Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I caught Payday at the PFA a few weekends ago.

Payday starring Rip Torn; directed by Daryl Duke; (1972)

Even though he didn't have on-screen credit, film and record producer & Berkeleyite Saul Zaentz (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The English Patient) was involved in the production of the film. In fact, PFA curator Steve Seid mentioned that the print they were screening was donated to PFA by Zaentz.

The film, which I had never heard of, was quite a discovery for me. Torn plays Maruy Dann, an "up and coming" Country & Western singer. "Up and coming" is not the right description because at age 35, he's more of a veteran than a rising star. It's easy to see why he's not a star - he's drinks too much and pops pills like a fiend (he even supplies his mother with some uppers). He's a womanizer and quick with his fist. He's also an asshole but that shouldn't stop him from success. He's stopping himself from being successful (with the help of sycophants and enablers) and all the booze and women are just symptoms of his own character flaws. Nonetheless, within the context of the film, he has skills as a C&W singer, my lack of C&W music enthusiasm notwithstanding, and is close to hitting it big - an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry and The Johnny Cash Show (Hello. My name is Johnny Cash.)

Torn tears it up as Dann. Some of the more outlandish escapades include having sex with a groupie in the backseat of his Cadillac while his "girlfriend" is sleeping next to them. In addition to the aforementioned maternal/pharmaceutical interaction, Dann gets into a brawl with his bandmate over a dog and he ends up killing another guy whose girlfriend he shagged in a car in the parking lot of his last gig. Dann is living like a rock star (minus the money) in a rural Alabama. The film doesn't give a lot of backstory as to why Dann is the way he is. I guess it doesn't matter too much for the people around him. In fact, it is in keeping with 1970's filmmaking to avoid the backstory.

This film is at its heart a road story about a dysfunctional jerk who is enabled by those around him but told in an Altman-esque way. He travels around the American South drinking, fighting, screwing, killing and generally pissing everyone off. It's fascinating to watch because you wonder how low he can sink. To Torn's acting credit, I never felt outright hostility towards the character.

Ahna Capri, whose next film would be Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon, stood out as Torn's busty, lusty, feisty soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend. The best scene in the film involves Capri. I won't give it away but their breakup is memorable.

The ending was slightly surprising to me as well. In hindsight, it wasn't so unexpected but it is an abrupt conclusion but then Maury Dann was an abrupt character.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Trio of Mexican Sci-Fi Films Plus the Ageless Luchador

I made it out to the PFA to see three of the films in their El Futuro Está Aquí: Sci-Fi Classics from Mexico series.

The Ship of Monsters; Spanish with subtitles; (1959)
The Aztec Mummy vs. the Human Robot; Spanish with subtitles; (1957)
Santo vs. the Martian Invasion; Spanish with subtitles; (1966)

I wonder if "classics" is the right word. These are classics on par with Plan 9 from Outer Space or some lesser known films featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In other words, the films are so bad they're good.

The Ship of Monsters features Venuvian (Venusian?) women who have come to Earth to repopulate their planet by kidnapping men for stud. Santo vs. the Martian Invasion, on the other hand, features Martians who have come to Earth to put a stop to reckless atomic testing even if it means exterminating the human race. There was consistency though; the women of Venus and Mars exclusively wore bathing suits and/or hot pants. Inexplicably, one of the women from Venus was also a vampire. Santo, for the uninitiated, was a popular masked wrestler of the time. In the film, he saved humanity by applying ferocious armbars and relentless leglocks on numerous Martian foes.

The Aztec Mummy vs. the Human Robot - the title pretty much sums up the story although somewhere there was a villain with the decidedly Germanic surname Krupp whose secret identity was "The Bat" and a sidekick named Pinacate which is a dung beetle.

The Bat (left, facing away) and the Human Robot in The Aztec Mummy vs. the Human RobotBasically, this series proved that Mexican filmmakers could make cheap schlock as well as their American counterparts. The "invaders from space" phenomena was big in the 1950/1960's, C-film market, north of the border but the Mexicans took the sci-fi and horror genres in different directions - masked wrestlers, Aztec mummies (I didn't even know the Aztecs mummified their dead), singing vaqueros, etc.

It was all quite silly and not quite worth two trips to Berkeley but I can't say I didn't enjoy myself. Did I mention the women were scantliy clad? Actually, it was interesting to see some voluptuous actresses that could never get a bathing suit scene in today's films. We're a long way from what was considered sexy in the 50s and 60s.


Speaking of Mexican Sci-Fi films, Hole in the Head (in conjuction with Thrillville) is presenting Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy and Academy of Doom on July 22. Those films were made in the past few years and are English language. Mascaras stars in both films. The Man of a Thousand Masks was a big time wrestlers as far back as the mid-1970's. According to IMDB, Mascaras' first film credit was in 1968. That was 40 years ago and he's still wearing the mask?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Blue Beard and Harry Brown

Blue Beard; directed by Catherine Breillat; French with subtitles; (2009)
Harry Brown starring Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer; (2009) - Official Website


I saw Blue Beard at YBCA last weekend. I'm ambivalent about the film. It seemed uninspired although director and screenwriter Catherine Breillat made some interesting changes to the classic fairy tale. In the version I recall, the two daughters were completely against marrying Blue Beard and but one of them reluctantly agreed. In this version, the younger sister seems anxious to marry the ogre. The older sister seems angry at the world for her lot in life. Blue Beard is less an ogre and more a cheerless, heavyset man with a flash of jealousy who mainly dotes on his wife.

In addition, there is a second narrative involving two sisters dressed in 20th century clothes. The young girls are in an attic reading the Blue Beard fairy tale. Scenes of the two are interspersed with the main plot.

Beyond those changes in the character's motivations, the film hew closely to the classic tale - marriage, key to the forbidden room, curiosity, horrific discovery, punishment and rescue. The film suffers from an ending that seems incongruent with the rest of the film. The character's motivations are really explained. Despite this, the film had a few moments largely due to the performances of Dominique Thomas and Lola Créton as Mr. & Mrs. Blue Beard. Both of the show hints of brilliance acting skill. The bottom line - I was mild about the film.


I am also mild about Harry Brown (which I saw at the 4 Star) but it did have one brilliant, extended scene. The film plot is well known so I'll run through it quickly. Think geriatric Death Wish...Harry Brown (Michael Caine) is a 78 year old with a severe case of emphysema. His wife passes after a long illness at the beginning of the film. His best friend soon ends up murdered by the thugs and punks who have been terrorizing the housing unit Brown lives in. They sells drugs, mug people and even kill a woman as an initiation rite gone wrong.

After the police inform Brown that the case against his friend's killer is going badly, Brown decides to something about it. Actually, Brown is mugged and stabs his assailant during the struggle. That incident is the final motivation for Brown's reign of vigilantism. Brown, a former Royal Marine, uses his training to wreak vengeance on the men who killed his best friend. His courage buoyed by hopelessness and lacking the will to survive, Caine ventures into areas no sane man would dare.

This leads to one of the best scenes I have seen in quite some time. Brown visit a illegal gun dealer to buy a weapon to start his death quest. He knocks on the door and is greeted by two of the most disturbing, morality-addled, heroin addicts you have ever seen on film. They are gaunt, they are heavily tattoed and to say they appear and act malevolent is an understatement.

They greet him with a pistol in the face. Then they lead him through their indoor cannabis farm to the living quarters. There on the couch is an unconscious woman whom they just had sex with. You know this because they videotaped it and the footage is showing. She seems to have overdosed on heroin but that doesn't stop them from offering her up to Brown for 50 quid. Brown is shocked by the scene but quickly gets back to the business of buying a pistol. I won't give away the ending of the scene but for that scene alone, Harry Brown is worth seeing. Kudos to Sean Harris and Joseph Gilgun for their performances as the addicts.

Is the rest of the film worth seeing? Not so much. I thought the plot was predictable. Caine turns in a nice performance; Emily Mortimer gives an understated performance as the detective investigating Brown's friend's murder and Charlie Creed-Miles stands out as the other detective, Hickok. It's hinted that Hicock is gay which is interesting but it's his interaction with Mortimer's character, his superior, that draws attention for its nuances. Hickok resents being the junior partner. Perhaps due partly to misogyny but more a result of his disagreement with her police skills. She's a little too soft for him and she (and by extension, he) is on the their commander's shit list. Despite this, he is loyal to her as a partner. I think the filmmakers hinted at his homosexuality to remove any suggestion that their relationship had a sexual component.

Charlie Creed-Miles is a very small part of Harry Brown. Most of the film consists of Caine trying (and succeeding) to not look silly as the septuagenarian avenger. The underground pedestrian path looks particularly menacing as well so I guess the set designer deserves some credit too.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kinatay & Lovers of Hate

I watched two films of interest in the past week or so. Kinatay at the YBCA and Lovers of Hate at the Roxie.

Kinatay; directed by Brillante Mendoza; Tagalog with subtitles; (2009)
Lovers of Hate; directed by Bryan Poyser; (2010) - Official Website


Kinatay which translates to butchered or slaughtered in English, was nominated for the highly prestigious Palme d'Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. It's pretty gritty film; kind of a cross between Training Day and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

The film follows Peping, a rookie cop or maybe he's a rookie CSI technician; I'm not sure. He lives in a area of Manila that is just this side of a slum. He has just gotten married although he and wife already have a child. He needs a little extra money so he falls in with some criminal muscle. They seem to be ex soldiers or cops who collect on illegal loans or drug money. They collect from a 30something prostitute/stripper but when she doesn't have the full amount, they take her for a bumpy ride. They beat and bind the woman while Peping looks on in horror. It's not what he signed on for but there's no turning back now.

They drive her out of town to a remote house. The film is told in real-time. After 30 to 45 minutes, they get their orders so they rape, kill & mutilate her. I say that matter-of-factly because Mendoza tells the story in a clinical manner and at an almost languid pace. We see the woman's horror and Peping growing unease but everyone else seems like they are just doing a job like an accountant or something. Mendoza uses the time between abduction and kinatay to build up suspense. We wonder if the woman will live. Actually, given the title of the film, I didn't think she would. More importantly from Mendoza's perspective is how far Peping will go with his accomplices. At the end, I wasn't shocked or sickened by the woman's on-screen death or the behavior exhibited by her killers. Instead, I wondered how Peping would be affected by this one night. Mendoza shows Peping's wife holding their toddler and making breakfast while Peping makes his way home.

There were strong performances from Coco Martin as Peping, Maria Isabel Lopez as the doomed prostitute and John Regala as Sarge, the #2 man in the gang.

The English title of the film on IMDB is The Execution of P.


Lovers of Hate also has an impressive pedigree. It screened at this year's Sundance and SxSW Film Festivals. The premise is a contrived but the performance and some restraint save the film. Rudy is a wretched loser. His wife has separated from him, he is homeless and jobless. Actually, at the beginning of the film, he is working as a census taker (which says more about our view of census takers than Rudy). Not having bathed in several days (the opening scene is of him attempting to shower at a public car wash) and interviewing an elderly, near-deaf woman, he decides to sneak in a quick shower in her bathroom. Predictably, that gets him fired.

Rudy's younger brother Paul is a successful children's fiction author who writes Harry Potteresque books. This galls Rudy as he thinks Paul's novels are schlock and besides, Paul is basing the stories on bedtime stories Rudy used to tell when they were children. Paul is in town for a book reading and invites Rudy to the reading. Rudy begs his reluctant wife to attend the book reading and pretend they are happily married. The three of them have an awkward evening together.

Not everything is at it seems. Paul picks up on the tension between Rudy and Diane and Paul breaks one of the commandmants with regards to Diane...and Rudy senses Paul has intentions. After some harsh emotional confrontations, Rudy decides to pay a surprise visit to Paul who is staying at a large house in Park City, Utah (home of the Sundance Film Festival). Quickly, Rudy discovers the surprise is on him. Paul is not alone but rather having a rendezvous with Diane. After some creepy voyeurism and the initial shock has worn off, Rudy decides to keep his presence a secret from Paul & Diane.

With extra help from Rudy, we begin to see Paul & Diane in more unflattering terms and his situation, although still pathetic, is given more context. Paul's faux brotherly kindness and Diane's shrillness take on new meanings. I won't give away the ending but the film never becomes too outrageous; Rudy doesn't kill anyone or anything like that. However, as Paul begins to suspect Rudy's presence, the whole situation becomes disturbing because of it plausibility; it is a big house afterall.

I recommend Lovers of Hate (great title) as an entertaining dark comedy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Big River Man & Hole in the Head

I caught a documentary called Big River Man at the Roxie.

Big River Man directed by John Maringouin; (2009) - Official Website

Big River Man is about Marin Strel, a fiftysomething year old Slovenian who is a hero in his own country. Strel's claim to fame is that he has swam the entire length of the Danube, Mississippi and Yangtze rivers. The film chronicles his "training" and attempt to swim the length of the Amazon. This attempt would be amazing for a man half Strel's age but to add to his burden, Strel is a functioning alcoholic and likely has longstanding mental health issues. Although entertaining, in hindsight I thought the film was highly exploitive of Strel but given his nature, I wonder who is exploiting who.

Just the logistics are fascinating. The Amazon is 5,268 km or 3,273 miles in length. Strel begins his swim when the river is flooding and has to avoid debris including huge logs and trees that are floating down the river. In addition, Strel must avoid crocodiles, piranha and candirus which allegedly will swim up a man's urethra. They didn't include footage but apparently when piranha were in the vicinity, Strel's team would chum the water to attract the carnivorous fish away from him.

Although flooding at its mouth, once Strel swam downstream the region was in drought. Strel had counted on cloudy and rainy weather to protect him from the sun but the clear skies sunburned his face horribly. To protect his face, Strel's son and chief advisor, outfitted him with a white clothe or canvas bag with cutouts for his eyes, nose and mouth. Strel would swim with this covering and the effect was to make him look like the Elephant Man.

The main plotline for this film was like the opposite of Marlon Brando's character in Apocalypse Now. As Colonel Kurtz went up the Mekong River, he "went native" and lost his mind. As Strel swims downstream, he begins to behave erratically. Many factors affect his behavior - the long isolation while swimming, excessive alcohol consumption, physical exhaustion, etc. However, it seems clear that Strel had issues before he even started his swim. As his son recounts stories of Strel youth and the abuses he endured, his alcoholism and compulsive behavior become more understandable.

Equally amazing is that Strel's son, physician or friends didn't pull the plug on the swim when he mental and physical condition became alarming. Strel's son rationalizes continuing the swim because Strel would just swim out one night to continue the swim on his own. On two occasions in the film, Strel does exactly that and prompts a dangerous night search. As the days turn to weeks, Strel's son summarizes the group's opinion. As Strel is reduced to near catatonia while on a boat at night, he puts on his swimsuit every morning and starts a day of swimming. The son said, words to the effect, "We didn't consider him human anymore. He was like a mule that we saddled up and drove without consideration.

Strel's physician makes him sign a waiver indemnifying her of responsibility. Strel's best friend and river guide is a professional poker player from Wisconsin. He's never been to Brazil and frequently seems lost on the Amazon. He appears to lose his mind as the film progresses.

I won't give away the ending but an internet search will disclose the final result of Strel's swim.


SF Indiefest announced their Hole in the Head schedule. The festival runs from July 8 to 29. The Roxie will be the sole venue from July 8 to 22 and Viz Cinema will be the sole venue from July 23 to 29. There are also musical performances from July 9 to 13.

I was a little surprised because the website had said July 8 to 22 for several weeks but apparently they decided to expand to a third week. There are 32 film programs scheduled with a large number of Japanese films.

I haven't really examined the film schedule. I did notice Lady Terminator is on the schedule. I greatly enjoyed that film at a Midnites for Maniacs screening last year. Giorgio Moroder's 1984 version of Metropolis is also on the schedule. Undoubtedly, this was programmed with an eye towards the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's screening on July 16.

Speaking of which, Hole in the Head conflicts with the Silent Film Festival from July 15 to 18. In addition, there were a number of Kurosawa films I wanted to see at the PFA. I'll have to see how much conflict there is. 32 films in 22 days is a fairly leisurely schedule. Hole in the Head is screening 3 films per weeknight and 4 films on Fridays and Saturdays (with one exception).

With all the Japanese films, Viz may be a good fit for Hole in the Head. The Roxie is more conveniently located on the BART line but Viz Cinema's facility is much nicer.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I Still Wake Up Dreaming Redux

I was able to catch all the films I missed from the Roxie's noir program, I Still Wake Up Dreaming.

The Roxie ran four days of encore presentations during which I saw

99 River Street starring John Payne and Evelyn Keyes; directed by Phil Karlson; (1953)
High Tide starring Don Castle; (1947)
Jealousy; (1945)

At the PFA, I also saw

Power of the Whistler starring Richard Dix and Janis Carter; (1945)

I had missed Power of the Whistler during I Still Wake Up Dreaming.


Brad Dexter & Evelyn Keyes in 99 River StreetPredictably, 99 River Street was my favorite. Evelyn Keyes gives a remarkable performance. Intentionally drawing attention to her acting, her portrayal of an actress pretending to be something else is pitch perfect for the time. Two scenes stand out. First, she convinces Joe Palooka/cabbie John Payne that she has committed murder during an acting audition. It's all an elaborate ruse to convince the theatrical producers that's she right for the role. Keyes plays the scene like she is on stage during a play. Her gestures and facial expressions fall just short of extravagant; appreciable within the context of film acting but not quite grandiose enough to ruin the scene.

The second scene is towards the end of the film. Keyes plays a tipsy round-heel (she's not really drunk or loose) looking to delay bad guy Brad Dexter by using her feminine charms. With slurred words, a tight sweater and an extremely effective bra, Keyes finds the holy grail for actresses - sexy & the same time. Using unmistakeably phallic imagery (unbelievable it wasn't censored), Keyes hilariously lights her cigarette using the lit end of the cigarette dangling from Dexter's mouth. All the while, she leads with her two best assets.


The other films were less than stellar. Power of the Whistler was one of my least favorite of the series although I have to admit to snoozing for a portion of the film. It's the ageless "chicken or egg" question. Did I fall asleep because it was boring or did I not enjoy the film because I fell asleep? The latter has occurred but the former was likely the case in this instance.

High Tide wasn't too bad. I saw it on the first day of the festival but the soundtrack was horrible. I couldn't make out the dialogue. Ultimately, I couldn't find much in the film to distinguish it.

Jealousy was slightly better with Nils Asther playing a suicidal European expatriate; suicidal until he begins to suspect his wife is having an affair. Then he becomes homicidal. A telegraphed ending ruins the film but a solid plot keeps the film going for the most part.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gone With the Pope

I caught a midnight movie at the Bridge over Memorial Day Weekend. The film was Gone With the Pope. Also known as Kiss The Ring, the film was a labor of love for Duke Mitchell - the producer, director, writer and star. Filmed in 1975 and unfinished at the time of Mitchell's death in 1981, it was released until 2010. Reportedly, Bob Murawski (editor of Spiderman, Spiderman 2, Spiderman 3 and The Hurt Locker) spent 15 years editing the film.

I'm not sure how to describe the film. The plot, such as it is, focuses on Paul, a convict who is newly released from prison. While in the joint, Paul has gone through hell and back with Peter, Luke and an old man whose name I don't recall but was probably one of the apostles. Paul gets a wealthy girlfriend and Great Dane but eventually takes a murder-for-hire job for the Mob. For some reason, he performs the LA murders but he subcontracts the Las Vegas hits. The Mob intends to double cross (again for reasons that are unclear) Paul but he gets away with the money.

In the second half of the film, Peter, Luke & the Old Man get released from prison and take a boat trip from LA to Rome. While in Rome, they hatch a plan to kidnap the Pope and demand $1 from every Catholic for his safe return. Mainly due to surprisingly lax security at the Vatican, they kidnap the Pope and hide out on the open seas. Eventually, the Pope talks Paul & Luke into returning him. Peter goes along with the plan. The old man has disappeared from the story although the actor who portrayed him is now playing the Pope.

Peter returns to LA alone and seems to get his life in order but the Mob comes gunning for him. They kill the Las Vegas hit man and seem to be closing in. I don't want to give away the ending. I think the ending in the film was not the intended ending but I could be wrong.

So let me count everything that was wrong with this film.

1) The acting was horrible. No one was really up to the task. Mitchell looks and sounds like he is doing a James Caan impersonation. Everyone else is thankfully forgettable.

2) The soundtrack was horrible. Mitchell "sings" his own songs. Apparently Bill Shatner wasn't available. I guess it was meant to be spoken word but Mitchell intones with an earnestness that has to be heard to be believed. There is also a tacky lounge act that shows up periodically featuring a talented, tall redhead that can play the trumpet, guitar and a few other instruments.

3) The plot was horrible. There are holes big enough to drive a truck through. I'd have to go into more detail about the plot to point out the holes in it so you'll have to take my word. One example is when Peter picks up a morbidly obese woman who is walking her poodle. He brings her back to their hotel the night before they are to kidnap the Pope. The intent is for her to have sex with Paul. Paul thinks this is so funny that he decides to join in. Eventually, they steal her clothes and she knocks down the door. It looked like something from a Benny Hill sketch except not as sophisticated.

4) The dialogue was horrible. My favorite line was when Peter threatens to Pope to protect Paul & Luke from criminal prosecution. "If anything happens to these two, I'm going to kill 100 priests...for the fucking Jews!" Or maybe it was the blatantly racist banter Peter has with a black prostitute which I have forgotten except the line "It looks like a brillo" - three guesses as to what the subject of that sentence is referring to.

5) The production values were horrible. The powerful Mafioso bosses looked like they bought their clothes from a JC Penney catalog. While in prison, it looks like the doors only extend halfway across the door frame. For some reason, Paul shakes hands with his paisanos through the bars even though he could move two feet over and have an unobstructed embrace. The Pope conducts his audiences in a dingy reception room and on the day depicted, his appointment calendar was booked with fishwives and peasants.

Enough bitching. Be forewarned that Gone With the Pope is not a diamond in the rough but a piece of crap that's been polished as much as possible - search Mythbusters for the reference. Despite its painfully obvious flaws, I'm glad I saw Gone With the Pope. It's so monumentally bad that it needs to be seen like Plan 9 from Outer Space or Showgirls.

Gone With the Pope starring & directed by Paul Mitchell; (1975/2010) - Official Website

Saturday, June 5, 2010

More Catch as Catch Can

I saw a number of films in May that were less than satisfying.

Benjamin Bratt in La MissionThe most prominent being La Mission. This film was selected for Sundance and was the opening night film for the 2009 San Francisco International Film Festival. The film tells a familiar story - a young man revealing he is gay to his father. In this case, the men are Latino so there is his father's (Benjamin Bratt) machismo to deal with. Actually, writing that last sentence made me realize how much La Mission relies on Latino stereotypes - the Mission District of San Francisco, the father's tattoos, the lowrider cars, etc.

While the film slums it in the barrio, Benjamin Bratt gives a strong performance. Putting aside the Aztec warriors dancing in the street when Bratt has his epiphany and other silly tropes, Bratt plays an angry man (regardless of ethnicity) with conviction. I haven't seen Bratt in a role like that. It's not too hard to make a comparison between Bratt's Che Rivera and Robert De Niro's Jake LaMotta. In fact, director Peter Bratt (Benjamin's brother) peppers the film with cinematic references - posters of Clint Eastwood and The Godfather are featured prominently and Rivera's catchphrase is a quote from Animal House.

La Mission entertained me although it never made an emotional connection. I couldn't quite bring myself to care for the characters. Besides Bratt's performance, the film has little going for it. With his numerous & ominous tattoos and hardened face (given considerable street cred by the graying facial hair), Bratt dominates his fellow castmates. The plot feints and weaves for most of the plot but eventually takes the long way around to where I expected it to end.


Speaking of Clint Eastwood, I caught The Good, The Bad, The Weird which is a Korean remake of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Set in remote Manchuria (which looks a lot like the US Southwest) during WWII (perhaps pre-Pearl Harbor), three Koreans are looking for buried Ching Dynasty treasure. What are Koreans doing in China during Japanese occupation? I don't know but it doesn't matter. Although marketed as a "Kimchi Western," the film's showcase scenes are action oriented including an extended train robbery, a shoot 'em up escape/gauntlet in a outdoor market and a mechanized Charge of the Light Brigade.

Thoroughly ridiculous, the film still wasn't completely a waste. Strangely, the Bad was vaguely effeminate and bore a passing resemblance to the rock star Prince. The Good was a victim of the vicious bandit known as The Finger Chopper (maybe it lost something in the translation). He even has a prosthetic fingertip/whistle although it did not seem to affect his impressive dexterity with firearms. The Weird turns out to be pretty damn Bad and Ugly at the end. The Japanese Imperial Army stands in for the Confederacy and they even have the three way shoot-out for a climax. Clint Eastwood was iconic and Eli Wallach was pitch perfect in the role. In The Good, The Bad, The Weird, the Good is kind of boring, the Bad looks like a glam rocker and the Weird is a schmuck until a dues ex machina ending.


The PFA screened The Valiant Ones, a 1975 HK action film. I had high hopes but was ultimately disappointed. The action sequences looked quaint 35 years later but this could have been overlooked with a few charismatic or ever over-the-top performances. The actors' interpretations were a too flat or even subtle for my tastes. This is a Hong Kong action film after all. Sammo Hung (barely recognizable due to 35 years of age and weight and thick white face paint) gives 110% as the evil Japanese pirate.


La Mission starring Benjamin Bratt; directed by Peter Bratt; (2009) - Official Website
The Good, The Bad, The Weird; Korean with subtitles; (2008)
The Valiant Ones directed by King Hu; with Sammo Hung; Mandarin with subtitles; (1975)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Catch as Catch Can

I caught several films at various venues in the past month.

My favorite was OSS 117 - Lost in Rio that I saw at the Lumiere. The French spoof on James Bond and the 1960's hit several of the right notes including tremendously inspiring wardrobe by stars Jean Dujardin and Louise Monot. Those swinging cats in the 60's knew how to dress. With homage to Sean Connery, North by Northwest and Harper, OSS 117 (117 as opposed to 007) looked like a 1960's film down to the film stock. The plot is just a vehicle for Dujardin to bumble his way aroung Brazil as Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, France's greatest spy which is roughly akin having the best sushi restaurant in Outer Mongolia. Casually racist, self-absorbed and sexist, de la Bath tangles with some Nazis in exile (boys from Brazil) and their Lucha Libre henchmen. He is ably and patiently assisted by Israeli Mossad agent Dolorès Koulechov (Monot). Although not nearly as silly as Austin Power, Lost in Rio elicited several laughs and smiles from me. Among my favorite scenes were the climax on the Christ the Redeemer statue, the opening dance sequence, de la Bath's dabbling with LSD and group sex and the "masquerade party" where de la Bath was dressed as Robin Hood, Dolorès as a sexy French maid and everyone else in SS uniforms.


I drove down to Palo Alto to catch High Noon and Stagecoach at the Stanford Theater.

I've seen High Noon many times but never in a theater. I can't recall the last time I saw the film but will say that I recall the theme song playing a larger part during the film as a leitmotif. The use of the song was not nearly as prevalent or obvious as I recalled. I also noticed that Stanley Kramer's production company produced the film. Katy Jurado was more beautiful and her character more dignified than I remembered. Gary Cooper was still wooden and Lloyd Bridges was still a punk. The roles of the three gunman waiting for Frank Miller was less significant than I recall. I thought Lee Van Cleef got more screen time.

I watched Dark Waters at the recent Roxie Noir series. The heavy in that film was played by Thomas Mitchell. At first, I though it was Charles Laughton as Mitchell seemed to be imitating his speech. Before Dark Water, I could not have identified Thomas Mitchell by name or appearance.

By coincidence, Thomas Mitchell played the mayor in High Noon and the drunken doctor in Stagecoach. In Stagecoach, it seemed the role was patterned on W.C. Fields and Mitchell's performance was styled after Fields' performances opposite Mae West.

I've never seen Stagecoach in its entirety in one sitting. In fact, I can say now that I had not seen Stagecoach it its entirety over multiple viewing. I have seen parts of the film many times on television but there were scenes that were new to me when I watched it last weekend at the Stanford.

Stagecoach was famous for making John Wayne a star and director John Ford's first hit film (in talkies). The film looks cliche now but I can overlook. Looking at the performances, I was that impressed with the Duke. Andy Devine as the nervous, high-pitched stagecoach driver, Berton Churchill as the insufferable embezzler and Thomas Mitchell as the drunken doctor drew more attention for their over-the-top performances. John Carradine as the Southern gentleman/gambler and Claire Trevor as the prostitute clinging to her last strand of self-respect gave quiter and more affecting performance. John Wayne...well, he went through the film like mailman delivering his letters: it wasn't too exciting, he made a few mistake but ultimately he got the job done. Chris-Pin Martin made the most of a small role as a way station manager with an Apache wife.

The best parts of the film were not the action scenes (which were rather sparse) but the social conflicts between the passengers. What a motley bunch - escaped convict (John Wayne), drunken doctor (Mitchell), gambler (Carradine), whore (Trevor), meek alcohol salesman, blustering banker (Berton Churchill) and pregnant wife (who didn't look pregnant to me). The banker, the wife, and the gambler (with the manners of a Southern gentleman) look down on the outlaw, the whore and the drunkard.

There was also an interesting epilogue where John Wayne's character confronts three brothers in Lordsburg. The main brother is described as a stone-cold killer that would cut down the Ringo Kid (Wayne) but when news of the Kid's arrival reaches him and his brothers, they seem petrified. I'm guess they devalued Ringo's enemies to make it more realistic (it was 3 on 1 afterall). It also highlighted the courage of Ringo by contrast.


I finally saw a general release film - Kick-Ass at the AMC 1000 on Van Ness Ave. The building the theater is in used to be a Cadillac dealership. It's multi-story and Kick-Ass was playing on the top floor. I think I must have gone up four or five flights of escalators. Although it has 14 screens, it doesn't look like any multiplex I've been in.

Much has been written about Kick-Ass. I saw it nearly 3 months after it was released. I enjoyed it. I'm not so big on action films. The gunfight and hand-to-hand sequences looked cartoonish which may been the intent. It was interesting how they sprinkled anxiety inducing moments of violence among the action scenes. Two scenes that made me cringe was when they were torturing a mobster and they had his pinky finger in between the blades of a lock cutter and when they put another mobster in an industrial size microwave oven (used for desiccating lumber).

The film is really melds various genres into one - teen sex comedy, revenge tale and comic book action story. Also there were many tremendous performances - Nicholas Cage was a bit stiff as always but he got a lot of mileage out his Adam West inspired speech cadence. Chloë Moretz as his profanity spewing, ass kicking daughter had the flashiest role and made the most of it. Christopher Mintz-Plasse also showed some range and skills as the son of a mob boss who assumes a superhero alterego to lure out the titular character.


I went to see The Red Machine at the Red Vic. The directors and star were in attendance. The film was very low-budget and it showed in the wardrobe and acting but overall I was impressed and entertained. The plot could have used another round of polishing to clear up a few matters. In a nutshell, the US Navy recruit a safecracker out of prison to steal a top secret code/cypher machine from a Japanese naval attaché (the film is set in the 1935). Technically, they can't steal it because if it is missing, the Japanese will change they cryptology. They have to dismantle it to figure out how it works and reassemble it without the Japanese knowing. Then for good measure, they steal the codebooks.

The two men assigned to the job are genial safecracker who feels he isn't living up to his potential as a criminal and a stone-faced naval officer who was infamously disgraced (for reasons never quite revealed) and has a history with the Japanese officer and his wife. They are an odd couple but eventually grow to like and admire each other. I won't give away the ending because it was contrived.

The major plot hole I couldn't reconcile is why these two men were assigned this crucially important job. Everyone's performance seemed a little flat. Lee Perkins who played the uptight naval officer could have gotten away with the performance because it was consistent with the character. Towards the end, he has an emotional scene where he recounts his failed love affair and Perkins couldn't find the right emotional tenor.

However, a small film like The Red Machine deserves to be graded on the curve.

The Red Machine was preceded by a short film called Gandhi at the Bat (2006). It was a cute faux newsreel about Mohandas Gandhi visiting a Yankees-Phillies game in the 1930's. The Mahatma gets to bat and the results are suitably (and expectedly) amazing. The two leads from The Red Machine appear in Gandhi at the Bat. If nothing else, Gandhi at the Bat is worthwhile for its closing credit soundtrack - a catchy rendition of Take Me Out To the Ballgame played on Indian musical instruments.


OSS 117 - Lost in Rio starring Jean Dujardin and Louise Monot; French with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website
High Noon starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly; (1952)
Stagecoach starring John Wayne & Claire Trevor; directed by John Ford; (1939)
Kick-Ass starring Aaron Johnson & Christopher Mintz-Plasse; with Nicholas Cage; (2010) - Official Website
The Red Machine starring Lee Perkins and Donal Thoms-Cappello; (2009) - Official Website