January 21, 2018

Coffee Break

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Jean Reno and Salome Stevenin in Comme un Chef (Daniel Cohen - 2012)

January 16, 2018

Kills on Wheels

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Tiszta szívvel
Attila Till - 2016
Kino Lorber BD Region A

Often while watching Kills on Wheels, I thought of the late, quadriplegic cartoonist, John Callahan. The butts of the jokes were often people without arm or legs, maybe a hook for a hand. Callahan didn't even spare himself with a western posse stopped at an abandoned wheelchair, with one of the men declaring, "He won't get far on foot". I still recall one cartoon where a sign was featured stating, "Hire the handicapped. They're fun to watch."

Till sometimes has fun at the expense of his characters as well, as when one wheelchair bound character rolls on a pathway, only to find that his only way down is on stairway. I don't know if Till knew of Callahan and his cartoons, but his two young characters, Zolika and Barba, aspire to be cartoonists. Their adventures as part-time hit men recruited by former fireman Rupaszov may, or may not, be springing from their imagination.

The original title translates from Hungarian as "a pure heart". What is interesting here is that the English title describes the action of the characters, while the Hungarian title is about the intent. Without giving too much of the story away, most of the killing is done by Rupaszov. Zolika and Barba might be accomplices, but their main motivation is a temporary sense of independence from life in the rehabilitation center that is their home. Away from therapists and doctors, the two young men get to enjoy Budapest night life, free flowing alcohol and even some female company.

Unlike the stream of Hollywood films that are centered on disabled characters, Zoltan Fenyvesi as Zolika is genuinely dependent on his wheels. The actor playing Barba, Adam Fekete, has cerebral palsy. Able bodied actors might complain less about any physical demands after seeing these two getting knocked into the Danube River in one scene. The actor playing Rupaszov, Szabolcs Thuroczy, may familiar to those who saw White God from last year. Parts of the film appear to have been filmed in real locations with scores of real-life extras. Till has reportedly worked as a volunteer with the disabled, providing some inspiration for the film.

Several shots are from the level, if not point of view, of someone in a wheelchair. There is one bravura scene of a shootout in a gangster's mansion, with what appears to be a single long tracking shot moving across two divided rooms sharing the same floor, starting with Rupaszov, with the camera following his victims as they are shot. The real life action is occasionally broken up with images of Zolika and Barba's artwork in progress.

The blu-ray includes three brief deleted scenes, plus some brief bits with Till and his actors discussing the making of Kills on Wheels.

January 14, 2018

Coffee Break

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Nino Manfredi and Emma Penella in The Executioner (Luis Garcia Berlanga - 1963)

January 09, 2018

Spaghetti Westerns at the Crossroads

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Spaghetti Westerns at the Crossroads: Studies in Relocation, Transition and Appropriation
Edited by Austin Fisher
Edinburgh University Press - 2016

Crossroads would have been simpler. What we have here are twelve chapters each going in their own direction. Not that any of these chapters are without interest, but the serious film scholar may respond with more questions than answers.

What dominates more than anything else are reminders that the so-called Spaghetti western was usually an international co-production, and the films are the results of cinematic, political and cultural influences that are being analyzed well after the genre has come and gone. Certainly Sergio Leone gets his due, but also two other Sergios - Sollima and Corbucci. Sollima unsurprisingly is cited for his trilogy of films starring Tomas Milian. Corbucci is cited most frequently for his film The Mercenary. For both Cobucci and Sollima, the films in question can be read as political allegories, often taking place during the Mexican Revolution.

Lee Broughton brings attention to the lesser known Giuseppe Colizzi and his films Ace High(1968) and Boot Hill (1969). The two films featured African-American actors Brock Peters and Woody Strode, respectively, in rolls and billing more significant than their work in Hollywood, Broughton also discusses the presentation of black actors in Hollywood westerns prior to shift when "blaxploitation" films were a commercially viable genre.

Genre hybrids are also part of the discussion on the handful (fistful?) of Italian westerns that featured Asian characters, if not Asian actors, as well as the Asian films that showed the influence of the Italian westerns international popularity. Hideo Gosha's Three Outlaw Samurai (1964) is discussed here, although it is the later Goyokin (1969) which arguably shows Gosha working under the spell of Leone. Mentioned in passing is the Euro-western, Five Man Army (1969) which included Tetsuro Tamba, a star of the two Gosha film. That film also included frequent Italian western star Bud Spencer, and was co-written by Dario Argento, one of the several writers for Once Upon a Time in the West.

Less obvious connections are to be made in a survey of Hindi films that transposed aspects of the Italian westerns to contemporary stories. Stretching things further is a discussion on two early films by Pietro Germi, arguing that the use of certain western tropes made the films in question proto-Italian westerns.

Pete Falconer suggests that the Italian western has replaced the classic Hollywood western as defining the genre in popular culture. There are a few films mentioned as "afterlife Westerns", those films made following the demise of the western as a commercially viable genre and how genre conventions have been reworked for a younger audience. If there is a crossroad, then a new map is needed to make sense of the newer films such as Kristian Levring's The Salvation (2014), Sweetwater (2013) - among the period and contemporary westerns of the past decade to star Ed Harris, and the direct to video productions that appear on Netflix.

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January 07, 2018

Coffee Break

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Paul Newman in Harper (Jack Smight - 1966)

January 02, 2018

Miss Zombie

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Sabu - 2013
Redemption BD Region A

Much of the activity in Miss Zombie takes place at the home of a middle-aged doctor, his wife and young child, a boy who incessantly takes photos with a Polaroid camera. Their house looks looks like large slabs of concrete, more like a mausoleum than a home. It's a fitting location, with Mount Fuji occasionally glimpsed in the distance, for a film that plays with some of the conventions of the zombie genre.

Writer-director Sabu, the pseudonym for Hiroyuki Tanaka, has created a film both elegant and elegiac. Filmed primarily in widescreen black and white, with a five minute burst of color near the end, this is the kind of film that is an unexpected blend of grind house and art house. The viewer is only given hints about a viral infection that has created a number of zombies, who have been herded into cages. Those with a low level of infection have been sold as menial help or pets. Instructions are to feed these domesticated zombies only fruit or vegetables, and absolutely no meat to prevent them from turning feral. A gun is included for preventative measure.

What is really at the heart here is an exploration of family love and loss of identity. Sara, the title character, is employed mainly to clean a stone pathway in front of the house. Much of the soundtrack is of the sounds made by Sara's brushing the stones. Walking with her face cast downward, she is symbolic of those who are exploited in labor and sexually. As she trudges to the storehouse that is her home, children toss rocks at her, while some neighborhood punks think nothing of sticking knives into her shoulder. Sara continues walking, with nights passed looking at a photo of her former self, pregnant, with an unscarred body.

Sara's presence upsets the family dynamics. The son, Kenichi, is brought back to the house dead from drowning in a pond. We don't see the death of Kenichi, but the description evoked for me that moment in James Whale's Frankenstein where the monster tosses the young girl in a pond. The mother, Shizuko begs Sara to bring Kenichi back to life. Among the unforeseen consequences, Sara becomes more human, while Shizuko becomes more physically awkward and eventually inarticulate in her cries.

Sara's final flashback unmistakably recalls Night of the Living Dead, but in other ways Miss Zombie is closer to such films as the Korean The Housemaid or Joseph Losey's The Servant as examinations of class and entitlement. With the current state of Japanese films available for western viewers being what it is, I'm glad to see a belated release by a filmmaker relatively little known to stateside viewers. Certainly, the ending is the most heartbreaking to be seen in a film about the living dead since Duane Jones' brief moment of victory in George Romero's classic.

December 31, 2017

Coffee Break

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Lily James and Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver (Edgar Wright - 2017)