25 November 2013

Flash Review: Hangover Square

Hangover Square (1945)
Directed by John Brahm. Starring Laird Cregar, Linda Darnell, George Sanders, Faye Marlowe, Alan Napier.

I've wanted to watch Hangover Square for years, ever since I first heard Bernard Herrmann’s “Piano Concerto Macabre,” a concert piece based on his score. The concept of the music as part of the plot—it’s the concerto the tortured main character is composing—made it more intriguing.

However, before I rented the film, I read Patrick Hamilton's 1941 novel. It’s a fabulous work of World War II British fiction… and the movie bears only superficial resemblances to it. I appreciate the film as a well-fashioned “period noir” that melds psychological drama with the Victorian Gothic, but most of what makes the novel such a grim experience is highly romanticized on screen.

Hamilton's novel tells about the British lower class in a boozy slog toward the outbreak of World War II (the final chapter occurs on the day Britain declares war on Germany), seen through the eyes of the pathetic, jobless George Harvey Bone, a man with occasional episodes of psychotic black-outs. Bone has enslaved himself to a trashy actress named Netta Longdon who leads him on just to get drinks and food out of him. Hamilton weaves in the growth of fascism as a theme, making for a vivid portrait of Britain on the edge of the abyss.

19 November 2013

Visting the Site of the Crash: John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars

Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, Joanna Cassidy.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I thought writing two John Carpenter articles in a row was sufficient. I had a strong enough excuse to go two-for-two with Carpenter because of the Blu-ray debuts of Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness, films that have developed a growing and appreciative fan base. The idea of doing a third article on a John Carpenter film, let alone one on the critically rejected Ghosts of Mars… no that never crossed my mind when I penciled in on my calendar, “Blu-rays for PoD and ItMoM! Write for Black Gate!”

However, enthusiastic comments on both Black Gate and Facebook made it imperative I complete a John Carpenter on Blu-ray trilogy of articles.

(Oh, wait: Assault on Precinct 13 arrives on Blu-ray today. Should I go for four in a row? Or instead do that examination of the Russian animated film The Snow Queen in time for the release of Frozen? I wish more of life’s dilemmas were of this type.)

Watching Ghosts of Mars on Blu-ray was my first time seeing the movie since August 2001, when it managed to hold onto multiplex screens for a week. The horrific opening weekend—coming in ninth place—meant Ghosts of Mars rapidly evaporated into the thin atmosphere, leaving a carbon blast mark people interpreted as the end of John Carpenter’s career. The $28 million science-fiction action/horror film managed a dismal $14 million global gross. Yes, global. Even in a career like Carpenter’s, filled with disappointing box-office returns, Ghost of Mars crashed epically. The critical and audience reaction was also murderous; it seemed unlikely the film would join some of Carpenter’s other financial disappointments like The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China in future fan appreciation.

Yet Carpenter has always had a reputation for being ahead of his time. Was it now time for Ghosts of Mars? Did the passage of twelve years give the film a better sheen, offer more to digest?