Saturday, March 23, 2013

Taliesin Meets: Jesus of Montreal

It struck me that having looked at the entire Omen pentology I really needed to flip the coin of Christian mythology (and before anyone comments, to me it is mythology, my opinion, live with it). Also I am all too aware that everything I have looked at here at the Cult Cinema Club is horror and I do watch more than horror films.

Jesus of Montreal was a 1989 film directed by Denys Arcand and is, without a doubt, one of my favourite films. However, before I look at the film itself I wish to moan about the DVD, Arrow films are normally marvellous and they have released a special edition of this now (which might prove superior), but this was their first effort.

The box says it is a 16:9 anamorphic print, but actually it is 4:3 full screen. The print is a straight video lift with no enhancement for digital media and thus looks muddy and the English subtitles (the film is primarily French language) are hardcoded and difficult to read at times. Poor, poor, poor… but even so it cannot truly distract from the genius of the film.

Lothaire Bluteau as Daniel
The film begins with the final scenes of a play, which ends with a suicide and rapturous applause. An advertising executive in the crowd suggests she wants the lead actor’s head… for her new campaign. The actor is surrounded backstage by sycophantic critics but excuses himself when he sees an old friend, Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau), whom he describes as a real actor. He and Daniel embrace and he asks Daniel what his next role is… Jesus is the reply. The actor, of course, is the equivalent of John the Baptist.

Johanne-Marie Tremblay as Constance
Daniel meets Fr. Leclerc (Gilles Pelletier). Leclerc is in charge of the Passion Play in the Montreal basilica but knows that the script (in place for 35 years) has become stale. He wants Daniel to modernise it and direct the new Passion Play. Daniel watches a video of the old script being performed and recognises Constance (Johanne-Marie Tremblay). He finds her working in a soup kitchen and later discovers that Leclerc is sleeping with her. The other members of the new troupe are Martin (Rémy Girard) who does porn voice over, Mireille (Catherine Wilkening) who is an advert model known for a fine ass and René (Robert Lepage) a more conventional voice over actor who only joins if they can squeeze in the Hamlet soliloquy for him.

walk on water
The play they develop is controversial, to say the least. It points out that there is little to no contemporary evidence for Christ, that the gospels were written 100 years after his death, that there is a chance that he was the bastard son of a Roman soldier and Mary was an unmarried mother. Yet throughout all this they maintain the essence of Christianity at the core of the play. This is, of course, of no consequence to the Catholic hierarchy – whose representatives are berated by Daniel via a biblical reference during the second performance. This underlines the true satire of the film, whilst many might see it is anti-Christian, due to the ‘heretical’ concepts it espouses, actually it is anti-establishment but pro-message.

stabbed with the spear
The play itself is marvellous, you would pay to go and see it if performed as portrayed on screen. However the role and the actor begin to merge. There is a scene that is Christ and the moneylenders in the temple but is actually ad-men in a theatre. There is another scene that sees Satan (this time a lawyer) offering Christ (Daniel of course) Montreal. The film, like the Passion Play itself, is a tragedy but in his own way Daniel does bring sight to the blind, life to the dead and it is the established religious orders that condemn him.

This is a fine, fine film and one that I cannot recommend highly enough – I am going to link below to the Koch Lorber Films version in the hope that it is a better print. The imdb page is here.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Taliesin Meets: The Omen (2006)

Remakes… I am torn over the concept generally as there are good and bad examples. I may be alone but I prefer the US remake Let Me In over the original (and still damn fine) Let the Right One In. For every remake that is worthwhile (Dawn of the Dead is brilliant both as the original and the remake, for very different reasons, for instance) there is a rubbish one – I’ve been trying to expel the memory of the Haunting remake since I saw it and the least said about the Wicker Man the better.

There are also remakes that are fairly pointless and I have to say that this John Moore directed remake of the Omen is just that. Why? Because there is nothing about it that improves over the original and the original still stands the test of time.

There is a modernisation – clearly it was set in contemporary times. We get involvement of the Vatican that was conspicuously missing from the first film. In this case the Vatican discuss the impending birth of the antichrist – known because they are aware of the prophecies and have spotted a comet in the night skies – but actually do bugger all to prevent the antichrist’s coming so their presence at prologue and epilogue is pointless.

There are slight changes to the story, Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is a diplomat, rather than Ambassador, in Rome and godson of the President. Again Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) is swapped for his dead baby without his wife Kathy (Julia Stiles) knowing. He is named deputy ambassador to England and gets the full Ambassadorial role due to a bizarre (and infernally manufactured) accident that kills the Ambassador (Marshall Cupp) and leaves thorn the US’s youngest ever Ambassador. But it is window dressing to explain why such a young man becomes ambassador.

aesthetic change
The changes thus are minor; when the Nanny (Amy Huck) kills herself the hell hound is a black German Shepherd rather than a Rottweiler but then the motif is switched back to Rottweilers for the rest of the film, she hangs herself but doesn’t smash through a window and it is Robert not Kathy who clutches Damien. It is all aesthetic changes.

Similarly the impalement of Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite) sees the rains already pouring when he meets Thorn, it is a railing not a lightning conductor that falls and impales him, and said railing passes through a strangely positioned piece of stained glass that then peppers the corpse. Window dressing once again and no more effective for it. Indeed the scene is slightly weaker than the original. A zoo scene replaced the safari park but the gorilla cracking glass was not as powerful an image as the baboons attacking the car in the original.

suicide fantasy
There is the addition of bad dreams haunting the protagonists. Kathy dreams of killing herself and a demonic presence. There are also presences that seem to flit pass Brennan, indicating a demonic presence. This ignores the “less is more” concept that made the first film so powerful. Part of the problem was the acting. I am not suggesting that either Liev Schreiber or Julia Stiles performances were necessarily bad but they lacked the obvious chemistry that underpinned the characters when portrayed by Gregory Peck and Lee Remick.

just not as creepy
The ending itself made a little more sense as police put there to guard people such as Thorn would be armed, however that would only account for the police at his gate that follow him. The armed police who actually kill Thorn would not have had chance to be scrambled in the timeframe suggested by the ending.

All in all, however, this is not a bad film. It is just pretty darn pointless. If you want the Omen then I think you’re better off watching the original. The imdb page is here.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Taliesin Meets: Omen IV: The Awakening

Okay… so I’ve seen it now and will never be able to scrub the memory of this facile piece of junk from my mind. The fourth Omen film was a TV movie (that managed to get a theatrical release in the UK and Australia, somehow) made in 1991. It tied itself into the other films with the name Damien Thorn but it also missed a lot out. It was directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard who walked out during production to be replaced by Jorge Montesi.

Now I had heard a lot about this being about the return of the antichrist (Damien having been killed at the end of the third film) in the form of a girl – named Delia (Asia Vieira) – in actual fact this is most definitely not the case. Delia is not the antichrist… what she is, is… well that would be a huge spoiler and I do intend to spoil it, but not just yet. After all, if you haven’t seen it and I do spoil it, I may save you the pain of watching it.

So we start with the adoption of a baby by the Yorks, Karen (Faye Grant) and Gene (Michael Woods). She is a successful attorney (he may be as well but he is about to turn to politics) and whilst they are both fertile they haven’t been able to have kids. The nuns at the orphanage tell them that the baby’s parents were at college together (this of course is a lie that we will unravel later). Once the new parents have left the younger nun (Megan Leitch) goes bonkers, whilst the older one has a heart attack. During this we discover that the older one thought it more of a sin to kill a child, despite knowing whence it came from.

Kirlian photography
So we get the growing up of Delia, her father becoming an honest politician (really, he is painted whiter than white all the way through) and Karen becoming more and more distrustful of the child. During this we see them adopt a Rottweiler after it save Delia from being squished by a truck, her behaviour in school becomes more and more errant and the priest who baptised her manages to be killed by satanic powers. They get a new age nanny who sees her healing crystals turn black and a kirlian photo shows Delia to have a murky mess of an aura.

infernal choir
Eventually, when Delia reaches the age of eight, a suddenly pregnant Karen hires a private eye (Michael Lerner) to uncover the truth about her daughter… this he does, discovering that the listed parents were just names of two people who died in the thirties, that sister Yvonne (the younger nun) turned prostitute and then snake handling prophetess and he gets the father’s name (if he got the mothers then it wasn’t mentioned in film). Following posting his findings he sees a nativity scene turn evil, a Christmas choir become a demonic choir singing the omen theme (which was seriously one of the worst bits of the movie) and is killed by a possessed wrecking ball.

Delia... not the antichrist
So, who were Delia’s parents and is she the antichrist? We discover her father was Damien Thorn… we will ignore the roughly 9 year gap (there is nothing in this that offers a date and so, at a push, it might be 1983 rather than 1991). There is some conjecture online that Kate Reynolds was the mother but no reason to suppose this other than the fact that Reynolds and Thorn slept together in The Final Conflict. Delia, however, is not the antichrist. She does talk about being told things by her father (whether she referred to the devil or the antichrist is not established) but the antichrist is mostly referred to (in film) in the masculine. The question is asked once as to whether the antichrist could be female.

We discover also that Delia carried her twin in her body in such a way that the foetus was viable. During the film there is a horse accident and she is hospitalised. The satanic doctor (Madison Mason) admits that he extracted the foetus at this point and subsequently implanted it into Karen (how this occurred with no physical trace on her body is not gone into and we must suppose that her body accepting the foetus was supernaturally aided). The son, Alexander, is the antichrist – indeed when Delia suggests to Karen that she really see him there is the 666 birthmark in his palm.

dead nanny
Piffle… absolute piffle. Beyond in film issues and the dating problems perhaps inherent in the film, there is also the fact that the film overlooks the fact that there had been the second coming of Christ in the third film – something the world would have noticed, one feels. The acting is about what you’d expect from a TV movie, the character Delia is drawn as sociopathic and nasty – rather than charming and insinuating as one would expect. It is just a bad old way to end the series.

If I was you I’d pretend it never happened. I, however, will now turn my attention to the 2006 remake of the first film but, in the meantime, The Awakening’s imdb page is here.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Taliesin Meets: Omen III: The Final Conflict

In 1981 a third Omen film was directed by Graham Baker and starred the marvellous Sam Neill as Damien. Now, as a kid I enjoyed this film and it has been an awfully long time but… God it has suffered due to my growth into a more critical individual.

It seems that in 1981 scriptwriters lost all sense of calendar, both in terms of a series of films and within the film itself. What do I mean? Well, let us get to the beginning of the film.

The film starts with some sort of tunnel being dug. It seems this is under the ruins of the Thorn museum and a worker pockets the unearthed sacred daggers, previously lost to a blaze that consumed the museum at the end of the last film. So the reappearance of the only items that can kill the antichrist is addressed in film (rather than in the novelisation of the film).

ambassadorial suicide
Now the film is set in 1982… we know this because Damien tells the US President (Mason Adams) that he intends to run for senate in 1984 – 2 years away. This being the case then the first film should have been set in the 1950s (or maybe the later 40s) but it was clearly set in the 70s. Later in the film it is said that he had been in charge of the Thorn Empire for seven years and took over in 1971… not only wasn’t he born in 1971 but we have established the film to be set in 1982 not 1978… oh dear. Anyway Damien knows that the Nazarene (or Christ) will be reborn in England, due to biblical prophecy, and so has the UK ambassador kill himself and is subsequently asked to be the ambassador. He is also made president of the UN Youth council.

Damien with Christ statue
Whilst over in jolly old England he seduces a TV Journalist, Kate Reynolds (Lisa Harrow), corrupts her son Peter (Barnaby Holm), whilst collecting daggers from inept monk assassins (I’m sorry but they are absolutely inept, surely the Vatican could have dug up some warrior priests). Unfortunately the return of Christ starts to drain his power (one would have thought that the Christ and antichrist should have been in perfect balance but that would be too logical) and so he has his aid Harvey (Don Gordon) send Damien’s apostles out to kill every boy child born on that special day.

revealing the Nazarene
Now I did like the apostles as they were ordinary people; a vicar, a nurse, boy scouts… Harvey’s son, unfortunately, was born on that day and Harvey tries to keep him from being killed but eventually the child is taken by Damien’s satanic powers. But this is just another example of ineptitude in the film because, whilst Damien knew from the bible that Christ would return to England, he clearly didn’t read the related passage that revealed he would return as a king (or grown man) and not a child.

when doggies go bad
That could be the story of the film. Ineptitude. Inept script writers who can’t calculate dates, inept priest assassins who keep dying, an inept aid who can’t save his son, an inept antichrist who doesn’t know his bible, an inept journalist who doesn’t notice all the dead babies were born on the same day until a priest points it out. Inept.

Sam Neill as Damien
Luckily the film has Sam Neill, which makes it watchable because critical faculties make the story hard to accept. Certainly not as good as I thought it was as a teenager. Next in my exploration of the Omen we get to the two films I haven’t watched before. A fourth in the series and a remake of the first film. In the meantime the imdb page is here.