March 31, 2015
Nemanja & Brane Bala
Kino Lorber Region 1 DVD
Filmed documentary style, it takes a few minutes to realized that everything in Love Hunter is staged for the camera. The film follows Milan Mumin, a rock star in his native Serbia, working as a struggling cab driver in New York City. Forty years old, and hoping to make his first recording in the U.S., Mumin, would at first glance seem an unlikely star. That changes when I takes out his guitar on a bet that his song would make one of his passengers happy.
Beefy, with hair cut close to his scalp, and a very prominent nose, Mumin looks like a workaday guy you might find almost anywhere in New York, or any major city. That changes when he sings. The voice is gruff, the English is accented but not heavily. There is a brief moment from a documentary showing Mumin and his band, Love Hunters, performing in a stadium, from 1995. Even then, Mumin hardly looked like the expected notion of a rock star.
A little bit of historical context - Mumin sang in English, even during his time in what was then Yugoslavia. The Love Hunters in their original lineup, with a couple of changes, played from 1987 through 2003. The real Mumin has continued to play music professionally, both in the U.S., and in Serbia.
Trying to secure enough money for recording studio time, Mumin deals with his bass player suddenly quitting and his long time fiancee coming to visit from Serbia. Not happy with the musicians he auditions, Mumin finds Kim, the roommate of a friend, playing behind the closed door of her bedroom. The two have a relationship that alternates between adversarial and platonically romantic, a relationship that Mumin's fiancee, Lela, finds threatening. In between, the film shows Mumin with his various passengers and friendship with a fellow cabbie. Additionally, Mumin's drummer and guitarist are unhappy with the preferential treatment Mumin gives to the newest band member.
The film is also the Bala brothers love letter to New York City. There is one scene with the Washington Square arch in the background. The Balas New York City is mostly comprised of the parts not hit by gentrification, inexpensive all night restaurants, and neighborhood bars.
There is footage of Mumin performing his songs, and having his songs heard offscreen as a kind of commentary. Additionally, Mumin lip synchs some of his songs as seemingly impromptu musical numbers.
It's a nice touch to this modestly produced film about a musician whose need to create music takes presidents over everything else.
Posted by peter at 06:42 AM
March 29, 2015
Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Jane Lynch in Paul (Greg Mottola - 2011)
Posted by peter at 07:00 AM
March 26, 2015
Gone with the Pope
Duke Mitchell - 1976/2009
Grindhouse Releasing Region 0 DVD / BD Regions ABC
Bob Murawski and his team put in admirable effort into restoring, as best as possible, the film now titled Gone with the Pope. For myself, the film and the work involved in making it available both theatrically and on home video bring up a slew of questions concerning both personal filmmaking and restoration.
Shot in 1975 and '76 on less than a shoestring budget, Duke Mitchell's film was still not completed at the time he died at age 55 in 1981. Had he lived to complete the film, had it been distributed, it would have been picked up by some very tiny company that specialized in providing films that filled holes in various theaters' playdates, or Mitchell may have tried to distribute the film himself. Had the film been released, it would have probably been hooted off the screen for its outdated racial attitudes, or the scene, which does nothing to forward the narrative, may have landed on the cutting room floor.
Mitchell, as an ex-con, gets together with two buddies, and buy the services of a black prostitute. As in his previous Massacre Mafia Style, Mitchell's character refers to blacks as "spooks". The uncredited actress who portrays the prostitute keeps smiling even when Mitchell tells her that she can use her earnings for watermelon and chicken. Also cringe inducing is when Mitchell compares the prostitute's pubic hair to brillo. While I don't think Mitchell, or his character, are deliberately racist, Mitchell seems firmly of an older era, even when attempting to appear contemporary with his too long sideburns, and "leisure suits".
A would-be comic sex scene with one very oversized woman should have been avoided as well. If that wasn't enough, the film has enough reminders of the general awfulness of mid-Seventies fashions.
What redeems Gone with the Pope for some viewers is the impassioned speech Mitchell makes to the too easily kidnapped Pontiff, about the how the Church did nothing to save Europe's Jews from Hitler. And the speech comes off as very sincere. A little further examination indicates that Pope Piux XII had less control over Mussolini than Mitchell imagined, and that there was greater activity in saving not only Italian Jews but, Jews in other parts of Europe, that was not made public.
You do have to hand it to Mitchell to be able to fool some people into thinking he shot part of the film in Rome. The moral is to never underestimate the power of a carefully positioned poster in background behind a close-up of an actor.
What seems to have been the reason behind producers Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski to rescue Gone with the Pope is that the film stands as an example of personal filmmaking - personal in that the film was entirely self-financed, and personal in that Mitchell expressed himself in ways that would make some viewers uncomfortable.
On a conventional level, Gone with the Pope is not very good. Many of the shots look like they were illuminated by a flashlight. Sound Mixer Marti Humphrey did a miraculous job, noticeable in the blu-ray version, of making the dialogue audible. Several cast members appear to be straining to recite the dialogue. There are plentiful lapses of logic, as well as plot holes. As a filmmaker, Duke Mitchell's ambitions far exceeded his budget or abilities. The soundtrack does make clear that Mitchell's reputation as a lounge singer, and singing voice for Fred Flinstone was not unearned.
It is the obvious faults of Gone with the Pope that should serve as reminders that personal filmmaking isn't just the province of those whose viewpoints aren't questionable, or of those whose artistic stature is well established. The film also serves as a reminder that any questions regarding what films are, or are not, worthy of preservation, are both subjective and challengeable.
Posted by peter at 07:50 AM
March 24, 2015
Alfred E. Green - 1949
KL Studio Classics BD Region A
Sure, Alfred E. Green is the director of record. Green's filmography is primarily memorable for a couple of pre-code movies at Warner Brothers - Smart Money with the only pairing of Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, plus Boris Karloff with an oversized fedora, and Baby Face, with Barbara Stanwyck sleeping her way to the top of the business world. But as Andrew Sarris pointed out, the auteur of a movie isn't always the director, and in this case, the auteur is Dennis O'Keefe.
O'Keefe isn't as well remembered as some of his starring films. There's the Val Lewton produced The Leopard Man, a couple of Alan Dwan comedies - most notably Brewster's Millions, and a couple of film noir classics with Anthony Mann - T-Men and Raw Deal. O'Keefe's stardom was on the decline following World War II, and rather than wait for a good role, O'Keefe started writing his own screenplays under a pseudonym. As Jonathan Rix, O'Keefe collaborated with Jerome Odlum, whose novels, Dust Be My Destiny and Each Dawn I Die were both filmed by Warner Brothers in 1939. Based on a similar bit of business in O'Keefe's later film, The Diamond, the star incorporated a bit of business about his chain smoking, a habit that caused O'Keefe to die at age sixty.
O'Keefe was apparently pragmatic enough to cede top billing to William Bendix, seen here as the small town sheriff who doesn't think to highly of O'Keefe's insurance investigator snooping into a suicide that took place in Cleberg. The film takes place a few days before Christmas, and from what is seen, Cleberg is cold, sunny and dry. The film opens with O'Keefe "meeting cute" with Barbara Britton, both departing from a train, Britton unable to carry all the gifts purchased at the big city. The two are taken to town by bus. The bus driver mentions the suicide of the well-known man, but seems unusually cheerful in spreading the news of the untimely death. O'Keefe ruffles quite a few feathers of the townsfolk by insisting that what occurred was murder rather than suicide. Along the way are revelations of family secrets and the search for a missing gun.
Cover Up is enjoyable, if not particularly memorable. Best are the wise guy quips, especially between Bendix and O'Keefe. Ann E. Todd appears as Britton's teenage sister, in awe of the insurance investigator, and the victim of one very funny, self-inflicted pratfall. Briefly seen are future coffee pitch woman Virginia Christine, and John Wayne stock company player, Hank Worden. Also adding to the fun is George MacDonald as a smart alec Cub Scout who would rather annoy O'Keefe and Britton than watch the movie playing in the theater. MacDonald's kid turns out to be the wisest of a group of characters who act foolishly. When wondering why O'Keefe doesn't kiss Miss Britton, MacDonald reasons, "She's pretty".
Posted by peter at 10:25 AM
March 22, 2015
Van Heflin and Barbara Stanwyck in East Side, West Side (Mervyn LeRoy - 1949)
Posted by peter at 07:56 AM
March 19, 2015
Vice and Virtue
Le Vice et la Virtu
Roger Vadim - 1963
Kino Classics BD Region A
Having come from the same literary source, the Maquis De Sade, every discussion about Vice and Virtue will invariably mention some similarity to Pasolini's Salo. What remains unanswered is whether Pasolini was in any way inspired by Vadim to transpose De Sade to a World War II setting. I would think it probable that even if he had not seen Vadim's version of De Sade's Justine, he would have at least been aware of the film, Vadim at the time being a very popular filmmaker, at least in Europe. Vadim's version begins with a statement by Vadim giving a brief explanation as to why he transposed the story to the last years of World War II. Vadim's justification seems more for himself than for the audience which probably didn't need a reminder that Nazi's were bad, bad people.
After opening with a montage of documentary war footage, Vadim cuts to a wedding party walking to church. The group walks past a bar called "A Tout va Bien" (Everything goes well). The irony is hardly subtle as German soldiers surround the family outside the church, and arrest the groom, spoiling the wedding for Justine. The bride is played by Catherine Deneuve, a year or so prior to her star making turn in Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Still in bridal wear, Justine seeks out sister Juliette, the mistress of a German general, to get her fiancé released. Disowned by her family, Juliette has traded her looks for the best available comforts of life. As Juliette, Annie Girardot is not conventionally attractive, but is able to convey her ability to take on the men in her life by letting them know she can be their equal in ruthlessness.
In their first scene together, Girardot and Deneuve meet in a sauna popular with the officers. The two are seen surrounded by steam, visually suggesting a meeting in Hell. And while Roger Vadim may have less to say about morality than he may have thought at the time, the reason to revisit Vice and Virtue has more to do with Vadim's visual style, which gets doesn't get discussed as much as the babes he bagged over the years.
It might be a theatrical device, but there are also a couple of moments when Vadim darkens the screen so that the viewer can only see, as in one scene. Girardot, Deneuve, and as the most evil Nazi, Robert Hossein. In another scene, taking place in a long hallway, the camera moves backward with Girardot's back to the camera, Hossein slapping her to submission. Where other filmmakers might simply move the camera forward or use a zoom shot, Vadim edits close-ups of Girardot's face while she is wincing, witnesses the torture of a prisoner.
Vice and Virtue was released in the U.S. by MGM, probably the last major studio to be considered in association with anything remotely avant-garde. In his review for the New York Times, Eugene Archer sums up his thoughts on the film with, "Even so, Mr. Vadim is a man with audacious ideas about movies. He misfires, but he scatters plenty of sparks along the way." A fair judgment of this film I would say. Any intellectual aspirations as shallow, and those looking for the eroticism that Vadim has been linked with in previous fins, will probably find disappointment here. But well after fifty years, the virtues to be found here are in Vadim's visuals.
Posted by peter at 07:26 AM
March 17, 2015
From Asia with Lust, Volume 1
Ainosuke Shibata - 2014
Ainosuke Shibata - 2013
Troma Entertainment All Region DVD
I've been reading Kier-La Janisse's part autobiography, part survey about women in horror films, House of Psychotic Women. I can't find the exact quote, but if I can paraphrase it, she puts the Japanese "pink film" in a different light, so that the point for the Japanese audience is not that the women find themselves in horrible situations, usually involving rape and/or torture, but that they overcome their respective adversities at the end of the film. Be that as it may, there is something of a disconnection between how these two films by Ainosuke Shibata, starring adult video star Miyuki Yokoyama, have been sold, both to the home audience, as well as in this double feature DVD.
In both films, Yokoyama plays women who are terrible drivers, prone to accidents, and winding up at the wrong place at the wrong time. In Camp, Yokoyama is one of two sisters who end up crashing the car on their way to some resort. They take shelter in a cabin that's closed for the season. A man who lives nearby invites them to his place, only it turns out that he's one of several men who were former mental patients with unusual sexual hang-ups. That the guys go by nicknames like "Pyro" and "Copro" gives a hint as to their particular fetishes. The younger sister is sexual violated and murdered. Yokoyama is able to escape courtesy of the one guy who's doing his best to keep his pants on. A former nurse from the hospital discovers Yokoyama, teaches her archery, and the two return for revenge.
A little bit of research indicates that Hitch-Hike is a remake of an Italian thriller from 1977, starring Franco Nero, Clorinne Clery and slasher movie fixture, David Hess. Yokoyama is the put upon wife abused by her husband, the hitchhiker picked up along the way, and even the guy she initially thinks is her savior. By the end of the film, Yokoyama has the good sense to ditch her husband, but not enough sense to wear a jacket while walking on a snowy mountain road.
Anybody who thinks they're going to see the star dressed in either movie like she does on the DVD covers will be disappointed. There's more violence than sex in both of these films, and not much in the way of nudity. For those who have a, ahem, yen, for naked Japanese women, you're probably better off seeking a "pink movie" from the Seventies.
On the other hand - keep in mind that while Miyuki Yokoyama's claim to fame is as an adult video star, she is also in a more mainstream film, appearing in Sion Sono's Tokyo Tribe, mainstream being a relative term here. Ainosuke Shibata seems like a fairly competent director with no particular style. Being a director of videos, adult or otherwise, in Japan, doesn't always have the same onus as it does in most other countries, so it is possible that Shibata might be heard from in the future with a film that gets more critical attention. The guy who won an Oscar for Departures probably wasn't pegged for future glory when he made Molester's Train: Momoe's Tush.
Posted by peter at 07:28 AM
March 15, 2015
Emily Blunt and Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau (George Nolfi - 2011)
Posted by peter at 10:28 AM
March 12, 2015
Massacre Mafia Style
Like Father, like Son / The Executioner
Duke Mitchell - 1978
Grindhouse Releasing BD Regions ABC/Region 1 DVD Combo
As a filmmaker, Duke Mitchell was championed by Grindhouse Releasing co-founder, Sage Stallone, the late son of another writer-director-star, Sylvester Stallone. But the coincidences go further. As an actor, Mitchell was usually cast in smaller supporting roles. One of those last jobs was in the final film of another writer-director-star, Hugo Haas. The film, shot in 1958, but not released until 1962 was titled Paradise Alley, the title also of Sylvester Stallone's film of 1978. Much of the writing about Massacre Mafia Style discusses Mitchell's film in relationship to The Godfather. I would think that even if unstated, that Mitchell probably got a certain amount of inspiration from Hugo Haas. The bulk of the filmography for Haas is of low budget genre films that have only recently garnered more critical attention. Paradise Alley was done with very little money, and a cast that included silent stars Corinne Griffith, Billy Gilbert and Chester Conklin, as well as Marie Windsor, William Schallert, with Duke Mitchell lower in the list. One could argue that Mitchell learned first hand that a movie might be made with a small amount of money and a lot of willing and available friends.
I have to also assume that Mitchell picked up some pointers on the set of two Don Siegel films, Crime in the Streets, and especially Baby Face Nelson. Siegel was known for being quick and efficient, knowing how to make a film in spite of limited budgets, improvising when needed to get the needed footage in the can.
Massacre Mafia Style shows some of the influence of Don Siegel with its images of untethered violence, but is closer in spirit to the work of Hugo Haas with its idiosyncratic world view. That this is a personal film is made clear with Mitchell playing a gangster with the last name of Micelli, Mitchell's own real family name. The son of a retired mobster, Micelli travels from Sicily to Los Angeles on a misguided attempt to regain is father's past glory, killing off other gangsters and a pimp called Superspook. The gangsters complain about Italians being stereotyped while at the same time reenforcing the worst cliches about Italian gangsters. At one point, Micelli and his loyal sidekick, Jolly, are on a yacht while a porn film is being shot below deck. Micelli talks about how porn films have earned huge profits against the small production costs, and I have to wonder if Mitchell may have had second thoughts about the kind of film he was trying to make.
There is one unforgettable image, with a rival gangster hung on a meat hook, the hook going through the back of the head and through an eye. There is also the shots of the pimp crucified on Easter Sunday. On the down side, when we see the porn film in production, it seems like the entire cast and crew had no idea about what to do with two naked women together in bed. The opening montage of what seems like a random killing spree is done with a cheerful song about the heart going "Teeka-teek". The soundtrack includes several songs performed by Mitchell that invoked Italian culture.
Which brings us to the proverbial elephant in the room, namely Bela Lugosi meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. That oft-maligned film can be seen as a blu ray bonus looking better than it ever did sixty years ago. And in another bit of coincidence, before joining with Jerry Lewis lookalike Sammy Petrillo, Mitchell even had a bit part in the Lewis-Martin comedy, Sailor Beware. Whatever one might think of the most famous, or infamous, film by William "One Shot" Beaudine, it is the one film that Duke Mitchell, singer and romantic lead, will be best remembered for, though not by choice of the musical star.
Posted by peter at 12:04 PM
March 10, 2015
Life of Riley
Aimer, boire et chanter
Alain Resnais - 2014
Kino Lorber BD Region A
I swore that I would refrain from making any references to the television series, The Life of Riley, but this is too good to pass up. In that Fifties show, the title character played by William Bendix was famous for the catchphrase, "What a revolting development this is." That same phrase was recycled for use by the comic book character, Benjamin Grimm of The Fantastic Four, created by Marvel comic's Stan Lee. And Lee, as some already know, wrote a never filmed screenplay called The Monster Maker and also, decades before Sam Raimi came on board, tried to make of film of Spider-Man, both to be filmed by Alain Resnais. OK, so there's this roundabout connectivity that I enjoy, but I think that Alain Resnais might have found it a bit amusing.
The French title translates as the equivalent to, "Eat, drink and be merry". The English language title is from Alan Ayckbourn's play. The title character is George Riley, and though the film and play revolve around him, Riley is never seen. The six characters we do see are reacting to Riley's impending death.
I should admit that Resnais lost me after Providence. I've seen most of his films that followed, but never felt particularly enthusiastic about any of them. I Want to Go Home is one of the couple of films I liked best in this latter period. The supplemental material here, essays by Resnais and critic Glenn Kenny, as well as interviews with the actors shot soon after the completion of filming, are helpful in pointing out what to look for here, in what turned out to be Alain Resnais' final work.
Much of the time, Riley looks like filmed theater, with the actors on a stage with a painted backdrop. This may have been a result of budget constraints, but Resnais tries to use this obvious theatrical setting to his advantage. During the times Resnais breaks into a close-up of the actors, what we see behind the actor is not the stage backdrop but something that looks like the cross-hatching in comic books. Interludes between scenes are a combination of traveling shots in the parts of Yorkshire where the story takes place, with those shots dissolving into colored pen and ink drawings of the respective homes of each character, with the action taking place in their gardens.
That the final shot is of George Riley's coffin has turned out to be an uncanny coincidence. Life of Riley was never intended to be the 91 year old Resnais' last film. As final images from final films go, the post card with the image of angel of death on top of a coffin is as unintentionally fitting as that of some other filmmakers, including Anne Bancroft's defiant, "So long, ya bastard" prior to her suicide drink at the end of John Ford's Seven Women, or Barbara Harris' wink to the camera at the close of Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot.
Posted by peter at 07:10 AM
March 08, 2015
Katherine Hepburn and Edgar Buchanan in Sea of Grass (Elia Kazan - 1947)
Posted by peter at 10:32 AM
March 05, 2015
White Haired Witch
The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom / Bai Fa Mo Nu Zhuan Zhi Ming Yue Tian Guo
Jacob Cheung - 2014
Well Go Entertainment Region 1 DVD
During the end credits for White Haired Witch, we hear the song "Red Face, White Hair. That song is from the earlier film version of the same story, Bride with White Hair, performed by that film's star, Leslie Cheung. It's a nice tribute to the late, and still beloved, star.
Fan Bingbing and Huang Xiaoming don't have the kind of sparks that fly as when Leslie Cheung shared the screen with Brigitte Lin in Ronny Yu's film from 1993. Still, for me, the high point was a first meeting of Fan and Huang, a martial arts ballet choreographed by Stephen Tung, inspired by Peking Opera. That scene might not be the wuxia equivalent to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but it comes pretty close. Fan might be saying no to Huang, but you know she will eventually succumb to his persistence. Sure, Leslie Cheung has the charm, and Brigitte Lin is one of the most intimidating women in film, but Fan and Huang have an effective scene here.
If only the film had more of Fan Bingbing. She plays the leader of a rebel community in 17th Century China that lives in a remote mountain village. Huang is a government official who gets framed for murdering the emperor. Fan gets framed for killing Huang's grandfather. Various government officials are plotting against each other, and the more attention is devoted to Huang's pursuit of justice. Fan's hair turns white when she thinks she's been jilted by Huang, but until the final scene, when she magically gains the strength to literally bust out of prison, there is little to suggest the she is a witch.
Tsui Hark is credited as the "Artistic Consultant". I'm not sure what that meant in terms of this film, as Jacob Cheung is hardly a novice filmmaker. Maybe Tsui's involvement was related to making a 3D film, which has become his format of choice based on his most recent work. In any event, one gets the suggestion of how Cheung made use of 3D, especially in the early scenes which emphasize distances, either in open fields where battles take place, or the size of the emperor's palace. There is also a lot of wire work with Fan, Huang and assorted others flying around.
From the "Making of" supplement, there is footage of Huang Xiaoming in an accident while performing a stunt. While Huang did come back to complete the film, there are hints that he was still hurting during the shoot. Cheung and company did a masterful job of working around Huang's physical limitations as well. Photos of Huang's scars and x-rays are more shocking than anything seen in Cheung's film.
Posted by peter at 07:07 AM
March 03, 2015
Alex Orr - 2007
Horizon Movies Region 1 DVD
I try to give novice filmmakers, especially those working with extremely limited funds, a wide berth. Based on the pull quotes, I was looking forward to seeing Blood Car. The film played in various festivals which seemed to indicate there was something worth checking out. Whatever it was that struck the Variety critic as "fresh and funny" or earned raves from Time Out London and Sight and Sound is lost on me.
On paper, the concept would seem promising. In a future where gas costs over thirty dollars a gallon, people have stopped driving. A grade school teacher, Archie, attempts to create an engine that runs on wheat grass, but accidentally finds that his engine works with human blood. He drives around with a car with a special motor in the trunk that grinds those unlucky enough to be shoved in. A dedicated vegan, Archie also becomes the occasional lover of Denise, who runs a small butcher stand, and the object of longing for Lorraine, who sells wheat grass drinks. There also some generous exhibition of breasts on the part of several females, and a bit of gore involving the car with appetite for human blood.
The premise would seem like something that Roger Corman might have made about forty years ago. Alex Orr isn't Roger Corman. Alex Orr isn't even Corman protege Jim Wynorski. I know that the budget was reportedly on $25,000. When finances are limited, much more careful planning is required, especially if the film demands special effects. Some of the problems may be budget related, but too frequently the action is cut so that there is only one scene where we see one victim ground up by the chopping blades in the trunk. Where there might have been some humor in a few sight gags is lost with badly thought out framing. Even the raunchy humor wears thin quickly. The sight of horny teens having sex in cars in automobile graveyards is neither funny nor erotic. When Denise declares to Archie that she wants a taco in her mouth and a dick in her ass, it's enough to make me long for the double entendres lobbed between characters in a pre-Code film the the Thirties.
The DVD comes with a couple of shorts directed by Mike Brune, the actor who plays Archie. The Adventure is the stronger of the two. An older couple are stopped on their road trip by a mime standing in the middle of the highway. The mime performs, and is killed by another mime whose weapon in an invisible, that is to say, mimed, gun. The performer dies on the hood of the couple's car. The polish and composition of the shots would indicate to me that Brune maybe should have directed Blood Car as well.
Posted by peter at 06:59 AM
March 01, 2015
Aundrea Fares in The Unspeakable Act (Dan Sallitt - 2013)
Posted by peter at 10:12 AM