Blu-Ray Review: Seconds

Director: John Frankenheimer
Screenplay: Lewis John Carlino
Based on a novel by: David Ely
Starring: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph
Country: USA
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1966
BBFC Certificate: 15


In my review of The Train earlier this year, I talked of my appreciation of John Frankenheimer and belief that he doesn’t quite get the respect he deserves. Back in the early 60’s he could do no wrong though. He had a run of four critical and commercial successes with Birdman of Alcatraz,The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May and The Train. This was followed up by the spiritual successor to the middle two titles, Seconds, creating an unofficial ‘paranoia trilogy’. A dark, unusual and quite challenging film, it wasn’t nearly as successful as Frankenheimer’s previous work, which may explain why its follow up was the more spectacular crowd-pleaser (and his first film in colour), Grand Prix. Over time, Seconds has been better appreciated though and Eureka have deemed it worthy of addition to their superlative Masters of Cinema series. I got hold of a copy to see how it stands up today.

Seconds finds the middle aged banker Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) unhappy with his life. A mysterious phone call from his supposedly dead friend Charlie (Murray Hamilton) offers a chance for improvement though. Charlie leads Arthur towards a shady organisation who promise their customers a fresh start by faking their deaths and setting them up with a new and sought-after lifestyle, with a new face to go with it (achieved through extreme plastic surgery). Although unsure of the procedure at first, Arthur is talked (or pretty much bullied) into it. He becomes Antiochus Wilson, a West Coast artist with the face of Rock Hudson. At first this new identity seems idyllic, bringing romance in the form of the free spirited Nora Marcus (Salome Jens) who helps loosen up the uptight former banker. However, as time goes on, Arthur/Antiochus finds that all is not as it seems and he learns to appreciate the true value of life so wants to re-assume his original identity. The question is, will the organisation allow it?

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: Lost Soul – The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau

 

The tales of epic cinema disaster that involve the 1990s remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau are many. Two extremely difficult actors to work with, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, the former was dealing with the suicide of his daughter, the latter was going through a nasty divorce at the time. Richard Stanley had developed the project for four years, but was replaced midway through shooting by New Line Cinema with John Frankenheimer. Stanley legendarily kept sneaking onto the set to sabotage shooting, as his original script was slice and diced on a daily basis. Basically a very expensive studio film was being changed on the fly while the actors and former director were hell bent on destroying the thing. The result is a terrible film, that is surprisingly watchable if only for its terribleness.

In the spirit of Jodorowski’s Dune and Lost in La Mancha, filmmaker David Gregory has interviewed many of the people involved, in particular showcasing Richard Stanley, in the whole debacle as a lessons-learned documentary. I missed this on the festival circuit, where it got a quiet, and quite sparse, release, but it is now getting theatrical/VOD distribution, and as a result, a new trailer was cut for the film. Enjoy.

A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 3

DemonSeed1

.
Eight-inch floppy disks! Aaaaah!!

 

Silk (2006 – Chao Bin-Su)
Within the first 20 minutes of Silk you’ve seen ghosts, a discovery that may lead to anti-gravity, a cop with incredible eyesight and a facility for reading lips, and an obese Canadian photographer. How do these elements fit together? And can they possibly do so without imploding? And what about the cop’s dying mother, the silk that ties the energy of the ghosts back to the real world, daylilies and facial tumors? Despite some treacly moments, it does manage to bring all these threads together, but certainly struggles along the way. Using straight dramatic moments, a bit of gore, some thriller aspects and ghost story elements, the film tracks the mystery of a boy ghost that a research team has trapped in a room. The entire story revolves around an anti-gravity discovery called a Menger Sponge which apparently traps energy and therefore can be used to counter gravity. A side effect is its ability to trap the energy of ghosts as well as allow us to see them. It really strains while trying to explain all these abilities and fumbles away most of the larger ideas it strives to get across. The moments with the ghosts remind one of Ju-On somewhat, but they never quite hit the proper atmospheric dread those films had and occasionally some of the scenes deteriorate into plain silliness. Particularly when they essentially ignore the reality that they’ve set up and start creating new boundaries for the ghosts. Also, I suppose that I shouldn’t pick on details, but when the cop opens fire on a crowded subway (shooting bullets sprayed with liquid Menger Sponge and aimed at a ghost only he can see), it’s rather baffling that the subway could pull into the next stop, have no one run screaming from the train and then close its doors and pull away with him remaining inside. And yet, there were some fine spooky images that, although they never quite “got” to me, were nicely realized.

Silk2
Silk4
Silk5

 

Demon Seed (1977 – Donald Cammell)
This particular demon seed is not the kind you might be expecting…One of the early “artificial intelligence is dangerous” warning films, this Julie Christie vehicle (based on a Dean R. Koontz novel) is chock full of wonderfully designed lab and ’70s “super-computer” equipment. Proteus 4 is the name of the big computer brain that has just been brought online and, though the government has plans to use it for some mundane number crunching, the computer scientists are still happy that they can use 20% of its cycles for beneficial research in health and environment sectors. The human brain behind the whole operation is Alex Harris and once he taps into Proteus 4 from one of his home terminals shortly after it goes online, he quickly realizes that the artificial brain has already figured out that humanity isn’t worth its CPU cycles. Proteus 4 wants to be let out of its box and allowed to acquire whatever knowledge it can on its own – a request that is quickly denied. But Proteus 4 has a backup plan…By going through the home terminal, it takes over the automated systems in Alex’s house (he has surveillance cameras, robotic arms and other machines to handle daily chores) and imprisons Harris’s wife Susan (the two are separated and he has just left the house for a few months). It gets a bit hit and miss from this point on as Susan (as played by Christie) jumps to hysterical behaviour far too quickly and shows no ability to use logic – a shame, because you always want to like Christie while she’s on screen (in pretty much any role). Proteus 4’s plan involves her because it wants to create its own offspring in order to vicariously explore the world. Yeah, you can see where this is going now right? It wants to impregnate Susan with its own synthetic sperm to create a new step in human evolution and manages to capture her and tie her down for numerous tests, the actual insemination and for the month long, speeded-up fetal development. Though you have to give the film credit for just going for its concept and letting it play out, it would’ve been nice to give Christie a bit of respite…

DemonSeed2
DemonSeed4
DemonSeed5

Would you like to know more…?