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May 30, 2012

Eros School: Feels So Good

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Erosu gakuen: Kando batsugun
Koretsugu Kurahara - 1977
Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD

Proof, if any were needed, that being the younger brother of an acclaimed filmmaker might get you in the door, but is no indication of talent. How much of credit, as such, should go to Koretsugu Kurahara, and how much to screenwriter Akira Momoi, I couldn't say. When the foremost English language expert on Roman Porno, Jasper Sharp, declared himself bewildered by this film, there's some meager consolation that one is not alone in wondering what was intended here.

There is none of the visual style of the elder Koreyoshi Kurahara. One could see a tenuous connection between the two filmmakers, with the elder brother paving the way to some degree with his own taboo busting films. And if there is any social commentary, it somehow got lost in what is suppose to be an erotic comedy that is neither erotic nor funny. Maybe it's a film that would appeal to a small segment of humanity that finds humor in a film about a character named "Ryu the Rapist", a much too old juvenile delinquent, who appears at Eros High School with the announcement that he will be de deflowering the school's student leader and athletic star, Misa. There is a tiny chuckle in Ryu's first appearance with his Clint Eastwood snarl and thin cigar, the battered straw hat, and his small pet pig.

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Eros High School has a student body composed of sexually frustrated young men, and girls who have no inhibition concerning beating them up. One of the students, Akemi, is in a co-ed judo class where she and her male partner hit the mat, and nibble each other's nipples. The main rivals of Eros High School go to Agape High School. As everyone in this film is aware that Misa has never menstruated, the Agape girls try to disrobe Misa to discover whether she is in fact female. I guess there is some kind of undeveloped symbolism concerning Eros versus Agape to make this film appear more meaningful.

With the exception of a couple of actresses, everything is underdeveloped here. This can be pretty much be summed up in a scene where one of the boys fucks Ryu's pig. Following a glance at the little pig's swollen genitalia, the young man grinds away for a while before getting caught in the act by Misa and running away. Whatever was imagined before a frame was even shot, the effect is one where the filmmakers tried to outdo each other with outrageous ideas, only to shrink back when it came to the actual performance. Even the rinky-dink piano music can't hide the fact that the attempts at slapstick humor are simply not funny. Even the attempted comic shock when it's revealed that the patron of a porno theater is a transvestite is fumbled. The best part about this movie might be the original Japanese poster, reproduced for the DVD notes by the estimable Mr. Sharp, featuring the exposed chests of the three female stars. Were I able to provide a copy, I would do so. Even though this is a story about horny high school students, one could liken this film to the guy who gets worked up about getting it on with his dream girl, only to find himself flaccid.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:41 AM

May 28, 2012

13 Assassins (1963)

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Jusan-nin no shikaku
Eiichi Kudo - 1963
AnimEigo Region 1 DVD

Watching the original 13 Assassins, my feeling is that Kudo film served as a general blueprint for Takashi Miike. The effect is as if the comedy and horror, as well as some of the elaborations of characters, were all pared away. The story remains the same, but the difference is between Miike's rococo tendencies that might have been needed to make the film more entertaining for contemporary audiences, and Kudo's trust in keeping things mostly direct and plain.

Essentially, a samurai has been recruited to assassinate the half-brother of the Shogun. The film takes place in 1844, as the Shogun era in Japan is about to end. The shogun's half-brother has cause disarray in the government due to his indiscretions, including the rape of another lord's daughter in law. The samurai, Shimada, enlist eleven other samurai and ronin who can be trusted to take on this clandestine mission. The thirteenth member of the group is a self-styled samurai in the town where the confrontation is to take place.

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Much of the critical attention on Kudo's film is based on the final battle, with its then innovative use of hand held cameras. And I am sure that the shaky cam stirred up the audiences almost fifty years ago. But what was more interesting to me was the use of tracking shots, nothing unusually long, but providing a visual style to the proceedings of lords and samurai talking about taking action or what it means to be a samurai. Rather than cutting back and forth, Kudo keeps most his characters within the same wide screen frame. Close-ups and some brief montage, such as a series of shots of samurai grabbing swords, are only used for the infrequent moments of visual emphasis. Kudo's visual style with the emphasis on wide shots forces the viewer to be an active participant while Miike will throw the spectacle in your face.

13 Assassins is the first of Eiichi Kudo's films to get an official DVD release in the U.S. His other two films in his "Samurai Trilogy" are scheduled for release in the near future. Probably the best online overview of his career can be found at Midnight Eye. Robin Gatto points out that Chiezo Kataoka, the actor playing Shimada, was a major star of Japanese period films, especially in the years preceding World War II. Two of the more significant names, in smaller roles here, are the seemingly ubiquitous Tetsuro Tamba as the government official who initiates the assassination plot, and Junko Fuji as the daughter of an inn owner, in what was her second screen appearance, but one where Kudo saw fit to provide her with her own medium shot.

What also distinguishes 13 Assassins both from period films of from the Sixties, as well as the most samurai films in general, is the sense of detachment. Part of what attracts audiences to the genre is the visceral excitement. The distance here is not just visual, but emotional as well, with Kudo acting as an almost impartial observer to what is both a battle of wits as well as swords.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 09:09 AM | Comments (1)

May 27, 2012

Coffee Break

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Mati Diop in 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis - 2008)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:19 AM

May 24, 2012

Life Without Principle

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Dyut meng gam
Johnny To - 2011
Indomina Releasing Region 1 DVD

Johnny To has been stretching artistically lately. Life Without Principle goes against what might be expected not only in subject matter, but in casting. No Simon Yam or Lam Suet here. And even though one of the main characters is a cop, this is not an action film by any means. Stripped away are the jauntiness or moments of sheer visual panache. For the most part, this is To at his most serious.

What humor is to be found is in the English language title, a dual edged pun on money and morality, taken from an essay by Henry David Thoreau. It takes a while to catch on to what To has done with the narrative, intertwining stories on his three main characters who only in the most peripheral manner cross paths. The effect might be described as watching a filmmaker known for his Peckinpah inspired reveries, transform himself, at least for this film, into a subtler Robert Altman.

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For a film that is about a year old, Life Without Principle is still also remarkable topical, even without a plot twist that hangs on the financial crisis in Greece. The film revolves around a cop, whose wife wants to purchase a very expensive condo in what is one of the world's most expensive cities. There is also the investment banker with a career on the line, doing what she can to line up clients with life savings tied to the stock market. A triad flunky is deep in debt to a crime boss. Connecting the three is a loan shark with a satchel full of money.

While the comparison to Robert Altman extends to the narrative structure, Life Without Principle also makes me think of Robert Bresson, specifically the film L'Argent. Bresson's film, in some ways his atypical with some of the kind of action one might see in a To film, is about the catastrophic chain of events following the passing of a counterfeit bill. To's film also revolves on a satchel full of cash, as well as more abstract notions of money. There is also the comparison of titles, with Bresson's literally about money, while To's hints at multiple meanings. But more than any To film I have seen, most of the drama is internal, within the main characters deliberating on their own dilemmas. That interiority is referenced by the majority of the film taking place indoors, in offices, restaurants, and parking spaces. In the one major scene that takes place outside, the triad member and his wounded friend are driving through Hong Kong to a hospital, only to find themselves inadvertently trapped by various road blocks created by the police closing on a crime scene.

The other principles involved here are understood to be fluid and deliberately open ended. Some critics have argued as to who the real thieves are depicted in the story, but I think To has made a work that allows for degrees of ambiguity. Only the cop is not motivated by making a quick buck, and his financial rewards are the most modest. Whether anyone else is truly a criminal can be argued. What is certain in Life Without Principle is that the biggest robber is the bank.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:37 AM

May 22, 2012

Mutant Girls Squad

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Sento shojo: Chi no tekkamen densetsu
Noboru Iguchi, Yoshihiro Nishimura, and Tak Sakaguchi - 2010
Well Go USA Region 1 DVD

There is one image in Mutant Girls Squad that might be considered audacious as well as satirical. The girls have killed off a team of enemy soldiers. Geysers of blood are squirting everywhere. The girls, triumphant in their white PVC outfits stand in front of a large white sheet. Blood splattered on the white sheet appears like a crude circle. The image appears to be a kind of variation on the Japanese flag. And in its own goofy way, Mutant Girls Squad poses the question about what it really means to be Japanese.

Before that question becomes tangential to the rest of the mayhem, we are introduced to Rin, a high school girl, on her sixteenth birthday. The parents appear to be a humorous version of stereotypical Japanese parents, with the mother having lunch ready for Rin to take to school, and father heartily encouraging Rin to study hard. The smiles and good cheer appear forced, artificial. Rin has been bothered by physical discomfort in her right hand, but acts as if all is normal for her. Things change when she is bullied by her fellow students, and discovers just how different she is.

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After a promising start, Mutant Girls Squad gets less interesting. Rin joins a group of other mutant girls, but finds herself on the outs when she decides she doesn't want all out war with the humans who are seeking to eliminate the mutants. Rin seeks peace both for her half mutant, half human self, as well as within society. What the film is more interested in is in showing off the battles between the mutant girls and the humans, as well as between some of the mutant characters. Heads and arms get lopped off, blood sprays every where, and the mutants are either part animal or part machine. Swords and tentacles reach in and out of different orifices. Eyes pop out. If you have seen even a single film by any one of the three directors, then you know what to expect.

Can Tak Sakaguchi, Noburu Iguchi and Yoshiro Nishimura make films that are both different and better than what they've done previously? Certainly, the earlier films I've seen are arguably better. And it could be that they have no choice but to do more of the same. Interestingly, while this is another Sushi Typhoon production, it was done in conjunction with a different studio, Toei. The film is divided into three parts, with the three filmmakers collaborating on the story, and each one taking the main responsibility for direction of each segment. Sakaguchi also appears as the leader of the mutant girls, and served as action director.

The three lead actresses, Yumi Sugimoto, Suzuka Morita and Yuko Takayama, are certainly cute, and have established themselves mostly as television actresses with recording careers on the side, as well as their own websites. The one familiar face, the actor who might well be one of those supporting players referred to as "that guy", is Kanji Tsuda. Just checking his filmography, I've seen Tsuda more times than I realized. In Mutant Girls Squad, Tsuda appears as Rin's father, with a few secrets of his own. While there are those who will be entertained for the hour and a half running time, my feeling is that there is only so much that can be done within the genre of movies about hybrid young females. One hopes for inventiveness that goes beyond a chainsaw that emerges from a young woman's rear end.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:52 AM

May 20, 2012

Coffee Break

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Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher - 2011)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:18 AM

May 17, 2012

Zoom Hunting

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Lie Yan
Chi Li - 2010
Kam & Ronson Region 3 DVD

What do we mean when the name of Alfred Hitchcock is mentioned in describing a film by someone else, or when a film is described as Hitchcockian? Is Hitchcock's name invoked as lazy shorthand? Much of the time, I would say that is the case, especially by those whose knowledge of Hitchcock appears to begin and end with Psycho. What makes this especially frustrating for those who have seen more or most of Hitchcock's films is that Psycho is in several ways an atypical Hitchcock film. One could argue that a reputed potboiler like Topaz has more Hitchcockian elements with its story of spies and international intrigue.

Hitchcock's name has been invoked in relation to Taiwanese filmmaker Cho Li's Zoom Hunting. But much of that comparison hinges on the initial set up, which will remind some of Rear Window, of a photographer who accidentally photographs a pair of lovers in an apartment across the street, and winds up getting involved in ways unanticipated. There are also elements of Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation in this mix. More in terms of content than style would Cho's film with linked with the three older films. What Blow Up, The Conversation and Zoom Hunting share is that they use the basic premise of Rear Window as a starting point for their own distinctive explorations regarding how technology theoretically used for impartial documentation interacts with human fallibility.

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Rear Window and Blow Up are inquiries about understanding and interpreting images, while The Conversation is about spoken language - not only what is said, but how it is said, how inflection can change meaning. The two main characters are sisters, with complementary professions. Ruyi is the photographer, whose photos of an adulterous couple forces her to face some uncomfortable truths about herself. Ruxing is a writer of detective stories, whose writer's block seems to have ended by using Ruyi's photos as the basis of her new murder mystery.

The lovers across the street are married, but not to each other. Ruyi continues to photograph them, as well as the wife's family. When Ruxing questions Ruyi on her continued documentation, the inelegantly translated reply is that "peeping is the mother of creativity". Cho's bigger concerns would be the role of the artist as observer and creator. Cho also brings up what it means to be a female artist comparing giving birth to a child with giving birth, as it were, to a work of art. But going back to Hitchcock, the film is mostly about the act of observation and understanding what is seen.

A search for more information on Cho Li in English turns up very little. She earned an M.S. degree at Indiana State University in Radio/TV/Film, and previously worked as a producer before making her directorial debut with Zoom Hunting. What should give Zoom Hunting a certain degree of consideration is that it is the work of a female filmmaker touching on voyeurism and eroticism from the point of view of female characters. Is the film Hitchcockian? Maybe not in the way one would apply such a term to films by Brian De Palma, for example. A twist near the end is hardly a total surprise, but it does provide a satisfactory conclusion to a story where art and life follow each other.

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This post is on behalf of the the Third Annual For the Love of Film Blogathon. Hunt for your wallet or purse and make a donation to stream The White Shadow. More postings will be found at This Island Rod, part of the archipelago of participating film bloggers.

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Writer/Director Cho Li

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:03 AM | Comments (2)

May 16, 2012

Lady in Black

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Duo ming jia ren
Sun Chung - 1987
Joy Sales Films All Region DVD

Were that there was more suspense than melodrama, Lady in Black could more appropriately be described as Hitchcockian. There is enough to indicate that there was some influence at work here. The only overview of director Sun Chung is informative about his career in general. The film would indicate that Chung and the three credited screenwriters had some familiarity with Hitchcock's later films.

The opening scene of Brigitte Lin forging a check for $500,000 Hong Kong dollars brings to mind Marnie, in that the film centers on a woman who steal from her employer. In this regard, as well as with the use of other elements, Lady in Black takes elements that in a generic sense recall Hitchock. From the very beginning, the woman, May, is wracked with quilt, startled when her best friend barges into the office, thinking she's been caught in the act. The nervous guilt is with Lin when she goes to the bank to cash the check, and drops the envelope in front of a policeman who courteously picks it up, handing it back to her.

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As it turns out, the money is for May's rat bastard husband, Sheng, to pay off a gambling debt. May and Sheng go to Thailand in the hopes that Sheng's uncle can help them out. When the visit doesn't pan out as hoped for, Sheng, feeling sorry for himself, sits out the outside of a tourist boat, getting drunk, seemingly posed to commit suicide. May tries to talk Sheng out of killing himself, only to fall overboard. Whether Sheng has deliberately let go of May, to drown in the water, and cover her crime of embezzlement, is unclear. As it turns out, reports of May's death prove inaccurate.

Hitchcpck is more or less quoted during May and Sheng's frenzied final encounter where it is easy to think of both Psycho and Dial M for Murder, and even Torn Curtain. Death in several of Hitchcock's films isn't quick and easy, but sometimes a drawn out struggle between the two players, where one or both people are grabbing at any sharp instrument they can as for use as an implement of of self-defense, but in a Hitchcock film, fatal for the person on the receiving end.

Lady in Black might have been a better movie had it emphasized the kinds of elements that might be found in Hitchcock's films. Aside from the embezzling wife, there is Tony Leung Ka-Fai as the social climbing, conniving, manipulative husband. There are the feelings of guilt that plague May, and to a lesser extent, Sheng. There is also May's "death", accident or deliberate murder. One of the better scenes is of a nightmare May has, a remembrance of the events that led her to her current state, with a battered face from the downing, her dream marriage now one of horror. Nightmares, usually composed of distorted memories, are another familiar Hitchcockian element.

What is sadly missing here is any sense of the erotic. It's not like Sun Chung had not made films with any degree of eroticism. Perhaps there was the thought that there shouldn't be anything sexy about a female who is both a wife and mother. Lady in Black came out a year after Peking Opera Blues, Tsui Hark's film that made some of the best early use of Lin's allure. Between the kernels of a suspenseful story and the presence of Brigitte Lin, Lady in Black is a film of squandered opportunities.

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This entry is part of the Third Annual For the Love of Film Blogathon. Black is also the color of the ledger ink for funding the streaming of the silent classic, The White Shadow. Send your green here. More postings will be found at always fashionable Self Styled Siren.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:53 AM | Comments (1)

May 14, 2012

M (2007)

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Lee Myeong-se - 2007
Panorama Entertainment All Region DVD

From a long time ago, I have always been interested in dreams. Dreams have always fascinated me. I dream a lot. I had a dream in the year 2000 in which Hitchcock gave me a book, and that book was titled "M." I said I would look at in a little while, and then I woke up from the dream.

Since then I have chased the meaning of "M" in that dream. I realized that "M" means MacGuffin.
- Lee Myeong-se

What makes M of interest within the context of films and filmmakers who have claimed inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock is that Lee's film takes on some of the content, but not the style of Hitchcock. This is not a mystery film in the conventional sense, nor a thriller. Instead, what Korean filmmaker Lee is more interested in is the Hitchcock who makes films about false and real memories, dreams, and love lost and possibly recovered.

Even the narrative aspects can not be fully trusted. Minwoo is a popular writer who dismisses his work as trash, and wishes he could write like James Joyce. He may be working on a new novel, but he seems to have writer's block. A young woman follows him in the street. She in turn may be pursued by someone else. Minwoo finds himself in a bar, the kind that has an entrance in a dark alley, the kind of bar that one sometimes finds by accident rather than design. Minwoo's relationship with his wife is shaky. Minwoo is also consumed by memories of his first love, a girl named Mimi.

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Unlike a Hitchcock film, there is no progressive story line. Instead, the narrative goes forward, backward and loops around itself, and into dead ends that ultimately lead nowhere. To best enjoy M you have to totally surrender to the dream logic where different characters repeat the same dialogue, where time and space blend into each other.

Lee uses a lot of reflective surfaces - mirrors, glass, water. The viewer may find themselves as disoriented as Minwoo with the shifts in use of space and combination of images. There is also voiceover used from Minwoo and Mimi. There are moments when I wasn't sure if I was watching a dream, and if so, who was the dreamer? That's not criticism of the film, but one of the ways Lee keeps on upending viewer expectation.

While Lee has stated that Hitchcock inspired this film, other references are more clear. It is impossible not to think of Fritz Lang's movie of the same title. There is the mysterious bar, with its curious, aged bartender. The bar is named after the French fictional detective, Arsene Lupin, and an image of Lupin is seen on the bar sign as well as a matchbook. The bar, and the patrons are lit in such a way that may remind viewers of the bar in Kubrick's The Shining. The visual reminders of Kubrick are also in the scenes of Minwoo typing small phrases repeatedly.

While some of the stroboscopic lighting and editing would not strike traditionalists as being Hitchcockian, Lee shows Minwoo and Mimi on the run at various points, through long, dark alleys and hallways, in and out of shadows. It is the sense of space, of being in a place where there is some kind of unknown and unseen danger, that is most closely associated with the films of Alfred Hitchcock. And, as happens in several Hitchcock films, Lee Myeong-se pokes the viewer, to remind them not to trust too much in images, that not everything is necessarily what it appears to be.

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This post is part of the Third Annual For the Love of Film Blogathon. Another word that starts with the letter "M" is Money. Send yours here if you want see the silent film, The White Shadow stream onto your internet connected device. And check out the other postings at Ferdy on Film, no letter of introduction needed.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:05 AM | Comments (4)

May 13, 2012

Coffee Break

Sebastian Schipper and Sophie Rois in 3 (Tom Tykwer - 2010)

The name of Alfred Hitchcock will mean something to even the most casual of cinephiles. The opinions, and the films loved or loathed may be different. Today marks the beginning of the third For the Love of Film Blogathon. The goal is to raise funds for an internet streaming of a 1924 silent movie titled The White Shadow, along with funds to pay for a soundtrack. The movie was directed by Graham Cutts. But much of the other production work including the screenplay, editing and production design were by a tubby young punk who thought he could make movies better than anyone else.

Check in today and the rest of this week with the three respective hosts: Marilyn Ferdinand, Farran Smith Nehme and Rod Heath, at their blogs, to read the various postings about Alfred Hitchcock, film preservation, silent cinema, and any other related pieces. Today's home page for the blogathon will be at Ferdy on Film. I'll be writing about three Asian films that in show Hitchcock's influence in three very different ways. Most importantly, please contribute to making The White Shadow visible for other lovers of film.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:05 AM | Comments (2)

May 10, 2012

Sex, Lies and Death

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Sexo, mentiras y muertos
Ramiro Meneses - 2011
Lionsgate Films Region 1 DVD

While the filmography of Alfred Hitchcock is finite, the number of films that have been remakes, homages, or just plain rip-offs might be, if not infinite, at least not fully explored. This article is of some help, but more as a starting off point than anything resembling the final word. When it comes to variations on Strangers on a Train, I will happily include Danny DeVito's fine and funny Throw Momma from the Train.

Patricia Highsmith is probably owed more credit than given for her original novel, about the two men who meet on a train, and agree to trade murder victims. I also have to acknowledge that Highsmith's popularity as an author is such that she has several books filmed more than once. I am certain, though, that it was Alfred Hitchcock's film of Strangers on a Train that has inspired the many versions that have followed. Among the more recent films I am aware of is a Tamil version, titled Muran. I am certain that more versions will be uncovered.

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The original story has been described as being about tit-for-tat murders. This distaff version from Columbia might be described best as tit-for-tit. Viviana, taking a break from her abusive husband, is chatted up by Alicia, in a bar. Alicia is in an unhappy relationship with her lover. Within minutes of meeting, Alicia proposes murder. Viviana goes along, seemingly uncertain if this scheme will work. And of course nothing goes as planned.

That Alicia's victim is her lesbian lover is the least of the twists to this film. Sadly, the film, shot on video, is like the murders, better in the planning than the actual execution. When all is said and done, the potential for eroticism and suspense gets squandered. Had Brian De Palma gotten hold of the script, we might have had a better film. And hopefully, he would have added the murder of Viviana's cloying mother-in-law.

One aspect of Hitchcock's film that has been up for discussion is the depiction of homosexuality.. Sex, Lies and Death offers a mildly titillating view of women who love women. What makes Hitchcock's film enduring, while the Meneses remains a forgettable diversion, is that for all of the twists and turns in this remake, it lacks the depth that Hitchcock gave to his characters. There are worse ways of killing an hour and a half than watching the redhead star Columbian television star, Andrea Lopez. But Sex, Lies and Death also proves that when it comes to cinema suspense, it's not just the contents of story, but how you tell it that makes the difference.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:39 AM

May 08, 2012

Schoolgirl Report #8: What Parents Should Never Know

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Schulmadchen-Report 8: Was Eltern nie erfahren durfen
Ernst Hofbauer - 1974
Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD

During the first half of 1973, I was living in Portland, Oregon, primarily doing unpaid work at the Northwest Film Study Center. My capacity as some kind of expert in film got me into a special advance screening of Deep Throat, that seminal film in the history of "Adult Cinema". I found out after the screening that most of the audience at that screening was composed of lawyers, presumably enlisted in case of possible legal action against film or the theater. While I appreciate the erotic in film, my interest in films made primarily for the raincoat brigade is casual at best.

I figured that as long as Impulse Pictures was going to send me Schoolgirl Report #8, the least I could do is take a look. This is best described as a soft core film, presented as a documentary, about some overly ripe high school girls on a field trip, telling stories about their sexual misadventures. There's a bit of bawdy humor, and some slapstick, mounds of pubic hair, the obligatory group shower scene, and a sanctimonious ending voiced by some male narrator in a feeble attempt to give the film some sense of greater signicance. Sometimes just watching plump and naked German girls, circa 1974, is its own justification. Maybe the best that can be said is that at the time this film came out, my idea of German cinema was catching up on work by Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, among others who were lumped as part of the "New German Cinema". What I wasn't watching was the kind of German movies that actually helped pay the bills.

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Coming, as it were, when more graphic depictions of sex were on theater screens, Schoolgirl Report #8 seems almost innocent in comparison. The kind of coupling going on here is pretty basic, no gymnastics, and nothing that could be considered kinky by anyone other than those self-appointed guardians of morality. Regarding personal preferences, I can only depend on Pedro Almodovar, an openly gay filmmaker, to provide me with decent cinematic depictions of cunilingus. In this film, there's sex in bed, in a field, on a pool table, all hetero and vanilla and simulated.

I'm baffled by any contemporary interest in this kind of film. This movie appears to have been originally shot in 16mm, and no one will be fooled by the obviously post-dubbed dialogue. I can only assume that there is a firm cult for this kind of film to justify making it available on DVD. The actors and actresses are listed in the film as uncredited parents and students although here is where IMDb proves itself useful. The online trailer, in German without subtitles, provides a brief taste of the action. What may be this films best asset is that the actresses look like relatively attractive girls next door, and not a collection of wannabe models. And when too many women in front of the camera are filled with silicon and other artificial ingredients, there is some pleasure to see one voluptuous actress run blissfully naked, her breasts bouncing in the breeze.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:22 AM

May 06, 2012

Coffee Break

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Alida Valli, Guillemette Grobon and Marie-Christine Barrault in Le Jupon Rouge (Genevieve Lefebvre - 1987)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:16 AM

May 03, 2012

The Shock Labyrinth

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Senritsu Meikyu
Takashi Shimizu - 2009
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I feel like an old fogie, not only not being able to watch the Blu-ray version, but even worse, missing out on the 3D Blu-ray. I can imagine someone muttering about how watching a movie nowadays on DVD is so late 20th Century. Anyways . . .

It would have been even better to have had the opportunity to see Takashi Shimizu's film as originally intended, in a theater. Sadly though, unless the art theaters do some technological upgrades, or the multiplexes take chances on more imported fare, stateside audiences are going to miss some interesting work done in 3D, such as this film, and the British StreetDance.

The basic story is about three childhood friends who reunite after ten years. All about twenty years old, the dark and stormy night is disrupted by the appearance of a fourth friend, Yuki, who claims she has escaped from a hospital. Three three aren't sure if that really is Yuki. Meeting with Yuki's teenage sister, things go from bad to worse, as Yuki suddenly is in need of hospitalization. The hospital that this quartet finds appears to be in the middle of nowhere, and seem abandoned. As in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, the film takes place in a building with a life of its own.

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I can only imagine what The Shock Labyrinth looked like theatrically, and can only hope that any filmmakers wishing to work in 3D would study this film. Shimizu emphasizes depth and a keen sense of color, expressively using yellow, pink and red. A shot near the end of the film, of a long corridor, and feathers floating down, took my breath away. Definitely recommended is the supplementary section which discusses the creation of a small camera, allowing for shooting in 3D in confined spaces. The film was shot on location near Mount Fuji, mostly inside the attraction, Labyrinth of Horrors.

Shimizu smartly steers clear of what currently passes for horror. Instead, there is a buildup of dread and creepiness, as past and present converge, collide and wrap around each other. Shimizu makes use of some iconic imagery, such as the child's rabbit back pack that seems to have a life of its own, and a spiral stairway with a red railing. I was also reminded of Alejandro Amenabar's The Others, where there is uncertainty about who are the ghosts, and who is doing the haunting in this house of horrors. The story takes on the logic of a dream where the characters are helpless to change their future, especially in the face of a past revealed.

On the face of it, Shock Labyrinth might seem resistible with the basic premise of young people trapped in a haunted house. But as anyone who has watched dozens of genre films, be they film noir or westerns, or anything else, will tell you, it's not the story but how you tell the story that makes the difference. And as for the 3D, Takashi Shimizu is much younger than Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese, but I think he could teach these acknowledged masters a thing or two.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:47 AM

May 01, 2012

My Partially Illustrated Answers to Sister Clodagh's Movie Quiz

Over at Dennis Cozzalio's joint is a new "quiz". As far as I'm concerned, the only wrong answers are those that fail to display even a half-hearted effort to do minimal research on IMDb. Feel free to take this current quiz yourself. The only requirement is a belief in the power of cinema.

1) Favorite movie featuring nuns

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I love the killer nuns in Judex. (Georges Franju - 1963.

2) Second favorite John Frankenheimer movie

Yes, Seconds is second.

3) William Bendix or Scott Brady?

Brady's resume includes Gremlin, Strange Behavior, and one of the strangest World War II movies ever, Operation Bikini View image.

4) What movie, real or imagined, would you stand in line six hours to see? Have you ever done so in real life?

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Never stood in line for six hours to see a movie. If I did so, it would be for To Sleep as to Dream, Kaizo Hayashi's debut film from 1986, a tribute to Japanese silent movies that actually looks like it was filmed in that era, unlike an overrated French film from last year. Second choice would be the first filmed version of Black Lizard starring the very seductive Machiko Kyo. The clips indicate this film is more in the spirit of Edogawa Rampo's short novel. Neither film is currently available on DVD from Japan, or anywhere else as far as I know.

5) Favorite Mitchell Leisen movie

Tough one here based on three movies released between 1939 and 1940. I haven't seen any of them in years, but I'm going to go with Arise, My Love.

6) Ann Savage or Peggy Cummins?

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Peggy Cummins. No matter what she wears in Gun Crazy, it looks so right. Let's face it, nobody wears a beret quite like her.

7) First movie you remember seeing as a child

Old Yeller (Robert Stevenson - 1957)

8) What moment in a movie that is not a horror movie made you want to bolt from the theater screaming?

Blood Feud (Lina Wertmuller - 1978). Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni and Giancarlo Giannini, and one of the few films I have ever walked out of. Wertmuller is one of the few filmmakers I find truly unwatchable.

9) Richard Widmark or Robert Mitchum?

The The Way West question! I'm going to go with Mitchum.

10) Best movie Jesus

The animated Jesus in Ralph Bakshi's Heavy Traffic. Live actor version - Luis Bunuel's The Milky Way, of course.

11) Silliest straight horror film that you’re still fond of

The Brain that wouldn't Die is the movie that will never die.

12) Emily Blunt or Sally Gray?

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Blunt is smokin'.

13) Favorite cinematic Biblical spectacular

I'm going with The Story of Ruth (Henry Koster - 1960) even though I barely remember the film. But I saw it on a double feature with Please Don't Eat the Daisies with my grandparents.

14) Favorite cinematic moment of unintentional humor

The theatrical release of Rambo III coinciding with Russia's withdrawal from Afghanistan. Mission accomplished.

15) Michael Fassbender or David Farrar?

Setting aside those Michael Powell movies, Farrar also starred in Beat Girl, enough to put him in the all time Hall of Fame.

16) Most effective faith-affirming movie

Song of Bernadette. Even James Agee couldn't resist. What I love about this film is that it keeps open the discussion of the meaning of faith and how it is manifested, and how Henry King is respectful of all of the characters, allowing the viewer to decide for themselves. Maybe I should also mention that I'm not, nor have ever been, a believer in any form of Christianity.

17) Movie that makes the best case for agnosticism

Robert Bresson's The Devil, Probably.

18) Favorite song and/or dance sequence from a musical

"By Myself" - Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon.

19) Third favorite Howard Hawks movie

Red River

20) Clara Bow or Jean Harlow?

I can't even remember Bow in Wings, a film that was dominated by the bromance between Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen. I saw Wellman's film theatrically quite a while ago. A few years earlier, I had been able to see in theatrical presentations, Red Dust and Platinum Blonde. Whether on the big screen or small, Jean Harlow is easily the memorable star.

21) Movie most recently seen in the theater? On DVD/Blu-ray/Streaming?

In a theater: Pina. On DVD: One Night in Mongkok.

22) Most unlikely good movie about religion

I'm not sure if I understand the question. But I'm going to go with The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise - 1951), even if it's a big tip off to have Michael Rennie's Klaatu go by the name of Carpenter, when posing as an earthling. Also for consideration, Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's Infernal Affairs for its discussion of Buddhism.

23) Phil Silvers or Red Skelton?

Um, Shecky Greene. (Kidding)

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As "King Leer", he oggled at Jayne Mansfield in The Girl can't Help It, and Marilyn Monroe swimming nude in Something's Got to Give, and starred with Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford and Buster Keaton in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Golden Silvers!

24) “Favorite” Hollywood scandal

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Ava hearts Lana.

25) Best religious movie (non-Christian)

The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa -1956)

26) The King of Cinema: King Vidor, King Hu or Henry King? (Thanks, Peter)

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King with Ava and Tyrone.

King Hu is to Chinese martial arts films what John Ford is to westerns; and I love Vidor's Show People which I got to see on the big screen a few years ago, as well as Beyond the Forest. Aside from having a religious experience, sitting down, and talking about his movies with him, I'm finding more to discover with Henry King. Based on his interviews, I need to see his silent films aside from Tol'able David, The Winning of Barbara Worth and The White Sister. As it stands, Way Down East needs to be seen by everyone who loves The Wizard of Oz, because of Margaret Hamilton's performance. A Yank in the R.A.F has that wonderful shot of nothing but Betty Grable's legs. The Black Swan shows how to do a fast and funny pirate movie. There's also the previously mentioned Song of Bernadette. I spent a month devoted to King's films on my blog, and am considering shelling out for gray market silents and import DVDs.

27) Name something modern movies need to relearn how to do that American or foreign classics had down pat

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Visual style in general. Framing of characters in two-shots, instead of just cutting back and forth.

28) Least favorite Federico Fellini movie

Ginger and Fred left me feeling meh.

29) The Three Stooges (2012)—yes or no?

I might see this on DVD, but the real Stooges were Jewish.

30) Mary Wickes or Patsy Kelly?

Kelly's resume includes The Naked Kiss, Rosemary's Baby AND The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini View image.

31) Best movie-related conspiracy theory

The claim that Sinatra shelved The Manchurian Candidate because of the assassination of JFK.

32) Your candidate for most misunderstood or misinterpreted movie

Kim Ki-duk's Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring. Kim is NOT a Buddhist, and his version of Buddhism in this film is generic, rather than representative of a specific sect. As a practicing Buddhist for about 39 years, and as someone who has seen a good number of Kim's films in addition to reading several interviews and articles, I think I have some authority here.

33) Movie that made you question your own belief system (religious or otherwise)

After Passion of the Christ, I lost any faith I had in Mel Gibson.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:19 AM | Comments (1)