Phenomena (1985) Blind Spot Review

Phenomena (1985) (aka Creepers)

Directed by Dario Argento

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Donald Pleasence, Patrick Bauchau

Music by Goblin, Claudio Simonetti, Bill Wyman, Simon Boswell, Pina Magri

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
Phenomena is a 1985 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento and starring Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, and Donald Pleasence. Its plot focuses on a young girl at a remote Swiss boarding school who discovers she has psychic powers that allow her to communicate with insects, and uses them to pursue a serial killer who is butchering young women at and around the school.

My Opinion:

Here’s a quick list of links to my 2016 Blind Spot Reviews so far, including where I’d rank Phenomena:

8. Phenomena – ?
7. An Education – 7/10
6. Summer Wars – 7/10
5. True Romance – 7/10
4. THX 1138 – 7.5/10
3. Play Misty For Me – 7.5/10
2. Battle Royale – 8/10
1. Natural Born Killers – 8/10

I don’t have any experience with any Dario Argento films besides Suspiria or with any of the Italian “giallo” films. I’ve thought about exploring them but am pretty sure I’d find them too graphic – they don’t really look like the sort of thing for me. So this is written by someone with very little Argento knowledge & I have no idea if Phenomena is typical of his usual work or not.

This movie appealed to me as I of course like Labyrinth-era Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasence is pretty cool, the plot sounded interesting, and I’m a sucker for good cover art & like the above poster. Oh, and it’s from 1985. I’ve been wanting to see this for a long time, which is why it ended up on my Blind Spot list. I’m afraid it didn’t live up to my own hype but I’m glad I finally saw it & it’s one I think I like slightly more now, months after seeing it. It’s bizarre & I can’t honestly say it’s “good” by any means but bizarre is better than boring in my book.

I’ll say that this movie certainly doesn’t follow any Hollywood conventions (not that it would since it’s Italian, obviously) so I don’t know anyone I could recommend it to who doesn’t have a bit of an interest in film or filmmaking & wanting to explore the work of certain directors. I’m sure some fellow bloggers love this one, though, as it’s a movie blogger’s sort of film. Thinking of the ONE other Argento movie I’ve seen, Suspiria, I suppose Phenomena has a very similar structure. Actually, now that I think of it, I can see some similarities in the layout of Once Upon A Time In The West, which was co-written by Argento. What I mean by that is that I didn’t know what the hell was going on in West either (but it’s an absolutely beautiful film).

Phenomena’s plot is all over the place, to the point where it’s kind of hard to follow what’s going on. There are elements thrown in which seem completely unnecessary, like the whole thing with Connelly being able to communicate with insects. I thought that would be more important to the story but only one silly insect scene, which made no sense, seemed to be mildly important so it felt like something thrown in to make this movie sound more interesting than just a “killer is killing schoolgirls” slasher. It also unfortunately made Donald Pleasence’s character feel unnecessary as some kind of weird bug expert that Connelly just happens to stumble upon when becoming lost in the woods. Okay – I just re-read the entire plot at Wikipedia & Pleasence is a “forensic entomologist” helping work on the case of the murdered girls. Is that actually a thing? Can you use bugs to track down killers? Well, he’s in a wheelchair with a chimp as his assistant so that was cool – it reminded me of George A Romero’s Monkey Shines, which I had loads of fun reviewing HERE. Hmm… as Romero & Argento are friends, I wonder if Monkey Shines was partly inspired by this.

But I digress. As always, my reviews are all over the place. Kind of like this movie! I get the feeling that the visuals & general weirdness are more important to Argento than the plot anyway & I can appreciate that – I almost find these elements more important in a film as well. Make it an interesting enough film to look at and/or listen to and I won’t care if the plot isn’t the best (I’m thinking of movies like The Man Who Fell To Earth, which I loved but was seriously WTF). Speaking of being interesting to listen to, Argento used the great Goblin once again for the score. And he threw in some heavy metal songs which I can’t honestly say fit in AT ALL but I will never complain at an Iron Maiden song featuring very heavily in a film since that’s my favorite band. I guess the music helped add to the bizarre nature & very non-Hollywoodness of the movie. I made up a word there! I sound so professional.

I think I’m talking myself into liking this a bit more. The chimp helped – there should be more chimps in movies. I didn’t understand what the hell was going on half the time, the insect thing was honestly pretty stupid, it was a little too gory for me, and I’ve never been a big fan of slashers which show great delight in specifically killing women (which is why I know that “giallo” films probably aren’t for me). However, there are scenes I’ll never forget which is more than I can say for the majority of boring horror movies that get churned out by Hollywood with all its Hollywoodness. The visuals are interesting, the silly ending that turns this into something more like a typical American slasher like Friday The 13th, etc, has really grown on me as I think that’s what Argento was actually aiming for, there’s some Goblin & IRON MAIDEN!!!, there’s Dr. Sam Loomis & the President of the United States, there’s Jennifer Connelly’s eyebrows, and there’s a chimp. Who cares about the plot when you have all of these things?? Okay, I’m upping my rating by half a point. I’ve talked myself into liking this f*^ked-up movie.

My Rating: 7/10

**Here’s Iron Maiden’s Flash Of The Blade, which was used so heavily in this film that I’ll now never hear it without seeing Jennifer Connelly’s face…

And here are two interesting facts that I just read in IMDB trivia:

– “The film was inspired to Dario Argento after he learned that insects are sometimes used during murder investigations.” – Okay, so I guess that’s an actual thing.

– “Jennifer Connelly had part of her finger bitten off by the chimpanzee in the final scene at the end of the film. She was rushed to the hospital and the finger was re-attached.” – DAMN! I don’t like that chimp so much anymore.

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My Top Ten Movie Presidents 

In celebration of the release of Independence Day: Resurgence and Elvis & Nixon, I figured I’d do a list of My Top Ten Presidents In Movies. Which is a bit stupid since I’ve not seen either of these movies. 😉 I had planned to go to the Independence Day sequel on Tuesday & then do this list but, after the REALLY BAD reviews for it, I decided I couldn’t be bothered. So I watched an equally bad movie at home instead! (San Andreas… Hilarious!)

Anyway, I’ll shut up & just get on with the list. It’s a mix of real & fictional presidents. As always, they’re only on the list if I’ve actually seen the movie. So here are My Top Ten Movie Presidents (roughly ranked according to how much I like the character. kind of. sort of.):

10. Edward Herrmann as Franklin D. Roosevelt in Annie (1982)

9. James Adomian as George W. Bush in Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

8. Will Forte as Abraham Lincoln in The Lego Movie

7. Jack Nicholson as President James Dale in Mars Attacks!

6. Terry Crews as President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho in Idiocracy

5. Peter Sellers as President Merkin Muffley in Dr. Strangelove

4. Donald Pleasence as the President of the United States in Escape From New York

3. Morgan Freeman as President Tom Beck in Deep Impact

2. Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt in the Night At The Museum movies

1. Robert V. Barron as Abraham Lincoln in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Honorable Mentions:

The presidents in…

The Simpsons Movie
Dave
Independence Day
Air Force One
Big Game
Frost/Nixon
Back To The Future Part II
Beavis & Butt-Head Do America

A Few I’ve Not Seen:

Elvis & Nixon
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Lincoln
Primary Colors
The American President
Olympus & London Has Fallen

THX 1138 (1971) Blind Spot Review

THX 1138 (1971)

Directed by George Lucas

Starring: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie, Ian Wolfe

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
THX 1138 stars Donald Pleasence and Robert Duvall and depicts a dystopian future in which the populace is controlled through android police officers and mandatory use of drugs that suppress emotion, including outlawed sexual desire.

My Opinion:

Here’s a quick list of links to my 2016 Blind Spot Reviews so far, including where I’d rank THX 1138:

6. An Education – 7/10
5. Summer Wars – 7/10
4. True Romance – 7/10
3. THX 1138 – 7.5/10
2. Play Misty For Me – 7.5/10
1. Natural Born Killers – 8/10

First of all, I have to point out that I’m going to be reviewing this in an odd way. I’ve unfortunately only seen the Director’s Cut of THX 1138 as it’s the only version I have. I’m a bit of a snobby purist (even little things like replacing the guns with walkie talkies in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial pisses me off) so knowing that an original, minimalist, un-fucked-with version of THX 1138 exists and that it appears not at all easy to get a copy of seriously annoys me.

So I’m reviewing & rating this movie as if I’ve seen the original version as I can see that there’s a very good dystopian sci-fi film here hiding underneath a bunch of added & completely unnecessary digital bullshit. I know it’s a weird way to do this as I haven’t even seen the original so I can’t be as annoyed as I am with the stupid changes Lucas made to the original Star Wars trilogy (WHY, George Lucas? Why?!?!?) but I’ve looked into the changes that’ve been made & seen images from the original version so I have an idea of what it was like beforehand. There’s a really good comparison between the two versions along with images HERE at movie-censorship.com if you’re interested. For example:


The first image is from the original film. Lucas seems to be a big fan of “extending hallways, etc, and adding more people”. Many of the THX 1138 changes involve making an area look much larger and to have it filled with more things & more people. Why? I honestly don’t see the point. The thing I liked most about this film was its striking imagery, especially the stark white of the majority of the scenes in the beginning of the film. It was quite beautiful in its minimalist approach & this artistic vision is undone every time a very obviously altered scene crops up. A lot of the rather drab gray shots of the factory in the beginning are also replaced with completely new shots of a large & busy factory with a sort of golden hue instead. It’s a dystopian sci-fi film – the “drab” shots of the factory made more sense! Surely George Lucas is missing the entire point of his own film by making visual changes that work against its themes?


Okay – that’s ALL I’ll say about the Director’s Cut & its changes. I promise! I now just want to talk about this movie. The sci-fi dystopian (and/or sci-fi post-apocalyptic) genre is and always will be my absolute favorite above all others, which is why I put this movie on my Blind Spot list as I felt it was a huge gap in my knowledge of these sorts of films. And I did really like it, although it’s a hard one to actually recommend to others who aren’t die hard fans of the genre. If you don’t love this genre, you’re very unlikely to enjoy this movie. I’m not going to pretend that it’s not a bit of a struggle to sit through. It’s very slow, especially in the first half. I do love the story but, yes, it’s one that has been done in loads of “dystopian future” novels & films. No, I wouldn’t say it necessarily brings anything all that new to the table in terms of its themes but you have to remember the fact that it was released in 1971 and does actually feel ahead of its time. We’re just used to movies like these now as there have been a lot of similar ones since but THX 1138 deserves more recognition than it seems to have received. Visually, I think it has dated very well (and I do mean the original version) unlike some other sci-fi films of its time and the lower budget, minimalist look really is to thank for this.

I’ll be honest & admit that this is one of those films that I appreciate but that I like the “thought” of it more than the actual film itself. It’s a lovely work of art. I’m a sucker for great imagery & would happily stick a poster of an image from this film up on the wall of my cinema room (if I was rich and actually had a cinema room… that would be cool). I have very similar feelings about several other films I’ve watched since starting this blog: The Man Who Fell To Earth, Rollerball, Under The Skin, and Daft Punk’s Electroma. These are my favorite sort of movies & I loved them all (well, Rollerball was a bit weak & didn’t age as well) but plenty of people would sadly yet understandably find these films just plain unwatchable. Yep, THX 1138 is a struggle and I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that I fell asleep the first time I attempted to watch it. But I still ultimately find this sort of movie far more rewarding than most of the crap that gets made nowadays. I’d say that they’d never allow this sort of movie to be made now but things like Under The Skin & Ex Machina (which actually IS very good & totally watchable, FYI) prove that theory wrong. I’m glad that artistic movies like these which won’t please a mainstream audience or rake in loads of blockbuster money are still sometimes given a chance. THX 1138 easily fits alongside other visionary sci-fi classics and still feels relevant 45 years later. It really didn’t need to be messed with…

My Rating: 7.5/10

The Great Escape (1963) Review

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The Great Escape (1963)

Directed by John Sturge

Starring:
Steve McQueen
James Garner
Richard Attenborough
James Donald
Charles Bronson
Donald Pleasence
James Coburn

Music by Elmer Bernstein

Running time: 172 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia):
The Great Escape is a 1963 American film about an escape by Allied prisoners of war from a German POW camp during World War II. The film is based on the book of the same name by Paul Brickhill, a non-fiction account of the mass escape from Stalag Luft III in Sagan, in the province of Lower Silesia, Nazi Germany. The characters are based on real men, in some cases composites of several men.

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My Opinion:

This is the 23rd (and probably final for this year) movie I watched for my IMDB Top 250 Challenge. 23 in a year – I’m slacking! Just too many new movies to watch as well.

As I’ve said before, I’m least looking forward to all the westerns & war movies in the Top 250. But then I watched The Bridge On The River Kwai and it ended up being one of my favorite films I’ve watched this year (Review HERE). So I figured I’d give The Great Escape a chance as well. I’m glad I did – it’s brilliant!

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I didn’t know quite what to expect and I have to admit that I’ve never seen Steve McQueen in anything before this. I was surprised that he’s not exactly the main star of this – this is filled with lots of great actors who all share some equally big roles. I know he’s considered super cool and all that but I’ll stick with sexy Paul Newman as my favorite cool guy in old films for now. McQueen’s character is great in this, though – I should give more of his films a watch. ALL the characters are great in this film, which I think is what makes The Great Escape such a widely loved classic.

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I loved how they all had such different personalities in this film and they were all so well developed & the acting was superb. It’s one of those movies where you really feel like you know the characters by the end and this is probably the most important thing to me in a film. If you can’t connect with the characters, what’s the point? And they each have their own “specialty” when it comes to preparing their big escape. Brilliant! It’s hard to pick a favorite character in this as they’re all so good in different ways. Richard Attenborough has one of the most important roles as the brains behind organizing the whole escape and he’s very serious and it was weird watching him as I’ve only ever known him looking like he does in Jurassic Park (I know I know – I have no culture).

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Back to Steve McQueen: His character is cool & cheeky and maintains this great optimistic attitude in terrible conditions. He’s the guy who annoys his captors with his constant escape attempts. He’s called “the cooler king” as he spends most of his time locked away from the other prisoners after he keeps getting re-captured. He does his own thing & the only negative was that we don’t get to see him interact with the other characters much as he’s so often locked away. He develops a great friendship with another prisoner, though, who is also locked up next to him and this was my second favorite relationship in the film. There are several different relationships going on and, again, I’m sure everyone has their own personal favorite.

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I’m sure some guys go for the “tunnel kings”, the two guys in charge of digging the escape tunnels. Charles Bronson plays one of the tunnel kings. I have a little crush on Senior British Officer, Group Captain Ramsey (James Donald). I was excited to see him in this as I loved him in The Bridge On The River Kwai and he gets an even bigger role in this one. I loved how he supports & looks after his men and stands up for them by saying “it is their duty to try to escape” when he’s told by the German commandant of the camp that “there will be no escapes from this camp”.

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I’m leaving so many characters out but I’ll be here all day if I go into each of them in detail. The final ones I’ll mention form my favorite relationship in the movie: James Garner as “the scrounger” who finds ways of getting people the tools & other things they need and Donald Pleasence as “the forger” in charge of getting the forged documents ready for when the prisoners have escaped. Donald Pleasence was my favorite character in this film full of SO many likeable characters (even though I kept thinking he looked a bit like Phil Collins).

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This review is getting too long and all I’ve done is talked about some of the main characters but this film really does have one of the greatest casts and most memorable & likeable characters I’ve seen in a very long time. The story itself? Brilliant, of course. It’s about a massive escape attempt from a POW camp so it’s very tense & exciting and even though it’s a very famous movie I honestly had no clue how it was going to end as I’ve managed to avoid all spoilers for this. What I was surprised at was the “light” mood it managed to maintain throughout most of the movie. The prisoners have such positive attitudes and some have a great sense of humor and, of course, there’s the uplifting score with one of the all-time catchiest theme tunes EVER that I couldn’t help but whistle for days afterward. Considering the subject matter, it doesn’t go all “gritty” like modern war movies. Films were so different in the old days and feel so much more “epic” than what we get nowadays. Why is that??

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Summary:

I’ve been rambling on for ages & everyone has probably stopped reading by now so I’ll wrap this up. The Bridge On The River Kwai remains slightly ahead in my opinion – I think it’s a better film overall with some of the best acting I’ve ever seen thanks to Alec Guinness but The Great Escape, with its overall lighter tone and immensely enjoyable characters, is a very close second favorite war movie for me. Both films had the ability to leave me dumbfounded and just sitting there staring at a blank screen in silence for several minutes after they ended while I let what I’d just witnessed sink in. Such powerful films & mind-blowing endings – I find that very few movies in this day & age leave me feeling quite the same way. Brilliant stuff. I highly recommend The Great Escape (and The Bridge On The River Kwai) to anyone, like me, who is unsure of watching “war movies”.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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Why are there so few great theme songs for movies these days?