Monday, December 9, 2013

Alice ou la dernière fugue (1977)

... aka: Alice
... aka: Alice or the Last Escapade

Directed by:
Claude Chabrol

Prolific French director Chabrol's loose adult interpretation of Lewis Carroll's children's classic Alice in Wonderland went unnoticed in its day and continues to go unnoticed to this day despite the pedigree of its acclaimed director (who was often compared to Hitchcock by critics) and the notoriety of star Sylvia Kristel; who was fresh off her international success in Just Jaeckin's lush soft-core hit Emmanuelle (1974) when she took on this role. And its obscurity is pretty easy to understand once you actually sit down and watch the dreary finished product. Alice Carroll decides to get "far, far away" from her inattentive, self-absorbed husband Bernard (Bernard Rousselet) after just five years of marriage. On a dark and stormy night, Alice takes off in her car. While driving down a stretch of vacant country road, her windshield mysteriously shatters and she's forced to pull over. Noticing a gate, she makes her way to a secluded mansion. She's invited inside by the hospitable Henri Vergennes (Charles Vanel), who lets her warm herself by a fire, feeds her and then offers her a play to stay for the night. Despite initial reluctance, Alice agrees. Servant Colas (Jean Carmet) shows her to her bedroom. Inside is a clock that's stopped. Colas notes "We don't care too much about time here."

When Alice awakens from her sleep, she notices some strange, subtle changes about her surroundings. She appears to be in a different place and the mansion is vacant, but someone's left coffee and breakfast for her. When she goes outside, she notices the windshield on her car has also been repaired. Attempting to leave, Alice finds the only road out is blocked, so she decides to walk and realizes that a very tall stone wall surrounds the entire property and there's no gate. A man dressed in white appears out of the woods and tells her not to ask him any questions and not to touch him before he disappears. Now trapped inside and with no other real option, Alice is forced to go back to the house, where a sinister-sounding disembodied voice warns her not to leave. A fireplace starts by itself, fixings are left for her dinner and other odd people show up. A man dressed in black appears and tells her "Questions are useless... when there are no answers" and keeps talking about other people who'd come there prior to Alice and how they weren't quite so well behaved. A little boy notes that birds are stupid because they can't even figure out how to leave a cage when the door is left wide open.

All of the highly secretive and bizarre people Alice meets speak in riddle and hide their names and true identities. They all seem to know her name, though, despite the fact she hasn't told them. Wind blows her across the room, a snail appears on her windshield, dead birds are found all over the roads, images ripple and are distorted, and she finally manages to escape the grounds, only to find the people she meets outside the gate at a gas station and a cafe are just as strange as the ones she met at the mansion. Has Alice stumbled upon a haunted house? Has she somehow entered into another dimension? Is she dead and this is what the afterlife is like? Has she gone mad? The secret lies behind a locked door in the mansion...

A very slow-paced and somber film, this defies easy categorization and has elements of drama, mystery, fantasy and horror all at play. It's technically well-made, nicely photographed by Jean Rabier and Chabrol manages to ratchet up a high amount of intrigue and suspense during the first half, but sadly it's not well sustained for the duration and the events grow tiresome and repetitive. In fact, the end revelation; which is so predictable that revealing it won't even really spoil anything, has been swiped directly out of the creepy cult classic Carnival of Souls (1962). There are many long, dull, dialogue-free sequences of our heroine simply walking around the grounds and inside the home. Allusions to the Alice story are numerous, but don't expect anything in the way of special effects, strange animals and creatures, elaborate fantasy art direction or the like. This is set almost entirely inside a dark, gloomy mansion and its surrounding property, and many reflections of the story are done strictly via costume color and the concentration on doorways and food and drink consumption.

As far as Kristel is concerned, she's nice to look at - and has a customary nude scene - but doesn't do anything here to really change my opinion of her being more of a model than an actress. Her "Alice" is supposed to be strong-willed and tough, but Kristel usually just comes across as vacant. Her exposure in the aforementioned Emmanuelle not only led to starring roles in other Euro sex films (including numerous Emmanuelle sequels) but also artier ones like this and others for the likes of Alain Robbe-Grillett, Roger Vadim and Fons Rademakers. An attempt at American crossover success failed after several high profile flops like the all-star disaster movie The Concorde: Airport '79 (1979) and the Maxwell Smart comedy The Nude Bomb (1980). She went back to soft-core and scored a few more hits in the 80s like Lady Chatterley's Lover (1981) and Private Lessons (1981). As she reached middle age in the 90s, her decreasing sex appeal and the fact her acting didn't improve much, saw her fading from the public eye and she quietly passed away with little press attention in 2012.


Taekoesu Yonggary (1967)

... aka: Great Monster Yongary, The
... aka: Monster Yonggari
... aka: Yongary
... aka: Yongary, Monster of the Deep
... aka: Yongkari, Monster of the Deep

Directed by:
Ki-duk Kim

I'm not a huge fan of older giant monster movies from Asia so I'm not sure what exactly possessed me to watch Yongary this evening. Was it because I liked the colorful poster, which promised fire-breathing reptile action, rockets, helicopters and fighter jets? Was it because it's been awhile since I've actually sat through one of these things? Was it because this was actually produced in South Korea instead of the Kaiju mecca of Japan and I was hoping for something maybe a little different? Or was it because I'm desperate to update my Y index and started running out of titles? I cannot say for sure, but what's done is done. Despite the change in location, this doesn't stray far at all from the familiar Godzilla format. It's your standard issue man-in-a-rubber-suit monster stomping around on model sets stuff. In fact, this could easily be seen as a Godzilla rip-off, cause that's pretty much what it is. Not only does it have a near-identical plot, but even the creature design (a simple upright-walking lizard), the creature's ability to shoot fire from its mouth and even the weird elephant-like sound that comes out of the creature's mouth are very Godzilla-like.

During the first, monster-free 20 minutes we meet dedicated young scientist Elu (Yeong-il Oh), whose famous scientist father "died of overwork" himself, his would-be girlfriend Suna (Jeong-im Nam), who actually doesn't seem to like him all that much, an annoying, thieving little 8-year-old named Icho (Kwang Ho Lee) and a pair of newlyweds; an astronaut and his wife. On the night of his honeymoon, the astronaut is called away by government officials to do some kind of top secret 2-day reconnaissance mission over the Middle East to see if they're doing secret nuclear testing. While he's in orbit, a strange and powerful earthquake begins, which cuts off his radio signal. Panic lends to relief as he safely returns to Earth, but what exactly caused such violent tremors in the first place? Why, it was just Yongary shifting around under the Earth's surface. A crack forms and the giant, hungry lizard pops out. The military is called in to try to extinguish the threat but, as the beast casually withstands bullet hits and missiles attacks, they soon discover taking this sucker out isn't as easy as they initially thought. And I hope you're not as bored reading this as I am writing it...

Yongary does the usual routine on Seoul while terrified people run through the streets screaming. He reduces buildings to rubble with the swipe of a hand or the wag of a tail. He rips up electric lines. Toy tanks shoot at him so he roasts them with his fire-breath and stomps on them. He shoots down jets with a laser that comes out of his horn. He picks up a guy and eats him. Some moments are actually very funny and there are some great random "What the f" things that occur here and there. Spaced-out people at a dance club and men pigging out in a restaurant refuse to stop what they're doing even with the monster fast approaching. From out of nowhere, some guy shuffles through the streets with a giant cross shouting "Repent you sinners!" Yongary loves to drink oil and gasoline but, when he's deprived his tasty treat, he does this hilarious shuffle-dance as rock music plays. My favorite moment, though, is when the monster first emerges from the Earth and he yawns and stretches. Yawngary!

On the downside, this movie may have the most irritating little kid ever seen in one of these things. His idea of a prank is blinding drivers with a laser ray so that they almost crash and die, he never listens to his mother and keeps running off and getting himself into dangerous situations. However, I must admit that I did actually start liking the brat toward the very end simply because he was the only person who seemed to show a glimmer of humanity in regards to the beast. On the plus side, the miniature model sets aren't all terrible. Some are actually quite good. The monster suit (save for the eyeballs) isn't bad, either. It's all pretty fun, upbeat and amusing in a juvenile kind of way and, damn it, if I didn't find myself feeling kind of bad for poor Yongary when it was time for him to take an ammonia bath and shuffle off this mortal coil.

Historically, Yongary is actually a bit more than a Godzilla rip; it was also the very first notable genre film to be made in South Korea. Because of its notoriety in its homeland, the creature was unearthed (literally) again for Hyung-rae Shim's Reptilian (aka 2001 Yonggary); which remains the most expensive film ever produced in South Korea. Starting in the late 90s, the South Korean film industry finally got the attention of genre fans on a global scale with such cross-over hits as the Whispering Corridors series (1998-2004), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), R-Point (2004), The Red Shoes (2005) and The Host (2006).


Rosen blühen auf dem Heidegrab (1952)

... aka: Dorothee
... aka: Rape on the Moor
... aka: Roses Bloom on the Grave in the Meadow
... aka: Roses Blood on the Moor Grave

Directed by:
Hans H. König

In a small country village, lovely young blonde Dorothee Aden (Ruth Niehaus) has attracted the attention of two very different men. The first is Ludwig Amelung (Armin Dahlen), a nice guy architect who's been away in the big city and is beginning to do quite well for himself there. He's back in town visiting his mother Sophie (Lotte Brackebusch) and bragging about the modern apartment blueprints he's just sold when Dorothee catches his eye. The other man is big, brutish, violent and hot-tempered Dietrich Eschmann (Hermann Schomberg), a well-off local farmer who already has a lover, maid Fiete (Gisela von Collande), but is obsessed with Dorothee. He's quite pushy when he's around her and goes so far as to get the consent of Dorothee's parents for a marriage proposal. Unfortunately for him, she's not the least bit interested. Dorothee's parents however, at least her father (Konrad Mayerhoff), seem to side with Dietrich. Nevertheless, Dorothee is more interested in Ludwig and the two quickly fall in love. He decides to eventually propose to her himself once he tends to some business.

Dietrich gets pissed at what's going on and, madly in love with Dorothee, decides to destroy their romance. He slashes the tires on Ludwig's car so he and Dorothee cannot go on a trip, which leads to a (horribly-choreographed) fist fight, which leads to a drunken Dietrich trying to stab his rival with a switchblade in a pub. Ludwig has to go away to Hamburg for a meeting and Dietrich uses this opportunity to really force himself upon the object of his unwanted affections. After church, he follows Dorothee through a field, pins her down and rapes her on top a grave, but it's no ordinary grave, but one that holds with it a local superstition of "The Roses of Wilhelmina." 300 years ago during the Thirty Years War, a Swedish general (also Schomberg) gained the trust of a German girl named Wilhelmina (also Niehaus). After he raped her, she led him into the moors and the two were never seen or heard from again. Someone left a tombstone behind bidding farewell to Wilhelmina, where a big, lone rose bush began to grow around the grave marker and continues to grow to this day. Local superstition has it that the roses are bewitched. Will history be repeating itself.

Roses is basically one part melodrama, one part romance and one part ambiguous and possibly supernatural revenge tale. The dramatics and accompanying music score are pretty hokey and the symbolic elements are of the baseball-bat-over-the-head school of subtlety unless you missed one of the 5000 other Euro 'art' films that link up rosebuds and virginity. Still, this is worth checking out strictly for its visuals. It's beautifully photographed in black-and-white and has some breathtaking scenery. The director has a deep love and appreciation for nature, which is evident in lots of long, loving, lingering shots of the outdoor locations. Silhouettes of trees, plants, windmills, horses, field workers and other things stand out from the horizon, lone trees stand isolated in flat fields, the sun shines through the clouds, boats sail along small creeks, horse-drawn carriages travel down dirt paths and tall grass blows in the breeze. These shots are very nicely framed and create an intoxicating atmosphere; an impact lessened a bit by a story that's not dated so well over the years. I know films need to be put into context to when they were made but modern viewers are going to be downright offended by some of what goes down here. And rightfully so! You may want to skip the next paragraph if you don't want the ending spoiled cause that's just what I'm about to do.

You still here? You're just asking for it, aren't you? So here goes. Not only does the Dietrich character not get what he has coming to him, but he's not even punished for the violent acts and rape he's committed. To make matters even less palatable, the ending seems to want to warm our hearts with the mere idea that he learned a valuable lesson from what he's done! Depictions of the weak female characters are also probably going to rub anyone under the age of 80 the wrong way. Instead of discussing what's happened with her future husband, a post-rape Dorothee simply tries to kill herself since her "virtue" is no longer intact. In her defense, it's possible she's the reincarnation of - or possessed by - the Wilhelmina character, so that may explain that. There is no such excuse for Dietrich's lover Fiete. He manhandles her, lusts after another woman, rapes another woman and then kicks her out of the house so he can be with the rape victim, and there she is at the end cradling him in her arms professing her love. It's impossible to celebrate love between a man who deserves to be castrated and thrown in prison and a pathetic, spineless doormat who desperately need to see a therapist.

Lead actress Niehaus was dubbed Germany's answer to Rita Hayworth back in her day. She reportedly rejected the advances of - and a marriage proposal from - Orson Welles in real life. Roses never received much of an American release and remains mostly unseen in this country till this day.

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