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November 30, 2005

Between Calm and Passion

Calmi Cuori Appasionati
Reisei to Jonetsu no Aida
Isamu Nakae - 2001
Marvel Entertainment Region 3 DVD

I'm one of those people who questioned the casting decisions behind Memoirs of a Geisha. In a piece dated November 29th, Dave Kehr points that Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi both had to learn their lines phonetically. I know it's too late now, but in case anyone is looking, Kelly Chen speaks fluent English and Japanese. In Calmi Cuori Appasionati, she also speaks Italian. Ms. Chen is, at least in my estimation, at least as attractive as Hollywood's biggest female star.

The film at hand is a romantic drama, somewhat reminiscent of past films where the love affair spans continents. One of the plot points, with the couple planning to meet at a landmark in Florence, Italy, harkens back to Leo McCarey's lovers planning to meet at the Empire State Building. In this case Chen and Yutaka Takenouchi meet and break up as college students in Japan, only to cross paths in Florence and Milan. Unlike their Anglo-American counterparts who frequently seem to feel that romantic love needs to be leavened with comedy, everyone here is unashamed to play it straight. The narrative is mostly concerned with the emotional baggage that keeps people apart, making the ending not quite so inevitable. This is the kind of film that could have easily gotten quite sappy, but the characters are intelligent, Florence and Milan look nice, and the filmmakers keep the proceedings from being totally manipulative.

Calmi Cuori Appasionati is to be sure, an imperfect, but very watchable film. What it achieves is what contemporary Hollywood usually fails to do, which is to make a love story that cares about the intelligence of the characters and the audience.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 05:49 PM

November 29, 2005

Street Walkers - Italian Style

Adua e le Compagne
Adua and Company
Antonio Pietrangeli - 1960
C'est La Vie PAL Region 2 DVD

Mamma Roma
Pier Paolo Pasolini - 1962
Criterion Region 1 DVD

I was totally unaware of Adua and Company until I saw it listed among Italian films at Nicheflix. The film had won the Silver Lion at Venice and according the the DVD notes was the given Italy's equivalent to the Oscar for best film of the year. This is noteworthy when one considers that 1960 may have been the best year ever with several classics released that year. Adua and Company falls in that category of films that may have seemed important at the time, but have since receeded to the status of a footnote in film history.

Certainly Antonio Pietrangeli has an interesting filmography, including apprenticeships with Visconti and Rosselini. Among the several writers who had a hand in the screenplay were Ettore Scola and sometime Fellini collaborator, Tulio Pinelli. One of Pinelli's most famous credits is for the film Adua probably aspired to, Nights of Cabiria. The film stars Simone Signoret, Sandra Milo and Emmanuelle Riva who were all at career peaks at this time. Unfortunately, no amount of talent can disguise that the film is dull and shopworn. Even the presence of the greatest Italian actor fails to liven this film up. Essentially, the brothels have shut down and a group of prostitutes attempt to open a restaurant near a small town. The various turn of events are not surprising, and the inevitable conclusion undermines any sense of tragedy one is suppose to feel.

My main reason for seeing Mamma Roma was primarily to be as complete as I can with the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini. I guess that if one is going to make a film titled Mamma Roma than the obvious star would be Anna Magnani.
I have to admit that after seeing several films, I can understand why some people would be attracted to this force of nature who seems ready to burst out of the screen. I find her outsized personality overbearing. Once again we have a film about a prostitute attempting to go straight. In this case Magnani cannot escape from her former pimp, and feels obligated to extend herself in order to provide for her uncaring son. The film was made, like Accatone, in the slums on the outskirts of Rome. Some of the elements were also used in Pasolini's 1959 novel, A Violent Life. Near the end of the film, Pasolini repeats shots of Mamma Roma's son strapped to a table in a psychiatric ward, the Christ-like imagery unmistakable.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I realize that after seeing seven of his films, I really don't like Pasolini's films. It's not that I don't recognize the artistry. Maybe this fall under the "art as Spinach" theory that you know it's good for you but you hate the taste. (Actually, I like spinach.) I realize this is totally subjective, but I feel like watching a Pasolini film is like doing homework. The one film that I like is, perhaps not coincidentally, one of his most comic films, Hawks and Sparrows. Keep in mind that the very serious Robert Bresson is one of my favorite filmmakers. Still, the import given to Pasolini by other critics and filmmakers may be enough reason for me to be familiar with his works. Anyone who says, "Truth lies not only in a dream, but in many dreams,"�should get respectful consideration.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 05:47 PM

November 28, 2005

La Parfum d'Yvonne

Patrice Leconte - 1994
Second Sight PAL Region 0 DVD

Why was a movie this good not given theatrical distribution in the U.S.? Made after The Hairdresser's Husband and before Ridicule, La Parfum d'Yvonne stands with the delirious Girl on the Bridge as one of Leconte's best films. Those familiar with Leconte's other films would not be surprised by the quality of this film. What did surprise me is how this film is also an example of life following art.

Like several of Leconte's films, the narrative is initiated on a chance meeting. Victor and Yvonne "meet cute" when Yvonne's huge Great Dane falls asleep at Victor's feet in a hotel lobby. The film contrasts Victor and Yvonne's l'amour fou during the summer of 1958, with scenes of Victor looking back while in the same Swiss town during the winter of 1961. Her film debut about to be released, Yvonne states to Victor that she is not a dedicated actress. Similarly, the beautiful actress who portrayed Yvonne, Sandra Majani, has not appeared in any other film.

While this film is peripherally about movies, Leconte has two key scenes that take their cues from Hollywood. While not a direct lift from Funny Face, there is a scene of a fashion show involving girls, dogs and cars with a lush color palette that recalls Stanley Donen. Totally breathtaking is Leconte's variation on the most famous image from Billy Wilder's Seven Year Itch. Yvonne is seen standing at the railing of a boat wearing a simple white dress. She deftly slips off her white panties to give as a remembrance gift to Victor. Leconte places the camera at a discrete angle while the wind billows in and under the dress.

I am baffled that Leconte is unappreciated in his own country and not considered an auteur. While avoiding the obvious repetitions of someone like Woody Allen, Leconte's films are frequently about chance meetings that evolve into relationships, and love affairs based on impulsiveness. Frequently Leconte's characters are marked by self-destructive tendencies, whether social, physical, or both. For Leconte, being estranged from mainstream society can sometimes be a survival tactic one chooses for oneself. In an indirect way, Leconte has created a narrative that recalls the scene in Citizen Kane where the character of the aging Mr. Bernstein recalls a girl he saw only once, but never forgot. If La Parfum d'Yvonne doesn't conclude with the optimism of Girl on the Bridge, Leconte ends this film with the acknowledgement that love can be ephemeral, and that the person we may be in love with may only remain as a memory or image.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 02:48 PM | Comments (2)

November 27, 2005

Shatter and Spun

Michael Carreras (and Monte Hellman, uncredited) - 1974
Anchor Bay Region 1 DVD

Jonas Akerlund - 2002
Columbia Region 1 DVD

These two films don't really compliment each other in terms shared stories, stars, genre or any of the usual criteria that I would normally use to link films. What is interesting to me is that these films present arguments both for and against directors commentaries. Sometimes the commentary can be informative. Conversely I will sometimes let the movie "speak for itself" as it were. In the case of Shatter, I went straight to the commentary track, while with Spun, just watching the film seemed to be the wisest course.

In part of the Shatter commentary, Monte Hellman discusses the film he was previously planning to make in Hong Kong, an adaptation of Alain Robbe-Grillet's La Maison de Rendez-Vous, ideally with previous collaborator, Jack Nicholson. I don't remember exactly how it happened, as this was over thirty years ago, but as a result of my writing to Hellman, he called me up at New York University to set up a conversation between him and Robbe-Grillet, who was teaching at NYU at the time. As Hellman recounts in his commentary, financing on the proposed film fell through twice. Shatter mark the shift in Hellman's career from promising auteur to obscure journeyman.

The commentary is also interesting in explaining not only Hellman's problems as a director for hire on this film, but also why the teaming of Hammer Productions with Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers didn't work. While Hammer's reputation is mainly with their horror movies, they began with crime dramas. On paper, the idea of making a movie about a hitman in Hong Kong, with scenes involving the newly popular kung-fu genre, must have seemed like a good way for merge the respective studios' talents. As it turned out, this film and the marginally more successful Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, marked the beginning and the end of this merger. Hellman's biggest problem was working with a crew that had to be shared with other Shaw Brothers productions, causing Hellman to be constantly behind on his shooting schedule. The working conditions for the Shaw Brothers cast and crew are documented elsewhere, but essentially amounted to indentured servitude for much of the staff. Hellman also had frequent clashes with producer Michael Carreras concerning what was felt to be an underwritten script. As it turned out, Hellman's three weeks of footage was stretched to create possibly as much as three quarters of Shatter. Carreras ended up spending six months shooting the other footage used fulfill feature length requirements. In the commentary, Hellman also mentions his several connections with Sam Peckinpah, including information that was new to me: Hellman turned down the offer to shoot Junior Bonner which turned out to be Peckinpah's warmest film, and Hellman had originally developed Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid which Peckinpah rescued from the shelf, only to have his own problems making the film his way. Even with Hellman identifying his own work, Shatter has no resemblance either in story or style to his previous films, although his composition and lighting are generally better than the work of Carreras.

The Shatter DVD includes an overview of Hammer crime thrillers made in 1990. Oliver Reed narrated this piece. While Reed can now be seen in DVD releases of Curse of the Werewolf, Night Creatures and Paranoiac, the best of the Hammer films, Joseph Losey's The Damned is only available on tape.

I saw Spun on DVD after a couple of attempts to watch it cable. The DVD is unrated which meant that certain images were not digitally altered and the characters spoke more freely. I think the film was meant to either a "stoner" comedy or a lesson explaining that lots of drugs plus a lack of sleep are not good for you. While Jonas Akerlund has a good eye, developed from several years of making music videos, I would like to see him use his talents on something of greater substance. What I did like about Spun was the attention to details, although some could argue that there may have been too much attention, such as the exteme close-ups of Mena Suvari's rotting teeth. The animated images that were digitally blurred make much more sense being seen uncensored, used as they were to convey extreme sexual fantasies of one of the characters. Without getting graphic myself, one can describe the images as being similar to what one might find in the most adult Japanese manga. While the DVD for Spun also comes with a director's commentary, I found myself having no patience for Akerlund's long pauses in discussing the film. In this case, even with what little it had to say, the film proves to be more eloquent than the filmmaker.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:26 PM

November 26, 2005

Siberian Lady Macbeth

Sibirska Ledi Magbet
Andrzej Wajda - 1961
Kino Video DVD

According to the Internet Movie Data Base, there are over 600 movies based on the plays of William Shakespeare, directly or indirectly. Several of the films were done by Orson Welles who based a substantial part of his career on the Bard. While I knew about Sci-Fi Shakespeare, Cowboy Shakespeare, and Punk Shakespeare, I even found Horror Movie Shakespeare and Porno Shakespeare. I've seen several films that were either based on the "Scottish play", including films by Kurosawa and Polanski. The play also inspired a comedy about small town ambitions.

If Shakespeare was one reason to check out this movie, Andrzej Wajda was the other incentive. I had seen two of his classic films, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds, as well as his later films made during the advent of Solidarity, such as Man of Iron. Seeing his version of Macbeth was another step in filling in the gaps I have regarding one of Poland's greatest filmmakers. What I hadn't anticipated is that while this film announces its Shakespearean source in the title, the other inspiration is clearly James M. Cain.

Officially, Wajda made an adaptation of the Dimitri Shostakovich opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. The songs were eliminated while the musical themes remained. Katerina is an unhappy wife of a prosperous peasant. A serf, Sergei, shows up looking for work. Katerina's boorish father-in-law hires the man to be a swineherd. Barely settled on the farm, Sergei flirts with Katerina. Pure animal passion follows, with the two making John Garfield and Lana Turner look like a model of decorum. Unlike Turner or Barbara Stanwyck, Katerina does the actual heavy lifting in dispatching her husband and father-in-law. Like in Cain's novels, the characters' greed leaves them with nothing in the end. Even some of the interior shots suggest Film Noir.

Wajda has an official website where he discusses Siberian Lady Macbeth. This is a film that the critics admired, but that the filmmaker found wanting. While not quite on the level of John Ford, Wajda's exterior shots are worth mentioning for conveying hostile environments, with the farm seemingly adrift in a sea of fog, and close-ups of bare feet marching on rock, snow and mud to Siberia. The story makes a brief nod to Richard III and is titled after Shakespeare's woman who would be queen. By the end of the film, Katerina made me think of another tragic character of film and literature, Mildred Pierce.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 03:41 PM

November 24, 2005

Guilty Pleasures

During the brief time it existed, around 1980, Denver had a cinematheque. On Thanksgiving evening there would be a showing of "Thanksgiving Turkeys", two films that could be described as extemely low budget productions with aspirations that exceeded the filmmakers' abilities or financial resources. I recall seeing a double bill of Plan Nine from Outer Space and Roger Corman's The Saga of Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent. One could argue that presenting films in this context is something of a, yes, cheap shot, for people who want to easily feel superior to their entertainment. For myself, I enjoy these films just as I periodically enjoy a McDonald's hamburger or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I know that junk food is just that - junk, but just as their is a certain pleasure to Ho-Hos, there is pleasure to be found in these films that are cinema's equivalent to Little Debbie's snacks. My list is somewhat random, and neither reflects aesthetic nor nutritional value. Happy Thanksgiving!

1. The Brain that Wouldn't Die. A doctor drives so recklessly that he gets in an accident, causing his girlfriend to be decapitated. The doctor saves her head which is kept alive. The head telepathically converses with a monster in the closet that looks kind of like Mr. Potato Head. Made in 1959, critics had to wait until 1962 to be appalled by this tale of medical madness. I've seen this film a couple of times on television. Even a viewing on Mystery Science Theater 3000 has failed to diminish the delight this film brings.

2. High School Confidential. I've seen this film about five times including a theatrical run. Still, I can not make sense out of the relationship undercover cop Russ Tamblyn has with Mamie Van Doren. Jack Arnold's classic features sons of silent screen legends John Drew Barrymore and Charles Chaplin, Jr. and William Wellman, Jr. plus the co-star of Chaplin's The Kid, Jackie Coogan. Best of all is the title song opening featuring Jerry Lee Lewis wailing and banging at the piano.

3. Attack of the Crab Monsters. I wrote about this film a few days ago in remembering star Pamela Duncan. All I can add is that as one always remembers their first love, I will always have a place in my heart for my first Roger Corman movie.

4. The Giant Claw. Earth is attacked by a giant vulture. Not only are the strings clearly visible, but little effort was placed in making the monster look like anything other than what it was, a big, cheap puppet. Produced by legendary cheapskate, Sam Katzman, and directed by his frequent hired gun, Fred Sears. The prolific Sears had five films released in 1958. What makes this notable is that Sears died in 1957. I saw this film on AMC back in the glory days of introductions by Nick Clooney and Bob Dorian.

5. Beat Girl. I read about this film in a 1969 article in Rolling Stone magazine that surveyed Rock and Roll movies. Gillian Hills decides to get back at Daddy and his French trophy wife by being a stripper. This British film is notable for featuring some nascent talent: Cinematographer Walter Lassally, John Barry, with music that later resurface in Fatboy Slim's Rockefeller Skank, and Oliver Reed who basically glowers at everyone. Christopher Lee took a break from playing Dracula to portray the strip club owner. The most complete version of this film is only available on VHS from Kino.

6. The Cool and the Crazy. I'll give this to Quentin Tarantino, this is one of William Witney's most watchable films. Juvenile delinquency in the heartland. Richard Bakalyan looked so convincing that he was arrested at one point by Kansas City police.

7. Return to Macon County. This stars Don Johnson a few years before Miam Vice, and an unknown Nick Nolte in a sort of sequel to the tale of Max Baer, Jr. as one very bad Southern sheriff. Robin Mattson is the loose cannon the boys pick up on the road. I saw this film twice on the big screen and enjoyed it as much as I enjoy meals at Cracker Barrel restaurants, even if neither is authentically Southern.

8. Horror of Spider Island. I saw a very abridged version on the cult television show Reel Wild Cinema. prior to seeing the original film on DVD. This was one of the first films on my Netflix list. Pete Tombs also discusses the film in his book Immoral Tales. Chubby German starlets are stranded in a Pacific island where the insects are the least of their problems.

9. Back to the Beach. Most of the Frankie and Annette beach party films were at best silly. I never saw any of these films in theaters, but suspect they appealed to an audience that were uncomfortable with pop culture that followed in the advent of The Beatles. Back to the Beach is what those beach party movies should have been: smart and hip. Where else are you going to see Annette Funicello sing with Fishbone?

10. Venus in Furs. To appreciate Jesus Franco sometimes means setting aside such notions as good taste and logic. Franco managed to make almost 200 films around the world in spite of questionable artistry and insufficiant financing. Venus in Furs is actually one of Franco's most polished films, about a trumpeter modeled after Chet Baker. James Darren falls for Barbara McNair in Rio, but can't escape from some very dubious jetsetters led by Dennis Price and Klaus Kinski. As lurid as the title may be, there is less BDSM than is to found in other Franco films, which doesn't get in the way of enjoying this existential story.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 11:59 AM | Comments (1)

November 22, 2005

French Twists

Alain Resnais - 1986
MK2 PAL Region 2 DVD

Les Kidnappeurs/The Kidnappers
Graham Guit - 1998
Warner Brothers (France) PAL Region 2 DVD

Ever since I started really taking film seriously, I have consistently been puzzled by the abitrariness regarding the distribution of foreign films in the United States. The more I learned about different filmmakers, the more I learned of filmmakers or films that I couldn't see because they had no U.S. distributor. My assumption that certain filmmakers automatically would get shown because of their reputation proved false, even when I should have known better, when films by Fellini, or films with American stars failed even to get picked up by the smaller distributors. Even with the advent of DVDs and tape, there is no consistency. While I have seen some films that either did not get U.S. distribution, or were shown briefly in certain cities, other films remain unavailable. In the case of a foreign film being available on DVD, even if one has a region free DVD player, one still has to either purchase the film or, if available, rent a copy. While some rental companies are filling the gap with non-U.S. DVDs, the selection is often limited.

I was glad to see at least one newer film by Alain Resnais, even if the film proved to be a dissapointment. For U.S. audiences, Resnais would seem to have dropped off the map after Mon Oncle d'Amerique. I could understand why Melo wasn't picked up for showing in the U.S. The film is essentially a filmed play. Resnais' familiar themes of love, trust, betrayal and memory are there. The sets are gorgeous, and one can't fault the actors who have been part of Resnais' repertory company - Fanny Ardant, Sabine Azema, Andre Dussollier and Pierre Arditi. The wife of a musician has an affair with the musician's friend, a celebrated concert violinist in Paris, 1926. Resnais reminds us that the film is adapted from a play by beginning three sections with a shot of a red screen. There are films with people sitting around talking that hold your attention, as well as effectively filmed theater. As much as I recognize the formal qualities of Melo, I found myself impatient for the film to end. Even the DVDs trailer for I Want to Go Home, written by Jules Feiffer provided more pleasure.

I wasn't familiar with Graham Guit when I picked The Kidnappers for my rental list. I have been a fan of Elodie Bouchez since seeing The Dreamlife of Angels and wanted to see other films with her. I did see part of Pact of Silence on cable, but it was on at a too late hour for serious viewing. I would have thought, now that I've seen it, that even one of the smaller distributors would have envisioned a market for The Kidnappers.

The screenplay is credited to Guit and Eric Neve. The story and characters seem very influenced by Elmore Leonard. For anyone reading this who is not familiar with Leonard, many of his novels involve small time criminals who are either incompetent, or incompetent and psychotic. In this film, Bouchez and three young men attempt to steal money from some Lithuanian gangsters on behalf of a French mob boss. Of course the carefully planned heist goes wrong at every step. The gang of four snatch a package in a safe and the unlucky man who appears at the wrong place at the wrong time. The milieu even resembles Leonard's with sunny Cannes and Nice in place of Miami and Key West. For me, this is a film that could easily be appreciated by those who like Tarantino's Jackie Brown and Soderbergh's Out of Sight, as well as the darker films of the Coens.

Guit discusses some of the acting inpirations here.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 11:25 AM

November 21, 2005

Two Hong Kong Dreams

The Blade
Tsui Hark - 1995
M.I.A. Video Region 2 DVD

Dream of the Red Chamber
Jin yu liang yuan gong lou meng
Li Han-Hsiang - 1977
Celestial Pictures Region 3 DVD

The Blade is unlike Tsui Hark's other period films. Where the action is clear and easy to follow, such as in the Once Upon a Time in China series, here it is more difficult to follow. Tsui's visual choices are deliberate and make sense at the conclusion of the film. Unlike the other films that can be read from the point of view of an objective observer, the visual motifs of The Blade are very subjective, even without the use of point of view shots.

The point of view is expressed by voice-over narration by Ling, the daughter of a master sword-maker. Her love of two younger sword-makers, On and Iron Head, is counterpointed with On's search for the man who killed his father. The story is secondary to the cascade of imagery. Much of the film is shot with tight close-ups or quick medium shots that render the action as a series of abstract images. Dark blue, brown and black dominate the color scheme with period splashes of red and orange. Often the characters are shot in shadow, or are seen distantly as indistinct shapes. Much of the action takes place at night. If it is sometimes difficult to tell who is fighting who, the action on screen replicates the sense of a disoriented person caught in mayhem.

Ling seeks a clearer sense of self, a sense of belonging. This quest for identity, for being part of a family or country is a common theme for Tsui, identified as a Hong Kong filmmaker, although culturally an outsider having been born in what is now Viet-Nam. Of the dozen films that I've seen that Tsui either fully directed or supervised as a hands-on producer, The Blade is visually unique in its representation of events seen through the haze of memory, or opium dreams.

Dream of the Red Chamber is more like the technicolor dreams of Vincente Minnelli. The camparison is not too far off as the film belongs to the Huangmexixi genre, a regional form of Chinese opera, with a story of the heartbreak of love, family discord, and concerns of social standing. Between the themes of the narrative and the lush use of color, Dream of the Red Chamber shares elements of Gigi, Meet Me in St. Louis and Home from the Hill.

The story is about two cousins in unrequited love. The female cousin, Lin, is of fragile health. Her suitor, Bao Yu, is an impulsive young man. The film was the last of the genre, a victim of changing tastes in the Hong Kong market. Li's films were expensive by Hong Kong standards, and Dream of the Red Chamber has an undeniable polish that equals Hollywood productions. If the film represented old style Hong Kong filmmaking, two of the stars became associated with Hong Kong's new wave of film school trained directors, particularly Tsui Hark. The actress who played Lin, Sylvia Chang, also is a screen writer and director. Bao Yu was portrayed by Brigitte Lin, the first of several male roles she essayed.

I am hoping to find some text or texts explaining gender roles in Hong Kong films. In films like Come Drink with Me (1966) with Cheng Pei-pei, or Dragon Inn (1992) with Maggie Cheung, a female character is temporarily disguised as a man. Lin also stars in this version of Dragon Inn, and the sparks are quite palpable in the scenes where she flirts with Cheung. Lin appears as a somewhat delicate young man in Dream of the Red Chamber, but it seems almost inevitable that she would play a character named Asia the Invincible.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 04:40 PM

November 20, 2005

Pamela Duncan 1932 -2005

I Just found out that Pamela Duncan died on November 11th. She wasn't in too many films. Of the five films I saw featuring Ms. Duncan, the first, Attack of the Crab Monsters holds a special place in my heart. As silly as this sounds, this was the first Roger Corman movie I saw in a theater. This was in June of 1962, in Hackensack, New Jersey, in the days when theaters would have special "children's matinees" that consisted of a double feature plus a bunch of cartoons. I was ten years old at the time. I managed to see Attack of the Crab Monsters a couple of other times including another theatrical viewing at a Roger Corman retrospective held at the Kips Bay Theater in New York City while I was attending NYU.

Ms. Duncan also starred in The Undead for Corman, a film about reincarnation. Duncan played a prostitute who under hypnosis reveals that she was a woman accused on witchcraft in Medieval England. For a while, this film was frequently shown on television. Like other Roger Corman films from the 50s, it is meant to be enjoyed on its own terms. Duncan's nemesis in The Undead was Allison Hayes, star of Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman. Both actresses had somewhat similar careers, each closing with an appearance in an Elvis Presley film. Duncan appeared one last time on film as herself in Chuck Braverman's documentary, Curtain Call.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:27 AM

November 19, 2005

Two by Dario Argento

Dario Argento - 2005
Showtime cablecast

The Card Player/ Il Cartaio
Dario Argento - 2004
Anchor Bay DVD

Except for the first episode which I missed, I've been watching the new Showtime series, Masters of Horror. The title is kind of generous considering the range of directors involved. As much as I liked
May, it's way to soon to declare Lucky McKee more than a promising new filmmaker. While Stuart Gordon's revisiting of H.P. Lovecraft was an intriguing series entry, but Tobe Hooper put me to sleep with a tale of punks after the apocalypse. I was very much looking forward to Dario Argento's American television debut. For those unfamiliar with Argento, his episode is not the best introduction.

Unlike Argento's other films, this is one project he did not originate. Visually, this film does not resemble Argento's other films with their extended, gliding camera work. Upon further research, Jenifer is shot to resemble a filmic version of the comic book story. The actual story is somewhat predictable, as well as supportive of the cliche that hot sex trumps everything else with some guys. Argento's frequent composer, Claudio Simonetti, contributed a score which strongly resembles Bernard Herrmann's music used in the opening credits of Psycho. While Argento pushed the limits of sex and gore on cable, there are still nine more episodes of Masters of Horror to go, and one is by the consistently transgressive Takashi Miike.

The Card Player is, by Argento's standards, a very restrained film. The film is closer in type to Argento's early features, a mystery thriller rather than a horror film. Some of the scenes play like a particularly graphic episode of C.S.I. The scenes of violence are shot and edited elliptically. The film concerns a female police detective who is seeking a serial killer who kidnaps young women. The women are potentially able to be freed if the detective wins at games of on-line poker. Argento spends more time with his characters doing detective work out in the streets, unlike some films involving computer shenanigans. While I'm not buying the "poker is life" metaphor that is expressed by the detective, The Card Player is engaging, and certainly better than Argento's previous film, Sleepless.

In addition to not dwelling on the violence, The Card Player visually is different from other Argento films. In one of the several supplements, Argento discusses shooting with available light, and using specially created street lights for some of the night time shoots. Even the narrative is stripped down with a brief psychological explanation for character motivation, without the childhood traumas of Deep Red or Tenebre. There is a history on the development of The Card Player at Dark Dreams. Argento's trademark black gloves are used once again as what the viewer sees identifying the killer. Unlike Jenifer, The Card Player has enough fingerprints to be a recognizable Argento film.

A postscript here: The Fangoria article title is a little joke. Michael Brandon next starred in Argento's Four Flies on Gray Velvet.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 03:24 PM

November 17, 2005

Last Days

Gus Van Sant - 2005
HBO Video Region 1 DVD

The same day that I viewed and wrote about Where the Truth Lies, the Self-Styled Siren (see link at right) posted a blog concerning biographical movies. While the major part of the siren's piece concerned actors who may not have physically appropriate to impersonate the real life characters, one aspect concerning virtually every film is the question of factualness. Where the Truth Lies avoids many of these problems by changing the names of characters, having them share some aspects of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, but also being more concerned with using the characters as a tangent from which to explore the nature of truth and paired relationships. Gus Van Sant tries to play it both ways by including a statement at the end of Last Days stating that his film was inspired by Kurt Cobain and is also a work of fiction. The fictional aspects of the film were out of necessity as there is very limited information concerning Cobain's activities prior to his suicide. As Van Sant is more concerned with the mood of the character, rather than reportage, on could call this an impressonistic biography.

Like his previous films, Elephant and Gerry, this is a very formal, sparse film. Van Sant frequently uses literal framing devices - window frames, door frames, television screens, and a fire place as part of his visual motifs. Also used are window reflections. One could say that while the characters in Last Days can sometimes observe each other, they are not capable of looking at themselves. Two key scenes are of the Cobain character, Blake, seen from a distance through windows, first playing guitars and a drum kit, and at the end when his dead body is discovered. Van Sant also uses the window pane frames as a ladder which Blake's ghost climbs. The ghost also resembles a reflection on a window.

Like Elephant, which was inspired by the student shooting at Columbine, Colorado, Van Sant does not offer explanations for Blake. We see Michael Pitt as Blake, virtually stumbling through a wooded area, his house and a guest house, mumbling to himself. A word or two may be picked up, but the bigger clues to the state of Blake's like are relayed by the people who talk to him, or talk about him. Visual clues to Blake's state of being are conveyed by the deteriorating interiors of his houses. The only time that Blake seems to be in control of his life is when he plays his music. Like some other artists, Blake can express himself more clearly through his art than he is able to verbally.

In an interview in The Guardian, Van Sant comments about Last Days being the last of a trilogy about death. While Last Days can not be called entertaining, it is for me, the most watchable of Van Sant's recent films. I do feel that as an artist, he is at a standstill. Perhaps this is a reflection of my own prejudices, but I realized while watch Last Days that Van Sant has never really made any films about adults. Virtually every protagonist has been an adolescent or post-adolescent male. Even Psycho's Norman Bates was adult only in age and not behavior. Maybe one can argue that Van Sant, as an artist, has chosen to live in his own private Idaho. To which I say, get out of that state, Gus.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 03:35 PM | Comments (1)

November 16, 2005

Where the Truth Lies

Atom Egoyan - 2005
Thinkfilm 35mm film

Here's a little bit of irony - I can not remember the first Atom Egoyan film I saw. All I can remember is that it was prior to Exotica, but none of the descriptions seems to fit the images in my memory. For those unfamiliar with Egoyan, the irony is that many of his films are about memory, in Egoyan's films usually of a catastrophic event, and how it has shaped the present.

Unlike Ararat which attempted to personalize historical events, Truth is more modest in scope. What both films have in common is demonstrating the extreme actions people take in the name of truth, or in order to maintain a lie. After tackling the genocide of the Armenian population in Turkey in 1915, a roman a clef about a duo somewhat similar to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis must have seemed less demanding. In this case, we have Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth) as the former duo investigated by a journalist, Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman) with secrets of her own.

For a brief moment while watching Truth, I thought of Scorsese's The Aviator. Although Egoyan doesn't sustain the feeling, there are times when Truth basks in a sense of informality, of being made primarily to entertain during lighter moments early in the film. Clearly Hitchcock is invoked in a scene when Colin Firth confronts Alison Lohman. Otherwise Egoyan evokes specific times and places of the past without resorting to "quoting" from other filmmakers.

Even the best relationships in Egoyan films are tenuous and Truth is no exception. Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth essentially live together only for the duration of their professional partnership. Seen fifteen years after their breakup, Firth lives alone in a house overlooking Los Angeles, while Bacon is pointedly filmed alone in a large office, isolated from his staff. Both truth and lies can break relationships. As in other Egoyan films, the remaining characters are isolated from each other.

Curiously this film has gotten released almost simultaneously with Jerry Lewis' autobiographical Dean and Me (A Love Story). One of the plot points of Truth is that the Lewis character is writing his own autobiography, that is to say, his own version of the truth. If Lanny Morris is not quite Jerry Lewis, between his own confessions in Nick Tosches' biography of Dean Martin, and his performance as Buddy Love and Jerry Langford one can glimpse enough to recognize that the character is not totally fictionalized. Maybe the reality of Rupert Holmes' novel, the basis of the movie, was a catalyst for Lewis to tell his version of the story of Dean and Jerry.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 05:32 PM

November 15, 2005

Belated Birthday Bash with Rene Clair

Under the Roofs of Paris
Sous les Toits de Paris
Rene Clair - 1930
Criterion Region 1 DVD

It Happened Tomorrow
Rene Clair - 1944
Kino Video DVD

Last Friday was my birthday. Like everyone else, I share my birthdate with lots of famous and not so famous people like the King of the World, Buddy Holly's doppelganger, a girl, interrupted, and the last guy who took on King Kong. Of the few filmmakers I share a birthday with, the one I like best is Rene Clair. I was hoping to see a couple of films by him on what would have been his 107th birthday but the films got delayed in transit.

I first got acquainted with Clair as a student at NYU when I saw a private screening of The Ghost goes West and I Married a Witch. I don't remember either film too well now except that it was pretty obvious that the second film was the inspiration for a famous television series. While some critics may carp on the fact that Clair was no longer the innovative filmmaker that he was in the silent era and early thirties, what makes Clair worth watching is his sense of fun. At a time when too many alleged comedies are ham-handed scenes of name calling and verbal abuse, Clair's gentle good humor is especially to be appreciated. Cute might be even be a good adjective for Clair's films.

Under the Roofs of Paris may be technically out of date, but the story could still be contemporary with some adjustments. The basic plot involves a street singer competing with a small time gangster for the love of a Romanian girl. The singer, Albert, also has a friendly rivalry with Louis. The girl, Pola, plays hard to get, but proves to be relatively easy in her affections. One could easily imagine the story reworked with a current urban setting involving a rap artist, Les Garcons dans le "Hood". I don't know the history of the making of the film but it is a hybrid, part talkie, part silent. Clair plays with the sound track by having an accordian player play The Wedding March after Albert announces his "engagement" to Pola. In a later scene, a record player gets stuck playing during a fight. Clair also has Pola and Albert arguing in a dark room, with their shadows partially visible. While the humor is not raucous, and the story hardly important, Clair loves his crooks and schnooks enough to elicit smiles throughout the film. I also enjoyed seeing, as Louis, Edmond Greville, who later became a director of some note.

It Happened Tomorrow is enjoyable on its own terms. The story, told in flashback, is of a newspaper reporter in 1894 who is given a copy of the next day's newspaper by a mysterious co-worker. The film's lesson is that knowing the future can have unanticipated problems and not be the advantage one may imagine. This makes the film kind of like Paycheck, only with fewer chases and much fewer guns. Dick Powell is amiable enough as the ambitious reporter, but one winces when he is called "young man". More fun are Linda Darnell as a fake psychic, and Jack Oakie, sporting an Italian accent and facial hair.

Rene Clair's career is one that went quickly from being the future of filmmaking to a symbol of the past. Still, those who have seen his films, such as Vladimir Nabokov always seem to remember this filmmaker with a smile.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 02:49 PM | Comments (2)

November 13, 2005

Why I have "No Shame"

In addition to getting three new releases from NoShame, I was also sent a DVD that includes previews to all of their releases, plus a little documentary on NoShame. The best part of the documentary was seeing Joyce Shen, NoShame Films executive, in action. While the documentary is light-hearted, it does illustrate what steps this company is taking towards film preservation. I also want to publicly thank Ms. Shen for putting my on the screeners list when I didn't even have my site put up.

If Criterion is the gold standard for film lovers and DVD collectors, than NoShame has claimed the silver in less than a year of existence. It should also be noted that NoShame's DVDs are more affordable. Considering the care given to Italian pulp films, I often wish NoShame had done the DVD release of a lot more films. With film after film, there are interviews with stars, directors and screenwriters with care given to all releases. While extra care may be given to such films as Bertolucci's Partner, even an amiable divertisement like The Sensuous Nurse is treated with respect towards the film and filmmakers. Compare that with both Criterion and Twentieth Century Fox, two companies that dropped the ball when it came to having interviews or director's commentaries with their releases of films by Samuel Fuller. The reason I bring Fuller up is because his films generally were not considered worthy of serious consideration at the time of release, typically being violent stories with sordid subjects. While some of NoShame's releases may never be considered classics, there is a consideration given to such filmmakers as Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi and Michele Massimo Tarantini while they are alive that could not be given to belatedly appreciated directors like Fuller, Donald Siegel or Joseph Lewis.

The DVD catalogue also includes an ambitious list of future releases. Some of the titles are familiar, while several are not. After seeing an earlier DVD release that looks like it was made from a trashed 16mm print, I am looking forward to seeing NoShame's release of The Night Evelyn Came out of The Grave. What I am really excited about is that some films by Roberto Rossellini are being prepared for release including Open City and Socrates. Considering that Rossellini is as important to the history of Italian cinema as John Ford is to America, this is big stuff. Open City lay the groundwork for so much documentary style or "guerrilla" filmmaking.

Other future releases include Massacre in Rome starring Richard Burton and Marcello Mastroianni! Films by Valerio Zurlini and Mauro Bolognini, two almost forgotten filmmakers of Fellini's generation are also scheduled. Another film, Down and Dirty is by one of my favorite directors, Ettore Scola. Just for the title alone, I am looking forward to Death Walks with High Heels. I would hope the NoShame crew might consider such filmmakers as Duccio Tessari, the man who made the original Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Ugo Gregoretti, the now forgotten director of the hilarious Omicron. Still, with the DVDs they have given us, I have no shame in expression appreciation for NoShame.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 04:32 PM

November 12, 2005

A Fistful of Poliziotteschi

Emergency Squad/Squadra Volante
Stelvio Massi - 1974
NoShame Region 1 DVD

The Last Round/Il Conte e Chiuso
Stelvio Massi - 1976
NoShame Region 1 DVD

A Man Called Magnum/Napoli Si Ribella
Michele Massimo Tarantini- 1977
NoShame Region 0 DVD

About a day before I left Miami Beach to avoid Hurricane Wilma, this latest shipment from NoShame arrived. While I had electricity to see the DVDs, my internet connection has still been inconsistent. I wasn't sure it I would be able to post reviews before the release of these titles this Tuesday.

Until I saw these films, I was not familiar with either Stelvio Massi or Michele Tarantini. These two filmmakers actually crossed paths professionally with The Case of the Bloody Iris, with Tarantini serving as the assistant director, and Massi as cinematographer. Tarantini even credits Iris director Giuliano Carnimeo with elevating him to the director's chair. Otherwise, Massi's best known credits would be as camera operator for A Fistful of Dollars, as well as cinematographer on a couple of Django and Sartana spaghetti westerns. The only familiar title on Tarantini's filmography for me was Sergio Martino's Torso.

Emergency Squad features Tomas Milian as a grubby, independent detective who goes after the gangster who killed his wife five years earlier. The gang has just committed a payroll heist, and one of the bullets is identified as being from the same gun as was used on Milian's wife. The gangster, known as Marseilles, obviously feels more attached to his firearms than to the rest of his gang who he kills off as part of his plan. An even less believable plot point has Milian shooting at the gang from a helicopter chasing their car at high speed. The DVD features an interview with Massi that was conducted just prior to his death. His wife is heard off-screen sometimes filling in where Massi's memory fails him. The interview with Milian, who began his career studying under Lee Strasberg, reveals an actor who often felt superior to the films he starred in, and often was.

Even the liner notes with The Last Round DVD fully admit that the basic story is a variation of Red Harvest/Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars. What I didn't know was that the skinny guy who's the hero of the film, Carlos Monzon, was a World Middleweight boxing champion in the 70s. The other casting twist is to have Luc Merenda, usually cast as the hero, play the charismatic crime boss of one of the two rival families. Monzon's real life mistress, actress Susana Gimenez plays a stipper with an unusual, interactive performance. The film is enhanced by Luis Bacalov's score which uses pan flutes and harps. The DVD features Luc Merenda showing off some of the items in his antique store. Retired from acting since 1992, the 63 year old Merenda seems both pleased and bewildered by the renewed interest in films he made thirty years ago. The DVD also includes a CD titled The Eclectic Ultimate Cinedelic Experience (Funky Cops and Hard Boiled Girls) performed by a group called Entropia. With snippets of dialogue from the films, this is something for the hard core fans to enjoy.

Merenda is seen to better effect in A Man Called Magnum. According to the DVD notes, director Michele Tarantini had an uneven career. Be that as it may, Tarantini certainly put his creative energies to full use in this film. Visually, Tarantini alternates between low angle shots, extreme close ups, and shots from the level of a child, kind of like a mash up of Ozu, Leone and Truffaut. Merenda plays the no-nonsense Milanese cop sent to Naples to bust the mob. The short, balding Enzo Cannavale provides comic relief as Merenda's Neopolitan partner. The gorgeous Sonia Viviano is also featured. While Merenda and Cannavale are after the mob, the mob boss wants to know who stole the latest shipment of dope. The action is punctuated with several chase scenes including one in a greenhouse, as well as a couple of well done car chase scenes with stunts one never thought one would see performed with humble Fiat sedans. The DVD looks great, and with an Italian language track in 5.1 Dolby probably sounds better than the film did in its initial release. Also worth mentioning is a subtitled commentary track by Tarantini. While Tarantini doesn't have much to say about A Man Called Magnum, he is interesting to listen to in discussing the history of his own career as well as discussing other little-known or forgotten Italian directors. One interesting bit of news is that he mentions being the cousin of Sergio and Luciano Martino. As the old joke goes, sometimes the family that plays together, slays together.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 05:53 PM

November 10, 2005

Seven Faces of Dr. Lao

George Pal - 1964
Turner Classic Movies

I am one of those obsessive types that often feels the need to see films that I missed during childhood for one reason or another. In some cases I was frankly too young to see the film in question. There were also those films that never made it to a theater near me. One of the things I like about cable channels like TCM as well as DVDs is that I can see films that unseen would haunt me for years.

I had wanted to see Seven Faces of Dr. Lao when it came out. I even read Charles Finney's novel in preperation. George Pal made a big impression on me when I saw The Time Machine in a theater at the age of eight. I also saw The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm in three screen Cinerama. For a while, I thought Yvette Mimieux was the most beautiful woman in the world. Dr. Lao came and went, completely bypassing the theaters of Evanston, Illinois, where I lived at the time.

The film has a similar set up to Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked this way Comes. A mysterious traveling show appears in a small town. The residents confront truths about themselves as part of the "entertainment". Dr. Lao is the kinder, gentler version of the story, with the characters emerging with relatively painless life lessons. The only reason to see the film now is for the pleasure of watching Tony Randall taking on the parts of Dr. Lao and all six of his circus performers. Although the title character starts off as a stereotype, the image is undermined with Randall deliberately going in and out of accent. Randall also demonstrates a lithe physicality that one wishes other filmmakers had exploited. Randall seems to know that Dr. Lao and his message that "Life is a circus" verge on hokiness, but his joy of performing is his real message. Of course the real Chinese magician of this film was Pal collaborator Wah Chang.

What I didn't know until I saw Dr. Lao was that Tony Randall was MGM's choice to star. George Pal wanted Peter Sellers who became a major star in 1964. Sellers was hilarious co-starring with Terry-Thomas in Pal's Tom Thumb in 1958 as a bumbling thief. Pal wanted Sellers as one of the Grimm brothers opposite Alec Guinness. Instead, Pal got Laurence Harvey and Karl Boehm, both good, but no explanation as to why only one brother has a German accent. During this time, MGM approved Sellers for Kubrick's Lolita. Maybe Pal was easier to push around for casting decisions as he didn't get his first choice for The Time Machine either, a then unknown Paul Scofield.

Maybe it was Pal's nature to be ahead of the curve in casting matters as he was in subject matter. In some ways, Steven Spielberg's career has been the CGI remake of Pal's hand tooled films, whether directly as with War of the Worlds and the inclusion of Gene Barry and Ann Robinson from Pal's version, or indirectly, with Doc Savage as a rough model for Indiana Jones. Spielberg is reportedly set to produce a new version of the Pal produced When Worlds Collide. The effects will probably be more realistic and convincing with computer, but unlike Pal's films, they really won't seem special.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:51 PM

November 09, 2005

Initial D

Tau Man Chi D
Andrew Lau & Alan Mak - 2005
Media Asia Region 3 DVD

Maybe my expectations were unfounded. Initial D is the newest film from the team of Lau and Mak following their Infernal Affairs trilogy. This new film was also one of the big hits of the past summer in Asia, besting such fare as Mr. and Mrs. Smith to the surprise of those following the business of entertainment. I suppose that based on its success, that Lau and Mak achieved the goal of creating another franchise. As films on race car drivers go, this one could be titled, "Fast, but not Furious".

The title refers to a racing style called "drifting" which essentially means driving around tight corners at about 100 miles per hour, or roughly the same speed as most motorists here in Miami Beach in my neighborhood. The film is based on a very popular Japanese manga, and the film is a Japanese-Hong Kong co-production. The manga has already been the source of an anime series, and at one point Initial D was to have been directed by Tsui Hark. The film is centered on a young man, Takumi, who drives through a mountain highway, very fast, in a 1986 Toyota AE86, a car that is somewhat like a Corolla hatchback. No matter how fast he drives, Takumi usually has his head in his hand, resembling a bored high school student sitting through yet another soon to be forgotten lecture.

More effort was put into special effects including computer animation and multiple screen shots, than in creating an interesting story. Going through the credits, it became apparent that the film was also set up to be a, pardon me, vehicle for Taiwanese star Jay Chou, who not only plays the sullen hero, but also sings much of the rap inspired soundtrack. The actress playing the would-be girlfriend, Anne Suzuki, is blandly attractive. Even the usually reliable Anthony Wong is wasted as Takumi's perpetully drunken father.

Unlike Rob Cohen's Fast and the Furious and similar American films, Initial D seems addressed for a younger audience. The level of broad humor is at best adolescent. The young actors look like they could still be in high school. Even the racing sequences fail to impress although again one can see the influence of Cohen's popular film. Even the studio fabricated car chase of Don Siegel's The Line-Up was more suspenseful. It was pretty much a given that Jay Chou would win his races, making me almost as bored as Chou looks thoughout the film. Even Renny Harlin's supremely silly Driven had more visceral pleasure. Jay Chou may be a very popular young star in Asia, but when it comes to racing films, I'd rather it be fueled by Vin Diesel.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 04:27 PM | Comments (2)

November 08, 2005

Spider Forest

Geomi Sup
Song Il-gon - 2004
Universal (Korea) Region 0 DVD

First, a shout out to Filmbrain, who wrote about Spider Forest in his own blog, and has been a great source for reading up on Korean Cinema. I have been doing some exploration on my own, but he has clued me in on some films and filmmakers I might otherwise have overlooked.

I may be exaggerating a bit, but for me, Spider Forest comes close to what one would get if Alain Resnais made a ghost story set in Korea. More than anything, this is a film about memory, about the real and imagined past. The narrative is similar to Je t'aime, je t'aime and Providence. Because of the circular construction of the narrative, the storyline remains unresolved, as if to suggest that there could be multiple variations of the main character's dreams and memories.

The main character, Min, is a documentary filmmaker. After being found nearly dead after being hit by an SUV, a police detective attempts to piece together the events that led to Min's hospitalization. Both documentary filmmaker and police detective have jobs based on the collecting and communicating facts. The conclusion of Spider Forest is that facts are subjective and subject to contradiction by other, possibly subjective, facts. Relationships are frequently tentative, based on shifting needs and outside influences. Even if people do not undermine others for possible individual advantage, several of the characters undermine themselves in big and small ways, such as Min's reliance on his faulty memory, or the detective forgetting to turn off his cell phone, which rings the French Can-Can song, moments before a bust.

The mood of Spider Forest graduates to an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss. On a very basic level, the film is a mystery and horror thriller. More important though is the question of how we remember people and how we may want them to remember us. The legend of the forest is that the many spiders are the souls of the forgotten deceased. As in the films of Resnais, memory can be both a self-constructed prison and a means of liberation.

More on Song can be found in Senses of Cinema.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:36 AM | Comments (1)

November 07, 2005

One Missed Call

Chakushin Ari
Takashi Miike - 2003
Tokyo Shock Region 1 DVD

I couldn't go through October without one horror film from Takashi Miike. One Missed Call is somewhat atypical of Miike. Most of the film is slow and deliberately paced, with bits of flash cutting at several key points, but closer in style to Audition. Though there is some graphic horror, it is relatively restrained, especially compared to Ichi the Killer. There is even an absence of the gross out humor that one finds in films like Citizen Q or even Gozu.

One Missed Call is somewhat closer in spirit to Ringu and Ju-On. A group of college students receive messages on their cell phones that are dated a couple of days in advance. The messages are preceded by a ring-tone that does not belong to the phone. The students hear there own voices with their last words just before they die. The next person to die is someone listed in the previous victim's cell phone address book.

The main character is a college student, Yumi, who is studying Child Psychology. Eventually it is revealed that she was a victim of child abuse who is forced to address her past in order to seek out the source of the deadly phone calls. As interesting as Yumi's story is, and as intriguing as the mystery of the calls is, the story makes little sense when attempting to tie the various threads together. I've seen several J-Horror films and know that they have their own kind of logic. Even on their own terms, films like Ringu or Kiyoshi Kurosawa's films do not require an extreme amout of suspension of disbelief. Where One Missed Call doesn't work is that it tries to say something serious about child abuse, suggests that the dead have their own separate heaven, but can't take the time to explain the connection between the "killer" and the first victim. I can accept a "dead" cell phone receiving a call, but I have trouble with sloppy story telling.

Even if the narrative does not hold up, Miike's imagery is consistent. Miike constrasts crowds of people, with shots of characters alone or with one other person. The contrasts are also between spiritual and physical isolation, as well as the sense of connection between people, through bonds created by family or technology. While not on the level of Audition, Miike creates a sense of dread with slow tracking shots with people in very lonely places.

Miike's own take on One Missed Call fron an interview in The Film Asylum: "At present there are a lot of Japanese movies about ghost stories which are becoming popular on an international level. This film takes the ghost story format in a different direction. A ghost is always challenging the main female protagonist but at the last they have a meeting point. Therefore it offers a difference to other movies of this type as the two come together."

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 01:16 AM

November 06, 2005

Castle of Blood

Castle of Blood/Danse Macabre
Anthony Dawson (Antonio Margheriti) - 1964
Synapse Films DVD

My internet is working very intermittently. I am trying to play catch up with some films I saw starting last week when I returned home. I wrote about several films but have done no postings until now.

Castle of Blood is the kind of film that use to appear on late night broadcast television back about thirty years ago. It's not particularly scary but it is spooky. Stylistically the film is based on the template established by Mario Bava's Black Sunday including the casting of Barbara Steele. The film is so visually dark, with minimal light resembling illumination by a candle or two, with much of the screen in shadows or totally black, that one can imagine the unease of watching this film in a movie theater.

The basic premise is that a mid-19th century journalist, Alan Foster, bets that he can live through the night at a supposedly haunted castle. The people who previously died in the castle are to come back to life on this night. In setting up the story, Foster meets up with Edgar Allan Poe, visiting London, and the castle's owner, a gentleman with a dark secret. Foster takes the bet to disprove Poe's assertion that his stories are all factual. Most of this business was just a roundabout way of cashing in on the popularity of the Roger Corman films based on Poe's stories. Amazingly, the film was written by Sergio Corbucci under the name of Gordon Wilson Jr., one of the more credible Anglo pseudonyms used in this movie.

Margheriti gets a lot of milage out of the aforementioned use of light, as well as some cobwebs and dry ice. With her huge eyes and gaunt face, Steele is photographed in such a way that emphasises her skull-like appearance. The DVD was taken from a French version of the film which was apparently the most complete version available. I saw the film with a primarily English language track which jumped into French at certain moments. The advantage was seeing what scenes were edited for the American release including a couple of shots more clearly indicating off screen sexual activity, a suggestion of lesbianism, and a brief topless scene. Sometimes there is an advantage to waiting forty years to see a film on DVD.

A very smart essay on Margheriti can be found at Senses of Cinema

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:29 AM | Comments (1)

November 01, 2005

Life After Wilma

As some of you know, Hurricane Wilma turned out to be worse than expected. Actually, I was one of the more fortunate ones.

I spent several relatively pleasant days in cool Toronto, completely missing sitting out the storm. Due to my not not calling WestJet the morning of my scheduled flight, my significant other and I spent an extra night at one of the hotels near Lester Pearson Airport. We are both glad that it was one night, because the hotel was not very good. Lester Pearson Airport is also a design nightmare, that has yet to get wireless internet, or better restaurants.

I returned last Thursday. There was no damage to my building due to hurricane shutters being installed on most of the windows. Electricity returned on Wednesday night. My biggest problem now is that I don't have cable or internet. I am using a computer at the Miami Beach Public Library. Time is limited, so I am unable to do my normal blogs.

I have been viewing films and writing rough drafts that will be posted when I have my own internet service and the time and ability to do research. Please bear with me during this time.

As it is, my part of Miami Beach is the best place to be as it came back to close to normal the fastest. I just wish Atlantic Broadband was moving a bit quicker.

Stay tuned.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 03:25 PM