Category Archives: Progenitors

Progenitors: Stephen King: Carrie

Sissy Specek as CarrieThe Dark Tower is surely the biggest budgeted Stephen King adaptation thus far, releasing after a relatively long-lull since the King cinematic-adaptation factory downsized about a decade ago. With It primed to make a boatload at the box office in little more than a month, let’s take a look at a few of King’s most notable film adaptations, diamonds in a truly rough slog of visual atrocity. 

With Carrie – fittingly a story about the horrors of maturation into independent adulthood – director Brian De Palma finally crawled out of Alfred Hitchcock’s attic, where he had been lurking for most of his early films, and emerged as a force all his own. It was also a smashing success, instantly making De Palma a household name, but unlike many of his latter, equally commercially viable films – Scarface, The Untouchables, Mission Impossible – Carrie does not flatten out De Palma’s iconoclastic style or collapse his rhythms by aiming for middle-of-the-road spectacle. Retaining his unique style of frazzled poetry and trading in writer Stephen King’s dry, accusatory writing for a mood of erotic melancholy, Carrie is a mosaic of depleted teenage energy, and by far the second-best King adaptation in film history. (Behind, obviously, The Shining, only a very tentative King adaptation, and the one Stephen King hates the most). Radiating unpretentious pulp, Carrie exudes a quality of social neglect and personal loss, or never really belonging, thrumming with the outsider spirit De Palma brought to all his great films. In its own devilish way, Carrie is as much of a yardstick of teenage innocence and social ostracization as any song Bruce Springsteen was penning around this time. Continue reading

Progenitors: Stephen King: Misery and The Mist

The Dark Tower 
is surely the biggest budgeted Stephen King adaptation thus far, releasing after a relatively long-lull since the King cinematic-adaptation factory downsized about a decade ago. With It primed to make a boatload at the box office in little more than a month, let’s take a look at a few of King’s most notable film adaptations, diamonds in a truly rough slog of visual atrocity. 


A psychological pas de deux charged with the energy of exploitation, consider Misery a pile-on of Ingmar Bergman and Tobe Hooper, and lay back as the hammer comes out. Drawing toast-dry absurdist humor from director Rob Reiner’s naturally comic vein, this relatively snug adaptation of Stephen King’s writing is a mordantly tragic, truly mournful film that carries a deviously comic undertow of absurdity. The punishingly long, artistically pale TV adaptation of IT is more famous from the same year, but Reiner’s unnaturally terrifying film is the better work by far. Continue reading

Progenitors: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

conquest_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_5Among the five original Planet of the Apes pictures, 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is undeniably the most obvious forebear to the modern trilogy. A review of this most unheralded picture in honor of the conclusion of the new trilogy.

Human characters run toward the screen with imprisoned apes in tow, and a quavering camera courtesy of cinematographer Bruce Surtees trembles in reverse, as if cowering in fear. This hand-held style already puts us on a different, more unstable footing than the more classically composed delights of the original 1968 Planet of the Apes, but we’re in a film that is almost as good. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is also, in some sense, the closest analogue in the classic series to the beginning of the 2010’s series revamp, depicting the “conquest” that would become the “rise” in 2011. If anything, Conquest is even more explicit in its allegorical and essentially revolutionary nature than the modern films. Right in the thick of political disfiguration and social unrest, Conquest has Black Power on the mind and in the eyes, more overtly so than nearly any non-blaxploitation film of the ‘70s. Also suggesting America’s little venture into Vietnam, screenwriter Paul Dehn and director J. Lee Thompson hurtle right into the belly of the beast with guerilla aplomb. So many are wont to call Planet of the Apes “thinking person’s sci-fi” that they overlook how a red-hot screed like Conquest aims right for the gut. Continue reading

Progenitors?: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

ringstrilogyposterI so wanted to write some nonsense about Andy Serkis in War of the Planet of the Apes and in The Lord of the Rings films to make this connection, but really I had these reviews on my computer, and I guess that’s as good a reason as any.

Only fifteen odd years but many Hollywood eons ago, Peter Jackson’s much-vaunted trilogy was the commercial and critical darling of the cinematic world.  It enraptured both fair-weather film attendees and cinephiles alike, and it could seemingly do no wrong. Its reputation hasn’t flagged at all. Although time salves the reptile brain’s immediate magnetic attraction to Jackson’s visual splendor, the trilogy has never truly been framed and squared-off into a museum piece, a taxidermied old classic to rest on the mantle rather than a lively, kicking thing to unsettle your ribs to this day. It isn’t a whirlwind of living and breathing sensations any more, but if the paint has dried, it hasn’t chipped, let’s say. All these years later, why do the films settle so cozily into the imagination while so many other blockbusters of the time are more like skeletons on an abandoned summer-time battlefield of the mind? Continue reading

Progenitors: Juice

tumblr_n55vuzfb8q1ral8aao1_500This review written on the occasion of the release of All Eyez on Me and Juice’s twenty-fifth anniversary.

Ernest R. Dickerson begins his directorial debut with the kind of concert opener that establishes imaginative kinship with his prior-collaborator Spike Lee, who Dickerson lensed Do the Right Thing and other films for. A sketchy psychedelic swirl opens up a portal to a spinning record, a marker of four-on-the-floor movement to stoke palpable creative juices, as the credits boom into place over the movement. But as the film hustles along and reveals its true register, hinting at the tiny particles of existential angst lingering beneath and structuring the free-wheeling days of its characters, the incessant and inevitable circular motion of the record takes on a much darker resonance. Unceasing and perpetual, the non-linear movement of the musical artifact increasingly registers as an emblem of life in simultaneous movement and stasis. The characters in the film – four high-school teens in the inner-city – are always on the move, always plunging into some new venture or searching for an opportunity to make money, but the labyrinthine inner-city streets are less prisms of opportunity than prisons. These boys know how to make moves, but they don’t seem to be able to go anywhere. Continue reading

Progenitors (also Un-Cannes-y Valley 1981): Excalibur

excalibur-poster-1Referring to Guy Ritchie’s rather trivial take on the Matter of Britain, here are the three most interesting filmed versions of the tale.

Director John Boorman was always up to no good in the film world, both to the medium’s benefit (Point Blank) and its detriment (Exorcist II), although I have to admit that Zardoz belongs in the annals of essential cinema simply as an artifact of the medium at its most casually disregarding common-sense. Take Excalibur, which occupies Boorman’s customary mode of multi-aesthetic pile-up, where the foliage of legend abounds, the effect of which is a loopy, nonsensical gamble, excessive and adjacent to hallucination. An early battle is staged as a conundrum, not quite as wonderfully unstable as the abstract battle in Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight but in the same cul-de-sac, especially when judged by blockbuster standards. Silhouettes poised with sinister intent, devoid of human specificity, are an early indication of Boorman’s mythic inclinations and his treatment of the material as spiritual divination. Despite Boorman never having directed in this genre before, I could show you a highlight reel and give you the rough release date and you, the hypothetical connoisseur of gonzo cinema, might well be able to narrow it down to Boorman in a heartbeat. There’s also enough vaginal imagery to perk any mid-century psychoanalyst’s ears up; It’s that kind of motion picture. It’s as though Boorman received the film fully formed through divine intervention. Continue reading

Progenitors: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

monty-python-image-1Referring to Guy Ritchie’s rather trivial take on the Matter of Britain, here are the three most interesting filmed versions of the tale.

A million and one of us can hone in on a panoply of specific moments, turning critique of Monty Python and the Holy Grail into appreciation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well, not incidentally, an exercise in masturbatory self-congratulationAfter all, the titular creators were sketch-artists and not narrative dramatists, so it goes without saying that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a loosely-strung together hodgepodge of semi-connected and often contradictory, incommensurable pieces. But it’s the broad swath that impresses most, the keen eye for the scatter-brained nature of myths like Arthur that always seem to be trangentially reinterpreting themselves but not moving forward, struggling to plaster up the plot-holes in an essentially fuzzy and incomplete tale striving for the hazy appearance of sense. (The same, incidentally, is true of religion, which would be the Python’s next target). As a critique of the nature of sanding down the oddities and curiosities of a badly taped-together myth in order to approximate a precise narrative, Holy Grail actually makes a nice double-feature with the previous year’s Lancelot du Lac, the only other cinematic adaptation of the tale openly attuned to the fact that myths and legends only pretend to flow easily to hide the aporias and accidents that construct their very fabrics. Continue reading