March 30, 2014
Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese - 2013)
Posted by peter at 08:00 AM
March 27, 2014
Alain Robbe-Grilet - 1963
Redemption / Kino Classics BD Region A
I have some very vague memories of seeing L'Immortelle back in 1969, in New York City. It was at the Bleecker Street Cinema, part of a series of films distributed by the publisher, Grove Press, with a series of films more or less as avant-garde as some of the novels they had published. I had no memories of Francoise Brion cavorting in a bustier and stockings, but retained images of a series of point of view shots, driving a night, on a tree lined road.
I'm not going to share Robbe-Grillet's interpretation of what the story is about. You can choose to find that out in the interview that is included with the disc. But Robbe-Grillet also stated that "art does not necessarily have to signify anything". I find that to be a liberating thought in that it does free the viewer to make up their own mind about what is on the screen.
A French professor in Istanbul encounters a beautiful woman who appears and disappears from his life. He's not sure of her name, has no idea where she lives, or why she demands to be elusive. To have a better handle on this film, I think it important to have some familiarity the French Roman Nouveau, the literary movement that included Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Duras, and Jean Cayrol, among others. As described by Thomas Kendall in his overview: "The 'world' in the Nouveau Roman novels is stripped of symbol, reduced to prosaic evidence and yet irreducibly strange and bewildering. It suggests a lineage with mythology, in which the hero is always cast into a reality beyond rational comprehension. The estrangement engendered by the Nouveau Roman is not to be equated with an Existentialist sense of alienation but rather something older, more profound, dream like."
As a narrative filmmaker, Alain Resnais first made films in collaboration with the two best known Nouveau Roman authors, and transposed some of the literary ideas into their cinematic equivalents. There a couple of moments in Robbe-Grillet's debut feature that resemble scenes from Last Year at Marienbad. Even more deliberately, Robbe-Grillet ignores the rules of traditional narrative film.
There is a kind of dream logic at work here. Images are sometimes linked by gestures. Characters appear in different settings. There is also the repetition of sounds, notably a sharp whistle, and the barking of a dog. There are times when Jacques Doniol-Valcroze seems to be observing himself. When Francoise Brion tells Doniol-Valcroze that the Istanbul that they are visiting is really a dream, she may well be telling the audience as well. The supplemental interview is interesting in pointing out that there was a time when film producers knowingly took artistic and commercial risks. Robbe-Grillet also discusses what he sees as his films shortcomings. What is most interesting to me about L'Immortelle is that it stands as the first attempt by a writer, whose works have been described as cinematic well before he collaborated with Resnais, to apply his theories of literature onto the screen.
Posted by peter at 08:16 AM
March 25, 2014
Something to Live For
George Stevens - 1952
Olive Films Region 1 DVD
I was first made aware of Something to Live For about forty years ago. I was doing some volunteer work at the Film Department of the Museum of Modern Art. Another student, I think his name was Jon, from Ohio, had mentioned that film to me. He pointed out that somehow, it was omitted from George Steven's filmography in Andrew Sarris' The American Film. Why there was this oversight, I don't know, but it made me curious. To the best of my knowledge, the film never even got airplay on broadcast television, back when late night viewing was often the only way of seeing vintage films. When I lived in New York City, I had the opportunity to see Alice Adams, Woman of the Year and Giant theatrically. Meanwhile, Something to Live For seemed buried in a vault.
Much later, I also saw George Stevens, Jr.'s documentary on his father. I was hoping for a glimpse of this elusive film. A few minutes of A Place in the Sun and then a skip over to Shane. I had to wonder if this 1952 entry is as bad as The Only Game in Town, Stevens' final film, not mentioned either by George, Jr., perhaps with the thought that it would be more discrete to have Dad's Hollywood career end with the deeply personal big budget flop that was The Greatest Story Ever Told.
So I finally shelled out some money to see the DVD. And it is a pretty good film. But I can also see why it might be a forgotten film. I don't know the circumstances of the production, but it seems like beginning with A Place in the Sun, Stevens was chomping on the bit to make big films, important films. And Something to Live For is relatively small, almost intimate. Even the running time is small, a shade under ninety minutes. Maybe Stevens was under the gun to fulfill his contract with Paramount, or maybe Barney Balaban, Paramount's president, made the making of this film a condition to making Shane, Stevens' last film before going independent.
And as a story, Something to Live For isn't "important". Alcoholic actress Joan Fontaine can't overcome her stage fright when she steps on a Broadway stage. Former alkie Ray Milland, an AA member, helps her while fighting his own demons, falling in love with Fontaine while maintaining a home and family with Teresa Wright.
I would have loved to have seen this film in a theater. Not for the story, but for the images. I am assuming that Something to Live For was originally shot with nitrate film stock. What I loved was watching the grain, and the light, which must have sparkled on the big screen. The first close-up of Joan Fontaine's face partially in the shadows, and I was hooked. Cinematographer George Barnes presumably should also get credit. But for me, the fascination of this film is watching Joan Fontaine and the play of light, the previously mentioned shadows, Fontaine and Milland back lit by a window, the kind of lighting that often is frequently associated with film noir.
One might wish Stevens wasn't so enamored of the lap dissolve, where the end of one scene fades out while at the same time another scene fades in. Most of the scenes of visual interest are in Fontaine's small hotel room, the kind that served only single women. All other places, Milland's home and office especially, are well lit. The only time it is bright in Fontaine's room is when Milland pushes her into a cold shower to sober her up.
There is one scene that benefits from a second viewing. It's Christmas Eve, and Milland needs the step ladder to put the angel on top of the tree. The two elementary school sons, sent to get the step ladder, run past it to get a full size ladder. Most viewers will simply pay attention to Milland and Wright having an intense conversation in the foreground, but if one looks past them, in the back is a partial view of the dining room, and the two small boys trying to maneuver a large ladder over and around the dining room table. I don't know if Stevens had anything more elaborate in mind. That bit of business is dropped as the boys put down the full sized ladder for the smaller step ladder they were originally sent to get. It's an amusing moment that for myself recalls how Stevens' career began as a cinematographer on several silent shorts with Laurel and Hardy.
Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of George Stevens, nor am I normally one to go out of my way to see a film with Joan Fontaine, and yet I have am glad to have finally caught up with this film. Some may prefer to pre-war work, or the more epic films by Stevens. I'll take Joan Fontaine in the shadows, with a lone tear streaming down her cheek.
Posted by peter at 07:56 AM
March 23, 2014
Elizabeth Moss and Johah Hill in Get Him to the Greek (Nicholas Stoller - 2010)
Posted by peter at 09:43 AM
March 20, 2014
Frank Perry - 1968
Grindhouse Releasing BD Region ABC / Region 0 DVD Two disc set
More films like this and Grindhouse Releasing may need to change their name to Arthouse Releasing.
There will be others, hopefully smarter than me, who will offer their analysis about The Swimmer. For those still unfamiliar with the film, Burt Lancaster plays a man, wearing nothing but his blue swim trunks, who decides that he can virtually swim his way from one Connecticut neighbor's house to another, winding up at his own home. But the film is more than that. Adapted from a short story by John Cheever, it's both a story about one man's disconnection with the truth about his life, and a look a wealth, class and tangentially about race in America.
Deliberately, there a several uninsured questions. The character played by Burt Lancaster, Ned Merrill, seems to appear out of nowhere. When asked where's he's been, the reply is "here and there". As the story progresses, inconsistencies in Merrill's talk about himself and his family appear. The various friends, neighbors, and others familiar with Merrill seem to know things or think they know things that are either unmentioned or barely hinted at. Nothing is spelled out. It's up to the viewer to connect the dots and draw their own conclusions.
The Swimmer might be said to contain the essential Burt Lancaster performance, a display of both his physical prowess and acting abilities. Running a race with a horse, jumping hurdles, initially a show of over-confidence, to revealing increasing personal vulnerability, the effect is of watching a summery of a career in one performance.
No studio would make this film now. And the film almost wasn't made back in 1966, There;s a set of supplemental interviews that are longer than the film, that tell much of the making of this film, in some ways more dramatic than The Swimmer itself. If there is a hero, it's probably a heroine, the tenacious Eleanor Perry, while the villain could well be Sam Spiegel. Eleanor Perry seems to have managed to keep involved with a project she initiated, even after Spiegel took the film out of Frank Perry's hands. How much of the film is Perry's and how much was the reshoots by Lancaster hired gun Sydney Pollack is a matter of dispute as Perry claims about half of the film, while Pollack downplays his contributions. One of the more interesting twists is that Sidney Katz, the editor hired by Spiegel to "save" The Swimmer subsequently went on to edit Frank Perry films from Last Summer through Rancho Deluxe.
What is missing is the testimony from the most important players to the making of The Swimmer, the Perrys, Lancaster, Pollack and Spiegel, all deceased. There are quotes from interviews, and from surviving correspondence. What video interviews are presented here are informative of both personal experiences in making The Swimmer, as well as recounting the various twists and turns from initial conception to the final released version. The interview is Katz was done before his death in 2009. Also interviewed is Marvin Hamlisch, whose lucky break came when a friend offered him a job to play piano at a party hosted by Spiegel. The Swimmer was Hamlisch's first movie score, and he was only 22 at the time that Frank Perry was filming. Joan River's tells of being caught in a tug-of-war between Frank Perry and Burt Lancaster in how her scene was to be filmed. A personal friend of the Perrys, River's one scene was written specifically for her.
One interesting quote from Lancaster has him suggesting that The Swimmer might have been a better film had it been made by Federico Fellini or Francois Truffaut. The second filmmaker, maybe. There is a scene where Ned Merrill observes an empty tennis court, while we hear the sound of a tennis game as well as the laughter of the girls playing. There is the similarity to the end of Antonioni's Blow Up, which makes me wonder if this scene as played was part of the original script, or part of the lengthy post-production tinkering. The Swimmer does share thematic concerns with some of Antonioni's films, particularly the trajectory of an alienated man on a simultaneous inner and outer journey in an increasingly hostile environment.
Would The Swimmer be a better movie had Spiegel given the Perrys the support he original promised? Judging from the evidence, author John Cheever had enough faith in the Perrys to appear in a party scene, and in one shot with Eleanor Perry. I don't know if there are any plans, but I would love it if Grindhouse Releasing could do something similar with another film produced by Sam Spiegel, the Arthur Penn directed The Chase. It's worth noting that both films were taken from their respective directors, and that both films reflected some of the cultural shifts in America in the mid-Sixties.
Posted by peter at 07:21 AM
March 18, 2014
Pete Walker: Two Feasts of Flesh
The Flesh and Blood Show
Pete Walker - 1972
Pete Walker - 1974
both Redemption / Kino Lorber BD Region A
What I find most interesting about Pete Walker is the fact that he entered and left filmmaking pretty much on his own terms. For a career that spanned only fifteen years, Walker certainly knew how to leave a lasting impression, "rattling the cages", as he puts it in one of his interviews. The history of exploitation cinema has always been about films with questionable subject matter, And for Walker, his films are more about subject than style. Be that as it may, the home video revival of his films provides an interesting look at a chapter of British exploitation films.
As others have pointed out, The Flesh and Blood Show" shows more flesh than blood. For some of us, there is no complaint when the film begins with two young women in bed, and someone is knocking on the door. The woman who answers the door is not the one in the nightie, but the one without any clothing at all. This is the kind of illogical story telling I can, ahem, get behind. On the other hand, I wish Walker had made the actor appearing in a 1944 flashback get an era appropriate haircut. And while having a child in the same room as her adulterous mother with her lover in naked coupling makes for compact storytelling,
thornier questions arise.
A group of young actors and a director are contracted by an unknown, and never seen, producer, to create an improvised show at an abandoned seaside theater. The place is huge, dark, with a maze of staircases and underground passages, with an assortment of odd costumes and props. Sleeping in various parts of the theater, the lack of anything resembling proper accommodations does not deter these young thespians. Mysteriously, several cast members disappear, only to show up dead.
The highlight is a flashback that can be seen in 3D either with special glasses, or for those with a 3D television. I saw this sequence flat, which worked out fine. It's in black and white, and for the first couple of minutes I thought I was watching footage that actually was part of a 1940s B movie. I was jolted into the 70s when an actress bared her breasts. The action takes place during a performance of Othello, with some real adultery played against the adultery imagined by Shakespeare's Moor.
In the supplemental interview on The Flesh and Blood Show, Pete Walker states that he was not influenced by any filmmaker. And while there is nothing stylistically about this film that might be similar to anyone else, I have to think that Walker and/or screenwriter Alfred Shaughnessy, must have been familiar with George Cukor's A Double Life. That 1947 film starred Ronald Colman as an actor who increasingly confused his offstage life with his onstage performance as Othello. And this may be pure coincidence, but Shaughnessy once served as an assistant to British filmmaker Thorold Dickinson, whose most famous film, Gaslight, was remade more famously by George Cukor.
In his interview, Walker states that he showed more flesh than blood based on the current demands of the exploitation marketplace. For someone like myself who enjoyed 70s exploitation movies for that reason, I didn't mind a bit.
For all the fuss about Frightmare at the time of its original release, the film is fairly restrained with most of the blood and gore offscreen. Those with an appetite for more graphic horror are better off with something by George Romero or Lucio Fulci. This story about an older woman, whose taste for murder and cannibalism remain unabated following fifteen years in a psychiatric hospital, has been beautifully presented on the Blu-ray disc. As it stands, the images on the film's poster might actually be more disturbing than what is seen in the film, although those more curious may keep their fingers on the freeze frame button.
At its heart, Frightmare is really about unconditional love and the desperation of lonely people. Dorothy Yates lures her victims with tarot readings, uncanny as is revealed later in the film, but always with the same future. Also revealed are some family secrets. Beyond the more lurid aspects of the story is a family tragedy of a daughter who inadvertently sets herself up as a victim, an ineffectual husband who ultimately surrenders to the demands of his wife in the name of love, a second daughter takes after her mother, and the woman whose special needs dominate this family.
The disc includes a brief interview with Pete Walker, commentary by Walker and cinematographer Peter Jessop, and a short profile of actress Sheila Keith, whose performance here was the peak of several collaborations with Walker.
And how appropriate it is that the younger daughter, Debbie, is played by an actress named Kim Butcher!
Posted by peter at 08:16 AM
March 16, 2014
Victor Mature and Li Li-Hua In China Doll (Frank Borzage - 1958)
Posted by peter at 10:09 AM
March 14, 2014
Sion Sono Strikes Twice
Guilty of Romance / Koi no tsumi
Sion Sono - 2011
Sion Sono - 2011
both Olive Films
File this under "Better late than never", as two films by Sion Sono released in 2011 get theatrical releases in the U.S. today. I don't know what opportunities for seeing these films outside of New York City will be, but if there is no other option, both films are worth seeking when available on home video.
I had already seen Himizu last year. The one that will probably get more attention is Guilty of Romance. This is the "International version", and for those like myself, who were wondering what's missing, this article offers some clarification, and also some reassurance that this may be the better version of the film.
The story is inspired by a true event, the murder of a prostitute in the Shibuya section of Tokyo in 1997. The woman was also revealed to be a high level researcher for a top company. Perhaps it might be part of a cultural zeitgeist particular to Japan, but I also feel a connection to a series of novels by a group of female novelists, Natsuo Kirino being the one I have read. The murder mystery setup of Guilty of Romance is an effective hook, although it recedes in importance while following the descent of Izumi into her own personal hell.
Sono can't be accused of subtlety. When Izumi, bored of being the dutiful wife of a famous writer, decides to get a job, she is offering free samples of sausages in a grocery story. There's no mistaking any symbolism as the sausages get bigger later in the film. Likewise, as Izumi evolves from demure housewife to uninhibited prostitute, the necklines in her dress get lower while the hemlines get shorter. Much of the credit should go to Sono regular Megumi Kagurazaka as the woman who believes she is in control of her sexuality, only to find that her sense of liberation reveals some unexpected traps.
A case might be made that Sono is being self-critical. Izumi's husband is seen reading from his erotically charged novels. Izumi's "guide" to making the most of her sexuality is Mitsuko, a professor of literature who moonlights as a prostitute. Mitsuko also served as a nude model for her artist father. There is also the bowler hatted pimp, with a penchant for tossing pink paintballs, turning those splattered into human canvases of abstract art.
Some of the impact of Himizu may be diminished with a U.S. release almost three years to the date of the Fukushima earthquake. There could well be a lack of comprehension on the part of some audience members unaware of how massive the destruction was in this part of Japan. While Sono is very much on the side of fourteen year old Sumida, who's only goal is to get by in life with as little friction as possible, there is no sympathy for some of the adults, including a well-meaning teacher who spouts of homilies, and recklessly claims that "no one has suffered atrocities like the Japanese."
Sumida struggles to deal with the world on his own terms, isolating himself emotionally even from those who sincerely have his best interests in mind. A himizu is a kind of mole, which is how Sumida would prefer to live, hidden in the darkness. The sometimes rough relationship with the insistently ingratiating Keiko is certainly not typical of how most films portray teen romance, although Keiko's cheerfulness contrasts dramatically with the hell of her own family life. Nothing comes easy for this pair. I cannot imagine anyone seeing HImizu not moved by the final scene with Sumida running to face the world head on.
Posted by peter at 07:35 AM
March 12, 2014
Kim Sung-soo - 2013
CJ Entertainment Region 1 DVD
There are two scenes of humans being incinerated. It is the second such scene that is more disturbing. It is a stadium sized pit with about one-thousand bodies of victims of a deadly virus. Bodies a dumped in by a giant crane. If the image is reminiscent of documentary footage following the discovery of Nazi concentration camps, it is not coincidental. Director Kim Sung-soo mentions, in the "Making of" supplement that he had the camp where the flu victims are interned to look like Auschwitz.
While the events in Flu get increasingly grim as the film progresses, Kim does start off on a light-hearted note. Beginning with a car improbably stuck in an underground construction site, the two main characters, a rescue worker and a doctor, are introduced in the manner of a screwball comedy. The doctor is temporarily more concerned with protecting her modesty than simply getting getting out of her perilous situation. The two are reconnected with the rescue worker meets up with the doctor's pre-school age daughter, as well as the illegal immigrant who has entered Korea from Hong Kong with the mysterious virus.
It is significant that the film takes place in Bundang, a city near Seoul. A specially designed space, with an affluent population living in high rises, the real Bundang may represent the best in a highly planned community. Having a virus of unknown origin and no known cure creates havoc and anarchy in a place where all elements of life are suppose to be under control. As the story progresses, the concerns grow from trying to isolate a few infected people to isolating a city, to a point where the entire country of South Korea is threatened.
Playing against and with the drama of the main characters are the conflicts between medical doctors, politicians, and the intervention of military forces. Kim presents a worse case scenario that takes place in the near future, this April as a matter of fact.
Five year old (at the time of filming) Park Min-ha steals the show as the doctor's daughter. It is her banter with Jang Hyuk as the rescue worker, and Park Soo-ae as the doctor, as well as the banter between the two adults that provide the initial emotional hook.
After a decade of serving as producer, as well as having several proposed projects fail to get financing, Kim discussed in an
The reason why we could do something so unimaginable is that we want to continue eating pork so there’s a real sense of selfishness in that and although it feels really unconceivable, if we could do this to pigs, I wondered if we could give this cruel treatment to humans by other humans as well and I thought why not, that it was equally applicable. When I read the script this had much more resonance, once these events had occurred, there were these emotions present within the film."
Posted by peter at 07:50 AM
March 10, 2014
Park Hong-soo - 2013
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD
In substance rather than style, Commitment reminds me of classic film noir, especially films by Fritz Lang and Samuel Fuller. It doesn't take long to realize that we are in an environment, in this case contemporary Incheon, and you just never know who's really a North Korean agent, either sent on a mission, or simply biding their time between assignments. Even more treacherous is that there is a power struggle between factions, with the internecine murders making any conflicts between North and South seem almost an afterthought.
I don't know how much of the film to take at face value, but I assume that there's some basis in reality. Where Lang is recalled is in how the viewer, much like the main character learns to never trust anyone, and not to make assumptions based on exterior appearances. The most innocuous facade, whether that of a pharmacist, or a grandmotherly street vendor, could actually be an enemy agent. That there are networks supposedly on the same side, but murdering each other, adds to the paranoia. Where Fuller comes to mind is how within this story of political espionage, personal loyalties trump are more important than politics of any kind.
The story pivots on family relationships. Nineteen year old Myung-hoon and his sister are in a North Korean prison due to their father, a secret agent, getting caught and killed in South Korea. Myung-hoon's only way out is to become an assassin, with a mission to kill other North Korean agents belonging to a rival faction. Myung-hoon's youth would appear to be a great disguise. More challenging than stalking and murdering other spies, is playing the part of a high school student. The school bullies are bad enough, but what undoes Myung-hoon is a growing attachment to a fellow student with the same name as his sister, a young woman without a family. The major shifts revolve around Myung-hoon's adoptive family in South Korea, and the two young women named Hye-in.
I took a glance at a music video of star Choi Seaung-hyun just to make sure if he was capable of anything other than an impassive expression. Indee, it is deliberate that Choi appears almost blank. Choi's face is like a mask hiding thoughts and emotions. Myun-hoon's only wish seems to be to anonymously fulfill his mission in this alien environment. When he lets down his guard long enough to show enough physical force, the effect is dramatic.
High school is easy because there is no second guessing about the students and teachers. What makes Commitment fascinating is that it is outside of school that the viewer is kept off-kilter, not knowing the hidden agendas of several of the characters, or what they might do to each other. The Korean title translates as "classmate", though I think the English title is better. The English title not only works on multiple levels, but can be applied to several characters. For Myung-hoon the conflict is between the personal and the political, until the finale, when there are no more choices.
Posted by peter at 08:40 AM
March 09, 2014
Sora Aoi in Man, Woman & the Wall (Masashi Yamamoto - 2006)
Posted by peter at 08:18 AM
March 06, 2014
Soft Spoken Germans / Hard Silent Yanks
Schoolgirl Report Volume 12: If Mom only Knew / Schulmadchen-Report 12. Teil - Wenn das die Mammi wusste / Carnal Campus
Walter Boos - 1978
Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD
42nd Street Forever: The Peep Show Collection, Volume 1
Impulse Pictures Region 0 DVD
Well if my Mom only knew I was writing about vintage erotic movies, she would probably say something to the effect that I should be writing about more high-minded cinema, and then laugh about it with her friends. Of course I could remind her that she got me out of high school to attend the advanced critics' screening of Midnight Cowboy, and it was a slippery slope from that point on.
As it stands, with this second to last entry, the Schoolgirl Report series was running out of steam, and the competition from the more graphic films was taking its toll. There's a lot more nudity and simulated sex going on here. The framing device is a group of high school students reading letters detailing the sexual misadventures of several female students. You might wonder that if one of the stories is about a young woman who fulfills her sexual fantasies about her older brother, how much worse were the rejected ideas?
Even the print used for the DVD is on the tatty side. This is surprising considering the good quality of the prints from the earlier films. On the other hand, some might argue that the various bits of dirt, and obvious splices, helps recreate the effect of having watched this movie in a run down grind house.
There are a few chuckles to be had in the episode about a visit to the doctor's office where the young patient is actually getting a check up from a plumber in disguise. Also there's the story about a French exchange student who turns out to be a boy named Niki, dedicated to his physical training and oath of abstinence, much to the frustration of his hostess.
For those who want to immediately dive into the action, The Peepshow Collection makes no pretense about what it offers. A collection of fifteen silent short films, shown in booths at adult arcades or in private shows, there is nothing simulated here. Even though the films are silent, there is the clackety clack sound of a movie projector on the soundtrack.
More interesting than seeing close ups of penetration and genitalia are the "actors" themselves. No artificial additives here. Bodies are less than perfect, breasts sag, and the only thing waxed might be the floor. If you saw most of these people on the street, you probably wouldn't give them a second thought. There are some notes regarding some of the performers by Robin Bougie of Cinema Sewer, most notably Annie Sprinkle and John Holmes, but I wish there was more detailed information on who was in front of the camera and when the films were made, even if those behind the camera chose to remain anonymous. The high point might be the short with the young couple who get it on while having breakfast, with the woman adding extra spice, courtesy of her boyfriend, to her fried egg. The grubbiness can not be denied, the sex is sticky and messy, and still the impression is that some of these groups and couples look like they are actually having fun.
Posted by peter at 07:47 AM
March 04, 2014
The Wrath of Vajra
Law Wing-cheong - 2013
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD
This film must have been awesome in 3D. Of course, I can only guess, but there are plenty of moments given to depth of field shots, the long corridors of the prison, and shots of the coliseum built for the trained assassins to fight to the death. There are also some frankly painterly exterior shots, green fields and mountains, where nothing dramatic happens, but the pictorial beauty is worth considering.
One of the smartest decisions made in making The Wrath of Vajra was to hire David Richardson as editor. Hopefully, the name is familiar as a regular part of Johnny To's production crew. As is now standard, several of the scenes of fighting are done as a combination of very quick shots. Unlike some films that look like they were edited with a kitchen blender that chopped up the footage into something incomprehensible, Richardson is able to maintain a sense of spatial logic throughout the proceedings.
Rapid cuts are made between full shots and close-ups of punches, without loss of where two dueling
fighters are in relation to each other or in the space where they are fighting.
Director Law Wing-cheong was an assistant director and editor for Johnny To, which makes this connection less surprising. In front of the camera is a cast primarily chosen for their martial arts abilities. The athleticism of the actors is quite evident, not only in the action scenes, but simply with some of them, especially the two main characters, standing around with their shirts off.
Taking place in the 1930s China, Japan revives a death cult, the Temple of Hades, to help subdue the Chinese. The cult is made up of young men, kidnapped as children to be trained killers. One escapee from the cult, Vajrasattva, now a Shaolin monk, is forced to return to the temple when one very young novice is taken as part of a round-up of young boys to be part of a new generation. Once back at the temple, Vajrasattva is forced face off the best fighters including a giant of a man and a sinewy fellow known as Crazy Monkey.
Even though the film has a historical setting, I could not find any evidence that there was anything like the Temple of Hades, or even a multinational army of soldiers who fought with the Chinese against Japan. Certainly, the daughter of the temple's founder, a journalist named Eko, would have been hauled away by the very real "thought police for choosing to report truth over propaganda.
Those quibble aside, Law Wing-cheong should be heard from more decisively later this Spring, when his new film, Iceman is released. I would recommend the 1989 film, The Iceman Cometh (apologies to Eugene O'Neill), with a hilarious turn by a young Maggie Cheung. Law's film will be a bit more serious, with the focus on an unfrozen Donnie Yen. The teaser trailer suggests that Law is building on his use of 3D action that will be even more stunning.
Posted by peter at 07:12 AM
March 02, 2014
William Powell and Jean Harlow in Libeled Lady (Jack Conway - 1936)
Posted by peter at 09:01 AM