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Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

NO less a cool cat than Jack Nicholson actually chokes up on camera describing the debt he owes producer Roger Corman, the long-reigning king of exploitation filmmaking.

Why? Back in the 1960s, Corman effectively sustained Nicholson's career for a decade with work in such cheapo classics as The Terror, Little Shop of Horrors and The Raven, before he broke out as a star in the 1969 indie hit Easy Rider.

Other actors, directors and screenwriters benefitted from Corman's gift for spotting talent, and this doc features interviews with most of them, including screenwriter John Sayles (Piranha), director Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha), and actors Robert De Niro (Bloody Mama) Pam Grier (The Big Bird Cage) and William Shatner (The Intruder).

Most of the doc was shot prior to Corman's receiving a long-overdue honourary Oscar and, indeed, the whole film is devoted to making the case that he deserved it for effectively revolutionizing how Hollywood works and what kind of movies it makes.

It does this instead of exploring Corman's acknowledged "dark side," the thing that compelled him to effectively make sex and violence (sometimes in combination) into mainstream entertainment.

If the result is hagiography, it's pretty entertaining, which is more than you can say for the kinds of films Corman produces these days (Piranhaconda, Sharktopus), his once keen eye for talent now sadly myopic. HHH

Monster Brawl

LOTS of movies are inspired by trash culture. Monster Brawl, inspired by '80s wrestling programs and monster movies, goes that extra mile.

It's not really a three-act movie as much as an affectionate feature-length parody of a wrestling program, pitting various supernatural figures -- a mummy, a werewolf, a witch, a Frankenstein monster, a swamp creature, a zombie, and a vampire woman -- against each other in the ring.

It's a low-budget labour of love for writer-director Jesse Thomas Cook, a Collingwood, Ont., native who drafted fellow Collingwood homeboys Dave Foley and Art Hindle to play ring announcers Buzz Chambers and Sasquatch Sid, respectively. Decent gore and makeup effects notwithstanding, Foley offers a reason to watch, channeling sports broadcasters Howard Cosell and Foster Hewitt for his character and layering on his inimitable deadpan delivery, as when a ghoulish crypt-keeper type pops in to say the whole enterprise is doomed: "Thanks for dropping by with that wonderful bit of forboding."

This "ultimate fight of the living dead" is a bit more fun than the average WWE wrestling broadcast -- and just as credible. HH

A Dangerous Method

THIS drama about the schism between psychotherapy giants Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung has the look of a Merchant-Ivory prestige historical/costume drama. The evidence we're in David Cronenberg country is a sadomasochistic relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and a beautiful young patient, played by Keira Knightley. The Toronto-based director has gone to that well in films such as Videodrome, Dead Ringers, M Butterfly and Naked Lunch.

Here, he explores it more out of intellectual curiosity, examining the shifting dynamics of power, not only between the doctor and patient, but between the paternalist father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud and the young upstart Jung.

Only Cronenberg would cast Viggo Mortensen as a Russian Mafia hoodlum in one movie (Eastern Promises) and Sigmund Freud in the next.

The focus, however, is primarily on Freud's brilliant acolyte-turned-rival. Working in a prestigious Swiss sanitarium, Jung employs Freud's "talking cure" in the case of Knightley's disturbed Sabina Spielrein, whose animalistic behaviour masks an intellect as formidable as Jung's.

In fact, Freud's prescription coupled with Jung's insight works brilliantly on Sabina, who is doubly rewarded by the treatment. It allows her a place to explore her own damaged psyche, and will ultimately place her on a level playing field with the intellectual giants of her day.

But Sabina's case dovetails into Freud's theory that sexuality is the driving force behind all human behaviour. Jung is compelled to cheat on his loving wife with Sabina to explore his own sexual nature, which involves lovingly administered spankings.

Knightley is miscast. The actress's interpretation of out-of-control neurosis simply does not register as real. It tends to throw a spike into the machinery of the movie. (Pardon the Freudian image.)

But it does not entirely subvert the film. Cronenberg and screenwriter Christopher Hampton deliver both an illuminating history and a compelling psychodrama. HHH

Top DVD Rentals

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

2. Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy

3. The Descendants

4. Immortals

5. Tower Heist

6. Jack and Jill

7. The Adventures of Tin Tin

8. Hugo

9. The Three Musketeers (2011)

10. Young Adult

-- Rogers Video, week ending March 25

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2012 E4

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