Friday, December 28, 2012

APPENDIX colon RIGHT BACK AT YA! More 'Favorite that's Not' questions from ZZC...

Below are my answers to my follow up questions inspired by the super-fun time survey / quiz offered by LERNER INTERNATIONAL ENTERPRISES here.

1) Favorite revenge movie that's not POINT BLANK, GET CARTER, or ROLLING THUNDER:

Revenge is indeed a dish best served cold, meaning the seeker of vengeance should remain calm, cool and collected as they carefully plan, and extract the most satisfying punishment possible. Revenge is also the impetus for so many spaghetti westerns, kung fu and other such action / exploitation films. It's probably one of mankind's most base instincts, right next to love. It's a formula contingent on catharsis. Certainly the slow boil of Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West is a masterpiece thesis on these concepts. 

But I'm going to proclaim what is sure to be an unexpected response as to one of my favorite revenge films. It is from a cold place, with a chillingly dry sense of humor, yet also exudes pathos that belies its characters' near-numbing nonchalance. In barely 70 minutes, Aki Kaurismäki's The Match Factory Girl (1990) tells the tale of a mousy female factory worker who leads a drab existence, is further wronged by life, and tries to get even. The fleeting moment of joy she enjoys when she wears a new dress and meets a mysterious man is soon shattered into tragedy. So what does she do? She quietly hatches a plan to avenge herself against the man that stole her last glimmer of hope. A large part of Kaurismäki's ouevere describes a certain temperament; characters bear a lackadaisical affect, perhaps partially due to living in a land that is sometimes almost without day, and sometimes almost without night, depending on the season. This is what comes across as particularly Finnish, the resignation towards one's fate in this climate. This attitude is reminiscent, conceptually at least, of the Japanese concept of mono no aware - 'to accept the passing of things.' Cold, as in 'a dish best served...' is a perfect way to describe a lot of Kaurismäki's work. And yet, his films derive much humor out of the desperate tedium his characters endure, surprisingly balanced with just the right amount of sentimentality (though some of his films are much more overtly predicated on playing our heart strings). Meet our heroine Iiris...

2) Favorite martial arts movie that doesn't star Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Lee, Sammo Hung, Gordon Liu, Donnie Yen, or Tonny Jaa (Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal films don't count):

My first response is a little tricky. I have claimed The Prodigal Son (1981) one of my favorite kung fu films for years. Yuan Biao is the star, though director Sammo Hung has a supporting role as a kung fu teacher. It's a great mixture of kung fu, comedy, and pastiche meets parody, the way it self-consciously comments on, and makes fun of the genre, while satisfying its tropes with glee. Yuan Biao, Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan were in a frighteningly rigorous Peking Opera school together where they honed their physical abilities and affinity for pranks that makes their movies so much fun. There were two kung fu flicks I caught late night on channel 5 (way back when they still showed such stuff) that instantly became perennial favorites. 5 Superfighters (1978) is one of the most stripped down, near existential Shaw Brothers fight flicks in my mind. A baddie goes from town to town ridding the land of what he calls 'bad kung fu.' This guy is evil. He just fights for the sake of fighting, much like Tatsuya Nakadai's amoral samurai in Sword of Doom (another favorite). It's also a revenge film, as he beats a kung fu master, whose serious loss of face causes his three young students to seek revenge, allowing for lots of training sequences and displays of different styles. It's a period piece, and the villain wears a cloak, so it's got that superhero / melodrama sort of feel. But basically it's lots and lots of kung fu.  Monkey Kung Fu (aka Stroke of Death) (1979) is a great kung fu comedy caper flick that gets off to an intriguing start with a small time thief learning the eponymous style from a mysterious old man in prison. It includes a great scene in a brothel, and is a generally rousing, funny adventure.

I really like The Loot (1980). With the twists and turns in its search for hidden treasure plot, it's like a spaghetti western transposed onto the kung fu paradigm. And great fighting!

Similar to how Tony Jaa and team revolutionized martial arts films with Ong Bak by showcasing a dynamic amalgam of Muay Thai and other styles, Welsh born director Gareth Evans, and star Iko Uwais brought us the exciting innovation of a fight film based around the Indonesian art of Silat in the surprisingly dramatic Merentau.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Thank goodness for Mexican beer. Cheap and goes down easy (insert offensive comment here). Lately my go to has been Tecate. I bought one at the super market that was 'edicion retro 60's.' But Tecate is pretty punk rock, because I can't find a picture of the 'retro' can design online, so let's just look at a random image associated with the popular brewery:

Wait, that's not a can of beer! Ivanlandia, take us away!
The supermarket in question had a rack of those ironic vintage exploitation movie cards and I noticed this one:

Yes, it's an all but forgotten sleazy film noir. Weird how this reminds me of Glen or Glenda:   


I dunno, maybe it's the hair? Certainly Beverly Michaels was 100% woman. A b-movie glamour doll, she was a perennial blonde bad girl, and occasional muse of Pickup director / star, b-movie auteur Hugo Haas. This tawdry-looking picture is still not officially available on home video, but looks like a good one. Have to track it down and report later.

Find anything on Craigslist.

Craigslist Joe is a personal experience with a social conscious doc, in the tradition of Michael Moore, and Morgan Spurlock. This guy Joe goes on a trip for like a month relying completely on Craigslist for transport and lodging. He even found his camera man on Craigslist. Probably found the damn awful music he used on Craigslist too, under middle-of-the-road-schmaltz. Amazing that he proves human beings can be generous and trustworthy, or at least within the sphere of a documentary. It's fairly amusing and the whole concept is somewhat inspiring. As you might imagine, there's a lot of new millennium hippie types, some freaks, some flakes, and then some pretty revealing stories (like the guy who came to the states as a refugee and now volunteers in a tutoring center for refugee children). Joe's activities when he's in each place he visits are pretty much all found on CL too, ranging form helping out a new age store owner, break dance lessons, cleaning house for a hoarder, etc. One guy nails it when he explains his morning ritual of searching Craigslist and the various categories he checks off (from 'platonic only' to 'commercial transport'). Streaming on Netflix. Just went to the film's site and Zach Galifinakis' name is above the title. Okay?

Hysteria, not hysteric enough.

Hysteria (1965) is a middling Psycho rip-off produced by Hammer Films, now available from the fountain of cinematic rediscovery that is Warner Archives. Despite an absurdly contrived story, Hysteria has a polished look, and some impressive framing and camera work, (thanks certainly to cinematographer turned director, Freddie Francis), that keeps it sorta interesting. Hammer did horror, noir, and these sort of thriller / mysteries that, via their flirtions with perversion, are sort of a missing link to the giallo genre.

In Italy, we are not afraid to be sleazy, like those posher than thou Brits!
This is pulpy, seedy fare, though in this case with a more sophisticated glossy veneer.

"Wish I was in Ivanlandia!"
But still, a woman gets punched out, a guy escapes from a jealous husband that's actually a money scam, and our protagonist is an arrogant American rascal in swinging London. That guy is Robert Webber, a character actor mostly, who also stars in Italian 60's crime flick The Hired Killer, which sounds more exciting. Gotta seek that one out.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Last night was a dream come true! Two hours of grindhouse trailers in 35mm at Nitehawk Cinema (at midnight), where they serves food and drinks (yes, alcohol). The first trailer was WORLD WAR OF KUNG FU, a 70's chop socky opus that features nudity by samurai sword, bad mustaches, kid fu, a supple Chinese woman kicking the ass of a grunting sumo wrestler (literally!), etc. It was revelatory how majestic even arm swinging old school kung fu fighting looks on the big screen. Brought me back!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cabin in the Woods

Finally saw this super meta horror-cum-satire. A breath of fresh air among all the remakes and 'found footage' flicks that populate the horror genre now, Cabin makes tongue in cheek, yet prescient commentary on our 'reality TV' and surveillance media culture. The good looking young people stalked in a scary dark house paradigm is combined with a great device that inverts the cliches (no spoilers here). They better not turn this into a franchise, especially since they built it up to such a perfect ending. An old lesson here: The corporate machine is destined for corruption and implosion. (Okay, that last part might not really make any sense, but I'm not gonna change it, at least not now). The soundtrack was okay, the incidental music was typical, but the story had me singing this:

Please read this astute and concise take on Cabin over at IVANLANDIA. And more about it at Ivanlandia's big brother, LERNER INTERNATIONAL ENTERPRISES.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Let’s Play Twenty-One “Favorite That’s Not” Quiz Questions! (and then three bonus opinion questions at the end)—

Great fun instigated by Lerner International Enterprises. LIE's questions and my answers follow:

1.) Favorite Warren Oates perf that’s not in a Peckinpah or Monte Hellman movie?

An incredible character actor who often outshined the leads, you would think Oates was born gritty and mean, like he appeared to be in so many standout roles. But he could be so endearing and charming too. His spot on turn as the rightfully protective father in BADLANDS is so well played, it's really a respectful answer. And as the drill sergeant in STRIPES he often steals Bill Murray's show. But just the mention of Oates makes me want to re-watch rednecksploitation classic DIXIE DYNAMITE. That's my final answer. Now, the Warren Oates movie that's on my 'to watch soon' list is BARQUERO, a Hollywood spaghetti western with Oates as a dastardly outlaw and Lee Van Cleef as the ferry man who stands in the way of Oates and his gang's escape to Mexico...

2.) Favorite Spaghetti Western not directed by Sergio Leone?

DJANGO! It's DJANGO! DJANGO is the best!!! Director Sergio Corbucci delivered a nasty, mean, gritty, wild, transgressive and fantastical rendition of the western hero and mythology. Note, production designer Carlo Simi did the dollars films too, but here you have a town drenched in mud and a hero who drags a coffin around. Great theme song too (thanks Luis Bacalov and Rocky Roberts). See it in Italian if you can.

3.) Favorite John Ford film that’s not a Western or set in Ireland?

I dunno. Are any worth watching? Is MOGAMBO any good? (Judging by the poster it's got an ape in it so you would think at least a little bit). I kinda dig some of Ford's westerns, but often find his films stilted and stylistically bloated. ...

*Lemme cheat here. The guy who said THE GRAPES OF WRATH is right. That's a great movie.

4.) Fave Zapata Western not Duck You Sucker!?

Damiano Damiani's A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (QUIEN SABE) is one of the very best. It is a rollicking, anarchic, wild ride, with all the political trappings you expect from a ZW. And what a cast! Gian Maria Volonte, Lou Castel, Klaus Kinski (!), and Martine Beswick. I also highly recommend THE MERCENARY and COMPANEROS, both essentially the same story, and both directed by Sergio Corbucci.

5.) Favorite Clint Eastwood-directed film that’s not Unforgiven or Play Misty for Me?

THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. I always want to watch that one. Chief Dan George rules. Now, if only Aimee Eccles was in it. Considering her performance in LITTLE BIG MAN, she could've been Little Moonlight, not to knock Geraldine Keams, who was really good in the role, and is Navajo. Actually, I just wanted to show a clip of Eccles:

6.) Favorite Don Siegel film that’s not Charley Varrick, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or Dirty Harry?

It's been so long since I've seen it, but I remember really liking HELL IS FOR HEROES. Speaking of CHARLEY... CLICK HERE! And has anyone read the Charley Varrick source novel?

7.) Fave Ken Russell film that’s not The Devils, Tommy or Altered States? 

I haven't seen enough of the others, but am going with THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, and also adding how much I love that silly bit at the end of CRIMES OF PASSION.

8.) Fave WWII gore/intensity/nastiness, that’s not Saving Private Ryan or Come and See?

I don't have a 'favorite' in this genre, but for sheer disturbing nastiness, I'd say MEN BEHIND THE SUN hands down. I did like the realistic battle scenes in THIN RED LINE. Hey, uh, you asked for it...

9.) Fave “Savage Cinema” that’s not the original Straw Dogs or The Last House on the Left?

Okay, the definition of 'Savage Cinema' comes from this link in LIE's review of WAKE IN FRIGHT.  I don't know if this qualifies, but I'm going with the incredibly bizarre BAD BOY BUBBY!

But I guess a perfect example of 'Savage Cinema' is the uber-offensive FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE:

And has anyone else seen SONNY BOY?

I would say the Italian crime film ALMOST HUMAN, featuring Tomas Milian's tour de force perf as the most savage criminal ever, might count too:

Certainly CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE WILD BUNCH and ROMPER STOMPER qualify, but we've all seen those, at least the first two, which are canonized.

10.) Fave conspiracy film that’s not Oliver Stone’s JFK or Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View?

WINTER KILLS is probably the most obvious choice. It's so weird, and kind of fragmented as I recall, that's why I think it probably gets runner-up to the more classically concise, yet conventional PARALLAX. But I like MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE better. I mean you got a great fight scene with Henry Silva (thanks Bruce Tegner):

However, if MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH can count as a conspiracy flick, that would be my favorite!

11.) Fave Left-Wing director that is not Michael Moore, Costa-Gavras or Oliver Stone (not that I consider Stone genuinely left-wing; I think he’s more of a sleeper-agent selling discount rebellion to moviegoers)?

Alex Cox. Gotta also agree that Pontecorvo is tops in this game considering BATTLE OF ALGIERS and BURN. But higher on my list is Sergio Corbucci for his zapata westerns and overall pessimistic, anti-establishment themes. Not sure if Corbucci considered himself left wing, and I don't think he was sympathetic to 'the younger generation' of his time, but he was definitely subversive via mainstream channels (e.g. commercial movies). He made this crazy western THE SPECIALIST that had a gang of pot smoking hippies.

12.) Favorite screenwriter not William Goldman, Billy Wilder, Robert Towne, Ernest Lehman, Charlie Kaufman or Quentin Tarantino?

Gotta give high praise to Jack Moran for FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL (go to link and read what Meyer had to do to get Moran to finish the script). The dialogue and opening alone are brilliant!

Though I guess he's not prolific enough to count, and I can't say I really have a favorite screenwriter. I need to learn more about the writers. This guy is a legend I believe, and deserves reverence for 

13.) Favorite alien not designed (or based on a design) by HR Giger, or that is the extraterrestrial from John Carpenter’s The Thing?


Also a big fan of...

And gotta give mad props to this creepy creature:

14.) Favorite Biker Movie that is not Easy Rider, The Wild One or The Wild Angels?

The first couple biker flicks that come to mind are grade z wonders: Al Adamson's SATAN'S SADISTS and H.G. Lewis' SHE DEVILS ON WHEELS.

The more low budget and independent an exploitation film is, the more room there is for transgression and subversion, not to mention violence and mayhem, and these two films have em in spades. But I'm gonna take this opportunity to focus on a, well, an unusual biker movie that I finally saw after searching for years: KILLERS ON WHEELS (it played NYC grindhouses in the early 80's as KARATE KILLERS ON WHEELS). In classic Hong Kong fashion this film goes extra over the top in its super mean and violent tale of rich double daters terrorized on a secluded resort island by a gang of delinquent bikers (the most cinematic kind of bikers). KOW gets pretty brutal, not unlike the aforementioned ALMOST HUMAN, and with its class war theme, also serves as another example of 'savage cinema.' Ridiculous and a bit campy, but also harrowing and disturbing. The whole movie is on youtube in Mandarin with French subtitles. Here's the opening for a taste:

15.) Favorite robot not from Forbidden Planet or the Star Wars movies?

Yul Brenner in WESTWORLD is a good one (great concept and casting), but let's go with Amy Yip in ROBOTRIX!

There's hubba hubba and super chop sockey action all rolled up into one movie.

16.) Fave “one-shot wonder” (solo directing credit) that’s not The Night of the Hunter?

Herk Harvey for CARNIVAL OF SOULS. He made industrials, but this was his only feature. Just saw it again recently at the Jersey Loews. It's great on multiple levels: as a horror film, an independent production, and an experimental work. And it's super creepy, well shot and atmospheric.

17.) Fave car chase not in a Philip D'Antoni film (and not everybody choose 1971’s Vanishing Point, please!)

Probably the one at the end of this movie. For good car chases also check out 70's Italian crime films (for example, the opening to Enzo Castellari's HIGH CRIME), and the original GONE IN 60 SECONDS.

18.) Fave religious film not based on a characters or a story in The Bible?

I guess that rules out HOLY MOUNTAIN. Does NIGHT OF THE HUNTER count here? How about THE SHAOLIN TEMPLE, or better yet, THE BUDDHIST FIST?

19.) Fave Disaster Movie that’s not The Poseidon Adventure?


20.) Favorite Spielberg film to hate that’s not Hook?

I only saw the trailer to LINCOLN and hated it. I liked DUEL and INDIANA JONES (quite a bit actually), and enjoyed parts of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, but for the most part I abhor his films. He's the blame for a lot of terrible in cinema. A good example is SUPER 8, which was so clearly a Spielbergian wannabe. It started off pretty good, but soon degenerated into insufferable cornball, in the exact same way his films usually do. For the record, I think JAWS is pretty boring.

21.) Favorite Giant Monster that’s not Godzilla or the 1933 King Kong? 

Oh, see above where I mentioned MONSTER ZERO.

English-language movie that blows your mind, that no one knows about, that’s hard to see, that you want to get on a rooftop and shout about:

There's a quote, not sure who said it, that goes something like, "With its victory over the mainstream, the avant-garde has ceased to exist." Check this out, just a few years ago this band in Thailand, apparently made up of ex-pats and a local spunky yet sultry singer covered the super obscure 60's garage fuzz monster "Nothing Can Bring Me Down":

The point is, with the rapidly accelerating hyper media and globalization, there is little left uncovered these days. I have often proclaimed THE TODD KILLINGS (based on a true story that inspired other wacky movies DEAD BEAT and THE LOST) as an obscure, yet groundbreaking gem. Now you can get that through Warner Archives. I definitely want to herald the cool greatness of Tom Schiller's NOTHING LASTS FOREVER. It's an amazing amalgam of old school Hollywood-style cinema and pop art madness, with a little sci-fi and a healthy dose of surrealism thrown in for good measure. This film really deserves to be seen, especially since the studio never really released it! Now, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube!!!

And I have shouted from my proverbial rooftop about the above mentioned MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH for years. It's on youtube in parts. Dig this beat-up looking trailer with sensationlistic voice-over:

I want to hear about other worthwhile films that are even harder to see these days.

Foreign-language movie that blows your mind, that no one knows about, that’s hard to see, that you want to get on a rooftop and shout about:

I saw the opening sequence of the third installment in the Japanese 70's transcendent based on a WIP manga exploitation series SASORI (SCORPION) on cable TV in Taiwan, and it blew me away, read more about that here. A few years later got to see the second installment in that franchise on the big screen: FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41. It's the ultimate hysteric, fantastic, violent, outre genre cult film, what with it bad girls, violence, kabuki looking surreal set pieces, can't recommend it enough to fans of mean and wild cinema.

PIXOTE, about Brazilian street kids, featuring real urchins, and the star was later killed by policemen in real life, might be one of the most heart wrenching films I've ever seen.

Similarly bleak and devastating portrait of childhood in a strife-ridden country is the Georgian film THE OTHER BANK.

An mesmerizing  surreal journey that got the director jailed for political subtext is the Iranian film THE WHITE MEADOWS, a tale of a man who travels form Island to Island collecting people's tears.

NOT FOR OR AGAINST (Ni pour, ni contre)  is a great, slick, tight French crime thriller / neo-noir heist flick about a pretty young camera woman who gets caught up with a gang of small time thieves. Don't ask her what time it is when these guys are around....

Everyone should take a look at super ahead of its time Japanese silent film A PAGE OF MADNESS for its wholly original narrative technique.

Exploitation squared: There are a couple mean spirited Hong Kong genre films that I'd love to see get a proper video release so I can enjoy them in better than bootleg quality. Saw both on the big screen of Chinatown movie theatre's in the early 90's and was blown away. Frankie Chan's BURNING AMBITION is a Hong Kong crime / action flick replete with amazing kung fu fights, plot wise it's basically a modern day reworking of Kinji Fukasaku's THE YAGYU CONSPIRACY. Wait till you see what happens with broken glass, or that pregnant woman. BLOOD RITUAL is the nastiest, sleaziest amalgam of Hong Kong ultra-violent, fast paced action, cult horror and sexploitation ever. In my alternative universe, it gets a deluxe blu-ray release.

LINDA, LINDA, LINDA is easy to see, but I'd shout about it from the same school rooftop where that husky voiced girl in the movie sits.

Do checkout these Japanese films MOON AND CHERRY, and YURIKO'S AROMA both starring brilliant character actress Noriko Eguchi, and both hilarious tales of corruption via perverted indulgence.

I'm sure I can list a lot more...

Fave “personal apocalypse” ending to a film, with the protagonist shattered, staring ahead dead-eyed:

The ending (that devastating last shot especially) of Truffaut's THE 400 BLOWS is the first one that comes to mind. Such a marvelously painful coming of age movie, this final moment feels so bleak, so real, and fantastic at the same time. Three classic 'road movies' all include breakthrough, cathartic, personal apocalypse endings: TWO LANE BLACKTOP (one of the best, smartest, most economically innovative endings to a film ever), VANISHING POINT, and of course the super stupid, but flabbergasting DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY. And a big vote for one of my all time favorite films, THE HARDER THEY COME, when Ivan Martin faces off against the army and recalls (via flashback) seeing DJANGO at the Rialto. "Who's the big man, who can draw? One bad man!"

APPENDIX colon RIGHT BACK AT YA! More 'Favorite that's Not' questions from ZZC...

1) Favorite revenge movie that's not POINT BLANK, GET CARTER, or ROLLING THUNDER:

2) Favorite martial arts movie that doesn't star Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Lee, Sammo Hung, Gordon Liu, Donnie Yen, or Tonny Jaa (Chuck Norris and Steven Segal films don't count):

3) Favorite post-apocalyptic movie that's not part of the MAD MAX franchise:

Special question for those of us that dislike John Wayne but love westerns:

4) Favorite John Wayne movie, even though I hate him, that's not The Searchers:

5) Favorite wacky musical that's not HEAD:

6) Favorite soundtrack composer that's not Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herrmann, Lalo Schifrin or Henry Mancini (and no need to say John Williams either):

7) Favorite special effects make-up artist that's not Rick Baker, Lon Chaney SR., Tom Savini, Dick Smith, Jack Pierce, or Carlo Rambaldi (I think this one is really hard):

8) Favorite Sam Fuller film that's not SHOCK CORRIDOR, PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET, or THE NAKED KISS:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

To Burn the Sun

Today at Spectacle, the head honcho of Screen Slate presented a marathon of action films directed by Indonesia's Arizal. Who? Well, apaprently he's a very prolific director who made all sorts of films, and through the 80's did a bunch of these cheesy exploitation pictures. All tropes and excess strung around threadbare plots, plus a decidedly eastern take on western conventions. I caught the first one, which started at 12:45, and I was the only one who showed up. It was also the only one of the six films that was not dubbed in English. No subs either, but none necessary. This one is heavy on the hand to hand combat and has more melodrama. Apparently the others are all explosions, car chases, fighting, shooting and other such havoc. As To Burn the Sun opens, Barry Prima, yeah, the cat from the Warrior movies
 is in a funky Indonesian disco with a live band playing this song wrapped around a brain numbing guitar riff. The bandleader had big collars and so forth. Barry spies his fiance, played by his real life partner Eva Arnaz. He tries to talk to her, but she blows him off and is escorted out by some older dude. Barry follows them outside and a bunch of hoods attack him but he kicks their ass karate / silat style. Anyway, he tracks her down and it turns out (via copious flashbacks) that bandits raided her village, killed her family, raped her and forced her into prostitution, all essayed in lurid and exaggerated fashion. The crazy mustaches and afros of the incessantly leering baddies are exemplary of this, as is the moment when the women forced into the sex trade share a bed only to awake to the sight of another female captive who has hanged herself. Were talking pantomime style here. Barry orchestrates a semi-elaborate escape plan using cars ad decoys, then her grandfather trains her in silat and it's time for revenge and returibution. During the training and subsequent fight scenes, there is this weird country song that plays incongruously, which actually makes the proceedings all the more awesome (see the clip of Eva fighting below). In one set piece the bandits circle her in two jeeps while she cradles a toddler until she manages to dodge both cars forcing one to run into a brick wall. Mind you, the wall isn't part of a building, it's just a random partition near a hut. The whole movie is gloriously inane and insane. Eva was truly star material, what with her high cheek bones, raven hair, and groovy moves.

The above clip is prime Prima from the typically ridiculous The Devil's Sword. Below is Eva kicking ass in To Burn... (don't recall the bionic noises in the version I saw). I don't think they could show nudity in Indonesian films, but they did manage to expose her underwear a lot in this scene.

Reel Injun

In the documentary  Reel Injun, filmmaker Neil Diamond (really!) tells how, growing up in the Cree village of Waskaganish, Quebec, he and the other native kids would play cowboys and Indians after seeing the westerns that were shown (in the basement of a church) there. And everybody wanted to be a cowboy (since the Indians always lose).  Reel Injun explores the portrayal of the American Indian in Hollywood films. Diamond journeys from the arctic north in Canada and goes across the U.S. interviewing various natives and visiting crucial locations, from Monument Valley to Wounded Knee. In one section there's a photo montage where they show all these non-natives that played Indians, including Chuck Connors, Charles Bronson and Burt Reynolds.

The still of Reynolds is of course from Sergio Corbucci's spaghetti western Navajo Joe, in which the titular native character is an underdog hero. Reynolds is in fact part Cherokee interestingly enough. Regardless, the absurdity of the stereotypes revealed throughout the film is amusing, enlightening, and of course infuriating. According to Hollywood, all American Indians were of the plains variety, all with the same sort of feathers, headbands, teepees, horses, etc. But Reel Injun gives us a glimpse at the true diversity of native peoples. At the start Diamond talks about how horses and so forth were not a part of Cree culture there, way up north. The journey mode of the film is engaging, and the film is cleverly  edited into various, often sardonically titled sections such as 'noble,' 'savage' and so on. I think they might even have a clip from Blazing Saddles in there. They talk about Iron Eyes Cody, who it turns out was Italian American, but wholeheartedly embraced native people and their culture, married a native woman and raised his children with native pride. Sacheen Littlefeather, the native activist (and one time model, very lovely woman) who accepted Marlon Brando's Oscar for The Godfather because he boycotted the awards for Hollywood's treatment of Native Americans, is an interview highlight. There are also lots of clips of more positive films, like one of my favorites, Little Big Man (read the source novel too). And of course indie films by and about natives, Smoke Signals and Pow Wow Highway. I still haven't seen Exiles, though I've heard only good things, but it's not covered here. They do have an amazing clip of filming The Fast Runner, in which a naked man runs across snow and ice.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Sound of Fury

Surfing for obscure, interesting-looking noir on Netflix streaming I came across this picture THE SOUND OF FURY, also billed as TRY AND GET ME (cool pulp title). It took me right in from the beginning with a fire and brimstone street preacher, shot in a way that felt authentic. Granted, authenticism may in fact be an artistic choice, but an oft-compelling one.

It starts off with that noir paradigm of a working class everyman who, desperate for money to survive (in this case an unemployed man with a wife, son, and child on the way) ends up getting involved with a criminal. What starts off as petty larceny leads to kidnapping, murder, and then the story takes a real turn. An angry, misguided mob becomes an indictment of human foibles, raising moral, societal and existential questions beyond simply these two individuals' misdeeds.

Points of interest:
  • Based on a novel, The Condemned, by Jo Pagano, who also wrote the screenplay. 
  • The novel, film, and Fritz Lang's Fury (1936) were all inspired by the same true story. Scary stuff when you see the film's finale and what leads up to it.
  • Director Cy Enfield proved not only a master craftsman, but stirred things up; this picture was seen as anti-american, and his slight involvement with communism led him to leave the states for England, where he made some pictures including another noir called Hell Drivers. The anti-American thing is like Howard Hawks making Rio Bravo as a reaction to High Noon. Real interesting guy this Enfield, from Yale scholar, to avant garde theater director, to workingman/auteur with something to say in his pictures.
What struck me:
  • Certainly the aforementioned preacher opening grabs you, and the jarring camera angles, swift editing, all the techniques a director has to keep your attention, and the metaphorical power imbued within.
  • The neo-realist, documentary-like approach. It's gritty and you identify a real world here. The story starts as the everyman hitches a ride with a truck driver at a truck stop in the dark of night and the tone is set. The atmosphere is surprisingly intoxicating, not in a fantastic manner, but because the time and locations feel so real that all the emotions, from hope to desperation, are made even more palpable; from truck stop to diner, bowling alley, gas station, highway shacks and pre-fab homes, this is a disarmingly sinister kind of Americana.
  • Frank Lovejoy as the main character, the everyman who wants to do good by his family, but ends up wrong, real wrong. His roundish, sad sack, good Joe face suits the role to a tee, and he plays it to a perfect picth, if not sometimes bordering slightly on the maudlin, but just barely. It's forgivable because of the pathos he brings to the picture. His soul is a redeemable one because he has a conscious.
  • Lloyd Bridges was really good at playing bad guys and here he's spot on as a psychopath. Yes, in perfect juxtaposition to Lovejoy's character, his evil criminal has no emotions; he is motivated purely by id. He takes what he wants whether by charm, trickery, or force. I suppose his turn could be called scenery chewing to a certain degree, but this sort of character calls for that. You should also check out another inspired bad guy performance by Bridges in Richard Fleischer's Trapped (1949). This is all way before... 

  • The film is decidedly noir, especially for the first half, often evidenced by the use of shadows. Lots of darkness, from the nighttime truck drives, and small time heists. Check out the convicts in cells towards the end of the picture for some nice shadowplay. This is nicely contrasted by the everyday working class struggle, portrayed in the California daytime and its working class families.
  • The moral and existential commentary in the third act, when the whole town, up in arms about these men's crime, rally in an all out assault against them. A tip of the hat to Enfield for conducting the finale to a well balance dramatic crescendo. Skillful in the way of Dassin's ending to Brute Force.
Suggested film pairing: Maybe on the bottom bill with Thieve's Highway or as a warm up to or cool down from After Dark My Sweet.

Suggested drinks: Basic American beers, and eventually some boiler makers where you pour the bourbon (Jim Beam should be appropriate) right into the beer, as Bridges does to Lovejoy. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Frisco Jenny

Saw William Wellman's Frisco Jenny at MOMA today. 1932, old school Hollywood storytelling. In 70 some odd minutes you've got disaster (the 1906 SF earthquake), pre-code tawdriness (the titular character becomes the city's top madame and a bastion of vice), guns, murder, hijacking, courtroom drama and it all adds up to one highly charged, but surpisingly restrained (well, sort of) melodrama. I think the MOMA description mentioned the impressive camera movement in the film's opening. The story starts at a San Francisco dancehall with a long tracking shot, well predating steadicam. The scenes of the earthquake, interior sets crashing down around Jenny, were quite thrilling. With all the action crammed into the film, it's like a series of set-pieces, each one perfectly contained and effective, albeit with some of the melodramatics a little dated, yet charming in a  nostalgic manner.