February 22, 2018

The Lodgers

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Brian O'Malley - 2017
Epic Pictures

Twin brother and sister live in a huge, crumbling mansion in Ireland. One could fit the tiny, nearby village inside that entire house. The film takes place in 1920, though it's only the presence of newly returned soldier that offers any hint of the 20th Century. The twins, Rachel and Edward, are bound by a curse that demands the two be in bed by midnight, not let any strangers into the house, and threatens the life of the remaining twin should one of them leave. Edward constantly stays indoors. Rachel leaves during the daytime for necessary shopping. The two attempt to avoid the consequences of the family trust emptied of funds. Their lives are disrupted by Rachel's attraction to Sean, the returning soldier, and Bermingham, the hatchet faced debt collector.

Brian O'Malley's second feature doesn't have the overwhelming sense of dread as in his terrific debut, Let Us Prey. The screenplay, by David Turpin, owes a bit to Poe's Fall of the House of Usher both for the relationship between the brother and sister, and the house seeming to have a life of its own. Water seeps through a trap door on the main floor. Voices emanate from the darkest corners. Edward is sometimes so pale that along with his never leaving the house, suggests a visible ghostly presence. The idea of an enclosed world is stressed not only by the dimly lit interiors, but even the pathway to the mansion, walled in by the lush green trees.

O'Malley uses mirror images, mostly in the beginning. Water drips upwards. There are hints that this is a haunted house, but hints aren't enough for the literal minded contemporary film viewers. Psychological horror doesn't cut it when the demand is for CGI ghosts. O'Malley's stated goal was to make a film akin to Jack Clayton's The Innocents. While his film falls short, it's better than the remake of The Haunting which took the suggested horror of Shirley Jackson into an unsubtle extravaganza of special effects.

Mirroring is also part of the narrative. Simultaneous to Edward and Rachel's virtual imprisonment by malevolent forces inside the house are the hostile villagers that threaten Rachel. That Sean returns from World War I with a prothetic leg is a reminder of some of the real horrors of the outside world.

O'Malley was particularly lucky in his casting. Charlotte Vega and Bill Milner look like they could actually pass for siblings. As the debt collector, David Bradley resembles the kind of miserly character from a Dickens novel. David Turpin also contributed to the music, most notably with a song co-written with Irish musician Cathey Davey, detailing the family curse.

February 18, 2018

Coffee Break

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Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman - 2014)

February 13, 2018

Don't Call Me Son

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Mae So Ha Uma
Anna Muylaert - 2016
Kino Lorber/Zeitgeist Films Region 1 DVD

Anna Muylaert films actor Naomi Nero, the seventeen year-old Pierre, in close-up in his first scenes, barely lit, with his face only partially seen. He's in a crowded Sao Paolo nightclub, wearing an animal ear hat with flaps that further obscures his face. Dancers casually pair up with each other or just as easily drift off to dance alone. Muylaert cuts to a shot of Pierre fucking a girl he was dancing with. What we see is within the frame are the two bodies from the mid-section locked together, taking notice of Pierre's garters and black stockings.

In this opening scene, Muylaert confronts her audience much in the way that Pierre eventually confronts his biological parents. A fluid sense of sexual identity is presented here without explanation or apology. Why I prefer the original poster for the film rather than the DVD cover is because instead of simply showing Pierre's sexually ambiguous appearance, the Brazilian poster also emphasizes Pierre's constant state of rebellion with his turned up middle finger. The story is inspired by a true incident of a child who was stolen from a maternity ward, only to be reunited with his biological parents years later. Pierre and his younger sister, Jacqueline, discover that they were never adopted, but were stolen at birth. The film explores the idea of what family means, in addition to self-identity.

Muylaert has the same actress, Dani Nefussi, play both the biological mother and the adoptive mother. Muylaert has explained this casting choice based on the emotional bonds that the women have with Pierre. This film is in some ways a thematic extension of Muylaert's previous film, The Second Mother, which also explored emotional and family bonds, as well as social strata. Pierre and Jacqueline are first seen in a small, but functional apartment. This is contrasted with Pierre's new home, a large house in a gated community. Pierre's former apartment could fit in the kitchen with room to spare. That contrast of change of parentage and home is made more clear when Pierre, attempting to leave his new home, is thwarted when his biological mother calls to have a guard close the entrance gate.

Even though the film's sympathies are primarily with Pierre, Muylaert also recognizes the pain of the biological parents reuniting with a child thought lost for seventeen years. The English language title is taken from a scene in which Pierre lets his parents know that he will not conform to traditional notions of masculinity. The original Portuguese title translates as "Mother there's only one", which may be more open for interpretation. The DVD comes with brief interviews with Muylaert and the main actors. Aside from discussing the research done prior to making the film, Muylaert discusses how she cast Naomi Nero, making his acting debut here, spotted for his naturalism on the dance floor.

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February 11, 2018

Coffee Break

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Colm Feore in The Trotsky (Jacob Tierney - 2009)

February 08, 2018

Seijun Suzuki - The Early Years Volume 1

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Seijun Suzuki - The Early Years Volume 1 - Seijun Rising: The Youth Movies

Fumihazushita haru / The Boy who Came Back / The Boy who Made Good / The Spring that didn't Come (1958)

Toge o wataru wakai kaze / The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass / The Breeze on the Ridge (1961)

Hai tin yakuza / Teenage Yakuza / High-Teen Yakuza (1962)

Akutaro / The Incorrigible / Bastard (1963)

Akutaro-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo / Born under Crossed Stars (1965)

Arrow Films BD Regions A/B - DVD Regions 1/2 four-disc set

Among the supplements in this set are four trailers from the films in this set. Sadly, there is no trailer for Teenage Yakuza. While all four of the trailers include mention of being directed by Seijun Suzuki, three of those trailers also add the adjective of "genius". I found those trailers interesting as it adds to the picture of the sometimes uneasy relationship Suzuki had as one of the house directors for the Japanese studio Nikkatsu. Here was a filmmaker publicly championed by his studio, yet for the most part relegated to whatever script was assigned to him at the moment. In another supplement, film critic Tony Rayns discusses Suzuki's frustration that Nikkatsu would not allow him to make more serious, bigger budget films unlike his peer, Shohei Imamura.

Coincidences with Imamura don't stop with the two temporarily being on the same career path in the beginning. Imamura's debut film, Stolen Desire (1958) was based on a novel by Toko Kon. The same author provided the basis for three of Suzuki's films, two of which are included in this set - The Incorrigible and Born under Crossed Stars. Curiously, the basic premise for Stolen Desire, about an itinerant acting troupe that mixes kabuki theater with strip shows would seem to have partially inspired Wind-of-Youth with its traveling magic show that features a popular ecdysiast.

As studio assignments, the stories generally follow an imposed template. The main character is a young man in his late teens with a propensity for getting into fist fights. At worst he's a juvenile delinquent having trouble keeping out of trouble. At his most benign, he's just a young man living independently, trying to figure out his own way in life. Romance is chaste, maybe some hand holding, maybe some kissing. Nikkatsu's audience for these films were generally teenagers, born during or immediately after World War II, more westernized than their parents. The starring roles were assigned by the studio from their contract players.

Where one sees Suzuki's hand is in the visual style. Tom Vick's book on Suzuki discusses this in depth. On of the favored devices is the overhead crane shot. Vick also mentions a scene in Wind-of-Youth where Koji Wada is splashed with different colored paint, though the effect is done with changes of filters. In The Incorrigible, light ripples like waves behind a shoji screen. Throughout the films are shots of legs, such as early scene in The Boy who Came Back, when a group of young women gather to gossip, with only the legs of the women visible in the shot. Suzuki may have had Eisenstein in mind when he alternated shots of a kendo duel with that of roosters pecking at each other in Born under Crossed Stars. Near the end of that film, the young Jukichi is described by his father as being like a "fighting cock".

A sequence involving Jukichi pursued by the equally young Taneko plays on the contrast between the two. Taking place in the early 1920s, the prim, sexually shy Jukichi is wearing a kimono, expecting to meet the proper Etsuko. Instead, he is met by Taneko, wearing a western style dress. Suzuki punctuates the sequence by playing with the spatial relationships between the two, usually with Taneko breaking into the frame from below or the side of the frame. This sequence extends from the two meeting at a train platform, followed by a nervous Jukichi sharing a bath with the uninhibited Taneko.

I would like to think Suzuki took a certain amount of pleasure in cramming as many extras as possible onto the dance floor, whether it's a tiny bar in The Boy who Came Back, or the much larger club in Teenage Yakuza. Suzuki may have been pushing the limits of censorship with the otherwise family friendly Wind-of-Youth when the stripper removes her panties to a well timed black out, and later opens her robe to her male audience demanding more, with her back to the film's viewers. Suzuki has his quieter moments as well that are worth savoring, such as a close-up of Ruriko Asaoka sprinkling sand through her hand at a beach in The Boy who Came Back.

In addition to the trailers, and Tony Rayns supplement, Born under Crossed Stars includes a commentary track by alway informative Jasper Sharp. Part of Sharp's commentary is on author Toko Kon (1898 - 1977), who's loosely autobiographical novels were the basis of the two films that take place in the 1920s, a period in Japanese history that Seijun Suzuki liked to revisit, most notable with the three films collectively known as "The Taisho Trilogy".

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Masako Izumi and Ken Yamaguchi in Born under Crossed Stars

February 06, 2018

The Diabolical Doctor Z

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Dans les griffes du maniaque / Miss Muerte
Jesus Franco - 1966
Redemption Films BD Region A

What struck me upon seeing Doctor Z again after several years was the remarkable use of depth of field in the images. This begins almost immediately with the interior of some kind of prison that appears to be underground, an extremely long passageway, with the camera following a prisoner to a gate first seen in the distance. The film was made not long after Franco's work with Orson Welles, primarily as second unit director on Chimes at Midnight. While there is nothing in Doctor Z that can be pointed to as looking like a specific homage, what is noticeable here is the use of space, of placement of characters that force the viewer to consider what is within the entire frame, and the frequent use of extended traveling shots that follow the characters in pursuit.

This is a beautifully rendered blu-ray disc, one of Franco's last films in black and white. This is also Franco's most easily accessible film, for viewers less familiar with the filmmaker or whose preference is for more classical modes of cinema. Certainly working two associates best known for their work with Luis Bunuel may have been an impetus here, with Jean-Claude Carriere on the screenplay, and Serge Silberman as one of the producers.

The titles are a bit misleading. Doctor Z, that would be Doctor Zimmer, dies after the first twelve minutes or so. And Miss Muerte is the stage name of a nightclub dancer turned killer. The villain here is Doctor Z's daughter, Irma, taking revenge on the three esteemed doctors who in publicly mocking her father caused him to die in front of a conference of his peers. While not a sequel, per se, there is reference to Franco's earlier mad scientist creation, Doctor Orloff. Zimmer is a disciple of Orloff's with some unconventional ideas about mind control and good and evil, which consists of placing some unwilling victims on a glass platform, pinned down by two long metal tentacles, and sticking long metal pins through their heads. Told to cease his operations, ends the conference by getting an apparent heart attack. Irma Zimmer's revenge begins by first faking her death with an unwary hitchhiker. Among the detectives on the trail are music composer Daniel White as Green from Scotland Yard, and the still baby-faced Franco as a detective sleep deprived by the cries of his newborn triplets.

The film comes with both an English and French language track. Keep in mind that the cast was made up of primarily French and Spanish actors, and that all dialogue was most likely dubbed in as was common at the time of production. The advantage to seeing the film in English is that it does not distract from the wonderful visual qualities here. Cinephiles will certainly get a chuckle from a cinematic reference in the French dialogue in an early scene. Tim Lucas provides the commentary track here, providing information throughout the entire running time. Unlike previous Franco films, Daughter of Dracula and The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, Doctor Z is less dependent on familiarity with the more arcane aspects of Franco's universe. Still, what makes Lucas's commentaries stand out is his preparation, with no lapses of silence or the fumbling of improvisation with scattered notes.

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February 04, 2018

Coffee Break

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Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik in Cold Prey II (Mats Stenberg - 2008)