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The Lord Of The Rings

The following article was written for Sussed magazine in 2001 before The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001) had been screened to press.

Elsewhere on this site: a short review for What’s On In London and a longer review also discussing TLOTR trilogy for Third Way of The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King.

FANTASY OBSESSIVE: JACKSON DOES TOLKIEN

Jeremy Clarke explores The Lord Of The Rings and the upcoming film’s director Peter Jackson

Harry Potter might be the obvious franchise of the moment, but anyone who knows anything about the fantasy genre knows one book towers above the rest. The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien came out in three volumes: the first The Fellowship of The Ring was published in 1954. The Sunday Times review divided people into those who have read The Lord of The Rings and those who are going to.”

By the sixties, it had become obligatory reading. Most fantasy derives from it, including today’s bestsellers Terry Pratchett and J.K.Rowling. It details the archetypal struggle against good and evil, set in Tolkien’s incredibly detailed world of Middle-earth populated with all manner of original creatures – hobbits, humans, elves, ringwraiths and trolls.… Read the rest

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The Isle (Seom)

Director – Kim Ki-duk – 2000 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 89m

***

Review originally published in What’s On In London to coincide with the film’s UK theatrical release.

Latest UK release from Korean maverick director Kim Ki-duk (Bad Guy; Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring) has a unique setting: an isolated lake upon which float small chalets on rafts available for hire by punters. The proceedings never leave these immediate surroundings, which include the shack with a jetty on the shore – from which proprietress Hee-Jin (Im Suh Jung) hires out the chalets and sometimes her body – and a mysterious isle in the lake’s centre.

She embarks upon a relationship with life-weary punter and ex-cop Hyun-shik (Kim Yoo-suk), bringing unexpected changes to them both.

This is not a film for the faint-hearted, containing as it does some pretty unsettling imagery involving physical sexual activity and fish hooks, even if much of this is suggested rather than shown.

What we’re seeing here has been slightly pruned at the request of the UK censor the BBFC, notably of scenes involving the slicing off of a live fish’s sides before the camera which have been removed on grounds of animal cruelty.… Read the rest

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Videodrome

Director – David Cronenberg – 1983 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 87m

*****

This review originally appeared in What’s On In London during the film’s revival at the ICA. See also my review for London Calling Internet.

In a career-defining performance from 1983, the young James Woods is Max Renn, glutted on the diet of video porn he watches as buyer for a Cable TV station. Everything he sees is “too soft”. “I’m looking for something tough,” he proclaims, “something to break through the market.”

In the station’s basement, his technician assistant Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) finds the very thing. Videodrome. Women strung up and beaten to death. No cuts. One locked off camera. Nil production values. Here, indeed, is something tough.

Welcome to a world of media personalities like Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley), a man who no longer exists as flesh but merely as viewable video images. Like Nikki Brand (Debbie Harry), who agrees with Renn on a TV chat show slot that her red dress is a come on, later vanishing after declaring she should audition for the Videodrome show.

A world where hands mutate into guns, men literally bury their heads in eroticised television screens and one person loads a videocassette into another’s stomach to programme him.… Read the rest

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Videodrome (Director’s Cut)

Director – David Cronenberg – 1983 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 85m

*****

This UK PAL laserdisc review originally appeared in London Calling Internet. See also my review for What’s On In London during the film’s revival at the ICA.

Distributor Pioneer LDCE

Cat No: PFLEB 36041

£19.99

BBFC Certificate 18

Director David Cronenberg (1982)

Starring James Woods, Sonja Smits, Debbie Harry

Running Time 85 min

Mono

Widescreen: 1.85:1

Chaptered? Yes

CLV (Side 1)/CAV (Side 2)

2 Sides

A decade and a half on and still retaining its incredible power to shock, this is the film in which David Cronenberg first coined his battle cry, “Long Live the New Flesh.” If a clear lineage can be traced in his films from Shivers’ aphrodisiac turds through to Crash‘s orgasmic collision of swingers and twisted metal, Videodrome remains unique in Cronenberg’s oeuvre – a black joke, a come on to the censor.

Just suppose, runs the pitch, violent porno (television signals) directly affected people causing them to hallucinate. This is the fate which befalls sleazoid Channel 83 cable television executive Max Renn (a young Woods in his best – and edgiest – role to date) who tells porno programme sales agents their merchandise is “too SOFT…I’m looking for something TOUGH.”… Read the rest

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Crash

Director – David Cronenberg – 1996 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 100m

*****

This review was originally published in the Arts Centre Group‘s member’s newsletter. See also my review for What DVD.

All stills from Crash apart from the one from Videodrome.

Canadian film director David Cronenberg has a reputation for filming the unfilmable. Formerly dubbed The King Of Venereal Horror (“a small kingdom but I’m happy with it”), his debut (commercial) feature Shivers / The Parasite Murders / They Came From Within (1977) is a low budget horror outing in which high rise tenants are invaded/possessed by little slug-like creatures resembling a bloody cross between phallus and faeces.

For renowned British producer Jeremy Thomas (Bad Timing, The Last Emperor, First Love) he has adapted and directed books considered impossible to turn into movies, notably William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (in 1991) and J.G.Ballard’s Crash.

I was first drawn to Cronenberg’s work from the special effects angle, specifically an article on prosthetics expert Rick Baker which contained some amazing production stills (the shape of a hand-held gun pushing through the unbroken membrane of a television screen) from Videodrome (1983). An image suggesting television can kill?… Read the rest

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Crash

Director – David Cronenberg – 1996 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 100m

*****

This review of the UK DVD was originally published in What DVD. See also my review for the Arts Centre Group’s member’s newsletter.

Sold as a sex and car crash (and by implication action) movie, Crash is in reality something very different: intelligent, grown-up science fiction. The former description being an easy sell, especially with the added (ridiculous) controversy surrounding the film’s (eventual) UK release, the inevitable resultant popcorn sensation‑seeking mass audience was largely disappointed.

That said, for those viewers prepared to engage brain, deal with tough subject matter and go the distance, it’s a masterpiece. But if you’re someone to whom the concept of sex scene as narrative device sounds too much like hard work, you probably shouldn’t touch it.

On the other hand, admirers of director Cronenberg (The Brood, Scanners, Dead Ringers, eXistenZ) or novelist J.G.Ballard (Empire of the Sun) will appreciate the film’s uncompromising vision. Although Crash is not especially unnerving by Cronenberg standards, it’s extremely shocking by those of mainstream movies and has the potential to confuse or overwhelm an average audience.

While it brims with sex scenes, they’re not particularly arousing in tone being close to the emotionally cold experience of watching laboratory experiments.… Read the rest

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The Killer (Dip huet seung hung)

Director – John Woo – 1989 – Hong Kong – Cert. 18 – 110m

*****

Starring Chow Yun Fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh

What’s it all about?

On the verge of retirement, contract killer Chow accidentally blinds singer Yeh during a hit that goes wrong. Guilt-ridden, he undertakes one last killing for the money to pay for the operation to restore her eyesight. Meanwhile, policeman Lee is determined to bring him to book.

Why is it in our top 100?

Because it enabled Woo to cross over from a Hong Kong to an international audience – a much more personal work than A Better Tomorrow (1986) or Hard Boiled (1992), complete with trademark bloody, balletic, bullet-strewn violence and familiar themes of guilt, redemption and brotherhood.

Something to tell your mates

Chow (his surname) is both a huge star in the Far East and an incredibly versatile, talented and charismatic actor comparable to Robert De Niro or Cary Grant. The detail in facial expression lost on VHS video is very much intact on MIHK’s impressive 1994 PAL laserdisc.

Originally published in Home Entertainment as part of a One Hundred Best Movies on Home Entertainment Formats feature.

Trailer:

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Dead Ringers

Director – David Cronenberg – 1988 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 116m

*****

Originally published in Samhain.

When David Cronenberg was in the UK to promote The Fly late in 1986, he talked about a project called Twins which concerned two identical twins who fall in love with the same woman. At the time, no-one thought he was serious.

Two years later, the film has appeared (under the appalling title Dead Ringers, since there was another Twins in production elsewhere). Cronenberg denies that the new film is science fiction or horror, or even fantasy. Yet (if one wants to play the auteur game) parallels can be drawn with certain of his earlier films.

Dead Ringers bears a great resemblance not so much to the commercial Cronenberg schlock oeuvre as to the art films of the late sixties from which he has in recent years dissociated himself on the grounds that they were not real movie movies; however, both Stereo (1969) and Crimes Of The Future (1970) were shot on University Campuses with bleak, modernist architecture – and the same setting forms the backdrop to several Cronenberg features, most notably Scanners. Such architecture is more prominent in Dead Ringers than in any previous Cronenberg commercial feature.… Read the rest

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Naked Lunch

Director – David Cronenberg – 1991 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 115m

*****

Originally published in London Calling Internet. See also my reviews in Film And Video – The Magazine and What’s On In London.

Distributor Pioneer LDCE

Cat No: PFLEB 30781

£9.99

BBFC Certificate 18

Running Time 85 min

Dolby Surround

Widescreen: 1.85:1

Chaptered? Yes

CLV

2 Sides

New York, 1953. Bug exterminator Bill Lee (Peter Weller) runs out of roach powder whilst treating an infested apartment. His initial accusations against his employers’ theft of the substance are revealed as groundless when he discovers wife Joan (Judy Davis) is using the brown powder as a drug. She persuades him to take up the habit. In a downtown interview, two narcotics detectives introduce Bill to his “Case Officer” – a typewriter sized bug with a talking orifice in its back who instructs him to kill Joan, as she is an Interzone agent.

After shooting his wife, Bill seeks counselling from Dr.Benway (Roy Scheider) who gives him a counter narcotic. A Mugwump gives Bill two air tickets to the Interzone where he meets (among others) Swiss expatriate Yves Cloquet (Julian Sands) and writers Tom and Joan Frost (Ian Holm and Judy Davis).… Read the rest

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Naked Lunch

Director – David Cronenberg – 1991 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 115m

*****

Originally published in Film And Video – The Magazine. See also my reviews in What’s On In London and London Calling Internet.

PLOT

New York, 1953. Bug exterminator Bill Lee (Peter Weller) runs out of roach powder whilst treating an infested apartment. His initial accusations against his employers’ theft of the substance are revealed as groundless when he discovers wife Joan (Judy Davis) is using the brown powder as a drug. She persuades him to take up the habit. In a downtown interview, two narcotics detectives introduce Bill to his “Case Officer” – a typewriter sized bug with a talking orifice in its back who instructs him to kill Joan, as she is an Interzone agent.

After shooting his wife, Bill seeks counselling from Dr.Benway (ROy Scheider) who gives him a counter narcotic. A Mugwump gives Bill two air tickets to the Interzone where he meets (among others) Swiss expatriate Yves Cloquet (Sands) and writers Tom and Joan Frost (Ian Holm and Judy Davis). Throughout his adventures, friends Hank (Nicholas Campbell) and Martin (Michael Zelikner) encourage Bill to write his book Naked Lunch.

OPINION

Attempts have previously been made to turn William Burroughs’ seminal book Naked Lunch into a movie, but David Cronenberg’s version (produced by Jeremy Thomas of The Last Emperor fame) is the only one to reach fruition.… Read the rest