August 01, 2006

Notes from a DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

Welcome once again the wonderful world of cool movies.  This month I'll be talking about some of my all-time favorite weird gems of genre cinema.  First up is Cemetery Man, starring Rupert Everett.  (Yes, that Rupert Everett.)  He got his start in an Italian zombie movie.  He tends to keep Cemetery Man (AKA Dellamorte Dellamore) off of his resume.  Which is kind of silly, because its easily one of the best existential zombie love stories every told.

Cemetery Man is directed by Italian Michele Soavi, who got his start being a second unit and assistant director for such greats as Argento, Fulchi, Umberto Bava, and Terry Gilliam.  Soavi's singular and unique vision reached its apogee in Cemetery Man, but you can catch flashes of brilliance in some of his earlier work, such as The Church, The Sect, and Stagefright.  Soavi retreated from the film industry in the mid 1990s to care for his ailing son, but, in recent years, he has begun working once more in Italian television (Una Bianca was a TV-miniseries/cop/crime thriller that is now on DVD), and he was the second unit director on Terry Gilliam's flawed, yet strangely interesting film, The Brothers Grimm.

Speaking of Terry Gilliam, if you were disappointed by The Brothers Grimm, go seek out his four most successful and entertaining films; Twelve Monkeys (1995), The Fisher King (1991), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), and Time Bandits (1981).  Oh, and that little movie called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was pretty fun too.  For most directors, the above accomplishments would constitute an incredible body of work.  For Gilliam, they are just the high points AFTER he left the Monty Python troop.

Moving back to the realm of the super-obscure, two films that I have fallen in love with after catching them at film-festivals and special screenings in San Francisco have recently found their way to DVD.

First is a surreal Greek exploitation/horror/noir film called Singapore Sling (1990).  This one is pretty disturbing, in unconventional ways, and will pretty much melt your head.  You've probably never heard of the director, Nikos Nikolaidis, and sadly none of his other films have been translated to English, or made available on DVD.  But the summaries of the films on IMDB are strangely alluring, and I hope Singapore Sling finds enough of an audience to merit more English language releases of his work.  In particular, The Zero Years (2005) sounds like it could be pretty cool:  "Four women, barren, under surveillance and continuous toxic control, are serving their term in a government run brothel."

The other movie that I've been waiting for is Blood (2000), directed by Charly Cantor.  This SF-cum-horror film focuses on a doctor who is haunted by his participation in a genetic engineering experiment.  The lab he works for created a girl whose blood is an addictive drug.  Years later, the teenage girl is a prisoner in the basement of some former employees/scientists turned junkies.  The doctor breaks her out of her prison, and brings her into his own household, with his wife and young son.  His attempts to provide the girl with a normal environment to live in end up failing in spectacular ways.  The story, acting and daring visual imagery of this one all come together nicely, creating an experience you aren't likely to forget.

Leaving Europe and heading over to Asia, Director Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: Iron Man, Tetsuo II: Bodyhammer) made a beautiful weird tale of sibling rivalry and murder, set in turn-of-the-century Japan, called Gemini, back in 1999.  I caught this one at the San Francisco Asian International Film Festival about five years ago, and was totally blown away.  Tsukamoto is definitely one of the important directors in contemporary Japanese cinema, and not just a flash-in-the-pan cult filmmaker.  And now you can finally check out this sumptuous film on DVD.

Finally, one of the best "last man on earth" films ever made was just re-released on DVD.  The Quiet Earth, from 1985, is a lost gem, featuring a stunning performance by New Zealand cult actor Bruno Lawrence, who is seemingly left alone on the planet after a government experiment goes awry.  This movie is a smart, wry, wonderful story, and the director has a ton of sly winks to other "last man on earth" movies hidden in the mix.  If you've never had the pleasure of seeing this one, be sure to check it out.

I'll have more movies to tell you about next month.  Until then, keep watching the movies, and let me know if there's something we should have in stock, but don't.

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