Wednesday, July 31, 2013

RIP: Michel Lemoine (1922-2013)

Our friend Lucas Balbo brings us the unhappy news that French actor, writer and director Michel Lemoine (pictured above) passed away on July 27 at the age of 90.

An uncanny screen presence, handsome yet otherworldly, Lemoine had been acting in films for more than 15 years when he got his first real starring role in Romano Ferrara's PLANETS AGAINST US (1962). He also starred in the first features by Jose Benazeraf, SIN ON THE BEACH, NIGHT OF LUST and JOE CALIGULA, which initiated his continuing interest in erotic cinema, while also playing the villain in Mario Bava's first western THE ROAD TO FORT ALAMO (1964); in an interview, he remembered his incredulity at working with Bava, one of his heroes, and plaguing him with all manner of fannish questions at the end of each work day.

Later in the 1960s, he worked in two of the Gamma I films by Antonio Margheriti, and he and his one-time wife Janine Reynaud worked together in Jess Franco's SUCCUBUS, KISS ME MONSTER and SADISTEROTICA (now known as TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS, in which he played Franco's recurring character Morpho). The image above, from SUCCUBUS, finds Franco proposing Lemoine's mind-controlling character as a "new" Aurora monster hobby kit meant to accessorize a new era of post-modern fantasy cinema; it's still one of the most brilliant and hilarious moments I've ever seen in a movie. Lemoine's many other films of interest include THE CASTLE OF CREEPING FLESH, FRUSTRATION (also by Benazeraf), SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN (which he directed) and numerous erotic films, some of which he helmed under the aliases John Armando and Michel Leblanc.

One of the most extraordinary faces of the Eurofantastique, and one of its biggest fans, he will be missed.

Friday, July 19, 2013

To Fight Monsters: Initial Reaction to PACIFIC RIM

Guillermo del Toro's PACIFIC RIM is a leviathan of a movie. I have minor complaints but I can't urge people enough to see this movie now, in IMAX 3D if at all possible, where the action is whale-sized and the sound mix thuds against the chest like atrial fibrillation, and not wait for its Blu-ray 3D debut. This is a film built to be enveloping and felt like a tsunami wave. It's bound to lose a great deal in its translation to home entertainment -- I imagine it must lose something even when viewed in 2D, though it was shot that way. The 3D conversion is spectacular and I suspect this might become one of those movies, like Gance's NAPOLEON, that will demand a generational reissue to the big screen 50 or 80 years further down the line, if we still have such things.
It's not a remake or a reboot of anything, but it is also a microscopically detailed tribute to many things in our genre. I noticed homages to STARSHIP TROOPERS, CLOVERFIELD, JURASSIC PARK, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, and there are also homages incorporated into the creature design, little nods to characters like Gamera adversaries Zigra and Gyaos. As I expected with Guillermo del Toro guiding things, the film is an expression of love directed toward a veritable panorama of fantastic cinema, with its fantasy gently but firmly steered onward and upward, toward levels of adult stress that those aforementioned films may have noted but never dared address with such gravity or intensity.
Most commentators about the film are getting completely hung up on the monsters and robots element, but there is a human element at work here too, and it's what elevates this story above the level of the rock 'em sock 'em. The movie is rich with great characters -- certainly not original characters, but familiar archetypes given a renewed sense of life and depth with better writing and heavyweight performances. Likewise, while ethnically diverse, the film is refreshingly unburdened with racial stereotyping. Everyone here blends together under a common threat.

Idris Elba (as Stacker Pentecost) and Rinko Kikuchi (as Mako Mori) are extraordinary, Ron Perlman is properly larger than life as the cheekily named Hannibal Chau (whose crew cannibalizes the dead kaiju, harvesting their remains for various purposes), and even the secondary characters are remarkable. Burn Gorman as Gottlieb is a fusion of Colin Clive and Dwight Frye, doing everything but stopping to pull up his sock, and Robert Kazinsky plays the thorn in our hero Charlie Hunnam's side shadings of complexity that reminded me very strongly of the young Oliver Reed. The heart of the film, the scene it most needed to pass with full marks, the fulfillment of its essential promise, is Mako Mori's childhood flashback -- and it's one of the most emotionally wrenching scenes I've ever seen in a monster movie. Little Mana Ashida makes it a classic, reminding us that it's really the acting -- not the special effects -- that sells this stuff.
My only real complaint about the picture some might consider a big one, but for me it's just an incidental complaint in the midst of a very rich meal: I wasn't too impressed by the creature design. The creatures were supposedly designed with the idea that they could be men-in-a-suit, but they didn't strike me as conceptually original and basic as the screen's most memorable monsters; instead, they reminded me of the CLOVERFIELD critter put through a customizing kit. As a kid, I saw many of the forerunners of this film at weekend matinees and I would spend the next week or so drawing them from memory. Could kids today go home and draw these creatures from memory? Would they want to? That's the one level where I feel the film's imagination failed. The creatures are overwhelming, they are believable, but they are lacking something all the great Toho characters had in spades: character. Instead, they have a block-fisted comic book dynamism that, for me, consistently brought to mind the art of Jack Kirby, much as SPOILER the plotline about the monsters being the exterminating vanguard of a planet-sucking being SPOILER OVER made me think of the Silver Surfer and Galactus. (Really and truly, the film's dedication should have been extended to include Kirby, who gave us all those Marvel Monsterworks with Fin Fan Foom and Googam, which have much more to do with this brand of film than anything by Ray Harryhausen -- as I believe Harryhausen himself would be the first to agree.) I feel the movie could only have been enriched further, it would have raised its stakes, had del Toro given us something soulful to champion about the monsters, as they marched toward the dehumanized colossus robots sworn to protect humanity. At the same time, the level of talent in the human performances frequently breathes fresh life into some clichéd dialogue -- such as "This is for my family."
As it is, I don't believe PACIFIC RIM is pure entertainment; as with the best genre fare of the 1950s, I think it contains some subtle messaging that makes it as slyly political as PAN'S LABYRINTH and THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE were overtly so, and the most balanced of all del Toro's films between art and commercialism. It's all there in the notion of "To fight monsters, we created monsters."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

EMMANUELLE ET EMANUELLE Report

As promised earlier, here is John Charles' statement about Lianne Spiderbaby's feature article in the about-to-be-released VIDEO WATCHDOG 174:

Once evidence of Lianne Spiderbaby’s plagiarism was posted online, I decided to examine the “Emmanuelle et Emanuelle” piece we have upcoming in VIDEO WATCHDOG 174 to see whether there were any instances of impropriety. I did this by entering 50% or more of each paragraph into Google and examining the results. What I got were random word matches that did not seem to constitute plagiarism and thus I told my editor, Tim Lucas, that the article seemed to pass muster.
This result was backed up in my mind when Tim reached out to Lianne about the controversy and asked about the work she had submitted to us. She replied,
"The Emmanuelle piece and the Skin piece I wrote for you is entirely my work.  It's my writing.” 
However, in light of further revelations, I decided to look at the article again using a different, more intensive method of searching that ultimately contradicted her claim of the work being entirely original.

Here are some examples that surfaced within the EMANUELLE IN AMERICA section. The passages in question have been taken from a review of the film on the Monsters at Play site by Lawrence P. Raffel that can be found here.
LS: "Emanuelle remains at a distance when she watches a woman getting off to a grotesque 8mm snuff film"
Monsters at Play review: "Emanuelle stumbles upon the fact that some of these richie folk are actually getting off on watching grotesque 8mm snuff films!"

LS: Emanuelle is willing to go the extra mile(s) to get a new and fresh scoop

Monsters at Play review:a nosy reporter fashion photographer who's always willing to go the extra mile for a fresh scoop

LS: powerful businessman named Eric Van Darren (Lars Bloch). Van Darren is a real winner; he keeps women of every astrological sign in his mansion

Monsters at Play review:  wealthy businessman Eric Van Darren. Van Darren's harem is comprised of one woman for each astrological sign

LS:  In the midst of a Caligula-like orgy

Monsters at Play review:  in the midst of a Caligula-like orgy

LS: an island where unattractive women can go to purchase sex from gorgeous young men

Monsters at Play review: some bizarre island where unattractive rich women can buy the services of nubile young men!
This was the extent of my examination as it was enough to indicate that the article was not wholly original, as promised.
In addition to what Tim and I have posted, this unfortunate occurrence will be discussed further in VIDEO WATCHDOG 175 for the benefit of our print readers.


John Charles

Associate Editor

VIDEO WATCHDOG


Monday, July 15, 2013

About the Lianne Spiderbaby Situation

Last week, on July 11, I was among the recipients of a blind-copied email from one John Timmerson. It forwarded a mass of unsigned documentation charging one of VIDEO WATCHDOG's contributors, Lianne Spiderbaby (McDougall), with plagiarism. The documents alleged that her articles for the Fear.net website had been removed after one of her articles -- a piece on Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA -- was found to be composited from writing obtained from three unattributed online sources, including critical-film.com, empireonline.com and blueray.highdefdigest.com. There was no indication in the mailing of how this investigation was launched, by whom, or what prompted it.

Two days later, on July 13, writer Mary Ann Johanson blogged that Lianne had plagiarized her review of the movie TURN ME ON DAMMIT! The news fuelled various fires on various discussion boards. As more examples began to surface, including some tied to her previous VW article about Pedro Almodóvar's THE SKIN I LIVE IN, Lianne posted the following statement on her Twitter page:

"I apologize for the plagiarism in my work. I am leaving journalism behind for awhile. I’m so very sorry to everyone esp those I’ve wronged."

Needless to say, this came as very distressing news to us at VIDEO WATCHDOG, not least of all because our new issue is now at the printer and it contains a lengthy feature article by Lianne Spiderbaby, about the Emmanuelle films of Sylvia Kristel and the Black Emanuelle films of Laura Gemser. VW's associate editor John Charles checked its content against Google and, I was relieved to hear, the piece came up clean. I would have been surprised had it turned out otherwise, because I worked closely with Lianne on its development, encouraging her to dig deeper into this and that, identifying more material that she needed to include, so it developed under close editorial guidance. I think it stands as a fine example of what she is (or was) capable of doing.

I don't really know Lianne, outside of a dozen or so emails. We've never spoken on the phone. It's my nature to trust the people I know and like until they give me a reason not to. She has always projected a public image of leading a charmed life and, on Facebook and elsewhere, I've seen muckrakers devote themselves to taking her down a few pegs, which is another reason I initially responded to this news with guarded suspicion. It was with these factors in mind, over the weekend, that I took the (in retrospect) presumptuous step of posting on a message board about all this -- before I was in possession of any facts, armed only with Lianne's shared side of things, my suspicions about that initial mailing, and my own beliefs about the integrity of her work for VW. I now regret doing this. Two days later, I am still not in possession of all the sides of this story -- who is? -- so it was wrong of me to involve myself as any kind of source, though I did so with the most solvent of intentions. As it happens, I only fanned the flames.

I don't argue the point that she abused her colleagues, and of course they have a right -- indeed, a duty -- to object, but they still have the integrity of their work and their good names. In contrast, Lianne's misconduct has already had a devastating effect on her authority, reputation and a most promising career.

I was asked earlier today if Lianne will continue to write for VIDEO WATCHDOG. In the eyes of its readers, a magazine is only as reliable as the people who write for it, so -- with the greatest regret -- I think not.

Addenda 7/15, 2:40pm:

Unfortunately, new findings have forced me to retract a portion of yesterday's statement. John Charles has notified me that evidence of plagiarism has been found in Lianne Spiderbaby's coverage of EMANUELLE IN AMERICA. John is preparing a statement we will be posting later in the day.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

First Look: VIDEO WATCHDOG 174

Now at the printer. Click here for an advance skim-through and free four-page sample.