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October 31, 2011

Happy Holloween!

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On Moonlight Bay (Roy Del Ruth - 1951)

Posted by peter at 12:49 AM

October 30, 2011

Coffee Break

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Boris Karloff and Joe Sawyer in The Walking Dead (Michael Curtiz - 1936)

Posted by peter at 08:11 AM

October 27, 2011

Dream Home

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Wai dor lei ah yut ho
Pang Ho-Cheung - 2010
IFC Films Region 1 DVD

As pleased as I am that a film by Hong Kong's idiosyncratic Pang Ho-Cheung has received a limited theatrical release in addition to the recent DVD release, I feel some concern that Dream Home might put off those not familiar with his other films. For those who have seen some of Pang's previous films, like Isabella or Exodus, Pang's sometimes sardonic humor is the leavening element for films that have grim premises or taboo subject matter. Dream Home is the grimmest of Pang's movies, yet the filmmaker doesn't shy away from such moments as when a young man, his guts spilling out on the floor, complains about his burnt out marijuana cigarette.

What will also be lost to many stateside viewers is that the film has been conceived and executed as an elaborate middle finger towards China. Dream Home can be seen as a Hong Kong filmmaker's catalogue of almost everything that isn't allowed to be shown on Chinese movie screens, made at a time when virtually every Hong Kong filmmaker looks to China for commercial viability. To some extent the over the top sex and violence is both a throwback to an earlier era of Hong Kong films, while pushing the envelope further than what what done in the past.

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The film follows Sheung, a young woman obsessed with buying an apartment with a seaside view. Switching between a night in October 30, 2007, when Sheung goes on a killing spree, and incidents in her past, it is gradually revealed why Sheung wants a particular kind of apartment and why she goes on the rampage in the building she hopes to call home. The film is something of a critique regarding Hong Kong's consumerist society. While Sheung is hoping to buy an apartment that seems financially out of her reach, she works as a telemarketer for a company that issues dubious financial services, as well as part time for an upscale leather goods store with items she could probably not afford herself. Even when Sheung seems ready to buy the apartment of her dreams, the sellers cancel the deal in the hopes of taking advantage of the housing bubble. Yes, Dream Home has its very topical side, with a horror story too many could identify with.

Just how taboo busting is Dream Home? There's patricide, homicide, male and female nudity, sex scenes, some girl on girl action, dismembered fingers, a dismembered member, fatal uses of plastic ties, flesh piercing knives, and lots and lots of blood. The flashbacks simultaneously tell of Sheung's attempts to maintain her place as the good daughter who strives to take care of her family, and makes personal sacrifices to get the "dream home", while part of the narrative is about the forced relocation of poorer Hong Kong families, evicted to make way for newer, taller, and unaffordable apartments. Sheung's actions are extreme, but they are shown to be a response to the failure of playing by the rules, when others change the rules to their advantage.

In the middle of all of this is Josie Ho, serving as both star and producer. Hopefully, Contagion will give Ms. Ho more attention, and remind a few people that she is fluent in English. Josie Ho has made some daring choices in the past, notably the lesbian themed Butterfly. Reportedly Ho and Pang had a dispute regarding the level of violence in the film, with Pang wanting a more realistic approach. As best as I can tell, the producer got the upper hand. I;m not sure if extreme quite covers the level of violence in Dream Home. And it is quite possible that the portrayal of violence is meant to be questioned. And yet with all the maiming and slashing, nothing quite prepared me for the suggested horror of Dream Home's caustic ending.

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Posted by peter at 07:47 AM | Comments (2)

October 25, 2011

Remaker

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Kon raruek chat
Mona Nahm - 2005
Kam & Ronson All Region DVD

With some assistance from producer Oxide Pang, I had higher expectations for Remaker. Mona Nahm's short feature doesn't tread any new ground, nor does it have the visual panache or narrative twists associated with the Pang brothers, working together or separately. The film is of some interest in being one of the few Thai commercial films to be directed by a woman. For the past few years, Nahm has settled on a steady career as a production designer in Los Angeles.

Saved by drowning in a traffic accident, Tom finds himself with a psychic connection to Pim, a young woman now in a coma. Tom takes financially responsibility for Pim's hospitalization. Through telepathy, Pim explains to Tom that he has to save the lives of others to make amends for his karma. Tom eventually learns to go out of his way to do the right thing, rather than bypassing those in trouble. Philosophically, this is barely Buddhism 101. There's even an orange robed priest that seems to appear and disappear at will in a couple of scenes.

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The film was done with an extremely low budget. Some of the computer generated special effects are too obvious, and appear done with old technology. And yet . .

Maybe it was a choice done for budgetary reasons, but actress Piyada Akaraseni plays multiple roles, as Pim, and as three women whose lives are saved by Tom. Piyada even got nominated by the Thailand National Film Association for her performance. Maybe Mona Nahm was inspired by Meg Ryan's multiple roles in Joe Versus the Volcano. Piyada has more consistently worked in Thai television. The most interesting of her performances is as Tom's awkward secretary with the very large glasses, which hints at some comic potential that isn't realized in this film. Where mystery and suspense are lacking, Mona Nahm fills the running time with close-ups of Piyada's long hair whipping in the wind. Ultimately, The Remaker is a disappointing film, not heeding the lesson of its own story, that sometimes just having good intentions is never enough.

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Posted by peter at 07:11 AM

October 23, 2011

Coffee Break

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Jana Lund in Frankenstein 1970 (Howard W. Koch - 1958)

Posted by peter at 08:05 AM

October 21, 2011

The Echo

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Yam Laranas - 2008
Image Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Filipino filmmaker Yam Laranas remade his own film which might have seemed like a good idea at the time. While the original version, which I wrote about two years ago, was a pretty good thriller, the English language remake unsurprisingly went straight to video for U.S. audiences. That The Echo came out at the time American audiences lost interest in English language versions of Asian horror films didn't help the film's commercial prospects.

Most of the film takes place in a huge, dark apartment building in the lower East Side of New York City, 20 Avenue E, a fictional address as "Alphabet City" only goes to the letter D. The walls are all dark brown. The manager describes the construction of the building as pre-war, and since there's an elevator, I assume that means the place hasn't been rehabbed since Franklin Roosevelt was president. What makes The Echo so unbelievable isn't that there's an apartment building haunted by ghosts, but that there's an apartment building in the lower East Side with an elevator, and vacant apartments. Yes, it's been years since I've lived in NYC, East 7th Street near 2nd Avenue to be more exact, but I know things haven't changed that much that a relatively inexpensive apartment would go empty, ghosts or no ghosts.

Ex-con, Bobby, is released from Riker's Island, going to his mother's apartment. The mother died under mysterious circumstances. Bobby hears noises from the apartment next door, followed by an argument between a man and a woman. The arguments continue with the same exchanges of dialogue. Bobby may or may not be seeing and hearing things, with spontaneous bleeding from his ears, and doors that slam shut by themselves. Strange things happen to Bobby's girlfriend, Alyssa, and the neighbor down the hall. The bothersome neighbors next door include a small girl who plays with her toy piano, her young mother, and a tall, bullet headed cop. There's also someone in the apartment across the courtyard sneaking peaks at Bobby's apartment.

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The screenplay makes the mistake of moving too much of the scares and mystery outside of Bobby's apartment and the hallway, where the original film took place. Also in the first version, there is more time spent making the girlfriend believe that the haunted apartment dweller has a relationship with the wife next door. What hurts The Echo is that motivation is sacrificed to allow for some creepy, and even mildly scary scenes with characters who are only peripherally involved in Bobby's dilemma.

Laranas even has actress Iza Calzado reprise her role from the first film as the wife next door. As The Echo progressed, there were times when I would have wished that Laranas had, if not done a shot for shot remake, spent more time duplicating the first film's strongest visual moments.

Posted by peter at 06:12 AM

October 19, 2011

Cave of Silken Web

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Pan si dong
Meng Hua-Ho - 1967
Image Entertainment Region 1 DVD

The premise sounds like some kind of horror movie. Seven spider demons plan to kidnap and eat the flesh of a Buddhist monk as it promises immortality. As it turns out, the film is a musical fantasy, and the demons resemble showgirls, albeit showgirls with swords. And that's perfectly fine.

The film also is a reminder of the charm of old fashioned special effects. Anybody with even a Super 8 camera can make people appear and disappear at will. Peter Sellers even made fun of this camera trick in The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu, referring to it as a cheap cinematic trick. And it does get confusing when several characters exchange places with each other, or pretend to be someone else, but it's hardly the kind of movie that requires close concentration to enjoy.

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Taking a little bit more suspension of disbelief is that there are actors portraying a pig and a monkey. I have to assume that because these talking animals look almost human, that they are inspired by similar characters from Chinese theater. This is no ordinary monkey, but a monkey king, who has powerful magic and great martial arts skills. More disconcerting is that when the spider demon women are in animal form, they resemble beetles, not spiders.

The spider demons are shown at their most spidery in the very beginning when waving multiple arms, kind of like Hindu deities. They are easily identified by their almost monochromatic costumes. Between the spider demons and their attendants, it's obvious that the Shaw Brothers had a lot of cute women under contract. Most notable is Angela Yu Chien as the seductive third sister, briefly seen "nude" against one of the oversized spider webs. The film is much like a spider web for that matter, pretty in its own unique and sometimes intricate way, and finally ephemeral.

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Posted by peter at 08:50 AM

October 17, 2011

Starz Denver Film Festival 2011 - The Schedule

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Beyond the films, this year's edition of the Starz Denver Film Festival is notable for being the last one to be held at its former location, the Starz FilmCenter. Plans are afoot to make changes at the Auraria campus of the University of Colorado, Denver, where the theater, originally an AMC multiplex in a former shopping mall, is located. I won't miss watching films there. The screens are not very big, and the sightlines are not always good, forcing me to be extremely choosy about where I sit. My fondest memory of that theater was from sometime almost twenty or so years ago, walking by this stunningly tall, impossibly beautiful woman, and realizing that it was Geena Davis. Less so now, than in the past when there were fewer film festivals, real stars came to Denver.

As for this years festival, the usual films are scheduled, including Melancholia, A Dangerous Method, The Artist and Le Havre. I plan to see all of these films . . . eventually. But with so many films (over two hundred features) and limited time to view films and write about them, my reportage on the festival will not exactly be the most rounded coverage. But there are some of the better known titles making their way through the festival circuit that I plan to see and write about.

Most of my coverage will be on the Japanese and Korean films scheduled. The festival has highlighted different countries over the past few years. I wish that of the Japanese films, there were more truly classic titles. At least Ballad of Narayama and Rikyu are not overly familiar, but they are available on DVD. For Imamura, I would have loved to have seen Stolen Desires, his debut from 1958, while for Teshigahara, I would have chosen Man without a Map. Kon Ichikawa's version of The Makioka Sisters is for me, one of his weaker films, and also readily available on DVD. Had I been asked, I would have chosen any film Ichikawa made with Machiko Kyo. What I plan to see will be Takeshi Kitano's Outrage, Koji Fukada's Hospitalite, and some debut films, Food and the Maiden by Minoru Kurimura, Haruka Motoi's Yukiko, and Record Future by Kentaro Kishi. This last film is from an actor associated with such cinematic nuttiness as Sukeban Boy, Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police.
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The Korean films include Kim Ki-duk's autobiographical Ariang, Kim Min-suk's directorial debut, Haunters, and Hong Sang-soo's latest, The Day He Arrives. The film festival gives out a "John Cassavetes Award", and even before I knew a Hong film was scheduled, I had joked with festival programmer, Brit Withey, that Hong should get the honor due in part to the use of improvisation in his films. Classic might be a relative term here, but also scheduled is Im Kwon-taek's 1993 film, Seopyeonje about Korean folk singers in the 1950s. Potentially the most significant inclusion would be the "Town" trilogy by Jeon Kyu-hwan. Scroll down on Adam Hartzell's review of Dance Town.

The only other Asian film schedules is The High Life, the first narrative film from Zhao Dayong. The Chinese filmmaker is probably best known for his documentary, Ghost Town. Also quite intriguing, is the Indian film, Gandu, a departure for those who only know Indian cinema through the high minded work of Satyajit Ray, or the colorful Bollywood movies.

Asian film usually has not been represented with consistency at the film festival. Were finances no consideration, I would be in Lyon, France this week.

This year's honoree for the Stan Brakhage Award will be Abigail Child, at this time a filmmaker I am unfamiliar with. The featured first or second film by an Italian director, to be awarded the Maria and Tommaso Maglione Italian Filmmaker Award. will be Martino's Summer by by Massimo Natale, starring Treat Williams. On a side note, Williams was one of the many stars of Things to do in Denver when You're Dead.

Recommendations will be considered, so chime in in the comments section.

What I see and cover will, as usual be also affected by available screenings, available screeners, whatever piques my interest, and the pleadings of filmmakers to see their respective films.

Posted by peter at 02:18 PM | Comments (3)

October 16, 2011

Coffee Break

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Caroline Aaron and Bill Pullman in Surveillance (Jennifer Lynch - 2008)

Posted by peter at 08:01 AM | Comments (1)

October 13, 2011

Amer

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Helen Cattet & Bruno Forzani - 2009
Olive Films Region 1 DVD

About four years ago, I wrote a piece on Dario Argento's Opera for a blogathon devoted to the close-up. Amer will certainly remind those familiar with Argento's films. Substantial portions of the images are of extreme close-ups of faces, hands, eyes, and sometimes just a single eye. Even though the poster tries to sell the film as an homage to giallo, Amer as decidedly different aspirations beyond genre expectations.

Let us not forget that the title of Argento's most famous films, Suspiria, roughly translates as "sighs". What Cattet and Forzani take from Argento is the sound of heavy breathing and the rush of wind, and jettison plot and dialogue. There is the old fashioned open razor, black gloves, and mysterious characters who seem to appear and disappear at will. There are also echoes of the work of Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques, a film that helped set the stage for giallo. But also some of the images will recall Bunuel and Dali's Un chien andalou, and Jean Cocteau's Orpheus and/or Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising. It may well be that the reason Amer did only limited theatrical play in the U.S. is because the film has deeper affinities with what are considered parts of the canon of avant-garde cinema. The connection to Bunuel might also be considered as his autobiography is titled, My Last Sigh.

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The wisp of a story is in three parts. Ana is first seen as a young girl, hiding from her parents, and also from a woman clad totally in black, face covered by a thick black veil. Through some distantly heard bits of dialogue, it is understood that Ana's grandfather has died. Ana is alone in the room, with the desiccated body of the grandfather. Coveting the pocket watch clasped in his hands, Ana pries loose the watch with a crucifix, dislocating one of the fingers. Like most of Amer, there is no graphic horror in the scene, instead relying on silence, and the dread of being alone in a room with a corpse.

The adolescent Ana exudes a promise of sensuality with close-ups of her full lips, and a breeze that constantly threatens to lift up her short dress. A runaway soccer ball could well be Cattet and Forzani's little nod towards Mario Bava. In this case the ball leads Ana to a gang of bikers who gaze upon the still too young beauty.

Finally, an adult Ana returns home, to a crumbling mansion. The cab driver appears threatening with his black leather gloves. Ana may or may not be alone in the house. Portraits that seem to observe Ana are seen again the eye slashed out of the canvases. Ana seems to move in and out of nightmares where she may, or may not, be the victim.

The more direct Italian connection is in the soundtrack, with pieces by Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and especially Stelvio Cipriani. What is more notable is that the music is used sparingly, unlike most giallo films which propel the mood and the story with music.

The DVD includes five short film made by Cannet and Forzani which use visual and narrative ideas reworked in their debut feature. Like Amer, there is little or no dialogue, and usually what dialogue does exist does not really explain anything. Even though Cannet and Forzani are abundantly clear about the filmmakers that have influenced them, their smartest decision in Amer was to concentrate on mood and atmosphere. As much as I love classic gialli, many of the films are saddled with plots and narrative twists that make little sense. Amer is best enjoyed by surrendering to the (il)logic of a dream.

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Posted by peter at 06:45 AM

October 11, 2011

South of Heaven

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J. L. Vara - 2008
Synapse Films Region 1 DVD

Much of the time, the complaint is that the filmmaker doesn't try hard enough. With South of Heaven, J. L. Vara maybe tries too hard. I can't blame the guy for loving film noir so much that he might want to make his own version, and one that looks kind sort of like the films of the Forties and Fifties. Vara has a great sense of color, which may in effect be film's undoing. The sets looks like sets, and even some outdoor scenes are clearly shot on a sound stage. The problem is that with eye popping reds and yellows, South of Heaven looks like an Edgar G. Ulmer cheapie re-imagined by Vincente Minnelli.

The title is also that of a novel by Jim Thompson. The main bad guy, a psychopath named Mad Dog Mantee, recognizably has the nick name and last name of two gangsters on the run, played by Humphrey Bogart. At the same time, Vara gives way to the more contemporary presentations of sex and violence, mostly violence, especially in the scenes of when the young would be writer, the victim of mistaken identity, has his fingers cut off with a gardening tool. As Roy Coop, Adam Nee also gets his face punched a lot, so that bruised and puffed up, he looks almost like a less grotesque version of Eric Stoltz in Mask. But the what may be the biggest problem for South of Heaven is that the film gets swiped by the supporting players.

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As the femme fatale named Veronica who seems to magically appear following one of Roy's beatings, Elina Lowensohn looks the part with her Louise Brooks hairstyle, and her dresses that reveal just enough leg and decolletage. I didn't even mind that her revealing of her identity made her accented English even more incongruous. On the other hand, when Lowensohn removes her wig, all I could think was how the scene lacked any of the impact as when the equally bald Constance Towers kills her pimp in Sam Fuller's The Naked Kiss. Although he's only onscreen for mere minutes, Sy Richardson is memorably lit and photographed as a character named Pawn Daddy. Also upstaging everyone else are Jon Gries and Thomas Jay Ryan, whose soft-spoken patter belies their unrelenting brutality. With their green sports coats and bright yellow straw hats, the pair look more like carnival barkers than a couple of enforcers.

If you want the opinion of someone much more enthusiastic about South of Heaven, I have nothing but respect for Todd Brown of Twitch, one of three critics who provide one of the three commentary tracks on the DVD. J. L. Vara and some of the production staff also provide a commentary, as do several of the actors. For myself, I have trouble watching a feature length pastiche that never lets you forget that you are watching a series of reimagined moments from other movies and novels.

And based on J.L. Vara's commentary, I hope someone was kind enough to let him know that it was William Wellman, not William Wyler, who made Track of the Cat.

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Posted by peter at 08:27 AM

October 09, 2011

Coffee Break

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Coraline (Henry Selick - 2009)

Posted by peter at 06:32 AM

October 06, 2011

Veerana

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Tulsi Ramsay & Shyam Ramsay
Mondo Macabro All Region DVD

In his brief notes about Veerana, Mondo Macabro master Pete Toombs claims that the Ramsay brothers were inspired by the Jose Larraz film, Vampyres. It's a bit of a stretch, I'd say, but it's also not too difficult to identify those films the Ramsays plundered. Just in terms of genre filmmaking, there's bits from Dracula as envisioned by Tod Browning and Terence Fisher, a revolving head from The Exorcist, as well as inspiration from Bava's Black Sunday. The everything plus the kitchen sink approach is most evident in a scene taken from Poltergeist where the witch is sitting in front of a television showing nothing but static. The witch resembles a cross between Jacqueline Pearce in the Hammer horror, The Reptile, and Linda Blair in The Exorcist, albeit with non-existent dental hygiene. For all I know, the Ramsays must have been inspired by Bob Hope in Ghost Breakers, with their own elbow nudging "in joke", as there's a plump comic character, named Hitchcock (!), a film director of horror films, who contributes a measure of self-referential joking to the entire mishmash.

Like any good Bollywood film, there's also time for some singing and dancing as well. But what makes Veerana of interest is not only how some Bollywood filmmakers attempt to make a horror film to fit within an Indian setting, but the ways in which the Ramsays have also attempted to push what can be shown in Indian films. Totally out of left field are an obtuse reference to the Rolling Stones, as well as what is meant to be some kind of gay joke. According to Toombs notes, the film was cut for censor approval, and only those 18 and older were able to see Veerana at the time of its original release. The violence is relatively mild, but the cutting seems to have affected the more sexually suggestive aspects of the story. Even by current standards, Veerena may well be one of the sexiest movies from Bollywood.

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The witch Nakita, in her beautiful human form, seduces men, and drinks their blood. One of the local men, Sameer, attempts to put an end to this reign of terror. In a significant cultural twist, Sameer is able to put Nakita at bay with an aum symbol, instead of a crucifix. What Sameer doesn't realize, though, is that hanging a witch isn't enough. The spirit of Nakita comes back to life taking possession of Sameer's daughter Jasmin. Jasmin mostly seems to stay in her room, although gradually, the rest of the household realizes that she's been making a habit of taking late night walks out in the woods that seem to coincide with the appearance of several dead men.

As if to make things easy for the audience, Jasmin is played by an actress named . . . Jasmin. By Hollywood standards, she's a bit on the fleshy side, but by Bollywood standards, her appearance here is brazen. With her display of cleavage, shots of her chubby thighs, and two scenes that take place in bath tubs, plus scenes that suggest that sex has taken place, Jasmin, under the direction of the Ramseys, must have made more than a few people blush. It's not quite Elizabeth Taylor encased in a body hugging slip in Butterfield 8, but the effect was probably similar for those seeing Jasmin running around in a black slip that does nothing to hide her voluptuous curves.

Even though they keep their clothing on, the musical number performed by the young hero and his virtuous girl friend, played by Hemant Biieje and Sahila Chadda, is an ode to raging hormones. As if that wasn't enough, another scene cuts to a man reading the Kama Sutra. Curiously, the title has been translated as "Loneliness" although there is nothing to indicate that anyone, even Jasmin (the character), is really lonely or looking for love. And while the Ramsay family kept on making horror movies, Jasmin seems to have disappeared. And while Veerana is of some interest as a horror movie, the real reason to watch this film are the two musical numbers. The singing was dubbed by Suman Kalyanpur, but the body teasing the audience, whether peaking out of a soapy bath tub, or thrashing along the beach, belongs to a one named actress, remembered primarily for this single film.

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Posted by peter at 07:35 AM | Comments (1)

October 04, 2011

Black Cat Mansion

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Borei kaibyo yashiki/Mansion of the Ghost Cat
Nobuo Nakagawa - 1958
Beam Entertainment All Region DVD

Nobuo Nakagawa is best known for his last movie with Shin Toho Studios, Jigoku, an ambitious horror movie about hell and karma. That film also was the final production from the Japanese studio that was mostly known in its last years for pushing the envelope in sex, violence and horror during the latter half of the Fifties. While Jigoku is available in the U.S. from Criterion, Nakagawa's films, as well as other Shin Toho productions, are difficult to find in English subtitled DVDs.

I went through the trouble of finally grabbing this version of Black Cat Mansion for multiple reasons. The Udine Far East Film Festival had a tribute to Shin Toho that whetted my interest in seeing the kinds of films ignored by Donald Richie and those who maintain that the only Japanese movies worth watching are primarily the canon films by Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi. Also, after seeing Kuroneko last year, I wanted to see a real ghost cat movie. And Jigoku made me want to see other films by Nakagawa when he was Shin Toho's horror specialist.

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A young doctor, Tetsuichiro, brings his wife, Yoriko, to an old, abandoned mansion owned by her family, to help her recover from tuberculosis. Walking through overgrown weeds and untended greenery, Yoriko glances at an old woman just outside the mansion. Tetsuichiro doesn't see the strange woman with the thatch of white hair. The house his cleaned up, with Tetsuichiro setting up the place as a medical clinic. The old woman appears and disappears at will, finally showing up to strangle Yoriko without motivation. Tetsuichiro visits a nearby Buddhist priest who tells the story of when the mansion was the home of a hot tempered samurai who set in motion a series of events that led to one of his victims, a blind woman, feeding blood to her cat, and having the cat act as an agent of revenge.

Nakagawa jumps into the creepiness from the very beginning. The first shots are from the point of view of what is revealed to be Tetsuichiro. The camera follows a flashlight going through an unlit hospital. From that opening, the film is already in dream logic rather than real life logic. Not only is the hospital totally dark save for the beam of the flashlight, but we see a doctor and nurse wheeling a dead patient across the floor.

While the present day scenes are in black and white, the extended flashback in muted color. The color scheme is mostly gray, black, white and brown, all of which makes the appearance of blood more dramatic. Making the most of his limited resources, Nakagawa illuminates the now mad samurai with a light from a color wheel, giving the scene a mildly psychedelic touch. I wouldn't be surprised if audiences then, as would certainly would now, would laugh when the ghost cat's ears spring up. I would guess that Black Cat Mansion was primarily made for a teenage audience that was looking for some light chills and thrills. Mark Schilling has compared Shin Toho's exploitation films to those produced by Roger Corman, but some comparison to the films produced by Val Lewton may not be inappropriate in the way Nobuo Nakagawa is able to work with, and around, his modest budget. What matters most in horror movies is not so much the triumph of good over evil as much as the triumph of imagination.

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Posted by peter at 07:34 AM

October 03, 2011

Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title

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Harmon Jones - 1966
Netflix Instant

Over at The Thrilling Days of Yesterday, you can, ahem, take a trip to the ottoman empire of Dick Van Dyke.

The Dick Van Dyke Show was in it's final season. Three of the supporting cast members starred in this film, produced and cowritten by Morey Amsterdam. What resulted was a mostly laugh free comedy about secret agents from a fictional Eastern Bloc country mistaking Amsterdam for a missing cosmonaut. There is some unintended humor in simply seeing the name of the original January Jones featured, almost fifty years before another actress of the same became famous for being in a television series that takes roughly during the same era, in New York City of the early Sixties. Also, there's a moment when Rose Marie, decades before Joe Pesci takes the question personally, asks if something is funny "ha ha" or peculiar. The funniest bits on The Dick Van Dyke Show often revolved around the insults hurled between Amsterdam and Deacon. Don't Worry tries to substitute ernest mugging, cameo appearances by several stars, and a few topical references for anything approaching real wit. When Carl Reiner makes his brief appearance, it's a reminder of how much funnier he was in making fun of his baldness in "Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth", my favorite episode from The Dick Van Dyke Show.

As for Harmon Jones, the director of record, I'll just mention that there are more laughs to be found in Gorilla at Large.

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More screen grabs after the jump, for those interested.

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Posted by peter at 08:20 AM | Comments (1)

October 02, 2011

Coffee Break

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Christiane Coppe and Laurence Dubas in The Escapees (Jean Rollin - 1981)

Posted by peter at 05:06 AM

October 01, 2011

Thirst for Love

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Ai no kawaki
Koreyoshi Kurahara - 1966
Eclipse Region 1 DVD

Maybe had I seen Thirst for Love closer to when it was released, I would have liked it much more. The film has all of the visual trademarks of Kurahara's previous films, and then some. The arty juvenilia of I am Waiting and The Warped Ones has given way to full blown pretentiousness in the service of Yukio Mishima's musings on art and life. Kurahara seems to have been given permission to overuse shots where the camera is looking directly over the characters, a visual tact often used by Robert Aldrich with greater restraint. Even worse are the slow motion shots and exaggerated sound effects, and montages of still photographs. There is also some use of both printed and voice over narration taken from Mishima;s novel. The overall effect is of a filmmaker beating the viewer over the head with the reminder that he's making a movie that is every bit as artistic as anything from Europe. Not surprisingly, Nikkatsu studio bosses considered the film "too arty", according to Mark Schilling in his book on Nikkatsu films.

The story is about a young widow, Etsuko, who lives as the mistress of her father-in-law. The relationship appears even more incestuous with Etsuko always addressing the man as "father", whether at the family dinner table or in bed. With what is certain to be a nod to D. H. Lawrence and Lady Chatterly's Lover, Etsuko is attracted to the young gardener, Saburo. Meanwhile, Saburo is revealed to have a relationship with the family maid, Miyo. It's a drama about class and sex which ends badly for almost everyone. Or to describe the essential plot of several of Mishima's novels: a person is unhappy with discrepancy between the real world and an unrealized ideal, and makes a point of destroying that which has failed to meet their expectations.

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I'm not going to deny Yukio Mishima's skills as a writer. I refuse to buy into his philosophy.

What is good about the film, Thirst for Love, is to watch it as a visual poem about the geography of Ruriko Asaoka. Kurahara returns to filming immense close-ups, of not simply the actress's face, but her large, almond shaped eyes, her tears, her fingers. I don't know if that is her or a body double when the camera follows along her legs, and briefly meditates on her belly button. What I do know is that Asaoka is much more sensual here than when seen running around in bra and panties in I Hate but Love. One aspect that is never explained is that Etsuko was married, the flashbacks show her in contemporary dresses, while as a widow, she is seen wearing nothing but kimonos, as if she were a living anachronism. The better visual aspects of Thirst for Love don't overcome the heavy-handedness that drags down the film, but I'll take a single close-up of Ruriko Asaoka's mascara stained tear over the pontifications of Yukio Mishima any day.

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Posted by peter at 08:14 AM