Ran, and six more movies

The Neverending
Film Festival

Avalanche (1977)

With their careers sliding downhill, Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow probably didn't have many offers, so they made Avalanche for low-budget impresario Roger Corman. Farrow tries, Hudson coasts, Jeanette Nolan and the bookkeeper are cute together, but you're not here for the acting or even the plot, so how's about the visuals?

The first avalanche happens a mere 16 minutes into the movie, and it's pretty cheap-looking, with what looks like salt tumbling horizontally across a cheap mock-up of some trees.

The big one hits at 54 minutes, late enough I was getting quite impatient. It uses stock footage of a real avalanche, mixed with some unconvincing effects. The idea of skiers outracing a million tons of falling snow and ice is intriguing, but seeing is disbelieving.

Robert Forster is here, too, but I'll bet he didn't include Avalanche on his resumé reel.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Carol (2015)

Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Terry (Rooney Mara) see each other across a crowded store, and soon they're friends, and then they're friends in ways Terry perhaps hadn't imagined. She's young, not terribly sure of herself, and you get the impression she'd never heard the word 'lesbian'.

Carol is older, wiser, and much more interesting than Terry's fiancé, or any of the men in this movie, or for that matter just about any man I know.

This is a sweet, slow-simmering love story, until it's interrupted by Carol's increasingly angry husband, who bangs at the door, then sues for custody of their daughter on the grounds that Carol's "immorality" makes her unfit as a mother. He's as monstrous as a man can be without violence, but he's a man of his time.

And god, what a frightening time it was. Here's your choice: either deny yourself and live without love, or keep everything secret about what's maybe the most essential part of any sane adult's life, or live the truth and be marginalized, ostracized, or punished to the full extent of the law.

It's based on The Price of Salt, a novel by the remarkable Patricia Highsmith, which was written during that frightening time, and directed by Todd Haynes, in our frightening new time.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fantastic Planet (1973)

I paid to see this film 4-5 times in theaters in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and it angered me every time, because the soundtrack was close to inaudible, the dialogue seemingly whispered. It was telling a good story, and I liked the music, but even at theaters that had a good sound system, a lot of Fantastic Planet simply couldn't be heard. On two different occasions I complained to the manager at the Neptune Theater (RIP), got my money back and left, but I'm still pissed, and I figure the producers of this movie owe me at least ten bucks.

Now I have a pretty good sound system at home, the ability to crank movies so loud that a flatmate might pound on my door and tell me to turn it down. So I pumped up the volume full-blast on all three knobs, watched Fantastic Planet again, and finally heard it.

It's an animated science fiction flick for grown-ups, with imaginative imagery, telling a story about people running wild on a fantastic planet ruled by another, physically much larger species. The Bigguns think of us little ones as wild animals, or sometimes as pets.

The music consists largely of the same bars played many, many times, which is either haunting or tediously repetitive, but I vote for 'haunting'.

The ending is a disappointment — a conclusion is briefly explained instead of shown to the audience. Maybe that's the moment they ran out of funding, so that's The End. Until then, though, it's a thoughtful story, not terribly deep or philosophical, but engaging and only occasionally dull.

Criterion Collection does its usually half-ass job with a foreign film — fine images and sound, but leaving a paragraph of explanatory text in French, untranslated, at the beginning of the movie.

Verdict: YES. I'll let the ten bucks slide.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Gate (1986)

Here's an innocent suburban white boy and his nerdy best friend, and they find a big hole in the back yard, and whatever could be down there? Well, demons, of course.

The movie takes its time getting from cornball to spooky, but when it does, the goosebumps are real. These kids are going to be in some serious trouble when Mom & Dad get home, if they're still alive, and big sister might never be allowed to babysit again.

Before discovering girls, I spent years reading Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland, so usually I have a general idea how special effects are accomplished. Some of what's on-screen here, though, I don't know how they did it in the mid-1980s. They must've found and filmed some actual Barbie-doll-size monsters.

It's weird that I'd never even heard of The Gate. I would've liked this little horror movie when I was 12, and I'm still sorta 12 inside. Directed by Tibor Takacs, who has nothing else noteworthy on his mostly-TV IMDB page.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Night of the Lepus (1972)

Lepus is a fancy scientific word for rabbits, which have overrun the countryside. Scientist Stuart Whitman is injecting hormones into the lovable little lepuses or lepusi, trying to block their ability to breed like rabbits.

The sciency stuff in the movie's first act is almost interesting, but then it's revealed to be about an infestation of giant man-eating bunnies — deadly killer rabbits of unusual size, which are very, very obviously just close-ups of ordinary rabbits on miniature sets.

Well, here's something I know about rabbits, that the movie doesn't: rabbits are herbivores. They eat lettuce and carrots and celery, not flesh and blood, so the whole idea of killer rabbits is stupid. Not as stupid as what the movie does with the idea, though.

Verdict: BIG NO.

Want to see a good movie about a rabbit infestation? That would be Celia.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Ran (1985)

Senior Warlord Ichimonji retires, giving his authority and his greatest castle to his eldest son, and lesser castles to his younger sons. This turns out to be a foolish act of nepotism, as only the youngest son has any talent for being a warlord, but he's so brashly outspoken that his father disowns him instead.

This is Akia Kurasawa's last masterpiece, and it's huge-scale movie-making like nobody does any more. Ran is what happens when a brilliant moviemaker is given whatever budget he needs. It's a capital B Big movie, and it's excellent, all the way through.

It's said to be based on Shakespeare's King Lear, but if so it's an big improvement on the original. In two hours and 42 minutes, you'll have no chance to pee unless you hit 'pause'.

In a great moment among many great moments, the elderly Ichimonji is briefly pressed into man-to-man battle, and draws and uses his ceremonial sword — which of course breaks, leaving him holding only a handle. I replayed that three times. Frickin' awesome scene in a frickin' awesome movie.

I could write thirty paragraphs about how great this is, list a hundred other terrific moments, but why bother? Ran is not a hidden treasure; it's famous. It's acclaimed by everybody who loves movies. If you haven't heard of it before, now you have. If you've heard of Ran but never seen it, get off your ass.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Xanadu (1980)

Olivia Newton-John could carry a tune, Gene Kelly could dance, and some of my favorite pop songs of the 1970s and '80s were by Electric Light Orchestra. They're all working together here, so why is this movie so remarkably wretched?

Every line of dialogue rings wrong, there's barely a story, it's all set on roller skates, and it adds up to nothing. It's loaded with visual effects that would be subpar for a Pop Tarts commercial, even in the '70s. When there's a song you might like to hear, it'll be interrupted by zany sound effects. Xanadu is the Murphy's Law of movies. 

Verdict: BIG NO.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. “Xanadu is the Murphy’s Law of movies” is the best line from a performance review since “What is this shit?” And that was 52 years ago. Understated and overstated in 7 words. I almost read past it. That is sneaky-fine writing.


    1. Thanks, man, but what exactly was what shit?

      I'm trying to remember what happened in 1970. I got beat up by a skinny kid on the playground, got kissed by a girl from my Sunday School class, and made friends with a retarded kid in school (that was back when there were retarded kids), but I don't remember much else that's year-specific.

    2. Sorry man, I keep forgetting that everyone is younger than me.

      In 1970, Bob Dylan released an album called “Self Portrait”. Only four years after his best albums and motorcycle crash, Dylan released an album that smelled through the factory plastic. It was laughably bad. So Greil Marcus of Rolling Stone wrote the most famous review in rock history, starting with this those four words. The rest of his writing career rests on that tiny sentence. I haven’t understood a word he’s said since. But on that day Greil captured the end of Dylan’s magical climb.


    3. That, sir, is a better story than any of the three I mentioned -- and you did it with only thumbs!

      Now, of course, I gotta listen to Bob Dylan's Self-Portrait.

    4. One thumb. I’m not polydactyl. I recommend listening with the plastic on. A bad joke, but a three-layer one.

      From the day . . .
      There was always music on: turntable or tape or FM radio. Quite literally people cranked up the sound system before they turned on the furnace in the morning. When the Beatles or Stones or Who or Dylan published a new album everybody heard it in the first week. And they were putting out classics: the Mathew, Mark, Luke and John Lennon of My Generation. Eight hundred percent of the people who read that Dylan review knew Dylan had gone off the tracks within a week of publication.

      It was a time.


    5. Music mattered back then. Everyone talked about it. Heck, even my stodgy old parents listened to Dylan.

      Stodgy old me, I listened to the album and indeed it was shit. A few passable covers of other people's songs, and a rerun of "Like a Rolling Stone," which Dylan swiped from Highway 61 Revisited five years earlier.

      Then I figured out that Self-Portrait was a two-disc set, but life is short and my patience grows shorter and my ears had had enough.

    6. There were two discs, so now we need the Latin plural of "shit".


  2. For the record, the Latin plural of lepus is lepores.

    1. I wouldn't have guessed that. Latin be funkier even than English.


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