Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top Sensation (1969)

It seems there are always new potentials to explore with an isolated movie setting in a mansion, small villa, or castle, where a number of situations with fixed conditions can arise, murders can go unnoticed, and the sexually liberated can binge to their heart’s content. The peculiar sex crime thriller Top Sensation (aka The Seducers) embraces the many possibilities of the isolated story setting but does away with the more conventional remote house and substitutes it with a private recreational yacht, setting most of the movie on the open sea. Cabins below deck are the lavish bedrooms, the control room makes a nice study, and the poop deck is obviously the lounge, for partying, adultery, and all other manner of fun nonsense.

Top Sensation was directed and written by Ottavio Alessi who has writing credits for some thirty-two movies, which include Dick Smart 2007 and Emmanuelle in America, but only two directing credits with Top Sensation being the last film he ever worked on as a director. The soundtrack, by Sante Maria Romitelli, consists of a melodic and epic sounding piece that could’ve come from a Spaghetti Western but does still manage to feel very welcome here and is extremely memorable.

A big selling point to this movie is the fact that it stars Edwige Fenech and Rosalba Neri. Both of these Eurocult goddesses in the same movie, in the same sex scenes together, is a big deal. Fenech hadn’t quite cemented her fame in several giallo films yet at the time the film was made, and so the fact that she and Neri were together in the same movie was probably incidental, but in retrospect it’s a glorious spectacle. However, after watching Top Sensation it should be apparent that this is not the film’s only credential.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Alice / Neco z Alenky (1988)

I’m starting to realize I have a weakness for filmmakers who have their own distinct style, the type I could easily recognize even if I didn’t know what movie I was watching.  After having a blast watching several of his short films on YouTube, I became hooked on a lot of the inherent, and consistent, characteristics of Czech surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer’s films. He’s a hero of sorts of the stop animation technique, bringing inanimate objects like food and clay sculptures to life in very perplexing ways. What really got me, after watching a particular short film by Svankmajer, simply titled Food, was the way actual human actors were utilized in stop motion sequencing, something known as pixilation, which created a super strange reality, where people seemed to hover around and move like androids, and eat like monsters. Of course, stop motion has quite often been used by many filmmakers, but Svankmajer’s surreal style tends to lead to pretty morbid and bizarre visuals that are also amusing and humorous (the fourteen minute short Virile Games (1988) comes to mind).

After making short films for twenty years, Jan Svankmajer made his first full length movie, Alice, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), a book that is supposedly for kids but still works for adult readers too, especially ones still in touch with their inner child. The anthropomorphic creatures of Carroll’s dreamland present a perfect opportunity for Svankmajer to create a unique vision with his distinct stop animation style. It’s also that much creepier and a tad bit disturbing that most of the creature models used were once living animals, like the skulls, the stuffed White Rabbit, or the barracuda head.

Just about everything we know from the book is done with a different interpretation, here. Perhaps the simple title of Alice is fitting enough, for her dream doesn’t really feel quite like the Wonderland we all know. In this case, the title Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland could be modified to something more like “Alice’s Nightmares in an Animator’s Workshop.”