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Archive for October, 2010

(Jacques Tourneur, 1942)

(essay by Troy)

Val Lewton’s legacy all starts here, the first of his RKO B-horror films and his first collaboration with Jacques Tourneur.  With Cat People, the two remove the gothic trappings of the then-popular Universal horror movies and bring things into a complex, adult world full of neurosis, psychological hang-ups, and repressions.  Like the other two Lewton films that have preceded it in this countdown (I Walked With A Zombie and The Seventh Victim)*), there’s a somber lyricism at the core along with a fatalistic melancholy creeping beneath the surface.  The films are also marked by their astute ability to delve into such subjects as a distressing obsession with death, the dissection of human duality, unspoken sexual conflicts all done with literate allusions, noir-ish atmosphere, and an impending sense of doom.  Lewton not only made sure these were intelligent affairs, but employed a simple formula to keep their short run times interesting, “a love story, three scenes of suggested horror, and one of actual violence.”
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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1939 115m) not on DVD

Aka. Tsuchi

Ad flamus!

d  Tomu Uchida  w  Tsutoma Kitamura, Yasutaro Yagi  novel  Takashi Nagatsuka  ph  Michio Midorikawa  m  Akihiro Norimatsu  art  Yasuji Hori

Isamu Kosugi (Kanji), Mieshi Bando (Katsu), Donguriboya (Yokichi), Masako Fuhimura (Tami), Akiko Kasami (Otsugi), Mari Ko (Ohume), Bontaro Miake (Heizo), Chieko Murata (overlord’s wife), Chie Mitsui (Yoshie), Miyoko Sakura (Aki),

Make a note of the director Tomu Uchida.  Take yourself to your PC/laptop/mobile device or whatever you get your internet from and search for him on DVD sites.  Chances are the majority of references will be to his Miyamoto Musashi films of the 1950s, a popular series, but of no real interest to serious cineastes.  The oldest film you will find for him anywhere on a legitimate DVD is from around 1955.  Yet once, long ago, there was a film, some said it was only a myth, called Tsuchi, or Earth.  It was seen as one of the great Japanese films of the 1930s, one of the first realist films of its national cinema, but it was lost – in the allied bombings of World War II one assumes, and like much of the great work of Sadao Yamanaka, it was consigned to the flames of history.  Versions did survive, but only shortened versions, around 93m in length, and it’s in this version I saw it, in a third generation print, ending as abruptly as it started, as if both scenes had been entered and left halfway through, and with unreadable white German subtitles burnt in.  Someone had done English subs over the top, but they were hardly adequate, missing half the dialogue, but it was all we had…and it was enough.  These eyes could peer through the murk, the gloom, and see the masterpiece that lay in piecemeal on the cutting room floor. It had originally been 142m, as near as dammit the exact same duration as the legendary sangraal of the lost cut of Ambersons.  The 2001 restoration got the length back up to 115m, but who ever saw it outside of Japan?  Why did no-one pick it up for release?  Why did Janus films not get off their derrières to release it for Criterion?  All good questions… (more…)

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'Carlos' director Olivier Assayas poses with Sam Juliano after Sunday afternoon screening of 330 minute screening of "roadshow edition" of film at IFC Film Center (photo by Lucille Juliano)

by Sam Juliano

Big Apple sports fans are sitting pretty this week with impressive wins registered by both the Giants and Jets, and a 1-1 showing for the Yankees in Texas, with a three-game return to the Bronx this week for games 3, 4 and 5.  Meanwhile, up in Beantown, the Patriots have been playing championship-caliber football, and down in the City of Brotherly Love, the Phillies are hoping to even their series with the Giants.  As of this writing they are ahead in the game.

Over in the Windy City, resilient Marilyn Ferdinand continues her incomparable coverage of the the Chicago International Film Festival, which probably has yieled more great films this year than ever before.  The latest films by some of the world’s greatest filmmakers have been showcased at the annual film fest.  At Movies Over Matter Jason Marshall has resumed his fabulous annual countdown of cinema history, completing ‘1936’ this week.  At Wonders in the Dark, Joel Bocko has penned a terrific review of Marco Bellochio’s Fists in the Pocket and has posted a breathtaking visual summation of For All Mankind.  Jim Clark’s exceptional treatment of Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go, based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s celebrated novel attracted a load of inspired comments, and Allan Fish has really gone into high gear with his authoritative work on Japanese cinema.  Above all however is the amazing ‘horror’ film countdown, which has reached #15 as of this writing (The Shining) and has sustained the superlative work of Jamie Uhler, Troy and Kevin Olson and Robert Taylor.  The final stretch, which concludes on Halloween Day has many gleefully addicted.

This week has been a memorable one on the cultural scene, as a reasonably solid off-Broadway stage play, another delightful Ozu screening, and two of the year’s very best films in the 330 minute roadshow edition of Olivier Assayas’s Carlos and an intoxicating award-winning Australian film titled Samson and Delilah.

     William Hoffman’s AS IS is an off-Broadway revival of a Tony Award-nominated play from 1985, at a time when AIDS was seen as a death sentence.  It’s the story of an AIDS patient and his relationships, and the progression of his disease even in the played out interactions with medical personel.  The spare and creative staging is imaginative, and for the most part the play builds some valid emotion by putting the leads under a magnifying glass.  The performances are respectable, but are probably not on the same level as the original staging from decades ago (understandably).  The only thing I could speak down are the hard wooden chairs we had to endure at the tiny Studio Theatre on Theatre Row.

   Carlos ***** (Sunday) IFC Film Center; Q & A with director

Samson and Delilah **** 1/2 (Friday night) Village East Cinemas

Good Morning  *** 1/2  (Sunday morning)  IFC Film Center (more…)

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by Joel Bocko

Fists in the Pocket, Italy, 1965, dir. Marco Bellochio
Starring Lou Castel, Paola Pitagora

Story: A restless, intermittently fitful young man seeks an escape – violent, if necessary – from his provincial villa and oppressive family.

Fists in the Pocket begins with a threatening note, but this j’accuse is just a bad joke. (Disturbing letters will recur throughout the movie, but the written word is an afterthought here; these characters, barbarians after a fashion, write their lives with their bodies and motions, not with mind or pen.) Composed in childlike fashion, words cut out from magazines in an attempt to seem ominous and anonymous, the missive threatens Augusto’s girlfriend by revealing the existence of a pregnant mistress. As Augusto patiently reveals to his distraught lover, there is no pregnant girlfriend, no “other woman.” There’s only little sister Giulia trying to keep the family’s sole breadwinner from having a life. Subtext to Augusto’s revelation: you wouldn’t believe my family. It’s telling then that Augusto, the “normal” sibling, is least central to the story, and in some ways the least sympathetic. Within moments we are introduced to Giulia herself, and what an introduction!

Three shots, jump cuts between, and we zoom past her on a motorbike. She glances at the camera furtively and then laughs when two flirtatious bikers skid into the dirt and fly off their vehicle; played by Paola Pitagora, whose gorgeous, slightly gawky sensuality draws us like a magnet, Giulia is compulsively watchable. So is Lou Castel as Giulia’s brother Alessandra or Ale, our (anti)hero who descends into the frame in a flash, landing on his feet from a tree perch, restlessly prowling the yard like a caged animal, snapping at his harmless nuisance of a brother. That’s seemingly semi-retarded Leone (Pierluigi Troglio), who will later sigh, “What torture, living in this house.” Ale is more ambiguous in his own lament – tediously reading the newspaper to his blind mother, he begins to concoct his own headlines. Eventually he moodily declares, “The king of England has died, leaving in darkest despair and desolation…” His mother cuts him off – “But there’s still the queen.” “Precisely,” Ale says, and in his morbid mind the wheels begin to turn.

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(Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

(essay by Robert)

A good way to describe the Shining is: Intoxicating and Addictive.  Perhaps the most common reaction is to first walk away feeling very unclear.  Watch it again and you are impressed but still scratching your head.  The next viewing is even more intriguing but the ambivalence lingers.  After a while and multiple sittings it becomes easy to come back to and so very satisfying.  No question about it, this is what makes Kubrick’s film so absolutely fascinating and a masterpiece of horror.  Its open-endedness and ambiguity succeed in intriguing again and again. A seemingly simple storyline- A man with higher ambitions moves his young family into an isolated resort (with a history) to become the caretaker during the offseason.  What unfolds onscreen over the next 2+ hours (about a month in the story) however is anything but simple.

Kubrick begins to build and build almost immediately by slipping important pieces of information in his conversations and visual.  The hotel manager (Barry Nelson) explains to Jack that the previous caretaker developed cabin fever and killed his family. Jack nods this off by stating that the isolation is exactly what he is looking for.  We then learn that Jack and Wendy’s son is not exactly normal and that the family itself is hardly picture perfect.  On the tour of the hotel we learn that “All the best people stay here” and get a further insight that it was built on a Native American burial ground and that attacks had to be fended off while the hotel was being built.  Kubrick uses wonderful lighting and décor to build on the “life” of the hotel and Danny (Danny Lloyd) asks: “Is there something bad here?”…of course there is.  All of these pieces, all of this information, is important and add on to Kubrick’s opus.

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by Allan Fish

(China 2003 556m) DVD2 (Netherlands only)

Aka. Tiexi District – West of the Tracks

Just muddling along

p  Zhu Zhu, Wang Bing  d/w  Wang Bing  ph  Wang Bing  ed  Wang Bing, Adam Kerdy

Wang Bing’s epic three part documentary is one of the greatest films of the new century and certainly one of the most spectacular debuts; filmed over the space of two years from 1999-2001 and documenting the vanishing of an entire workforce and community.  The Tie Xi district of the title is in Shenyang in north-east China and comprises of dozens of factories and smelting plants built in the 1930s to make munitions for the Japanese Imperial Army, after the war it was bolstered by Soviet technology commandeered from the Nazis and made into a state concern.  As late as the 1980s, the factories turned over a tidy profit, but from the mid nineties, global modernisation has seen them fall behind the times and drift slowly into bankruptcy. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1960 128m) DVD1/2

Aka. Akibiyori

Two lights in a hallway

p  Sanezumi Fujimoto, Maskatsu Kaneko, Tadahiro Tedamoto  d  Yasujiro Ozu  w  Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu  ph  Yuuharu Atsuta  ed  Yoshiyasu Hamamura  m  Kojun Saito  art  Tatsuo Hamada

Setsuko Hara (Akiko Miwa), Yoko Tsukasa (Ayako Miwa), Mariko Okada (Yukiko Sasaki), Shinichiro Mikami (Koichi), Kuniko Miyake (Nobuko), Miyuki Kuwano (Michiko), Nabuo Nakamura (Shuzo Taguchi), Fumio Watanabe (Tsuneo Sugiyama), Chishu Ryu (Shukicki Miwa), Keiji Sada (Shotaru Goto), Shin Saburi (Soichi Mamiya),

Watching Ozu’s late masterwork prior to jotting thoughts down here, I was reminded by a throwaway piece of dialogue from Hitch’s Rebecca when, during the Monte Carlo prologue, Joan Fontaine’s demure heroine tells of how her father, an artist, wasn’t one for variety, preferring to draw or paint the same tree over and over again.  He felt, and I quote from memory not verbatim, that once you have found one perfect thing, you should stick to it.  Larry Olivier’s Maxim mutters that “I’m a great believer in that myself.”  I get the feeling that Yasujiro Ozu might have nodded at such a maxim.

            Late Autumn would be the first of two reworkings of his earlier masterpiece Late Spring.  Unlike in that film and in his later farewell An Autumn Afternoon, it differs in one vital plot detail.  Those two films detailed the attempts of a widower to marry off his young devoted daughter, whereas Late Autumn showcases a widow trying to do the same for her daughter.  The widow, Akiko, and the daughter, Ayako, attract the attention of three middle-aged friends of their late husband/father, who become matchmakers in triplicate, with one of them holding out his heart to the widow as well.  The young man they find for Ayako, Goto, is at first turned down by her, but then she warms to him.  She nonetheless worries at her mother being left alone, and is delighted when she hears that she’s going to remarry.  (more…)

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(Park Chan-wook, 2009)

(essay by Kevin)

Park Chan-wook’s Thirst may just be the best vampire I’ve seen that isn’t silent or in German. This vampire movie is mopey and dopey with ashen heartthrobs declaring their love for a young girl while they prance around with their shirts off. No, this vampire movie is an odd pastiche of violence, nourish police procedural, Bergman-esque psychological drama, sexuality, and dark comedy; it’s also one of the most beautiful looking of modern horror pictures. Thirst is a film that lingers – with its stark lighting, reds that pop off the screen, hypnotic aesthetic – long after its initial viewing.

The story concerns Sang-hyun, a priest who is tired of the convent life; he’s tired of a life filled with death and suffering, and how this seemingly never ending cycle of despair feels as thought it’s crushing him into oblivion. Fed up with the priesthood, Sang-hyun volunteers at a hospital to be a guinea pig for doctors trying to find a vaccine for a devastating virus. However – and of course this should come as no surprise to fans of horror films – the experiment fails, and Sang-hyun, in need of a blood transfusion, seems to be facing death. But once Sang-hyun receives his blood transfusion something odd happens, and he makes a miraculous recovery. News of his recovery spreads, and people begin to flock to his congregation to see what kind of miracles he can perform. However, Sang-hyun begins to relapse, coughing up blood, and while waking up one morning, realized he needs to rush to shelter to guard his eyes from the light. He has become a vampire.

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 Copyright © 2010 by James Clark

      Back about twenty years ago, a young filmmaker, in love with the avant-garde, reeled off a long string of arresting rock videos. He thereby tuned up a generation’s improv enactments of going against the grain of that self-interest well-understood having prevailed since the days of a canny and revered avatar of advantage by the name of Plato. The other day, exiting the only theatre in town showing his feature film, Never Let Me Go, I was struck by the grip by which its subdued iconoclasm held me as I walked along a golden mile comprising such shops as Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Tiffany and Armani, and concomitant catwalks. What’s more, I realized I was touched by, not one, but two, outlaw visions—that of the film’s principal trio of clones who had been farmed for body replacement parts which had brought the median age of the population of England to more than one hundred years; and that of an audience member not having to cope with such savage curtailment and therefore more than ever on the spot to make such freedom matter. (more…)

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by Joel

#89 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

As Gosford Park opens, with its funereal tones, its period decor, its stately music and mise en scene (evoking the world of Merchant-Ivory), it hardly seems the most modern of Robert Altman’s pictures – let alone the most postmodern. Yet, as the story of Gosford Park itself never tires of reminding us, appearances can be deceiving. Gosford Park is a delicious subversion of itself, and its narrative arc subtly mirrors a society’s decline and eclipse – an age-old aristocracy faced with a rumbling underclass and a vulgar modernity (represented by an American visiting the estate; he is, of course, in the motion-picture business). A subtle society drama becomes a murder mystery becomes a farce becomes a happy ending; the movie opens with a rainstorm and closes in sunshine, and if there’s something a bit ironic in its ultimate optimism, it’s nonetheless cheerful and sincere after a fashion. The movie does not quite wear its twistiness on its sleeve, but by the end of the film the characters have broken all the rules of the game and come out smelling like roses – or dirt anyway, which is equally earthy.

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