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August 30, 2015

Coffee Break

Carole Bouquet in Unforgivable (Andre Techine - 2011)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:10 AM

August 27, 2015

The Summer House

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Das Sommerhaus
Curtis Burz - 2014
Artsploitation Films Region 1 DVD

Watching The Summer House is like watching something like a car crash in slow motion. You know that several vehicles are going to collide, it is something inevitable, but what is not known is how bad the damage will be. Some of the elements here are classic, the family torn apart by the presence of an outsider has been told many times. The adult male with the attraction to a young boy plays in part like a contemporary version of Death in Venice.

The film is also a study in dualities. The husband is established as a closeted gay man. It is suggested that the wife seeks some sexual gratification outside the marriage as well. The daughter, junior high school age, speaks German with her father, English with her mother. The outsider, the son of the husband's business partner, not yet 12 years old, has his own agenda. The action largely takes place between two locations, the family's apartment in Berlin, and the summer house, in an area with an abundance of foliage. It is never made clear how far the two places are from each other, but it is enough of a distance to allow activity unknown to others.

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Where supplements are helpful is when director Curtis Burz explains how his film was largely improvised, following establishment of the basic premise. How this works in the film's favor is that certain part of the narrative are kept open for interpretation. This is especially important in a scene with the husband and the boy, in the summer house. The two plan to spend the night together, the camera pans to left, away from the shelter and to the lush vegetation in the area, while their conversation is still heard. In an earlier scene, the boy bolts away from the husband when he receives a small kiss on the cheek. Still, the boy visits the husband on a regular basis at the summer house. The exact nature of the relationship is never made clear so that we never know if the husband has actually acted on his desires. There may also be the question of who was actually the seducer or the seduced?

The daughter, not yet an adolescent, is starting to question what it means to be a female. In one scene, she attempts to try putting on some of her mother's make-up. The mother constantly denies the daughter the chance to play, suggesting that whatever sense of denial she is dealing with is to be passed on to the younger generation. Whatever affection the wife seeks from the husband seems to be played out in the warm relationship between father and daughter.

Burz admits that there are elements in his film that are uncomfortable and challenging, even for himself. The cast is largely made up of actors who have worked with Burz previously, with all of them, even the children, discussing their respective roles as well as having a hand in determining the story arc. It is remarkable that had it not been explained in Burz's interview, I would never have guessed that this film was improvised, especially with an ending that brings up some very unexpected implications.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 11:27 AM

August 25, 2015

Play Motel

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Mario Gariazzo - 1979
Raro Video BD Region A

I was totally unfamiliar with Mario Gariazzo until almost a year ago. Another DVD company, one that specializes in relatively obscure European films, sent me a copy of L'attrazione, retitled Top Model. Something of a thriller with erotic moments, neither very thrilling or erotic. The most I could find about Gariazzo is this interview about his favorite topic, UFOs. Play Motel is an attempt to meld the giallo with eroticism. The eroticism in question reminded me of photo spreads from Penthouse magazine. Neither the giallo elements nor the erotic scenes are very effective, with the film coming off as a bad hybrid of Dario Argento and Tinto Brass as imagined by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione.

People are having rendezvous at Room Three of the Play Motel, cosplay with sex. Afterwards, some get murdered by an unseen killer with the required pair of black leather gloves. In Room Four, photos are taken of the action in Room Three, for purposes of blackmail. A young couple that discover the corpse of a woman placed in the trunk of their car do their own investigation on behalf of the police. Figuring out who the killer is was no mystery. What is a mystery is how he seems to be at two places at once in one scene? Another mystery is how the photographer of the blackmail photos is using a Fuji AZ-1 camera, which uses 35 mm film, but when a snooping model checks out his dark room, the negatives are from medium format film? Even more illogical is the killer appearing from the back seat of a car, and bonking his victim on the head with a large wrench while she's driving.

Younger audiences might find it of interest to see a movie that takes place in olden times, in the days before home computers and online streaming, when people took photographs with film, and porn was something available in printed magazines. The one part of the film that almost passes as contemporary would be the Fiat 500s some of the characters drive.

The supplements offer the biggest mystery - who made parts of this movie? The movie is signed by Roy Garrett, Gariazzo's occasional pseudonym. There's plenty of nudity, tongue wrestling, simulated sex. In the blu-ray supplements, there is discussion of the hard core inserts that Gariazzo denies filming, though in at least one instance, the same actors are clearly used rather than doubles in graphic close-ups. The hard core scenes were added to Play Motel for certain markets, distributed simultaneously with the version that received mainstream release. What is certain is that star Ray Lovelock found himself in a movie that strayed from the more conventional mystery he had signed up for.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:22 PM

August 23, 2015

Coffee Break

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Michelle Pfeiffer in Dark Shadows (Tim Burton - 2012)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 05:21 AM

August 18, 2015

British Noir

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They Met in the Dark
Karel Lamac - 1943

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The October Man
Roy Baker - 1947

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David MacDonald - 1948

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The Golden Salamander
Ronald Neame - 1950

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The Assassin
Ralph Thomas - 1952
Kino Classics Region 1 Five DVD set

The five films in this package may not all fit but the loosest definition of film noir, but they all are entertaining. Made between 1943 and 1952, each film comes on its own disc. The filmmakers represented here range from the obscure, to a future Oscar nominee. Some of the supporting crew plus one of the directors will be familiar names to fans of Hammer Studios. World War II, and its affects on life, both during and after the war years, informs much of the action in most of these films. What also links these films is that they were either produced or distributed by the British J. Arthur Rank, the company with the giant gong for a logo, or an affiliated company.

They Met in the Dark has a couple of brief moments that take place in the dark, but it's more truly an espionage thriller with some comic elements. James Mason, first seen sporting a beard, plays a naval commander formally dismissed from service, due to unproven sabotage. Attempting to retrace his steps, Mason goes to Blackpool, and makes an arrangement to meet with a woman he recalls from his last days before his ship sailed. The woman, a manicurist named Mary, asks that they meet an an out of the way house. Mary is found dead, with Mason following a lead to a talent agency that's a cover for a nest of spies.

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The film was directed by the Czech Karel Lamac, one of his handful of British films. More credit should go to screenwriters Anatole de Grunwald and Miles Malleson, both of whom would go on to more notable work. Malleson, as a character actor, appears in The Golden Salamander and The Assassin. What to look for are some of the smaller moments, a naval officer's date getting two slices of pie, the main villain barging in on a card trick in progress, and the discovery of a missing corpse. Perennial screen Nazi, Karel Stepanek, plays one of the talent agency's stars, a mind reader named The Great Riccardo. The other highlight is a barroom brawl instigated by Mason's mischievous right hand man, played by character actor Edward Rigby. Joyce Howard provides the romantic interest, though she's no match for the more comely Phyllis Stanley as the talent agency's star chanteuse. Stanley, twice, sings the what was intended to be a morale boosting tune for wartime Britons, "Toddle Along".

* * *

Roy Baker worked as an Assistant Director to Alfred Hitchcock on The Lady Vanishes, and Carol Reed on Night Train to Munich, but it was his his military service under writer-producer Eric Ambler that got Baker promoted to the directors chair. The October Man, Baker's directorial debut, is about a brain injured man who suffers from guilt, surviving a bus crash, but unable to protect the child of family friends. There is some tangential connection with the earlier films, with a suicidal John Mills contemplating suicide several times, standing over a bridge while a train is coming towards him. The plot is Hitchcockian with Mills accused of a murder he did not commit, with no proof of his innocence, and his paranoia so deep he starts to wonder if he maybe is the murderer. It doesn't help that Mills has a nervous habit of tying his handkerchief into a knot.

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As the chemist gingerly trying to integrate himself back into the world at large, Mills finds himself in a rooming house with several residents arguably in greater need of psychiatric intervention. Among the boarders is a creepy guy named Mr. Peachy. There is support to be found in Joyce Greenwood as the sister of a co-worker. Even if the identity of the murderer is hardy a mystery, what makes The October Man watchable is the cinematography by Edwin Hillier. Having begun his career with Fritz Lang's M, and honing is skills with Michael Powell, Hillier is at his best with several scenes that take place in the dark. There's a scene with a blown fuse causing a blackout in the boarding house, with an encounter between Mills and femme fatale Kay Walsh illuminated by match light. Best are the extreme close ups of Mills and Greenwood under a street lamp. When the film was released in 1947, the New York Times critic Bosley Crowthers complained the story was was "virtually a clichee" (sic). Sometimes, dynamic cinematography can provide an otherwise modest production with unanticipated staying power.

* * *

David MacDonald might seem to have a predilection for movies that take place in enclosed locations. His most famous, or infamous if you will, work is Devil Girl from Mars, about a family and some travelers trapped in a hotel in a remote part of Scotland by a dominatrix from outer space. Snowbound has a slightly more realistic premise, with several people trapped inside a hotel on a remote mountaintop in the Italian Alps, both by a raging snow storm on the outside, and an unreconstructed Nazi inside.

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The initial premise is equally bizarre, with film director Robert Newton putting extra player Dennis Price on his personal payroll, and sending him off to the Alps hotel to look for a mystery woman, in the guise of a screenplay writer accompanied by photographer Stanley Holloway. Perhaps taking a queue from Thomas Mann, our cast of characters all claim to be rooming at this mountainside retreat for their health. More than an hour has past before it's revealed that there is stolen gold that has brought everyone together. In addition to the previously mentioned actors, we have Herbert Lom as the unrepentant former Gestapo officer, British character actor Guy Middleton as another schemer, Marcel Dalio wildly hamming it up as an Italian gentleman, French actress Mila Parely as an Italian countess, also after the gold. Considering their personal circumstances, the most chilling scene is of Price and Newton in conversation, drinking alcohol.

* * *

Ronald Neame began his film career as an Assistant Camerman on Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail. The connections don't end there. The Golden Salamander, Neame's second film as director, competed against Hitchcock's Stagefright at the Locarno Film Festival in 1950, where both films lost to John Ford's When Willie comes Marching Home. The Golden Salamander is based on a novel by Victor Canning, whose novel, The Rainbird Pattern was the source for Hitchcock's Family Plot.

The story here is of an archeologist who stumbles upon a gun running operation in an out of the way town in Tunisia. He stays at the combination hotel-bar run by a young French proprietress. While preparing for antique treasures to be catalogued and shipped to a British museum, the archeologist finds himself in trouble for trying to reveal the gun running operation, though he doesn't know who really is in charge. People get killed, and the archeologist falls in love with his hostess. There's a nod or two towards Casablanca, and a glance to The Maltese Falcon. With his form fitting leather jacket, Herbert Lom looks like an overaged juvenile delinquent. Wilfred Hyde-White is uncharacteristically disheveled as the bar's piano player.

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Much of the action takes place at the hotel-bar, Cafe des Amis, Cafe of Friends. There is almost some wordplay here as the place could have been called Cafe d'Aimee after the actress who plays the proprietress. Anouk Aimee was only eighteen at the time of film, and billed here under the mononym of Anouk. Of course Trevor Howard, Herbert Lom and virtually most of the other men would be drawn to her. The appeal of Trevor Howard as a romantic lead has eluded me. I'm even less convinced of Howard as a two-fisted hero, but the guy was a big star in British films at the time, with a history of working with Ronald Neame since Brief Encounters. As might be expected from a director who started out as a cameraman, this is the most visually accomplished films in this collection, with exteriors shot on location in Tunisia.

* * *

My first encounter that I recall with films by Ralph Thomas was when I saw his version of The 39 Steps on television. I knew that there was an Alfred Hitchcock movie with that title, but I didn't see Hitchcock's name anywhere on the credits. I was maybe in my early teens at the time, and my cinephilia was embryonic at best. Anyways, my mother asked me what was on television, and decided that this was not the 39 Steps I should be watching. I did finally see the Hitchcock film years later, but have yet to revisit Kenneth More following the steps taken by Robert Donat.

Victor Canning's novel, The Venetian Bird also provides source material for Ralph Thomas. The film, released in the U.S. as The Assassin is about a private detective seeking the former Italian partisan who saved the life of a U.S. airman. The partisan is difficult to find, and as it turns out, does not want to be found. A woman running a large gallery of antiques and artifacts may know more than she is willing to reveal. The private eye, who doggedly is trying to find out the truth about the partisan, ends up getting framed for the assassination of a popular politician.

For most of the 1950s, Richard Todd was a very popular actor, first in Britain, and later is the U.S. Todd's forte was playing very physically able heroes, which he did quite well. Eva Bartok is the femme fatale here. While most of the cast is British, they play Italians without the wild gesticulations found in Snowbound. Included in the cast is future Carry On mainstay, Sid James. The film was shot in Venice, climaxing with a rooftop chase, with an ending that visually looks Hitchcockian. Extra bonus, a score by Nino Rota, who happened to begin collaborations with a young writer-director named Federico Fellini that same year.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 03:05 PM

August 16, 2015

Coffee Break

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Trevor Howard in The Golden Salamander (Ronald Neame 1950)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 03:23 PM

August 13, 2015

Face to Face

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Facia a Facia
Sergio Sollima - 1967
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

There's a wonderful meta moment in Face to Face. The outlaw Beauregard Bennett shows up in a town to try and free a jailed member of his Wild Bunch. The person who knows the whereabouts of the prisoner is a man named Williams who represents himself as an "honest citizen". William is a heavy-set man, the kind of character played by Raymond Burr or Robert Middleton in Hollywood westerns. The price for freeing the prisoner is Bennett's taking on the henchmen who work for Taylor. Taylor is the town boss, and his name is on several buildings, notably the hotel, the bar and the bank. Bennett has a shootout with the henchmen, with Taylor coming up to watch the proceedings, sitting next to Williams. Right before the shootout, Williams looks at his pocket watch. It's a darkly humorous scene revealing that the gunfighters are essentially pawns for monied interests. The scene also works as commentary on the spectacle of the gunfight as part of the western genre.

Unless you have a phobia regarding subtitles, it's the "bonus" of the full original version of Face to Face that you want to see, in Italian with English subtitles. There is a marked difference with the longer version, significantly with a couple of scenes that show the initial development of the relationship between Bennett, and the former history teacher, Brett Fletcher. Based on a remark by Fletcher, and a photograph of President Grant in a sheriff's office, the film takes place sometime not long after the Civil War. Fletcher, a history teacher, leaves Boston for somewhere in Texas, for his health. Fletcher is told that his apparent lack of ambition has held up his academic career. The scene foreshadows Fletcher's change of character following his initial encounter with Bennett. A scene deleted in the English language version shows Fletcher coughing and physically weak while hiding in a shelter with Bennett, at first a prisoner of the outlaw, but later to join him in banditry.

Face to Face was the second of three westerns made by Sergio Sollima, all starring Tomas Milian. Like the previous, The Big Gundown, it's a film about a symbiotic relationship between to men. The two men exchange some the characteristics of each other, both for better and for worse. The film is also an observation on how the concepts of strength and weakness are perceived.

I find it interesting that the one scene that did not get cut out from the English language release was the scene that provides a pause in the narrative. Bennett brings Fletcher to the remote mountain village called Blazing Rock. It's some kind of utopia for former outlaws, slaves, some Native Americans, and others, away from the legally established communities and their hierarchies. With the return of Bennet, the community has a dance, mostly people gathered in a circle. We get to see Tomas Milian and some of the other cast members literally kicking up their heels. A fair number of Italian westerns were barely disguised political allegories, and the dance scene was designed to show an idealized, classless society.

Still relatively early in their respective careers, Tomas Milian started to establish himself as the loose cannon in Italian genre film, while Gian Maria Volonte would frequently be the cerebral protagonist. One other way the Italian language version wins over the English language version - an extra minute or so of Ennio Morricone's music closing out the film.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:06 AM

August 10, 2015

Z Storm

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Z fung wan
David Lam - 2014
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Z Storm is a police thriller about the financial industry. And while it is set in Hong Kong, inspired by true events there, it touches on the way the financial industry affects people globally, in ways related to recent and current news. What I also liked is that going against current commercial trends, David Lam filmed his made in Hong Kong movie in Cantonese, the spoken dialect of Hong Kong. The city itself is the subject of several gorgeous shots, especially at night.

A branch of Hong Kong's police department, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, investigates the accusation of one of Hong Kong's chiefs of the Commercial Crime Unit, Wong, for accepting bribes. Wong is first seen helping cover up the the evidence in his own bust of an accounting firm. Luk, from the the ICAC, discovers connections between Wong's cover-up, and a highly publicized stock offering that is to get government backing. What takes Luk longer to discover is that behind the dazzle of promises of high financial returns, is someone behind the scenes, the one chiefly responsible for the bribery, blackmail and intimidation, that hamper the investigation. The main villain, Malcolm Wu, is working on behalf of financier, Zoro, for whom the Z Hedge Fund is named.

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While Malcolm Wu does his best to get away with murder, among other crimes, it is the actor playing Wu, Michael Wong, who runs away with this film. The guy's a native English speaking Chinese-American actor, and the best Hollywood can do is give him a supporting role in a Transformers movie? Wong mostly speaks Cantonese here, with a smattering of English, slipping back and forth between languages without pause. It's not too different from the way Wong speaks in the DVD supplement in discussing his role. What makes it appropriate for the character is that he is this high priced lawyer who also slips between legalities, using the law when needed, going around the law when more expedient.

There are some car chases, and a shoot out near the end, the staples virtually required in a film about any cops. More thrilling than the visceral set pieces, are the scenes that play like movements in a chess game, each side anticipating or attempting to outguess the other. There are several moments devoted to visual evidence, photographs and videos used for blackmail, investigations into overlooked laws, and the discovery of connections between several characters. Ultimately, the film is about not only manipulation and criminality within the financial industry, but how people can be easily corrupted even with relatively modest amounts of money, or the promise of easy financial gains.

Z Storm is a personal film for David Lam, who made films for the ICAC between 1980 and 1985. Unfortunately, there is only a sliver of information about Lam, mostly his filmographies and little else. This is Lam's first film since 1999. The ending of Z Storm suggests a possible sequel, one I would look forward to seeing.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 02:12 PM

August 09, 2015

Coffee Break

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George Chisholm in The Knack . . . and How to Get It (Richard Lester - 1965)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 03:58 PM

August 07, 2015

Sexual Assault at a Hotel: Rape Me!

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Hotel kyosei waisetsu jiken: okashite!
Horetsugu Kurahara - 1977
Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD

The Japanese Pink movie is something that reveals a cultural gap between the Japanese and North Americans. As Jasper Sharp points out in his liner notes, the title should not be taken at face value. It has been several months since the last entry in the Nikkatsu Roman Porno series. I don't know if Impulse Pictures has any more in the series to offer, but my own preference has been for the other films that occasionally made a stab at artistic and / or social statements. Koretsugu Kurahara's main claim to fame is being the younger brother to Koreyoshi Kurahara, who twenty years earlier made his directorial debut at Nikkatsu with I am Waiting, one of that studio's earlier offerings to the newly discovered youth audience.

Keeping in mind that the definition of rape has been undergoing various shifts, there is a certain amount of irony that the bedroom of one of the characters, Rumiko, has a poster of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh from Gone with the Wind, the American classic with its own scene of non-consensual sex. As these were films made by and for Japanese men, the pink films are fantasies of otherwise milquetoast salarymen satisfying their libidos with attractive young women who offer token resistance.

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Rumiko has a friend, Ryoko, who has come to Tokyo to study. The two have had a lesbian relationship in high school, but as far as Ryoko is concerned, it's a relationship she's outgrown. There is talk of Ryoko losing her virginity to a college athlete, a pole vaulter who supposedly looks like Steve McQueen. Here is where the film contributes some visual innuendos, between shots of the young man with his long, thin pole, and several shots of the tip of the pole pounding the ground. There are also some scenes of an artist and his nude model, as well as a young made identified as a drug dealer, the kind of elements that gives this film a loose connection to the social outsiders of the Nikkatsu films produced in the late Fifties and early Sixties.

There is also some business about an assistant professor who tells Ryoko that she resembles the virgins from ancient Japan, concluding with Ryoko getting spit roasted by a couple of older professors supposedly reenacting an otherwise forgotten ritual. The climax of the film is abrupt, not satisfying, as if there was a rush to finish things up, in a word, premature. Erina Miyai, who had a five year run in Nikkatsu's pink films plays the sexually adventurous Rumiko. Yuri Yamashima, the sexually repressed Ryoko, had been with Nikkatsu as a teenager, retiring at age 30, in 1983.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 02:17 PM

August 05, 2015

A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die!


Una ragione per vivere e una per morire
Tonino Valerii - 1972
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

I guess it says something less than encouraging when you find that a movie was distributed in the U.S. by K-Tel, that company famous for the compilation albums of various "golden oldies", hit songs from the past, sold through commercials that were a staple on late night broadcast television. K-Tel's cinematic venture was short lived, primarily from 1973 through 1974, with about half a dozen films, with a too late attempt to jump on the Euro-Western bandwagon, when interest in the genre was fading. Among the couple of titles of interest: Sonny and Jed by Sergio Corbucci, and Frenchie King starring Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale. As the titles were a couple years old by the time K-Tel picked them up, they were presumably at fire sale prices.

From what I have read, Tonino Valerii's original version of A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die! ran for almost two hours. The version we have from KL Studio Classics is the shortest version, at 92 minutes. On the plus side, this is the version that has James Coburn and Telly Savalas dubbing their own voices for the English language track. From what little I've been able to glean from online sources, what is mostly missing from this version are scenes establishing the relationship between Coburn and Bud Spencer. For those unfamiliar with Bud Spencer, his is one of the more famous American sounding names used by Italian actors who became famous appearing in Italian westerns. The burly Spencer, born Carlo Pedersoli, was frequently cast opposite the blond, blue eyed Terence Hill, born Mario Girotti. Hill would star in Tonino Valerii's next film, My Name is Nobody. This version also has most of the cast and crew credited with the kind of names that attempt to disguise that most of the talent was Italian, Spanish or German, as if most American viewers would be fooled into thinking this was Hollywood production.

The story takes place during the Civil War. Superimposed over war photos taken by Matthew Brady or one of his contemporaries is a text supposedly taken from a Missouri newspaper from 1875. The photos appear to be authentic. Everything else in A Reason to Live . . is not. Coburn plays a Union colonel who's been dishonored for surrendering his fort, located in the New Mexico Territory, to a Confederate major, without engaging in battle. Coburn convinces a fellow commanding officer to let him take a group of men, condemned to be hanged, to retake the fort. Not only do the condemned men like the option of living a bit longer, but Coburn tells them that there is gold hidden in the fort. I have to assume that Telly Savalas, who plays the major, experienced some deja vu with his experience making The Dirty Dozen almost five year earlier.

As if a not-true story about a half dozen criminals taking on a small army isn't fantastic enough, I'm not sure what to make of Savalas or his character of Major Ward. Savalas speaks in his familiar cadence, with absolutely no attempt at anything resembling a southern accent. More perplexing is: what is that nude male statue, Michelangelo's David, without a fig leaf, doing in Major Ward's office? Was there anything in the original cut that would have provided some kind of explanation, or was the viewer to draw some kind of conclusion regarding this unusual aspect of this otherwise brutal character?

There may be a reason to live and a reason to die, but is there a reason to see this film? Probably more for the more dedicated fans of Italian westerns, than for the more casual viewer. A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die! is entertaining, mostly due to the presence of Bud Spencer. There isn't the goofy charm of My Name is Nobody, or the intriguing concept of The Price of Power, in which the assassination of John Kennedy is recast in the old West.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:47 AM

August 03, 2015

Police Story: Lockdown

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Jing cha gu shi 2013
Ding Sheng - 2013
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Jackie Chan is showing his age. And it's about time. The Beatles' era shagginess replaced by a short, almost military trim. Even without the scars, make-up for his character, there are the creases on Chan's face. You can see the years of brutal punishment taking its toll, almost Sixty years old at the time of filming, with a career spanning over forty years. Even with the hair cut drastically short, Chan can still be recognized by the back of his head. Being on screen in so many films can do that for some stars.

Just as Chan has lost is recognizable long locks, he's first seen lost in an unrecognizable China. Unlike the previous Police Story films, Chan is now a cop in Beijing. He looking for a bar on a street that makes the Las Vegas strip look under lit in comparison. This is an unfamiliar China, where people are celebrating Christmas and getting drunk in public. The bar Chan is looking for isn't just some little dive, but a huge former factory with several levels, with patrons dressed in high fashion and leather, punks with foot high mohawks, and young women covered in make-up from MAC and Sephora. The scene is one of the most vulgar of western culture run amok.

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Chan's character, Zhong, goes to this huge bar, more accurately a nightclub, to meet with his estranged daughter, Miao. The meeting takes place during an invitation only anniversary party for the nightclub. Miao reveals that she is now the girlfriend of the nightclub owner, Wu. For Zhong, it's bad enough that Wu is much older than his daughter, but worse is when he and several patrons are held hostage as part of an elaborate scheme concocted by Wu, revenge for the untimely death of his younger sister, against the people he holds responsible.

Ding, who also wrote the screenplay and edited the film, goes for some art house influence in his narrative. There are several flashbacks as Zhong reflects on several previous arrests he's made, thinking that these are the ones Wu refers to when Wu negotiates the release of an unnamed prisoner. There are also flashes of alternative scenes as imagined by Zhong, when trying to choose a correct course of action. When the group of hostages take turns explaining their roles in the events that led to the death of Wu's sister, there is the influence of Rashomon.

If the narrative is sometimes overly elaborate, the fight scenes are not. Gone are the extended fights, combining martial arts mastery and silent comedy use of props. The fights are short, serious, and in confining spaces, with the punches and kicks edited in quick succession. Police Story: Lockdown ends with the familiar outtakes of stunts gone wrong. The outtakes might be considered a gesture towards fans from a star attempting to re-invent himself for films that make fewer demands on the physicality that brought him world-wide fame.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 02:03 PM

August 02, 2015

Coffee Break

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Louis Garrel and Monica Bellucci in A Burning Hot Summer (Philippe Garrel - 2011)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 04:34 PM