3.31.2009

get yr release on


Methinks the words "happy" and "together" don't exactly mean what they usually mean in a Wong Kar-Wai movie.

Jai ho, DVD releases for the week of 3/31/09!


Region 1 and other U.S. releases:
- Biker Triple Mania!
- Bollywood Horror Collection Vol. 2
- Cat in the Brain (dir. Lucio Fulci)
- Crazy Animal (a Troma Films release)
- The Cremator (dir. Juraj Herz)
- Christina Lindberg: Exposed
- Crows Zero (dir. Takashi Miike)
- Cthulhu
- Danton- Criterion Collection (dir. Andrzej Wajda)
- Experiments in Terror 3 (includes films by Guy Maddin and others)
- Fallen Angels (dir. Wong Kar-Wai)
- Fatty Girl Goes to New York (starring Anita Ekberg)
- Film Noir Double Feature Vol. 3: Amazing Mr. X & Reign of Terror
- Fugitive Girls
- Happy Together (dir. Wong Kar-Wai)
- Holding Trevor
- Il Generale Della Rovere- Criterion Collection (dir. Roberto Rossellini)
- Isle of the Damned
- Marley & Me
- Martial Club (starring Gordon Liu)
- No Regret
- Poultrygeist (2 DVD edition)
- Raven
- The Same Old Song (dir. Alain Resnais)
- Seven Pounds
- Sinful Dwarf
- Slumdog Millionaire
- Star of David: Hunting for Beautiful Girls (dir. Norifumi Suzuki)
- Tell No One
- Terror Circus a.k.a Barn of the Naked Dead (dir. Alan Rudolph)
- The 3 Faces of Shinji Aoyama
- 3 Films by Alexander Sokurov: Oriental Elegy; Dolce; Humble Life
- Timecrimes
- Tokyo Zombie (starring Tadanobu Asano)
- Un Chant D’Amour (directed by Jean Genet) (reissue)
- William Eggleston: Photographer

US Blu-Ray:
- An American In Paris
- Chronicles of Riddick
- Ghosts of Mars (dir. John Carpenter)
- Gigi
- The Matrix (10th Anniversary edition)
- The One (starring Jet Li)
- Slumdog Millionaire
- South Pacific
- Tell No One
- Two Evil Eyes (directed by George A. Romero and Dario Argento)

Multi-region and other foreign DVDs:
- Celia (Dir. Ann Turner)- UK Region 2 PAL
- The Children- UK Region 2 PAL
- Choking Man- UK Region 2 PAL
- Detroit Metal City- Hong Kong Region 3
- Derek (doc about Derek Jarman, narrated by Tilda Swinton)- UK Region 2 PAL
- Escapees- UK Region 2 PAL
- Forever Enthralled (dir. Chen Kaige)- Hong Kong Region 3
- Gomorrah- UK Region 2 PAL
- Mandate- Southeast Asia Region 3
- Muriel, ou le Temps d'un retour (dir. Alain Resnais)- UK Region 2 PAL
- Nighthawks/Strip Jack Naked - Nighthawks 2 (dir. Ron Peck)- UK Region 2 PAL
- Not Quite Hollywood- UK Region 2 PAL
- Rivals- UK Region 2 PAL
- Rouge: Digitally Remastered (dir. Stanley Kwan)- Hong Kong Region 3
- Red Cliff 2: 2-Disc Edition (dir. John Woo)- Hong Kong Region 3
- A Time To Love and a Time To Die (Dir. Douglas Sirk)- UK Region 2 PAL
- Trail Of The Lonesome Pine (dir. Henry Hathaway, starring Henry Fonda)- UK Region 2 PAL
- Waltz with Bashir- UK Region 2 PAL
- The Wild Geese- UK Region 2 PAL


Dex on Slumdog Millionaire:
That the guy who helped make Irvine Welsh an international phenomenon jumped up and down like Tigger when he won the Oscar for best director makes me very happy; that it was for a Stay-Puft piece of nonsense like this does not. You can also feel Patrick's hate here.

Pike's DVD round-up: This is a big week for DVD releases so I'm want to quickly spotlight some of the interesting genre and foreign film releases that deserve more recognition than more widely known faux-Hindi crapfest above. First we have some real Hindi films coming out (albeit from the trashier side of the spectrum) with The Bollywood Horror Collection Vol. 2 offering up The Ramsey Brothers' Veerana and Purani Haveli in one set. Supposedly Veerana is the choice cut for fans of the fantastique as it is a Bava-esque gothic horror story about a resurrected witch, but transplanted to the rural plantations of India. Also out this week, from the seamier side of the film world, comes Lucio Fulci's self-reflexive gross-out picture Cat in the Brain from 1990, which beat Craven's New Nightmare and Scream to the meta-party by four years. Both Christina Lindberg (Thriller: A Cruel Picture) and Anita Ekberg (French Sex Murders and something called La Dolce Vita) have exploitation films premiering in region 1. Lindberg's Exposed (out from Synapse) is a sexploitation number about young Miss Lindberg being blackmailed by her older, sexually controlling lover who has compromising pictures of her. Fatty Girl Goes to New York is a comedy staring Italian pop singer Donatella Rettore as a plump ugly-duckling type that gets her sweet revenge against all of the meanies in her life thanks to Baroness Judith von Kemp's (Ekberg) secret slimming elixir. As for the cream of the crop (or bottom of the barrel, depending on how you look at exploitation cinema), we get two notoriously vile pieces of work this week with The Sinful Dwarf and Star of David: Hunting Beautiful Girls. The Sinful Dwarf is exactly what you think it is- a wee little pervert locks-up teen girls for forced fun in his mom's house (with her consent of course) while she sings dance hall numbers dressed-up like Carmen Miranda! Seedy stuff for sure but Star of David might have it beat. It is the only roman porno under the Nikkatsu banner that Norifumi Suzuki directed and is considered one of his best films. It centers on a young man who was conceived during a horrible home invasion incident where an escaped serial rapist took advantage of his mother and made his stepfather watch. Now on the verge of inheriting his stepfather's estate, he decides to get in touch with his biological family traditions! Beautifully shot, this film is like the completely irresponsible cousin of Imamura's Vengeance is Mine.

Getting out of the gutter for a minute, we also have some great art-house and studio fare coming out this week. Aside from the two Criterion Collection discs, we also get two massively cleaned up Wong Kar-Wai films with Fallen Angels and Happy Together. The transfers on these discs are amazing and make the old discs obsolete. The Happy Together transfer was taken from the new UK Artificial Eye transfer and you can check out difference at DVD Beaver. Also this week, we have an Alexander Sokurov box of short films that documents his work in Japan and a Czech new-wave film titled The Cremator. It is strange little film about a middleclass man who, with ever increasing delusions of grandeur, slips seamlessly into the Nazi Party line during Hitler's takeover of Czechoslovakia. Amber has pointed out that Lars von Trier's Europa has lifted elements from this film as I see a very definite influence on Lynch's Eraserhead. The Film Noir Double Feature Vol. 3 features two films shot by one of the masters of noir cinematography, John Alton. The first feature, Reign of Terror (directed by Anthony Mann), is an oddly compelling mix of film noir, camp and raw violence packaged as a French Revolution-type period piece. The other film, The Amazing Mr. X is a more conventional crime picture about a phony spiritualist/confidence artist, but is fun in its own right and looks fantastic. Finally, on the domestic front, Alain Resnais' delightful little romp through Dennis Potter's (The BBC serials The Singing Detective, Pennies from Heaven) garden, The Same Old Song (On connaît la chanson) is out for those enjoy the Gallic charms found in Resnais' late period work (also check it out if you enjoy the films of Demy, Varda, Chabrol and the like).

On the multi-region front, we have a slew of treats coming our way this week. From Asia we get subtitled discs of both John Woo's newest film Red Cliff 2 (which is the second half of his Han Dynasty epic starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Chen Kaige's latest Beijing opera melodrama, Forever Enthralled staring Leon Lai and Zhang Ziyi. We also get a re-release/digital clean-up of Stanley Kwan's great little love/double suicide/ghost story, Rouge, starring the late Hong Kong stars Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui. From over in the UK comes the Documentary Derek, put out last year by his friends Isaac Julien and Tilda Swinton. Here is an interview with Julien and Swinton from the Sundance channel that will give you a feel for the film. Also out is Ron Peck's Nighthawks packaged with the documentary about its making titled Strip Jack Naked: Nighthawks II. I guess you could say that this DVD is also Jarman related as he has a small role in Nighthawks. Also coming out is Not Quite Hollywood, the documentary about the Australian exploitation boom of the 70s. If you are going to watch this film, do it with pen and paper in hand because it covers a lot of films that you'll probably want to look into. Finally, the three films I'm most looking forward to getting this week are also UK releases: Alain Resnais' fantastic third feature Muriel, ou le Temps d'un retour, Douglas Sirk's A Time to Love and a Time to Die and Ann Turner's creepy girl-coming-of-age film, Celia. I have these on order and will do a proper review of each in the weeks to come.

3.30.2009

Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo

Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo (1977)
Critter: Banana Spiders, Phoneutria nigriventer (a.k.a. Wandering Spiders)
Size: 3 to 5 inches in diameter
Modus Operandi: Bite victims with enormous fangs, injecting a deadly poison containing both a neurotoxin and serotonin. Victims either become feverish for hours and die or just keel over and die instantly.
How the Menace Emerges: Stowaways on an Ecuadorian coffee shipment crash land in a sleepy CA orange town and head straight for the oranges
End Goal: Bite, bite, bite; kill, kill, kill

This is an odd little eco-horror flick, one without the usual nature’s revenge angle. Instead, this town lives on its organic produce production. Sure, killer spiders are bad news, but the problem is that if the townsfolk use pesticides, their oranges, nay the towns’ very life’s-blood will be worthless. What to do? The solution to all of their problems comes from using a little creativity to warp bee buzz into a scary, wasp-like sound to paralyze our deadly pals. But will it work?

Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo is much better made-for-TV fare than say, Ants. Although the acting and the script tend towards melodrama, it is chock full of the super star power of Sheriff Lobo and Dr. Johnny Fever with more “Hey, look! It’s that guy.” moments than you can shake a stick at. It’s well shot, with an awesome post-plane crash scene. And the kid gets bitten! Boy, I do love the 70s for that. Somehow, we’ve lost the capacity to introduce wide-eyed innocents and bump them off just to raise the ante against our cinematic enemy. It’s just too bad.

Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo rolls along just as you’d expect in a 70s TV horror flick. The ending is no different, except for one misplaced sequence. It seems as if the film ends early for two of our heroes, while the rest of the town had to keep up the fight. Because I’d hate to give away any more of this flick, I won’t say more, but I couldn’t let such an oddity slip by without mention.

As an interesting side note, the venom from the Wandering Spider might be the most toxic of all spider venoms, but it is rarely known to kill people. In fact, one of the nastiest side-effects that males have from being bitten is priapism.

Nit-picking Science: Come on! We recognize that your deadly spiders are nothing more than a handful of our pals from the photogenic Theraphosidae Family! Dr. Benton, what’s that about vertical fangs? I think you are confusing these guys with real tarantulas, the only spider family with fangs that move up and down, rather than side to side.

3.29.2009

Review: Alone Across the Pacific

Alone Across the Pacific (1963)

Directed by Kon Ichikawa

Based on events that took place only a year earlier, Ichikawa's 1963 film, Alone Across the Pacific, details Horei Kenichi's amazing 94-day solo voyage from Osaka, Japan to San Francisco in a engine-less yacht. Kenichi, played by pop star and matinee idol Yujiro Ishihara (Crazed Fruit), is a headstrong and unapologetically individualistic young man, which puts him at odds with every aspect of Japan's post-war society. There is a popular proverb (kotowaza) in Japan that says, "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down." Kenichi, knowing that he is the nail sticking up, decides to put all of his effort into escaping from Japan and, in turn, from his own Japanese-ness. He puts every scrap of money he has saved from working odd jobs into the construction of a 19-foot yacht, The Mermaid, to get him across the ocean. The film begins with Kenichi sneaking off to his yacht in a row boat under the cover of darkness, as a law that restricts non-commercial sea craft from leaving Japanese waters is in place. As he gets his yacht out on the open waters, Kenichi is immediately beset by problems. First he is stuck adrift in Osaka Bay as no wind will come along to blow him out to sea. Then, a day-and-a-half later, when a wind finally shows up, it is followed by a storm of typhoon-like conditions. It is here that the film seems to be veering off into a man-against-nature type of story, but in actuality that is not the concern of the film at all.

As Kenichi sails along we get flashbacks of recent events leading up to his trip. We see him act the rude taskmaster with a couple of shipbuilders working on The Mermaid; we also see him callously and pointedly creating strife within his family when talking about his plans to sail to San Francisco; most revealingly though, we see a fellow sailing enthusiast of Kenichi reprimand him for being a "maverick" who doesn't understand the price others have to pay for him wanting to do things his own way. These moments, along with a tour de force, mid-film scene (shown in split screen) of a scrolling supplies list matched by shots of the said items' acquisition, use or bulk physicality, paint a full picture of this young man's make-up that we would not get otherwise by just watching him sit in the claustrophobic hull of his yacht. Ichikawa paints Kenichi as an obsessive, who in his single-minded determination comes across as alternately mired in an existential funk and propelled by a quixotic urge to sail to San Francisco.

This type of character will, of course, sound familiar to people who have followed the films of Werner Herzog, but Ichikawa mined this territory first (and I would argue better) with his films The Burmese Harp, Enjo, Odd Obsession, An Actors Revenge, Tokyo Olympiad and this one. Where Herzog tends to emphasize the idea that obsession leads people to peer into the abyss of their own destruction or madness, Ichikawa views it as a great focusing agent. As Kenichi's voyage drags on, he begins to discover his own self-worth through his constant attention to the mundane tasks of survival. By the time he pulls into San Francisco Bay, he has gone through an almost Zen-like transformation. He left Japan to get away from the burden of Japanese societal obligation. He even went so far as to leave his Japanese identity behind him by refusing to get, much less carry a passport. But when he arrives in San Francisco, Kenichi finds himself transformed by his experience into a man who has found his place in the world. He has forged his own inner fortitude, and it is with this newfound strength that he has found a sense of harmony with and dedication to his surroundings. As in the film, so it was in real life. Horei Kenichi went on to be a kind of sailing activist, taking on waterborne challenges to promote environmentally friendly technologies and the use of recycled materials.

One final note about this film is that it has an interesting take on the core conflict in most Japanese storytelling, the conflict between giri and ninjō. Giri is, in simplified terms, the Japanese idea of an individual's obligation or duty to the group and/or social hierarchies. Ninjō on the other hand, is one's own personal emotions or attachments. In the classical mode of Japanese storytelling, the themes and plots arise from a conflict between giri and ninjō. But in Alone Across the Pacific, Ichikawa seems to be saying, in a similar manner as he does in The Burmese Harp, that the rejection of social obligations (giri) in favor of one's personal feelings of conviction (ninjō), if taken seriously, will lead a person to a more far reaching, inclusive and humane state of giri. If you ask me, that's an alright message coming from what could have easily been just another uplifting "man vs. nature" film.

3.27.2009

the lost weekend- denver premieres for 03/27/09


Hey Fellas, Look! The Booth didn't forget us!


-In an attempt to catch-up on things, here is the post for the theatrical premiers for Friday, March 27, a week late and a dollar short.- (pike)


Monsters vs. Aliens- Following up the success of last year's Kung-Fu Panda, Dreamworks seem to be hitting a stride of sorts with another quirky animated group comedy. This time the premise is a high-concept mash-up of Monsters vs. Aliens. You get the 50-foot Woman, the Blob, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mad Scientist (maybe a Brundle-roach?), and something called Insectasaurus* trying to save the world from an alien invader that resembles a four-eyed, tentacled Mekon from the old Dan Dare comics. The jokes in the trailer are hit-or-miss, but over all it looks enjoyable enough. The film was shot in what is being tauted as stereoscopic 3-D (the same process being used on the upcoming James Cameron flick, Avatar) and is probably best seen in that format. Although I'll admit that Monsters vs. Aliens is a good mash-up idea, my inner-child is still waiting for his dream mash-up: Cowboys and the undead vs. Aliens or as I like to call it, "Invasion of the O.K Corral a.k.a. My Darling's Creeping Spine." Where is it Hollywood! I've been waiting 25 years!

*this movie reference makes Amber happy but I don't want to give it away as it is the big ending reveal.

The Haunting in Connecticut- The acting talents of Elias Koteas, Martin Donovan and Virginia Madsen aside, everything about this movie stinks from a distance. Let's see, first there is the fact that it is a Amityville Horror/Exorcist rehash straight out of the bargain basement. Next is the grating tag-line, "Based on True Events." Oh, really! You mean the part about the folks moving into a new house or that their kid gets cancer, right? Because you can't be seriously talking about the ghost bullshit. Much like God, the invisible hand of the market and an authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza joint in or around the city of Denver, ghosts are myths- they don't exist! But Oh, oh my... the last nail in this rickety shit house has to be the poster art:

What the Fuck! So you want me to believe that ghost are real so that the half-assed scares you put in the movie will somehow affect me more, but then you show me what these ghosts can do and it doesn't amount to anything more than what a hard night of drinking can get you. Fuck you ghosts! I've seen fellow boother Dex do this a couple of times 'round about the witching hour and never, not even for a second, did I fear the reaper.

Of Time and the City- To be honest, I don't know that much about Terence Davies, but the trailer for this documentary looks promising. It starts a one-week run at the Starz FilmCenter and they have this to say about it:

"From the original voice of British auteur Terence Davies (Distant Voices, Still Lives) comes a visual poem about the director's life in Liverpool from 1945 to 1973. It is a very personal portrait of Liverpool, beyond its Beatles and its football clubs, the home of the writer's birth, where youth and inspiration weave his own story into the recent history of the city with fascinating found footage and a lyrical soundtrack. The visual poem is played out against a backdrop of densely packed urban living and backbreaking domestic labor. But Davies counterpoints the slums with beautiful, soaring music and lifts us into the world of fantasy and collective emotion which makes the misery of life bearable. For lovers of Davies' previous work many of his themes from his earlier narrative pieces thread through this film—Catholicism, homosexuality, violence, death, loss, the glory of cinema, outsiderness and childhood. Narrated by Davies."

12 Rounds- Oh Renny Harlin, there is really no sport in picking on you. Of all of the low hanging fruit in Hollywood, at least you know your place- directing movies that capitalize on the niche popularity of a WWE wrestler. I just hope you are having a good time playing director, you little scamper you!

3.26.2009

The Afterbirth of (true) Grindhouse: Bad Biology

In an interview about Bad Biology, Frank Henenlotter said: “I just thought, ‘let’s go back and make an exploitation film as if the world still wanted them!’” Some of us do still want them.

No one knows the nostalgic tug of a seedy movie in a seedy theater more than Henenlotter, except perhaps John Waters. Like Water’s A Dirty Shame, Bad Biology is an unapologetic and joyous revelry of bad taste, irreverence, exploitation and comedy that harkens back to a B-cinema time before there were so-called auteurs claiming to do grindhouse for the multiplex. Henenlotter was a part of the grindhouse theatres of New York’s 42nd Street, both as a fan and a contributor, until the home video age and Mayor Koch put an end to those days forever. Kids nowadays get their so-called grindhouse neutered, canned and sugar-coated by the likes of Tarantino, Rodriguez and the shlubs behind the Saw & Hostel franchises and they don’t know what they’ve missed. Kids, if you think you have the stomach for it, check out Bad Biology for a fresh take on all that made grindhouse infamous. Henenlotter is back in full-force with a film that goes beyond exploitation straight into artful masterpiece.

While I would have been thoroughly satisfied with a retread of classic Henenlotter (Basket Case, Brain Damage), Bad Biology is oh so much more. The returned Henenlotter has kept his 80s aesthetics intact, shunning the prepackaged digital age by shooting in beautiful, visceral 35 mm and using practical effects rather than hollow CGI. Not that Henenlotter is a neo-Luddite, but rather he understands that the physical nature of this sort of film demands a physical, not digital, rendering. Henenlotter’s old special effects pals, Gabe Bartalos and Al Magliochetti, do not disappoint. Rather than sticking to the same sort of everyman characters that inhabited Henenlotter’s New York of days gone by, Henenlotter brings us today’s unglamorous New Yorkers. The cast consists mainly of R. A. “The Rugged Man” Thorburn’s non-actor pals, who are given free rein to be natural, yet seem to take their roles seriously enough that we easily get sucked into their world. And what about the narrative itself? Yes, it is shocking, but this isn’t the mindless gross-out we’ve come to expect from today's hackneyed hacks. Instead, the script and story are smart and thoughtful, without sacrificing the fun we came for in the first place. Much of this is achieved by Henenlotter inviting us, his audience, into the world he’s created. Our lead and narrator, a smashing Charlee Danielson, weaves in and out of the 4th wall effortlessly. The crew of a metaphor-gone-awry photo shoot argues whether or not the theme is safe, true, nice, edgy or just plain sick, cleverly burying all of the criticisms, misunderstandings, fears and delights that could be aimed at a film like Bad Biology within the context of the scene itself. From the first line: "I was born with seven clits.", it is no secret what sort of film you’ve stumbled into, but the joy comes from the fact that as each scene rolls by, the ante is upped, escalating the blasphemy and perversity until the final, glorious turn. Despite all of this, there’s a humanity in his characters that never gets corroded. There’s a strange sweetness to the fun and sick world of Henenlotter, and I’m glad to see it’s back!

I’d love to pop into my local seedy theater and see Bad Biology with a crowd of like-minded strangers, but alas all of the grindhouse theaters are gone, and no multiplex in its right mind would touch it with a 10-foot pole. On top of that, Bad Biology is unlikely to even get an MPAA rating here in the US, much less a proper domestic DVD release. So, pick up the Region 2 Pal DVD, invite over that scant handful of your most-discerning friends and watch this singular and outstanding film. Do it now!

david lynch thursday!



--- "Fetish." Photo by David Lynch, shoes by Christian Louboutin.

3.24.2009

get yr release on


It's not too much of a stretch to say that Opera Jawa's among the best releases you'll see this week. Heh. Stretch.


You'd tell me if this blogpost was trying to be too romantic for you, wouldn't you, releases for the week of 3/24/09?

US DVD releases:
- Bolt
- The Cake Eaters (dir. Mary Stuart Masterson)
- Careful (dir. Guy Maddin)
- Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 3
- A Galaxy Far, Far Away
- Goldfinger (collector’s edition)
- Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything
- Hong Kong Godfather
- The Last Metro- Criterion Collection (dir. Francois Truffaut)
- Never Say Never Again (collector’s edition)
- The Odd Couple (Centennial 2 DVD edition)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (collector’s edition)
- Opera Jawa
- Quantum of Solace
- Side Effects (starring Katherine Heigl)
- 13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests (music by Dean & Britta)
- To Catch A Thief (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
- Wedding Wars
- A Woman Called Golda
- You Were Never Lovelier

US Blu-Ray releases:
- Bolt
- The Fast & the Furious Trilogy
- The 400 Blows- Criterion Collection (dir. Francois Truffaut)
- Goldfinger
- James Bond Collection Vol. 3
- The Kite Runner
- The Last Metro- Criterion Collection (dir. Francois Truffaut)
- Moonraker
- Never Say Never Again
- Quantum of Solace
- Things We Lost in the Fire
- The World Is Not Enough

Multi-region DVD releases:
- Antique- Korea Region 3
- Assembly (dir. Feng Xiaogang)- UK Region 2 PAL
- Cape No. 7- Hong Kong All-Region
- Chocolat (Claire Denis)- UK Region 2 PAL
- The Empress and the Warrior- UK Region 2 PAL
- The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (dir. Tony Richardson)- UK Region 2 PAL
- The Perfect Couple- Korea Region 3
- Saturday Night Out- UK Region 2 PAL
- Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (starring Albert Finney)- UK Region 2 PAL
- The Wind Will Carry Us (dir. Abbas Kiarostami)- UK Region 2 PAL



Dex is On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Historically, Bond films have been the cinematic equivalent of the turducken, and until Daniel Craig's leaner, against-the-grain '06 debut in Casino Royale, the only other Bond film I could stomach was George Lazenby's one-off On Her Majesty's Secret Service - with a host of on-screen pop culture references, "The Avengers" original kick-ass heroine Diana Rigg, and Lazenby's Picasso painting looks, OHMSS owes more to the mod stylings of the era than any of the Connery Bonds, and is also much more memorable (for all the right reasons) than fey Roger Moore's subsequent interpretation of the superspy. Because of this - and because of the utterly ridiculous plot - it feels more like a movie than the assemblage of chauvanist and Cold War tropes that typically passed for plot and people in Bondland.

3.23.2009

Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Mesa of Lost Women

Mesa of Lost Women (1953)
Critter: Hormonally altered men, women and a spider
Size: Female humanoids- approximately 5 feet 8 inches tall; Male humanoids- approximately 3 feet 5 inches tall; Female spider- approximately 25 feet tall
Modus Operandi: The spider-women dance or stare menacingly, the spider-dwarf-men leer and scurry, the giant spider with a woman’s pituitary gland sometimes bites people
How the Menace Emerges: A mad scientist exchanges the pituitary glands of humans and spiders to create 1) sexy, violent-looking women that rarely harm anyone, but make great lab assistants, 2) grinning, menacing dwarf men that jump a lot and 3) one man-sized super spider that he can talk to telepathically
End Goal: World domination

And now it’s time for an entry into the Guide that makes Ed Wood look like a craftsman. The Mesa of Lost Women is quite possibly one of the worst movies ever committed to film. Even at only 70 minutes you will miss that chunk of your Saturday afternoon. The film opens with a very talky, ominous narrator warning us of the power of nature over humanity: “In the continuing war for survival between man and the hexapods, only an utter fool would bet against the insects.” That, however, has nothing to do with this fractured narrative at all. In fact, there are no insects involved in this film.

One-eyed Dr. Aranya (Jackie “Uncle Fester” Coogan) working in his underground lab stocked with wild-eyed, intense spider-ladies in togas is playing around with hormones. His piece de resistance is a giant she-spider with reasoning skills that may someday control the world with Dr Aranya at the helm. We also have a rag tag bunch of characters who enter his domain: the despicable rich man and his gold-digging fiancée, their Chinese servant who is only allowed to speak in poetic, fortune-cookie proverbs, the dashing and pointless young pilot, the male nurse from the asylum and the scientist turned lunatic who holds them all at gun point. This could be fine, but there are just too many unanswered questions for even this jaded B-movie aficionado: 1) How is there a lush jungle on the obviously barren mesa we see in long shots? 2) How did the super-spider get back into the underground lab just in time to be blown up? 3) Why do the guitar and piano continue playing the same structure-less tune? Despite scenes of ominous dwarves and evil looking sexpots sitting in groups watching the camera, then scurrying off, this film isn’t easy to watch.

Mesa of Lost Women is plagued by terrible dialogue, an incoherent narrative and nonsensical edits. Why would anyone decide that the line: “I’ve had to work ever since I was a kid, and of it wasn’t very much fun.” should be punctuated with the leering face of one of the mutant dwarves?
But it may be that moments like these make Mesa of Lost Women one of your favorite movies of all time. Some people are like that, you know.
Just as a side note, the superstar of the un-credited little person’s role, Angelo Rossitto (Freaks, Spider Woman (Yes, that’s poor Angelo in the suitcase), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) makes an appearance as Dr. Aranya’s main henchman.

Nit-picking Science: 1) Mr. Narrator and Dr. Arayna, you both surely recognize that tarantulas couldn’t possibly belong to the subphylum Hexapoda. That classification is reserved for our six-legged pals. 2) Spiders certainly do not have pituitary glands, so I have no idea what you actually transplanted, Dr. Arayna.

3.20.2009

i love you, blog (denver premieres for 3/20/09)


You know, it's kinda funny, but the clouds
in Absurdistan all look like a blog post titles to me!



Since we here at the booth feel that this week's release schedule is bland beyond belief (except for I Love You, Man which is, as Patrick will remind you, a Judd " The Greek god of laughter and awkward male bonding" Apatow related project), we have put no effort into previewing these films. Instead we have inserted the studio plugs for these cinematic mash notes to the color beige, as they can probably pitch these things better than we can. You are welcome and enjoy!


I Love You, Man-I gotta say that I'm pulling for this Paul Rudd vehicle - his appearances on buddy Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" always manage to be entertaining, and I've got a soft spot for Anchorman, where he played Brian Fontana ("It's made from bits of real panther, so you know it's good.") - even though the movie doesn't appear to fall all that far from the Judd Apatow tree, since I Love You, Man looks to be complete with lovable simpletons, hot chicks, and humorous-slash-slightly-rocky personal situations. But it also features Lou Ferrigno, the greatest actor to ever be painted green; with that in mind, my sense is that no one will die if you buy a ticket to this (though I have been wrong about this sort of thing before). (Dex)

Duplicity- This Film opened across Denver. One theater it is playing at is the Greenwood Village Landmark Theatre. Their synopsis reads:

"Clive Owen and Julia Roberts star as spies-turned-corporate operatives in the midst of a clandestine love affair. When they find themselves embroiled in a high-stakes espionage game, they discover the toughest part of the job is deciding how much to trust the one you love. CIA officer Claire Stenwick (Roberts) and MI6 agent Ray Koval (Owen) have left the world of government intelligence to cash in on the highly profitable cold war raging between two rival multinational corporations. Their mission? Secure the formula for a product that will bring a fortune to the company that patents it first. For their employers—industry titan Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and buccaneer CEO Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti)—nothing is out of bounds. But as the stakes rise, the mystery deepens and the tactics get dirtier, the trickiest secret for Claire and Ray is their growing attraction. And as they each try to stay one double-cross ahead, two career loners find their schemes endangered by the only thing they can't cheat their way out of: love. Written and directed by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton)."

Knowing- Before you decide to star in another dumb, sci-actioner-sequel thingy, Christian Bale, you should take a long hard look at Nicholas Cage's new movie. The career you save may be your own. (Dex)

The Great Buck Howard- This film is now playing at the Chez Artiste. Their synopsis reads:

"Once upon a time, Buck Howard (John Malkovich) spent his days in the limelight. His mind-boggling feats as a mentalist extraordinaire—not to be confused with those of a mere magician—earned him a marquee act in Vegas and 61 appearances on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. But nowadays he performs in faded community centers and hasn't sold out a theater in years. Yet, with a hearty handshake and a trademark "I love this town!," Buck Howard perseveres, convinced his comeback is imminent. He just needs a new road manager and personal assistant. As it turns out, recent law school drop-out and unemployed, would-be writer Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) needs a job and a purpose. Working for the pompous, has-been mentalist fills the former requirement, but how it satisfies the latter is questionable, especially to his father (Tom Hanks), who still assumes Troy is in law school. Nonetheless, with the aid of a fiery publicist (Emily Blunt) and a bold stroke of fate, Buck surprisingly lands back into the American consciousness, taking Troy along for the ride of his life."

Sunshine Cleaning- This film is now playing at the Mayan. Their synopsis reads:

"A single mom and her slacker sister find an unexpected way to turn their lives around in this offbeat dramatic comedy. Once a high school cheerleading captain who dated the quarterback, Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) now finds herself a thirty-something single mother working as a maid. Her sister Norah (Emily Blunt) is still living at home with their dad Joe (Alan Arkin), a salesman with a lifelong history of ill-fated get rich quick schemes. Desperate to get her son into a better school, Rose persuades Norah to go into the crime scene clean-up business with her to make some quick cash. In no time, the girls are up to their elbows in murders, suicides and other…specialized situations. Directed by Christine Jeffs (Rain, Sylvia), Sunshine Cleaning is an uplifting film about an average family that finds the path to its dreams in a decidedly unique way."

Fuel- Bio-fuel enthusiasts make up an odd, if interesting sub-group of environmentalism - the more mechanically-inclined students at Naropa would take every opportunity they could to stuff a flyer for one of their meetings into your hand and speak rapturously about all that contraptions some dude in Boulder had that could run on vegetable oil - and it would appear that Josh Tickell's movie about his personal and environmental awakening is that clique's media breakthrough.

Much like hempters, bio-fuelers would tell us nearly all of our energy problems can be solved if we set aside the pretzel twist of money and power that equals the worldwide extractive fuel industry and start using plant matter instead; alas, a funny thing happened on the way to our new green futures. The filmmakers say that ethanol and ethanol-like fuels - which would be a potential disaster if it were attempted on a large, industrial scale - makes up only a piece of the movie's narrative, but an interested blogger at Grist says otherwise in a couple of '08 reviews here and here. Perhaps it's best to see for yourself, at least before peak oil strikes civilization down or something. (Dex)


Absurdistan- This Film is playing at the Starz FilmCenter. Their synopsis reads:

"Welcome to Absurdistan, a small village in the high desert mountains, just on the outskirts of reality, where magical visions and bizarre events fuse together, but the sexes are divided. The village is facing a water shortage, but the men are too lazy to fix a rickety pipeline and the women are getting fed up with their good-for-nothing husbands. Led by young Aya (Kristýna Malérová), the women make a simple vow: "No water, no sex." The men's only hope is Temelko (Maximilian Mauff), whose long-promised wedding with Aya is put on hold until he finds a solution to the water problem. From the wild imagination of Veit Helmer, the award-winning director of Tuvalu, comes this perfectly pitched lyrical comedy that is romantic, surreal and boundlessly poetic."

A Secret- This Film is playing at the Starz FilmCenter. Their synopsis reads:

"Adapted from Philippe Grimbert’s best selling novel, A Secret (Un Secret) is a story of passion and guilt in troubled times, which unfolds as a young teenager uncovers the truth about his parents’ past. He finds out that before the war, his father Maxime (Patrick Bruel - The Comedy of Power, O Jerusalem) was married to Hannah (Ludivine Sagnier - 8 Women, Swimming Pool, A Girl Cut in Two, Love Songs) when he fell madly in love with his mother Tania (Cécile de France - The Russian Dolls, Avenue Montaigne). As a young Jewish couple living in Nazi-occupied France, Maxime and Tania had to make difficult choices to survive the war and the Holocaust."

Shuttle- This Film is playing at the Mayan. Their synopsis reads:


"When Jules (Cameron Goodman) and Mel (Peyton List) return from a girls’ weekend vacation, they find themselves stranded at the airport, late on a rain-drenched night. Wanting just to get home safe and sound, they board an airport shuttle with a helpful, friendly driver (Tony Curran, Red Road) for the short trip...that turns out to be anything but safe. From writer/director Edward Anderson, making his directorial debut, comes a terrifying thriller about a night that starts like any other, and a ride home that descends into darkness."

3.17.2009

get yr release on


Old Faust could hide like two other whole books up that sleeve, yo.



[Yawn!] Oh, hey DVD releases for the week of 3/17/09! Did I oversleep?

US DVD releases:
- Dodes’Ka-Den (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
- Elegy (starring Penelope Cruz, Ben Kingsley)
- Faust: Restored 2-Disc Deluxe Edition (1926) (dir. F.W. Murnau)
- The Finances of the Grand Duke (1924) (dir. F.W. Murnau)
- Haunted Castle (1921) (dir. F.W. Murnau)
- Murnau 1921-1926 (includes Nosferatu/Faust/The Last Laugh/Tartuffe/The Haunted Castle/The Finances of the Grand Duke)
- Punisher: War Zone
- The Robe- special edition (starring Richard Burton)
- Three Stooges Collection Vol.5: 1946-1948
- Travels with Hiroshi Shimizu
- Twilight
- The Velveteen Rabbit (2007) (dir. Michael Landon Jr.)
- Yella (dir. Christian Petzold)

Blu-Ray releases:
- Clear and Present Danger/The Hunt for Red October (2 for 1)
- The Matador: A Story of Passion, Tragedy, Triumph, and Love (doc.)
- Mission: Impossible 1 & 2 (2 for 1)
- The Princess Bride
- Quo Vadis (dir. Mervyn LeRoy)
- The Robe (starring Richard Burton)
- Rollerball (2001)
- Sweeny Todd/Sleepy Hollow (2 for 1)

Multi Region DVD/Blu-Ray releases:
- Black Snake (dir. Russ Meyer) UK Region 2 PAL
- The Company of Wolves (dir. Neil Jordan) Import Blu-Ray -All Region
- L'Air De Paris (dir. Marcel Carne) UK Region 2 PAL
- Therese Raquin (dir. Marcel Carne) UK Region 2 PAL
- Yangtse Incident (dir. Michael Anderson) UK Region 2 PAL


Pike on Travels with Hiroshi Shimizu: Shimizu began his directing career at Shochiku Studios along side the likes of Heinosuke Gosho, Yasujiro Shimazu and his close friend (and sometime collaborator) Yasujiro Ozu. Of this group, Shimizu was the one considered to be a natural talent. Both Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi praised Shimizu as being the true master director, the latter even going so far as saying, "People like me and Ozu get films made by hard work, but Shimizu is a genius." The four films in this box set will give you a good primer as to why Shimizu was held in such high esteem. Starting with Japanese Girls at the Harbor (1933), one is struck by moments of beautifully fluid camera work, some amazingly poetic use of visual ellipses and the masterful deployment of recurring scenes that gain an increasing sense of poignancy through the minor changes within the frame. Mr. Thank You (Arigato-San)(1936) is even more bold with its bravura camera work. There is some beautiful cross cutting work included that involves the bus' journey down the road, as seen from the point of view of someone inside the bus, played against some beautiful and immaculately framed scenes of the mountain landscape as it passes by. All together the fluid motion of the cuts gives the viewer a sense that they are along for the ride with the characters in the film. Also look out for the two scenes where the camera is running along with people either trying to catch up with the bus or jumping off of the bus, as they are little moments of magic that give the sense of floating on air. Another aspect of Shimizu's art was his willingness to play around with narrative convention. In The Masseurs and a Woman (1938), he uses little moments of episodic character development to grow an increasingly expanding view of the inhabitants of a remote mountain inn. Paying close attention to the aesthetics of form and structure while downplaying (or in some cases downright eschewing) the traditional narrative through-line, gives films like The Masseurs and a Woman a modern feel that also (although to a lesser effect) can be seen in the last film of the box set- Ornamental Hairpin (1941). The film stars a young Chishu Ryu Tokyo Story) as a soldier recovering from a war wound at a health spa where he steps on the item in the film's title and, after setting eyes on its owner, falls in love. This film, like the other three, is an immaculately shot and tightly structured affair that moves along with such an sense of ease that most folks miss the gentle prodding this film gives to the pre-war, imperialist Japanese culture. In fact all of the movies in this box are infused with social critique but their subtle nature has caused many critics to overlook them all together.

I for one am glad that the Criterion Collection has decided to release these film in the U.S. as I think Shimizu is in dire need of re-discovery. I have complained in the past that the main Criterion line has increasingly become a little too conservative and stodgy with its heavy lean towards the official film school canon, but with their Eclipse line they seemed to have realized that it is also important to introduce some under-seen and under-appreciated material to the public. For this I thank them and hope (at least for my sake) that their venture is financially rewarding enough for them to continue putting out releases like this one.

3.16.2009

Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Tarantula

Tarantula (1955)
Critter: Tarantula (Family: Theraphosidae)
Size: Varies, approximately 100 feet tall and 300 feet long
Modus Operandi: Crawls around creepily, bites victims with venom-filled chelicerae, paralyzing victim. Secretes juices that pre-digest the victim, proceeds to suck the melted victim clean off of the bones.
How the Menace Emerges: An experimental nutritional substance using a radioactive isotope called Ammoniac is in the testing phases when an inoculated tarantula escapes the lab and rampages through desert and town.
End Goal: Dinner

Tarantula is another of the better sci-fi flicks involving gigantic invertebrates from the 1950s. While not as fantastic as Them!, it is solid, moves at a clip and the shots of the tarantula and of the desert are creepy and foreboding, just as they should be.

“I knew it would happen. Give women the vote, and what do you get? Lady scientists.” This time Mara Coraday (The Black Scorpion) plays Steve, our lady scientist, well… lady grad student anyhow. She’s certainly more lady than scientist, but at least the film spends more time with the spider and the desert than her burgeoning romance with John Agar (Attack of the Puppet People), the town doctor. Agar plays it best as the “I’m just a country doctor” type, while flying his own plane, driving about in a convertible and knowing a good deal more about current scientific research, insect venom, weird medical disorders and geology than he should. Like Them!, Tarantula steers clear of the hokey mad scientist role, opting instead for a man obsessed with finding a solution to global hunger. Still, the picture manages to pack in themes about overpopulation and the vast age of the earth compared to man all while parading as a big bug movie. Not bad. Although the end of the film comes too fast with the townspeople cheering napalm and military glory, the menacing spider parts are well worth it.

As for the spider, radioactivity is at it again, but this time it’s employed in Professor Deemer’s quest to solve world hunger through artificial nutrients. A side-effect of his experimental food substitute is gigantism, and hence the very cinematic star of our show. Using a real tarantula kept the monster of the film naturalistically creepy, and it is easy to imagine looking out of your window into the strange, empty desert only to see this guy crawling over the nearest mesa. The special effects are 1950s top-notch: our spider pal is well integrated into the landscape, with shadows underfoot and screaming victims sharing screen time. All in all, Tarantula is one of the good ones. Give it a go.

Nit-picking Science: 1) Whoa, Professor Deemer, your population estimates are way too low! In the year 2000, we reached a world population of over 6 billion, nearly twice your 1955 predictions! 2) Doc, a species called arachnida? Pshaw, Arachnida is a class encompassing all of the spiders; the tarantulas are in the family Theraphosidae, but I’m unsure of the species used here.

3.13.2009

last blogpost on the race to blog mountain (denver premieres 3/13/09)


Nevermind the trees, do you think he can even see
the forest with that thing on?


Timecrimes - This first-time feature by Nacho Vigalondo has the potential of being a nice little slice of mixed-genre fare with some action, suspense and gratuitous nudity all tied up in a bow of time traveling paradoxes. While investigating the forest behind his house where he caught a girl disrobing, a shlub named Hector discovers that a man with pink bandages wrapped around his face is stalking him. Running away from the bandaged creep, Hector stumbles across an isolated building that turns out to be physics lab. A scientist inside tells Hector to hide inside of the large metal contraption in the center of the room which, unbeknownst to poor Hector, is a time machine. After climbing out of the machine, the sneaky scientist tells Hector that he has been sent an hour and a half back in time. This, as you can guess, complicates Hector's life immeasurably. Last year when this movie was riding high in the festival circuit there were talks of a U.S. remake in the works that had, at various times, George Romero and David Cronenberg attached to direct. I think it's safe to say that if those two were interested in remaking this film then there has to be something worthwhile here. (Pike)

The Last House on the Left -Today, Wes Craven’s film The Last House on the Left (1972) is alternately the most overly-praised and unjustifiably reviled pictures from the heyday of the late 60s/early 70s American horror renaissance. By some, the film is analyzed within inches of it’s ineptly rendered life as a horrific primal scream aimed at the atrocities committed by the American forces during the Vietnam War. By others it is seen as a truly depraved piece of work, made by lunatics for lunatics who get off on sadistic violence. Both takes are over estimations of the movie's intent and impact. What the film does have is an uneasy juxtaposition of pathos, violence and tin-eared humor presented in a completely amateurish manner (this was basically Wes Craven's first film so when I use the word "amateurish", I mean it more as a matter of fact than a back-handed slight). Add to the mix producer Sean S. Cunningham's (later of Friday the 13th fame) penchant for using Jack Chick style old-testament moralizing to prime the plot (If the girls didn't fall away from the path by trying to buy pot, then they wouldn't have had to die!) and you get a structurally confused film that begs to be read into due to its general thematic and tonal incoherence. So now we have a remake, produced by Craven, that tries to up the ante of nonsensical elements by leaving one of the girls alive and using a microwave as tool for revenge? Well color me surprised if this turns out to be anything more than a quick cash-in for all involved. (Pike)

Miss March - Really? Really, is that what you came to this blog for? Shouldn't you be watching hockey or Fox News or something? (Dex)

Race to Witch Mountain - Oh man, I hope this Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson/Carla Guigino headlined remake of the 1975 live-action Disney sci-fi flick Escape to Witch Mountain does well - maybe then my dream of a brand new Song of the South will finally become a reality! (Dex)

Ink - This week the locally filmed, locally produced sci-fi/dark fantasy film Ink begins a two week run at the Starz FilmCenter. This is what they have to say about it:

As the light fades and the city goes to sleep, two forces emerge. They are invisible except for the power they exert over us in our sleep. These two groups battle for our souls in our dreams. Through good dreams one force supports our hopes and gives us strength. Through nightmares the other force leads us toward desperation. In this high-concept visual thriller, part It's a Wonderful Life and Sin City, John and his daughter Emma are thrust into a fantastical dreamworld battle between good and evil where the most precious elements - love, loss and redemption - are at stake. Filmed and produced entirely in Colorado!

Here are the first two trailers:
Trailer 1
Trailer 2

Gomorrah - The tension - not to mention the irony - between life and art is highlighted in the film adaptation of Roberto Saviano's critically acclaimed expose of real-life Italian gangsters; while author Saviano is now the proverbial "marked man," his life taking a Rushdie-like turn (alas, it would seem, without all the glamour that accompanied Salman's potential martyrdom), this piece from the Independent UK reports that Camorran gangsters were all too happy to participate in any cinematic recreation of their sleazy lives. What must feel like a gut punch to poor Saviano is that regular Juan and Juanitas have been almost as upset at the journo for busting their acceptance of and compliance in the region's ubiquitous gangster culture, but have apparently flocked to theatres to see it on the big screen:

In one scene early in Gomorrah, Marco and Ciro – two delinquents who dream of being big-time gangsters – steal guns from the Camorra. They treat the weapons as if they're toys or film props, letting rip with machine guns and rocket launchers for the sheer pleasure of it. Earlier, we've seen them giving their Tony Montana impersonations, recreating Al Pacino's demise in Scarface. On the one hand, their behaviour is pathetic and immature. On the other, it is exhilarating.

The Italian audiences who flocked to see Gomorrah in the summer aren't going because they want at last to see a truthful exposé of organised crime in Naples – they've been drawn by the intensity of the film-making. This is precisely the problem the gangster genre always faces; the films are celebrations of action and danger, not sociological dramas.

[Matteo] Garrone claims that when he was making Gomorrah, he was looking more to the example of Italian neo-realist movies like Roberto Rossellini's Paisa and Rome, Open City than to the world of Scarface, Little Caesar and Goodfellas. His film, which comprises five different stories, was shot in the Camorra's backyard, using mainly non-professional actors. There is no commentary; this is not one of those clichéd yarns in which a detective or journalist infiltrates the Mob. The storytelling is matter-of-fact.

"When you get there [to Naples] and see life from the inside, it is not easy to understand where is evil and where is good. There is a grey zone in the middle," the director says of a society in which everybody from housewives to politicians, street kids and elderly tailors is ensnared by the Camorra. "I wanted to make the spectator feel that he was there, with these people."


[snip]

This is a virtuoso piece of film-making, but the sheer vibrancy of the storytelling gets in the way of any message Garrone might want to impart. Other Italian film-makers have had similar problems. In 1985, Giuseppe Tornatore made The Professor, based on the life of Camorra boss Raffaele Cutolo. He elicited an intelligent, complex performance from Ben Gazzara as the Mob boss who controls his empire from behind prison walls. Like Garrone, Tornatore tries to show the inner workings of organised crime in Naples, but audiences still approached The Professor as a thriller.


Gomorrah picked up the Grand Prix at Cannes; look for it at the Mayan. (Dex)

3.10.2009

get yr release on




Ah, spring! The birds are flying, the bees are buzzing, the flowers are blooming, and the Sally Hawkinses are on their bicycles!


Don't you- forget about the DVD releases for the week of 3/10/09-
don't! don't! don't!:

US DVD releases
- Battle in Seattle
- Ben X
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
- Cadillac Records
- Crowley (co-written by Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden; features music by Iron Maiden)
- Devotee
- Escape to Witch Mountain (special edition)
- Happy-Go-Lucky (dir. Mike Leigh)
- Howard the Duck (special edition)
- Japan Japan
- Let the Right One In
- L’Innocente (dir. Luchino Visconti)
- Marie and Bruce (written by Wallace Shawn)
- Milk (dir. Gus Van Sant)
- The Miracle Worker (1979)
- Pinocchio (70th Anniversary edition)
- Rachel Getting Married
- Return From Witch Mountain (special edition)
- Role Models
- A Secret
- Shinobi no Mono 3: Ressurection
- Synecdoche New York

US Blu-Ray releases:
- Batman: Motion Picture Anthology (box set)
- Brokeback Mountain
- Cadillac Records
- Let the Right One In
- Milk
- Pinocchio (70th Anniversary edition)
- Rachel Getting Married
- Role Models
- Synecdoche New York
- Transporter 3

Multi Region DVD releases:
- Tombstone of Fireflies (dir. Taro Hyugaji) R2 Japan
- The Good, The Bad, The Weird (dir. Kim Ji-Woon) R3 Korea



Hidey-hi, Boothers: Pike and Dex go at it over whether Let the Right One In is just good or really great here, and Pat's much more recent take is over here.




Dex gets Happy-Go-Lucky:
Mike Leigh's latest is best viewed as a companion piece to his landmark 1993 film Naked: but whereas Naked's Johnny (David Thewlis) was a kind of later day Celine by way of John Lydon, Happy-Go-Lucky's Poppy (a marvelous Sally Hawkins) chooses a brighter, if equally uncompromising path; the drop-out Johnny's just too smart for all of this and just won't have it, and when he does he's just as soon to mock it for all it's worth, while the hyperactive grammar school teacher Poppy is sure that if she just listens to the stories people have long and hard enough, she and you and everyone we know can and will get over. But Leigh shows that Hawkins' Poppy and her saintly style can make her just as out-of-place as Thewlis' Johnny - two crucial sequences (which Leigh lets play out in different levels of intensity), one which finally explodes between her and her lonely, wound-up driving instructor Scott (an absolutely fantastic Eddie Marsan) and a possibly-abused student make it clear to Poppy that the forumla for love and happiness doesn't only mean an open heart, but love plus compassion plus wisdom times toughness.

A lot of people I've heard from call this Leigh-lite, and while it's probably among his most accessible movies, there's also a lot more going on it than people gave it credit for initially. I saw it too late to make my best of '08 list, but it's one of my favorite movies of recent months, and I think it's safe to say that Happy-Go-Lucky should be up there with some of the director's best. En Ra Ha!




Patrick on Milk:
I'm a little conflicted about this film. One the one hand, I think it's a pretty important film in terms of public portrayal of gay rights issues. As a message, as social film, I can't really fault it except by way of laying it on a little thick in a couple points. As filmmaking, I find it somewhat problematic, though not bad by any means. It continues Van Sant's explorations of gay issues in films and especially the subtext that's underlaid his last several - the damaging, often violent, results of repressed homosexuality as compared with a healthy and open portrayal of gay life. It's that conflict that's powered several of his films and certainly this one. It's not as well done in my estimation as Elephant, bogs down too much in making sure you get its message - take that kid in the wheelchair, for example; no character development, no reason for him to be there except to highlight and underscore the rightness of what Harvey Milk was doing - but in another way it's also better as a simply well-made, professional film. Sean Penn is completely submerged in the role - I wasn't thinking for a second about the high profile Hollywood actor involved, just about the character of Milk. And if it has to be a little more obvious to get its message across to a broader audience who might not bother seeing some of Van Sant's more experimental work, I guess that's a compromise I can live with. I still don't think it's got the reach to change minds rather than preaching to the choir, but I found a lot of strong moments here and the message it's putting over is something that can certainly stand to be said yet again in a relatively mainstream film.

3.09.2009

Ten recent reviews

Grand Hotel (dir. Edmund Goulding, 1932) -
Excellent ensemble drama, with Garbo fine enough, but even her role as a diva ballerina is upstaged here by both John Barrymore and Joan Crawford in less flashy roles given sharper dialogue. But this one's more about ensemble acting than any individual's role, fine as many of those individuals may be. A ritzy hotel in Berlin is the epicenter of several stories that intertwine and tangle together, including the two most compelling: that of a refined thief after a wealthy (and moody) ballerina's jewels, and a secretary who can't stand the businessman she works for but is too professional to let him realize it. Drama and comedy build out of there, both pretty damn brilliantly, I might add, with neither one taking the dominant role in the proceedings, each always making room for the other. It's just another great one from Golden Age Hollywood, and this is the sort of film that helps you understand why it's called that.


Phantom (dir. F.W. Murnau, 1922) -
Like Val Lewton's Ghost Ship, I could not hide my initial disappointment over the fact that I was watching a film by an acknowledged master of suspense, horror, and the otherworldly and the current viewing had nothing to do with dead spirits. But just as with Lewton's film, this one won me over with its drama of a deluded would-be poet lead on by a mentor to believe that he's a surefire success and can proceed directly from dire poverty to the high life. Needless to say, things don't work out as planned, and Murnau's expressionistic approach to showing the poor guy's mental collapse (OK, it's not quite as extreme as that) is fine filmmaking. Don't go in looking for a sinister follow-up to Nosferatu and you'll do just fine.


Let the Right One In (dir. Tomas Anderson, 2008) -
As with any film combining vampire mythology and coming-of-age stories - oh wait, there aren't any beside this one! That alone of course is not reason to praise this and for a good half hour of the film I wasn't sure I liked it, but as it adds on layers, gets to know both central character and vampire better, as it reveals its sly sense of humor, I really got there with it. The visual sense of the film is probably my least favorite aspect - it's somewhat cold and flat, though that's also something of the tone of the drama for the first portion, so I guess it's fitting. Let me rephrase - a vampire film/coming-of-age story shot like a police procedural film imbued with a subtle humor that masks the cold reality of the central relationship is what the film promises. And accomplishes nicely I'd say. A good one.


Il Bidone (dir. Federico Fellini, 1955) -
Broderick Crawford is the best part of the film - the sorta leader of a group of hustlers who mostly prey on hicks in the rural regions who fall for their shenanigans. I wish Fellini had taken the time to develop his relationship with his daughter more - it provides such a turning point for his character that it feels a little underbaked to me. Crawford makes the best of what little screen time he has across from her though, saying almost enough just with his pained look that maybe if Fellini had even just lingered on him with one more heartbroken shot it might have made the whole third act development totally believable for me. Even so, I can accept it in the context of the film and move on - it's very nearly an excellent film even in spite of this. Maybe this is why he stopped relying on plot to move his characters around, realized that they were interesting enough in his hands that we're fine just spending the time being around them and that their problems got through to us by osmosis without having to be spelled out.


The Cars That Ate Paris (dir. Peter Weir, 1974) -
Part of Weir's weird (not-exactly)-trilogy, preceding both Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave and far stranger than either. Far less successful, too, though certainly not for lack of ambition. Here's a film about a small town in a remote area of Australia where the entire GNP of the town seems to stem from running strangers off the road and salvaging their belongings, lobotomizing those who happen to survive the "accidents." That's quite enough for a weird little film, but Weir wants more - there's some sort of odd, 18th century quality to the way things are run in the town with its paternal mayor; there's an undeveloped story in which said mayor wants to "adopt" one of the survivors as his own, possibly grooming him for future leadership of the town's enterprise; and there's also a brewing conflict between the town's elders and the rambunctious youth of the town who participate in the running of things, but seem to be brewing their own Mad Max styled gang of costumed thugs and souped-up vehicles loaded with weapons (though this precedes George Miller's film by about 5 years). I mean, it's not that it's not an interesting mix of ideas, it's just that they never jell into a cohesive whole - it'd be nice if Weir picked one of these ideas and ran with it, saving the others for future films or just paring it down to the strongest stuff and letting it lie. Fun, sure, and really strange, but not great - Weir got better quickly.


Shadows (dir. John Cassavetes, 1959) -
Same year as Breathless, much of the same hand-held immediacy, ground-level realism, and somewhat amateur charm, though Cassavetes still wants you to remain within his drama - no Brechtian address to the audience to remind you you're watching a film. Also no Raoul Coutard to aestheticize the experience, making it - for me - impact that much more. I've seen Breathless maybe twenty times and I still think it's a revolutionary piece of work, seen this only once and I'm absolutely blown away that in a completely separate country, with a different set of principles - though one that very well could have been informed by the writings of the Cahiers du Cinema crowd - Cassavetes and his group have made a work equally revolutionary, every bit as important, and, to be frank, considerably humbler about being such a breakthrough and also refreshingly devoid of Godard's hang-ups about women. I've loved the later Cassavetes films I've seen, but this one's the one that set his shit all in motion. I don't come to this to bury Godard, but I expect to be re-watching this one a lot more for some time.


Orphans of the Storm (dir. D.W. Griffith, 1921) -
Two sisters torn apart in Revolutionary France - makes for a great Griffith film that allows a large canvas for huge scenes (the Revolutionary aspects) and small, personalized touches (meaning the persons of the characters, not so much Griffith's own emotional investment). It's a compelling story, smartly rendered and beautifully shot. Plus, Lillian and Dorothy Gish are superb in the title roles - hard to say one is better than the other because they're both fantastic. It's loaded with beautiful moments too, the kinds of images that stick with you in a way only film can. Historical accuracy may go out the window in favor of the story he wanted to tell, but I for one am in favor of never letting the truth get in the way of a good story. Or a great one.


Slumdog Millionaire (dir. Danny Boyle, 2008) -
Let me keep this short, because I could easily go on about it. I've seen a lot of good and even great films about poor kids living in the streets. This would not rank in or probably even near my top ten of such films, despite reasonably good performances and cinematography. The primary reason it will not is because the story sinks into tediousness for about an hour in the middle - forgetting even about the "destiny" conceit that I knew immediately I was going to just have to swallow as soon as it surfaced. Did it earn the big ending that made the audience break out into applause? No, it absolutely did not earn it, betraying the audience by offering up some decent scenes early on and then winding through a whole lot of nothing until the big ending that apparently caused spontaneous applause amongst many audience members. I don't like reacting to or against hype, I like to just watch a film for its own merits. But the excess of hype around this on invites some reaction - about the film all I can say is "Blah."


The Innocents (dir. Jack Clayton, 1961) -
Now here's the ghost story I wanted both Phantom and Ghost Ship to be! It's good like a filmed ghost story should be, all Gothic design and creepy atmosphere and canted angles and two terrifically cast little kids who must have set the tone for all those dumb "creepy ghost kid voice" films that have come pouring out of Hollywood these days. And this one goes even a notch better than most ghost stories by making it ambiguous - if you can tell me with any certainty that there are ghosts in this film and that it's not all in Deborah Kerr's character's head, you win a special prize. I know that Turn of the Screw makes it clear, but I think the ambiguity here is a strength of the film that is perhaps lacking in the Gothic love story of the novel. It's not perfect, but it's exactly what I wanted.


Edvard Munch (dir. Peter Watkins, 1974) -
Better, I think than the angrily lefty Punishment Park in that it couches its politics - largely concerning women's equality - in a story ostensibly about something else entirely. I also love the structure - a 3+ hour biography about the Norwegian painter Munch intersperses real biographical information alongside speculative dramatic recreations of his life in a mixed up chronology that's shot in documentary style, as though these cameras were present at all the formative moments of his life. But again, I reiterate - while it tells you a lot about Munch, it also tells you as much about the women in his life, their lot in the world and how both the reactionary forces of conservative society and the surprisingly conservative art world Munch travelled in spoke out against strong and independent-minded women, a topic that Munch seems ever on the fence about. And though I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to see something like this coming from Watkins, I guess I was - the life of Edvard Munch did not seem a likely vehicle for an examination of feminism. That'll teach me to try to pigeonhole Watkins as just one type of radical artist.

live it out: rachel getting married


Poster of a girl.

There is much to recommend in Jonathan Demme's latest for fans of wedding rehearsals, nervous smoking, or people sitting on couches and talking about their feelings; for other viewers, Rachel Getting Married is a long meander tracking Kym (Anne Hathaway), a one-time model, on a weekend furlough from rehab to her loving father's Connecticut home for her brilliant sister Rachel's wedding. While Demme shoots for the jumpy, hand-held feel that Steven Soderbergh has mined with much skill and success over the last few years - the jerky-jump cut being something Soderbergh has refined into a trademark that he can deploy with all the smoothness of George Clooney's smile, a power-move that does not detract from what's on the screen - Demme does not score with it, and all-too-often RGM comes across as clunky and self-conscious, straining to break out of the contraints of basic Hollywood melodrama Jenny Lumet's script ties the proceedings up in.

Hathaway's Oscar-nominated performance is solid, and she and Demme deserve some praise for making the lovely actress' every appearance in a scene something like a thumb in the eye, but the work's lost, since we soon lose sight of why we're here and why we're watching Kym struggle to relate to people or fuck up at every opportunity: in the end, Rachel Getting Married is exactly what it says it is, and nothing more.

Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Sick Girl (Master of Horror Series)

Sick Girl (Masters of Horror Series) (2006)
Critter:
Brazilian Mantis-like parasitic insect, undescribed species
Size: About 8-10 inches long
Modus Operandi: Inserts proboscis into victim’s ear and sucks victim’s blood, simultaneously injecting a mutating protein that allows for compatibility between the insect’s DNA and the mammalian or avian DNA. Subsequently impregnates female humans.
How the Menace Emerges: Sent as a biological weapon to a lovelorn entomologist
End Goal: Reproduction

At last! A contemporary entry into the Field Guide! Alas, it's not necessarily great news. Like a lot of the Masters of Horror films I’ve seen, Sick Girl starts out with a fun premise and a neat critter but falls down somewhere along the way. I should mention that I’m not a fan of the series as a whole. I love the concept of proven horror directors doing short, quick bits for TV with free creative rein, and I think Mick Garris is a swell guy, but most of what I’ve seen in the series is lackluster. Even those I like, entries by Joe Dante (Homecoming & The Screwfly Solution) and Stuart Gordon (Dreams in the Witch’s House & Black Cat), have their flaws.

Sick Girl is well-shot, with a fair dose of humor, gore and quirk and it is obvious that Lucky McKee is no hack. With Sick Girl as in May, we can see that McKee has both a cinematic sense of color and composition as well as a solid sense of character and story development. In Sick Girl, he and Angela Bettis (May) create another likeable, but awkward female character out of step with the world and lonely. This time Bettis plays Ida Teeter, an entomologist whose fascination with insects keeps scaring away potential girlfriends. As her coworker and piggish relationship coach says: “At some point you’ll have to make the choice: babes or bugs? You can’t have both.” Her loneliness and the potential for Sick Girl to really shine both end when she meets her dream gal. The certainly awkward, but much less likeable Misty is played by Misty Mundae, er… Erin Brown (Play-Mate of the Apes), who seems to be trying to break out of her soft-core and straight-to-video roles into actual horror, a genre that conveniently also has a use for actresses that don’t mind nude scenes. Paired with the comedic and interesting Bettis, Mundae seems untalented, vapid and out of her element. Although there is a nasty bug that does nasty things, it is the human characters within the story that are the real horror here. Desperate and lonely people make bad decisions when bitten by the love bug.

Nit-picking Science: Silly Misty, Lucanus laetus is found in China, not Thailand!