Wednesday, 9 September 2015

A tribute to How Did This Get Made?

This post could have just been a chance to rhapsodise over the comedic talents of that Hellenic love god Jason of Mantzoukas. But more on that later.

If you like podcasts that make you laugh, you cannot go wrong with How Did This Get Made? In terms of belly laughs, this one is the most consistent of the lot. Made by a trio of veteran US comedians, the show is based around dissecting bad movies. Now, by their very nature bad movies are funny -- but under the expert stewardship of co-hosts Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas, even minor cinematic fumbles like Fair Game or The Tourist can be elevated into unintentional comic gold.

The interplay between Paul, June and Jason is what makes the show. No matter what train wreck they are reviewing, Paul, June and Jason provide all the laughs. And while the home shows are good, the live shows give them a chance to really strut. Jason is always willing to cross any line of taste, and June possesses an uncanny ability to use the most minor of problems to launch off into a gloriously nonsensical tangent (for a prime example, check out her rant on the rights of animal actors in the Monkey Shines episode). Somehow, Paul manages to rise above it all and keep the show on course (although when the show hits a pot hole, as in the A View To A Kill episode, their inability to work out of it can provide some of their best bits).

While the hosts are great, added value comes from the roster of guests they bring on. The guests cover a wide spectrum, from veteran comedians and writers like Nick Kroll, Paul F. Tompkins,  Chelsea Peretti, Adam Scott and Kevin Smith. They each bring their own flavour to the HDTGM gumbo -- primarily using the cinematic shit heaps the team has forced them to watch as a launching pad for depraved hypotheticals about the behind-the-scenes drama which led to the film in the first place. For a good taster of these skits, check out any episode involving the cinematic canon of Sly Stallone (or, if you want to hear Jason's awesomely brutal takedown of Steven Seagal, the Glimmer Man episode).

Still going strong after 5 years, Paul, June and Jason have only scratched the surface of how these movies get made. Long may their quest for answers continue.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Face/Off: A look at Georges Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

This post concludes my trilogy of Auckland Film Society reviews. As with the previous films in the troika (Purple Noon and The Servant), I chose a classic film which I had never seen before.

This was something else. I mean, I enjoyed the other AFS screenings, but this movie is on an entirely different level. Since I have never seen it before, it was nice to get a chance to see it on the big screen.

"This time I must try removing a larger section. In one piece..."

After his daughter's face is destroyed in a horrific car accident, a deranged surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) attempts to find a new face for his daughter (Edith Scob) by transplanting the faces of kidnapped women. While he goes about this quest, he keeps his daughter locked up in his house wearing an eerie white mask to cover her scars.

Riding the line between surrealism and documentary-like realism, Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face is regarded as a unique masterpiece within the pantheon of classic horror cinema. And I can see why.

The first thing to say about this movie is that it is just beautiful to look at. Shot in glistening monochrome by Eugen Schufftan, the brilliant cinematographer behind Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the photography is sharp and clear, with atmospheric location footage (especially during the night scenes). The musical score is one of the first major works by future Oscar winner Maurice Jarre, and it is... interesting. He gives every major character a specific theme, which is normal practice, but what makes his work here interesting is that each of these themes feel like they come from completely different movies, and yet somehow this disjunction works with the film's off-kilter sensibility.

The film was written by the team of Boileau-Narcejac, novelists who today are more well known for the films based off their thrillers, the twisted, bleak Les Diaboliques directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and Alfred Hitchcock's equally brilliant Vertigo. With their shared theme of men attempting to control the minds and bodies of women, these films share more than a little DNA with Eyes without a Face.

While it does not really have traditional scares, the film has a weird, unsettling atmosphere that is unlike anything I've seen before. There is something so unique about the way Franju is able to pull no punches and yet not dip into outright sleaze. There are points where it felt like I was watching a fairytale, and other sequences which felt like a very disturbing surgical documentary.

This review is incredibly vague, but I want to hold back on spoilers. There's a creepy sequence in which we get to see what happens to one of the daughter's new faces, and a basement full of dogs. Their constant howls and barks are insanely creepy, but then everything in this movie is creepy.

Enough rambling. If you have seen Pedro Amoldovar's recent The Skin I Live In, John Woo's Face/Off or the second half of Martyrs, then some of the imagery might feel a tad familiar, but the films are so different in tone and execution (no pun intended) that Eyes without a Face still manages to stand apart from its progeny over 50 years after its release.