Archive for August, 2010

Guess the pic

Courtesy of Troy Olson

The winner can submit their screen-cap to movieman0283@gmail.com. Do not include film title in file name so I can participate as well! (Give a day or two for the new picture to go up)


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by Allan Fish

(Serbia 2010 104m) DVD2 (from October 2010)

Aka.  Srpski film

A kind of cartoon for grown-ups

p  Srdjan Spasojevic  d  Srdjan Spasojevic  w  Aleksandar Radivojevic, Srdjan Spasojevic  ph  Nemanja Jovanov  ed  Darko Simic  m  Sky Wikluh  art  Nemanja Petrovic  cos  Jasmina Sanader

Srdjan Todorovic (Milos), Sergej Trifunovic (Vukmir), Jelena Gavrilovic (Marija), Katarina Zutic (Lejla), Slobodan Bestic (Marko), Ana Sakic (Jecina Majka), Lena Bogdanovic (Doctor), Miodrag Krcmarik (Rasa), Lidija Pletl (Jecina Baka),

Imagine yourselves in the arms of Morpheus, drifting as if unconsciously like Jean Marais in Orphée, guided by one’s own Heurtebise, like Virgil guiding Danté through the seven circles of hell.  This is not just any hell, however, but cine-hell.  We pass the forbidding antechamber labelled with a garish picture of a toilet.  Through that door we pass into the realms of cine-excretion, films so unpardonably puerile and amateurish, the dross of the mainstream, that to watch them in perpuity would be a special form of hell.  My guide would seem to have something less flimsy in store for me.  We walk on, through the concentric circles of this inferno, past a room devoted to the depiction of it in film, past the doors to which lead the extremities of the cinematic art, from Irreversible to Baise Moi!, from The Image to Inside, and finally wound up at a truly forbidding entrance.  To the side of the door, a sign, in some form of Slav language, with what looked to be a picture showing some form of orphanage or care home.  Above the door, the forbidding words, in Latin, well known to many, Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate.

            Spasojevic’s apocalyptic vision details a retired male porn-star who has financial worries and sees a way out in the form of an artistic porn film offered to him by a shady businessman called Vukmir, but who refuses to tell him what it’s about and what will happen over the course of a shoot.  We’re instantly alarmed, images of snuff movies circulating in our heads, visions of pubescent girls put before the protagonist.  This could be a hairy road, we think.  Suffice it to say that nothing can prepare you for what follows, but rather it needed someone to come out from behind the curtains to give a pre-credit warning, like Edward Van Sloan at the beginning of Frankenstein all those years ago.  I remember his words, “…it may shock you…it may terrify you.”  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1937 73m) not on DVD

Aka. Koi mo wasurete

Keep your stinky perfume

d  Hiroshi Shimizu  w  Ryusoke Saito  ph  Isamu Aoki  m  Senji Ito, Akiyasu Ozawa  art  Kotaro Inoue

Michiko Kuwano (Oyuki), Tomio Aoki (Kotaro), Bakudankozo (Haru), Shuji Sano (Kyosuke), Fumiko Okamura (Madam), Setsuko Shinobu (A-ko), Hatsue Gion, Man Ikebe, Mary Dean, Kenji Oyama, Mitsuko Mito, Kazuko Kumaki, Koichi Ito,

There was a hope that, with the release of two excellent Hiroshi Shimizu box sets to DVD, other classics of his oeuvre would surface.  Sadly, it was a forlorn hope, and though grateful for what we had, we still await the likes of Seven Seas, Silver Stream and Eclipse, all regarded as the cream of his early thirties output.  Myself I have only seen a couple of Shimizu films outside the eight released in the box sets, but one of them finds itself worthy of inclusion here.  The print quality is mediocre, taken from an actual film reel, with burnt in English subtitles and timecode.  It covers the sort of plot the Ozu made his own earlier in the decade, yet there’s something a little different to Shimizu’s handling that marks him out almost as the forerunner of the modern masters. 

            In a Japanese port town, Oyuki works at a hotel bar as one of the girls employed to encourage patrons to drink.  She hates the job, but does it because she has no other way of supporting her young son Haru through school.  There are problems at work because the Madam who runs the hotel refuses any of the girls’ just demands, refusing to give them shares in the beer money that other hotels do, insisting they buy their own food and clothes and put up with any abuse, physical or otherwise, meted out to them by guests, not least passing foreigners.  Haru meanwhile has his own problems, the other kids, invited back to Haru’s house, eat him out of his candies, then seeing his mother’s expensive perfume, bandy it about that she works as a woman of ill repute and bar him from their games.  Oyuki finds out and does her utmost to take him to another school, but even there he is ostracised and, eventually, seems ashamed of his mother.  After one fight with the other boys, he catches a cold and is ordered to rest, but in his desire to stand up for his mother, he gets out of his sick bed, beats up the perpetrator, but collapses and dies soon after of pneumonia. (more…)

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                                            Director Jeff Lieberman

     Jamie Uhler’s superlative review of the cult horror classic Blue Sunshine has attracted a comment from the film’s director, Jeff Lieberman.  Wonders in the Dark is deeply honored to have Mr. Lieberman appear at the site and voice his own appreciation for the film’s longevity.  This is particularly a great honor for Mr. Uhler.

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Jeremy Juliano sits in 'Coward's Corner' seat in lobby at Manhattan's Film Forum at showing of William Castle's 'Homicidal'

by Sam Juliano

Labor Day barbeques, autumn leaves, NFL Football, the fall semester at college, a new school year and the opening of the symphony hall and opera seasons are within grasp, as yet another summer has expired in seeminly speeded-up fashion.  Those of us lucky enough to enjoy some time off from work can at least approach the new season with some renewed vigour.  Maybe?

For those keeping an eye on the various site postings, as always there’s some great stuff out there.  Marilyn Ferdinand’s terrific review on Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing (2006) at Ferdy-on-Films has attracted a comment from director Cecelia Peck (the daughter of Gregory Peck) in strong appreciation for Ms. Ferdinand; Jason Marshall continues his impressive countdown of the cinema, reaching 1934 as of this writing at Movies Over Matter; at The Last Lullaby, affable filmmaker Jeffrey Goodman has a very popular post up on “Film Books on My Desk” which will have many resuming their cinema studies in print.  Tireless John Greco has posted some more Anthony Manns (along with some other vintage early 60’s cinema) while at Movie Classics Judy Geater relentlessly pursues film icon William Wellman, while keeping the Bard in hand.

Jamie Uhrer has officially launched the horror poll at Wonders with a fantastic review of his own #50 runner-up, a late 70’s entry titled Blue Sunshine, which Allan continues with his inspiring coverage of classic Japanese cinema with some brilliant capsules.  Joel Bocko’s Godard feature, Stephen Russell-Gebbett’s moving tribute to fallen Japanese animation genius Satoshi Kon, Bob Clark’s review triptych including Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and a well-received tribute to artist Terrill Welch in the blogger series, all brightened up the pages at our home base.

A torrid weekend schedule at the theatres again occupied the lion’s share of waking time in these parts, but the new festival at the Film Forum, The Return of William Castle (which opened Friday night) is the culprit, as my family was taken along for a quartet of films of the 50’s horror gimmick master, including a fully-rigged theatre (which included a “Cowards Corner” chair in the lobby) and a personal appearance from the director’s daughter Terry, who flew in with her husband from San Francisco for the festivities and a red-carpet treatment from Film Forum head honcho, Program Director Bruce Goldstein.   Sunday’s showing of House on Haunted Hill included a moving skeleton gliding across the ceiling of the theatre at the film’s climax, in the same way it was done back in 1958.  For Mr. Sardonicus it was a “punishment poll” introduced before the end of the film by Castle himself, and the audience results on Sunday were overseen by Film Forum employees.  I will have a full mega-post on William Castle in two weeks at WitD, relating my experience with this festival.  Meanwhile, on Wednesday evening, on the next to last day of the 3D Festival, a sold-out crowd (many were turned away too) gave the theatre one of its biggest nights with Roy Ward Baker’s rarely-seen 3D vehicle (with Robert Ryan) of Inferno.  Lucille and I managed three recent films on top of the festival stuff (which included the latest weekend Ozu)

I also managed three recent films on top of the festival stuff (which included the latest weekend Ozu)  With school starting on Wednesday, there can be only one more week of this “drop-everything else” kind of insanity, but that will be enough to manage most of the Castle offerings, including the vital Castle noir, When Strangers Marry (1944).

We watched:

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World  **   (Tuesday night) Edgewater multiplex

The Milk of Sorrow ****                   (Saturday night)   Cinema Village

Animal Kingdom **** 1/2                      (Saturday night)    Landmark Cinemas

Inferno     ****                      (Wednesday night)  3D Fest at Film Forum

Homicidal   ***                    (Friday night)     William Castle Fest at Film Forum

Straight-Jacket  ***     (Friday night)    William Castle Fest at Film Forum

Mr. Sardonicus  ***            (Sunday afternoon)  William Castle Fest

House on Haunted Hill ****  (Sunday afternoon)  William Castle Fest

Early Summer *****              (Sunday morning)   Ozu Festival at IFC

Marilyn Ferdinand is surely on Cloud Nine this week, as she received a comment from director Cecelia Peck, (daughter of actor Gregory Peck) under her extraordinary review of Peck’s Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing.  It’s one of this famed Chicago blog’s proudest moments: http://www.ferdyonfilms.com/?p=5922 (more…)

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by Joel

#82 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series counting down the most acclaimed films of the previous decade.

The zeroes did not see many high-profile “movements” or artistic trends in American cinema. Indie cinema, the big news of the early to mid nineties, was co-opted by Hollywood, and (perhaps resultingly) few new young directors emerged; likewise widely-embraced new developments. Still, there were transformations, some subtle, others under the radar. With Royal Tenenbaums setting the tone, studio “independents” embraced quirk as their defining characteristic – a once marginal taste now became the norm. Financially independent (which is to say, actually independent) cinema reacted accordingly. There were two prominent approaches, both defiantly smallscale. The first, and more low-budget, was dubbed “mumblecore.” Its subjects were middle-class youths, usually well-educated but not concerned with work (either for mysterious reasons or because they were given rather unconvincing “cool” jobs). The narrative focus was almost always on (heterosexual) relationships, and the form took anti-sleekness to its extreme: handheld camera, tiny casts and crews, often shot on video. Long-held close-ups were the aesthetic trademarks of the mumblers, and this (along with the filmmakers’ penchant to cast themselves and their friends in the main parts) often led to charges of narcissism.

At any rate, “mumblecore” received more media attention (albeit exclusively in hip, trendy outlets) than any other indie movement, and seems to have spent itself after reaching a high-water mark a year or two ago. Meanwhile, quietly but with growing acclaim and less controversy, a number of independent films appeared at festivals with an opposite tack: rather than explore the emotional travails of the financially secure but spiritually wandering young, it sought out subjects on the periphery of society: struggling immigrants, street orphans, crack addicts in the flooded hinterlands. Stylistically there was a similarity, in that these indies were usually shot low to the ground, but it should be noted that (ironically) the films with more impoverished subjects sometimes had bigger budgets, more access to professionals – even movie stars, and more established backers (Wendy and Lucy was produced by Todd Haynes). Movies like Ballast, Frozen River, and particularly the films of Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and Goodbye Solo) represented this trend which, unlike mumblecore, shows no signs of dissipating at the moment. Wendy and Lucy very firmly belongs to this category. (more…)

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directed by Jeff Lieberman, essay by Jamie

Horror fans such as I have long used a last name as an adjective: ‘Cronenbergian’. It’s a helpful shorthand for fans of the massively liked director in seeking out lesser works by directors who worked in similar shadowy areas of the genre. Late 70’s films of this type are rare, after all Cronenberg wasn’t really the figure he would become even 5 year later, so Jeff Lieberman’s 1978 masterpiece Blue Sunshine could actually be said to predate the term, but now in 2010 it’s a good way to get the uninitiated into seeking and seeing this film. It’s not that ‘Blue Sunshine’ is body-horror (which is usually when the term ‘Cronenbergian’ is used), the Cronenberg that this seems most close to is his Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone. While that is certainly a lesser Cronenberg (probably since the material isn’t originally his), Blue Sunshine outshines that more famous film in almost every conceivable way; its political satire cuts deeper, it’s contemptuous attitude towards hippie era baby boomers is more subversive then any Cold War era paranoia, and the killers, whose murderous urges are unknown even to them is just downright scarier.

At the time Blue Sunshine was released in 1978 Lieberman was still somewhat of a cult director, as his sole credit was the 1976 cult (soon to be) horror classic Squirm, featuring the make-up work of then unknown Rick Baker. Sadly the films release didn’t change his stature, nor did his next one, the 1981 slasher gem Just Before Dawn (that features one of the great endings to a slasher film). Lieberman turned to other work after these three horror films so it’s entirely possible that he’ll never achieve the status he truly deserves (though a return to the genre in the mid-2000’s offers a slight glimmer).

Blue Sunshine is the story of an LSD that ten years later turns its taker into a murderous lunatic. The taker has no advance warning except for the losing of ones hair (it’s said to afflict every follicle on the body), and the occasional splitting migraine when loud noise is encountered. When the first afflicted member goes crazy at a party and barbecues three women, a friend in attendance begins investigating. The friend, Jerry Zipkin (played by Zalman King who could have played Sean Penn’s older brother the similarities are that close) is doubly confused when he begins learning that other lunatics are also popping up and that they all graduated from Stanford exactly ten years prior. Soon he’s got the help of his (maybe) girlfriend Alicia on the case and his old pal David, who also graduated from Stanford ten years ago. After a process of elimination Jerry and David, who is now a practicing MD, realize that a Stanford lab made LCD called ‘Blue Sunshine’ is the culprit. It’s chief pusher at the time was Edward Flemming who is now running for Senate in California and his candidacy is gaining steam. Thankfully David and Edward never took the stuff though they were both dealing it, however Edward’s chief security man, an old college pal and Stanford football star, has. This sets the film off and running, Jerry trying to get close enough to Ed to warn him (and perhaps immobilize him), while escaping a Detective who wants answers for the mounting murders that seem to be his doing. This last third act is interesting as Zipkin, a once valedictorian from Cornell, purses Flemming with a tranquilizer gun not knowing whether or not he’s taken Blue Sunshine, probing the idea of assassination, but without the finality of death, and for the greater good for all involved. It’s gripping stuff not normally found in underground B-horror from this era (or any era for that matter). It’s relation to horror and politics mirrors the aforementioned Dead Zone, and the (somewhat) cat-and-mouse assassination sub-plot speaks to Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968), while it’s look is classic 70’s horror. The acting is good, if not great, with the help of Lieberman’s never cheesy script (and this is a breath of fresh air for a film with a plot this out there).

Blue Sunshine played to mostly positive reviews, then drifted into the realm of forgotten (if even seen) classic sporadically sprouting up at CBGB’s punk rock club of all places, being played on screens as bands rocked away. If obvious why the punks picked up on the film; the climax scene takes place at that rank disco and the infected man– now bald– is thrown into fits whenever the throbbing disco bass line is turned up. I’ve read a rumor that the supergroup in England consisting of Robert Smith of the Cure and Steven Severin of Souixsie and the Banshees called The Glove’ paid homage with their only album, 1983’s ‘Blue Sunshine’ (the film did play to rave reviews at the London film festival, the same year Halloween made David Carpenter famous, so it’s not out of the question that they would have been familiar with it). Many West Coast punkers like the Dead Kennedy’s could draw much from the subversive ex-hippie drug pusher turned ‘passionate’ conservative candidate in their indictment of Jerry Brown (and others) in ‘California Uber Allies’. Now, looking back, it seems to fill that space so prophetically before California officially became the state that sprouted the ultimate phony politician Ronald Reagan, and movement Neo-Conservatism. Somewhere JG Ballard must be smiling that a film like Blue Sunshine was made. Here’s to hoping it eventually gets it’s place in the (blue) sun.

The Horror Honorable Mention series is meant to highlight films we feel are worthy enough for mention, but ultimately, after the 4 lists were finalized didn’t make the final 100. ‘Blue Sunshine’ placed on just one list, Jamie’s, at number 50

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1971 135m) not on DVD

Aka. Mandala

Make harmony with benevolence

p  Toyoaki Awa  d  Akio Jissoji  w  Toshiro Ishido  ph  Yozo Inagaki  ed  Keichi Yraoka  m  Toru Kuyuki  art  Noriyoshi Ikeya

Shin Kishida, Koji Shimizu, Hiroko Sakurai, Ryo Tamura,

In a room furnished entirely in dazzling white, with the only trappings being white bed sheets, a couple make love enthusiastically, writhing around in seeming orgiastic bliss, but any sounds are drowned out, literally, by that of waves crashing against the shore.  In some ways, despite another twelve reels that follow, the essence of the second part of Akio Jissoji’s Buddhist trilogy (following This Transient Life and preceding Poem) can be distilled, in its essence, to that final scene.   Nature and the natural opposed to unnatural. 

            Mandara follows two Kyoto students, as they follow what could, depending on your mood, be summed up, in the words of one of the protagonists, as either a utopia or a secret society.  Or a religious cult devoted to agriculture and the search for eroticism.  Both notions tie in with the idea of returning to the primordial state, of a time when love wasn’t known, only sex, so that rape was an acceptable act which women were to expect.  And as such there is a lot of rape in Mandara, enough to make one think we were watching a Wakamatsu, Kumashiro or Konuma film from the same era.  There’s nothing erotic about what we see here, though.  It’s all bestial, savage, one might even say nihilist.  That’s the paradox of it, a community where sex has been reduced to such an extent that the pleasure can only be found in imagining the woman to be dead, or in a comatose state.  It’s sickening in many ways, yet it dares you to be repulsed, dares you to turn away and uses visual stimulants and iconography to stir the melting pot of ideas.  Waves, the shore, a waterfall, simple farming, the digging of irrigation ditches, devotion towards a tapestry and a statue, and to the discipline and charisma – that word is used often – of its leader. (more…)

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by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

Satoshi Kon was one of the great Japanese Animators whose combined work at the turn of the Century represented a creative wave as strong as that felt in France in the late 50s or Hollywood in the 1970s. With Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro), Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday) and Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) he revolutionised the medium not so much in form but in emotional depth and artistic subtlety. Animation had never been more serious or been taken more seriously.

Beginning his career as a Manga artist, Kon developed a relationship with Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of Akira, and wrote his first anime Magnetic Rose as part of Otomo-helmed portmanteau film Memories. Magnetic Rose, about a couple of men in space seduced and tormented by traumatic visions of the past, contained much of the themes that would dominate his later career –  the fine line between the real and the unreal, the shearing off of personalities, a sick emotional malaise that lies at the heart of society.

The loss of certainty and the obsessive consumption of pop culture were explored in his first two films Perfect Blue (1998) and Millennium Actress (2001). They were two sides of the same coin, with Perfect Blue harbouring an intensely pessimistic outlook (the title itself  could translate as ‘complete unhappiness’) and Millennium Actress an open optimistic fable. (more…)

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By Bob Clark

I often find myself somewhat at odds with myself as a game-designer and cineaste, especially whenever critics disparage works in the latter medium with comparisons to the former. Whether it’s due to over-reliance on artificially generated imagery or character so thinly portrayed they seem to be nothing but ciphers for audience projection, hearing a movie being called “video game-like” bristles me personally, saddened to hear the language of one passion being used to disparage an object from another. At the same time, as a designer I often find myself comparing games to cinema unfavorably whenever they spend too much devoted to non-interactive cut-scenes rather than actual playthrough time. When you spend more time watching a video-game than actually engaging with it, calling out its movie-qualities can be a legitimate criticism, just as early silent-cinema could be overly reliant on theatrical or textual qualities in less than capable hands. Yet there’s always an amount of cross-pollination between cultural artifacts of different creative forms, and as new digital media have risen up in prominence and sophistication, it’s only been a matter of time before we started to see younger artists in the dominant expressive forum (cinema) begin to invoke the tropes and themes from the new kid on the block (video games) in earnest, beyond the empty criticism. Edgar Wright’s latest film, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, is a prime example—a movie-musical pretending to be a comic-book pretending to be a video-game.


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