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November 28, 2013

Oui, Girls

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Fred J. Lincoln - 1982
Impulse Pictures All Region DVD

Happy Thanksgiving. As you probably know, Abraham Lincoln was responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday. For many people, it's a time to stuff your face with legs and breasts from turkeys, with a lot of eating going on. Aside from having the same last name, Fred J. Lincoln's movie involves legs and breast and lots of eating. The similarity pretty much ends there.

Tiffany Clark is the MVP here, not only performing on screen, but serving in various production capacities, plus singing the title song. Let's just say that as far as singing goes, Tiffany Clark is no Andrea True.

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I'm not sure about the meaning of the title. Some of us remember Oui magazine, once the more provocative younger sibling to Playboy. Anyways, this example of 1980s hard core erotica is about a mystery that turns out not to be much of a mystery, at a gathering of swingers. There are lots of close up of body parts in various kinds of couplings, with the question always of how did they get the camera (and cameraman) there?

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Posted by peter at 07:33 AM

November 26, 2013

Sister Long Legs

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Chang tui jie jie
Tang Huang - 1960
Panorama Region 3 DVD

I decided I needed to see something on the light side. I also happen to like movies movies that make a point of featuring the legs of female star, be it the traveling shot of Betty Grable's legs in A Yank in the R.A.F or the introductory shot of Angie Dickinson in China Gate. I don't know how tall Julie Yeh is, but she towers over almost everyone else in Sister Long Legs with the exception of Cathay Studios' matinee idol Roy Chiao. The opening shot, seen above is of those titular legs.

Yeh plays the part of a young teacher, Tingting, unmarried at age 24 to the chagrin of her parents. The other sister, Binbin, is a bit tomboyish with her short hair and her aggressive manner. Much of the film's humor as well as plot are dependent on appearances, be they physical, several fat jokes here, or of financial status. In some ways, the plot and the execution are a reminder of screwball comedies from the Thirties, where the son or daughter of a plutocrat learns about life and love from a boy or girl with a more humble existence.

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There are several shots of legs, not only Julie Yeh's but that of the teen sister played by Jeanette Lin (in real life, a year older than Feh). A scene at a dance party shows off the two actresses gams underneath the layers of petticoats, while the young people jitterbug to a jazzed up version of "Get Happy". There is also a terrific shot, seen below, of Lin's legs framing Tien Ching, the latter as a hapless, would-be suitor. Lin almost steals the film from Yeh with her comic mugging as well as vigorous dance which ends with her flipping one young man over her shoulder.

That same dance scene also has Yeh with a dance partner much too short. Some of the leg shots are of Yeh keeping her feet from being stepped on. Getting twirled around by a short guy also is a problem. There is a bit of humor that touches on culture, popular or otherwise, of the time. Learning that Tingting is a teacher, a young demonstrates his literary ignorance in name dropping Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde. When Bingin eagerly talks about movies she loves, her favorite non-Chinese actress is Audrey Hepburn, while her favorite Chinese actress is Jeanette Lin. Maybe not quite as funny as the moment in His Girl Friday when Cary Grant mentions Archibald Leach, but worthy of a chuckle.

I seem to have been a little late in "discovering" Julie Yeh. Almost all of her Cathay Studios films on DVD are out of print. At some point, I will have to check to see what there is from her time at the Shaw Brothers. Cathay Studios films were never quite as polished as the Shaw Brothers releases, but I find an undeniable sense of energy that makes these films from this era fun to watch.

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Posted by peter at 08:27 AM

November 24, 2013

Coffee Break

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Henry Silva and Robert Taylor in The Law and Jake Wade (John Sturges - 1958)

Posted by peter at 09:40 AM

November 21, 2013

Animals

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Marcal Fores - 2012
Artsploitation Films All Region DVD

There is a circularity to Animals. The film begins with a scene of a young woman jumping into the water, submerged for several minutes. It's not clear whether she has attempted suicide or simply has created the appearance of trying to kill herself, and the young woman, Clara, makes no attempt to explain herself. Animals might be understood in part as a look at the adolescent romance with death and suicide or at least how it is represented. How that romance is manifested is subject to change, but one might make a connection to pop culture of fifty years ago when there was a spate of songs involving a lover or lovers, a motorized vehicle, and a date with death.

For that matter, we might as well go back to The Sorrows of Young Werther. In the commentary, a discussion of the film by Fores with Artsploitation's Travis Crawford, Fores mentions how the audience reaction. Unsurprisingly, the most enthusiastic viewers are young and female. Admittedly, as I shuffle on to impending geezeerhood, I found myself disconnected from this film. Certainly the introductory images of swimming and drowning make for some convenient symbolism, as several of the main characters can be said to be drowning in their own self-absorption.

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The main character is a high school student named Pol, which rhymes with pall. His best friend is a small yellow teddy bear. Even though Pol is Spanish, the teddy bear, named Deerfoot, which comes alive for Pol, speaks English. Except for a scene of exuberant rock with Pol on guitar and Deerfoot on drums, any thought that this will be a romp along the lines of Ted are quickly dashed. Pol lives with his brother, a policeman, basically drifting through school and friendship with a girl, Laia, based more out of convenience than any sense of attraction. Pol may, or may not, be gay, but he briefly gets involved with the new kid, Ikari, who has more self-inflicted knife scars than an Eagle scout has merit badges.

The final scene consists of juxtapositions of real and imagined horror taking place during a school celebration of Halloween. Amidst the students in costume is a bear with a gun who shoots a fellow student, causing panic among the students. Pol cuts himself deeply, walking out of the school bleeding. Clara, who may or may not have committed suicide, mysteriously reappears. I think I have a fair idea of what is attempted to be said here, but it doesn't quite work for me.

Other critics have praised Animals. I'm not saying they're wrong. Maybe it is various factors that have me resistant to this film following two viewings. I'm trying to be fair, but Animals didn't talk to me.

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Posted by peter at 07:35 AM

November 19, 2013

Sanguivorous

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Kyuketsu
Naoki Yoshimoto - 2011
Tidepoint Pictures All Region DVD

Sanguivorous is an unusual hybrid. Running less than an hour, mostly, but not entirely, a silent movie, made in Japan, a country that did not produce a vampire movie until 1959, the film goes against several idea of conventional filmmaking. On the other hand, if you have no problem with films that stray from traditions, you may find Naoki Yoshimoto's work to be of interest.

The bare bones of the story follow a young woman who is half vampire. Her boyfriend wants to take their relationship further. She runs away, ostensibly to protect her virginity, but in reality to protect her boyfriend from also joining the undead. The young man follow her to a mysterious place where he awakes bound to a chair. The young man is fought over by his girlfriend and an older female vampire. Even getting his blood partial sucked out does not save the young man from becoming the victim of the older male vampire. In other words, this is a love story where almost everybody dies.

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The narrative aspects are almost besides the point. It's the telling of the tale that makes Sanguivorous of interest. Visually there are reminders of the two great silent vampire movies, Nosferatu and Vampyr, as well as imagery that reminded me of the so-called experimental filmmakers of the Fifties and Sixties that were directly or indirectly influenced by Maya Deren. To some extent, one might argue that the contemporary filmmaker Yoshimoto might have most in common with is Guy Maddin, who combines a visual style that mimics an archaic mode of filmmaking with more contemporary sensibilities.

Yoshimoto isn't interested in retelling a traditional type of vampire story. While some elements are used, others are ignored. Some might be alarmed that the half-vampire girl walks around in daylight. Others will surely notice the extensive use of reflections. The two of the most dramatic images involve reflections as when the girl examines herself in the mirror, hands on the glass as if trying to grasp at herself. Later, after the head vampire takes a shower of his victim's blood, a nod to the Bathory legend, we see him splayed over a pool of blood, his face in reflection as he laps at his source for rejuvenation. What is most intriguing of all is the opening scene, with the girl apparently coughing up a small crucifix held in her bloody palm. While the film also is primarily in black and white, there is a judicious use of color, primarily red.

Dramatically, the film is anchored by Ayumi Kakizawa as reluctant vampire, as much a victim as her boyfriend. Top butoh dancer Ko Murobushi plays the lead vampire. Where Murobushi's dance training is displayed here is after his shower of blood, a solo performance with a series of convulsive, spastic movements.

Posted by peter at 07:43 AM

November 17, 2013

Coffee Break

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Robert Taylor in Saddle the Wind (Robert Parrish - 1958)

Posted by peter at 09:08 AM

November 15, 2013

Starz Denver Film Festival 2013 - The Photograph

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Zdjecie
Maciej Adamek - 2012

It's a film festival, what can go wrong? Well that I'm aware of was worse than George Hickenlooper dying the night before the opening of the 2010 edition of the Starz Denver Film Festival. Problems with films not showing up in time or in poor condition seems to be replaced by problems with hard drives for these new fangled digital projectors. Then there is the problem of not knowing much about a film other than its title. When I received the initial list of screeners, all I had were titles. And sometimes you need more than that, especially if the title in question has been used for multiple films. Even using the Internet Movie Database doesn't help, and a general Google search is not conclusive. I had thought that I was to see another movie with the title, The Photograph. It turned that it was this film instead. And then I saw the final film festival schedule. For some reason, this film titled The Photograph was not included. Nor was there any other film with this title. Still, I figured that as long as I took the time to watch the screener, I might as well post this review . . . .

A teenage boy, who obsessively films things (but not people) around him, is given a photograph from his mother. At this point, the mother has gone to a sanatorium. The boy, Adam, recognizes his mother from the photo. She is pregnant, and with a man Adam does not recognize as his father. The Photograph is about Adam's leisurely, and roundabout quest, to learn the truth himself and what he sees, or thinks he sees, in that titular image.

Adamek's film casualy explores photography as a means of documentation, as well as how we tend to look at nature more intently as a photographed image.

Visiting a small town, Adam visits his grandmother, and hangs out with the locals, including a grave digger, a woman who owns a flower shop, and the photographer of the photo in question. Adam visits the address of the man in the photo. As curious as he is about the photo, Adam also has time to lay on the beach and rescue a cat from a tree.

On the bright side, I have now been introduced to Karolina Gorczyca. And anyone who checks out Ms. Gorczyca's photos can not possibly be surprised that she is the Polish voice of Lara Croft.

Posted by peter at 07:51 AM

November 14, 2013

Starz Denver Film Festival 2013 - The Great Beauty

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La Grande Bellezza
Paolo Sorrentino - 2013
Janus Films

I don't think The Great Beauty could have ever existed if Federico Fellini had not made La Dolce Vita. And I'm not alone in making that connection. The difference is that Paolo Sorrentino's is more of an elegy to the city. Instead of Anita Eckberg at her voluptuous peak drenching herself in a Roman fountain, we have a visibly older and heavier Serena Grandi popping out of a cake.

At the core of the action is Jep Gambardella, a writer in his sixties, who came to Rome forty years ago. With his first and only novel published to great acclaim, Jep is content to write short articles and be part of Rome's nightlife. His contemporaries are dying. From his balcony just across from the coliseum, Jep ponders whether to continue living in Rome.

Of course the partying is seductive. Everyone dances manically to Brazilian disco, interrupted by a strolling mariachi band. The camera glides over the scene. Much of the time, Sorrentino's camera seems restless, constantly in motion, exploring environments, possibly uncovering secrets. There were times that the energy of the nightclub scenes made me think that when the DVD is released, there should be an option to only have those scenes played, in the way that DVDs of Bollywood movies allow you to only see the musical numbers without having to deal with the sometimes ponderous exposition.

When Jep has philosophical discussions, which happens a few times, the film stops dead in its tracks. Sure, hypocrisy needs to be addressed, and it's sometimes comforting to know that life has some kind of greater meaning, but the best parts of The Great Beauty are when Sorrentino lets the images, and the often beautiful music, speak, or should I say sing, for itself. The soundtrack includes Arvo Part, John Tavener and Henryk Gorecki.

It's not surprising that Jep, who has lived the same way as he did as a celebrated young man, would have a brief affair with a woman, forty-two, who performs as a stripper. By denying that you are aging, you can deny that you are going to die.

Two moments one might think of as Felliniesque involve animals. Jep finds a giraffe standing near the coliseum. It turns out that a magician acquaintance will make the giraffe disappear. In a later scene, Jep finds a flock of ostriches on his balcony. A nun, obviously modeled after Mother Teresa, exhales, and the birds fly away. Rome at night seems like an alien, depopulated city, a place that only foreign tourists visit.

In spite of a terrific opening, and some wonderful moments, The Great Beauty goes on a bit too long. What Sorrentino may think he is trying to say about life, love and art is undermined when his characters spend time talking about such matters. For myself, this film doesn't work nearly as well as his previous This Must Be the Place, where Sean Penn's retired rock star seemingly goes in unexpected directions, as does the film, in a journey about self-discovery. While I am mixed in my feelings about some parts of The Great Beauty, there is one scene that is absolutely right. Jep remembers a time from his youth when he went swimming. We see the older Jep in the water, he submerges himself to avoid an oncoming motorboat. We see the younger Jep emerge from the water. Jep surveys the four young women lounging by the shore, settling on the one who would be the love of his life. Within those couple of minutes, Sorrentino reminds us of the time when it seemed like the most beautiful women to be seen in the movies all came from Italy.

Posted by peter at 07:27 AM

November 13, 2013

Starz Denver Film Festival 2013 - House with a Turret

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Dom s bashenkoy
Eva Neymann - 2012
Eye On Films

The film is filmed in black and white, Russian, takes place in the Soviet Union of World War II, and is rather austere. The source novel was written by Fridrikh Gorenshtein, whom among other credits, had a hand in Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris. Even though Ukrainian filmmaker Eva Neymann made her second feature last year, if one just walked in cold, one could easily mistake this for a film made forty or fifty years ago.

Taken from Gorenshtein's autobiographical writings, the main character is an unnamed boy. First seen traveling by train in a freight car, his mother is extremely ill. The two stop off in a small town, where the mother is eventually taken to the town's only hospital. The boy wanders between the hospital, and the town, where he sends a telegraph to his grandfather. Left on his own, his encounters with adults is either that of indifference or of assistance given grudgingly. When the boy's mother dies, the only thought the boy has is to keep moving.

The house in question is in the center of the town. The turret is fractured. The house seems to be the home of a man and a young girl who appear to be faring better than most. The young girl shows the boy her tin whistle. There is a scene where the girl, outside in the snow, pretends to be pouring tea and serving a meal of potatoes. Even during wartime, when food staples are scarce, there is something almost eternal and universal about little girls pretending to serve tea.

The boy tries to remain stoic. He sums up the death of his mother with the words. "That's it". It is only on the train ride to his grandfather that he attempts to come to terms with a grief that he can not articulate.

While only seen onscreen for a short amount of time, House with a Turret features the last performance by Yekaterina Golubeva.

There seems to have been a small resurgence in films shot in black and white. And House with a Turret may seem to some even more archaic using 35 mm film. The same material that Neymann's professed inspirations Tarkovsky, Dreyer and Kurosawa used. There are dark hallways that lead into unknown places, snow flurries, crumbling buildings. Most of the film was shot in Odessa. The music used is all diegetic, although there is one scene in the hospital that might be the exception. I wish there was a complete list to the music used - which includes Erik Satie and contemporary composer Jurgen Grozinger. I am admittedly a sucker for contemporary movies that look like something from a classic era of filmmaking, but this is definitely one film to seek out.

Posted by peter at 07:54 AM

November 12, 2013

Starz Denver Film Festival 2013 - Morning Star

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L'Etoile du Jour
Sophie Blondy - 2012
Eye On Films

One thing about film festivals is that those with the broadest selection of films will include titles that that are flying below even some of the most ardent cinephiles radars. It's not just that I was unaware of the existence of Morning Star, but that it's not every day that you get to see a French movie with Iggy Pop. Consider also that the other starring roles consist of Leos Carax regular Denis Lavant, force of nature Beatrice Dalle, and (WTF?) Tcheky Kayro. There is a shot of most of the cast members sitting around a fire. The camera pans across their faces. Not only does everyone look like life has beat them up, but that it has punched them in the face too many times.

The story is about a very small, traveling circus that has set their tent near a desolate beach. There is tension between former lovers, as well as distrust in the circus owner. At one performance, the gypsy singer scares the audience with a voice that alternates between Yma Sumac and a roaring lion. Later, the clowns gang up on the ringmaster-owner merging life with performance.

I'm not sure if Blondy's choices all work, but what makes the film of interest is when she breaks away from her narrative for purely visual choices. Some of the images get very abstract. There is a shot of two pairs of feet dancing in the sand, a close-up of tall grass bending to the wind, superimpositions and shots purposefully out of focus. I don't how much familiarity Sophie Blondy has of the films by Stan Brakhage, but there were glimpses of similar imagery.

Iggy has no dialogue. He just appears as some kind of apparition that only Lavant can see. His role is listed as "The Conscience". Sometimes, "The Conscience" appears as a reflection in a puddle of water or in a mirror. There's no explanation as to who he is, but Blondy and her cinematographer, Nathalie Durand, explore the textures of Iggy's long hair and weather-beaten face. Morning Star also needs to be seen for the joyous fantasy ending with Lavant and Iggy Pop on a motorcycle ride to Heaven.

There is also a musical connection with Iggy Pop's former musical collaborator, Steve Mackey and the current incarnation of the Stooges providing the music. Also as part of the eclectic mix are songs by Edith Piaf, Juliette Greco and Tom Waits.

Had the narrative elements been tweaked a bit, rather than being overly familiar, this might have been a better film. There are moments when the disparate elements of image and sound do work together, creating some momentary magic.

Posted by peter at 07:57 AM

November 11, 2013

Starz Denver Film Festival 2013 - Ilo Ilo

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Anthony Chen - 2013
Film Movement

Anthony Chen's debut feature might be said to be about the messes men make, and the women who clean up after them. It is also about how the Southeast Asian economic crisis of 1997 affected one Singaporean family.

Most of the story is centered on Jiale, an insolent ten year old boy, in trouble at school with teachers and fellow students. His discipline problems cause his very pregnant mother to frequently leave her job doing clerical work at a shipping office. Jiale's father's job as a salesman is on the line, adding to family tensions. Living in a small apartment, the place gets smaller with the addition of a Filipino maid, Teresa, who also has to share a bedroom with Jiale.

Jiale's rebellious streak is used to get Teresa in trouble with his mother. An accident turns the relationship around for the boy and the maid.

There is a desperation for money. Jiale's father loses money on the stock market, and after losing his sales job can only find work as a security guard. Jiale's seemingly more pragmatic mother falls for a get rich quick scheme. Jiale keeps tabs on lottery numbers. Teresa, making money for her family in the Philippines by working in Singapore, puts her job and legal status on the line by taking a job as a hair dresser on her days off.

There are several culturally specific moments throughout the film, Buddhist funerals, and the passing of red envelopes as gifts, as well as how Catholicism is a part of Filipino life. On a more universal level, this is the story about a family keeping itself together in the face of external obstacles, as well as the petty annoyances and bigger issues that can potentially drive them apart.

Chen's film is also a critique of an economic system where Jiale's parents both are working in order to maintain something like a middle class existence, including tuition of Jiale's school, but also have to hire a maid to help look after Jiale. At the same time, Teresa has to leave her own family, including an infant, to provide greater financial support than had she remained in the Philippines. In spite of the financial unraveling that effects everyone, the film ends on a quietly optimistic note.

The title refers to a Filipino province. The story is to some degree autobiographical. While Singaporean film does not get the same kind of attention as given to some other Asian countries, it is notable that Chen won last May at Cannes for his first feature, and that Ilo Ilo is Singapore's entry for the upcoming Academy Awards.

Posted by peter at 07:09 AM

November 10, 2013

Starz Denver Film Festival 2013 - Tricked

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Steekspel
Paul Verhoeven - 2012
D Street Releasing

The making of Tricked is actually more interesting than the film that was made. The final product is a cute divertissement, and perhaps Paul Verhoeven prefers it that way after a career marked by big special effects films during his Hollywood tenure. In keeping with the Verhoeven most of us know and love, there is some sex, and some attractive blondes, but after Showgirls and Basic Instinct, some might find Tricked almost prudish.

Verhoeven began with a four page opening scene from writer Kim Van Hooten. Someone thought it would be a good idea to have the general public contribute there ideas for the next seven episodes in a film that lasts less than an hour. Verhoeven finds that his challenge is to sift through more contributions than he might have anticipated, tossing out suggestions that would not logically follow in the initial premise, with the goal of making a cohesive story. Somehow it all works. The documentary beginning of Tricked, shows Verhoeven discussing the making of his film, with scenes of the actors in rehearsal and during the shoot. Verhoeven talks about how he likes to challenge himself, as he says, to step into the unknown.

The basic story is about a businessman who may be forced to sell out his construction company due to the machinations of his partners. At the same time, a former girlfriend shows up, pregnant. The businessman's current girlfriend is best friends with his daughter, and is on the verge of hooking up with his son. The wife is not quite the passive observer that she she appears to be. Nothing really extraordinary, but the film does become progressively funnier, with one gag that would be even more audacious had Verhoeven not given away one of the character's big secret beforehand.

Verhoeven calls Tricked his "Fourteen and a half", based on his directing fourteen features plus this not-quite feature length film. The numbers don't include the various shorts, videos and documentaries made over the years. And this ain't no Fellini, either. Still, there are bit and pieces that serve as little reminders for those who have followed Verhoeven's career from the Netherlands to Hollywood and back of his previous work. In the documentary first third of Tricked, there are photos of Verhoeven on the sets of some of his films. He discussed using a new camera, the digital Alexa, with most of the shots done hand-held. A photo from the set of Turkish Delight is instructive, with Verhoeven with Jan De Bont, and the larger, heavier, 35mm camera used for that film. Verhoeven should be given credit for trying to reinvent himself as filmmaker, working with a smaller budget, with more improvisation, and creative input from his crew.

Posted by peter at 07:01 AM

November 09, 2013

Starz Denver Film Festival 2013 - The Truth about Emanuel

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Francesca Gregorini - 2013
Tribeca Film / Well Go USA Entertainment

In the first person narration that opens this film, Emanuel talks about how her mother died when she was born. She describes herself as ". . . just a girl. A murderer without a motive." There is a sustained, undeniable creepiness here, a kind of psychological horror story that goes in an unexpected direction before morphing into a story of shared grief between a mother and a daughter.

And while the name of Alfred Hitchcock does get bandied about too freely, I have the sense that there was some influence here with the small town setting, scenes of voyeurism, and the two side by side Victorian mansions where most of the film takes place. The high angle shots looking down the stairs in the the house of the next door neighbor, Linda, almost made me expect to see Martin Balsam show up to do some impromptu investigation.

Then there is the sound. Emanuel volunteers to babysit Linda's baby. With a baby monitor, Emanuel can just stay downstairs while the baby sleeps in her room upstairs. The rhythmical sound of the baby's breathing sounds a bit heavy, but it may just be electronic distortion at work here. Eventually that sound blends into the sound of waves. Add to that the water spilling out of the room, seen or maybe just imagined by Emanuel.

Rooney Mara was originally scheduled to play the role of Emanuel, but we have Kaya Scodelario, instead. And, yeah, she nails it as this film's rebel truly without a cause. Having dinner with her always well-intentioned father and step-mother, Emanuel's father comments on how she is less articulate at eighteen than she was as a young child. And the sense I get was that Emanuel is in a state of constant rebellion, even if she doesn't know why or what she is angry about. The film is about the various fictions created in order to avoid, or simply maneuver around, certain realities. Whatever Emanuel says either as a cover, or as a form of provocation, can be shrugged off when she allows herself to be Linda's co-conspirator. Later, it appears that Linda's fictions have entrapped Emanuel.

Given the basic premise, Gregorini is sympathetic to all of her characters. I think back to the many films, some well-intentioned, where the "craziness" of a female character is explained by a male authority figure, and put in its place, usually a metaphorical or literal institution. Gregorini will have none of that as her women free themselves.

Since seeing The Truth about Emanuel, I made a point of catching up on Gregorini's first film, Tanner Hall, written and directed with Tatiana von Furstenburg. There are some thematic and visual similarities, although Gregorini's first solo work is leaps ahead. Again there are the characters who find themselves trapped by what they thought would be a harmless lie. Also there is a shot of Rooney Mara carrying a cup of coffee. It has nothing to do with any narrative concerns but is something of a parody of Cary Grant carrying that glass of milk in Hitchcock's Suspicion. And again, like Hitchcock, Gregorini loves those high angled shots of stairways.

Posted by peter at 07:44 AM

November 08, 2013

Starz Denver Film Festival 2013 - Salma

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Kim Longinotto - 2012
Women Make Movies

A bit of a step or two out of my usual zone(s). A documentary. A documentary about a poet. A documentary about a female poet, a Tamil Muslim. Salma has a website, and here is the part that is in English..

Part of her story is that in spite of living a village where girls become prisoners in their own homes when puberty hits, in spite of a lack of formal education, Salma somehow manages to write enough poems that are smuggled out of her house, she gets published, and is acclaimed for her work, while considered a criminal at home. Eventually, the husband she was forced to marry is accepting of her work and her public stature, enough so that she is voted to the public council. Her sons, though, are more conservative in their views about women.

In the larger scheme of things, Salma is about the schism between personal identity and institutionalized thought. Salma talks about how her recitation of the Koran five times a day relaxes her.
And I would not deny her the sincerity of her beliefs. Yet, at the same time, it is this same faith that kept her from getting the education that she wanted, where the norm is for girls to get married within months of their first period. If anything, the younger generation of men are more adamant in their fundamentalism, with Salma's nephew explaining that the burka needs to be worn to protect women's beauty and because men are so easily aroused. The film consists of Salma's visit to her home town of Thuvarankurichi, steeped in tradition.

Here is a link to some of her poems.

Kim Longinotto lets everyone speak for themselves. Salma's poems express what is unsaid by women, at least publicly. Even though she is able to use her fame to speak out on such matters as child brides, the film shows that consciousness raising is a challenge within one's own family, much less a region or a country.

Of course several issues are going to be raised here. From my own observation, it is easy for people outside of a specific faith to be critical about what is perceived as wrong about that faith. Certainly, Salma is aware that faith as interpreted and institutionalized as been a problem not only for herself, but for many women. Arguably, Salma's story can in some ways be applied to other religions as well.

Posted by peter at 07:11 AM

November 07, 2013

Starz Denver Film Festival 2013 - Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

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Ming tian ji de ai shang wo
Arvin Chen - 2013
Film Movement

What I like best about Arvin Chen's film is that it plays almost like a classic Hollywood movie. Sheila O'Malley compared Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow to George Cukor, but I think Vincent Minnelli is a closer approximation. As far as I'm concerned, this could well be the best film at this year's festival. One of the things I also like is that Chen understands how messy relationships really can be.

Through running into an old friend, Stephen, at the engagement party of his sister, Weichung finds old feelings rekindled. Married for nine years, Weichung thinks of himself as straight, as he puts it to Stephen, he's not hiding anything. An optometrist, Weichung's eyes are open when younger flight attendant, Thomas comes for glasses. One evening, just as the store is too close, Thomas shows up to pick up his new glasses. Weichung briefly imagines himself kissing Thomas. In the meantime, Weichung's wife, Feng, is anxious to have a second child before it is too late for her, and Weichung's sister, Mandy, walks away from her fiance, dreading a lifetime of routine sparked by the pair's visit to a supermarket.

The title comes from an evening's celebration hosted by Feng's former supervisor. A night of Japanese food with too much sake and beer is followed by karaoke. Feng drunkenly sings, in English, the song that inspired the title. The small stage suddenly lights up to something from a show set, with Feng still singing, and her co-workers performing as backup singers. Unlike too many films that use song titles as a shortcut due to their familiarity, the musical question is on the mind of the film's main characters. Even Feichung wavers, acknowledging his attraction to Thomas, but at the same time still sincere in his commitment to Feng, and genuinely loving his role as a father.

There is a surprise in seeing Richie Ren as Feichung. Better known to western viewers for his work with Johnny To, most lately Life without Principle, Ren appears here often like a deer caught in the headlights, rather than a man of action. Throughout the film, Ren's character of Feichung seems constantly surprised by life. Mavis Tan, as Feng, is a pop singer turned actress, explaining why her seemingly amateurish karaoke could quickly turn into a more polished performance.

This is a very smart film, where Chen has affection for all of his characters, including Mandy's well meaning but socially awkward fiance. In his director's statement, Chen discusses the inspiration for his story. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? has its moments that might be considered fantasy. This is not Taiwanese GLBT cinema in the way one can consider the films of Zero Chou, some of the work of Tsai Ming-liang, or the utopian Formula 17. I would hope that the American born and educated Chen gets his shot in Hollywood. Without giving too much away, the film ends with a wedding celebration that is ultimately heartbreaking in its honesty.

Posted by peter at 07:55 AM

November 06, 2013

Schoolgirl Report Volume #11: Trying Beats Studying

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Schulm├Ądchen-Report 11. Teil - Probieren geht uber Studieren / Blue Dreams
Ernst Hofbauer - 1977
Impulse Pictures Region 0 DVD

Trying beats studying? I have no idea what that's suppose to mean.

There is some peculiar stuff involving animals as witnesses to the sexual initiations of a couple of high school girls. In one scene, there's the tutor's very large dog, a bullmastiff, the kind with very big teeth, and a loud bark. In a later episode, there is sex in a barn, with a small horse observing young love in action. And in a film with a generous offering of female full frontal nudity, the only male member to get a screen shot is that horse, hung like a, well, nevermind.

Like the rest of the Schoolgirl Report series, this is a series of vaguely related vignettes. The stories are related by a quartet of alleged adult experts at a radio show discussing how the law protects these high school girls, or something like that, although most of the stories are about girls losing their virginity. Somehow the film concludes that these young women who we've seen in various states of undress will become the outstanding wives and mothers of Germany in the years ahead.

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I wouldn't even call the sex here vanilla, because vanilla is a spice, and there's not a whole lot that's spicy here. The girls are reasonably attractive, but I find myself longing for the all in fun sluttiness of the students at St. Trinians. British girls from a series of films made in the Fifties are much saucier than these girls in the more liberated 1970s. OK, so the Schoolgirl series is suppose to be taken from "real life", but, gee, not even a lesbian scene, or somebody showing up in a leather catsuit, something a bit more erotic.

There is one mildly funny bit where one of the girls has determined that here friend needs to lose her virginity. The girl in question is locked in a room with a young man, supposedly a high school Casanova. As it turns out, the young man's reputation is a fiction that has a life of its own. The two pretend to make love, while a gang of girls hears, but can not see, what is going on. The sound of love is the nibbling of chocolates and bouncing on a bed fully clothed.

There is also a biker terrorizing one of the girls, following a setup in a park. With his mustache and black leather jacket, he looks like a slimmer Rainer Fassbinder. Of course there's much more sexual variety in a Fassbinder film. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Ernst Hofbauer has a visual style, but he does find opportunities for low angle shots. There is also an extreme close up of an eye, and the reflection of the lover coming into focus. I don't know much about Hofbauer, except that one of his earlier gigs was as an assistant director on an international coproduction, As the Sea Rages, with Cliff Robertson and Maria Schell. I suspect that from some of the interesting touches in this Schoolgirl Report, that Hofbauer had some artistic ambitions at the beginning of his filmmaking career that have found their way in the midst of more financially dependable journeyman work.

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Posted by peter at 07:36 AM

November 04, 2013

Ip Man: The Final Fight

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Yip Man: Jung gik yat jin
Herman Yau - 2013
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

For those following Hong Kong cinema, the number of films about Ip Man is a bit overwhelming. By now, a fair number of people already had at least read about the martial arts master, whose most famous student was Bruce Lee. What Herman Yau's film can boast of is a few seconds of actual footage of Ip practicing Wing Chun.

Documentary footage aside, Yau's film, like the others, is a fictionalized version of Ip's life. And as a film, I wish it was better. Wong Kar-Wai's film, like other Wong films, was a meditation on love and loss, with a few balletic fight scenes thrown in. Wilson Yip's films have the advantage of Donnie Yen staging his own fight scenes. Even though the age difference is two years, Anthony Wong looks much older than Yen or Tony Leung, and comes closer to resembling the real Ip. Still, the best way to enjoy this film is to ignore any concept of historical veracity.

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Instead, there is a chance to marvel at a fight scene between Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang. According to one of the DVD supplements, Tsang has a background in martial arts. The guy is older, and chubbier, and neither he nor Wong used stunt doubles. As rival martial arts masters, the two go behind closed doors for a friendly fight. There's fun in seeing two of the least likely combatants in Hong Kong cinema go against each other using their fists instead of guns.

There is also the love story between Ip and a cabaret singer named Jenny. Ip stands up for Jenny after she is pawed by another man. Things escalate into a huge fight between two martial arts schools. Later, Jenny starts showing up at Ip's place, bringing him food. Others disapprove of Jenny because she rocks a cheongsam dress like nobody else in this movie. Was there really a Jenny or someone like her? I don't know. Hopefully some smart filmmaker will know how to make the most of actress Zhou Chuchu's undeniable presence.

Bruce Lee is a minor character, showing up in Ip's life again after establishing himself as Hong Kong's first international star. I wouldn't be able to judge the accuracy of this portrayal of Lee as man flaunting his fame and wealth, seen at a restaurant with a specially reserved table, a posse in tow, and a Rolls-Royce following him as he takes a short walk with Ip. As much as Herman Yau might want to be reverential towards Ip Man, I would question taking swipes at the one man who made him famous in the first place.

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Posted by peter at 07:54 AM

November 03, 2013

Coffee Break

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Dane Clark and Eleanor Summerfield in Blackout (Terence Fisher - 1954)

Posted by peter at 08:29 AM

November 01, 2013

Last Love

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Sandra Nettlebeck - 2013
Image Entertainment

The older, retired professor, Matthew, and his much younger friend, Pauline, are stuck in the rain outside of Paris, when Matthew's car conks out. Pauline is offered a ride by a man close to her age. When she asks Matthew if he thinks the man providing the ride is handsome, he says yes, "in a George Hamilton sort of way". Pauline responds, "Who's George Hamllton?".

Which reminds me of a time when a coworker once asked, "Who's Michael Caine?". (Yes, it's true.)

This was before Caine's turn as Alfred the butler, so maybe his question was answered. Sort of.

For those of us who "discovered" Michael Caire around the time of Alfie, we get to see Caine in a leading role at least one more time. The last love is actually his dead wife, played by Jane Alexander. And maybe it's because I'm getting older, too, but there is delight in seeing them both and together on film. Alexander appears by Caine's side, giving counsel when necessary. There is one very nice moment when Caine is walking alone in Paris, and in close-up, you see his hand grasping hers.

Caine's character, Matthew, is still in mourning, three years on, when Pauline, who he meets on a bus, ingratiates herself into his life. Their relationship isn't exactly a romance, as much as it is an intense kind of friendship. Pauline teaches social dancing, and in what comes as close as this film will get to an action scene, teaches Matthew how to line dance. Who knew that there were Parisians who enjoy American country music?

I wish that Sandra Nettlebeck had revised her screenplay just a little bit. Matthew is suppose to be a retired American professor. Michael Caine's voice is so distinctive, and he's not attempting to disguise his Cocney accent here. Gillian Anderson has a small role as Matthew's daughter, nothing much to display her own considerable acting chops. I assume she signed on simply for the opportunity to work with Caine. Even if that was the case, Last Love isn't the kind of embarrassment on an actor's resume, as was the case of, for example, The Betsy, probably the low point in Laurence Olivier's career, and the lure that brought in a cast that should have known better, including, yipes, Jane Alexander.

Disappointingly, this film is not as good as Mostly Martha, Sandra Nettlebeck's international hit from a decade ago. Nothing really jells here, not the friendship between the American who virtually refuses to learn French in spite of living in France for years - with a young woman who mangles English language idiomatic expressions, nor the tension between the aging father with his son and daughter who resent his physical and emotional distance. Last Love is rewardingly most alive in those few scenes shared by Caine and Alexander.

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Posted by peter at 07:33 AM