« October 2012 | Main | December 2012 »

November 29, 2012

Parked

parked 1.jpg

Darragh Byrne - 2010
Olive Films

The title and the image of the car, almost always seen at the same beachside parking space outside Dublin, provide an appropriate metaphor for Fred Daly's life. Caught in a quandary of having no home and no job, and being denied public assistance for having neither, Fred's car becomes his home. Things change when a small time drug dealer, Cathal, parks nearby. The unlikely friendship acts as a catalyst for Fred to venture outside his familiar paths.

Parked is the kind of film that's not seen as frequently these days, a modest character study. There's no big theme, no tour de force acting, hardly any action to speak of. Most of the film is devoted to small, personal moments, conversations, and wanderings. There are big close ups of these small moments, such as the burning end of a cigarette, a tear from an eye, the illuminated face of a car CD player. There are even moments of humor, such as an overhead shot of middle aged women exercising in a pool, a brief wink at the more elaborate choreographed swimming designed by Busby Berkeley. One of the other nice visual moments is of a large, mechanical crane, the type designed to pick up a car, breaking into the top of the movie frame, descending on Fred's damaged car, as if it was the hand of God.

parked 2.jpg

In one lovely scene, Fred walks by a church, hears the choir, and steps inside. Again, nothing is overplayed, but the gospel style choir would indicate that if there is something called "Irish soul music", it doesn't begin and end with The Commitments. Colm Meaney provides a link, having played a recurring character in the film adaptations of Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy. Meaney character in Parked is more introspective, trying to find his place in a sometimes hostile environment that use to be home.

Even though the film takes place in Dublin, this is not the Dublin usually seen in movies. Instead, the action is what would appear to be the outskirts of the main city, appropriate for a film that is primarily about people who are outsiders, the two homeless men who live in their cars, and a woman originally from Helsinki.

The film does allow Meaney, usually seen in supporting roles, to carry the film as the lead. In a film with modest ambitions such as this, Meaney plays well against the other actors, primarily Colin Morgan as Cathal, and the Finnish actress Milka Ahlroth as the widow with who Fred develops a tentative friendship.

The fourth main character is Niall Bryne's music. A good portion of the score is from a solo piano, primarily a plaintive piece. The musical theme is also part of an incomplete musical composition played by Ahlroth, with the sheet music serving as a kind of love letter.

After playing the festival circuit, Parked is getting a limited theatrical run. For those who can see this film theatrically, it may be the perfect antidote to those showier movies screaming for attention.

Posted by peter at 08:00 AM

November 27, 2012

Kill 'Em All

kill em all 1.jpg

Raimund Huber - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Nothing says holiday entertainment quite like a movie where the characters pummel each other to death when guns and knives aren't available.

While the set-up, a bunch of hired assassins locked in a room are pitted against each other, is hardly original, it doesn't keep Kill 'Em All from being eminently watchable. Yeah, sure, there's not much of a plot here, strangers forced into duels that end in death for one, pawns for the entertainment of a mystery person or persons. I haven't had the opportunity to see Raimund Huber's previous film, Bangkok Adrenaline, although this film takes place in Bangkok and is fueled by adrenaline.

kill em all 2.jpg

But I'll also give you a two word reason why you might want to find time for this film: Gordon Liu. The icon of Hong Kong bad assery is now confined to a nursing home and in ill health. Frankly, it was heartbreaking to see a photo of Liu in a wheelchair. His role in Kill 'Em All is not that big, and I suspect his action scenes were designed to minimize physical exertion. Still, those last fifteen minutes or so of Gordon Liu in action is justification enough for any movie.

There's a sense of self-awareness when the unseen voice tells the surviving assassins that they've made it to "the next level", and one of the characters talks about feeling like he's performing in someone's video game. There's not much more deeper than that, and that's OK. Sometimes a film can be made and enjoyed for the surface visceral enjoyment.

Filmed in Bangkok, and primarily in English, and made for an international audience, the cast is primarily pan-Asian with a few western actors. The best known name here is Gordon Liu. The name that should be better known is Tim Man, a stunt performer who was responsible for the action choreography here, as well as showing off his own martial arts skills as The Kid. The eye candy as such is supplied by Thai actress Ammara Siripong, last seen in Chocolate as the mother to JeeJa. Johnny Messner appears as an opera loving hitman who sneers at anything related to ninjas, and otherwise might be a bit too sensitive for his own good.

Huber wastes little time getting started, introducing his eight assassins doing what they do best, followed by getting getting tricked into waking up in the killing chamber. Giving the film that video game vibe are scenes where scores of ninjas and "freaks" pour out of various stairways in pursuit of the renegade Siripong, Messner and Man. At one point, Siripong has to go one on one against a hulk of a man who seems entirely impervious to every kick and punch that Siripong can dole out. And sometimes it's just enough to watch an hour and a half of martial arts action where the (relatively) good guys win and the bad guys lose.

kill em all 3.jpg

Posted by peter at 08:52 AM

November 25, 2012

Coffee Break

larry crowne.jpg
Julia Roberts in Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks - 2011)

Posted by peter at 10:13 AM

November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

schoolgirl report 9 coffee.jpg
Eva Leuze in Schoolgirl Report Volume #9 (Walter Boos - 1975)

A special holiday coffee break. Generally, I find porn movies boring. Nonetheless, I give thanks for any presence of onscreen female nudity.

And another thing to be thankful for is free movies. What remains of the 1924 silent movie, The White Shadow, is available to be seen on the internet device of your choice, assuming you have a choice. No restrictions either, but true world wide web. A bit of background from Marilyn Ferdinand on how a bunch of film bloggers helped make this happen. The free view ends on January 15. Here's your chance to see part of a movie that Alfred Hitchcock all but directed.

alfred-hitchcock-600x762.jpg

Posted by peter at 07:08 AM

November 20, 2012

Schoolgirl Report Volume #9: Mature before Graduation

schoolgirl report 9 a.jpg

Schulmadchen-Report 9: Reifeprufung vor dem Abitur
Walter Boos - 1975
Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD

I'm not going to beat around the bush here. To describe this edition of the Schoolgirl Report series as a soft core sex comedy might raise unwarranted expectations. Not that these films were made for any deep explorations or understandings regarding the subject matter, but both the sex and the comedy are flaccid. For those who deign to snatch a look, the best moment in this film belongs to the fully dressed comic Jurgen Feindt.

For those who read German, or want trust an online translation, Feindt was famous enough to have a Wikipedia entry. I also caught a Youtube line of a comic dance performance. Here, Feindt and Elizabeth Welz portray the parents of one of the girls, the father intent on showing that he can be as hip as any young person. Feindt begins by reading from a book that supposedly has the most up to date slang, before springing into a manic dance, both solo and with Miss Welz who does her best to keep up with him. Feindt's physical comic stylings may remind some of Jerry Lewis, and I mean this as a compliment. The pratfalls are both corny and expressively hilarious. Feindt and Welz later greet their daughter and her boyfriend with big hair wigs and garishly trendy outfits. The scene is a comic gem in a movie that mostly dribbles away much of its comic potential.

schoolgirl report 9 c.jpg

The narrative is built around the stories of several schoolgirls, all involved in an accident involving two fast cars, and the copious consumption of schnapps. Two policemen discuss how the children of good families could find themselves in their current predicament. Among the situations are a student who marries and divorces at age 18, finding that marriage gets in the way of sex, a girl whose frigidity was triggered by the sight of a flasher displaying an oversized dildo, and an amorous stepfather who impregnates his lesbian stepdaughter. I'm not sure who would find the misadventures of these overaged schoolgirls titillating. There may be some nostalgic value to the Schoolgirl Report series that I have yet to uncover.

Again, IMDb comes through with a reasonably thorough cast list of the supposedly real life characters. An offscreen narrator intones a few words of serious intent at the conclusion, blaming the lapses of judgment on these changing times. Such moralizing is the equivalent to extolling the nutritional values of a creampuff.

I would have to give Walter Boos and company credit for a cute little visual pun. This involves a man and a woman, each with a single, twitching cheek.

schoolgirl report 9 b.jpg

Posted by peter at 08:13 AM

November 18, 2012

Coffee Break

venus.jpg
Peter O'Toole in Venus (Roger Michell - 2006)

Posted by peter at 07:00 AM

November 15, 2012

Asylum

asylum 1.jpg

Olivier Chateau - 2008
Synapse Films Region 0 DVD

Also known as I Want to be a Gangster, Olivier Chateau's debut feature should be mandatory viewing for any would-be filmmakers. Not that the film is in the same critical league as, say, Citizen Kane, but more fundamentally, Chateau demonstrates what you can do with extremely limited financial resources, and a little bit of imagination. Also, some kudos to the gang at Synapse Films for providing a U.S. DVD release outside their usual scope.

Essentially, a small time hood, Jack, goofs up, holding on to a big bag of drugs that belongs to gangster with serious muscle. Jack thinks he's got it made when he works his way into the gang, only to have things get worse when the nephew of the top boss, the kind of guy who looks like a young banker, accidentally shoots himself under Jack's watch. As punishment, Jack is kidnapped and chained to a tree, left to die, in a large, remote forest. As it turns out, Jack has very strong survival instincts.

asylum 2.jpg

Chateau ratchets the tension at the very beginning. Three guys are laying cash on the table, while a gun is handed between them. What we see is a variation of Russian roulette, only with the gun aiming at the knee. It's a game of verve and bluff, and even if we don't see what happens to one foolish player, the pain is easy to imagine.

Jack talks about wanting to be a gangster from watching movies. His punishment of being chained to the tree destroys any lingering romantic notions. Even before then is the understanding of strict rules and hierarchies, especially after his interview with the top gangster. Chateau cast Jean-Pierre Kalfon as the criminal boss, giving his film a tangential nouvelle vague connection. In Kalfon's debut film, Claude Lelouch's Une Fille et des Fusils from 1964, he played a novice criminal.

The DVD includes one of Chateau's early shorts, Homer, about an uncaged rabbit doing maximum damage to one apartment. The "Making of" extra is partially devoted to Chateau discussing making a movie on a budget of 7000 Euros, as well as some of the casting decisions. One of the top thugs is played by Jacques Frantz, who in addition to his continued supporting work in French films, also is the dubbing voice for Robert De Niro and Nick Nolte. Chateau also discusses his use of desaturated color, creating a not quite black and white look. Robert Rodriguez is mentioned for his debut, El Mariachi, a tiny budget debut feature. While Chateau's film does not have stylized action scenes, there are moments given to the kind of disorientation found in the so-called experimental films from the Sixties.

asylum 3.jpg

Posted by peter at 08:45 AM

November 13, 2012

The Definitive Document of the Dead

document of the dead 1.jpg

Roy Frumkes - 2012
Synapse Films Region 0 DVD

My own relationship with George Romero's films began when Night of the Living Dead had been kicking around for three years. I saw the film while going to school in Berkeley, the summer of 1971. I didn't know too much about the film other than that it was low budget, and pushed the then acceptable boundaries of onscreen horror. And what I saw was scarier than any horror movie I had seen previously, although the biggest shock would be the death of Duane Jones after he survives all that happened that night.

Roy Frumkes' touches on aspects of Romero's career and the impact of the Dead movies, without being very analytical. I have to at least admire Frumkes' tenacity in starting with his original 1979 documentary on Romero, and following up with showing up at the set of several films over a period of about thirty years. What keeps this document from being definitive for me is that too many questions remained unanswered.

document of the dead 2.jpg

Although it took several decades following the original release of Night of the Living Dead, the film can be considered the turning point from when zombies were minor threats of horror movie terrors, to fixtures of popular culture, a phenomena in need of some explanation here. Romero has made some films that were outside the horror genre, not mentioned, nor is it discussed to what extent Romero's continuing with the Dead franchise is purely commercial or artistic in motivation.

There are excerpts from Martin and Monkey Shines. Missing is any reference to one of Romero's most intriguing films, the little seen Bruiser or the very atypical Knightriders. From the original documentary is some discussion of the film that most influenced Romero, Howard Hawks' The Thing, which Romero would have seen when he was ten or eleven years old. We also get to see one of Romero's commercials, a thirty second spot for Calgon Water Conditioner that is also a parody of Fantastic Voyage and that film's microscopic submarine. There are also parodies of Romero, with a car audio ad for "Night of the Living Deals", and topless female zombies running amuck in Night of the Giving Head.

As much as I like Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later, appearances by Simon Pegg and Danny Boyle are wasted opportunities for the filmmakers to discuss what they've taken from Romero. And while Romero is generous in his praise for Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead, without mentioning the irony that the remake was Snyder's feature directorial debut, working with a budget almost twice that of Romero's most expensive film, Land of the Dead.

The original 1979 documentary offers the strongest portions of this revised look at Romero over the years. The only way to see that version is directly from Synapse Films, assuming there are any copies still available of the limited edition Blu-ray. No matter how much a filmmaker thinks he can improve things, movies are often like movie monsters, better when left in their original state of being.

document of the dead 3.jpg

Posted by peter at 08:33 AM

November 11, 2012

Coffee Break

last sunset 1.jpg
Dorothy Malone in The Last Sunset (Robert Aldrich - 1961)

Posted by peter at 08:37 AM

November 09, 2012

Fate is the Hunter

fate is the hunter 1.jpg

Ralph Nelson - 1964
Twilight Time Region 1 DVD

Nancy Kwan and Suzanne Pleshette in the same movie - the kind of combination that piques my interest. Most of the weight is carried by that axiom of cinema, Glenn Ford. Almost fifty years since the making of this film, it may be hard for more contemporary viewers to fathom that Glenn Ford name was enough to greenlight a movie. Fate is the Hunter is the kind of film that is more correctly designated as an old movie, rather than a classic. I don't know who was clamoring for the Twilight Time DVD rescue. What is of interest is that the movie serves as a nicely preserved example of mid-Sixties entertainment, neither a top line prestige film, nor a low budget programmer, but the kind of medium budget production that normally played in movie theaters.

For Ralph Nelson, the assignment meant a step up, working for 20th Century-Fox, following three critically acclaimed, if smaller budget films, notably Lilies of the Field. Nelson is virtually forgotten nowadays. Even during his peak, he didn't get even a paragraph in Sarris's The American Cinema. For the most part of his career, Nelson has been thematically consistent with his gallery of outsiders seeking to validate themselves.

fate is the hunter 2.jpg

In this case, airplane executive Ford finds himself on the outs with everyone else in investigating an airplane crash. For lack of any other evidence, the company wants to peg the blame on swinging bachelor pilot Rod Taylor. Pals who served together in the Pacific during World War II, Ford seeks the truth. That Taylor tricked Ford out of a date with USO performer Jane Russell twenty years ago, or that Taylor makes it a habit of badly singing "Blue Moon", doesn't matter. The structure of the film, with the multiple flashbacks of Rod Taylor, resemble that of a murder mystery, with Ford as the straight, sober, and virtually humorless detective in dogged pursuit of answers that will clear his friend's name.

That the film was made at all was probably due to the memory of two films from books by Ernest Gann having been big hits a decade ago. Those two films were Island in the Sky and The High and the Mighty. The only connection Nelson's film has with Gann's book is the title, and the scenes of hair raising flight. It's not that Fate is the Hunter is a bad film, just not a film as compelling as suggested by its premise. The careers of the stars had pretty much plateaued by this point, and the films commercial prospects weren't helped coming in between My Fair Lady and Roustabout. Ralph Nelson was able to bounce back commercially just a couple months later with Cary Grant as another outsider in the gently comic Father Goose.

There are a few modest pleasures to be found here. I'm a sucker for the Black and White CinemaScope format. There's a big, inky black sky. Some of the shots have a film noir quality. It's notable that Milton Krasner had been the cinematographer for several movies starring Glenn Ford during this time, including the two films Ford made with Vincente Minnelli. Suzanne Pleshette is the reliable supporting player here, the stewardess who is the lone survivor of the crash. Nancy Kwan plays an oceanographer, Rod Taylor's last love. Even with second billing, Kwan's only onscreen a fairly short time, in a role that doesn't make much use of her talents. Constance Towers looks nice, but also is given little to do following more notable work with John Ford and especially Sam Fuller. Dorothy Malone had segued to television guest appearance, and has an uncredited role as high society girl that Taylor was suppose to marry. Malone is a good bad girl here, making the most of her few minutes of screen time, a star that shines with its own incandescence.

fate is the hunter 3.jpg

Posted by peter at 08:07 AM

November 07, 2012

Painted Skin: The Resurrection

painted skin 2 poster.jpg

Hua Pi Er
Wuershan - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region A BD

Sometimes the best thing to do is to give in to the spectacle.

A movie I've enjoyed revisiting is The Thief of Bagdad, the 1940 version, partially directed by Michael Powell. And let's face it, what anyone remembers best is not the romance between June Duprez and John Justin, but young Sabu turning into a small, stray dog, and Rex Ingram, a giant genie with an equally huge laugh. There was a time, during the 1940s and 50s, when Arabian fantasies were a Hollywood staple. It takes a certain amount of disbelief to accept Tony Curtis as The Son of Ali Baba or Piper Laurie as a Persian princess, but these films were often entertaining equally because of as well as in spite of the goofiness of the film's premise.

While the Painted Skin series doesn't have the kind of casting that might cause viewers' eyes to roll, the stories are not too far removed from Hollywood fantasies about exotic lands, where fates of lovers is often determined by magic. Here we have a bumbling demon hunter, the descendant of generations of demon hunters, who encounters a lovely demon, and has to be convinced by her that she is in fact a bird temporarily in human form. The main story is of a fox demon who trades her body with a princess in order to know human love. The princess has a scarred face, partially hidden by a mask, kind of like the Phantom of the Opera. She's in love with a guard, who hides his feelings due to his not being of royalty. In Painted Skin: The Resurrection, love is impossible because each would-be lover needs what their object of affection has, be it a heart, immortality, or beauty.

painted skin 2 a.jpg

I haven't seen Gordan Chan's 2008 version of Painted Skin, yet that doesn't seem entirely necessary as the new film doesn't depend on knowledge of that film. I do highly recommend King Hu's frequently daffy 1993 version of Painted Skin. There is also a 1966 film of this retold story. Zhou Xun appears in both Chan's film and here as Xiaowei, the fox demon. Vickie Zhao Wei, also from the first film, appears as the scarred princess. Yang Mi almost flies away with the film as the bird demon. Slender, with a high pitched voice, Yang helps keep the enterprise from becoming to serious. To what extent it smuggles into this film, a huge commercial success in China, is the idea that it is the women who are usually in control, while the men tend to bungle things up, not recognizing their own limitations. Painted Skin: The Resurrection is advertised as a story of true love, but often the real love is between the women.

Wuershan previously made some impact with The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman a couple of years ago. The overuse of digital coloring, special effects, and over-editing from that film have been toned down. I'm certain that the two hour plus running time could have been shortened had Wuershan not been so enamored of slow motion. While I'm not against using the newest technology, there is a tipping point when it becomes too much, to the detriment of the film. As far as I'm concerned, the most magical aspect to Painted Skin: The Resurrection is the presence of Zhou Xun and Zhao Wei sharing the screen.

Posted by peter at 08:21 AM

November 05, 2012

Starz Denver Film Festival 2012 - Caesar must Die

caesar must die.jpg

Cesare deve morire
Paolo and Vittorio Taviani - 2012
Adopt Films

The Taviani brothers continue to astonish. Their last film, The Lark Farm, made in 2007, was a sumptuous looking, and devastating account of the genocide of the Armenian community by the Turkish government almost a century ago. Born in 1931 and 1929 respectively, the brothers can still show the youngsters a thing or three about filmmaking and making meaningful work while keeping true to yourself.

At a compact seventy-six minutes, this is a combination of documentary and filmed staging of a group of high security Italian prisoners, rehearsing and performing Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. For many in the group, this is their first encounter with the historical tale. That it story is about loyalty and betrayal, and the death of one man in order to preserve the interests of a group, has its own personal meanings to the actors. Tellingly, Cosimo Rega, the actor who plays Cassius, mentions how Shakespeare's words describe contemporary Rome.

The film follows a six month process from casting to performance, under stage director Fabio Cavalli. The actors are asked to speak using their regional dialects, as well as mannerisms that characterize their regions into their performances. One of the actors has trouble saying a line because it brings back the unhappy memory of the fate of a partner in crime. At one point, Giovanni Arcuri, the actor playing Caesar, starts improvising his lines towards another actor, with who he has a personal grudge, fortunately resolved. The rehearsals start in a small room, but scenes are also played out in the prison courtyard, with other prisoners, behind barred windows, as the Roman crowd.

As for making a film unlike their previous work, in this interview explaining their process, Vittorio Taviani has stated: "To us, making a film means discovering something new we haven't seen or heard of before. What else can I add other than that cinema was invented by two brothers, the Lumiere brothers, and after us we see a series of imitations, the Dardennes, the Coen brothers, so we somehow set the example!". Arcuri and Rega were affected by their participation that they both have published books. As cliched as it may be, the film is a reminder of the genius of William Shakespeare in writing plays that remain both meaningful and adaptable in a variety of contemporary settings. How contemporary? Hopefully to be seen and considered is the similarly titled look at the politics of Thailand in the government banned Shaespeare must Die. Caesar must Die is a document about a group of men shut away from society, discovering their own humanity.

Posted by peter at 08:01 AM

November 04, 2012

Starz Denver Film Festival 2012 - The Alps

Alps 1.jpg

Alpels
Giorgos Lanthimos - 2011
Kino Lorber Films

The main characters of Alps do not live in an enclosed space as did the family of Giorgos Lanthimos' previous film, Dogtooth. Maybe they should. The quartet of two men and two women have taken on as pseudonyms the names of mountains which they use to address each other, and abide be idiosyncratic rules. The four act as substitutes for recently deceased people, theoretically to assist in the grieving process. What they do is appear at a person's home for a couple of hours, repeat a few phrases, dress in a similar manner, and sometimes act out scenes from the deceased person's life.

The company is called Alps because of its formidable connotations as well as disguising what the company does. Lanthimos describes this new film as the opposite of Dogtooth As he stated in an interview, "Dogtooth is the story of a person who tries to escape a fictitious world. Alps is about a person who tries to enter a fabricated world."

In this case, it is a nurse who loses her sense of identity impersonating a high school tennis player.

alps 2.jpg

We see the four in various situations, playing their parts. The scenes recreated from the past are not always happy occasions. There are several sexually awkward scenes that are staged for the clients, including a woman discovering her husband in bed with her best friend, and a husband and wife who follow a heated argument with threats of separation with a session of cunnilingus. Lanthimos pokes a hole in the notion that what the most significant memories are of "happy times".

To describe Alps as black comedy might set up inappropriate expectations, yet the film gradually adds moments that are peculiarly comic. In one scene, a young gymnast, the other female member of the Alps, is seen hanging upside down, repeating some lines from her "script" that were forgotten, much to the chagrin of a client. When the young tennis player, almost comatose following an automobile accident, is visited by the nurse, her hand is propped in such a way to hold up a racquet, while the nurse tosses balls to the unresponsive girl.

Not unlike its title, Alps is at first a difficult to approach film. It took me a little while to follow what was going on, how the characters were related to each other, as if surveying a landscape in a roundabout manner. This is the kind of film that rewards the patience of those who have little problem with ambiguity and loose threads.

Lanthimos makes sure the audience is awake with the bombastic strains of "Carmina Burana" on the soundtrack, played while the gymnast performs a dance routine. Even more than Dogtooth there is a lot of dancing here, older couples doing the tango, and furious contorted solos to rock music. The film ends with the proto-disco instrumental, "Popcorn". Like popcorn, the characters in Giorgos Lanthimos' films are ready to explode, in all different directions, within a small space barely big enough to contain them.

Posted by peter at 08:24 AM

November 03, 2012

Starz Denver Film Festival 2012 - Journey to Planet X

journey to planet x.jpg

Myles Kane & Josh Koury - 2012
Brooklyn Underground Films

A filmmaker acquaintance, Lucas McNelly recommended this documentary on a pair of amateurs, comparing Journey to Planet X to American Movie. That documentary, from 1999, followed Mark Borchardt in his ill-fated process of making a horror movie. Borchardt virtually would set himself up to be mocked, from the mispronunciation of the title, Coven, to the various mishaps while shooting his movie. The two filmmakers in Journey to Planet X, Eric Swain and Troy Bernier, are enthusiastic amateurs who are more pragmatic about their work. Even when their latest short film turns out to be an unintended comedy, they are both smart enough to embrace what their audience sees in their film.

In its own way, Journey to Planet X shows that making a no-budget film takes a lot of effort. And perhaps the idea of making science fiction films in a green walled warehouse, with a consumer camera, a computer for special effects, and a few homemade props, is overly ambitious. And yes, the acting is stilted, the special effects look like they are from old video games, and the lack of formal film education is most obvious in the haphazard framing. But whether it's Swain's early solo work, or Swain and Bernier's Planeta Desconocido, what is seen on screen is undeniably entertaining, which is more than can be said for some allegedly professional movies.

The two friends are both scientists based near Miami, who limit their filmmaking activities to weekends. While Swain is happy using older equipment, and shooting against a blue screen, Bernier is the catalyst for getting new equipment, and shooting against Chroma Key Green. While Bernier has no illusions about breaking into professional filmmaking, he wants the films to be seen by more than a few friends. The documentary concludes with Planeta Desconocido being accepted for the Geek Film Festival in nearby Davie, Florida.

It's easy to get snarky about amateur or incompetent filmmakers. And a lot of that attitude would seem to come from people who've not spent any time making a film. I think that anyone who really loves cinema, really embraces cinema in all its forms, will allow for those whose enthusiasm is the motivating factor for getting behind the camera. The results are going to be mixed, with work that somehow develops a cult like The Room, or The Creeping Unknown with a voiceover replacing a botched soundtrack. Once in a while, someone like Sam Raimi, catapults to the big leagues. Some films, good, bad, indifferent, only get seen by a few people.

And about that title, Swain and Bernier comment about "Planet X" in the title as suggestive of pornography. Time for some quick Cinema 101, gentlemen. Think of that title as recalling a cult science fiction film made a little over sixty years ago, The Man from Planet X. Keep in mind that the director of that cult item made a lifetime career of making something out of virtually nothing. If you want to see delightfully demented and wonderful movies made with pocket change, the master is Edgar G. Ulmer.

Posted by peter at 08:23 AM

November 02, 2012

Starz Denver Film Festival 2012 - Kill Me

tue-moi-tote-mich.jpg

Tote mich
Emily Atef - 2012
NiKo Film

Usually, I don't think too much about the use of sound in movies. The exception usually is in films spanning the genre of horror or suspense. In Kill Me, there are a couple of scenes where the only sound is that of the wind. There is no moment when any characters comments on the wind. And yet, there was a sense that this was the kind of cold wind that you find in the damper areas, the kind that is described as bone chilling. And while much of the area that the two people on the run traverse is desolate, the wind accentuates their sense of isolations from the world, and often each other.

Emily Atef doesn't give the viewer much to go by with her main character, Adele, first seen pondering the view below from the edge of a cliff. A thirteen year old girl, who lives on a small farm, there are a few clues that her life is an uneventful path between school and farm chores. An escaped prisoner, Timo, hides in the house. Discovered by Adele, the girl aids in Timo's getting out the small German town in exchange for his helping her commit suicide. Adele is specific in wanting to be pushed off a cliff.

More is revealed about Timo, imprisoned for the murder of his adoptive father. Adele simply seems to have the vague notion that death is better than life, or at least the life that she knows. Adele later reveals that she was with her beloved older brother when he dies in a moped accident. The two end up in Marseilles, where Timo is certain he can find a boat that will take him to Africa. The journey involves lots of hiking as well as other people's cars. During this road trip, Adele and Timo form a bond.

Kill Me is neither elliptical or abstract, yet Atef makes a narrative film where the onus is on the viewer to fill in the gaps. Only in the scene where Timo confronts his brother in Marseilles is there any kind of explanatory dialogue, and even then certain details are omitted. And sometimes, a scene will speak for itself as when Timo and Adele are picked up on the road by a French woman who lives alone. After speaking in English to an uncomprehending Timo, the woman and Timo tentatively, and then aggressively, grip each other's bodies.

Even when Timo and Adele have their inner conflicts, Atef suggests that they are happiest alone in nature. The camera pauses on forests in Westphalia, and the rocky coast near Marseilles. The exception is a ship's harbor in Marseilles, seen barely lit in the the distance, the final shot in the film, with a conclusion left for the audience to ponder.

Posted by peter at 07:56 AM

November 01, 2012

Starz Denver Film Festival 2012 - In Another Country

in another country.jpg

Dareun naraeseo
Hong Sang-soo - 2012
Kino Lorber Films

If Hong Sang-soo had not already had a film titled Woman on the Beach, this film certainly could have had that title. And in a way, Hong's new film has some tenuous connections with Jean Renoir's movie that originally possessed that title. touching on the subjects of professional artists, misunderstandings, and sexual jealousy and infidelity.

Some of the misunderstandings are due to language and culture, with Isabelle Huppert as a French woman in Korea, where the shared language is English. It allows for the Koreans to speak among themselves, while explaining to Huppert that what is discussed is something else. It is the use of language that adds a layer of confusion between people, a recurring theme in Hong's movies where there is often a conflict between words and intentions.

After The Day He Arrives, a nearly perfect distillation of previous Hong films, I had expected that the casting of Huppert would have been a catalyst for a different kind of film from Hong. What is different is the format, with Huppert in a trilogy, as the French woman in a small resort town during the off season, as a film director, a housewife meeting her lover, and as a divorcee trying to assess her future. The three stories are variations of the woman, Anne, sparking sexual interest, searching for a lighthouse, and encountering a lifeguard who expresses interest in her. There is bonding over barbeque and alcohol. With the exception of Jung Yoo-mi as Won-ju, the young woman who runs the resort house where much of the film takes place, and Yoo Jun-sang as the lifeguard, Hong uses some of the same actors playing different parts within the three stories. Little bits of business connect one story to another.

The second episode is the most interesting in terms of Huppert's performance. There is something particularly girlish about the way she carries herself, almost skipping through the small town in her red dress. At one point, spotting a couple of small goats, Huppert loudly calls to them in her imitation of a goat's bleat. She later is seen briefly following the lifeguard, imitating his waddle. That Huppert would be collaborating with Hong might be best understood as a continuation of her playful work with American independent filmmakers like David Russell and Hal Hartley.

The Korean cast is made of actors who have worked with Hong previously. Special mention should be made of one of my favorite actresses, Moon So-ri, who appears as a very pregnant wife keeping an eye on a husband ready to stray at a moment's notice. I know that Moon was recently pregnant and gave birth to a daughter in August, 2011. She discusses her role in a video clip that's in Korean. I bring this up because one of the the things I like about Moon is her lack of vanity, and total ability to play the least glamorous women. Moon first caught my attention, as she did for others, with her performance in Oasis, so that many viewers thought she actually had cerebral palsy. Moon here has a small supporting role, something of a bonus for a film centered on the most celebrated actress of French cinema.

Posted by peter at 08:07 AM