Friday, October 12, 2018

Jabberwocky (1977)

"It is the middle of the dark ages,
darker than anyone had ever expected."
-Narrator-
 
 
When it came to my attention Criterion was releasing director Terry Gilliam's Jabberwocky (1977) on Blu-Ray that became one omission from my film education that needed to be filled.
 
My affection for Michael Palin is endless based simply upon his input into the world of Monty Python as both a writer and performer and capped off by his role as stuttering Ken Pile in the outrageously fantastic A Fish Called Wanda (1988) by director Charles Crichton (Space:1999).
 
 
P-P-P-P Palin co-wrote Time Bandits (1981) with Monty Python troupe member Terry Gilliam.
 
As most are familiar Monty Python was the amalgamation of Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman. The wildly entertaining group all went on to become immensely successful in their own rights respectively.
 
Stepping outside of the group Gilliam teamed with Palin for first time project Jabberwocky. With a project that included a dragon (check out that immense Criterion cover art) and no signs of CGI to be found this was essential viewing. In fact, Gilliam's dragon channels the man in a suit approach popularized by Ishiro Honda in the Godzilla franchise.
 
 
The film looks glorious restored on Blu-Ray and whilst not the best on offering from either respective artist Jabberwocky is nonetheless an entertaining romp inside of a world filled with Gilliam's trademark imagination.
 
To this traveler's surprise the film was shot at Pembroke and Chepstow Castles in Wales both of which I visited as a younger man having walked in the very steps of Palin and Gilliam. Wow.
 
Palin too is charming and light and adorably funny as the film's unsuspecting hero short on intellect, but high on good fortune. A few scenes with Mr. Fishfinger are uproarious.
 
 
Yet there is also a darker subtext about business and commerce and the struggle to survive during the period. Fear of the Jabberwock creature drives business and commerce and the rich seemingly get richer whilst the poor are dependent and literally hacking off body parts to get by. These were indeed hard and dark times to be sure despite Palin's positively gleeful approach to living. The protestors of this day really don't have a clue.
 
 
Speaking of disposition, this is another theme throughout Jabberwocky.  It is one of outlook and happiness despite circumstance. Palin's Cooper character is unmolested by success and even seems blissfully ignorant of it in the end. As one writer noted, Cooper simply wanted to embrace a bit of travel, even two miles from his home would be something, and an overweight peasant thing (played by Annette Badland) who essentially rejects his ovations throughout the film. It's hard not to love young Dennis Cooper despite all of these obvious shortcomings. He somehow seizes the joy of life through it all. There are many out there who could learn a thing or two.
 
 
With production design and originality permeating the film in the mold of all things wonderful that accompany the world of Monty Python outings Jabberwocky is a delightful treat if not essential. There are indeed cinematic wonders to behold throughout the enterprise and I fully enjoyed the journey Palin's character, Dennis Cooper, took us on throughout the film. He was entirely relatable and likeable and by God that's half of the real battle.
 
 
To put things in some perspective when it comes to Gilliam's fantastic discography. If you consider The Fisher King (1991), Brazil (1985), Time Bandits (1981) and 12 Monkeys (1995) among the top tier of his work, I'd comfortably select Jabberwocky, Gilliam's first solo film as a director, as an assured, solid mid-tier entry, but worthy of a placement in any film collection.

JabberwockyDirector: Terry Gilliam. Writer: Terry Gilliam/ Michael Palin.
 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The French Connection (1971)

"I'm gonna bust your ass for those three bags and I'm gonna nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie."
-Detective Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle-
 

I get on these exploratory tours of the directors I love and often revisit films by the best. I would easily count director William Friedkin's work among those artists.
 
Friedkin delivered what I consider to be four of my favorite films. Of course, I have many favorites. They run longer than my arm.
 
 
To Live And Die In L.A. (1985) left an indelible mark when I saw the picture in cinemas in 1985. But going back the man delivered on three classics in a row in The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973) and Sorcerer (1977). Most were experienced later in life save for The Exorcist which frightened the bejesus out of me and my neighborhood friends when we were young teens. We somehow managed to capture what amounted to a snowy third generation copy of the film on VHS and it played in heavy rotation for a time along with John Carpenter's The Thing (1982). It was all deliciously terrifying.
 
 
One of the draws for me to any picture is not only the director, but the performers. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider are among two of the best and star here in the classic crime drama. The police procedural in effect predates the kind of detail that would invade and inform the HBO series The Wire (2002-2008), but is delivered to great effect here by Friedkin. Hackman and Scheider are brilliant for their parts too. Scheider would return later for Friedkin's incredible location film Sorcerer.
 
 
There are two editions of The French Connection on Blu-Ray. I looked at the edition pictured here but intend to seek out the other as the two are notably different by all critical accounts. It's surprising there is not a definitive edition given the film was nominated for Best Cinematography. Though the film's cinematographer oversaw the second edition and as such is considered definitive to this initially approved Friedkin edition.
 
One of the most notable sequences in the film is the car chase which by some accounts came by the suggestion of director Howard Hawks. For me, the on foot subway pursuit by Gene Hackman of the French drug smuggler is equally riveting and suspenseful.
 
The French Connection may not be my favorite film by Friedkin. It would surely offend the delicate, politically correct sensibilities of today's liberal thought police if today's standards were applied, but it is an exceptional cultural snapshot of the day through the crime drama of the period. It remains a wonderful slice of cinema and a classic.
 
 
Not unlike this look at the culture through the eyes of the New York City Police detectives and the streets of the city, I'm still optimistic that one day Daniel Petrie's Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981) will one day make its way to a new transfer on Blu-Ray.
 
For now, dated as it may be (my how the type of crime has changed), The French Connection remains one of the cinematic best of its day. There's a reason the film won for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor in 1972 and is included in the US National Film Registry.
 
 
The French Connection. Director: William Friedkin. Writer: Ernest Tidyman.
 
 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Barry Lyndon (1975)

The very first wonder of this newly created blog, Cinematic Wonders, my first all film blog, brought me to Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975).

And so I wondered why director Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey) would cast California born American actor Ryan O'Neal in the lead role of Irish opportunist Barry Lyndon.





I had finally taken time to see the film with the advent of its release on Criterion.

Barry Lyndon (1975), based on the novel The Luck Of Barry Lyndon (1844), is, without question, a sumptuous, meticulous, carefully constructed period drama. Visually I enjoyed the film immensely, but sometimes, like O'Neal's performance, the experience felt detached, cool and understated. I felt often like a remote observer. There is a cool detachment about the emotion in the picture, but the refinement and reservation of the day may have indeed called for such an approach. All told it makes sense. It is painterly in execution and as such Kubrick brings the paintings of that period, the Seven Year's War (1756-1763), very much to life both interior and exterior. As a viewer we approach the film much like an admirer of paintings and absorb the moving pictures as such.



Still, I could not help but wonder what a film like this could have been with a different, more gifted, physical actor as the titular character. O'Neal isn't a disaster, but he does often feel the weak link to a rather epic picture filled with a glorious procession of juicy supporting characters. In retrospect, he seemed a rather unexpected choice for the film. Perhaps Kubrick initially saw a satirical element to his casting, yet somehow it never quite works as it should.

Despite the casting, Barry Lyndon is a technically flawless, visual triumph. Though an imperfect picture as a whole, it is not without its fans and there is a good deal on display here in understanding why it remains a cinematic wonder to many.

Barry Lyndon. Writer/ Director: Stanley Kubrick.

Hello Cinephiles

"An extraordinary film is much more than the sum of its ingredients, often existing as much as a mixture of magic and chemistry as of qualitative critical strengths and easily definable points of interest."

-John Kenneth Muir, The Films Of John Carpenter-



Welcome to Cinematic Wonders.

I have been the proud writer of Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic. I'm getting older. As I do I'm looking for other creative outlets perhaps slightly less taxing for any number of reasons.

The result of said brainstorm is here... Cinematic Wonders.

I've often been noted for having a visual eye with science fiction films and television on my original blog. Thus I wanted to create a more expansive, visual film outlet, a place where any kind of wonderful cinematic achievement for one reason or another could take residence with an emphasis on the love of the moving picture.

My desire quite simply was to make Cinematic Wonders a more visual creative space with regard to cinema. I wanted it to be a place to visit where images captured could lure in the viewer to a place of escape and wonder.

Nevertheless, I do have a tendency to talk and these very random feature films to be spotlighted here will not go without a word or two of commentary. My intent however is to post with a less analytical angle, and more with the heart and eye of the film fan. Images will be preserved with their original size taken for those who enjoy a delicious image.

I hope you enjoy the films I have loved. They were wonderful to me.

So again, welcome to Cinematic Wonders.

Jabberwocky (1977)

"I t is the middle of the dark ages, darker than anyone had ever expected." -Narrator-     W hen it came to my at...