Oedipus Rex in Drag

Next to William Shakespeare, Sophocles is probably the most enduring and internationally renowned dramatist in terms of his work still being adapted for the stage, television and cinema and I doubt you will find a more bizarre or outre version of his Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex than Funeral Parade of Roses. Directed by Japanese avant-garde filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto, this revelatory 1969 movie – it was his first feature film after several experimental shorts – is just as fresh and startling today as it was when it first appeared over fifty years ago.    Continue reading

Pandemonium in the Dark

In Japanese cinema, the samurai film can be many things. It can be a ghost story (Ugetsu, 1953), a rousing adventure (The Hidden Fortress, 1958), a tragic romance (Gate of Hell, 1953), a sweeping historical epic (Tales of the Taira Clan, 1955), a Shakespeare adaptation (Throne of Blood, 1957) or even a revenge saga (Chushingura, 1962). The latter is my favorite sub-genre in the category and the best samurai revenge films are usually driven by the avenger’s sense of honor being defamed and/or moral outrage at personal injustice. This is certainly the motivation behind the heroine of Lady Snowblood (1973), played by Meiko Kaji, and its sequel, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (1974). It is also the central premise of Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri (aka Seppuku, 1962), which is more doom-laden and brooding than the kinetic action of the Lady Snowblood films but nevertheless explodes in a bloody, sword-wielding finale. But if you want to go deeper, darker and crueler, it is hard to top Toshio Matsumoto’s Demons (aka Shura aka Pandemonium, 1971) for pure malice.   Continue reading

Kill or Cure?

Most filmgoers who were born before 1965 know Paddy Chayefsky as the playwright who penned the teleplay Marty and later won an Oscar for the 1955 screenplay adaptation. Contemporary movie fans, however, remember him as the creator behind the 1976 media satire Network, which was nominated for 10 Oscars and won four including Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Faye Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight) and a posthumous Best Actor Academy Award for Peter Finch as unhinged news anchor Howard Beale. (Bryan Cranston is currently playing Beale in a Broadway stage production based on Chayefsky’s film). What tends to get overlooked in Chayefsky’s filmography is The Hospital (1971), an equally audacious movie that prefigured Network’s outrageous blend of black comedy and social commentary and appeared five years earlier.  Continue reading

The Sound That Kills

Movies about people who murder with weapons or their bare hands are nothing out of the ordinary but what about a film where a man can kill with his voice? It might seem preposterous but The Shout (1978), directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, takes this concept and turns it into something that is both plausible and unsettling.   Continue reading

As American as Apple Pie

Smile (1975)Some aspects of American culture make ideal targets for satirists like the media (Network, 1976) or politics (The Great McGinty, 1940) or even the American family (Lord Love a Duck, 1966). Beauty pageants, on the other hand, seem a little too easy to poke fun at but Michael Ritchie found the perfect balance of irony and empathy in his 1975 satire, Smile.    Continue reading

Middle Age Crazy

original posterIt’s hard to imagine a more unlikely prospect for a film adaptation than John Cheever’s short story, The Swimmer, which was first published in The New Yorker. Yet, it was actually adapted into a major motion picture from Columbia Pictures starring Burt Lancaster. Was it a success? Hardly. Even though a handful of critics endorsed it, the public stayed away but for some who were lucky enough to see it, the film resonated for years. Now it is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Grindhouse Releasing and a reassessment is in order. Continue reading

Missing in Action: Birds in Peru Starring Jean Seberg

Jean Seberg in Birds in Peru (1968)

Jean Seberg in Birds in Peru (1968)

There is a popular misconception these days that almost any movie you want to see is available for streaming or viewing somewhere in cyberspace but that simply isn’t true. Thousands of films go missing, become inaccessible or go into distribution purgatory as the years pass and they become forgotten in time. Birds in Peru (aka Birds Come to Die in Peru) would probably be forgotten too if it hadn’t received such scathing reviews upon its original release in 1968.     Continue reading