"Are we not men?"
Sayer of the Law: Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?
"Are we not men?" That question is at the heart of the 1932 "Island of Lost Souls" (Criterion), the first adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel and (for all the changes from the novel) still the defining one. It's also been the hardest to see. Though it was released on VHS and on laserdisc, it rarely showed on TV or cable and its arrival on DVD comes decades after the classic horrors of the thirties -- "Frankenstein," "Dracula," "Freaks," "The Mummy," "The Black Cat" and so on -- have been released. As a result it's more known about than seen, more often a footnote in conversations about the early days of horror, when in fact it's one of the most transgressive films of its era.
Charles Laughton enters the film as Dr. Moreau in the white linen suit of a plantation owner or a southern slaver. Once he cracks his ever-present whip to send the "natives" scurrying in fear, the resemblance is sealed, but that's just the beginning of his brutal identity.
"Do you know what it means to feel like God?" he boasts, but he's more a demon in the devil's workshop transforming beasts into human-like creatures. Whether they are men is an open question, but they certainly aspire to manhood in their creation of community and adherence to laws. Whether Dr. Moreau, a vivisectionist who seems to enjoy the pain he inflicts, has sacrificed his humanity is more to the point.
See Glenn Kenny's Top 50 scariest of all time here.
Today marks the centennial of the Queen of Gospel's birth
If ever a biopic was screaming to be made (with an almost guaranteed Oscar nomination for its star), I’d say it’s one about gospel sensation Mahalia Jackson. Today would have been Jackson’s 100th birthday. She was born on October 26, 1911, in a poor neighborhood in New Orleans and grew up to be an internationally famous performer and civil rights activist—someone who Harry Belafonte once called, “the single most powerful black woman in the United States.”
A film about Mahalia Jackson is finally in the works. Announced earlier this year, the film will be based on the 1993 book, “Go Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel.” Who will portray the gospel great? All signs point to former “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino in the coveted role. The casting for such films is extremely tricky, but I think Barrino might have just the right qualities for the part and I hope she can pull it off. She’s certainly no stranger to the kind of difficult, impoverished upbringing that Jackson had as a child, and both women found their powerhouse voices in the gospel choir. Despite Fantasia’s proven vocal talents, however, the plans are for her to lip-sync 18 of Mahalia Jackson’s songs in the film. “It’s not a knock on Barrino’s voice,” said Dave LaCour Simien, one of the film’s producers, “it’s an effort to make the film as true-to-life as possible.” Some unfortunate PR for the film occurred earlier this month when it was announced that family members of Mahalia Jackson were upset about Barrino's casting because of the singer's current pregnancy (she is not married). The producers have denied these reports, however, and filming is scheduled to begin on the film in January, shortly after Fantasia's baby is due.
Mahalia Jackson herself was courted by Hollywood at the height of her fame but the studios didn’t exactly know what to do with her. She appeared in two films in the late 1950s. The first, “St. Louis Blues,” is a rare and strangely forgotten biopic of composer W.C. Handy (played by Nat “King” Cole). The film features a jaw-dropping cast of African-American performers including Jackson, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, Pearl Bailey, Billy Preston, and Ruby Dee.
Yes, he really did jump out of that .5 mile high building.
Film festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary this November in Hollywood
Dear Los Angeles - you have no excuses to not attend this year's AFI FEST. A full-scale film festival with big offerings that you'll be hearing about endlessly come awards time (last year, screenings included "The King's Speech," "The Fighter," and "Black Swan"), AFI FEST takes place every year in the heart of Hollywood, with 110 films from 26 countries rounding out this year's schedule.
The festival doesn't just screen the films that are sure to be the big critical hits of the year, they also pay special attention to emerging talents with their special sections Young Americans and New Auteurs. Hungry for some of the international and genre cinema that have lit up the festival circuit already this year? For you, there's the World Cinema and Midnight sections. Big fan of Pedro Almodovar? He's serving as this year's Guest Artistic Director, and he's put together his own program of five essential horror flicks and thrillers.
Did I mention that all these events are free? I might have missed that, so here it is again - tickets to all events are free.
This year's festival has already announced nearly their entire line-up (with a few more surprises to come), and it's a stunner. The Galas and Special Screenings alone include Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar," Steve McQueen's "Shame," Roman Polanski's "Carnage," Jim Field Smith's "Butter," Simon Curtis' "My Week with Marilyn," Luc Beeson's "The Lady," and Michael Hazanavicious' "The Artist." That is literally only a tiny slice at some of the titles playing this year.
What does this (totally expected) rating mean for the film's Oscar chances?
When Fox Searchlight picked up the Steve McQueen's latest film, the Michael Fassbender-starring "Shame," at the Toronto International Film Festival, the studio had two different caveats to overcome in the deal. The hardcore drama about a sex addict (Fassbender) and his crumbling life was widely hailed, but the film was reportedly sold with two directives - it would not be cut, and whatever studio picked it up would have to release it during awards season consideration.
Fox Searchlight has already held up one part of the bargain - the film will release on December 2, prime consideration time, and it's already assumed that they will launch a campaign for Michael Fassbender to be nominated for an Oscar. But what of that no-cutting rule? With the news that the film has earned an official MPAA rating of NC-17, that question is answered. The MPAA doled out the rating due to "some explicit sexual content," which is to be expected for a film about a sex addict.
The NC-17 rating means that no one under 17 is to be admitted to the film, no ifs, and, or buts. The MPAA explains the rating in this manner - "An NC-17 rated motion picture is one that, in the view of the Rating Board, most parents would consider patently too adult for their children 17 and under. No children will be admitted. NC-17 does not mean 'obscene' or 'pornographic' in the common or legal meaning of those words, and should not be construed as a negative judgment in any sense. The rating simply signals that the content is appropriate only for an adult audience. An NC-17 rating can be based on violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse or any other element that most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits for viewing by their children." It's interesting that the board specifically points out that this rating is not a value judgment, but it's also important that the MPAA ratings are specifically assigned as a guideline for parents in regards to film content. It's slightly maddening that this specific "guideline" oversees nearly every film released in the U.S. and its territories.
On pina coladas, Johnny Depp and island luxury
In "The Rum Diary," Johnny Depp's hungover idealist has to take on the clear-eyed capitalist smoothie played by Aaron Eckhart. Set in '60s Puerto Rico, the film also gives Eckhart a great chance to wreath himself in plenty of retro glamor -- cars, clothes, trophy girlfriend Amber Heard. We spoke with Eckhart in Los Angeles about Bruce Robinson's return to directing, his unexpected thread of playing capitalism's monsters and, yes, his favorite rum drink.
How great is it to know you're going to put on a bunch of great outfits and be the epitome of evil capitalism?
Eckhart: And get paid. It was good. Getting to work with Johnny, do a Hunter S. Thompson-inspired script, and work with Bruce, who's a great director, and Amber and Giovanni (Ribisi) and Michael (Rispoli) and all those guys who were really into it and really did some great characters.
Is it a pleasure to be able to sink into an ensemble like that?
Eckhart: Yeah, just because Johnny's very gracious. He knows it's all about the big picture and the story, and we're all trying to create something together. I think him being a producer, he has to look at things(beyond just) his role in the movie; he was looking at the whole thing. He was meticulously involved in the creation of this picture.
Two imports with fresh takes and surprising twists on the horror movie
With big screen horror films routinely returning to familiar paradigms, whether it be psychotic killers stalking teens or the post-"Blair Witch Project" video "reality" strain (like "Paranormal Activity 3," last week's box-office monster), it's always a treat to find filmmakers reviving old genres with new attitude and hacking their way through new territory. This week, two recent horror imports show that ingenuity and creativity are alive and well in the horror genre: "Attack the Block" (Sony) from Britain and "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" (Oscilloscope) from Finland.
"Attack the Block" (Sony), an alien invasion movie set in the gang-run projects of South London, is both far smarter than it looks on the surface, and more indebted to the drive-in horror movie culture than has been acknowledged.
While fireworks fill the sky, meteors pelt the streets, unleashing inky-black predators on an unsuspecting gang of teen thugs and a young nurse (Jodie Whittaker) who they just mugged. Most monsters have eyes that glow in the dark. These inky-black furry predators are all teeth and they glow in the dark with a threat they can't ignore. Part of the pleasure of the film is the way filmmaker Joe Cornish gives these memorable creatures, smudgy "wolf-monkey" fur balls that disappear in the shadows and leap out like all-mouthy eating machines, a startling physicality. As unreal as they look, they are insistently present and threatening.
See Glenn Kenny's Top 50 scariest of all time here.