Movies Reviews

Fantastic Planet (1973) Review

Fantastic Planet. Directed by Rene Laloux. Released in 1973

The Spring of Sci-Fi #15

Fantastic Planet, directed by Renė Laloux and released in 1973, is an experimental and surreal animated science fiction film. The film’s visuals are unique and trippy; they are reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python animation and the surreal artwork of Salvador Dali. The film is set on the psychedelic planet of Ygam and is inhabited by bizarre landscapes and creatures. The film primarily focuses on the relationship between the Draags, a giant blue dominant species of Ygam, and the Oms. The Om’s are much smaller and appear more humanlike than the gigantic and blue Draag’s. The film explores multiple themes of free will, fascism, environmentalism, genocide, and animal rights.

I feel like when people think of animation they mostly think of children’s cartoons, Disney films, and anime. One thing that Fantastic Planet shows audiences is how far you could take the medium of animation. Renė Laloux and his animation team create a wondrous and sometimes horrifying world. They stretch the lengths of science fiction and world-building to astoundingly surreal heights. This film could only work as animation. Animation allows their imaginations to roam free, and they are only limited by what they can create and draw. The story is unique, exploring multiple philosophical and existential themes in much more mature ways than audiences typically see in traditional animation. The movie begins with a female Om being teased and harassed by a giant Draag. After the woman is killed a Draag named Tiwa takes in the woman’s infant and names it Terr. Terr is treated well by Tiwa, and we see through Tiwa and Terr’s interactions that the Om’s age much slower than the gigantic Draag’s. Tiwa is instructed in the Draag’s culture and language through a metal band that wraps around her head and sends her lessons through electronic signals. Terr picks up on the signal that Tiwa receives and slowly begins to learn about the Draag’s language and culture. Terr escapes and brings the device with him to a colony of Oms. They begin learning and eventually decide they want to rebel against the Draag’s who seek to either enslave them as pets or exterminate them with toxic gas. The Draag’s also spend most of their time meditating–although I don’t want to spoil what their meditation is accomplishing.

A glimpse at the wonderfully bizarre world of Fantastic Planet

The movie starts slow, but it is important to introduce the audience to the strange world slowly and methodically. By slowly introducing us to the species, politics, and philosophies we can connect much more with what is happening. People typically think of arthouse films as being devoid of emotion but Fantastic Planet balances the sometimes cold tone that is present in some arthouse films with a world that is enchanting and inviting. What appears to be a basic story about rebellion and oppression is much deeper than it originally appears, and that is aided by Laloux’s methodical approach to the story. Many sci-fi stories deal with oppressive governments and rebellion, but Fantastic Planet explores complex themes through a unique lens using surreal animation to help guide and mask its themes. The movie looks like a stoner-friendly movie and is even accompanied by an acid jazz soundtrack–and it kicks ass–but I think that viewing it as only a psychedelic piece of art undermines the existential story that is hidden underneath.

Fantastic Planet is a wonderfully unique animated film that seeks to use its animation to explore elaborate philosophical ideas about humanity and oppression. The film is accompanied by an amazing acid jazz soundtrack that enhances the incredible visuals and would be interesting to listen to on its own. The film has plenty of bizarre and strange creatures that inhabit the background of the world, and I think that trying to notice all the details helps merit multiple viewings. Check this out if you like trippy animation, elaborate world-building, and complex themes.

Rating 4/5

Movies Reviews

The Work of Jean Rollin: Requiem for a Vampire (1971): Jean Rollin’s fourth vampire film leans heavy on the S&M, but fails to fully entertain.

The films leads attempt to escape from a surreal and evil chateau.

I’m starting to feel Rollin fatigue. Jean Rollin’s movies have been occupying my limited free time for the past month, and it is starting to get exhausting. I enjoy looking at a director’s body of work, but I think I may begin reviewing some other stuff in the process that way I don’t get burned out. I think I may begin looking at some Godzilla films and then return to Rollin a bit later. I think I have made it to a good stopping point for the moment because I have just finished his fourth and final vampire film: well at least for his early works anyway.

Requiem for a Vampire is quite similar to the previous three Jean Rollin movies I have looked at: full of sexuality, cemeteries, chateau’s, and vampiric violence. The S&M is amped up in this movie and is one of the few reasons I didn’t enjoy it as much. Being S&M heavy, the violence is often more sadistic and gratuitous. In one extended scene we a woman being tortured that felt unnecessary and was far too long–it honestly knocked a whole star off my rating.

The film stars Marie-Pierre Castel–who featured in The Nude Vampire and The Shiver of the Vampires–and Mireille Dargent as Marie and Michelle, respectively. The film follows them as they get lost in the French countryside and eventually stumble upon a decrypted chateau. The film has a fairy tale atmosphere, and Rollin mixes that with erotic elements to give us something unique to his style. The plot of the movie is non-existent; instead, we are asked to follow these two lost girls as they stumble upon weird vampiric forces deep in the country. The movie features a familiar surrealist tone that is present in the previous films, but I don’t think the quality of the movie is at the same standard as The Nude Vampire or The Shiver of the Vampires which are both quite good at intermingling the surreal, the erotic, and the vampiric.

I wish I had more to say about this film, but it just didn’t leave an impression which I attribute to being burnt out. I enjoyed the fairytale-like atmosphere and it added to the surreal tone well; however, I wish that Rollin would have focused on that more instead of the lingering and gratuitous sexual violence that is present in the film.

Rating 2/5

Movies Reviews

The Work of Jean Rollin: A review of his first film The Rape of the Vampire (1968)

The Rape of the Vampire (Le Viol du Vampire). Released in 1968. Directed by Jean Rollin.

Starting this year, I want to look at directors and their bodies of work. With some directors, I will be looking at their entire filmography, and with others, I will be viewing a select body of work either from a specific period in their career or works that define the director as an artist. I want to start by looking at the oeuvre of Jean Rollin.

Jean Rollin was a French director known for his vampire films, specifically his lesbian vampire films. I wanted to start with him because despite the luridness of the subgenre–that being lesbian vampire films–his work is quite sophisticated and surreal, and that starts in his first feature film, The Rape of the Vampire.

The title The Rape of the Vampire (Le Viol du Vampire in French) catches your attention and detailing the plot of this movie is a struggle because it feels more like a collection of surreal images than a concrete story. That is what sets Rollin apart from more exploitative directors; Rollin calls upon gothic, surreal, erotic, and fantastical to tell his stories. The movies don’t feel pornographic–even though Rollin would eventually go on to do more hardcore films–rather, they feel like erotic and fantastical dreams.

The Rape of the Vampire starts with a psychoanalyst going to a dilapidated gothic manor to try and convince four sisters that they are not vampires. The movie was originally designed to be a short film, but another segment entitled The Queen of the Vampires was added to stretch the film out to feature-length. You can tell by the pacing that the movie was supposed to be a short film. While The Queen of the Vampire features some strange and almost comedic moments, it makes the movie overly long, and at only 95 minutes, it feels more like 3 hrs. I liked the surreal, dreamlike tone that the film has, but it is, unfortunately, amateurish and boring for a lot of the runtime. I have seen some later films from Rollin, such as Fascination, which utilize the surreal tone and the slow pacing well, and if I was not familiar with some of his other work, I probably wouldn’t continue down the road of his filmography so fervently. Having said that, the movie is interesting and offers some strange moments that elevate some of the pacing and boring elements.

The Rape of the Vampire is a weaker and more amateurish work from the French auteur, but that is to be expected with it being his first film. Despite the hammy acting, the boring pace, and the amateurish quality, The Rape of the Vampire offers a surreal and fantastical look at the vampire genre.

Rating 2/5

Movies Reviews

The Elephant Man Review: David Lynch brings his surreal vision to the true story of John Merrick.

The Elephant Man. Released in 1980. Directed by David Lynch. Starring John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, and Anne Bancroft.

The Elephant Man, released in 1980 and directed by David Lynch, tells the story of John Merrick (John Hurt), a man who is disfigured. He is rescued from a sideshow attraction and taken into a hospital by Dr.Frederick Treeves (Anthony Hopkins). Initially, Treves uses Merrick to help boost his name; he does not believe that Merrick has any intelligence or true humanity. Like everyone else, Treves judges Merrick based on his appearance. He learns his mistake after hearing him speak and listening to Merrick recite a Psalm. Merrick was a gentle and intelligent man who was exploited on multiple occasions by people in his life.

David Lynch’s direction in the film gives the film a unique look and feel. Shooting the film in black and white reminds me of classic monster movies from the 30s. Whether that was the intention, I do not know, but like Merrick’s appearance, the choice to shoot in black and white alters the audience’s perception and allows their expectations to be subverted. David Lynch also chose to use surreal sequences to show the backstory of Merrick’s mother. The dream-like sequences that start and end the film elevate the film from a standard biopic about Merrick’s life to something more.

David Lynch focuses heavily on mechanization and industrialization, something featured heavily in his previous film, Eraserhead, released in 1977. Like the machines, Merrick is manipulated and used. The people in his life prosper from him and treat him like a piece of equipment to assist with their success; that is what makes Merrick’s proclamation “I am not an animal! I am a human being” so poignant and powerful. Merrick is treated like a beast and used as a machine, but he is much more than that; he is an intelligent creature, capable of immense emotions. He loves and respects beauty and art.

The Elephant Man is a tragic story that is injected with hope. John Merrick is used and abused by people in his life, but through his experiences, at the hospital, he sees that love and kindness exist. David Lynch excellently directs the movie and the performances from John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins are incredible. The film is also technically remarkable with gorgeous black and white cinematography from Freddie Francis, a wonderful score from John Morris, and amazing make-up effects from Christopher Tucker and Wally Schneiderman. I have experienced many new films this past year, but this is the greatest one I viewed. A tragic story filled with heart and hope, The Elephant Man, excels at everything it attempts. It is truly a masterpiece.

Rating 5/5

Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet. Released in 1986. Directed by David Lynch. Starring Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, and Laura Dern

Towards the beginning of Blue Velvet, the camera zooms in on a severed ear that protagonist Jeffery Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) found while walking near his house. With this shot, we enter a dark, subconscious world, a world that lives beneath the surface of the suburban white picket fence houses that line the streets of Lumberton. We also see this idea of darkness lurking beneath during the opening of the movie. After Jeffery’s father collapses in his yard, we see insects crawling beneath the beautifully cultivated yard where he is working. David Lynch is not only telling us that there is darkness living on the other side of town, but that there is also darkness in our subconscious.

Analyzing and reviewing Blue Velvet is difficult; the plot is easy to discern, but there are layers of subtext that live within the movie. Blue Velvet, like other David Lynch projects, explores dark, subconscious desires and fears. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) is a manifestation of this darkness. Frank Booth acts as an interesting foil to Jeffery Beaumont because he represents Jeffery’s dark desires. Frank even says to Jeffery, “You are me.” This dark revelation shakes Jeffery, causing him to weep in his room, lamenting the darkness that he has witnessed in himself.

Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) and Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) contrast each other. Sandy is pure and young; she is untainted by the world, protected from the darkness by her suburban home and detective father. Dorothy Vallens is a tragic figure, and unlike Sandy she is alone forced to face the darkness of the world and her darkness alone. Frank’s dark and violent desires have created a world of darkness for her. She is a victim of sexual violence and Frank’s depravity. When Jeffery enters her world, Dorothy has been broken by Frank. He has kidnapped her husband and son, cutting off her husband’s ear with scissors and regularly torturing her with his insanity and sexual violence. Dorothy, along with Frank, awakens something dark within Jeffrey. She engages him and inspires him to act on his dark impulses, something which haunts him later. On the surface, Jeffery looks innocent, but Dorothy shows him he isn’t truly innocent.

It is interesting how David Lynch blends multiple genres, creating a film that is equal parts horror, noir, and psychological thriller. Angelo Badalamenti’s score even calls back to classic film noir scores. He does this with his imagery too; the opening of the film shows an Americana landscape before he descends deeper into the world, showing urban decay and immorality. Lynch’s work consistently evokes the idea of the industrial and urban world encroaching on the idyllic lifestyle of suburban America. There is also a voyeuristic approach to his filmmaking, and that features heavily in this movie. People witness and recognize ever-growing darkness but turn a blind eye or succumb.

Dream-like and nightmarish David Lynch uses Blue Velvet to examine the dark recess of our subconscious. It is interesting to watch alongside his oeuvre because you can watch how his ideas evolve and adapt over time. Blue Velvet is an excellent and challenging neo-noir that I highly recommend everyone watching.

Rating 5/5