-1980s Hollywood was historically tied to the height of consumerist Reaganism. Maggie Günsberg’s Italian Cinema: Gender and Genre suggests much the same was true of Italy*; I don’t know enough about Italian politics to comment on any equivalences there, but I do know such male expressions were stock comic relief in not only Italian but also Mexican sex comedy cinema of the 1970s.

Should we consider that such male-dominant, even macho, societies might be confident enough in their masculinity that said masculinity could be safely depicted as something foolish, fun, even brainless – silly slaverings to sirens, evoking not the handsome male of so many a standard cinematic artwork, the mutual attraction, or romance portrayed in so many ‘rom-com’ film posters, but instead a tongue-out sort of pig lust? Or is it the reverse, exaggeration masking deep insecurities? I don’t know. Still, I confess when viewing these ridiculous faces, I can’t help seeing something of value in them, however unattractive it may be.

filmreference.com —

“Lina Wertmüller established herself in the 1970s as Italy’s most important female director. Her best works were all typical of the commedia dell’italiana genre: The Seduction of Mimi (1971); Love and Anarchy (1972); Swept Away (1974); and her previously discussed masterpiece, Seven Beauties . Wertmüller’s comedies, filled with stock characters and presented with the typical vulgarity of traditional Italian slapstick farce, treated controversial political subjects, such as feminism, women’s rights, working-class chauvinism, and the opposition of love and anarchy, with grotesque humor.”

When women going out to male strip clubs became chic in the 1980s, I recall men’s sexual stoicism quickly coming under the gun – women were whooping it up in these clubs, thrilled to finally be seeing men dancing naked before them, so we were told. These women were in touch with their lust, it was fun and healthy to be vocal and enthusiastic; by contrast, men sat sullen and silent at their own strip clubs, apparently bored out of their minds. What was wrong with them? Were the gyrations of naked bodies not something to be celebrated? Made merry over? Perhaps even get downright silly over?


I don’t mean to excuse these goofy grotesques, but perhaps cast them in a different light, give them another context. As a young man growing up and focusing obsessively on anything that smacked of this mysterious magnet called sex, such posters (or late-night viewings of lusty Italian comedies on CHIN TV) conveyed that goofy, foolish, unattractive men, and sexy busty bombshells went together like a fork and spoon. I for one salute this lost ideal; we certainly can’t all be George Clooney.

This ‘lusty fool’ type was not limited to the posters of such films of course but was in fact a mainstay character type of sex comedy, pre-AIDS; in Italy and latin countries, often an older man, apparently past his prime; in the U.S., a young man, eager to loose his virginity at any and all costs. In these films, certain aspects of reality are turned upside down: clumsiness and awkwardness are endearing, not off-putting. Physical comedy often serves to ‘accidentally’ undress a woman, there being no acceptable means to view the vaunted T&A other than voyeurism, cliche soft-focus romance, or frequently aggressive ‘accidents’ (at this time, that could include basically just grabbing a woman’s top off). Private School is one such film featuring all three types of nudity, for anyone looking for examples.

* from a review of Maggie Günsberg’s Italian Cinema: Gender and Genre —

“Chapter Two (‘Commodifying Passions: Gender and Consumerism in Commedia all’italiana’) is dedicated to the commedia all’italiana, and especially the relationship between sex and materialism. The Italian social context is brought into play here, with a discussion of the increased commodification of Italian social relations during the boom years (which coincided with the peak of the commedia). It begins by looking at consumerism and commodity fetishism within a theoretical framework marked by psychoanalysis (Freud, Lacan) and Marxism (Baudrillard) and then explores how one commodity (the car) functions in a number of films, and the effect on gender relationships of the commodification of relations. It also examines the commodification of the female body (through its sexuality) and of the male body (through its labour power). The films which provide the focus for this chapter are Germi’s Divorzio all’italiana, De Sica’s Matrimonio all’italiana, and others, such as Audace colpo dei soliti ignoti.”

A Woman Under The Influence (1974)

This John Cassavetes film is a whopper, two and a half hours of Mabel Longhetti (Gena Rowlands) and her husband Nick Longhetti (Peter Falk) in full-bore mid-Seventies serious mode, portraying a couple going through some trying times (largely a result of Mabel’s undiagnosed mental illness). The acting is intense, immediate, and almost free-associating at times. The script examines the role mental illness plays and how people respond to it. Personally, my own mental problems are on the opposite side of the spectrum so I found Mabel difficult to relate to at times; she was endlessly manic, on and on and on. It’s not my experience.

I’ve lived with people like that though, and I would say what Rowland’s performance was missing was the crash that inevitably follows a manic period. You could certainly argue that’s why she was so quiet after her hospital stay, but I’d say that was a different thing entirely. Caution, resentment, probably doped up on some pharmaceutical regime – that’s not the same as the kind of nihilistic ruminations I associate with bipolar disorder’s depressive side. But still, it’s a relatively minor quibble with a bravado performance.

Armchair psychiatry aside, I’m not sure how you’d diagnose Nick. His voice is kind of incredible, and that rat-a-tat delivery of lines just hammers his words into you. He clearly has problems of his own, but a love for his family lies behind his bellowing and bluster.

I’m not sure how much I can say about this that hasn’t been said a hundred times. It’s rightly considered a major classic of cinema, and watching it is like a masterclass in film making. I hadn’t seen it for many years and I do find my perspective on it has changed in the interval. What seemed rough around the edges or overbearing is now endearing.

Men (2022)

Spoilers follow.

I’m a big fan of Alex Garland’s recent films so I was very much looking forward to seeing what an out and out horror movie directed by him would be like. Men (2022) has received mixed reviews on release, with many complaining that the story didn’t make sense, most particularly the ending. I felt that it did show coherence throughout, albeit in a metaphorical or allegorical fashion. 

In brief, Men is a horror film about the patriarchy. The way it robs you of your freedom, your solitude, your independence and your sanity with its relentless presentation, its insistence on perpetuating itself (both in conversation and then later literally), its myriad microaggressions. Many of the key moments in the film involve small moments that add up to a frightening whole: a hand on a knee, a phrase, an overstepping, a reluctance to believe or take seriously. Even a choice of honorific has an hurtful and intimidating connotation here.

Our protagonist Harper Marlowe (Jessie Buckley) is taking a fortnight to herself after a traumatic row with her husband James (Paapa Essiedu) that resulted in his death. She seeks to simply be, to exist and to heal in this rented estate in the country; instead, at every avenue, she is pestered or harassed by a series of males, all of whom bear the same face (that of Rory Kinnear). Their offences become more and more brazen throughout. Harper is remarkably adamant in her own point of view and this appears to rankle.

The ending – wherein one man gives birth to another, and then that man gives birth to yet another, and so on until we arrive at James again, who sits up with Harper and persists in blaming her for his death – entails the conjunction of two very old, even pagan ideas: that of the Green Man and that of the Sheela Na Gig (this is the reason too that Men is referred to as a folk horror; I would quibble with that, but it’s a digression). These figures are depicted in the film as two sides of the same baptismal font in a spooky church Harper visits at one point. 

The film is suggesting some union of the male and female pagan (re)birthing energies, and this I think is key to understanding why these men are suddenly giving birth to each other at the end. It’s also making implicit the connection between her overtly aggressive late husband and the men in the town who have been so relentless in their own aggressions. When Riley (Gayle Rankin) arrives to see her friend, it’s clear that these women share a strong bond beyond friendly phonecalls. One can see how they flourish in each other’s presence. 

And this brings me to two key pieces of the puzzle most people seem to have overlooked, the answer James gives when Harper asks him what he wants from her (“love”), and the following shot of a dandelion losing its seeds played in reverse. Is love the key to patriarchy? A woman’s love for a man? Doing away with that entire construct (“he loves me, he loves me not”) may then be where happiness lies. A good hang with a good friend out in the countryside. Like Midsommar, perhaps this is a happy ending in disguise.

Is the film problematic? Most definitely, not least because James is the only person of colour in the whole thing, and he’s an unbalanced, aggressive person at that. There is also the issue of gender ‘essentialism’ going on – the film is called Men, after all. The fact that Riley arrives alone and pregnant at the end is very interesting, I thought. It further suggests a future free of men. Would I recommend watching Men? If you like A24 films (for it is such a one), and/or body horror, give it a go. 

W.R. Mysteries of the Organism (1971)

It’s difficult to know where to start with Dušan Makavejev‘s 1971 avant-garde film, W.R. Mysteries of the Organism. It starts out as a documentary on psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich but integrates vignettes of counterculture figures in the US, as well as a story set in Yugoslavia tackling themes of Communist revolution and sexuality. It may be fair to consider it something of a collage in construction then, incorporating B&W footage from Soviet film, colour footage of a plaster casting in the offices of Screw magazine, and any number of other elements.

Betty Dodson is interviewed on masturbation, Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs engages in street theatre, Jackie Curtis strolls down 42nd street enjoying an ice cream cone with a friend. We see orgone accumulators and hear from Reich’s family and friends, as well as fellow doctors and the townspeople he would interact with. Milena Dravić appears as a woman called Milena in the film’s fictional storyline. She is staunchly pro Communist, pro feminist, and pro Reichian; she enthralls a crowd with polemic, and seduces a Russian figure skater named Vladimir Ilyich, only to lose her head at his bloody hands and keep talking after decapitation.

If anyone reading this is getting bored by films, or feeling that there’s nothing new under the sun, I would urge you to see WR: Mysteries of the Organism. Unconventional to its core, it’s both a time capsule and an insight into a possible freethinking future. Similar in some ways to the political cinema of Jean-Luc Godard, but much funnier and sexier, I recommend it to anyone left curious by this description.

The Vanishing (1988)

Last night I showed my parents Spoorloos (1988) or The Vanishing, a superb Dutch film that director George Sluizer later remade for Hollywood to much derision. If you’re going to see this movie, which you should, then you definitely see the original, no question. And, having said that, you should under no circumstances read anything about it beforehand (this piece exempted). Its ending is rightfully famous and the film works like a mountain climb; only at the summit do you get that unique perspective you’ve been working towards. Only then can you really see everything.

Simply put, the story concerns a Dutch couple – Saskia Wagter (Johanna Ter Steege) and Rex Hoffman (Gene Bervoets) – on a cycling trip in France. We get to know them, Saskia disappears, and Rex spends the rest of the film looking for the truth of what happened to her. It comes to dominate his life, and he is unable to maintain a ‘normal relationship’ because of it. At the same time, and this is revealed as the film is just starting so I don’t consider it a spoiler, we see Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), the man who is responsible for the disappearance, and learn a great deal of his motivations and backstory.

As the two men circle each other and get closer to meeting, the suspense becomes well nigh unbearable. I will leave it there, and just call attention to the acting, which really rises to the occasion. My mother said of the ending, “well, that was pretty horrible”. My father? “The message is: don’t vacation in France”. 😉

The Films of Brandon Cronenberg: Antiviral (2012) and Possessor (2020)

With the advent of David Cronenberg’s return to body horror via Crimes of the Future, I thought it would be fun to have a look at his son Brandon’s two feature films, those being Antiviral (2012) and Possessor (2020). Both films could be described as sci-fi thrillers or even horror; both take place in a futuristic setting (and are shot in Toronto); both are violent and disturbing; both concern the body, identity, corporations, and espionage. If you’re thinking, hey, that sounds a lot like Cronenberg senior’s movies, you’d be right. Father and son tackle roughly the same themes and do so with a similar stylistic remove. In my opinion, Brandon’s first two films constitute a fascinating continuation of the aesthetic pioneered by dad. That said, this aesthetic is certainly different under the younger Cronenberg, I don’t mean to suggest a slavish imitation.

Antiviral is a satire of our celebrity-focused culture with a rather inspired twist: for the right price, you can be injected with a disease or infection hosted by the celebrity you have chosen. This means lots and lots of close-ups of needles piercing flesh. One of the companies offering this service is the Lucas Clinic, and they have an exclusive contract with superstar Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon); employee Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) collects blood from the very ill Ms. Geist for the clinic, but secretly injects himself with it. Turns out he is a malady mule who sells such covert ‘product’ to a literal ‘meat market’ run by Arvid (my main man, Joe Pingue). Yes, this place sells celeb-steaks, spectacularly vile-looking meat slabs created in the lab from celebrity cells.

As you might expect, March becomes quite ill himself, and when Geist apparently dies, it’s a race against the clock for him to survive. Jones puts in a great loopy performance through Antiviral’s running time; he gets progressively sicker, becoming sweaty, disoriented, throwing up blood. It’s quite something. We also get excellent supporting turns from Sheila McCarthy and Malcolm McDowell. It’s that rare film that is willing to plunge forward where most would back away, and its visual audacity is stunning to behold.

Possessor, if anything, impressed me to a greater degree still. Cronenberg seems like he got the message that Antiviral didn’t go far enough, because the followup is even more visually over the top. The story concerns an alternate 2008 wherein assassins can possess a person at a distance, and then carry out an assassination using their body; the assassin here is Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) and the man she possesses is Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott). The targets include John Parse (Sean Bean), whose character undergoes one of the more severe assaults I’ve ever seen depicted onscreen. I was watching the uncut version, and boy, is it ever uncut!

Like Syd March in Antiviral, Tasya Vos here is a character undergoing massive personal transformation. She is losing touch with her core personality by spending time in the heads of other people, and has to constantly rehearse her own reactions and statements, even with her own family. When Tate begins fighting back against Vos’ control, it gets increasingly ugly, culminating in a bloodbath. Look for Jennifer Jason Leigh in an important guest role. 

The two films compliment each other very nicely and would make an excellent body horror double bill, providing the viewer is up to the experience. There’s lots of neat touches linking the films too, allowing for a drinking game with a difference: take a shot every time a character puts something in their mouth, for example. Both movies suggest Brandon Cronenberg has something of an oral fetish. Finally, let me say how proud I am to see my tax dollars going to help make Canadian cinema of this caliber (both films have government funding).

The Batman (2022)

Saw The Batman (2022) last night and did not care for it. As flawed as the Dark Knight series could be, at least it wasn’t boring. This begins as an extended riff on Seven, right down to the subway rumbling past the apartment window. That only gets doubled down upon once The Riddler is found; I couldn’t believe how much material here was cribbed from John Doe. They even read a disturbing diary entry, for Pete’s sake.

This seems to be the way cinema is going, by and large; Ouroboros eating its own tail, plots and characters recycled for a new generation that has no interest in what’s come before. I will allow that Colin Farrell disappeared into the role of The Penguin, and I didn’t know it was him until I read the cast list after watching. I also liked some of the car chases. Robert Pattinson takes a cue from Michael Keaton and lets his eyes do most of the work here, which is a wise move seeing as how he otherwise communicates in a low growl that is often incomprehensible.

The bit near the beginning with the bat signal scaring the crap out of criminals and then having those criminals stare into a dark doorframe in fear was effective, if a bit fascist. I’m trying to find positives here but that’s difficult, frankly. The score was the worst I’ve heard in some time: bombastic and constantly pushing every emotion we are supposed to feel. I do not look forward to any sequels.

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea (1976)

Based on a short novel by Japanese enigma Yukio Mishima and transplanted to Dartmouth, Devonshire in England where it was shot, screenwriter-director Lewis John Carlino himself refers to this as an odd film. I would agree for a whole host of reasons, namely that it appears to be one thing (a torrid romance) while instead being something entirely different (a moral horror movie). It was Carlino‘s first feature film and is the first attempt to translate Mishima for Western film audiences; with all that considered, it’s amazing that so much went right for the production. Even the weather fully co-operated throughout the shoot. 

Weather aside, much of this success is certainly down to the crew, which Carlino credits producer Martin Poll as assembling: music by John (Johnny) Mandel; cinematography by Douglas Slocombe; editing by Anthony Gibbs. These were first-class professionals and Carlino is gracious with his praise for their steady assistance and ability. The cinematography in particular is absolutely first-rate, replete with many beautiful shots of the seas roiling and crashing against the shore, and of atmospheric Dartmouth and its surrounding countryside.

The story is fairly simple: a 13 year old boy named Jonathan (Jonathan Kahn) and his widowed mother Anne (Sarah Miles) live by the sea. She is desperately lonely and he is privy to this, along with a then-groundbreaking masturbation scene by Miles, through a hole in the wall between their rooms. The boy is certainly at an awkward stage, as they say, and pals around with a group of other lads his age who use numbers instead of names for ‘security reasons’ and who are led by a boy called “The Chief” (Earl Rhodes). 

This is the group’s little führer, a nasty sort studied in his sadistic tendencies and happy to lord his superior intelligence and confidence over the group. He reminded me of nothing so much as a budding Ian Brady, reading Sade and convincing himself this is the way the world works, desperate to involve others in his schemes and depravities. The Chief’s really quite an incredible character, especially for such a young actor to pull off. The first time I saw the film many years ago, this was probably my main takeaway.

When a sailor named Jim (Kris Kristofferson) enters his mother’s life, Johnathan is initially thrilled by what he sees of the couple through his peephole, and seems to be much in awe of Jim. He’s forming his ideas about life and is impressed not only by Jim’s “muscles and scars”, but with his romantic relationship with the sea – much to The Chief’s disgust. The Chief has convinced his gang that adults only use morality as a selfish tool, and the whole business of right and wrong is really a lie. 

He ties such thinking to several bouts of animal mutilation and killing with the boys, efforts to get at the ‘pure core of things’, sequences which are nauseating more in concept than execution. That is to say, this isn’t Cannibal Holocaust and no animals actually die onscreen. In the infamous cat dissection scene, close-ups of internal organs are overlaid with a pan across the boy’s staring faces. The implication is enough, and though I would hope this wouldn’t put someone off seeing the film, it’s certainly worth mentioning in case that’s too much for you.

One thing I think the book managed better than the film was the change in Jonathan’s attitude towards Jim once Jim resolves to marry his mother, and return no more to the sea. Jonathan decides Jim is a pernicious, impure influence and must be punished. Of course The Chief would go further still, and so a plan comes to fruition that results in perhaps the creepiest zoom-out ending shot I can think of (Kingdom of the Spiders had a good one too, come to think of it).