Thursday, August 21, 2008

my brain hurts...

Damn, man, this summer just keeps dragging on and on. Somebody wanna give me a job yet? Yeah, didn't think so. Bastards. Well, whatever, life is pain...Meanwhile, last week, Netflix accidentally sent me the 1978 Rene Cardona Jr film "Cyclone" instead of the 1987 Fred Olen Ray film of the same title. I suppose, had I realized in advance the latter film was directed by maven of mediocrity Ray, I might never have queued it in the first place, but lucky me, since the Cardona film turned out to be pretty worthwhile. In this US/Italian/Mexican (Cardona's homeland) production, written by Cardona with Carlos Valdemar, a group of tourists, some off an airplane and some on a tour boat, find themselves stranded in the middle of the ocean after a large cyclone ravages the Mexican coast.

For two hours, we watch the group struggle with exposure, lack of food & water and general tedium. As things get increasingly desperate, they begin to turn on one another. Eventually, they're forced to eat a dog, and then as things get more desperate, resort to cannibalism in order to survive. Making matters worse is the fact that the group, which includes Arthur Kennedy, Carroll Baker and Lionel Stander, are a bunch of miserable, unpleasant assholes who hardly share a modicum of affection or group spirit amongst themselves. A few of the more likable characters manage to escape when things start getting really ugly, and wind up faring much better than the rest, who are attacked by sharks after their tour boat sinks.

This is a difficult, harrowing film and certainly an interesting one. The viewer is given nothing to focus on but the discomfort and desperation of the main characters, the desperate grasping for survival, and the increasing sense of doom as it becomes apparent that their chances of survival are pretty grim. It certainly made me interested in checking out some of Cardona's similarly themed films such as "Tinoterra"- a JAWS clone, "Guyana, Cult of the Damned"- about Rev. Jim Jones, and "Survive!"- about the Soccer team whose plane crashed and was forced to turn to cannibalism (made more than a decade before "Alive" the Hollywood version of the same story). Yowza!

I also had a chance this week to check out one of Oliver Stone's early-ish films, "The Hand." Michael Caine plays a popular cartoonist who starts to lose it after he loses his drawing hand in a car accident. Aside from no longer being able to draw, he has odd hallucinations of his severed hand coming to life. The severed hand may or may not be committing murders of people who upset Caine, or Caine may be committing these killings himself during increasingly frequent blackouts. To the film's credit, the real culprit of the killings is never made clear.

Throughout the film, Caine's character can't catch a break. His wife, played by Andrea Marcovicci (from THE FRONT) is losing interest in him as she finds comfort in the self-help movement (and the arms of her Yoga instructor), and his young daughter doesn't seem to mind her father's increasingly decreasing presence in her life. His agent wants him to turn over his comic strip (a Conan-like fantasy character) to a young underground cartoonist (comedian Charles Fleischer- the voice of Roger Rabbit). When Caine, having moved across the country to take a teaching position at a hippy dippy university, seems to find some comfort in the arms of free spirited, slight depressed coed, it turns out she's also shacking up with one of his sleazy colleagues (Bruce Magill of ANIMAL HOUSE). I suppose it would make sense that the character would have some resentments against his lot in life...

I'm loathe to praise an Oliver Stone production (doesn't his forthcoming Bush biopic "W" look like it could be the worst movie ever made?), but this film is actually good. Made before Stone found his "voice" as a self-important reinvisioner of history (or the maker of crappy, flashy faux noirs ala "Natural Born Killers" and "U-Turn"), "The Hand" is stylish and relatively simple. Stone gives little context for Caine's character's hallucinations, so the audience is left to wonder "did that just happen?" as we are given brief glimpses of strange happenings, multiple interpretations of flashbacks, and occasionally odd flashes of white light. The best of these odd moments is a lunch scene between Caine and his agent, in which a crooked crab on a plate seems to move, with neither of the people at the table noticing.

As a straightforward horror film, "The Hand" works pretty well, but occasionally the lack on context works against the overall effectiveness. We're never really given a clear sense of who Caine's character is supposed to be, difficult since he appears in nearly every scene in the film. Is he supposed to be likable? He has a temper, but are we supposed to interpret it as a fatal flaw, or a natural reaction to bad situations? Is his life leaving him because he's a bad husband, or because she's a new age flake (to be fair, Stone doesn't seem to dig chicks all that much)? Also, the character is a fantasy cartoonist, and we're shown that he has a very strong attachment to his work, but we see no evidence of an interest in fantasy or comics in his home or other surroundings. The attempts to paint a portrait of the comics world are made up of about two references to Walt Kelly's POGO, which, though a highly influential comic, would perhaps not be the singular point of reference to someone who draws a sci-fi barbarian type of comic. So, there's that. The supporting cast includes Viveca Lindfors (I like her!) and a pre-REPO MAN Tracey Walter (I like him too!). The Hand seemed to play on TV all the time when I was a kid, I'm surprised it took me this long to see it, but I liked this film, and for that, once again, I am very ashamed.

3 comments:

claire said...

Can we make requests? Will you do SEIZURE??

harris smith said...

I've got SEIZURE on my Netflix queue (that's sort of an odd combination of words), but, what, I'm going to start watching Oliver Stone movies now? Ugh.

william said...

i like the W trailer.