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February 18, 2018

Coffee Break

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Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman - 2014)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:56 AM

February 13, 2018

Don't Call Me Son

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Mae So Ha Uma
Anna Muylaert - 2016
Kino Lorber/Zeitgeist Films Region 1 DVD

Anna Muylaert films actor Naomi Nero, the seventeen year-old Pierre, in close-up in his first scenes, barely lit, with his face only partially seen. He's in a crowded Sao Paolo nightclub, wearing an animal ear hat with flaps that further obscures his face. Dancers casually pair up with each other or just as easily drift off to dance alone. Muylaert cuts to a shot of Pierre fucking a girl he was dancing with. What we see is within the frame are the two bodies from the mid-section locked together, taking notice of Pierre's garters and black stockings.

In this opening scene, Muylaert confronts her audience much in the way that Pierre eventually confronts his biological parents. A fluid sense of sexual identity is presented here without explanation or apology. Why I prefer the original poster for the film rather than the DVD cover is because instead of simply showing Pierre's sexually ambiguous appearance, the Brazilian poster also emphasizes Pierre's constant state of rebellion with his turned up middle finger. The story is inspired by a true incident of a child who was stolen from a maternity ward, only to be reunited with his biological parents years later. Pierre and his younger sister, Jacqueline, discover that they were never adopted, but were stolen at birth. The film explores the idea of what family means, in addition to self-identity.

Muylaert has the same actress, Dani Nefussi, play both the biological mother and the adoptive mother. Muylaert has explained this casting choice based on the emotional bonds that the women have with Pierre. This film is in some ways a thematic extension of Muylaert's previous film, The Second Mother, which also explored emotional and family bonds, as well as social strata. Pierre and Jacqueline are first seen in a small, but functional apartment. This is contrasted with Pierre's new home, a large house in a gated community. Pierre's former apartment could fit in the kitchen with room to spare. That contrast of change of parentage and home is made more clear when Pierre, attempting to leave his new home, is thwarted when his biological mother calls to have a guard close the entrance gate.

Even though the film's sympathies are primarily with Pierre, Muylaert also recognizes the pain of the biological parents reuniting with a child thought lost for seventeen years. The English language title is taken from a scene in which Pierre lets his parents know that he will not conform to traditional notions of masculinity. The original Portuguese title translates as "Mother there's only one", which may be more open for interpretation. The DVD comes with brief interviews with Muylaert and the main actors. Aside from discussing the research done prior to making the film, Muylaert discusses how she cast Naomi Nero, making his acting debut here, spotted for his naturalism on the dance floor.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 10:13 AM

February 11, 2018

Coffee Break

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Colm Feore in The Trotsky (Jacob Tierney - 2009)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 10:02 AM

February 08, 2018

Seijun Suzuki - The Early Years Volume 1

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Seijun Suzuki - The Early Years Volume 1 - Seijun Rising: The Youth Movies

Fumihazushita haru / The Boy who Came Back / The Boy who Made Good / The Spring that didn't Come (1958)

Toge o wataru wakai kaze / The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass / The Breeze on the Ridge (1961)

Hai tin yakuza / Teenage Yakuza / High-Teen Yakuza (1962)

Akutaro / The Incorrigible / Bastard (1963)

Akutaro-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo / Born under Crossed Stars (1965)

Arrow Films BD Regions A/B - DVD Regions 1/2 four-disc set

Among the supplements in this set are four trailers from the films in this set. Sadly, there is no trailer for Teenage Yakuza. While all four of the trailers include mention of being directed by Seijun Suzuki, three of those trailers also add the adjective of "genius". I found those trailers interesting as it adds to the picture of the sometimes uneasy relationship Suzuki had as one of the house directors for the Japanese studio Nikkatsu. Here was a filmmaker publicly championed by his studio, yet for the most part relegated to whatever script was assigned to him at the moment. In another supplement, film critic Tony Rayns discusses Suzuki's frustration that Nikkatsu would not allow him to make more serious, bigger budget films unlike his peer, Shohei Imamura.

Coincidences with Imamura don't stop with the two temporarily being on the same career path in the beginning. Imamura's debut film, Stolen Desire (1958) was based on a novel by Toko Kon. The same author provided the basis for three of Suzuki's films, two of which are included in this set - The Incorrigible and Born under Crossed Stars. Curiously, the basic premise for Stolen Desire, about an itinerant acting troupe that mixes kabuki theater with strip shows would seem to have partially inspired Wind-of-Youth with its traveling magic show that features a popular ecdysiast.

As studio assignments, the stories generally follow an imposed template. The main character is a young man in his late teens with a propensity for getting into fist fights. At worst he's a juvenile delinquent having trouble keeping out of trouble. At his most benign, he's just a young man living independently, trying to figure out his own way in life. Romance is chaste, maybe some hand holding, maybe some kissing. Nikkatsu's audience for these films were generally teenagers, born during or immediately after World War II, more westernized than their parents. The starring roles were assigned by the studio from their contract players.

Where one sees Suzuki's hand is in the visual style. Tom Vick's book on Suzuki discusses this in depth. On of the favored devices is the overhead crane shot. Vick also mentions a scene in Wind-of-Youth where Koji Wada is splashed with different colored paint, though the effect is done with changes of filters. In The Incorrigible, light ripples like waves behind a shoji screen. Throughout the films are shots of legs, such as early scene in The Boy who Came Back, when a group of young women gather to gossip, with only the legs of the women visible in the shot. Suzuki may have had Eisenstein in mind when he alternated shots of a kendo duel with that of roosters pecking at each other in Born under Crossed Stars. Near the end of that film, the young Jukichi is described by his father as being like a "fighting cock".

A sequence involving Jukichi pursued by the equally young Taneko plays on the contrast between the two. Taking place in the early 1920s, the prim, sexually shy Jukichi is wearing a kimono, expecting to meet the proper Etsuko. Instead, he is met by Taneko, wearing a western style dress. Suzuki punctuates the sequence by playing with the spatial relationships between the two, usually with Taneko breaking into the frame from below or the side of the frame. This sequence extends from the two meeting at a train platform, followed by a nervous Jukichi sharing a bath with the uninhibited Taneko.

I would like to think Suzuki took a certain amount of pleasure in cramming as many extras as possible onto the dance floor, whether it's a tiny bar in The Boy who Came Back, or the much larger club in Teenage Yakuza. Suzuki may have been pushing the limits of censorship with the otherwise family friendly Wind-of-Youth when the stripper removes her panties to a well timed black out, and later opens her robe to her male audience demanding more, with her back to the film's viewers. Suzuki has his quieter moments as well that are worth savoring, such as a close-up of Ruriko Asaoka sprinkling sand through her hand at a beach in The Boy who Came Back.

In addition to the trailers, and Tony Rayns supplement, Born under Crossed Stars includes a commentary track by alway informative Jasper Sharp. Part of Sharp's commentary is on author Toko Kon (1898 - 1977), who's loosely autobiographical novels were the basis of the two films that take place in the 1920s, a period in Japanese history that Seijun Suzuki liked to revisit, most notable with the three films collectively known as "The Taisho Trilogy".

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Masako Izumi and Ken Yamaguchi in Born under Crossed Stars

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 01:44 PM

February 06, 2018

The Diabolical Doctor Z

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Dans les griffes du maniaque / Miss Muerte
Jesus Franco - 1966
Redemption Films BD Region A

What struck me upon seeing Doctor Z again after several years was the remarkable use of depth of field in the images. This begins almost immediately with the interior of some kind of prison that appears to be underground, an extremely long passageway, with the camera following a prisoner to a gate first seen in the distance. The film was made not long after Franco's work with Orson Welles, primarily as second unit director on Chimes at Midnight. While there is nothing in Doctor Z that can be pointed to as looking like a specific homage, what is noticeable here is the use of space, of placement of characters that force the viewer to consider what is within the entire frame, and the frequent use of extended traveling shots that follow the characters in pursuit.

This is a beautifully rendered blu-ray disc, one of Franco's last films in black and white. This is also Franco's most easily accessible film, for viewers less familiar with the filmmaker or whose preference is for more classical modes of cinema. Certainly working two associates best known for their work with Luis Bunuel may have been an impetus here, with Jean-Claude Carriere on the screenplay, and Serge Silberman as one of the producers.

The titles are a bit misleading. Doctor Z, that would be Doctor Zimmer, dies after the first twelve minutes or so. And Miss Muerte is the stage name of a nightclub dancer turned killer. The villain here is Doctor Z's daughter, Irma, taking revenge on the three esteemed doctors who in publicly mocking her father caused him to die in front of a conference of his peers. While not a sequel, per se, there is reference to Franco's earlier mad scientist creation, Doctor Orloff. Zimmer is a disciple of Orloff's with some unconventional ideas about mind control and good and evil, which consists of placing some unwilling victims on a glass platform, pinned down by two long metal tentacles, and sticking long metal pins through their heads. Told to cease his operations, ends the conference by getting an apparent heart attack. Irma Zimmer's revenge begins by first faking her death with an unwary hitchhiker. Among the detectives on the trail are music composer Daniel White as Green from Scotland Yard, and the still baby-faced Franco as a detective sleep deprived by the cries of his newborn triplets.

The film comes with both an English and French language track. Keep in mind that the cast was made up of primarily French and Spanish actors, and that all dialogue was most likely dubbed in as was common at the time of production. The advantage to seeing the film in English is that it does not distract from the wonderful visual qualities here. Cinephiles will certainly get a chuckle from a cinematic reference in the French dialogue in an early scene. Tim Lucas provides the commentary track here, providing information throughout the entire running time. Unlike previous Franco films, Daughter of Dracula and The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, Doctor Z is less dependent on familiarity with the more arcane aspects of Franco's universe. Still, what makes Lucas's commentaries stand out is his preparation, with no lapses of silence or the fumbling of improvisation with scattered notes.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 10:21 AM

February 04, 2018

Coffee Break

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Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik in Cold Prey II (Mats Stenberg - 2008)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 10:58 AM

February 01, 2018

Paradise

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Ray
Andrei Konchalovsky - 2016
Film Movement

I don't recall the exact situation where this came up, but I still remember my father had told me about his childhood. This was in the 1930s, in Germany, and he had a sense of what was going to happen in the country. His father, my grandfather, had expressed the feeling that the future my father feared would be impossible in the cultured country of Goethe. In Paradise, a young SS officer, Kurt, is having a conversation with Himmler. According to Himmler, Hitler's main reason for going to war is to create a paradise with German culture as its treasure. That scene made be recall my conversation with my father. But it would be a mistake to think that the kind of reasoning, either expressed by my grandfather, or by Hitler, would be exclusive to that particular time and situation.

The film is centered on Olga, a Russian princess in Paris, arrested for trying to hid several Jews. An attractive woman, she attempts to get better treatment for herself and the children she is trying to protect by offering herself sexually to the chief of police, Jules. A planned rendezvous does not happen when the policeman is murdered by two members of the resistance. At the concentration camp, Olga is reunited with Helmut, whom she had known briefly ten years earlier. Helmut is at the camp to investigate corruption by the camp staff. The two become lovers, with Olga's main motivation being the ability to protect the two boys, and as it means saving her own life within the camp. The narrative is interrupted by close-ups of Olga, Jules and Helmut, all wearing similar light colored shirts, speaking to the camera about their thought at the time.

Beyond the historical aspects, what Konchalovsky is interested in the ways people make choices and compromise themselves. Jules could well personify the concept of the "banality of evil". At no time does he appear disturbed by what he does, even when his wife suggests that history could turn on them. For Jules, his actions are all part of his function as a police officer and nothing more, even when those functions include torture. Helmut is convinced of the rightness of the Nazi philosophy. He is shown as the cultured German, with a love for Russian literature and the conviction that had he been born in Russia, he would have been a dedicated Communist. Olga teeters between selflessness and self-interest - the prisoners are often pitted against each other in the name of survival, yet she is also the one of the three major characters here that is capable of self-reflection.

Like probably most readers here, my familiarity with the films of Andrei Konchalovsky is limited to some of his work from his American period, when he was the unlikely house prestige director at Cannon Films with Runaway Train, and later, the credited director of Tango & Cash. Here, Konchalovsky is somber. Like a film from that era, Paradise is in the old Academy ratio and in black and white. Most of the shots are static with the characters moving within the frame, sometimes out of the camera's field of vision. One of the exceptions is a scene of the round-up of Parisian Jews with the camera panning to capture the action. There is also fragments from a home movie that features Helmut and Olga with mutual friends in Italy. In some of those fragments, Konchalovsky also employs dissolves with people fading in or out of the image. The effect might be akin to how his characters remember that day.

Paradise won Konchalovsky the Best Director Award at the Venice Film Festival 2016, and was Russia's entry for the Foreign Language film Oscar last year.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 10:33 AM