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February 26, 2015

International Noir

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Edited by Homer B. Pettey and R. Barton Palmer
Edinburgh University Press - 2014

Like most books that are a collection of essays by different authors, the whole isn't as good as some of the parts. While I like the idea of a book that points to genre films outside of Hollywood, what one gets here is a somewhat useful list of films to see, pending availability and subtitles, and a couple of essays that succeed in making one want to watch the films discussed.

My frustrations with this volume is that noir or neo-noir films from several countries are not discussed, and that the criteria for sources is strictly based on printed essays, ignoring much of the film scholarship that can be culled from online sources. There is also the problem with several essays discussing what is or ain't film noir, with some acknowledgment that the term originated in dissuasion of a particular group of French films produced in the Thirties. As it is, you have Susan Hayward establishing why certain films are or are not film noir in her discussion of French films made between 1947 through 1979, while Stephen Teo's list of Korean film noir plays loosely with that concept to include the horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters, and the high tech heist film, The Thieves. My other problem with Teo's essay is that the discussion of Asian films is restricted to South Korea and Hong Kong. The less knowledgeable or adventurous reader may remain unaware of films of interest in other Southeast Asian countries.

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A Bittersweet Life (Kim Ji-woon - 2005)

David Desser remains consistently readable for me, with scholarship not bogged down by theory or academic lingo. Still, I would have to wonder why he jumped from the Nikkatsu Studio film from the mid-Fifties issued by Criterion on DVD, to Kaizo Hayashi's Maiku Hama trilogy, as well as films by Takeshi Kitano and Takashi Miike, while ignoring the wonderfully delirious "Line" series mostly filmed by Teruo Ishii for Shin-toho in the early Sixties. A rough analogy would be a discussion of Hollywood film noir that focuses on Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, but overlooks Edgar G. Ulmer's Murder is my Beat. Desser is best in putting the films he does discuss within the context of Japanese culture as well as the Japanese film industry at the time of production.

Andrew Netsingen points out the characteristics of what he calls Nordic noir. What is available to be seen at this point would be the more recent entries such as Headhunters, and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Corey Creekmur's look at Indian cinema, the shortest of the essays, is restricted to Hindi language films, also giving context to the films in terms of the changes within the film industry as well as cultural shifts.

I have wonder why an exploration of The Man who wasn't There and Body Heat in relation to the writings of James Cain is included, especially when discussion of the film version of Tay Garnett's The Postman always Rings Twice does not mention either Luchino Visconti's earlier Ossessione, or Bob Rafelson's more sexually explicit remake (or while we're at it, Christian Petzold's Jerichow). Considering the number of times she is mentioned, as well as her ability to write seriously about film clearly, the editors probably should have turned this project over to Ginette Vincendeau, someone with the ability to connect popular culture with scholarly investigations.

My main problem is that International Noir is not international enough. There is no mention of Italian cinema, with not only no mention of Ossessione, but also nothing about films that bridged the gap between Black and Yellow, that is to say Noir and Giallo, with work such as Mario Bava's The Girl who knew too Much, or Dario Argento's Bird with the Crystal Plumage, inspired by Fredric Brown's Screaming Mimi and Gerd Oswald's noir classic film version. One can also cite films from Spain, Germany, and Thailand, among other countries that have contributed their versions of noir and neo-noir. An entire essay, possibly a book, could even be devoted to the multiple variations word wide of Strangers on a Train. There is a solid book to be had about the international variations of film noir. Pettey and Palmer's book isn't the book it could have been, but can hopefully be used as a stepping stone for further, and more thorough, investigations.

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Nightfall (Chow Hin Yeung - 2012)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:04 AM

February 24, 2015

52 Pick-Up


John Frankenheimer - 1986
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

I saw 52 Pick-Up at the time of its initial release. Among films directed by John Frankenheimer, it's a middling effort. Even though Elmore Leonard had a hand in writing the screenplay, it's not among the better adaptations of his books. There's one scene that comes close to the kind of corrosive humor found in Leonard's novels. After the combined efforts of Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret disarm would be murderer Clarence Williams III, Scheider offers Williams a bandage for his bruised nose. In retrospect, what we have is Frankenheimer's best film in what turned out to be a lousy decade.

The basic plot involves the attempt by a disparate trio to blackmail industrialist Harry Mitchell with videotape of his rendezvous with a young "model". Mitchell tries to avoid revealing anything to his wife, Barbara. When the stakes are raised with Mitchell to be framed for murder, he come up with a plan to turn the blackmailers against each other for the coveted loot.


Throughout a good part of the film, Frankenheimer keeps the camera moving on his characters. The effect is that it there is no other choice but to move forward. One of the rare times that there are static shots is during scenes of emotional intimacy between Scheider and Ann-Margret. Much of the film also takes place in shadowy areas, emphasizing the morally ambiguous behavior that Scheider and Ann-Margret fall into when dealing with the blackmailers. The only scenes in clear open light are in the first and final scenes, establishing and re-establishing the relationship between Harry and Barbara.

Where the film works best is in diving into the seedy side on Los Angeles in the mid 1980s. One of the blackmailers, Leo, operates a joint where customers can take photographs of the available nude models with polaroid camera. Alan manages a porn theater, and shoots movies on videotape on the side. It is suggested that the murderous Bobby Shy has worked as a pimp. There is one scene at a party featuring several porn stars including the ubiquitous Ron Jeremy, Amber Lynn, and Sharon Mitchell.

The other reason to take a look, or revisit, is for John Glover's performance as Alan, the lead blackmailer. To describe Alan as oily or sleazy is inadequate. Elmore Leonard's bad guys are usually the most entertaining characters in his novels. Alan is smart enough to read and understand accounting ledgers, but his garish bachelor pad with the ceiling mirror is indicative of someone with no distinction between his professional life and personal proclivities, and unsurprisingly, his greed gets the better of him.

And I hope the performer known as Vanity is happy where ever she is. Her moment of stardom was brief, but the actress introduced to many of us, strutting around in music videos usually wearing suggestive lingerie, was one gorgeous enough to induce me to spend my money on otherwise forgettable Action Jackson and the wondrously dopey The Last Dragon.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:34 AM

February 22, 2015

Coffee Break

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Andy Devine and Dana Andrews in Canyon Passage (Jacques Tourneur - 1946)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:28 AM

February 19, 2015

Ten Seconds to Hell

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Robert Aldrich - 1959
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

The choice of artwork for the new blu ray of Ten Seconds to Hell is from the Italian poster. What I like about that poster is that what is suggested, with that face of Jeff Chandler's as a partial skull comes closer to suggesting some of Aldrich's thematic concerns. Death is never very far away for the six men who take on the job of diffusing bombs found in various locations in a ruined, post World War II Berlin. In the way that their faces are lit, there is the sense that Chandler and Jack Palance were cast in part because of their nearly skeletal faces. Chandler, forty years old at the time of filming, looks at least a decade older in some shots. While a collapse in communications meant that Ten Seconds to Hell was the last of three films Aldrich made starring Palance, many of the shots emphasize the tautness of Palance's face, with pain or anguish unmistakably expressed.

What I didn't know until I did a bit of research is that Aldrich's original cut ran over two hours. The version we have available is the theatrical release, a little over an hour and a half long. I have no idea if any of the deleted footage is still in someone's vault, nor do I know what was cut regarding the content. Aldrich has been dismissive of this film, and has readily taken some of the blame for the critical and commercial failure. Time has not made Ten Seconds to Hell a better movie or some kind of lost masterpiece, but visually, it is very much an Aldrich film. Additionally, with a script by Aldrich done with Teddi Sherman, the film demonstrates the consistency of Aldrich's themes revisited throughout his other films.

Others have already pointed out that the six demolition experts make for a not so dirty half dozen. They are somewhat similar to the characters of Aldrich's most famous film in that they are former rejects of the German military, who were assigned to the bomb squad instead of prison or concentration camps. There is a very loose sense of camaraderie between the six, and a sense of not belonging to society at large. Unlike the Dirty Dozen, the six men, recruited by Allied forces to diffuse stray bombs, work alone, each man taking on an assignment in turn. The six pool part of their money, based on a bet that the funds will be claimed by whomever is survives the next three months.

There is suspense during the scenes of bomb diffusion, even though you have to figure that Palance or Chandler would be the last to go, as you don't go killing off the main star in the middle of your movie (unless you're Alfred Hitchcock). Still, there is tension, especially in an almost silent scene of Palance alone in the rubble, diffusing a bomb, sweating, the only sound being the squeaking of a bolt loosened. In another scene, Aldrich just shows the arms, legs and hands of one of the men diffusing a bomb, unsuccessfully, so that we don't know until after the explosion who was killed.

As in other Aldrich films, Chandler and Palance alternate between being partners and rivals. The rivalry is in part philosophical, with the seemingly nonchalant Chandler, concerned his needs and winning at all costs, versus the brooding Palance who risks his life on behalf of the other team members. There is also the romantic rivalry for Martine Carol, another outsider as a French woman married to a German officer, also without a sense of belonging anywhere.

There are a couple of Aldrich's signature overhead shots. Much of the film is made up of low angle shots, frequently with two or three characters within the frame, sometimes placed in such a way as to play with differing proportions within the shot. Part of it is also that this is a more economical way of presenting the characters, but it also goes back to the thematic concerns of characters sharing a space that barely contains them or their respective tensions. This is made especially clear near the end when Palance and Chandler work together on a double fused bomb, only part of their faces seen in an extreme close-up.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:07 AM

February 17, 2015

No Tears for the Dead

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Uneun Namja
Lee Jeong-Beom - 2014
CJ Entertainment Region 1 DVD

The original title translates as "Crying Man". The English title does convey the attitude of some of the characters, and how the allowance of human emotion gets in the way, especially if your occupation is that of professional killer.

The killer is a guy named Gon, who accidentally kills a four year old girl at the time that he kills her father in the back room of a Los Angeles nightclub. Working on behalf of a pan-Asian syndicate, Gon is sent to Korea to kill the mother as she has some incriminating evidence. The girl's mother, Mogyeong, is introduced, working in a brokerage where she has successful made a deal involving a drug manufacturer. When someone points out that eighty people will be unemployed, Mogyeong's response is that the goal is to make money, not be sentimental. Although Lee Jeong-Beom shows that Mogyeong has channeled her grief into her work, he could have gone a bit deeper in creating parallels between the mercenary who kills people and the mercenary who kills companies, both for profit. Making money the impetus for most of the characters here. The essential message might be one regarding the corrupting influence of big money, but Lee also is concerned with a bit of superficial psychology regarding Gon, and how his childhood influenced his present day actions.

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Lee's previous film was The Man from Nowhere. There are a few fleeting similarities, especially with the main character being a rogue hit man. Working with a much larger budget, there is a flashback that takes place in the desert area of California, as well as more elaborate set pieces including a room full of computer equipment and large monitors, and a mob hit done with one very large truck.

One of the more visually striking scenes involves Gon in a fist fight with a rival killer. The room is illuminated by sunlight filtered through the slates of a window shade. The alternating light and shadow against the two men, seen mostly in close up, gives the scene an abstract quality. Nothing else in No Tears for the Dead comes close in visual panache.

The DVD comes with a "Making of" supplement which is of some interest in showing the mechanics of how how certain scenes were set up. What is billed as a "Director's Commentary" is not an alternate soundtrack, but simply a few minutes of Lee discussing what he was aiming for in making this film. Lee explains why he chose the well known song, "Danny Boy", performed by the Mogyeong and her daughter in separate scenes. Not explained is the choice of old pop hit, "Smooth Operator", performed by the nightclub singer in the opening scene. There's no specific reference to any character with this song, but I suspect the choice was due to the title, and the criminals' false sense of invulnerability.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:58 AM

February 15, 2015

Coffee Break

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Maureen O'Hara and James Stewart in The Rare Breed (Andrew V. McLaglen - 1966)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 10:08 AM

February 13, 2015

Le Pont du Nord

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Jacques Rivette - 1981
Kino Lorber BD Region A

Possibly the kind of coincidence that Jacques Rivette might have found amusing, but I saw Le Pont du Nord on the day I first read about the restrictions of filming movie scenes involving guns in Paris. It's not only because there is some shooting in Rivette's film, but also the reasoning behind this new rule is in response to some of the so-called terrorist activity in Paris. How this connects to Rivette is that his film, shot in the Fall of 1980, was in part a response to what goes going in Paris at that time. One of the characters collects newspaper clippings related to some of the high profile and violent news of the time. Those who follow recent French cinema will probably recognize the name Mesrine. Additionally, the character played by Bulle Ogier, while not providing details, hints at being part of a group that robbed a bank ostensibly as a political act. The events that were a year old at the time of the film's initial release still have some contemporary relevance.


Two women meet on a Paris street. Marie has just been released from prison. Baptiste rides around in her motorbike until a chance encounter of the two women causes an accident, leaving the damaged motorbike behind. Marie is claustrophobic to the point where she orders two croissants from the doorway of a bakery, and keeps the door open in a phone booth when she makes a call. She is attempting to reunite with a man named Julien who says he will be ready for her in three days. Baptiste essentially acts as Marie's shadow, following her around before becoming a traveling companion as such. Marie's claustrophobia is so strong that the two sleep the first night on an outdoor bench. Although budgetary were the original impetus, Marie's condition provides an explanation for why the entire film is made up of exterior shots, shot in 16mm using available light.

Unlike Cahiers du Cinema cohorts Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, Rivette was not known for making obvious references to other movies. The exception would be in this film. Baptiste convinces Maria that they can sleep inside an all night movie theater, appealing to Marie's needs to be in open spaces as the current film in question is The Big Country. Leaving the theater the next morning, we see that the new film is La Prisonniere.

Baptiste discovers that Julien is carrying a map of Paris. A second map is found, with Paris divided into a spiral of gridded spaces. Marie explains how the spaces relate to an old game, and the significance of some of the spaces. Marie and Baptiste may or may not be moving in a deliberate direction, based on the maps and their interactions with the mystery men that appear on their journey.

The blu ray includes a booklet containing Jacques Rivette's "director's statement", which raises more questions. French film critic, Jean Narboni, also has his "Six Questions". While certain narrative questions remain unclear, there is a visual essay that breaks down the locations in Paris where Le Pont du Nord was filmed, adding insight to where Rivette was playing with the geography of the city he seemed to know intimately.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:08 AM

February 11, 2015

Schoolgirl Report Volume #13: Don't Forget Love during Sex

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Vergiss beim Sex die Liebe nicht - Der neue Schulmachenreport 13. Teil
Walter Boos - 1980
Impulse Pictures All Regions DVD

I would have to watch this particular scene over again just to make sure if there was a literal translation, or of someone was having a little fun with the subtitles. In one of the several vignettes that make up this German film, a young woman describes an equally youthful Lothario as not being kosher(!). This brief moment comprises the most humorous moment to be found in this last entry of the Schoolgirl series, soft core theatrical films that could no longer compete against the tide of hardcore pornography available to be seen at home with recently available videotape.

And speaking of brief moments, screenwriter Gunther Heller has two stories that hinged on women's underwear. The framing device in a high school rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet, with the teacher discussing the meaning of the balcony scene with his students. Shakespeare probably never imagined Juliet in tight white hot pants and high white boots, at least in this rehearsal version. The students and teacher discuss the importance of balancing sex with love or vice versa, going off in tangents about other students attempting to navigate their way towards adulthood, or what they imagine is being adult.

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Drama, usually of sleazy guys taking advantage of young women, alternates with tepid comedy. I don't know if John Hughes had seen this film, or if someone had told him about it, but one of the vignettes anticipates Sixteen Candles, where a young man makes a bet that he can get the panties from a female student. In another episode, the chubby younger sister tags along with a pair of more conventionally attractive girls on a bicycle trip. The filmmakers return to yet another scene of making hay in the hayloft, with someone's idea of comedy having one of the boys stuttering his way through an attempt at seduction. An older couple spies on the kids, but it is the chubby sister who has the most fun with a chance encounter with a handsome stranger.

We're not talking Fassbinder here, but there may be some viewers who will find the cultural attitudes expressed here of interest. A sexually blackmailed panty thief is the daughter of Greek "guest workers". There is also a rivalry between one of the students with a girl from France, complete with assorted name calling and remarks bases on stereotypes. Other viewers might simply cringe at the bad hair and awful clothing that passed for fashion. Boos and Heller dispense with any pretense that opened the other films in the Schoolgirl series that we were watching a documentary, while the sanctimonious closing narrative about the importance of love with sex is dispensed with quickly. What is sad about this last Schoolgirl film is that while none of the entries were more than mildly humorous or erotic, what we have here is mostly worn out and limp.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:31 AM

February 09, 2015

Nekromantik 2

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Jorg Buttgereit - 1991
Cult Epics BD Region A

Just in time for Valentine's Day! Jorg Buttgereit provides a brief introduction to the Blu ray. His German accent is a bit heavy, so at first I think he's describing his film as a "laugh story", but what I am mis-hearing is "love story". Be that as it may, there is plenty of humor to be found here.

Not stated are some of the advantages of having a dead lover. They don't back talk, don't stray, and you always know where they are. On the down side, they often stink, and may be prone to fall apart under too much stress.

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Buttgereit follows a female necrophiliac, Monika, who finds the grave of the recently dead Rob, the suicidal character from the original Nekromantik. Monika also finds herself attracted to Mark, a man she meets by chance at a movie theater when he is waiting for a date who doesn't show up on time. Their relationship eventually hits a snag when Monika demands that Mark lie on his back and not move during sex, implying that she would prefer him to "play dead". Mark makes his living dubbing sex films, but finds that the more time spent with Monika, the more he finds her to be too perverse for him.

Buttgereit was smart not to try and top his first film. There are a few gross out scenes, mostly involving Monika with Rob's corpse. The film is also an inquiry into transgressive cinema. When Mark and Monika meet, they are watching a movie, My Dinner with Vera, consisting of a nude man and woman sitting at a table loaded with soft boiled eggs, while the man drones on about birds, and how they descended from dinosaurs. Mark likes the film because it contrasts with the kind of films he works with. Later, Monika and her girlfriends gather to watch a video of the dissection of a seal, while eating pizza. Mark unexpectedly shows up, the girlfriends leave, and Mark asks to watch the video. The graphic depiction of the seal being skinned upsets him, while Monika protests that she would rather watch such a video than close-ups of genitalia in a porno film.

The history of Nekromantik 2 raises the question about limits in depicting transgressive activity. The film was temporarily seized by German police soon after the initial release, supposedly for violence. What some may have found disturbing is that Monika is presented as a sympathetic character, and no judgment is made, no punishment meted out for any misdeeds.

The blu ray comes with loads of extra features, including a commentary track, excerpts from the live music performance accompanying the Twentieth anniversary of the film (with star Monika M. still looking quite attractive), and trailers. A short film shot at the grave of Ed Gein made me wonder why Buttgereit has thus far resisted making a film combining necrophilia with incest, although, honestly, it is a very nice piece of minimalist filmmaking. Very delightful is the music video, "Lemmy, I'm a Feminist", performed by German band Half Girl, featuring the cult figure from Motorhead.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:40 AM

February 08, 2015

Coffee Break

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Edward Andrews and Marilyn Mason in The Trouble with Girls (Peter Tewksbury - 1969)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:53 AM

February 07, 2015

Rape Shot: Momoe's Lips

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Reipu shotto: Momoe no kuchibiru
Katsuhiko Fujii- 1979
Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD

It's been several months since the last Impulse Pictures DVD release from Nikkatsu erotic films series. Jasper Sharp's liner notes are helpful here in explaining the title as there is no character named Momoe. There was a popular singer and actress, Momoe Yamaguchi, and someone thought it a good idea to cast an actress, in this case Minako Mizushima, with enough of a physical resemblance to evoke memories of the aforementioned star.

Momoe's Lips does provide an illustration of cultural changes in Japan when compared to a couple of earlier films. Akira Kurosawa's Scandal from 1950, is about a singer pursued by tabloid photographers, trying to make more out a chance meeting with a photographer. Kurosawa concluded his film with a condemnation of falsely created news used to sell newspapers, as well as the loss of privacy. There is also some connection here with Nikkatsu films from the Fifties and early Sixties about popular singers such as I Hate but Love, about the star making machinery, and the conflict between the demands of celebrity and private life.

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Part of it may simply be because of genre demands as well, but everyone in Momoe's Lips is sleazy. The tabloid reporter, Toru, is so desperate for a story the will bring in a big payday, that in order to prove that the young singer, Yoko, is a drug addict, he corners her in a bathroom stall, and forces her to urinate onto a handkerchief that he hope will be analyzed. Following her to her apartment, Yoko is witnessed getting kidnapped by three thugs who take turns raping her. Toru tracks Yoko to a small bar in Yokohama, where the girlfriend of one of the kidnappers greets Toru by removing her panties, the prelude to a very personal introduction. As it turns out, Yoko is kept in line by her record company, injected with an unnamed drug.

There are indications that had he not spent most of his career in erotic film, Katsuhiko Fujii might have been noted in mainstream films for his flashes of style. In a scene of Yoko singing her current hit song, we see Yoko performing excerpts, first in a recording studio, then in different performances, wearing different clothing, the shots linked with swish pans. There is something of a pop art sensibility at work with the giant photos of Yoko on the walls of the record company office. The notion of celebrity is also played with as the kidnappers lair has a giant poster of Yoko. One of the kidnappers stops molesting Yoko long enough to watch her on television, as if having possession of the live star is not enough.

Whether Momoe's Lips is truly erotic is dependent on the individual viewer. Fujii does begin with an extreme close-up of a tongue finding its way into a belly button. This is followed by several other shots, also composed in such a way that the female body is abstracted into smaller segments that are not immediately recognizable. In much the same way, the whole of Momoe's Lips may be of questionable value, but there are several parts that are worthy of consideration.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:56 AM

February 05, 2015

Brotherhood of Blades

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Xiu Chun Dao
Lu Yang - 2014
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Brotherhood of Blades is one of those films I wished I liked better. It's not that it is a bad film. The main problem for me is that there was not enough to make the film substantially distinguished from other Chinese period films.

The story takes place in the early 17th Century, with the eight year reign of the influential eunuch, Wei, ended by the Emperor. There is a purge of Wei's supporters carried out by a special team of assassins. Three of these members have a sworn brotherhood, and are chosen by the head of the secret service to find and kill Wei. What happens is that past secrets catch up on the major characters, with ill-fated results for all. Within the first few scenes, the vulnerable aspects of the characters are introduced.

The biggest problem is that Lu Yang's depiction of action mistakes excessive quick cuts makes a scene more exciting. The organization of each shot is logical, flowing with each successive shot. Yet every bit of movement is broken up into so many smaller parts that it loses the sense of physical exertion that would be taking place were the action filmed in longer takes. What we have are a collection of shots lasting no more than a few frames, rather than even whole seconds of screen time. One of the strengths of past Chinese language action films was to let the camera roll long enough to provide a full portrayal of where the characters were in relation to each other, the space they were in, and their respective movements.

One of the more interesting characters, given short shrift, is Wei's female bodyguard, Ting. Introduced when the three "brothers" first trap Eunuch Wei, Ting is seen again when traps are set on the trio. There seems to be a scene missing as Ting's reappearance is abrupt, possibly the result of the modest budget for the production. Nonetheless, Ting does provide contrast to the two more traditional female characters, a courtesan who has her own reasons for not wanting a seemingly chivalrous buyout of her contract, and the cute daughter of a doctor.

The literal Chinese title is "Embroidered Spring Blade", referring to the design of the swords used by the assassins. A modest hit in China, Brotherhood of Blades managed to get five Golden Horse nominations, including star Chang Chen for Best Actor, and Chin Shih Chieh, who played Eunuch Wei, for Best Supporting Actor. The sole win was for Best Costume Design.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:49 AM

February 03, 2015

John Wick

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Chad Stahelski - 2014
Lionsgate Region 1 DVD

One aspect of John Wick that I noticed was that it took place in a version of New York City that was strangely depopulated on the streets. Part of the action takes place in a hotel, although from the exterior one would not know the function of that building, an older building, wedge-shaped, something like a thin slice of cake. It is a private hotel that caters exclusively to highly paid assassins, with the one rule being that no business, as such, is to be conducted within the hotel. The name of the hotel is The Continental, perhaps named after Dashiell Hammett's character, The Continental Op.

Unlike Hammett's character, we know the name of the retired hit man. Unfortunately, the son of Wick's employer does not, instigating the man against the mob narrative by stealing Wick's vintage Mustang, which Wick refused to sell, and killing Wick's puppy, a posthumous gift for the wife Wick has just buried. The mob boss, Viggo, offers a two million dollar bounty for the killing of Wick, an offer accepted by Marcus, Wick's friend and mentor.

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There is a visual reference to Jean-Pierre Melville's The Red Circle within the elaborate nightclub where Wick first tracks down the son. What is worth noting is that Keanu Reeves at age 49 when the film was made is older than Alain Delon, in his early thirties at the time he appeared as a world-weary hit man for Melville in that film as well as Le Samourai. One can interpret what exists of a story line as one about people in a profession that in general does not allow for aging. Even when Wick is able to dispatch a prodigious number of thugs and bodyguards, he not entirely superhuman, succumbing to body blows and a well placed knife.

John Wick does not have the substance of the films that were the sources of inspiration, but the film does offer plenty of visual pleasures. One such scene is in the night club with Wick shooting his way through the crowd, chasing after the son who clad only in a bath towel, the flickering lights of the nightclub adding to the kinetic quality of the action. The flashing red light of a police car parked in front of Wick's house lights Keanu Reeves from behind, suggesting his turn as a vengeful creature from Hell. New York City is primarily a collection of imposing, often ornate buildings, silent stone edifices from the outside, hiding chaos and anarchy within. Only Brooklyn Bridge Park is filmed in warm colors.

It is probably to the film's benefit that John Wick does not pretend to be more than it is, essentially just allowing the film to speak for itself without any side characters attempting to justify Wick's actions. Sure, the scenes with puppy dogs tug at the heart, that's their function, and it's designed specifically to make John Wick essentially a good guy in a universe of bad guys and girls. Here, sound and fury signify sound and fury.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:23 AM

February 01, 2015

Coffee Break

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Rusty Allen and Lana Lynn in The Sexperts (Jerald Intrator - 1965)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:45 AM