Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Movies I hate to love: The Hunger (1983)

The Hunger. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents a Richard Shepherd Company production; screenplay by Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas ; produced byRichard A. Shepherd; directed by Tony Scott. Originally released as a motion picture in 1983. Director of photography: Stephen Goldblatt; editor: Pamela Power; music: Michael Rubini, Denny Jaeger. Performers: David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, Cliff De Young, Dan Hedaya, Beth Ehlers.

“You said forever”

Guilty pleasure or no, The Hunger is one of my favorite vampire movies. Hunger’s gauzy, velvety look recalls the London fog vampire movies of the early Thirties, and despite the sensationalist themes and their execution, it's mostly about style - and what style! Beautiful people, clothes, sets and music. Seldom has a movie been shot so lovingly. Some commentators see similarities in Hunger to Blade Runner and the comparison is apropos. Both films are dripping in atmosphere and have a fondness for the below-mentioned dark blue tones. BTW did anyone ever notice that: all movie vampires are rich, good looking, dress stylishly, speak with smoothly mellifluous accents, and have a thing for classical music.

As to the principals: it’s impossible to imagine a better actress to portray a modern day vampire than Catherine Deneuve, here fortyish but cast as a 6,000 year old Egyptian vampire. She’s positively (pun perhaps intended) otherworldly stunning, in fact a strong front runner as the most beautiful vampire in cinema history. And David Bowie’s no slouch in the looks department either, the younger, earlier version of him in the film, mind you. In fact in these scenes Bowie and Deneuve look enough alike to be twin brother and sister, which adds to the film’s creepy, kinky feel.

Moreover, Hunger’s topical message about angst over aging strikes close to home in our own times: its themes of everlasting youth and beauty are even more relevant today than they were three decades ago. A curious bit of irony in casting is that in the early Eighties the ethereal beauty of both Bowie and Deneuve was teetering on the cusp of fading, while Susan Sarandon was just peaking both as an actress and beautiful woman.

But getting back to style: the opening six minutes or so is a mind blowing virtuoso piece of editing and cutting. From a purely technical standpoint, it’s arguably the best part of the entire film. However … for better or worse, the lesbian scene with Deneuve and Sarandon - the one we wait two thirds of the movie to get to - is what Hunger is best known for, and well worth the wait. It’s a doozy of a sequence both visually and emotionally. The seduction motif firmly cemented Delibes’ “Flower Duet” from Lakmé, superimposed so suggestively over all the steamy goings on, as opera’s ultimate lesbian moment. But in a movie this gorgeous and with a cast so cinegenic, what’s not to like about lesbian, or in this case bisexual, vampires? 

Aside: The Hunger’s look is a wonder and has a decided preference for evanescent blueish tones. I’m not enough of a vampire scholar to read any symbolism into this but it is rather interesting from a visual point of view. 

Highly recommended, then, with the usual not-for-all-tastes caveat for this kind of material. Another warning: for all that The Hunger is a horror film, it does move at a very deliberate, stately pace. Suave and classy, it’s probably the ultimate synthesis of art movie and horror film we’ve yet to see.

style ***1/2
substance ***

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Movies I hate to love : Man with a Gun (1995)

Man With a Gun. Image and October Films presents an Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short Northwoods Pictures. Released as a feature film in 1995. Based on the novel The Shroud Society by Hugh C. Rae. David Wyles, director; George Blondheim, music; Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik; Jan Kiesser, director of photography. With: Michael Madsen, Jennifer Tilly, Gary Busey, Robert Loggia, Ian Tracey.

Pros: score, acting, settings, action scenes 
Cons: murky script, murkier look

Neo-noir gone awry

Man with a Gun is an offbeat thriller about a hit man hired by a shady real estate developer who moonlights as a mob boss wannabe. The job is to do in the mobster’s blackmailing wife. The twist is the mark just happens to be the assassin’s girlfriend. Also, said girlfriend has a twin sister. As we might expect, things get complicated along the way.

I can’t quite decide whether MWAG is a neglected minor masterpiece or just a glossed up, schlocky noir parody. Not so surprising then that most of the opinions I’ve read have been mixed to the point of polarized. The movie reminded me of Mulholland Falls, made at much the same time and a more polished film, but similarly criticized for being too much surface but not enough substance. MWAG also has overtones of the much more recent tough guy film Parker, also reviewed in these pages. 

Actually the cast is rather good: Madsen seems a natural for the role of proverbial hit man with a conscience. And he does the hardboiled voice-over very effectively, in wearier-than-world-weary manner. Loggia is silken smooth as the aging don and Meg is convincing as extreme opposite good/bad sisters.

But the cast may be most noteworthy for Ian Tracy as a mob strongman. Tracey later went on to a huge career in Canada. The writer knows him mostly through the Canadian TV movies Da Vinci’s Inquest and Intelligence.

Canadian-made and notable for its novel Pacific Northwest locales, MWAG was apparently filmed in Vancouver, BC, but the visuals seem to suggest the story takes place in Seattle or Tacoma. As mentioned the film is a neo-noir, with heavy emphasis on the noirish look: Man with a Gun has a murky, smoky patina which makes most classic noirs seem like a Kansas cornfield at noon in July. Recommended, more or less.

style ***
substance **1/2