October 30, 2014

Prince of the Night

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Nosferatu a Venezia
Augusto Caminito - 1988
One 7 Movies Region 0 DVD

I'm not entirely sure what to make of Prince of the Night, starting with why One 7 Movies would bother creating a new English language title. Nosferatu in Venice sums up all you need to know. That the film stars Klaus Kinski is enough to inform most interested viewers that Kinski is reprising the title role in Werner Herzog's film from 1979. The film is not really a sequel to Herzog's film, nor does it really have much to do with F.W. Murnau's silent classic, other than the name of the vampire. More confounding is that it's a film that might have actually been better than what we have here had the production not been disrupted by the whims of the star.

Original director Mario Caiano doesn't have the most distinguished filmography, but it does include Nightmare Castle starring Barbara Steele. Reportedly Caiano was fired at the request of Kinski. According to IMDb, Maurizio Lucidi, who directed the very good Designated Victim, had a hand, as did Luigi Cozzi of Starcrash infamy, as well as Kinski. Directorial credit went to producer Augusto Caminito. While there is no discernible sense of visual style, the chaos of the production may at least partially explain why what is seen is serviceable most of the time, when the film could have benefitted from a better composed and lit shots.

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Most of the action takes place at a mansion in Venice, where the Van Helsing proxy, Professor Catalano, shows up at the request of a princess. The legend is that Nosferatu was last seen in Venice in the 18th Century. Rather than assuming that the vampire has finally died or at least has found new hunting grounds with a new identity, Catalano and company have a seance which brings Nosferatu back to life. As it's carnival time, Nosferatu's centuries old clothing fits in quite well with the rest of the revelers. In this movie, Nosferatu has no fear of crucifixes, crushing one in his hand, and making the one held by Catalano red hot, burning the professor's hand. He also sees his reflection. Shotgun blasts through the stomach don't stop this vampire. What is suppose to kill Nosferatu is the love received from a virgin. And sure enough, there's a young woman ready to give her all, with little concern that the object of her affection is a nocturnal blood sucker, or that there is a considerable age difference.

As it turned out, Christopher Plummer, who plays Catalano, also played Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula 2000. The DVD comes with both English and Italian language tracks. I chose English in part to hear Plummer and Donald Pleasance in their own voices. Pleasance appears as a priest, a resident of the mansion. Having Plummer and Pleasance in the cast helps provide some instant gravitas to the film. Evidently, Pleasance must have enjoyed whatever work he did with Cozzi to work with him the following year on The Paganini Horror. Whatever pathos Kinski brought to the role of Nosferatu under Herzog's direction is absent here. Most of the time, Kinski just glares at the camera. His vampire visage, with the rodential teeth, is seen very briefly. Kinski took the role in order to finance his pet project, Paganini, what turned out to be his final film, and not to be confused with Cozzi's film. Of course, frolicking onscreen with a naked young lady might have had some incentive for the volatile actor.

With whatever was spent on providing something resembling star power, there wasn't much for special effects. A scene with with Nosferatu flying over Venice with his virgin in his arm is very obviously a superimposed shot, the kind that barely passed muster in cheapjack science fiction movies more than fifty years ago. Venice, usually seen at night, and a few fog machines, do most of the heavy lifting here, providing the kind of atmosphere that was probably used best in Don't Look Now. In a French interview, Luigi Cozzi describes the film as a catastrophe. And upon closer examination, the film is cobbled together with various elements that don't quite fit. It's a film maudit, alright, but one that is watchable for its own idiosyncratic pleasures.

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October 28, 2014

Body Count

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Camping del Terrore
Ruggero Deodato - 1986
Quadrifoglio All Region DVD

I just had to look. An Italian slasher film that takes place in Colorado. Starring Mimsy Farmer. What could go wrong?

I'm not sure how much was actually filmed in Colorado. IMDb says that Body Count was filmed in Abruzzo, Italy. If that was the case, it sure looks more convincingly like Colorado than what I've seen in several Hollywood films. A couple of details that Deodato and company got wrong were that at one point there's a sign for Interstate 80, which is north of Colorado, in Wyoming. I know because I drove from Oakland to Denver on that route. The main highway that winds through the Colorado Rockies is I-70. Also, at the camp where most of the film takes place, there's a big sign for Schlitz Beer. This could only take place in a parallel universe. Sure you can get your choice at your favorite place to imbibe, but if you're only going to have one sign at your drinking establishment, it better be for Coors. It's not quite like in Amsterdam where there are big neon signs for Heineken on virtually every corner, but you get the idea.

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Anyways, the film takes place somewhere in Colorado. A high school girl goes off to a cabin with some guy, they have sex, and the girl, wandering in the woods, gets killed by someone with a very big knife for no apparent reason. Anybody looking for logic might as well give up at this point. There's no reason why a bunch of kids would want to go camping at a lodge that the owner declares is closed, and you have to wonder why no one check on the place before going there in the first place. The camp is run by a married couple played by David Hess and Mimsy Farmer. Hess made a reputation for himself as one of the home invaders in Last House on the Left so already he's under suspicion. Mimsy Farmer provided nightmares for Michael Brandon in Four Flies on Grey Velvet so you know that she's probably not to be entirely trusted. In addition to this pair being a match made in Hell, Mimsy is having an affair with Sheriff Charles Napier, the square jawed hero of several Russ Meyer movies. Seeing Farmer and Napier together was almost as horrifying for me as it is for Farmer's movie son.

So is the murderous "Old Indian" real, or part of somebody's imagination? Whoever or whatever he is, he goes around murdering the visiting kids - usually with long, sharp metal implements. Now you would think that the guy who gave the world Cannibal Holocaust would make a movie where sudden death would be accompanied by lots of tasteless gore and violence. Disappointingly, no. When the Italian DVD box features a rating saying the movie is acceptable for those older than 14, you know that whatever happens, it's not going to be very scary. And sure, there is some gratuitous nudity as well, but just not very much of it. This definitely the kind of movie that would benefit from at least one scene with someone's head on a stick.

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October 27, 2014

Starz Denver Film Festival 2014 - The Schedule

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Just as those presenting films are being forced to adapt to new technologies, Quentin Tarantino to the contrary, so do those of us who write about film. Last year, the Denver Film Society raised enough money to be able to stay on top of these changes, get digital projectors for all three of their screens at the Sie Theater. This year, critics and journalists covering the festival will no longer be fighting for access to a limited number of DVD screeners, but will be getting video links, increasingly popular especially with the smaller distributors. With that in mind, I have purchased a Roku to hook up with my own television in the hopes that through Vimeo, I can avoid seeing the new Dardenne brothers' work on a thirteen inch laptop. There may be some theatrical screenings for critics, but with my work schedule, certain realities in my life have to get in the way.

As in the past couple of years, screenings will primarily be at the Sie Theater's more intimate auditoriums, as well as several screens at the larger Regal / UA Denver Pavilions multiplex in downtown Denver. Marion Cotillard on the big screen with stadium seating? Mais, oui!

This year, the festival takes place after the more high profile A.F.I. festival in Los Angeles. Even so, the schedule doesn't have some of the more high profile films that have been on the festival circuit. For myself, the most conspicuous absentee would be Godard's Farewell to Language, disappointing as the Denver Pavilions theater is set up for 3D movies.

This year's Stan Brakhage Award goes to Larry Jordan. Like Brakhage, Jordan also went to Denver's South High School, something I wrote about a few years ago. This is one of the events at the film festival I hope to attend.

I'm not familiar with Roberto Ando, but his newest film, Viva La Liberta will be screened. Ando gets the Maria & Tomasso Maglione Italian Filmmaker Award, a monetary prize named after the parents of the wife of Starz founder John Sie. Italy's Oscar contender, Human Capital is also on the schedule.

There's also a focus on Brazilian cinema, concentrating on newer filmmakers. If I hadn't gone to the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, I would be more frustrated by the virtual absence of Asian cinema in this year's festival. The sole Asian film is the Indonesian Killers from the Mo Brothers. I'm also looking forward to seeing the newest film from Hans Petter Moland, and Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter because Rinko Kikuchi is a favorite actress.

The Starz Denver Film Festival runs from November 12 through 23. My posts will run concurrent to the festival.

October 26, 2014

Coffee Break

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Violette (Martin Provost - 2013)

October 23, 2014

Crazy Dog

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Canepazzo
David Petrucci - 2012
One 7 Movies Region 0 DVD

This Fall has seen a couple of the smaller DVD labels offering films that are a bit outside their usual offerings. Crazy Dog is a relatively new film, from two years ago, from a company better known for excavating some of the most obscure European movies from the Seventies and Eighties, stuff from the most forgotten corners of film history. The writeup on the DVD cover attempts to make the case for the film as something in the style of Italian cinema from the Seventies, a blend of some giallo and police thriller, but the film is, for me, nothing like that at all.

What we have is a pretty good mystery, possibly inspired by a true story, although I take such declarations with a grain of salt. Crazy Dog is the name of a serial killer who has murdered a slew of people, seemingly at random. Marco, the son of one of the victims, interviews a criminologist who seems the best informed about Crazy Dog. The criminologist recounts events from twenty years ago, when Crazy Dog struck, and then disappeared, pursued by a freelance journalist.

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The serial killer signs his work, on the body of one victim, the painting of another, and in blood on the doormat of the journalist. The film ends with a flashback tying several of the victims together, but not all of them. The explanations don't entirely make sense, suggesting that when David Petrucci wrote his screenplay, he hoped that the viewer wouldn't notice plot holes the size of craters.

Petrucci tries to goose up interest with cameos by Franco Nero and Tinto Brass. Nero actually has a fair singing voice that should have been used more. Here, he's an abstract painter of sorts and philosopher, like several of Crazy Dog's victims, living in the margins. Tinto Brass, with his ubiquitous cigar, is a mobster who makes a point of getting the respect he thinks he deserves. The inclusion of Nero and Brass is an attempt to provide some tenuous link to the glory days of Italian cinema as a provider of commercially popular, if often critically maligned, films in the Seventies.

Petrucci plays with color, tinting the scenes with the murders, but otherwise, any resemblance to earlier genre films is tangential. There are no extended point of view shots, and the scenes of violence are restrained, so much so that I almost wished that Ruggero Deodato, of Cannibal Holocaust infamy, would have stepped in to show Petrucci how to make the audience pay attention to what's on the screen.

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October 21, 2014

Kundo: Age of the Rampant

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Kundo: Min-ran-eui Si-dae
Yoon Jung-bin - 2014
WellGo USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I would think that if anyone were to listen to the soundtrack to Kundo without knowledge of the film, hearing it cold for the first time, they would assume that the music was from an unfamiliar Italian western, and the score, if not be Ennio Morricone, than someone under the influence of the maestro. The ghost of Sergio Leone is in the film as well, with the close-ups of eyes of men challenging each other, the shots of horsemen riding the barren plain, and the lone warrior who comes alone, with a huge, where the hell did that come from?, machine gun. While this South Korean film is not as overtly indebted to Leone as The Good, the Bad, the Weird, the influence of the Dollars trilogy is impossible to miss.

Taking place in 19th Century Korea, the fate of a region is primarily played out by two outsiders, a butcher (considered the lowest in the caste system of the time) against the illegitimate son of a former governor, who acts on behalf of his father in hopes of gaining official position and acknowledgment of his paternity. The son schemes to eliminate any future heirs, and finds ways to force the peasants to give up their land, becoming slaves for a chosen elite. The butcher is compelled by circumstances to take up with an army of thieves who live in a hidden, mountain community, planning to take revenge on the injustice of the local government.

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There are a couple of nice set pieces. In one, their is a fight between the government soldiers and the thieves at night. The illumination from a nearby fire and lighting provide a stroboscopic effect. The second is the final duel between the butcher and the former governor's son, done in a bamboo forest, with the trees cut down in the course of the fighting, providing both barriers and temporary platforms for each man. A chase through the bamboo forest unsurprisingly evokes memories of similar lateral tracking shots from Akira Kurosawa. Humor is provided by some very earthy dialogue, mostly provided by the band of thieves.

I think it worth pointing out that WellGo USA has significantly shortened the gap with the initial theatrical run of Kundo, last July, to its new US home video release. That short wait time for US viewers would be meaningless if Kundo wasn't worth watching, and not just a record setting box office hit in South Korea. Yoon tries to help the viewer with little freeze frame introductions to several of the characters, and there is some supplementary narration that provides historical context. Mostly, though, I would give credit to composer Jo Yeong-wook for providing the audio cues for the viewer, providing a musical shortcut to introduce the kick ass action, which needs to translation.

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October 19, 2014

Coffee Break

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Anna Hopkins and Paul Giamatti in Barney's Version (Richard J. Lewis - 2010)