two girls, one suck: why horror fans should run screaming from pascal laugier’s 'martyrs'

Martyrs: Throbbing squirm, gurgling bloody mess.

The American DVD release of splatterpunk-of-the-week and internet controversy-machine Pascal Laugier's 2008 film Martyrs prominently features an option by which you can watch a brief introduction by the director - actually, that's two features by which you can watch a brief introduction by the director, one by itself and one that'll run as a sort of intro before the movie: Dimension Extreme really wants you to watch Monsieur Laugier talk about his movie, dig.

But to paraphrase Burgess Meredith, the thing of it is, though, the thing of it is is that Pascal doesn't introduce his flick by way of his process or the ideas behind it. That's not to say it's not revealing: indeed, Laugier's phony introspection about all le trouble he's caused since his movie debuted at the Toronto Film Festival and musing over whether or not he really hates his own film is such an obvious schtick that the vaudeville pianist from "Family Guy" should've played him out of frame. He's a natural to take up Clive Barker's Hellraiser remake, since the erstwhile Future of Horror has done little since the early 1990s save flog his own dubious brand in the name of filthy lucre (that's you all over, Clive - a lie, and no heart). It's a match made in schlockmeister heaven.

It's a shame, because lots of buzz-makers on the internets apparently love them some Martyrs. And not without reason - for sensation-seekers, Martyrs must be like money from Bill Gates. That's fine, there's plenty of room in the theatre for people who like a sugar rush, yours truly among them, and yes, there are plenty of jump scares. But because Laugier here is so heavily reliant on other people's work - the movie can basically be broken down into three or four segments, each of which owes such an enormous debt to the look and tone of a slew of recent movies ranging from The Orphanage, (a deeply flawed) Hostel, (an even more deeply flawed) Funny Games, and a broad swathe from (the all-too-often flawed) Dario Argento, that it's hard to see it as an original piece. It's troubling that something so bereft of any ideas - so much so that the result is something approaching irresponsibility - has so many fans.

The paucity of Laugier's thesis is shown when, right around the seriously?-seriously?-that's-what-this-was-all-about? "reveal" he leans on the shock value via a collection of horrific real-life photos of young women being tortured and/or killed not once, but twice. It's practically a cry for help, an admission that all the screaming and yelling and naked girls he's shown in the first two-thirds of the movie can never unsettle you like the real thing. This isn't misogny, or masochism, it's disrespect. In this gesture, Laugier shows us that the genre and this movie means about as much to him as porn: see, a porn user who isn't too far gone into his or her loneliness has to eventually admit to him or herself the realization that this is all fake and nobody's getting off here, just transacting money. This isn't a story or even a movie by Laugier's standards, he just needs to get to act four so he'll have a reason to beat the hell out of Morjana Alaoui.

By the time we reach the supposed payoff, Martrys' structure is weak and moral compass so skewed, it resembles something more like what Kirk Cameron thinks horror movies are rather than cutting-edge cinema. If you're looking for a challenge from the land where Jerry Lewis is loved - one that pays tribute to it's influences instead of ripping them off and out of context - then go Inside. Because at bottom, Martyrs is just one of those dipshit video games they sell during WWE broadcasts, except with prettier girls.

get yr release on: week of May 24th

The highs and the lows of this week's releases are, in their own ways, things of beauty.

U.S. DVD releases:

- Beyond Rangoon (dir. John Boorman)
- Exploitation Cinema: Don't go in the Woods / The Forest
- Exploitation Cinema: Mark of the Witch / Devil Times Five
- Falling Down: Deluxe Edition (dir Joel Shumacher; starring Michael Douglas)
- Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King (dir. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg; starring Harry Baer)
- M. Butterfly (dir. David Cronenberg, starring Jeremy Irons, John Lone)
- Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (starring Debbie Gibson, Lorenzo Lamas- Oh Asylum, thank you!)
- Nenette+Boni (dir. Claire Denis)
- On the Beat (dir. Ying Ning)
- Philippe Garrel x 2 (I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar / Emergency Kisses)
- Revolution (dir. Hugh Hudson; starring Al Pacino)
- Ten Tigers of Kwangtung (dir. Cheng Cheh; starring Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng)
- The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk (Fong Sai Yuk 1 and 2)(dir. Corey Yuen; starring Jet Li, Michelle Reis, Josephine Siao)
- The Sky Crawlers (dir. Mamoru Oshii)
- Zabriskie Point (dir. Michelangelo Antonioni)

U.S. Blu-Ray releases:

- Children of Men (dir. Alfonso Cuaron; starring Clive Owen)
- Falling Down: Deluxe Edition (dir Joel Shumacher; starring Michael Douglas)
- Inside Man (dir. Spike Lee; starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen)
- Shamo (dir. Soi Cheang; starring Francis Ng)
- The Sky Crawlers (dir. Mamoru Oshii)
- True Romance (dir. Tony Scott; starring Christian Slater)

Foreign DVD and Blu-Ray releases:

- 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (dir. Michael Haneke) UK R2 PAL DVD
- Benny's Video (dir. Michael Haneke) UK R2 PAL DVD
- Blood: The Last Vampire (dir. Hiroyuki Kitakubo) Japan All-Region Blu-Ray
- Breath/Time: Two Disc Special Edition (dir. Kim Ki-Duk) Korea R3 DVD
- Central Bazaar (dir. Stephen Dwoskin) UK R2 PAL DVD
- Daytime Drinking (dir. Noh Young-Seok) Korea R3 DVD
- Election (dir. Johnnie To; starring Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka-Fai) Hong Kong All-Region Blu-Ray
- Election 2 (dir. Johnnie To; starring Simon Yam) Hong Kong All-Region Blu-Ray
- Il Grido (dir. Michelangelo Antonioni) Masters of Cinema UK R2 PAL DVD
- London In The Raw (dir. Arnold L. Miller) UK R2 PAL DVD/UK All-Region PAL Blu-Ray
- Martyrs (dir. Pascal Laugier) UK R2 PAL DVD/UK Region B PAL Blu-Ray
- Primitive London (dir. Arnold L. Miller) UK R2 PAL DVD/UK All-Region PAL Blu-Ray
- The Bed Sitting Room (dir. Richard Lester; starring Duddley Moore) UK R2 PAL DVD/UK Region B PAL Blu-Ray
- The Magick Lantern Cycle (Fireworks/Puce Moment/Rabbit's Moon/Eaux D'artifice/The Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome/Scorpio Rising/Kustom Kar Kommandos/Invocation Of My Demon Brother/Lucifer Rising)(dir. Kenneth Anger) UK R2 PAL DVD/UK All-Region PAL Blu-Ray
- The Michael Haneke Trilogy (71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance/Benny's Video/The Seventh Continent) UK R2 PAL DVD
- The Seventh Continent (dir. Michael Haneke) UK R2 PAL DVD
- Lust, Caution (dir. Ang Lee; staring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Teng Wei) Taiwan All-Region Blu-Ray
- The Sniper (dir. Dante Lam; starring Richie Jen, Huang Xiao-Ming) Hong Kong R1&3 DVD/Hong Kong All-Region Blu-Ray
- The Storm Riders: 10th Anniversary Edition (dir. Andrew Lau; staring Ekin Cheng, Aaron Kwok) Hong Kong All-Region DVD/Hong Kong Region A Blu-Ray


Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: The Black Belly of the Tarantula

Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)
Critter: Venom from a Tarantula Wasp (Hymenoptera: Pompilidae)
Size: Never seen in the film, but they can be up to 2 inches long
Modus Operandi: How these gals are milked for their venom is never said, but the venom is placed on an acupuncture needle. The needle is then placed into the victim’s neck at the base of the skull, paralyzing her while our killer slices away.
How the Menace Emerges: Well, telling you would ruin the mystery, wouldn’t it?
End Goal: Most likely, the real victims here are the wasps, who would much rather be stinging spiders for their little ones. Poor little gals.

This little giallo gem is a highlight of the genre. For you giallo purists, the black gloves have been replaced by surgical gloves, but there’s still plenty of the genre’s trademark blood and boobs. There are also plenty of hair-brained twists, red herrings and mysterious, hidden identity hand/voice scenes. Despite containing all of the giallo clichés and tropes, The Black Belly of the Tarantula stands out as an outstandingly filmed example of the genre. Pop art and 60s mod kitsch are the dominant visual themes throughout, and off kilter edits and pans add to the film’s angular charm. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also scored by Ennio Morricone, with a soundtrack that’s creepy, cheesy, beautiful and just plain odd in equal measures.
Note that the tarantula belly mentioned in the title is not the source of this film’s inclusion in the Invertebrate Field Guide. The lady victims (including 3 Bond girls) are the tarantulas who get their bellies carved, although our photogenic, furry pals can be seen guarding little boxes of cocaine in one scene. Instead, it is our little unseen wasps who provide the murder with his ideal weapon and myself with a reason to review The Black Belly of the Tarantula here.

Nit-picking Science: Silly Professor, I don’t know how you got a film of a bee stinging a non-tarantula spider, but I’d like you to tell me why you are showing it while talking about the tarantula wasp stinging tarantulas. Not only that, the wasp doesn’t disembowel the spider in order to lay her eggs. She merely paralyzes the spider before laying an egg on the surface of the spider. It is the larvae who do the disemboweling from the inside. Inspector Tellini, I wouldn’t expect you to know that spiders are not insects, but you should slap the old Professor for lying to you.


Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Slither

Slither (2006)
Critter: Parthenogenic space slug
Size: It starts out small at about 6 inches, but wait until it aggregates
Modus Operandi: Like many parasites, our space slug has a complicated life cycle. Initially, it enters a male human, burrows into his brain and gives him an ungodly carnivorous urge, multiple icky looking sores and growths, incredible speed and tentacles. He then impregnates a female human with billions of copies of the space slug. She too has an insatiable need for meat to nurture her little ones. When the space slug larvae complete their development, they burst out and seek new host brains.
How the Menace Emerges: An asteroid, of course
End Goal: Food, reproduction, world domination

Since it has been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted a real review, I thought I’d actually toss out a good film for once. Without any hesitation, I say that Slither is one of the best horror flicks to come out of the 2000s. Strangely, much of its charm comes from the fact that it harkens back to a more fun-filled time in horror but with a fresh take. Despite the fact that it’s chock full of nods to the greats that made the 70s and 80s such fun for horror fans (Carpenter, Cronenberg, Henenlotter), Slither outclasses the crappy fanboy pastiche that we’ve come to expect from the likes of Tarantino, Eli Roth and Rob Zombie. Rising out of the world of Troma, James Gunn (Writer of Tromeo & Juliet and Terror Firmer) has crafted a truly fun and truly creepy horror flick, and I hope he gets to do it again sometime soon. The one-liners are instant classics that ease out naturally and catch you off guard. The critter effects are manifested through an excellent blend of practical and digital effects and are thoughtful, convincing, gross and creepy, often at the same time. On top of that, Slither has a great script, with a rarity in horror: well-developed characters played by excellent actors. Although Gregg Henry (Lots of TV) steals the show as the ornery mayor with a sailor’s mouth, all of the actors come across as memorable and nearly naturalistic. Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) is as creepy in his own skin as in the monster prosthetics, yet somehow manages to invoke sympathy, Frankenstein’s monster-style. While not quite matching the caliber of a Henenlotter or Cronenberg, Gunn is a young kid who might be going places rather than one of the greats who has already proved his mettle and just gets better with age. Slither might be as good as it gets on the big screen these days, and that’s not too bad.

Nit-picking Science: Starla, the genus Homo may have split from our ancestors about 2.5 - 2 million years ago, but Homo sapiens didn’t spring up until about 250,000 – 200,000 years ago. Same with the cockroaches: Blattoptera may date to 350 million years ago, but our little roach pals didn’t truly arise until about 150 million years ago.

get yr release on: week of May 17th

A week that sees two movies featuring Lady Snowblood's Meiko Kaji (one with Sonny Chiba!) is in the running for best week ever.

!Hola, DVD releases for the week of 5/17! How was the end of your semester?

U.S. DVD releases:

- 3 Seconds Before Explosion (starring Akira Kobayashi)
- Billy Jack (dir. Tom Laughlin)
- Bollywood Horror Collection, Vol. 3 (Mahakaal / Tahkaana)
- Def by Temptation (starring Samuel L. Jackson)
- Detective Bureau 2-3: Go To Hell Bastards! (dir. Seijun Suzuki)
- Detective Story (dir. Takashi Miike)
- Eden Log (dir. Franck Vestiel)
- El Dorado: Paramount Centennial Collection (dir. Howard Hawks; starring John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan)
- Fanboys
- The Friends of Eddie Coyle (dir. Peter Yates; starring Robert Mitchum)
- Girl on a Motorcycle (dir. Jack Cardiff; starring Marianne Faithfull, Alain Delon)
- The Last Horror Film: Uncut Special Edition
- Man Hunt (dir. Fritz Lang; starring Walter Pidgeon)
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: Paramount Centennial Collection (dir. John Ford; starring John Wayne, James Stewart)
- Masaru Konuma: Debauched Desires (Wife to be Sacrificed/Cloistered Nun: Runa's Confession/Tattooed Flower Vase/Erotic Diary of an Office Lady)
- My Bloody Valentine 3D
- Nightmare Castle (starring Barbara Steele)
- Pigs, Pimps, & Prostitutes: 3 Films by Shohei Imamura (Pigs and Battleships, The Insect Woman, Intentions of Murder)
- Valkyrie (dir Bryan Singer; starring creepy scientologist #1)
- Wandering Ginza Butterfly (starring Meiko Kaji)
- Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler (starring Meiko Kaji, Sonny Chiba)

U.S. Blu-Ray releases:

- Batman (dir. Tim Burton)
- Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (dir. Tim Burton)
- Circle of Iron (starring David Carradine)
- Eden Log (dir. Franck Vestiel)
- Fast Company (dir. David Cronenberg)
- The Machinist (starring Christian Bale)
- My Bloody Valentine 3D
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Skynet Edition (dir. James Cameron; starring Arnold Schwarzenegger)
- Three Days of the Condor (dir Sydney Pollack; starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway)
- Valkyrie (dir. Bryan Singer; starring creepy scientologist #1)

Foreign DVD and Blu-Ray releases:

- A-1 (Dir. Gordon Chan; starring Anthony Wong, Edison Chen) Hong Kong Blu-Ray All Region
- City of Life and Death (dir. Lu Chuan) Mainland Chinese DVD All Region PAL
- Claustrophobia (dir. Ivy Ho; starring Ekin Cheng, Karena Lam) Hong Kong R3 DVD
- The Last Dinosaur (dir. Tsugunobu Kotani; starring Richard Boone) Japan R2 DVD
- Nanayomachi (dir. Naomi Kawase) Japan R2 DVD
- Parking (dir. Chung Mong-hong; starring Chang Chen, Guey Lun Mei) Taiwan All Region DVD
- Tactical Unit: The Complete Series (Produced by Johnnie To; starring Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Maggie Shiu) Hong Kong All Region DVD


Ten Recent Views

Wild in the Streets (dir. Barry Shear, 1968) -
From the director of Across 110th Street comes this look at the youth movement of 1968, something viewed with a total fear and cynicism from its adult filmmakers. In it, a pop idol (who encourages racial and gender equality and is homo-friendly) creates a wave of political change across the nation by encouraging his youthful following to overthrow the adult authority ruling the country by pairing with an ambitious senator who helps pass legislation lowering the voting age to 14. Naturally, the film finds that once it happens and the youth begin altering national policy, their choices are foolish, quickly lowering things to a totalitarian state. Its contempt for youth is constantly highlighted by how shallow, selfish and stupid they're made to appear, while most of its adults seem similarly ridiculous and idiotic. A time capsule of reactionary forces speaking out in a progressive time.

The Tale of Despereaux (dir. Sam Fell/Robert Stevenhagen, 2008) -
I'm not sure if the pacing and structure is ingenious or unknowing. I think that a lot of the bad reviews for this films stem from the fact that you have a film about a cute little mouse in a swell hat and yet it doesn't kowtow to Disney-fied cuteness, doesn't pander to the audience and offer the adorable little hero they expected. That said, I think its ambitions outstrip its reality, taking on several subplots that don't entwine together, just sort of co-exist. It reminds me in this way of Bergman's Persona, which never seems to be able to make up its mind if it wants to be a heavy psycho-drama or an avant-garde experiment and ends up treading a somewhat unsuccessful line between the two, just as Tale of Despereaux still comes on charming and interesting without engaging as fully as it could (or should). It's never cloying and cutesy, so I appreciate that for sure, but it also never goes a step beyond and turns its bounty of ideas into something better.

Patrick (dir. Richard Franklin, 1978) -
Everything you need to know about this film is on the outer packaging. An Australian film about a telekinetically endowed young man in a coma, in which a nurse begins to suspect that he's not the vegetable that everyone else believes. Also important on the outer packaging is its rating - PG - which tells you about how intense they're going to allow it to get. Given that it's my namesake, I really hoped for more - I've actually had this movie in the back of my head since I first heard of it 31 years ago - and it just didn't deliver, despite a few interesting ideas and pieces. Good concept, but it builds endlessly toward a very anti-climactic climax. Ho-hum. Even Spielberg did more with a suspenseful idea and a PG rating.

Tropic Thunder (dir. Ben Stiller, 2008) -
When Stiller is the main creative force behind the characters and the story, he's approximately 6000 times funnier than when he's hired on as actor for someone else's film. Though he'll never be as artsy or experimental he reminds me of John Cassavetes, taking on mainstream work to make money to fund his more esoteric ventures that are always more interesting. This one's no exception, making character the central idea over plot - no surprise to me that Downey got a nod from the Academy for his work here even if I didn't think it was as great as they did; he took an idea and ran with it. But Stiller's brand of humor is all over this, starting with the great opening sequence of clips setting up each of the main characters and then developing them over the film, rather than just having one-note characters who have some change late in the film, as in so many so-so comedies out of Hollywood. And when it starts getting less funny and winding you up in the lives of the characters they've invested the time to make, it works there too. I prefer the goofy stuff of course - when Stiller is on stage in a drug lord's prison camp recreating a role his captors know from their only video tape they have for entertainment, you know they've made something special - but the fact that they don't only do pratfalls and kick-in-the-balls type of humor makes this different from most Hollywood fare.

The Last Wave (dir. Peter Weir, 1977) -
Probably the best of Weir's early films, beating out the L'Avventura Redux of Picnic at Hanging Rock for my tastes and way more coherent and thought through than The Cars That Ate Paris. Richard Chamberlain plays a lawyer hired to defend an Aboriginal accused of murder. As he gets deeper into the case things start to get weird, finding an apocalyptic prophecy and possible evidence of magic that seem tied into things - and into his own life. I like that it remains ambiguous, like the overall feel of the film, there's some great imagery - and I still think it's an interesting view without loving the film. But I'm sure I'll watch it again, for all the reasons listed above.

Milk (dir. Gus Van Sant, 2008) -
I should love it as a film and I don't - it's a little too obvious in spots - but as a social document I have to give it major props. It's a fairly uncompromised view of the gay world that's making major inroads to all kinds of viewers, not just a ghettoized version that stays within a gay (and gay-friendly) viewership. Like a lot of Gus Van Sant's films, especially recent ones, there's an underlying (implied) motif of the violence resulting from repressed homosexuality - in this case, that of Dan White, who murdered both Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk. Van Sant's been more effective recently, but I guess his reigned in/more audience friendly version of the stories that have been fascinating him lately - less experimental than Elephant and Last Days and Gerry for sure, even if it's related - still tells a story worth telling (and seeing, of course), and the fact that it's gotten such a great reception is gratifying and encouraging. Not my favorite Van Sant, but if you don't know the Harvey Milk story, this is a good dramatic representation of it. Proceed directly from here to the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. And as a last note, Sean Penn deserves major props for his representation of Milk here - there was not a moment of the film that I thought of it as Penn playing a character, he simply vanishes into the role.

Iron Man (dir. Jon Favreau, 2008) -
Self-deprecating humor throughout, and Downey is great in the title role. It's "just" entertainment of course, nothing loftier but if you wanna see A) shit blowin' up real good and B) and enjoyable couple hours of well made popcorn movie, you've got a fine pick on your hands here. Comic book reading is not a pre-requisite, either, you can walk into this without knowing the name Tony Stark and still have fun with it - if fun's what you're looking for. I think you'd be stretching things beyond their substance to try to read anything about a political situation into this, other than a generalized set of ideas about current concepts of war and the role of industrialized warfare in the U.S.

Kung Fu Panda (dir. Mark Osborne/John Stevenson, 2008) -
Not bad, I guess for an animated set of watered down eastern-isms. I just wish that they'd made it funnier than it was, or more serious, or maybe just less predictable. Fluffy, and if I had kids it might be the way i'd introduce them to concepts that I'd be forcing on them more and more later. But I don't have kids, so the likelihood of me watching again is pretty damn slim.

Onibaba (dir. Kaneto Shindô, 1964) -
A strange little story of evil and demons and human desperation that probably has a lot more resonance with people who might've grown up with a background that included the folk tale(s) that formed part of the story - or at least studied them first - than it did with me. That said, it's a great visual story and a really engrossing - albeit grim - tale of people living in dire straits, carving out their survival by any means they can in a surprisingly brutal and frank manner (especially for the time). There's a lot going on here that I feel went over my head on the first viewing and it's definitely a film I'll be going back to.

Big House, U.S.A. (dir. Howard W. Koch, 1955) -
Lots of nice Colorado footage here - always a plus for me - but the story's really the thing that powers this. Ralph Meeker plays an opportunistic sociopath who kidnaps a lost boy when he finds out the kid's family has money and ultimately is tracked down and ends up in jail, denying his involvement all the while. He's pretty great as the absolutely cold-blooded criminal, perfectly illuminating the character he's given - nicknamed "Ice Man" for his cool demeanor and refusal to crack under pressure from the feds once he's inside - but Broderick Crawford is given a great role here and steals the show as a crime kingpin. He's planning a jailbreak and Meeker's Ice Man being dropped into things only means his plans need to be altered slightly, with or without Ice Man's acquiescence. The breakout and subsequent action are where it's at though, even if the lead-up feels nicely gritty and intense. Lots of fun, even if nothing incredibly special.

3 by Mizoguchi Kenji

Note - I have been told that my approach to what you kids like to call "spoilers" is to ignore them altogether and tell you whatever I want about the film with no warning whatsoever. Consider this a warning that this is meant as a discussion of thematic elements of the films in question (Sisters of the Gion (1936), Osaka Elegy (also 1936), and Sansho the Bailiff (1954)) , not a "thumbs up/thumbs down" review of the films in which I recommend that you should or shouldn't see them and preserve surprises of plot for your enjoyment. I will talk about several elements of the plot that elucidate my ideas about the films. If you haven't seen them, I recommend seeing them before reading this.

In taking on the incredibly broad idea of writing about Japanese film, I was encouraged not to fall back on things I could write in my sleep, thereby leaving out any kind of look at the work of Kurosawa or something more to detail my recent infatuation with Ozu. So I went this way - checked out some stuff from the fine Eclipse box set Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women (specifically Sisters of the Gion and Osaka Elegy) and also Criterion's Sansho the Bailiff to see what commonalities I could find. And behold, in addition to fallen women, I found more to feast on for sure. I know - auteur schmateur, right? A good director is a good director, period, and this is only some pretentious French theory that's never been indisputably proven. But if, as has been suggested, not every director is an auteur and there are those who are merely hired craftsmen and those who leave an indelible stamp on everything they touch, Mizoguchi's definitely in the latter category.

Take for instance, these films, which all revolve around some common themes of societal positions (especially those of women) and the idea of people as property, as beholden to those who have money and the lengths they find themselves forced to go to to hold on to their ideals and their selves. The first one I watched - Sisters - even opens with an auction, quite neatly setting up a central idea that each film puts its own spin on. This auction turns out to be the selling off the property of one Mr. Furusawa, a businessman who has lost his business. He's a regular client of Umekichi, one of the sisters, and a geisha who stands behind traditional values, honor, and loyalty. Her sister Omocha, on the other hand, views the institution of the geisha as a corrupt vehicle for men to retain power over women and her approach to being a geisha is that of the opportunist and manipulator, despising the activities, but still mindful of the opportunities for social and fiscal success it offers a woman unafraid to be perceived as ruthlessly mercenary - a cab driver in one scene even tells her "You'll do anything for money" - and also mindful of the fact that in that society, there were very few other options available to an independent woman who is of no mind to marry a man.

Throughout the film we are presented with the two opposing approaches that the sisters take in their approach to the institution of the geisha, Umekichi's traditional set of values offering her the options of playing supplicant to snag a wealthy patron or of being a "good girl" with no status. When her primary patron, Furusawa, goes broke, she still retains a sense of obligation to him, one who has consistently kept her in his good graces, even though he has no means to support her any longer and even becomes a drain on her own resources. Omocha, on the other hand, ridicules her sister's old fashioned approach to men, preferring to retain her independence but understanding also that being a geisha offers her one of the few ways she can advance herself, an opportunity she resents and approaches as a necessary evil, even bemoaning the entire institution at one point late in the film. This dichotomy runs through all three films - the only seeming options available to women are to kowtow to traditional values in which they are offered no real power unless it's granted to them by men with money or to rebel against this order and suffer ostracization or real physical threat.

Osaka Elegy strikes me as somewhat less effective early on, because the characters and their motivations are less believable, but wow, what an ending! The film slowly offers up a portrait of a family in financial straits - a young woman with a promising job at a pharmaceutical company and an up-and-coming boyfriend finds out that her father has embezzled some money from the company he works for. Her brother may not be able to complete his schooling if the father's name is dragged through the mud as well. She decides that she may be able to solve her father's financial problems by accepting her boss's offer of money for a date, but this proves to be the beginning of a slide for her in which her every effort to extricate her family from their problems - and she does try, saving her father's name, supporting her troubled younger sister whose wildness had previously brought trouble on to the family, and even paying her brother's tuition - merely causes the further muddying of her own name, a loss of face that causes even her own family to ultimately reject her in the brutally hard closing scenes. Again, Isuzu Yamada delivers a strong performance which like her Omocha in Sisters of the Gion is a strong and self-reliant character, though unlike Omocha her character Ayako is working here for others throughout, trying her best to support not just herself, but her family. The idea of women trying to keep a family together in the face of societal and financial pressure is expanded in every direction in Sansho the Bailiff, released 18 years later.

In Sansho the basic idea of the film is set up as a father tells his son: "Without mercy, man is not a human being." This is the main thing explored here as a family is again subject to oppression and domination, scraping by as best they can to survive. The father is a minor regional leader whose controversial position sympathizing with local peasants causes him to be ostracized to an outlying post. When his family travels to meet him they are kidnapped and sold into slavery and prostitution, separating the mother from her children. The children learn to survive under the cruel bailiff Sansho, who deals out harsh punishments for those who try to escape his slave camp or break any of his rules - the young brother Zushio helps Sansho enforce his rules, moving far away from the principles he'd been taught while his sister Anju manages to continue to show mercy and kindness to others but becomes more meek and hopeless as she sees her brother's humanity fading. When they learn that their mother - long assumed dead - is still alive, they both renew their hope and take an opportunity to escape to try to reunite with her.

The film's grim tone and downbeat ending seem to be considered a real downer by many but for me it's only by these kinds of trials that the humanity they put on display - where the brother overcomes the easier route to success by willfully choosing kindness rather than maintaining a position within Sansho's camp - can be truly earned and believed. Without the harshness of much of what preceded it the emotionally gripping final scenes would've had a greatly diminished impact. And again, we find a family tested, with the son yielding - temporarily - to the wrong path and the women taking whatever option is available to them to survive. It's a brutal look at how the lack of mercy saps one's humanity, a hard lesson learned, but in Mizoguchi's hands it's also delivered as a complex,  beautiful, even poetic rumination on what it means to be human. The film ups the ante of the earlier works by following out several shifts in tone and the meanings attributed to several characters. Unlike the "Fallen women" films, this one centers on both brother and sister primarily. not just on the female half of the story and it's interesting to see how his approach plays out with the male character. It's a masterwork where the other films are great, and it puts Mizoguchi for me in the first ranks of Japanese directors, one whose films I'm now gonna have to do a lot of work to explore.


get yr release on

The Criterion Release of John Huston's Wise Blood is
sure to make this a Dourif-a-riffic week!

Silly DVD releases for the week of 5/12/09 - Trix are fer kids!

Region 1 U.S. releases>>
- Alexander Korda’s Private Lives (Eclipse Series 16; includes the films: The Private Life of Henry VIII, The Rise of Catherine the Great, The Private Life of Don Juan, Rembrandt)
- The Passengers
- S Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale
- Star Trek: Best of the Original Series
- Star Trek Motion Picture Trilogy (box set)
- Taken
- Wise Blood (Criterion Collection directed by John Huston)
- Withered in the Blooming Season

Multi-region and other foreign releases>>
- Compulsion (2008, w/ Ray Winstone) (UK PAL)

Blu-Ray releases>>
- Fargo
- The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
- License to Kill
- Man With the Golden Gun
- The Passengers- S Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale
- Star Trek Motion Picture Trilogy (box set)
- Star Trek – Original Motion Picture Collection (box set)


Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: The Cameraman's Revenge

The Cameraman's Revenge (1912)
Critter: Ladislas Starevich
Size: 13 minutes long
Modus Operandi: Stop-motion animation using bug parts
How the Menace Emerges: Finding actual, live bugs to be terrible actors, Starevich killed them, turned them into tiny puppets and made them behave.
End Goal: Surreal tales of life, love and infidelity as told through insects

Since I still have way too much on my plate this week, I haven’t had the chance to sit and watch a new bug flick. Instead, you get another short film! The Cameraman’s Revenge is one of dozens of fantastic stop-motion animation films by the Russian genius of the genre, Ladislas Starevich. Enjoy!


Opening today- Fados by Carlos Saura

In 2007, Carlos Saura put a capper on his trilogy of films dedicated to music* with Fados, a film that pays tribute to the Portuguese folk music of the title. Finally getting a U.S. theatrical run, Fados arrives on the big screen in Denver starting tonight with a special presentation over at the Starz FilmCenter. Although it has won awards nationally as a documentary film, it is really more of a performance film that couches song and dance in a world of cinematic splendor. Check out the trailer to get a feel for the film:

Saura's approach is apparently unorthodox and has rubbed some purists the wrong way by including hip-hop and pop hybrids of the music in the film, but don't let that dissuade you from seeing the film as many of Fado's shining stars are represented. The most famous living exponent of the art, The Mozambique born Mariza, is in the film. Here is her performance of Ó Gente Da Minha Terra on David Letterman from a couple of years back (it's a knock-out!):

If that clip made you wish you could see her live, well, if you live in Colorado you just missed her as she performed at the Macky Auditorium at CU Campus on April 22.

Tonight- Friday, May 8th- at 7:00 The Stars FilmCenter is starting its run of Fados with a special presentation that includes an after-film Flamenco performance (???)** by local Flamenco dancer and teacher Natalia Pérez del Villar. They will also be serving tapas and Sangria for your snacking pleasure. Tickets are $11.00. If you don't get to go tonight, please catch it before it leaves the theater on May 14th.

* The other films in the trilogy are Flamenco (1995) and Tango(1998).

** The Flamenco performance has to be in recognition of Saura's previous work like his famous Flamenco trilogy (Blood Wedding, Carmen, El Amor Brujo) and the fact that he is Spanish, not because the folks over at Starz don't know the difference between Portugal and Spain, right? Don't get me wrong, anytime is a good time for Flamenco but this kind of pair-up might come across as old-fashioned American cultural ignorance if not presented properly.


get yr release on

Cate Blanchett looks happy now, but she doesn't realize yet that
the further you scroll down this post, the younger it will get.

Region 1 U.S. titles>>

- Chandi Chowk to China
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Criterion Collection directed by David Fincher)
- Last Chance Harvey
- Maraschino Cherry (dir. Radley Metzger)
- Mississippi Chicken
- Nuns of St. Archangel
- Psychos in Love
- Smother
- Wendy & Lucy

Multi-region and other foreign releases>>

- He Ran All the Way Home (1951) (UK PAL)
- Listzomania (UK PAL)
- The Myth (with Jackie Chan & Tony Leung Kar Fai) (UK PAL)
- Ong Bak 2 (Malaysian import, all region)
- War Wolves (Tim Thomerson, John Saxon, and Adrienne Barbeau) (UK PAL)
- The Young Savages (1961) (UK PAL)

Region 1 Blu-Ray>>

- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Criterion Collection directed by David Fincher)
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
- Grease
- Imax: Amazon
- Imax: Blu Sea Trilogy
- Imax: Journey Into Amazing Caves
- Imax: Magic of Flight
- Saturday Night Fever
- There’s Something About Mary
- Twilight


Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Green Porno

Green Porno (2008, 2009)

Critter: Isabella Rossellini

Size: Tiny

Modus Operandi: Posts small films that amuse, educate and creep you out

How the Menace Emerges: Sundance supported the creation of two seasons of these delighful shorts

End Goal: Edutainment!

Since I'm bombarded with all sorts of school-related responsibilities this week, I have no time for a full length invertebrate flick. Instead, I bring you Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno. Her first season was dedicated entirely to terrestrial invertebrates. Learn about the mating habits of the fly, the bee, the spider, the earthworn, the snail, the firefly and the praying mantis. Even though season 2 centers on marine life, you can still get your invertebrate fix with the sex lives of the starfish, the barnacle and the limpet. Check out the rest of them here. It's worth it.