April 2002

Rollerball

Rollerball In the year 2018, national government is a thing of the past. The world is run by global monopolies whose decision-making process is presented as wholly benign, but not something the general population needs to know about. Giving them a near gladiatorial game - namely Rollerball - through which their frustrations can be, and are, vented and through which thoughts of individuality and freedom can be smothered, ensures the docility of the population.

But what happens if one of the players becomes bigger than the game - inspirational rather than cathartic? The answer is simple enough - get rid of him.

The player in question is Jonathan E (James Caan) who, after an unheard of ten successful seasons, is told to retire by Bartholemew (John Houseman), chairman of the Energy corporation - sponsors of Es team. Clearly not used to being questioned, Bartholemew tells E that retirement is in his best interest and that he doesnt need to know the details.

Jonathan E resists this demand and, against a background of increasingly desperate corporate attempts to get rid of him, embarks on a personal mission to discover why he has been told to retire and how the decision was reached - questions that the global decision-makers would prefer to remain unasked.

Rollerball is a film about growing corporate power, about individual liberty and whether sacrificing the freedom to choose on the altar of physical comfort is a fair exchange. Given our increasing obsession with logos and brand names and the ever-expanding role of large corporations into every aspect of our lives, these questions seem even more pertinent now than they did when the film was made nearly thirty years ago.

The action scenes are, of course, what most people remember from Rollerball, and these are spectacular. There are three games shown during the course of the film - each progressively more dangerous as the Energy Corporation attempts to remove Jonathan E regardless of the cost, both human and financial.

Rollerball is an interesting and thought-provoking film with a truly unforgettable climax, and one that deserves to be seen. It is also a genuine science fiction film in that it attempts to extrapolate a future from present trends as opposed to the flashy CGI driven drivel that gives the genre such a bad name.

On a final note there is a remake of Rollerball (not yet released in Europe). From what Ive seen and heard of this film so far, the emphasis is very much on the game itself with the comfort vs. freedom storyline being completely dropped. This doesnt really surprise me - as long as MGM are providing sufficient on-screen violence, we shouldnt be asking who is deciding why there are so few original films being made nowadays.

Stop thinking at the back.

Desecration

Desecration Next time someone tells you that horror films are unimaginative exercises in throwing as much gore as possible at the screen, sit them down, produce your treasured copy of Desecration and make them watch it (some initial force may be required).

To be honest, I would have to agree that most horror films are unimaginative exercises in throwing gore at the screen (its a lot easier to gross an audience out than it is to actually scare someone), and of those that arent, far too many are of the clever, ironic variety - Scream and its descendents proving that, if an ideas worth doing once, its worth being done to death. The operative word, of course, is most. Its true, I think, of all genres that much of what is produced nowadays does little (and often, nothing) more than rehash older ideas and even plots; a state of affairs that leaves movie watchers in general and horror fans in particular ploughing through acres of formulaic mediocrity. So its a rare treat to see a film that is not only original, but also reminds you of why you started watching films of this genre in the first place.

Desecration is a genuinely unnerving film. Director Dante Tomaselli is a fan of Dario Argento - and, both visually and musically, it shows. But this is no cheap copy (okay, at $150,00 its cheap, but there is enough ambition and talent here to get every cent of the budget onto the screen).

The plot is simple, if not very linear, and kept well in the background allowing the story to be told primarily through imagery. This means, of course, that any three people will give you three different explanations of what the film is about. Personally, I always find it incredibly refreshing to find a film that actually makes me think rather than forcibly spoon-feeding me every plot point.

The film starts on Bobby Rullos (Danny Lopes) fifth birthday with his grandmother, Matilda, ascending the stairs towards the nursery and the sobbing child. Here she finds Bobbys mother dead in the balloon strewn room.

We then jump forward eleven years and a few miles down the road to find the teenage Bobby a resident at a Catholic boarding school. It is here that he manages to accidentally kill a nun (Christie Sanford). More accurately, something uses him to cause the death of the unfortunate nun - or maybe this is just my reading of it.

Either way, the death of the nun triggers a sequence of increasingly surreal and hallucinogenic events as the forces of Hell start to hunt Bobby down. And its the surrealism of this film that makes it such a visual treat - the Church is not only unable to help, but actively seeks to extricate itself from the events. Christian symbols - and concepts - are inverted. Childhood becomes, not a time of safety, but a place to be escaped…

Of course, nothing is perfect and I do have a few criticisms of Desecration. The scene in which the nun that gets it gets it ran for a bit too long, giving me enough time to see the limits of the special effects budget. Also there are a couple of weaknesses with some of the characters and acting - specifically, Irma St. Paules performance as Matilda was way over the top and I found that Bobbys Father (Salvatore Paul Piro) simply didnt ring true.

But these are minor criticisms. More serious was the abruptness of the ending. The film simply stops without reaching any sort of conclusion at all - this abruptness is the only reason I gave Desecration four stars and not the five I was intending for most of the film.

Desecration is a great film and one that I have watched twice in less than a month. Buy it, borrow it, see it - you wont be disappointed.

A final note - with the screener for Desecration, I also got hold of a five minute trailer for Dante Tomasellis second film, Horror. I cant wait to get my hands on this one.