December 06, 2016

Counter Clockwise

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George Moise - 2016
Artsploitation Films Region 1 DVD

I was glad to see that in the "Making of . . ." supplement for Counter Clockwise, writer-director George Moise acknowledged, among other films, Nacho Vigalongo's Time Crimes from 2007. The two films have somewhat similar premises with a man going into the future, and pursuing himself in the attempt to prevent a future crime. The biggest difference is that Vigalongo kept everything compact, with the action taking place within a very specific space, with a small number of characters. Moise takes his main character and his clones through the outskirts of Los Angeles, with a larger number of characters encompassing a much larger space.

While films with characters caught in time loops, finding themselves repeating situations, have been around since at least the 1930s, Moise uses a visual queue from what may be the first film to show time traveling characters within the same space. That film, from 1964, was in fact titled The Time Travelers, where a group of scientists, working on a time portal, briefly spot shadows that appear spontaneously, unaware that the shadows are their future selves, moving through an accelerated time loop. Moise gradually reveals that his main character, the scientist Ethan, is caught in a time loop with brief shadows that seem to appear of their own accord, as well as visual hints that are revisited as the film progresses.

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One of the things I liked about Ethan's lab was how the equipment appeared to be totally industrial. It's been a cliche for films involving time travel to feature a lab with the aim of dazzling the viewer with lights and the shine of metal. The teleporter here looks like used equipment and a switchboard found in a factory, hooked up with a couple of basic desktop computers. As it turns out, Ethan's discovery that he has travelled six months into the future is an unintended accident. Ethan finds himself caught in a future that involves rivalry between two companies seeking Ethan's invention, as well as death and murder. What sets things off is that the original experiment is with a dog that seemingly has disappeared. While Ethan vainly attempts to go back to the time when he sent himself to the future, there is the question as to whether any of the events would not have happened had he not tried the experiment on himself.

After several shorts, this is George Moise's feature debut, which played at several genre film festivals. The DVD comes with three commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and the previously mentioned "Making of . . . " supplement. The film is quite polished for work shot on a very limited budget, as can be seen with Moise and his skeleton crew filming with small, digital cameras.

December 04, 2016

Coffee Break

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Jason Statham in Redemption (Steven Knight - 2013)

November 30, 2016

Call of Heroes

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Ngai Sing
Benny Chan - 2016
Well Go Entertainment BD Region A

Call of Heroes starts off with some visual and musical queues taken from Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, before taking on the brutality more associated with Sam Peckinpah. Chan's film can be read as a sort of western, taking place in rural China, in 1914, where the only mode of transportation is by horse. The main characters resemble the kind of archetypes one often finds in westerns, with Eddie Peng as the wandering hero, Sean Lau as the sheriff in above his head, and Louis Koo as the totally amoral, murderous villain. Without pressing the point to hard here, Call of Heroes would be part of what might be called a cinematic dialogue beginning with John Ford's influence on Akira Kurosawa, reinterpreted by John Sturges, Leone and Peckinpah, and back to Asian filmmakers such as Hideo Gosha and Benny Chan.

Initially, Call of Heroes recalls the Leone produced My Name is Nobody, with Eddie Peng in the kind of role more associated with Terence Hill than Clint Eastwood. Sleeping at his table in the rough little roadside restaurant, the bearded Peng's slovenly appearance belies his lethal capabilities, unleashed when woken up to an attempted robbery in the restaurant. Similar to the kind of laid back ethos of Hill's on-screen characters, Peng blindfolds himself, letting his horse decide on the next destination.

The basic plot would appear to be inspired by Rio Bravo, with Cao, the son of a warlord imprisoned after murdering three people. The small town of Pucheng is threatened with destruction by Cao's army unless the sheriff releases Cao. Any resemblance to Howard Hawks begins and ends at this point.

Action director Sammo Hung gets his screen credit immediately after Chan. The four main characters each have their own weapon, with Peng handling swords, Louis Koo's Cao known for his golden gun, Sean Lau's sheriff wielding a whip, and Cao's right hand man, played by Wu Jing, using a spear. Most of the fights are filmed with two to four characters within the frame, intercut with brief close ups of detail within the the action. Visually, the most impressive of the action set pieces is a duel between Peng and Wu on top of what appear to be thousands of clay urns all laid sideways, on top of each other to form a small hill. One can only guess at how the film might have looked when viewed in 3D as was seen by Chinese audiences, with my favorite single shot that of the camera looking directly at Sean Lau behind his whip swirling in front of the screen.

The blu-ray comes with a "Making of . . " bonus that is essentially a series of very short vignettes. The previously mentioned duel between Peng and Wu took almost three weeks to film. The main set was built from scratch in Shaoxing Province, south of Shanghai. As in classic Chinese language martial arts films, there is a lot of wire work, and here we can see just how complex it is to create the appearance of physical dexterity.

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November 27, 2016

Coffee Break

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Carlo Cabrini in I Fidanzati (Ermanno Olmi - 1963)

November 20, 2016

Coffee Break

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Tilda Swinton in A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino - 2016)

November 15, 2016

I Drink Your Blood

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David Durston - 1971
Grindhouse Releasing BD Two-disc set Regions ABC

While it's touched upon in the liner notes for this new blu-ray release, what really struck me about I Drink Your Blood can be viewed as a parable about Richard Nixon's America. Taking place in a small, virtual ghost town, the remaining population is a handful of white people and a nearby construction crew. It's not enough that the visiting outsiders are devil worshipping hippies, but that the scariest of them include their East Indian leader, one very tall African-American, and what appears to be the archetypical Oriental Dragon lady, played by Jadine Wong, niece of Anna May Wong. Whether conscious or not, the threat in Blood are very clearly representative of the otherness that was, and for some, still is, what frightened "Middle America".

I have some vague memories of seeing the newspaper ads for the double feature of I Drink Your Blood and I East Your Skin from the time the films were released in February 1971. To be honest, I was living in New York City at the time, as a "serious" film student, mostly catching up on classics and European art films. As it turns out, the scariest images are those on that double feature poster. I can imagine that watching the film theatrically, the section of Blood that would cause the most screaming would be of the rats, hunted and barbecued. Of course the scene with the hippies gorging on meat pies tainted with the blood of a rabid dog would get the crowds whooping and hollering.

Does anyone know if David Cronenberg had seen Blood? Unless there's a film I'm unaware of, Writer-director David Durston may well have been the first to present horror through sexual transmission, well before Cronenberg's Shivers / They Came from Within. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Cronenberg's followup was Rabid. There is also that Lynn Lowry connection. I had first seen Lowry in Shivers, which was the first film to lure me to 42nd Street (because the New Amsterdam was the only theater in New York City showing the film, and I had read great things about Cronenberg in "Take One" magazine). Lowry's not credited here, and it was through reviewing the cast and crew list in IMDb that I realized the identity of that cute, mute girl who has dangerous ways with an electric carving knife.

Why a two-disc set? On Disc One, the complete theatrical version of Blood as approved by producer Jerry Gross. There is also Durston's preferred version which runs a little longer, has some humor that Gross cut out, and a better, more disturbing, ending. Plus there are commentary tracks by Duston and star Bhaskar (full name Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury) from the earlier DVD release, and a new commentary by actors Jack Damon and Tyde Kierney. Also cast interviews and an "Easter Egg".

Disc Two features I Eat Your Skin which was the Gross retitling of a Del Tenney film known either as Zombies or Zombie Massacre. No skin is eaten. Made around the same time that Tenney made Horror of Party Beach, Skin managed to sit on the shelf for seven years before Jerry Gross figured out how to show the film to an unsuspecting public. It's not scary, but it is mildly entertaining. A writer, modeled after Harold Robbins, is invited to a hidden Caribbean island where a doctor is finding a cure for cancer. The zombies turn out to be heavily drugged locals with eyes that look like friend eggs, and skin the texture of cottage cheese. Filmed in Florida, Tenney's zombies might be considered the unintended missing link between Jacques Tourneur and Lucio Fulci. The chief villain is portrayed by Walter Coy, most famous for playing the part of John Wayne's brother in The Searchers.

There's also the inclusion of Durston's soft core mystery, Blue Sextet, in which six people gather to discuss their relationship with the mutual friend, whose death was either suicide or murder. Even for a soft core film, the sex scenes are quite tame. For younger viewers, Blue Sextet is an example of that brief time shortly after movie ratings were introduced, when even some of the major studios released films dealing with erotic matters. As is usual for Grindhouse Releasing, there is an abundance of bonus features.

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November 13, 2016

Denver Film Festival: Actor Martinez

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Nathan Silver and Mike Ott - 2016
Mary Jane Films

Sometimes I'll see a film and wonder if there's any way I can write about it. With Actor Martinez the operative word would seem to be meta. Filmmakers Nathan Silver and Mike Ott and actor Arthur Martinez made a movie about themselves making a movie about themselves. Yeah, it's deliberately confusing, so that you're never quite sure what's staged or may be improvised in front of the camera, or when we are watching unstaged and unplanned reality.

Unlike films about filmmaking that still can be said to be part the narrative film tradition, such as 8 and 1/2 or Contempt, Actor Martinez is filmed documentary style for its entire length. Whether we're seeing Arthur Martinez at his day job of repairing computers, sitting in on the audition of actresses playing opposite him, arguing with the woman who portrays his girlfriend, or discussing his philosophy of acting, Actor Martinez seems to operate on the same principle as the found footage movie, which is to say, it is filmed reality because it looks like filmed reality.

Everyone in the cast plays a character with their same name. The genesis of the film was with Arthur Martinez meeting Ott and Silver, and his desire to make a film that would showcase his talents. The narrative of the film within the film changes with cast changes, especially when the main actress walk off the production. Prior to this, we see a networking session, one aspiring thespian who seems lost in his own reveries while a scene is being filmed, and Martinez performing in smaller, industrial projects.

One small moment that I liked was with Martinez appearing to want to run away from his own movie. Giving a sense of disorientation is Paul Grimstad's music, which reminded me of the kind of discordant scores sometimes heard in low budget horror films in the Sixties.

I'm not surprised to come across two very different reviews of Actor Martinez from when it played last Spring at the Tribeca Film Festival. Richard Brody, in the New Yorker looked deeply into the film, while Frank Schenk of the Hollywood Reporter was fairly dismissive. I don't mean to seem cagey, but this is the kind of film that is idiosyncratic enough where milage will depend on the individual viewer, to be embraced by some, and shrugged off by others. And it could well be that one viewing is not enough. Sometimes, just the challenging any preconceived notions of filmmaking, whether successful or not, is worth consideration.