Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Not Strong Enough In Taste: The Ketchup Effect (2004)


Dir. Teresa Fabik

Coming up front with the main flaw of The Ketchup 
Effectit's that it never ventures into braver territory. It's not a "safe" film by any comparison to what an English language version may have been like. About a thirteen year old girl Sofie (Amanda Renberg) whose life spirals downwards when indecent photos of her, while unconscious at a party, are passed around school, it is a lot more frank in its depiction of adolescent sexuality and bullying than most films I've seen from English language countries. In its playful, joyful moments it's just as blunt and honest. The film had a little controversy in Britain in that, despite clearly being for an audience the age of Sofie, with an important message to give to them, it was given an 18 certificate for the image of a prosthetic penis being exposed and slapped onscreen. One county, Stirling, went against this ruling, possible to do legally if any non-British readers would like to know, and gave it a rating that allowed twelve year olds to see it, but it still shows a discrepancy in the British and Europe that still stick out like a sore thumb. 

The film has a lot to like. Its topic of how someone can be badly treated by peer pressure needs to be brought up, especially when it points out that teachers and even parents can so badly screw up and be on the wrong moral side. In one sequence, if thought about, it presents a disturbing idea that a woman can be complicit to behaviour that is inherently misogynistic. The film perfectly depicts how awkward teenagers can be. On a serious note, this is seen when Sofie's friends, fearing they will become unpopular and as ostracised as Sofie when she gets mistreated, start to talk about her behind her back and hang out with another girl. On a lighter note, especially with a potential love interest for Sofie, this is seen in how difficult it is just to express one's interests to another person. Scenes show that Renberg as Sofie does the perfect performance for the role, completely sympathetic and charismatic in the lead. Everyone playing the younger characters in general do their best, but she especially stands out. 


The problem is that the film itself is the same as many others. It wraps its conflict up in a neat package than explore the difficulty, and full triumph, Sofie would have to have to overcome the situation she is in. It is very generic in presentation - actor on the left of the screen asks something, cuts to another actor on the right side replying, rather than have both in the same frame; music on soundtrack, outside of scenes, to push you along into a certain feeling than letting you get there yourself. And, as personal and potentially petty this criticism could be, some of the music and visual choices are so early 2000s, and don't age well already. Of course having never made a film myself, there is a danger of writing such criticisms, but I bring up these issues with films because, realising it with The Ketchup Effect, I've become concerned about the lack of variance in cinema. In film, literature, any art form, I would be concerned if many works looked exactly identical to each other, and the style this film has is shared by countless others, more of a problem in that many of them, including The Ketchup Effect, may have been a lot more better if they tried something different in presentation and narrative. If there was a ninety minute film that needed to be at least ten or maybe even thirty minutes longer, it's this film. It's perfectly fine how the film ends, but after the gruelling situation Sofie finds herself in, put through in the film, its suddenly dealt with it abruptly and feels like she's been cheated out something really triumphant. Its disappointing as there is something great about a film that deals with the material it does, but it turns out to be far less brave than one wishes it would be. It's much more honest in its presentation than other film would dare to - the coarse language, its adolescents drinking and using other substances until they go blotto - but it eventually shies away from being something more tougher but far greater in its reward. Films can be hesitant to tackle its subject fully even if the content is not the kind dealt with in mainstream cinema, and unfortunately The Ketchup Effect is such a film.


Monday, 29 July 2013

"They're coming from the sandwiches here!" (Oasis of the Zombies (1982))


Dir. Jess Franco

Oasis of the Zombies is not a good film. But it's not as bad as its reputation suggests. It probably shows something dead in myself that I can think of plenty of films worse than this, not including controversial choices, but this film has virtues in it that just become lost in the final movie. The oasis is a place in the African Sahara where, during a skirmish in World War II, a large bullion of Nazi gold was lost in the ground. For anyone who is going to the oasis however - treasure hunters, the son of a British soldier who was at the original skirmish - they will encounter the living corpses of the Nazi soldiers who come up from the sand at night and kill those within the vicinity. The film still retains virtues of the late director Jess Franco, and plenty of aspects that are always there with an auteur, celebrated or a cult one, whose filmography shuffles between personal work and director of hire films that someone could still hide their ideas in and blur the lines between the two sides. It does look great at points visually despite its very low budget and the print quality of the version I viewed. It shows Franco had an exceptional visual eye when he allowed it to be used, reinforced by his better work like Succubus (1967), images of the silhouettes of zombies on top of sand dunes in the dusk and the sun blazing down upon them standing out for what was said to be an atrocious film when I was going into viewing it. For a generic zombie premise, it's a hell of a lot better than some of the ugliest, cheapest looking horror films I've managed to see, especially as it still had the virtue of actually being shot on celluloid than a cheap digital camera. I also have to appreciate the composer, or at least whoever was stuck playing the synth keyboard playing the same two notes. It'll put off a lot of people, but I have a fathomless passion for electronic and synth music, including most examples of the tackiest songs and scores ever made for films, and it felt like the keyboard player was trying their damndest to bring tension to the visuals onscreen when the film is dragging its feet. No matter how cheesy the zombie makeup looks, it's clear they were going to try and get the viewer to react to it in some way, and I have to applaud their attempt.


It's a typical Euro-horror film, an acquired taste, whose English dub provided me with the hilarious misheard quote that titles the review and comes off as incredibly ridiculous. The zombie makeup - pop eyes zombies who've come from a Guinness World Records attempt to have the furthest out a dislocated eye can be, a zombie with the head of the mask from George A. Romero's Bruiser (2000) - is silly, the set up for their attacks rudimentary and all of it coming off as very amusing. It's enjoyable if you can find this kind of bad horror filmmaking charming, sat from a distance looking at these actors having to raise out of the sand and lumber about, and engaged seeing the characters be attacked by the zombies in the tone of a b- or  c-movie. It's surprisingly chaste for a Jess Franco admittedly; there is some sex and violence, but it's very discrete, which is why the film's ended up with a 15 certificate in Britain. This is not the problem though with the film, very much adding to the peculiar nature of the movie. No, the problem with Oasis of the Zombies, that has likely been the reason why its viewed with such hatred justifiably, is because it has no sense of pace but just slogs along. For a film only eighty minutes long, it feels much longer. Moments, such as the prelude to the climax as zombies drift towards the protagonists' camp, show how the film's slow pace can be effective, but in the middle it's just laborious, with the sense of speed as a comatose snail. There is still plenty to like about the film around this, but this pace issue is a mood killer that damages the viewability of Oasis of the Zombies completely, spoiling the joyful moments with how dull it can be.


This prevents the film from being a cheesy but fun minor entry in Franco's filmography. People would still hate it for its failings, but it would have been schlock with some merit and things to amuse one's self about. The pace disrupts the final film however and makes it difficult to enjoy it fully. The result is fascinating as a failure in Franco's CV, both that is, to be honest, a job for hire that could have still been entertaining, and a film still containing his distinct voice, but it cannot be ignored how tiresome it gets when its going nowhere in the middle section. It would be amusing schlock if it was better, but it's a mess as it is even if I've subjected myself to worse.


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Defending This Is Not The Point Of The FIlm's Existence, Just Enjoy The Damn Thing: Intrepidos Punks (1980)

Dir. Francisco Guerrero

What, exactly, is the reason a viewer would watch an obscure "Mexploitation" film about a violent punk, biker gang? Yes, "violent punk, biker gang" would sell to a lot of people, but bear in mind, its narrative is non-existent, and there are plenty of other films that are just as tasteless and gaudy. Yet it's still compelling. A group of cineast misfits over the internet have rediscovered this film, spreading rips of a Mexican VHS type probably never intended for English language availability, given it fansubs, and spreading word on it to the point this Brit hear about it, watched it without English subs raw, watched it again with fansubs and is reviewing it now. It far from great, but still entertaining in a perverse way. Why?


The narrative as it is splits into two parts. The first is the titular punks, who go about breaking out one of their leaders and members of the gang from prison before going on their personal rampages around the Mexican highways. The second is of two policemen who burst smugglers and drug dealers, and take the job of tracking the punks from their previous history with them. These two strands only connect properly by the end, where they literally cross paths. Infamous Hong Kong director Godfrey Ho, who connected two or three films of varying genres together in one movie, made much more of an effort to connect his loose ends together. The loose ends here are gigantic. It undercuts the usual compromise exploitation cinema usually ends up with, where we revel in perversity before moral law deals with it and normalcy wins out, by making the win for morality feel like a half-arsed joke. The two cops, as well, while allowed to have a chatty back-and-forth interaction, come off as far less interesting and liable to be even more corrupt and scuzzy than the punks for all their wanton carnage. The result is that the true subject of interest, the punks' amorality, is amplified. Those easily offended will find the celebration of rape, brutality and a prolonged moment of a man being set on fire gasoline horrifying. However, not only does the film come off as exceptionally silly, but the film could come off, if you are willing to step back from the moral highground, as a safe, healthy way to consider these images than to let them exist in reality. I cannot help but think of a quote from his autobiography where film director Luis Buñuel admitted that he did have morally offensive thoughts occasionally but that, as thoughts only, they existed as a harmless concept and had to be accepted as being something that exists. The existence of such ideas can be subversive, and while Intrepidos Punks is just pure exploitation without political messages, the punch to the stomach it gives is still effective. The film is only defensible if viewed as a tacky attack on good taste, which is not a dismissal at all but the honest truth about it. Its sordid in its content, but the intentions of the director were probably to do this in the first place, and those offended by it will have to accept that the film's existence is only around this fact.

The aesthetic and cultural content of the film is what is the main draw of it as well. This could dangerously be translated as a form of cultural tourism that is patronising and places Western snark over another country's genre cinema, but in a positive light it's learning about another country even through its trashier art. I doubt motorbike punk gangs led by lucha libre wrestlers wearing chainmail masks existed even in the eighties, but the rawness of the film and the translation of punk iconography are things unique to this movie. The only "Mexploitation" film I saw before this was Night of the Bloody Apes (1969). The thing is though, while with its own look and female lucha wrestling subplot, that film was Frankenstein played off with real heart transplant footage and Sixties candy colours. Intrepidos Punks, while about menacing Others that terrorise the normal population, is all about, truly, soaking in all the bad taste of it, the rampant nudity and sex, and its look. Celebrating bad taste by showing more bad taste. The punks are a peculiar mix of pop culture and social traits - the Fist of the North Star franchise, the Mad Max and post apocalyptic films, body piercing, New Wave hair dye colours - and as a prescience onscreen, including bikes with the backs of whole cars as their behind, the film can just sustain itself by following these colourful, one dimensional hooligans in their chaos. To the film's credit, even if their nude bodies are still drooled over by the camera, the female punks are as distinct and brutal as the males, able to dish out punishment and settle their own disputes through Russian roulette. The main female leader stands out as the central image of the film just from her look, played by Princesa Lea. Her makeup and huge blonde hair does remind one of Dee Snider from the band Twisted Sister, and I am not the first one to admit to have said that, but Lea with her look, her massive, jaw droppingly huge head of curly blonde hair, and busty and sculpted figure in a revealing body wrap, bondage get-up, is compelling just by standing in the centre of the screen. The minor punks are just as able to grab your attention to them, male and female, and her counterpart Tarzan, the wrestler who leads the pack, is more than a match by, indeed, using wrestling moves and bringing a Tombstone Piledriver to a rock quarry fight. The film is just tasteless absurdity like this, and that was probably the film's intention, and the reason the film has been rediscovered and loved. It's not PC, it's as exploitative as you can get, and it has things you'd never expect to happen in a film. Men fight to choose which female punk they share a bed with together by recreating Medieval jousts with motorbikes and morning stars. A hostage scheme, with the wives of the jailers and jail staff of the prison the male leader is kept in, becomes even more sleazier when the group rape that takes place, chaste but completely titillating in a really seedy way, and the band who composed the film's main them suddenly teleports, in full punk gear and equipment, into the house and play as the act goes on. Then there's the fact that even the female punks are willing to rape people which just takes the scuzz past the ten out of ten mark of sleaze to eleven.

Without a proper narrative, the point one could only make for the film is a series of punk related anarchy, of group sex, of petrol station invasions and general violence you are supposed to enjoy as pure anarchy. If you cannot find enjoyment in such a film, then it's useless to even consider viewing it. It is however the kind of film for those who want something edgy, silly and completely impossible to take seriously. Like how trash and paracinema fans interact with films like this, it's the content around the botched storytelling that's of worth, wanting to be shocked by its content, wanting to be amused by how said content is lurid is in the safe environment of a film, acted out by actors and not real, and wanting to view something completely against the notion of what "quality" taste is. The film comes off as the filmic equivalent of a three minute, shock rock, punk song being blasted from the tiniest and loudest speakers possible live with a blind drunk guitarist. Purposely offensive, colourful and about the surface of the content than a deep meaning to it. That in the last minute it feels like the director had to compromise and let the goodies win actually adds to it, the gaping chasm it causes in the film's nature making it more fascinating. Its token violence, token sex, and abuse of Mohawks, but it shows that even the base level of filmmaking has an energy that is infectious and can cleanse away any pretence of nasal gazing. Its a shrine to everything cinema shouldn't be, and I confess why I've viewed it as much as I have and written this review.


Monday, 22 July 2013

Mini-Review: The Halliday Brand (1957)


Dir. Joseph H. Lewis

Regardless of my thoughts, The Halliday Brand looks exceptional. Joseph H. Lewis, in just a few films, has shown a tremendous visual eye, encapsulated by the dark smoke covered alleys of The Big Combo (1955) and the gangsters standing in the middle of it blurred, and with The Halliday Brand, cinematographer Ray Rennahan adds to this with his talents. The black-and-white images, of closed rooms, cramp and shadow covered, to wide open plains, sprawling and at points baroque in look, are sumptuous with a rich use of lighting. At points it fells naturalistic, at others stylised and artificial, like a summary of the western genre in terms of images. After his sheriff father (Ward Bond) may have deliberately allowed a half American Indian employee to be lynched, because of his racism and hatred of the idea of his daughter being in love with him, one of the sons (Joseph Cotton) decides to act in a way to make his proud, egotistical father crawl on his belly to apologise for his nature. Using the dissolve flashback to enter its back-story for most of the film, the old, no longer used editing effect causing a complete fraction of time as an entire chapter in a person's life goes for just a minute in the present for them, the relationship between the father and son is problematic even on the father's deathbed.

As a technical piece of visual art, it's great, but the narrative is minor. It is enough when supported by the film's visual splendour and the prescience of the actors, especially Cotton and Bond, but by itself it doesn't match up to something like Lewis' own Terror In A Texas Town (1958). It feels lacking in story, which even in such a short length could have juggled this parental divide alongside the romance with the lynched man's sister (Viveca Lindfors), the son's brother and Cotton's character, but as is the case with such a continually churned out genre, it fells underwritten, with the ending feeling like a big anticlimax. It's more of a personal taste as times, but which such a visual eye to it, this isn't the film that's going to push Joseph H. Lewis (yet) from being a fascinating director to a great one. I'm going to have to see more of his films to see if this can happen.


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Souls In The Moonlight Trilogy (1957/1958/1959)


Dir. Tomu Uchida

Before I start this review, I confess the period between viewing the first part of this adaptation of The Great Bodhissatva Pass, a legendary and incredibly long Japanese novel most well known cinematically as interpreted as The Sword of Doom (1966) (on the To-Watch list), and the other two parts was a short while, which will affect the review a little. Thankfully I viewed part two and three one after another over two days. I also confess that this another (three part) film that is impossible to find by conventional means. Even my resource to view this trilogy could dissipate like a puddle on a hot summer's day, but if you can find it hopefully you can see why I'm covering it. Souls In The Moonlight is a very elaborate, character and plot driven samurai film based around Tsukue Ryunosuke (Kataoka Chiezo), a cold blooded ronin with no qualms with killing anyone who yet has a contradictory morality that is entirely alien to the society surrounding him. Two individuals band together to get revenge on him for his actions, a young woman for the pointless murder of her grandfather, the younger brother of a samurai who was killed in a duel and who wants to avenge this by the sword. The story, however, over three films, around 100 minutes each, spins the tale out further. Film #1 sets up the story, with a dynamic narrative by itself, and Film #2 brings in more characters and plotting as Ryunosuke is also mortally wounded. Film #3, the finale, brings an ominous supernatural edge that slowly creeps in, through misty, dark streets and night scenes that feel like the film is about to turn into Kwaidan (1964). Then it does.


Even when more characters are added in Film #3, and the film takes massive tangents to follow secondary characters in Film #2, Souls In The Moonlight is very well planned out and methodical with its plotting. Again, another film whose material I have yet to read, if I can, but if the novel is as lengthy as I have read it is, originally a newspaper serial, director Tomu Uchida and the screenwriters needed to have been coordinated and at Uchida's best for this to avoid failing miserably with so much to juggle. Trilogies of now, whether the sequels were actually needed or not, need to look back at a trilogy like this to see how structuring is actually done. Uchida is also very subtle in his directing, a dialogue heavy film whose sword battles are more like theatrical performances in the many times they happen, the moments he changes tact leading to exquisite camera moves or eye popping moments of imagery rising up on you as you engage with the plot. Even when you get a little lost with who's who, and why certain characters are being followed for such a long length of time, everyone has a meaning and depth to their presentation, with a moment to stand out, and how the trilogy ties everything up works perfectly. Far from long films each, the three parts manage to convey so much without going anywhere near the two hour mark each as films now have started to get to for very thin bare plots.


The film has a pulpy edge, of drama and of sword battles that, while heavily choreographed, still have a visceral edge, but the real virtue of the film is the level of characterisation. Kataoka Chiezo and his main character could dangerously steal the film from everyone else, which would be sad considering everyone is good and is needed to make the trilogy work, but Ryunosuke is a fascinating creation, able to have moments of nobleness but completely amoral at other times. They are films where everyone has more complexity to them, or are allowed to be in the centre for enough time to stick out, and grow over the length of three films. And its encapsulated by the ending which robs the viewer of what they wanted to happen. That ending would have been good, but the actual closure of Souls In The Moonlight is brilliant, the complex morality of the story moving upfront. Ryunosuke is a curious figure; even how he lays on his side to relax asks questions, reminding one of a reclining Buddha. How the film ends brings a moral judgement to play but never damns a person even for their bloodthirsty violence, instead viewing their behaviour as a state of hellish torment. The trilogy is merely good by the end of Film #1, but the two parts needed to make a whole film literally play off as the middle and final acts of a larger work, increasing the character dynamics and adding more emotional investment, and becoming even better as it goes on.


Thursday, 18 July 2013

This Is Not The Trip I Wanted... (Dr. M (1990))


Dir. Claude Chabrol


I've only started digging into the films of French New Wave director Claude Chabrol, loving his take on the thriller and murder stories within the context of human behaviour and ordinary home life, but Dr. M is the least expected film you could think of to exist in his career. A reinterpretation of Fritz Lang's legendary Dr. Mabuse films, to which I confess I have never seen, I can still, from this point of a lack of knowledge, see how ill advise this final film turned out to be. In a futuristic, but still contemporary West Berlin, a suicide epidemic is taking place that is frightening the entire population. With the only form of escape from the panic being a holiday club which is swarmed by the general public, Lt. Claus Hartman (Jan Niklas) believes that the suicides are connected together and goes out of his way to prove it, a mysterious individual with malicious intent watching on through their minions.


English language debuts from established auteurs from non-English speaking countries can be mixed. Some directors can be incredibly comfortable with the switch, juggling both sides or becoming part of Hollywood, but others critically stumble and create odd tangents in their filmography. Some films need time to be reflected on - as someone who first felt disappointed with Wong Kar-Wai's My Blueberry Nights (2007) only to find much to love about it later on - but the problem with Dr. M is that it feels so compromised from presentation to story. The English dialogue is off with actors like Niklas speaking in a secondary language in a German setting with German text but actors of various nationalities in the cast - yes, Berlin in the Cold War era would have been a mix of languages and cultures, but it feels wooden at times here - but it would be possible to pass this if Dr. M had more to it. I would be willing to see a film from the late Chabrol that dropped his usual trademarks to try something very different if it created something very inspired, but this film is horrifically predictable. Niklas is the tough cop with a barely detailed tragedy in his past who no one on his police force believes when he comes up with the idea of a conspiracy with the suicides, and when we're shown how right he is, it's done in the most obvious and unoriginal of ways. Following a woman Sonja Vogler (Jennifer Beals) who is the advertised face of the holiday club, they develop a romance that leads to an late eighties/early nineties sex scene that cuts between moving bodies. The only difference is that Chabrol splices real life images of death and atrocity between the cuts, making for such an inappropriate juxtaposition even if this was the point.

Chabrol, despite being clearly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, is rarely as showy as he was visually, very subtle in his use of the camera and what's onscreen. The film's setting however, between the real city and sci-fi sets, is lacklustre to say the least. Whether it's the streets or a secret nightclub where punk youths, dressed almost all in black, spasm around on a glass floor to a metal-dance song hybrid, Dr. M is characterless, not dated enough to be compelling in a visually surreal way, or distinct to suck you in. Good moments of subtle camera work is choked by how pointlessly long the film is, at two hours, and that Alan Bates is wasted despite his importance as a character. It's a film lacking in tension, humour or auteuristic touches. You know from the beginning what's behind the mystery and are forced to wait two hours for the film to catch up with you. What makes it worse is that I could have envisioned Chabrol making a great science fiction film. His obsessions with the films I've seen have been taking genre related tropes and placing them in real life environments with complex morals; this dialogue heavy drama could have been translated to a new genre here. Jean-Luc Godard was able to do it with Alphaville (1965), his intellectual and visual manipulation ideas fully mixed with an interesting sci-fi pulp story, and on the side of the French Left Bank the late Chris Marker, known mostly for his essay films, made La Jetée (1962), science fiction as interpreted entirely through still images. Dr. M could have become this, but sadly doesn't. Instead it's a dull Euro-pudding of a film instead of a gem or a fascinating failure.


Saturday, 13 July 2013

When There's Nothing Left In The Tool Shed... The Nail Gun Massacre (1985)


Do you remember when you could sit outside and not worry about the mosquitoes and the killers?

Dirs. Bill Leslie and Terry Lofton


The story for a film like this is not the real interest, nor the kills themselves as a slasher movie as well. It's seeing everything of a rural middle America in the mid eighties that's somehow got captured on film, beneath a (frankly) rambling and (more frankly) bad movie, and how it is also reinterpreted on screen. That one actress is wearing a skinny sky blue neck scarf and that baseball caps with the words "T.A.M.E.D." existed for purchase. That grilled cheese and a drink costs $1.19 in this world or that the emergency services won't pick up the body of a murder victim at night in the woods because it's too dark to see. The film around it adds to this even if you cannot deny how ludicrous the whole thing is. One expects, even if its chaste and cheesy, a film which opens with a gang rape to actually go forward as a consistently toned and serious story. Instead you get electronically aided, two-for-the-price-of-one puns from the killer, nail gun duels, and gratuitous nudity that with the opening scene makes this very exploitative. The result is worthless if you cannot extract anything from this sort of cinema, but the sense of ordinary people trying to make a film, and the environment recorded onscreen and the stumbling, tasteless tone does come off as compelling if you can just sit back and imagine the background of making it. The opening incident leads to a mysterious individual, clad in camouflage and a black motorcycle helmet, driving a gold hearse (?!) and armed with an industrial strength nail gun, killing both the men involved in the incident and just about anyone else that stands in eyesight to them.


The film thankfully avoids, aside from one or two moments, the habit that makes a lot of this sort of "so-bad-its-good" cinema just bad, of being scenes and dialogue that drag you along so predictably regardless of how funny the film may be to some. With The Nail Gun Massacre, the closet thing to protagonists, the town sheriff and doctor, are completely useless and leave dead bodies around the town because, from the film's perspective, they're the only people there to take the murder cases and people are dying nonstop and preventing them from dealing with the previous ones before. Instead it feels like viewing a series of vignettes about ordinary lives that just happen to end with the person recreating makeshift version of Pinhead from the Hellraiser series with their own bodies. We see that even when he takes her to the cheapest place for a "fancy" meal like a skinflint, and has to contend with an old girlfriend working there, a scuzzy guy can still seduce a very busty girl only to have a nail gun wielding onlooker watching them, like a pervert, on the bonnet of his  car. That it's possible to be floating at the side of a swimming pool in front of someone and still be completely invisible to them. That the scene of two male workers firing nail guns at each other in a mock gun fight may have been on a real life incident which inspired the film and would have raised health and safety issues even back then. Everyone on screen, even if they are bad actors, are clearly normal everyday people who would be viewing these sorts of films after they were made - homely girls with hairstyles from a different dimension, everyday Joes and one of the directors' grandmother, nervous onscreen and clearly reading her script in front of the camera, captured on film through a schlocky American horror movie. It's far from great even in terms of this sort of cinema; the best have some virtues to them, no matter how small, and squash any sense of predictability to them. The Nail Gun Massacre is merely a rambling take on the slasher film, amusing for those with the right mindset (and willingness to pass its amateur moments of sleaze) for this type of cinema, but far from its heights. Its more fascinating to view films like this one from the perspective that the man who, in woodland sex scene, has his bared, hairy arse in front on camera, was and may still be someone's next door neighbour somewhere in Texas where the film was made. Far from someone we should ridicule, even if we laugh at the film, we should be proud of him, the actresses, the grandmother, everyone onscreen, for being immortalised in a film that, even if it's not for the original intended reasons, is still encouraging people like me from another country to track the thing down to view it. Praise that naked man and everything else here.


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Good News About Videotape Swapshop...

...the site is back up, so any links to it on this blog are (hopefully) working again.

The even better news? Things may be getting even more interesting over there for the benefit for anyone who reads it. Stay tuned over the next few months, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel...

June 2013


Best Film of the Month
1. Daisies (Vera Chytilová, 1966/Czechoslovakia) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
2. The Phantom Of Liberty (Luis Buñuel, 1974/France-Italy) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
3. Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983/USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
4. Seven Beauties (Lina Wertmüller, 1975/Italy) – 10/10
5. The Intruder (Claire Denis, 2004/France) – 10/10
6. L’Enfance nue (Maurice Pialat, 1968/France) – 10/10
7. Murmur of the Heart (Louis Malle, 1971/France-Italy-West Germany) – 10/10
8. Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966/UK-USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
9. Au revoir les enfants (Louis Malle, 1987/France-Italy-West Germany) – 10/10
10. Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (David Blair, 1991/Germany-USA) – 10/10

Honourable Mention: Born on the Fourth of July (Oliver Stone, 1989/USA) – 10/10; Milou en mai (Louis Malle, 1990/France-Italy) – 10/10; Lacombe Lucien (Louis Malle, 1974/France-Italy-West Germany) – 10/10

I swear I saw more films last month. The amount I saw is actually larger than other months, thanks to short films, but I swear I saw more. Maybe I'm deluding myself, but what I can prove is that if you choose from a rich source of films to view and rewatch, you'll be viewing a great deal of truly incredible films. This entire list of 10/10s could be seen as me abusing the score but I am continually reminded of someone on a film forum I used to go onto saying I had a very strict and picky taste in films. If these films are all 10/10s, there are countless many, more than double in quantity to this list, that were awful or average that I have seen over the years. These ones are what happen when you search out for the better looking films, including the introduction to Louis Malle which stands out as the highlight of the month if not the year. Pretty much a list of cannon European art films, but the whole thing is full of films with great ideas, presentation, and even with the slick and proto-cool Rumble Fish, humanity and soul. There are of course the few rouges in the list, all from the US of A fittingly, Oliver Stone growing as a director to admire, Coppola just being consistently great and the strange, one-off known as Wax... that desperately needs a DVD release outside of the director's own website, dated CGI or not, for showing a low budget can still make a truly imaginative and awe inspiring creation.

Biggest Surprise of the Month
1. The Intruder (Claire Denis, 2004/France) – 10/10
2. Seven Beauties (Lina Wertmüller, 1975/Italy) – 10/10
3. The Curse of Frankenstein aka. The Rites of Frankenstein (Jesus Franco, 1972/France-Spain) – 8/10
4. Dracula: Prisoner Of Frankenstein aka. Drácula contra Frankenstein (Jesus Franco, 1972/France-Spain) – 7/10
5. Dialogos (Ülo Pikkov, 2008/Estonia) – 8/10
6. Son Of Man (Mark Dornford-May, 2006/South Africa) – 7/10
7. Sailor Victory (Katsuhiko Nishijima, 1995/Japan) – 7/10
8. Invasion Earth: The Aliens Are Here (Robert Skotak, 1988/USA) – 7/10
9. What Richard Did (Leonard Abrahamson, 2012/Ireland) – 7/10

Jess Franco is still consistently becoming a favourite for me, while in the least expected of places a film like Invasion Earth, cheesy and cheap, manages to take clips of 50s science fiction and make a fascinating collage of images of Cold War anxiety, fear of the destruction of humanity, and eye popping images of strange, practical effect made monsters. It threw at me an entire end credit's worth of films I need to see now too, which is applaudable for such a minor movie. Denis is a fascinating director, but The Intruder makes you stand up and realise her talent, and while Seven Beauties is highly regarded, I found myself encountering the work of a completely unique voice for the first time, a new individual for me to investigate her work, which sticks out. (Oh yeah). Estonian animated referenced in a review by your co-writer on Videotape Swapshop is awesome and delightfully mixed rough, drawn-on-film aesthetics with a great surreal sense of humour, and obscure Artificial Eye DVD releases like What Richard Did show that interesting films slip out of my radar continually, too many to keep up with in the year and disguised as average drama. Sailor Victory continues my ability to love most anime, no matter how obscure and historically minor it is, especially when it's actually the last two episodes of a straight-to-videotape series and the first parts, with a completely different setting, aren't actually licensed and released for the West. Son of Man deserves its moment of praise too; people will probably dismiss it as being too earnest, but in a world where Christianity, and religion in general, is mostly off-putting to people and pushes them to agnosticism or atheism, a take on the story of Jesus Christ set in modern Africa that promotes the need for peace and kindness is something we need. As an agnostic who was baptised as a Protestant, I will still defend the virtues of Christinity's core virtues of humanitarianism and selflessness, but find myself disappointed by the brutalism and dominating attitude pressed by a loud minority. The Passion of the Christ (2004) is not the film to promote the religion's virtues - heavy-handed, overbearing and using cultural aesthetics of that time, comparable to horror films like Hostel (2005), that are self-defeating - while a film like Son of Man  should be that film people use to promote it. I only knew of this film from an obscure DVD copy in a library, thus proving how vital it is for a film viewer to be willing to try things just for the sake of it.

Discovery of the Month
1. Louis Malle Films
2. Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (David Blair, 1991/Germany-USA) – 10/10
3. Chronicle of a Summer (Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, 1961/France) – 8/10
4. Key Largo (John Huston, 1948/USA) – 8/10
5. Dialogos (Ülo Pikkov, 2008/Estonia) – 8/10
6. On The Comet aka. Na komete (Karel Zeman, 1970/Czechoslovakia) – 8/10
7. Souls in the Moonlight (Tomu Uchida, 1957/Japan) – 7/10
8. The Curse of Frankenstein aka. The Rites of Frankenstein (Jesus Franco, 1972/France-Spain) – 8/10

Buying a second hand Louis Malle box set was the best thing I did this month in terms of cinema; four masterpieces out of five, and the fifth film is still Black Moon. The others are a mix of auteur cinema, cinematic curiosities, an important essay film that shows the BFI's DVD releases are vital, and at least one film with rubber dinosaurs within its narrative.

Biggest Change of Opinion
1. Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966/UK-USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
2. The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has, 1965/Poland) – 8/10 [Rewatch]

Not that much, but the change of opinion of these two films is such an exhilarating thing to feel. It shows how much I've changed from the younger guy who found these films boring and never progressing to anything clear; now I realise now the journeys were more important.

Most Divisive Film of the Month
1. A Scream From Silence aka. Mourir à tue-tête (Anne Claire Poirier, 1979/Canada) – 6/10
2. 35 Shots Of Rum aka. 35 rhums (Claire Denis, 2008/France-Germany) – 6/10 [Rewatch]
3. Triangle (Christopher Smith, 2009/Australia-UK) – 6/10
4. Manborg (Steven Kostanski, 2011/Canada) – 5/10

A Scream From Silence is one I still think about. A disturbing but necessary film that needs more attention brought to it, dissecting the damage rape causes to women. Its first quarter is probably the most disturbing take on the act of sexual violation, and the most morally well done interpretation of such an act onscreen, by forcing you to experience it through eyes of the victim herself. You cannot distance yourself from it as you see everything from her own perceptions, making the realisation of what rape does more clear. Unfortunately, this is a film that, afterwards, becomes too academic and cerebral on the subject when it should have been a primal scream of rage, the lengthy debates distancing one from the pain of what the act causes and abstracting it into a topic of discussion rather than a horrible reality. If I could rewatch it again, and have the courage to view the first part again, I would, but it's sad that such a powerful film proves that you can actually make a serious issue vague and not relevant to a viewer through discourse.

It's difficult to talk about the others, especially the more genre related material, after such a serious film being on the top of the list, but fittingly in a negative way, all the films on it have great virtue but take the wrong directions with their material. 35 Shots of Rum could succeed eventually if viewed through the wide framework of Denis's whole filmography, if viewed as one single world, but it feels slight by its own even if its casualness is lovely. Triangle deserves praise for a director-writer trying to go forth with a labyrinth-like film that, unlike the works of Christopher Nolan, don't moddy coddle the viewer with vague intellectualism but play with the idea of being stuck in a maze. It doesn't succeed more than an interesting and bold attempt because it doesn't get past the virtues of the presentation; The Saragossa Manuscript, years before it and with much more humour to its never-ending tale, is a successful take on this idea. Manborg has its virtues, and thankfully its creators have dropped the terrible aspects of Father's Day (2011) and made something far better, but making a film that is just to amuse the viewer with how tacky it is has made films like it and others worthless beyond a first viewing. Bio-Cop, the trailer that plays after the film on the UK DVD, was superior for being the length of a trailer, having a whole narrative progression, and not making the joke drag on. For a narrative length film or something that is truly memorable, you need to take the film completely serious or, as with the films the makers were probably influenced by, make an accidental clusterfuck of surreal tangents and unintentional sabotages of conventional narrative plotting. Making a joke of it all from the beginning is a half hearted attitude to a type of film that needs the creator to go for broke or go insane.

The Most Underrated Film
1. Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983/USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
2. Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (David Blair, 1991/Germany-USA) – 10/10
3. Chronicle of a Summer (Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, 1961/France) – 8/10
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Tobe Hooper, 1986/USA) – 7/10 [Rewatch]
5. The Legend of The Surami Fortress aka. The Legend of the Suram Fortress (Dodo Abashidze and Sergei Parajanov, 1984/Soviet Union) – 8/10
6. Son Of Man (Mark Dornford-May, 2006/South Africa) – 7/10
7. What Richard Did (Leonard Abrahamson, 2012/Ireland) – 7/10
8. On The Comet aka. Na komete (Karel Zeman, 1970/Czechoslovakia) – 8/10

Probably odd to put Chronicle of A Summer on this list because of its reputation, an early attempt at the essay film that follows members of the French public of all walks of life, but I had never heard of the film until it was starting to be released in the US and here in Britain by Criterion and the British Film Institution on DVD. A lot of great films, important ones as well, are not that well known, and it's going to need more DVD releases like that film's and being put in sections like this to bring attention to them.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month
1. A Scream From Silence aka. Mourir à tue-tête (Anne Claire Poirier, 1979/Canada) – 6/10
2. Alexander Nevsky (Sergei M. Eisenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev, 1938/Soviet Union) – 6/10 [Rewatch]
3. Manborg (Steven Kostanski, 2011/Canada) – 5/10
4. Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon, 2012/USA) – 5/10
5. The Castle of Fu Manchu (Jesus Franco, 1969/Italy-Liechtenstein-Spain-UK-West Germany) – 2/10
6. The Land Before Time (Don Bluth, 1988/Ireland-USA) – 4/10

A Scream From Silence needs to be seen, but it's fatal mistake has been pointed out. Manborg, on a lighter, failed to live up to its trailer. Probably the controversial choice is Alexander Nevsky, but for Eisenstein, whose silent work when I saw them in college in film studies blew me away with their visual complexity, seeing the awkward and stilted dialogue sequences really crushed the heart even if there are still great moments where his eye of editing and images were still there. I'm not really interested in Joss Whedon, but for a man with such a large stature for geek culture a film based on a (admittedly great) play - encountering this piece of Shakespeare's career for the first time through the film - that lets the great acting down with its average cinemagraphic look and feeble "cuteness" is not good enough. This, the empty Avengers film and The Cabin In The Wood (2012) do not justify his credence when he should be able to slam cinematic and screenplay homeruns, full of wit and playfulness, considering his reputation. As for the last two, unfortunately there are such things as bad Jess Franco films, which are is painful when against the great and entertaining ones, and while it's unfair for me, having only seen it now as an adult without nostalgia, to dismiss a film like The Land Before Time, which has great artistry and a willingness to tackle the mortality of one's parents in its favour, it's the kind of sickly sweet, feebly "cute" (again) film that pushed a lot of my generation to Japanese anime like My Neighbour Totoro (1989)  which are legitimately sweet and view the world, for adults and children, with a much more honest and thought out viewpoint.

The Long Awaited (Re)Viewing That Lived Up To Expectations
1. Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966/UK-USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
2. Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (David Blair, 1991/Germany-USA) – 10/10
3. The Intruder (Claire Denis, 2004/France) – 10/10
4. The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has, 1965/Poland) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
5. Black Moon (Louis Malle, 1975/France-West Germany) – 8/10
6. The Legend of The Surami Fortress aka. The Legend of the Suram Fortress (Dodo Abashidze and Sergei Parajanov, 1984/Soviet Union) – 8/10
7. Hors Satan aka. Outside Satan (Bruno Dumont, 2011/France) – 8/10
8. Mondo cane (Gualtiero Jacopetti, Paolo Cavara and Franco Prosperi, 1962/Italy) – 7/10

Only one here I will mention is Hors Satan - which I choose to call it as because the name sounds more evocative when pronounced, not for pretentious means. I feared, part the way through, it would be disappointing, seeming to drag itself nowhere, but as it reached it ends it started to make sense in its complete vagueness. Fittingly, alongside Son of Man, this is another film with a far more interesting and rewarding take on the issue of Christian morality. Some will raise their eyebrow to this, because of the film's abstract tone and certain scenes, including a literally case of sexual awakening, that may feel blasphemous, but it's actually trying to tackle the concept of faith and miracles in a peculiar but rewarding way. It also means I have now seen another good film by Dumont, and that I have both 1) another film in my slight list of 2013 UK releases that were memorable and b) there is another contemporary director in him who is justifiably an auteur with his own distinct worldview and (hopefully) a consistent output.

The Pleasure of the Month I'll [Sadly] Have To Defend
1. Sword for Truth (Osamu Dezaki, 1990/Japan) – 6/10 [Rewatch]
2. Apocalypse Zero (Toshihiro Hirano, 1996/Japan) – 7/10 [Rewatch]
3. Magnos The Robot [English, Feature Length Edit of TV Series] (Tomoharu Katsumata, 1976 & 1984/Japan-USA) – 6/10
4. Invasion Earth: The Aliens Are Here (Robert Skotak, 1988/USA) – 7/10
5. Dracula: Prisoner Of Frankenstein aka. Drácula contra Frankenstein (Jesus Franco, 1972/France-Spain) – 7/10
6. The Curse of Frankenstein aka. The Rites of Frankenstein (Jesus Franco, 1972/France-Spain) – 8/10
7. Sailor Victory (Katsuhiko Nishijima, 1995/Japan) – 7/10
8. Mondo cane (Gualtiero Jacopetti, Paolo Cavara and Franco Prosperi, 1962/Italy) – 7/10

Ironically the more downright foul, wrong and twisted anime in the top spots, Apocalypse Zero, is actually the more defendable of the two because it may be intentionally assaulting the viewer's expectations. I can't defend Sword For Truth; its hand drawn breasts depicted just to lust over female anatomy in drawn form, pointless bloodshed, cheap animation and none of the distinct atmosphere of the morally questionable but artistically evocative film Ninja Scroll (1993) this was released years later to cash in on. I would still have to defend Jess Franco films in certain quarters, explain why Invasion Earth actually becomes an accidental cinematic essay on 50s sci-fi, and admit that few know Sailor Victory actually exists and my knowledge of it only comes from the regular Amine News Network articles series The Mike Toole Show. Magnos The Robot, when an entire anime series reaching over thirty episodes is condensed into a ninety minute feature (!?!), is bad but fascinating for being a relic of its time and a condensed blast of pulp science fiction and anime candy colours that would influence a band like Daft Punk to make an entire concept album around such images. How I justify that to actual anime fans, when most only know it for the pilots forming into the belt buckle of the titular robot, is something I've yet to deal with. The final film, Mondo Cane, is a complicated issue by itself. No way near as discomforting as Africa Addio (1966), and tame by current standards, it's a film with praise worthy viewpoints, and fans including the late J.B. Ballad to defend its virtues, but it's still an exploitation film dismissed by others as being merely exploitative. Films with undermine the distinction between art and poor taste are a problem for many still, and for every defender of Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi like the Celluloid Liberation Front, there are viewers who think these films are worthless. The sub-genre of Italian mondo films, when they keep being evaluated, are probably going to cause this divide for years to come.

The Abstract Film of the Month
1. Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (David Blair, 1991/Germany-USA) – 10/10
2. The Intruder (Claire Denis, 2004/France) – 10/10
3. Daisies (Vera Chytilová, 1966/Czechoslovakia) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
4. Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966/UK-USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
5. The Phantom Of Liberty (Luis Buñuel, 1974/France-Italy) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
6. Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983/USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
7. The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has, 1965/Poland) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
8. Black Moon (Louis Malle, 1975/France-West Germany) – 8/10
9. The Curse of Frankenstein aka. The Rites of Frankenstein (Jesus Franco, 1972/France-Spain) – 8/10
10. Hors Satan aka. Outside Satan (Bruno Dumont, 2011/France) – 8/10

Honourable Mention: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Tobe Hooper, 1986/USA) – 7/10 [Rewatch]; Apocalypse Zero (Toshihiro Hirano, 1996/Japan) – 7/10 [Rewatch]

Most of the films in this section will be reviewed or already have reviews, except one or two, so keep an eye out for them for further explanation.

Worst Film of the Month
1. The Castle of Fu Manchu (Jesus Franco, 1969/Italy-Liechtenstein-Spain-UK-West Germany) – 2/10
2. The Desert of the Tartars (Valerio Zurlini, 1976/France-Italy-West Germany) – 4/10
3. The Ruins (Mrinal Sen, 1984/India) – 4/10
4. Room in Rome (Julio Medem, 2010/Spain) – 4/10
5. Radio On Remix (Christopher Petit, 1998/UK) – 4/10
6. Stolen Moments + Lone Star + Godzilla – Last Of The Creatures + Rosa Canina (Jeff Keen, 1972-1975-1976/UK/4 Short Films Made Into One Work) – 4/10
7. The Land Before Time (Don Bluth, 1988/Ireland-USA) – 4/10

Unfortunately, there are such things of atrocious Jess Franco films, ones where even Christopher Lee is dragged into them. As much as his era of UK co-productions lead to great films being made, it was for the better, if The Castle of Fu Manchu is to go by, when Franco went his own way and made more cheaper, less marketable films. This month I actually had to fill this section out with 4/10 films for once, but that's nothing to be proud of still. Again, I don't want to harm people's nostalgia for The Land Before Time, but it cannot be escaped from, and the two experimental works on this list didn't work for me. The two choices that could be upsetting for some is the inclusion of The Desert of the Tartars and The Ruins. Drama is a fickle genre for me; it could be that I am not mature enough to appreciate their emotional cores or that it's not enough to merely present their themes but to actively try to bring a viewer into them to make them feel something about the material. Finally, Room In Rome actually went down a score when I thought about it more and proves to be one of the most embarrassing filmic moments I've seen this year. It'd probably be less dubious and more virtuous a film if it was upfront, softcore titillation which revelled in the voyeuristic obsession with lesbianism, especially for Natasha Yarovenko's Amazon tall, physical beauty and Elena Anaya's charismatic charm, because the angsty drama of Room In Rome should mortify gay women for having these characters mope about the pain of love and treat this area of sexual orientation as an excuse for bad melodrama. While one could argue the nature of titillation is just as objectifying and treats a sexuality held from birth for many women as a mere fetish, at least if one celebrated the brazen delight and ecstasy of two women enjoying sex and each other's company it could be positive and able to show the full nature of the joys of the women and the viewer, maybe beyond men and maybe even for women and actual lesbians. Room In Rome's pontifications are far and away more offensive because its trivialises the experiences by real people who have probably, sadly, endured discrimination and misogyny for their life choice and, also, probably have enjoyed their sexuality in a way that this film does bugger all to attempt to show.

80 Works Watched In March
14 Rewatched Works
66 New Works Seen


Sunday, 7 July 2013

Technical Issues With Videotape Swapshop

This is just a brief message to any reader who is unable to access any of my reviews for the Videotape Swapshop site linked from this blog over the last day or so. Due to some significant technical issues, it may be the case that there may be a drastic overhaul of that site due to unforeseen circumstances. Hopefully, even if this the case, all my reviews for that site so far will be made available to view again and a form of said site will be back in existence.

Please wait patiently.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Mini-Review: On The Comet (1970)


Dir. Karel Zeman

A later film is Zeman’s filmography, making films since the later forties, On The Comet takes its influence from turn-of-the century literature. Literature which pre-existed before political correctness, as this film is set in a colonial ruled Middle Eastern country, but is still enriched with the imagination of authors of the time that mixes science fiction and fantasy together and never lets this fact take away from the creativity and fun the stories give. To the surprise of everyone within a colonial town – the French occupiers housed in a fort, an invading group of Arabs helped by the Spanish and the protagonist, obsessed with a girl that seems to have appeared from a postcard and his dreams – a rouge planet skims over the Earth’s atmosphere and pulls the entire town and its populous onto its surface. The warring groups still want to fight each other, as the protagonist and his love interest sit in the middle of it all, despite the fact that the prehistoric occupants of the satellite and the fact that it’s still moving in the universe between planets should be of greater concern.


Significant to Zeman’s style is his mix of live action and animation. In most cases, it is stop motion animation figures imposed on real sets. In Zeman’s work it is real actors on animated and artificially built sets. The results compare to Georges Méliès, or for a more modern example which borrowed from Méliès, to the music video Tonight Tonight by The Smashing Pumpkins. The results create a very appropriate tone for the tributes to classic storytelling, a peculiar mixture of adventure story with science fiction, romance and a handful of rubber dinosaurs. It’s not as extensive in terms of its look as with the director’s A Deadly Invention (1958), but the results, presented in tinted yellow and colour shading like a old silent era film, still fleshes out the results. It also balances out this fantastic plot with satire about the groups involved. The French especially are shown to be comically ridiculous and capable of pointless amounts of dominancy, with plans for any sort of event possible and liable to arrest anyone suspicious when there are flies as big as a man’s head. It would be interesting what this film would be like on an equal adult and child audience – dinosaurs and short length for the kids, a different (from current cinema) take on pulpy adventure stories for adults – and this satire adds a nice caveat to the film. Without the canons the French occupiers, despite being the good guys, would be on equal terms with everyone else and have soldiers who are not as reliable as they would wise. In the colonial era it also adds a nice, modern thought on this issue, replacing soapbox condemnation with a cheeky sense of humour. By the end, the film leaves off with a charming aftertaste to it, managing to feel full for such a short length and never lagging at the same time. And any film with a bipedal pigfish, for a brief scene, deserves an extra mark as a cherry on the top.