October 17, 2017

Red Christmas

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Craig Anderson - 2017
Artsploitation Films BD Region A

When a movie gets sent to me for review, even one not specifically requested, I try to give it a chance. While I understand that some films are intentionally provocative, my problem is not only that I find Red Christmas muddleheaded, but completely dispiriting.

A montage of footage of pro-life and anti-abortion protests culminates in a scene with an abortion clinic bombed. A man surveys the damage and sees a small hand appearing out of a yellow bucket. Twenty years later, someone named Cletus (rhymes with fetus) with a heavily bandaged face, cloaked in black, is in search of his mother. Appearing at home of the matriarch played by Dee Wallace, an attempted Christmas day family reunion goes very much awry.

The opening scene of murder in Deep Red is deeper, redder and more evocative of Christmas than the whole of Red Christmas. Anderson might have been better off had he emphasized the Australian location, with December being the height of Summer, rather than passing off the setting as generic North America. Even as a horror film, Red Christmas is too bland to distinguish itself.

The blu-ray comes with a commentary track. More interesting is the interview with Dee Wallace with the actress discussing some of the highlights of her career. Best is the frequently funny interview with Gerard O'Dwyer, an actor with Down's Syndrome, whose role in Red Christmas borders on the autobiographical.

October 15, 2017

Coffee Break

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John Garfield in The Breaking Point (Michael Curtiz - 1950)

October 10, 2017

Denver Film Festival - The Line-up

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Are film festivals archaic? In the forty years since the first Denver Film Festival, movie going and movie making has changed. Back in 1977, home video was still relatively new, pre-recorded tapes of the handful of films available were expensive, and if you wanted to see film of some importance, it was seen in a theatrical run, or if you lived in a major city, at a film festival. We're now at a point when something called a film or movie is more often than not a series of digital images, rather than celluloid, and there is less reason to leave the house when classics, foreign language films, and mainstream Hollywood product are available through internet connected devices. And yet, there is still the allure of seeing that buzzed about title before everyone else, or making a "discovery" of some work that cherished, while generally ignored by the crowds and the critics. For myself, it's nice to get a note of thanks from an independent filmmaker who wants to give you credit for helping his film make the transition from festival favorite to a DVD sale.

The big titles at this year's Denver Film Festival include all three "People's Choice" films from Toronto, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Molly's Game and I, Tonya. The festival kicks off with Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird.

Several entries for the foreign language film Oscar will be presented, including Fatih Akin's In the Fade and Joachim Trier's Thelma, among the filmmakers I like to keep current with. I'm also hoping to catch new films by Sally Potter (The Party), and Naomi Kawase (Radiance).

Danish Cinema is also to be featured, with films by newer filmmakers who haven't yet moved over to English language productions, unlike what seems like every Dogme 95 member. For reasons unknown to me, the most famous (infamous?) living Danish filmmaker, Lars Von Trier, is included, represented by his English language Breaking the Waves. I would have programmed the Danish language The Five Obstructions because the film features Von Trier and his mentor, Jorgen Leth. This year marks Leth's 80th birthday, as well as the fifties anniversary of Leth's short, "The Perfect Human", which Leth remade with Von Trier's impossible conditions. Plus, The Five Obstructions is deliberately quite funny.

While some films that have been on the film festival circuit aren't included, there are enough films that I want to see as part of the festival, with the knowledge that several others that aren't included here will be likely be seen in their home video versions soon enough. The full list is here. What I cover, as in years past, will just be a select group from the 200 or so titles available.

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October 08, 2017

Coffee Break

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Diane Lane in Paris can Wait (Eleanor Coppola - 2017)

October 03, 2017

Popcorn

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Mark Herrier - 1991
Synapse Film BD Regions ABC

'Tis the season . . . and my first review of the month is one of two blu-ray releases featuring Dee Wallace! Popcorn is a frustrating film to write about because of the gap between what's on the screen and what the filmmakers hoped to achieve. This is a horror comedy that's not scary, and only sporadically amusing. The small group of cinematically illiterate film students decide to raise money for their department by hosting a night of three gimmick filled older horror films in a delict theater. While setting things up, they find an old reel of film depicting a sacrificial killing by a bearded man in a robe with his female victim. The footage resembles the nightmares of one of the students, Maggie. On movie night, a mysterious killer is on the loose, with several of the students as his victims.

If these were the film students I've known, no one would rate a Police Academy movie over the collected works of Ingmar Bergman, even for a cheap laugh. And there would probably be earnest discussions about Jack Arnold's 3D fantasies, or why we love the silly gimmicks of William Castle, while the "horror horn" and "fear flasher" from Hy Averback's Chamber of Horrors were poor imitations. As it stands, it is three of the films within the film that are the most interesting. I'm not sure if this is purely coincidental, but I reviewed Synapse release, Mosquito about two years ago. Did this spoof of those monster insect movies inspire some Michigan based filmmakers a few years later? The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man has a bravura performance by Bruce Glover, trying to channel Lon Chaney, Jr. The expressionistic cinematography recalls the work of talented filmmakers working on the fringes like E. A. Dupont and Edgar G. Ulmer. The nightmare horror movie with the human sacrifice looks like the work of Charles Manson trying his darnedest to be Kenneth Anger. The films within the film were the work of the original director of Popcorn, Alan Ormsby. What is discussed in the commentary track is that Ormsby put in so much time and care with his homages that it meant less time and money for the main narrative. Ormsby was fired, replaced by Mark Harrier, an experienced actor taking on his first, and only, feature.

Uncredited producer Bob Clark is acknowledged as the invisible hand in directing some of Popcorn, leaving Harrier on his own for the conclusion of the shoot as well as editing. The mystery about the killer is not very compelling, and the set-up very much owing to Phantom of the Opera. One of the best moments is a short turn by Ray Walston as the collector of movie memorabilia, with his entertaining soliloquy devoted to movie ballyhoo. The other moment is when the villain, unmasked, but not startlingly out of place among the many disguised horror film buffs in the audience, taunts the audience in deciding whether he should kill Maggie on stage, to the delight of the extremely animated crowd.

The blu-ray comes with a documentary of the troubled production history of Popcorn featuring director Herrier, star Jill Schoelen, as well as others in the cast and crew. Schoelen and Harrier are also among those who participate in the commentary track. Bruce Glover has his own little supplement, discussing his role, and satisfaction in the critical reaction from his performance. For a film that's in part about disguises, the best might be with the filmmakers making Kingston, Jamaica look like southern California.

October 01, 2017

Coffee Break

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Rebecca Hall in A Promise (Patrice Leconte - 2013)

September 28, 2017

Sex in the Comix

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Joelle Oosterlinck - 2012
Doppelgänger Releasing Region 1 DVD

After kicking around for several years, including Youtube, Oosterlinck's documentary has an official U.S. release. Where it is of interest is in introducing a couple of European artists I wasn't previously familiar with. For under an hour, we have what is essentially a tourist's view of depictions of sex by a handful of artists mostly known through underground comics, including the best known of all, Robert Crumb.

The French filmmaker, Oosterlinck, has shown a past interest in art and artists, and related her, has made a documentary about Art Spiegelman, famous for depicting the holocaust with his graphic book, Maus. Molly Crabapple is a socially committed artist in her own right, who could well have been one of the subjects here. And yet, I felt like there was more to explore. Certainly there isn't much to add about Robert Crumb that hasn't already been revealed in Terry Zwigoff's documentary. More interesting for myself were the scenes of the German Ralf Konig, who used his comics as a way of dealing with the changes of gay culture, and France's Aude Picault, who has used part of her life to depict female sexuality, with fine line drawings of women who are not designed as male fantasy figures.

Along with how comics have been a reflection of their respective artists realities or fantasies, is an overview on how comics reflected societal changes, and and dealt with censorship. There is brief footage of Fredric Wertham, the psychiatrist who effectively ruined comics for over a decade with his book, Seduction of the Innocent, which linked comic books with various forms of juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior in 1954. More recently Wertham's book has been exposed for using shoddy methodology.

Another glance to the past is a fleeting look at the so-called "Tijuana Bibles", the compact comic books that depicted sex, sometimes that of Hollywood celebrities, or parodies of well-known comic book characters. Missing are looks at some of the erotic comics of the past, often centered on female characters, such as "Barbarella", "Modesty Blaise" and "Valentina". I would guess that for that person who never looked at a single issue of "Zap Comix", or browsed through the graphic books section of a bookstore, Sex in the Comix might be a good place to start.