Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Director: Terry Gilliam

Cinema 4 Rating: 8

I'm 14, my parents are divorced, and my mom has new friends, a new home, and is trying out variations in her own life. She leaves an intriguingly titled
book on the dashboard of her car, leaves me in the car while she runs a few errands at a couple of stops, and in the time she takes at each stop, I successfully made it halfway through Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It cannot be stated too exaggeratedly that my mind was blown from that point on, to the point where my inner vision resembled that of Ralph Steadman's crude scrawlings on the paperback's cover. In the next couple of weeks, through the sly wrangling of the slim volume, I managed to read through it four times, and then hit the library for more of Thompson's seemingly insane though prophetic ranting against Nixon and the establishment. (Nixon had been abolished by this point, of course, but much of what he said still rang true as my political views were slowly being developed.) And Vegas? The craziest, funniest thing I have ever read, and it is truly amazing that I never turned to the physical self-abuse that Thompson and his characters delve in so freely. When people hear that I am such a Thompson fan, some of them automatically assume that I must be deeply steeped in drug culture, and they would be devastatedly wrong in this assumption. I am the complete opposite, for it is the purity of Thompson's scribbling that kept me returning to his screeds. If ever a man was born to write, and to do so against all odds, even those self-prescribed, then it was he. The film itself? No film version, however closely it might hew to the words, will ever do the book justice. But this comes awful close in spirit, and Depp and del Toro are a comedy team from Hell (in the good way). I am disappointed that Gilliam is not doing the next Depp/Thompson adaptation (The Rum Diary, directed by Bruce Robinson for 2008), but it's okay. He already got this one right.
Return to Oz (1985)
Director: Walter Murch
Cinema 4 Rating: 7

If only that infernal 1939 musical version wasn't around, then this would be the greatest Oz film ever made. And then perhaps, expectations wouldn't be so high for it, people would stop waiting for all of the characters to dance and sing, and they could just settle into a fantastic, thrilling and often quite scary adventure with Dorothy, the Scarecrow and a bulk of characters from the later Oz books. Beautifully designed from stem to stern, perhaps lacking a little in heart, but filled with marvelous mechanical and animated creations. Of course, if the 1939 version hadn't been made, then this film would either not exist, or there would have to be a regular version of the first book before this one would get made. Or else, this film could just be called Oz, since there would be no returning, but then everyone would wonder why they didn't make the more famous book with that Wizard character and that Wicked Witch person. I'm hoping that with the success of the Tolkien and Lewis stories recently, that some brave and enterprising producer will take another shot at a big screen Oz, just like this one, only staying true to each book and not jamming together two of them like this one does. (My only real critique against it.) There are dozens of books, Hollywood; that's plenty of sequels, and if there is one thing that you understand, it's driving something into the ground. Please do it in this case...
La Femme Nikita (1990)
Director: Luc Besson

Cinema 4 Rating: 6

I am worried about Audrey Tautou. Given my penchant for cinematic French chicks, it is natural that I have fallen for her image and wonderful eyes on the big screen. Once upon a time though, I felt the same way about the star of this film, Anne Parillaud, and I eagerly anticipated every film that she put out over the next few years, good and bad (Innocent Blood, Map of the Human Heart, etc.) Then, she swiftly stopped being the pixieish girl and grew up, and my interest in her activities waned considerably. Call my heart fickle, but poor Anne deserves an adoring fan who won't change the channel every time he finds out that Dirty Pretty Things is showing on IFC. Nikita has suffered a similar war of attrition with my emotions. Perhaps it is overexposure to the story due to a bad American remake (Point of No Return), a tepid Hong Kong version (Hei Mao) and an okay television series (some people love it, but then some people love According to Jim), and maybe it's due to every action film since a lot of the shots of this groundbreaking effort, but a pair of recent showings have dropped this film down somewhat in my estimation. I still enjoy it, but not nearly at the level that I once did. Perhaps this is proof that I am not so fickle after all, but that my critical opinion is merely advancing in age with my own maturing tastes. But, if that is so, why can't that same taste grow up along with Anne Parillaud? And why was I watching Saturday Morning cartoons this morning?
The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck (1967) Director: Roman Polanski
Cinema 4 Rating: 7

Yeah, Rosemary's Baby is a scary and terrific flick, and The Tenant is deliriously weird and sick, but for my money, as Polanski horror flicks go, I'll take The Fearless Vampire Killers. It's basically Count Dracula recast in a sex farce, with Sharon Tate supplying the sex (and how!), and Jack MacGowran and Polanski himself supplying the wacky comedic bits as the not-so-fearless titular characters. The settings are perfectly rendered, remote and creepily foreign to the apprentice Alfred (Polanski), filled with oddball rituals and off-the-wall omens. Hilarious and filled with slapstick, I first saw this film when it was first released on videotape, and it has remained a favorite of mine ever since, which I usually drag out when I am in need of a good Halloween laugh after pounding through some relentlessly dire monster marathons. I have some friends that are not as enamored with it, but they seem to be afraid of any movie not taking place in America or England. Hard to be a vampire fan with that attitude. You gotta hit Eastern Europe every now and then, and sometimes, you have to hit Hong Kong to fight some hopping vampires. It's what keeps the blood fresh...
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)
Director: Don Taylor

Cinema 4 Rating: 6

This is it, friends. This was the first film that I ever attended by my lonesome. I have detailed before how few films we went to when I grew up in Eagle River, AK. As there were no theatres in the town, we had to drive the 14 miles or so to Big City Anchorage to see a movie, and we usually did this in conjunction with shopping trips, doctor visits and what-not, and only rarely as a "family night out" at the movies. I had purchased the novelization of this movie (itself a remake of a H.G. Wells novella previously filmed in 1933 as Island of Lost Souls) through a school bookstore, and even though it wasn't Wells' words on the page, it was his concepts at play, and I was deep into Wells (pun intended) at the time. I had to convince my mother to not only drop me off for a couple hours while she went about some shopping business, and I spent the early afternoon awash in my first big screen monster movie. (It was rated PG and I was 13; the only trick was getting to the town and then the theatre.) For a very short time, even with Kong in my worldview at this point, this movie meant everything to me, Burt Lancaster became my favorite actor, and Barbera Carrera was the most beautiful creature I had ever beheld in my 13 years. This was all because, up there on that giant screen, they were all mine, even in a theatre filled with other like-minded lost souls. A couple weeks later, I saw Star Wars, and Moreau slowly slipped down the personal popularity ladder rung by rung for the remainder of my life. Still a fun movie, if a little too obviously cheesy 70's in cheapjack filmmaking style, and if you are a Lancaster aficionado (which I am) then you can also appreciate that it is the last film teamup of Lancaster and his true film partner: not Kirk Douglas, but rather, Nick Cravat, his old circus buddy with whom he appeared in nine films over the years. Since I saw this film just before The Crimson Pirate, I had no idea that the weird, shuffling manservant M'Ling in this film was the bouncing, vital Ojo, first mate to Burt's spirited Captain Vallo in the pirate flick. It taught me that every movie, even a cheesy one, has something to teach you about the history of the movies.


EggOfTheDead said…
Fear & Loathing . . . I still have the piles of scribbled cocktail napkin notes and journals from that period of my life when I used the concept of gonzo journalism to explain my vast, undiscerning consumption of drugs & alcohol. Coming up on 16 years clean & sober - and with no published, or publishable, work to my credit! - Las Vegas remains one of my favorite vacation spots, and I'm still a road trip junkie. I snaked my first copy of the book from my mom, too. If she only knew :-)

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