Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Quaint Dark

Artwork for an earlier proposed release is quite stunning

 Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, shot mostly in Australia (standing in for Rhode Island, US) is an agreeable horror movie with slick production values, non-hurried pacing, solid performances, and believable special effects. It also comes with a free odor that smells like Joe Dante's Gremlins.

The question arises: Is "agreeable" enough? A young girl (Bailee Madison), who looks like a slightly pudgy, moppet version of Katie Holmes (who also appears), starts to hear and see little monsters in the house that her father (Guy Pearce) has recently purchased. Nobody believes her until the blood-letting begins.

The film is a remake of a decent telemovie and, thanks to Troy Nixey's controlled direction,  makes no hideous errors. It's just not terribly involving. I always felt like I was watching actors doing things. There were no vicarious thrills.



It was amusing to see Australia's 'Norman Gunston' (Gary McDonald) killed off in the opening scene. Other Aussie thesps such as Jack Thompson, doing a gruff American accent, turn in decent performances. Pearce, usually solid, is solid here, too.

The film is R-rated in the U.S., but I don't think the rating is deserved. Hostel 2 was also R-rated, and that was a gleeful extravaganza of grue. This is not. Come on, MPAA, let's have some consistency. I know, I know, that's like asking a politician for full disclosure. The violence here is fairly light, a little bloody, and there are some stabbings with miniature instruments. Films such as this are generally judged on their suspense quotient. Unfortunately, there isn't much suspense for the viewer here, although there is some for the characters. In this type of dramatic construction, it's a problem when the viewers are ahead of the characters.

I like Guillermo del Torro because he's a genre enthusiast. He saw this film's source many years ago and thought it could be a choice candidate for a remake. In an interview, he mentioned that they shot the film with a PG-13 in mind, but got hit with an R rating. This approach explains the timidity of the material. It doesn't explain why it's not terribly creepy, though. I fear we're suffering a horror overload and it's getting harder and harder for filmmakers to come up with stuff that rattles us. Everything is accessible to anyone these days. Horror films like this almost feel quaint.

Those in the eight to thirteen age group who haven't lived long enough to process experience into "quaint"  would have enjoyed this moving picture. Shame the rating excludes its perfect audience. 


The Sucking Pit


Despite the crappy state of the world, it can't be all bad when a special edition of Guy N. Smith's The Sucking Pit sees publication.

As usual, it's art to the rescue. It's art that reminds us that life should not be measured by the poor quality of our political leaders and their selfish decisions. It's art that reminds us that there is more to life than bank accounts, bills, and smarmy bean counters who possess not an atom of creativity and make no contribution whatsoever to the betterment of our souls. It's art, thank Christ!, that makes bearable our ascent from darkness, brief tango with the light, and inevitable return to darkness. It's the in-betweeners that count.

For mine, The Sucking Pit, courtesy of Britain's unofficial national treasure, Guy N. Smith, is one of the greatest pulp titles ever dreamed; since it first publication in '75, few have evoked as much wonder, dread, debauchery, and Cimmerian mystery as this.

During my weekly visit to Melbourne's The Bookshop of Charles Dickens, Guy's little horror classic spied me through the heavily laden shelves. It drew me to a corner of the store where a smattering of NEL (New English Library) paperbacks were gathering in greater numbers. I'd noted their increase over the preceding months and was encouraged. It always made me happy to see darkness baking in fluorescent flight.

There's a lot of sucking going on in The Sucking Pit. The deep, dark bog of Hopwas Woods sucks. It pulls its victims down into its bubbling clutches and buries them forever. Jenny Lawson, the niece of the local woodsman, does some sucking, too, and various men fall into her carnal clutches. The thirteen year old me fell instantly in love with Jenny, the quiet girl turned sexually carnivorous by something deep in the bottomless pit.

The stunning Jenny Lawson, so brilliantly realized by artist Rick Melton you 
can practically smell her heavenly scent.


Mr. Smith does the British countryside like no other author.   He feels it, breathes it, ruts in it, and conveys it like few wordsmiths can. The sense of place in The Sucking Pit is potent, dangerous, exciting, and his mingling of place with people -- people whose lives he smells! -- is masterful.

To be honest, I've spent a great deal of my life defending Mr. Smith to horror high-brows. When I was younger, I gave too much a of a shit, and I'd attempt quite feebly, I recall, to sing his praises as one of the finest pulp writers to ever hammer a typewriter. Now it matters not whether these folks opt to discount my opinion of Guy for their loss is their own personal tragedy, and probably indicative of other adventures denied. There is room in this world for many voices, and few are as unique as that of Mr. Smith. His canon of work is extraordinary.

As a young schoolboy, merely owning The Sucking Pit put a spring in my step. Even the school bully (S. Beach), who'd turn his eyeballs inside out to get a rise from terrified underlings, sat in reverent silence one Winter lunchtime with his uneaten sandwiches as I read him several passages from the book. He, too, succumbed to the carnal charms of Jenny Lawson and the dark pleasures of the pit, and never punched me in the shoulder again. Several months later, I spotted him reading a copy of Mr. Smith's Night of the Crabs. That dear bully had made good.

My mother had noticed me reading and re-reading The Sucking Pit. It was a type of bible for me, validating that which was deemed invalid by parents and educators. I guess she never concentrated on the title until I found her holding the book one night. She'd just been washing the dishes, so I feared soap smears.

"What is this?" she said.

"A book."

"I know it's a book." Her tone was ultra-terse. "What type of book exactly?"

"A horror book."

She was unconvinced. "With a title like that? It doesn't sound like horror to me. Sounds more like--"

"What?"

I loved hearing her say it.

She looked at the book again. The screaming face of a fanged monster looked back.

"Well, I don't think it's something you should be reading." Now I panicked because she made as if to walk off with the book. My Sucking Pit!

"It's a horror book. It's about people being sucked into the ground."

She hesitated, sprinkling a little hope my way.

"Come on, mum. It's not about that other type of sucking."

"EXCUSE ME?" Her face reddened.

"I said it's just a horror book."

She looked at it once more, looked at me (what did I know about that OTHER type of sucking?!), then read out loud: "The dark bog that hid a thousand evil secrets..."

I nodded.

"This had better be just a horror book." She put the book back on my bedhead. "Now go to bed. No reading."



The new edition, from Hard Gore Press (Mansion House Books), is a compact beast of beauty, a celebration of a fine pulp apostle and his signature work. The presentation, quality, and choice of art is superb.  


For me, Rick Melton's cover illustration perfectly captures the raw horror and carnality of Mr. Smith's humble opus; it is images like these (brilliantly realized) that have remained with me since my first discovery of The Sucking Pit at the age of thirteen.

Inside the covers you will find three black and white renderings that justify the cover price alone. This is spun gold!

Collector's Editions are limited to 400. Mine is #22.


Guy N. Smith lives!, and may he live long, prosper, and plunder our imaginations.

***

As a filmmaker, the one book I would love to make and would do justice to is The Sucking Pit
I feel that I have always understood it -- perhaps even before I was born.

Monday, August 22, 2011

To Russia Without Love


I'm more than excited to see Alexander Zeldovich's Mishen (aka Target; 2011), a film currently playing in a limited amount of Russian cinemas and trailering (with English subs) on  *youtube*

I'm not excited at the prospect of the film being re-made by an American studio, but this is going to happen because the premise is original. They call these things "re-imaginings", but fuck that!, they're the legalized theft of original ideas by artists needing a paycheck and lacking a unique perspective (hardly a crime in the US).

Imagine a painter "re-imagining" the 'Mona Lisa'? The fuck would be rightly hung and incinerated for his crimes.

According to a Russian source of mine, the script, by Vladimir Zorikin (author of the extraordinary novel 'The Queue', something I urge everyone to read), spent nine years writing and fine tuning Mishen. He previously wrote Zendovich's mind-bending 4 (2005) and Moscow (2000).

This review is from Screen Daily  (15th February, 2011):

French critics often use the term ‘UFO’ to denote bizarre uncategorisable and unexpected films - in which case Russian futuristic epic Target (Mishen) is a UFO on the Independence Day scale. This bizarre offering from veteran director Alexander Zeldovich will strike many as a folly, but it can justifiably be tagged as visionary, with a boldly conceived dystopian vision dressed in elegant visuals that build up a thoroughly conceived imagining of the near future - with an unapologetically philosophical spin.
Apt reference points might be Minority Report and Solaris, with side orders of The Matrix, Kubrick and even Fellini. The film deserves to acquire cult status at the very least, and while its more cerebral thrust might deter the straight sci-fi market, intelligent marketing could make it a niche hit with discerning audiences open to art-house/genre crossover.

The film is largely set in Moscow in 2020, a sleeker, shinier, CGI-enhanced version of the present. Future Russia is massively influenced by China, with a massive superhighway slicing the country, taking lorries direct from Guangzhou to Paris. And, as in the present, Russia society is divided between the poor and the outrageously wealthy. 

Zeldovich’s characters fall in the latter camp. Viktor (Sukhanov) is the middle-aged Minister of Natural Resources, who lives in luxury with his younger wife Zoya (Waddell). Able to afford the impossible, Viktor and Zoya head out on a journey to the Altai mountains where the super-wealthy can access the source of eternal youth -  an abandoned astrophysics facility named the ‘Target’, where they expose themselves to cosmic rays. 

Also in the party are Zoya’s brother Mitya (Kozlovsky), a flashy TV host; Nikolai (Kischenko), an alpha-male customs official; and Anna (Stoyanovich), hostess of a Chinese-for-beginners radio broadcast. Returning to Moscow, the group find they have what they asked for - but with not entirely happy long term results.

Massive in conception, the film is an elusive hybrid - less conventional science fiction than a philosophical contemplation of the human condition, good and evil, power, desire and sex (of which there’s a lot, between characters in various permutations). 

This is a very Russian film - which means that characters are partial to reciting Lermontov poems. But amid the philosophy, there’s some striking andspectacular future-world imagery, some bold, big-scale motorway action and even a run-in with Chinese gangsters.

An anomaly by Western standards, Target belongs in the great Russian sci-fi/art tradition of writers like Zamyatin and the Strugatsky brothers - not to mention of Tarkovsky. Sleeker and flashier than that great, Target nevertheless has some of the enigmatic Solaris magic, mixed with FX-era glitz, a combination it carries off with breathtaking flair.


In Sergei Loznitsa's Schastye Moe (aka My Joy; 2010), a Russian lorry driver, literally and figuratively, gets lost in wide open space. In his journey across the lawless Russian hinterland, he encounters corrupt cops, angry child prostitutes, dozens of slimy miscreants, and a nomadic old man whose future was destroyed by his fellow countrymen in the immediate wake of World War II.

Predictably, the film has been heavily criticized as propaganda by corrupt Russian authorities (pardon the oxymoron), and there have been efforts to rob the Ukrainian-born Loznitsa of credibility by citing the fact that he no longer lives in Russia; he now lives in Germany. Hardly an argument for illegitimacy.

Tonally, the film is dark and depressing, portraying a world where a raw version of roadside capitalism prospers. Viktor Nemets, who plays George (the driver), undergoes a moral gangrape of his dignity and trust as every encounter turns ugly or spirals into something potentially worse in a broader sense.  It's the broadening aspect that has irked some critics of the film. A number of segments are extremely violent and disturbing, and the putrid air of constant menace left me in a state of high anxiety.

The second half of the film involves a steep narrative shift in which George's fate echoes the fate of the viewer. We are suddenly deprived of our reliable safe point of view just as George is deprived of the little control he once possessed over his own destiny. At the time of first viewing this, I resisted this narrative shift and became frustrated with the film. In retrospect, I admire it for its bravery and truth. Loznitsa's message is that filth and corruption spreads like cancer and infects generations. Eventually, you're left with a society lacking a moral compass of any kind, and reciprocal abuse becomes the norm because it is modeled.

It is totally unsurprising that Russian reaction to the film has been brutal and condemning. Nobody likes the truth. These days, it is more out of fashion than ever.

This is a fine companion piece to Aleksey Balabanov's Cargo 200, another Russian film depicting truth with all its cum stains and ragged nose hairs. 


Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Running Out of Time BR & Other Matters



We've all been making do with sub-standard dvd's of Johnny To's Running out of Time for, well, quite some time. The HK version, which has been run through my machine more than a dozen times, has a barely audible sound mix and soft, jittery pictures. Not a great print element, either.

Be frustrated no more because Fortune Star's Blu-Ray is something special. The print element is surprisingly clean with only speckles here and there. It's never distracting. The quality of the transfer is high, the images crisp, the blues holding their own as blues often don't.

High praise, of course, must go to the distributor's recreation of the soundtrack. Finally, Raymond Wong's incredible score can be heard in all its sonic glory clearly and with a great deal of body and oomph.

If you've never seen the film, I envy you the experience of watching it for the first time. If you're already a fan, step right up and snag this stellar release from KAM and Ronson/Fortune Star.

Perhaps Milky Way will provide us with an equally gorgeous print element for an A Hero Never Dies Blu-Ray?


While on the subject of extraordinary film scores, I must point you towards the Avex Trax (Japan) release of Lee Dong June's score for Tae Guk Gi (aka The Brotherhood of War aka Brotherhood; 2004).

It's a big, sumptuous, emotionally transporting work.

The CD features some cues not found in the film and the music used in the trailer.


Angry Boys!

This Australian comedy series, just screened in Australia and released immediately to DVD, is a masterwork.

Creator/writer/star Chris Lilley is already famous (or infamous) for We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High (screened recently on HBO in the US), and this will make him moreso. 

Someone's noticed Lilley's work because Angry Boys has co-financing from HBO and will screen on that premium cabler shortly. It's the perfect US home for the series because it would never survive uncut on a regular American network. Unbelievably, it is screened without language or content cuts on Australia's ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission), the free and commercial-free, government-funded broadcaster. 

What Lilley does best is satirize both his own culture (Australia) and its adjoining pop culture.

The series is profane, irreverent, as non-PC as you can possibly get, and extremely well produced and written.

If you want a pin-sharp snapshot of a particular side of Australia, Angry Boys will give it to you. More accurately than anything I can think of, it portrays the angst of being a young Australian male in a culture where machismo is prized and venting your emotions is irritating. For me, watching this was like looking back and watching my teenage self implode.

Structurally, it intercuts between several characters, all played by Lilley, who are trying to make their way in the big, wide, wonderful world. Two twin brothers (Daniel and Nathan Sims), one deaf, one a twisted pervert, engage in hilarious, testosterone-fueled domestic disputes involving girls, parents, school, and visiting relatives. It's a challenge to pick one example from a great bunch to illustrate the comedic brilliance on display, but consider a middle episode in which Daniel is castigated by his mother for continually calling everybody he meets a "fag". As punishment, his mother calls the mother of the local "fag" and arranges for Daniel to spend an afternoon with the boy. What ensues is both hilarious and dark.

Another amazing storyline involves a very young Asian skateboarder (barely a teenager) whose monstrous Japanese mother, Jen Okazaki (played by Lilley in drag), is ferociously marketing him as the face of 'Gaystyle Enterprises', a vertically-integrated clothing and apparel company for young gayboys (i.e. "poofters").


When the unfortunate lad protests that he's not gay and likes girls, Jen shows him cheesecake shots of young men and determines to beat the hetero out of him.

This show is gold! I'm sure John Waters would be a fan.

Perhaps the most controversial character in this series is U.S. rapper S. Mouse. Played in blackface (!) by Lilley, the hideously untalented rapper has become the subject of house arrest after he took a shit on a police car and composed a song about it. Recently, Melbourne's 'The Age' newspaper took the strange step of sending copies of Angry Boys to black rappers to get their take on S. Mouse and his shenanigans.


Predictably, the blackface aspect didn't go down too well with some, while others criticized the rapper's terribly songs. Talk about missing the fucking point!  Still, the intelligent ones got the joke.

No doubt about this, this is Lilley's sharpest, funniest, and most vicious satire yet.  For me, it's right up there with my other favorite comedy shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm (the latest season is gold!), South Park, and Family Guy.

Do what you can to get your hands on this magic. Just as The Adventures of Barry McKenzie said much about Australia in the 70's, this says equal amounts about the country now.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pulp Perfection


A.E. Van Vogt's Empire of the Atom, first published in 1946, received a release through NEL (New English Library) in 1975. This is the cover of the first edition. Unfortunately, frequent international re-location has damaged it somewhat.

The stunning artwork is by Bruce Pennington, a NEL regular, and, even today, it evokes for me the sense of "otherness" I loved about science fiction in 1975.

The cover price was an unbelievable $1.25.

The book once got me a minor beating from my dad because I showed the cover to my sister and said, "This bloke just saw you naked and this was his reaction."


I read Robert Black's excellent and improved novelization long before I saw Freddie Francis's film. Unfortunately, the film is let down by half-baked special effects and standard plotting. Now, if adequately budgeted and re-written in step with Black's improvements , it would make an excellent werewolf entry.

The interesting story involves a boy raised by wolves who joins a traveling carnival. As I love carnival settings (the sleazier the better!), freaks, midgets, sideshow intrigue, and circus folk being flogged, this little baby was so far up my alley it hurt.

In '76, the book sold in Australia for a paltry $1.95. 


This great Doctor Who episode was set on Pluto (!) and featured one of the greatest villains (pictured) ever. This weird little bloke (played with exceptional authority by Henry Woolf) was a fanatical tax collector whose penny-pinching ways had decimated the workers on the barren planet, a world warmed by artificial suns with an exhausted population dedicated to mining.

The novelization by Terrance Dicks was published in 1982.

It has just been released on DVD.

In 2006, the arrogant fuckers at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) re-defined what a planet is and downgraded poor old Pluto to a "dwarf planet" called 134340. I say "Fuck those fucking cunts!" because I love Pluto and always have. When I was ten, it was the planet I enjoyed reading about and imagining most. The thrust of my imagining was going there in a flying cardboard box and deliberately crashing there with some books, a gun, and two sisters.  The sisters lived down the road from me. Although I hadn't consulted them on the proposed Pluto mission, we'd enjoyed some amorous times in the grass by the motorbike tracks and frequently partook in private pool parties. Our activities were nothing hardcore by today's measuring stick, but they wouldn't get Catholic church approval, either.

As mentioned on Wikipedia, some scientists are equally pissed off that Pluto has had its status shafted. For heaven's sake, Pluto has four moons and is made of rock and ice, you stinkin' egg heads. That's a planet in my book. Get with the program and restore Pluto to its former glory. And if I hear any of you calling it 134340, I'll give you 134340 kicks in the gulliver, you droogie nerds.  

Friday, August 12, 2011

Why We Need Cinema...





...because Life is thus described:

The look of the world's a lie, a face made up
O'er graves and fiery depths; and nothing's true
But what is horrible. If man could see
The perils and diseases that he elbows
Each day he walks a mile; which catch at him
Which fall behind and graze him as he passes;
Then would he know that life's a single pilgrim,
Fighting unarmed amongst a thousand soldiers
It is this infinite invisible
Which we must learn to know, and yet to scorn,
And, from scorn of that, regard the world
As from the edge of a far star

Death's Jest Book,
Thomas Lovell Beddoes

Apeshit Over Apes


In the mid-70's, my brother Colin and I collected Planet of the Apes trading cards. We both bought the View-master version of the movie, and we exchanged punches over who was going to get the last 'General Ursus' doll at Frank's Toy's, our local toy emporium. We got up every Saturday morning and watched Return to the Planet of the Apes (the cartoon) while leafing through Apes comics, we recorded the show's theme music and played it loud and often (true rebellion!), and when Battle for the Planet of the Apes got released and quickly paired with Ralph Bakshi's Wizards, I skipped school twice to see it. It wasn't even good!

Bottom line: We did everything to fill the fill the house with Apes back then. Apes were better than parents, better than teachers, and much better than stupid sisters. 



I saw the original Conquest of the Planet of the Apes with my dad. My mum wouldn't go near the fuckin thing because it was too "far-fetched". Star Wars was too "far-fetched" for her, too. While I was sitting down one evening with a pile of homework, she entered my bedroom, paused, then told me that Star Wars couldn't happen." Hang on, she hadn't even seen the film. Where was her credibility? Despite that minor quibble, it seemed important to her that this fact was understood. Perhaps she'd already perceived my slide towards the Dark Side of the Force.

 Apparently, this will never happen! Spread the word.

 Before you say, it, I'll agree, science fiction was not, is not, my mother's bag. Never will be.

I enjoyed the original Conquest. Wait a minute -- enjoyed? You thought about nothing else for days, cunt, after you'd seen it, and you pissed everybody off with your Apes obsession! OK, OK, I went apeshit over the film. Loved the red ape suits and the contemporary setting, loved the violent gorillas (their violent ignorance was inspirational!), and tapped my oversized toes to Jerry Goldsmith's rich, percussive score. Beyond that, I just wanted it all to be real. I lived in Mt. Waverley, Melbourne, Australia, for Chrissakes, we never got anything like ape action there.

As much as it now pains me to say it, I loved Roddy McDowell as 'Ceasar'.  Little did I know that Roddy would one day be very rude to me at a Fangoria convention. I forgive him for that now (today!) because there's no benefit holding a grudge for over twenty-two years, is there? But, yes, you were a cunt to a young fan, Roddy, but that's OK because I loved you as a giant chimp.

 Roddy prepares to give me an earful of bile at a Fangoria convention.

Pal, you were great in Class of 1984, too, and you were decent in The Fantastic Journey TV show, and very good in It, that Golem rip-off. For what it's worth to you in the ground wherever that may be, my mum liked you in the original Lassie. If you'd been rude to her, she wouldn't have been as forgiving as me. Clearly Lassie's brutal journey home to Elizabeth Taylor wasn't too far-fetched for the woman I called  "mum" (and variations of when she wasn't listening).

 
  
If only my little hometown of Mt. Waverley had hosted "awesome spectacles" like simian rampages.
The best we got was a puppet show in the Safeway parking lot.

Like most people, I'd like to forget Tim Burton's attempt to do an Apes film. Let's pretend it never happened. I'm sure Mark Wahlberg is fine with that.



Rise of the Planet of the Apes made this Apes fan very happy. It is a remake of Conquest, but it's very much its own movie, and it takes the themes presented in Conquest and develops them in imaginative ways. The best thing is its script. It's encouraging when a studio (Fox) allows a Summer film to have intelligence. Although the trailer makes it look like The Bourne Identity with hairy paws, it's far from that.


Almost three-quarters of the movie is focused on one ape, 'Ceasar' (Andy Serkis), and his development as a thinking, distrustful, intelligent being with the capacity to rule. His growth and maturity process is extremely well handled, and never does the film become a display of dazzling special effects (like a certain Michael Bay franchise). The effects work, by Weta Digital,  is beyond dazzling for its realism, but the story and characters always come first, and much emotion is derived from Ceasar's inevitable separation from his human supporter

Just as Ceasar embraces his destiny at the conclusion of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I heartily embrace this movie. Now to find the View-master version. That will be ace!

Gold!

***

In the original Planet of the Apes, the intelligent orangutan, 'Dr. Zaius', was played by actor Maurice 
Evans. In Rise, the intelligent oranguatan is named Maurice. I like that.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Art To Tears


 It's not easy predicting when we'll cry. Circumstances play a role. Sometimes, sad news brings just solemn silence, brooding, and we cry later when the initial shock has settled. At other times, an event, a face, a word can take us right there. The tears come fast and freely, and the emotions flow with them. It hurts to cry, but there's pleasure in the process, too, a pure reckoning of our deepest, most indispensable feelings 

I have movies on my shelf that make me cry every time. When I sit others down to re-experience these movies through them, my anticipation of the emotions to come can be overwhelming. It feels so good, though, to feel so much at such a concentrated level. It's amazing what art can do! This is easily the most enjoyable type of crying because, although we reference our own experiences as we process any form of art, we stand at a comfortable distance from it; it's arguably not first-hand experience, though the act of watching and listening is just as unimpeded as life beyond the screen.


 It's inevitable that we will not always respond the same way to that which moves us today. Time and raw experience see to that. Our emotional memories are processed, synthesized, and packed into the filing cabinets of our brains, and the files themselves are shuffled, re-arranged, deleted, and discarded. Nothing remains the same.

Until tomorrow comes, these are the movies that currently move me to tears.

If there is one consistent element to them all (apart from their exceptional natures), it is the heart-rending or life-affiriming music.

For me, MUSIC is the third dimension, the cinematic enzyme that enables us to absorb and feel the emotions of another living creature, be it man, woman, child, tree, plant, bird, or Mother Earth herself.  




 Je-gyu Kang's Brotherhood of War (Taegukgi) tops my list at the moment of films that annihilate my emotions with a great story, characters whose feelings we feel, and a dramatic situation that is inherently powerful. In this, two brothers are conscripted into South Korea's conflict with the North. The oldest brother takes on suicide missions to guarantee his younger brother's safety, but a terrible reality awaits him. Powerful hardly describes this incredible movie. It's devastating.

The score by Dong-jun Lee, available on CD, is the best orchestral score I've heard in years.

I'm shaking just writing about it.



Goodbye Uncle Tom (Goodbye Uncle Tom), surely the masterpiece of masterpieces for directors Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, must be experienced at least once in your lifetime.

The opening ten minutes is a surreal and breathlessly beautiful sequence in which a helicopter carrying Italian journalists appears over a Southern cotton field in the mid-1800's. The film's immortal love song, 'All My Love', voiced with perfection by Katyna Ranieri, and composed by Rizo Ortolani, sends this segment of the film to heights most films could only dream of reaching.

The motif is repeated throughout what is a challenging, original, and brave piece of cinematic art.
 

The Elementary School (Obecna Skola) is Jan Sverak's most moving and perfect film.

As I have written out it at length on these blogs, I won't repeat myself here.




For mine, Running Out of Time is Johnny To's greatest suspense thriller. I don't consider his A Hero Never Dies a suspense thriller, so no disrespect is intended. On the contrary, it is as equally moving and included on this list also.

A terrible sadness runs through this movie, a sadness embodied in the mission of Andy Lau, a dying man.

The score, by Raymond Wong, is unlike anything I've heard before, shrewdly incorporating orchestral, Scottish, and electronic elements.

One of the most effective generators of emotion here is a tenderly handled love story. Although it's a subplot, it's extremely potent, and manages to lift all the other elements.

The chemistry between Lau and regular To stalwart Ching Wan Lau is electric.

See this. Feel this. 
 

Set during WWII in rural France, this is a powerful drama exploring the impact of war on children.

An orphaned girl is unofficially fostered by a peasant family, and learns to live with the darkness around her. With a young boy her own age, she retreats into a ritualized world that allows her some semblance of control. Until reality tears her world apart once more.

This Academy Award-winner (for Best Foreign Film) is brutally emotional with support from a simple, devastating score.   



Not as well known as Ghibli's My Neighbor Totoro or Naussica In the Valley of the Wind, Whisper of the Heart's focus is on a friendship between a boy and girl who bond when they discover that they're checking out the same books at the library. Together, they enter a strange yet familiar world.

Although there are a couple of fantasy interludes, this is the studio's most realistic production, and might well have made an excellent live action film.

Directed by Yorifumi Condo, and with original music by Yuji Nomi, not Joe Hisaishi, the studio's regular composer.

The film features a stupendously moving version of John Denver's 'Country Road'.  




Hachi-ko is based on a true story about a dog who waited (at a train station) for his master years after the man had died.

Unnecessarily remade in the US with Richard Gere in the master role,  Haich-ko is a diamond quality Japanese movie that conveys a simple, sentimental story in an admirably restrained  style. It's ultra-subtle and mercifully  free of explanation and artifice. Somewhat tragic by design, its emotions are released slowly, and its impact is strong.


 My Father's Glory, based on the childhood memoirs of Marcel Pagnol, and with music by Vladimir Cosma, is a boy's celebration of his father's (perceived) superhuman abilities, and acknowledgment of the same man's flawed humanity.

An early schoolroom scene in which Marcel's father, played by Phillipe Caubere, exudes pride in the fact that his young son can read, is very beautiful, and captures a human warmth that is rarely so effortlessly conveyed.     
The companion film, My Mother's Castle, is equally moving and unforgettable.


Johnny's To's heroic bloodshed masterpiece! There is something so pure and raw about this movie. It's both a visual and an emotional feast. It wears its heart on its sleeve. It paints its own world from the ground up. It goes to places unexpected for this genre.

Again, Raymond Wong supplies the score, and what a fine piece of work it is, easily one of the greatest film scores ever written.

Tragic, surreal, emotionally brittle, barbaric in its violence.

Almost too much for a cinephile to take... but I'll take it any day...straight up!

Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive


I'm looking very forward to seeing Nicholas Winding Refn's first American picture, Drive, with Ryan Gosling.

My enthusiasm has swollen even further after watching the trailer, and noticing a key musical piece from Riz Ortolani's score for Goodbye Uncle Tom -- the 'Oh My Love' instrumental --  in the trailer. That's an inspired decision, and bodes well for the sensibility behind the film's marketing.


 The distributor is Film District, and good on 'em for going with an unconventional trailer that doesn't look or feel like the usual generic garbage that most studio trailers have become.



Refn previously made the stunning Pusher Trilogy, Bronson, Fear X, and Bleeder.


This poster art is less than compelling, and I hope it's not going to be used widely. Graphically, it's too cluttered and indefinite. It might please revheads, but it doesn't leave the viewer with an impression of anything. On top of that, it will not shrink down successfully. It will simply become nondescript.

Please lose this poster, Film District, because I want Drive to succeed.

The excellent trailer is here:

http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2772212761/


Friday, August 5, 2011

Ad Mat Obscurities Strike Back

I like Australian director Rolf De Heer's films very much. This little gem, about divorce's impact on children, is little seen but much appreciated.

It would make an ideal double feature with Roger Donaldsen's Smash Palace, another searing film about divorce and its impact on children.  

De Heer also made the one and only Bad Boy Bubby.


La Vie Parisienne (Parisian Life) is a great French farce from director Christian-Jaque.

I saw this when I was fifteen because of the poster. It wasn't what I expected.   It was good, nonetheless.

The Rivoli, which has been a popular Melbourne landmark for decades, was located approximately ten miles from my house. I finished my dinner, locked myself in my room to "study", and slipped out the bedroom window where my bicycle waited.

I cycled like crazy through backstreets, down laneways, across railway lines, and along tram tracks rendered slippery and dangerous by non-stop rain. Was I insane? All this to see up a woman's dress? Of course!

It was one of Melbourne's wettest nights for years, and this fact was screamed at me by my mother when I returned home a drenched rat and was forced to knock on the front door to gain access. My absence discovered, the window had been locked to prevent clandestine entry.

After thirty minutes of vocal discipline, my mother reluctantly asked what movie I'd actually seen. I mumbled "La Vie Parisienne".  She looked puzzled. "Isn't that a French comedy? It's only rated G. Why would you ever want to see that? Nobody gets killed in that, and nobody takes their clothes off."

"I enjoyed it."

"Really?"

I nodded, then accepted a towel for my hair.

My mother looked me up and down and sighed. She allowed the slightest of smiles. "Perhaps there's hope."



Really amusing Dustin Hoffman pic from Pietro Germi. Released '72, five years after The Graduate.

Hoffman's Italian hero is dubbed.

The film was made after Straw Dogs and just before Papillon and Lenny

Not on DVD in the US or UK.

Saw it at a drive-in with my father. He was probably expecting Straw Dogs with Italian accents. He got a ball-busting wife instead. Hell, he could have stayed home for that and saved his money.

Me, I'm glad he didn't.

We shared some culture together instead.