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Reviews

The Thing
(1982)

My 2000th IMDb review:Tribute to Guy Morgan:His favourite film of all time.
When DVD's were starting to take off in the late 90's, a close family friend called Guy Morgan told me that he had picked up The Thing DVD a year before he got a player,in order for it to be the first DVD he'd watch. Whilst Guy introduced me and my family to countless other great films over the years,he mentioned that The Thing was still his all-time favourite film.

In early March 2019,Guy suddenly passed away at age 46. Wanting to pay a lasting online tribute,I decided that my IMDb reviews 1996-2000 would be reviews of his top films,which led to this 2000th review being of Guy's favourite film.

View on the film:

Iced out with a new 4K restoration, Arrow present an incredible transfer, where the finely balanced soundtrack and glittering restored image are joined by extensive extras.

Proving the third time to be the charm, Kurt Russell reunites with his friend and gives an incredibly subtle, brooding performance, gradually building on MacReady's isolation in withdrawn, back to the wall body language, raging with fear over who is the thing. In the middle of nowhere from anywhere else in the world, the rest of the cast give outstanding performances as the fellow research scientists,with Keith David as the ambiguous Childs and Richard Dysart as the fearful Dr. Copper being two of the highlights of the cast.

Being the first "outside" composer for the director,and ending up with a "Razzie" nomination for his work,Ennio Morricone drills a utterly chilling, low-key score,pressing on the loner state of the team with shards of the score casting cracks across the ice. Continuing to build on the visual themes that run across his work, directing auteur John Carpenter reunites with cinematographer Dean Cundey and masterfully expands on their distinctive dolly shots, in the long, slow wide-shot dollys down corridors with a single figure or shadow haunting the location. Tangling the research scientists in Rob Bottin's spectacular,otherworldly practical monster effects, Carpenter and Cundey continue to build on their themes for contrasting appearances for the outside/inside locations, as the inside horror of a blood red monster and the dripping with tension wide group-shots being stabbed in the merciless outdoors of the low-lighting miles of snow in the wilderness.

The first feature film by Carpenter that he did not write himself, the screenplay by Bill (son of Burt) Lancaster impressively continues to expand on Carpenter's theme of "The Shape", thanks to not giving the monster any dialogue (or dry exposition),and instead focusing on characters attempt to survive the unrelenting onslaught of The Shape. Not featuring a single woman in the film or in the crew, Lancaster makes this isolation of masculinity one which is fuelled on fear and mistrust, exploding in MacReady holding back from making a true attachment to any of his fellow scientists, leaving him shaking with a nihilistic fear over being left in doubt over if he has confronted all of the thing.

Death Wish 3
(1985)

Guy Morgan tribute:Death Wish 3.
A fan of the Death Wish series,family friend Guy Morgan would mention to me over the years that the third was his favourite in the series. Picking up the uncut second & third on Blu as a gift for Guy, (who suddenly passed away at age 46, before the item had arrived)I decided to pay tribute to Guy,by viewing the third flick.

View on the film:

Continuing from the second one, Umbrella present a terrific transfer, with the clean picture having a suitable level of film grain intact, and the audio popping from each gun shot.

The sixth and final time he worked with the lead, (who later said he was not happy about not being told of the violent scenes no involving him) director Michael Winner returns with pure Cannon fodder, high-grade schlock. Joined by Jimmy Page also returning with a grinding score (and a joyfully script,where Kersey becomes a enemy/friend of the cops to take on the animated gangs,at the flip of a coin) , Winner button-bashes to a incredible body count of 83,via throwing everything at the Action to make it as hilariously over the top as possible, via OAP's rising up with guns and brooms to join Kersey in wiping out scum from their turf, (filmed in London,but made to look like New York!) biker gangs and endless gun fire leaving the place a burning wasteland, all topped by the rattling thrills of Kersey killing each big gang member without a drop of sweat,in granting a third death wish.

Death Wish II
(1982)

Guy Morgan tribute: Death Wish 2:The Uncut Edition.
Since really getting into tracking down movies online almost a decade ago, (I know,but better late than never!)the number one title that family friend Guy Morgan was after was the uncut version of Death Wish 2,that I could find no where online. Learning it had come out on Aussie Blu-Ray,I ordered the disc in early March to give it to Guy as a present.

Taking time to arrive,the item finally came in the post in early April, just a week after Guy had suddenly passed away at age 46. Deciding to mark reaching 2000 reviews on IMDb by using the last 5 spots to pay tribute to him,I got set to see the film Guy had always been after.

View on the film:

Seamlessly re- inserting the cut footage, Umbrella present a surprisingly strong transfer, with the picture being pristine, (and containing some film grain grit) and the soundtrack being crystal clear.

Taking whatever claim the original Death Wish film had of taking a serious look at vigilante justice, and ripping that plaster straight off,by the movie becoming the first US production for the absolute mad lads at Cannon. Returning with the lead actor, director Michael Winner shoves the flick in the Grindhouse gutter, via the rape scenes oozing with a visceral grubbiness, and the vigilante killings splattering red on the screen.

Backed by the chainsaw guitar score from Jimmy Page (yep,the Led Zep one!) and filming on the real back streets of LA (where druggies and cross-dressers were used as extras) Winner gloriously unloads a comical level of sleaze dipped in neon colours, exploding from over the top set-pieces springing from a freeze-frame jump through glass, a bullet through a boombox (smell the 80's) killing, to Kersey (a fittingly blunt and grunting Charles Bronson) making mincemeat out of street thugs half his age and all fully loaded. Making just a few mentions of past events, the screenplay by David Engelbach & Winner (uncredited,despite extensive re-writing of Engelbach's script) wipe the slate clean for blunt-force revenge,with Kersey not being one to talk about his "feels", but to hand out wonderfully unrelenting revenge to all those with a death wish.

The Blood of Heroes
(1989)

Saluting the Jugger-A tribute to Guy Morgan.
Coming up to my 2000th IMDb review I started to think about what titles to watch to mark hitting the milestone. During this time,a close family friend called Guy Morgan suddenly passed away at age 46.Having known Guy since my childhood,I decided to review what were his top 3 films of all time, (plus two special extras) for run-up/and the 2000th review. Introduced to the title after Guy imported the uncut DVD from Germany,I got set to go for the jugular of the jugger.

View on the film:

Setting the pitch in a area of the South Australian desert town of Coober Pedy called The Breakaways, writer/director David Webb Peoples & Mad Max/Pitch Black cinematographer David Eggby rumble the Sports genre with a breath-taking Ozploitation Post-Apocalypse landscape, shining from Peoples and Eggby's tracking shots over the twisted metal in the desert, and vast,panning wide-shots across the colourful exposed sandstone outcrops where people watch behind a steel cage the Jugger get played. Joining the roving teams, Peoples plays the games with a ripe pulpy atmosphere of blood splattered on the pitch, stylish, late 80's Slo-Mo for the deadliest moves,and wonderful over the top macho costumes for the players.

Falling to the ground of a future where most of humanity has been wiped out, (a set-up that would kick-off the later Peoples-written film 12 Monkeys) the screenplay by Peoples takes the Sports genre traditions of team bonding and losses,and dips them into gritty Post-Apocalypse, via the awareness that the next match could end with their deaths,adds to the pressure on the rag-tag team led by Kidda and Sallow into pulling the team across the line against the gladiator-style opponents. Encouraging the rest of the team to take on the highest-rank other teams, Joan Chen grips on Kidda's toughness in proving that she is a match against any man on the field, whilst Rutger Hauer delivers a home run as the tough as nails Sallow,who attacks his regrets of the past with fury at fellow players in order to salute at the Jugger.

Turkey Shoot
(1982)

"Freedom is obedience,obedience is work,work is life."
In the run-up to my 2000th IMDb review,I decided that I would pay tribute to a family friend called Guy Morgan, who passed away suddenly at age 46 in March, by reviewing his 3 favourite films (plus two special bonuses.) In the early 2010's Guy introduced me to the doc Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008). Thrilled by the clips,I was happily caught by surprise when Guy gave me a copy of a Ozploitation flick,which was one of his favourite movies since first seeing it in the late 80's. Picking up the DVD in order to pay tribute,I got set to again go on the turkey shoot.

View on the film:

Entering the Post-Apocalypse with stock news footage of riots, director Brian Trenchard-Smith proves himself to be a master at Ozploitation in placing one sizzling chunk of sleaze on top of each other, flame-grilled on naked shower scenes and barking mad prison wardens. Powered by Brian May's (not the Queen one) moody dark Synch score, and having production cut from 44 days to 28 just before filming began, (producer David Hemming rushed in to do second unit to keep shooting on track after a major investor dropped out and left a $700,000 hole) Trenchard-Smith goes gloriously all guns blazing excessive for the gloriously over the top Action thrills, springing from mountain hunting of the prisoners and blood-drenched booby traps, to diggers charging along as killing machines,all topped by the site being nuked from the earth.

Originally written as a mix of The Most Dangerous Game and the film I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang set in depression era Deep South US, the screenplay by Jon George/ Neill D. Hicks/ George Schenck/ Robert Williams and David Lawrence strips out any subtle notes from the origins, to instead pull out a fantastic slice of Grindhouse, spun from the relentlessly vicious guards/hunters barking out commands,that get crushed by the prisoners taking their chance to fight for freedom. Stating later that they hated doing the film due to showing skin and the humid location, the distaste Olivia Hussey, Michael Craig and Lynda Stoner had off-screen actually enhances their runs on-screen in grubby Logan's Run-style gear,thanks to them each snarling at the guards as they try to escape the turkey shoot.

The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall
(1942)

Pimento University.
Before watching John Carpenter's The Thing (1982-also reviewed),I decided to view a short. Having seen a few Disney shorts from the year,I checked up Chuck Jones WB shorts from 1942,and got set to attend Pimento University.

View on the film:

Originally blocked by the studio from being put out until their shorts release schedule needed a slot filled, director Chuck Jones flourishes in looping satirical character design, with experimental, off-the-wall Comedy. Pencilling the three brothers as riffs on High School movie archetypes in chiselled jock Tom, dapper Dick and brainless Larry Dover,Jones has the brothers bicycle in on his distinctive taffy-style pulling of speed,leading them to make extreme,over the top poses,as sneaky Dan Backslide pulls their love Dora Standpipe from a tree. Along with splendid vocal performances from Mel Blanc and Bea Benaderet,the screenplay by Tedd Pierce gives a wonderfully wry corniness to the students at Pimento University.

Mashenka
(1942)

"Autumn.Rain.And all is quiet."
Recently I read a very good post by fellow IMDber ManFromPlanetX about a Soviet title called Tractor Drivers (1939). Sadly unable to find the film online,I was happy that during the search I stumbled on a 1942 Soviet flick,well-timed for the ICM best movies of 1942 poll, which led to me meeting Mashenka.

View on the film:

Storming the Winter War, director Yuli Raizman charges into the final 10 minutes with long winding panning shots following troops crawling on the snowy grounds, and tanks bursting out storming the border. backdrop until the final,Raizman (a nephew of Fyodor Otsep) unwinds with a silky Melodrama atmosphere,lit in comedic montages of Mashenka being worn down at work,to glittering dissolves and stylish swipes over the war-torn blossoming romance between Mashenka and "Alyesha."

Whilst the calling of each other "Comrade" and Mashenka talking about "Overcoming a big obstacle"(gee,in 1942 I wonder what that could be alluding to!) do stick out as misplaced, the screenplay by Yevgeny Gabrilovich & Sergei Yermolinsky sands them down with great,sweetly comedic exchanges between Mashenka and the poetry-writing "Alyesha." Spilt by the war, the writers surprisingly send Mashenka to the front line,where she nurses troops in the middle of gunfire, which binds a lingering desire of Mashenka to get out of the trenches,and cross over to a search for her love "Alyesha." Joined by a terrific Mikhail Kuznetsov who captures the rustic humour of "Alyesha", Valentina Karavayeva gives a utterly enchanting turn, wearing her heart on the sleeve even as a Winter chill nears Mashenka.

Macao, l'enfer du jeu
(1942)

"To have results, you must burn incense to the high and mighty."
Having seen Caprices (1942-also reviewed) last night,I decided to pair it up with another French film from the year.Looking for info on the French flicks from '42 I have,I found a excellent review by fellow IMDber melvelvit-1 on one of the titles,which read like it was worth taking a gamble on.

View on the film:

Gambling in production the beginning and the end of the Occupation of France, director Jean Delannoy & cinematographer Nicolas Hayer make the backstage troubles disappear by heating a smoking hot atmosphere from sweltering white light basking down on the gamblers and arms dealers. Going pass a tourist poster for Japan in the long opening panning shot, Delannoy rolls the dices in bustling casinos, (which include a early use of CCTV!) where the flipping of cards is matched by ultra-stylised sweeps up to the balcony towards placing their hopes on red, which burns into a final which leaves all the seedy underworld operations bombed out of town.

One of the few films from the era featuring a Euro and Asia cast,Pierre-Gilles Veber and Roger Vitrac's adaptation of Maurice Dekobra's novel treats everyone a equal deep shade of grey in the cut-throat world of gambling and arms smuggling. Keeping the Melodrama bubbling away with the terrific entanglement of hard-nosed Krall saving siren Mireille from death, that gets smoothly mixed with the Film Noir grit chipped from Krall trying to break the winning racketeering hand of Macao underworld boss Tchai.

Using force to make sure his house always wins, Sessue Hayakawa gives a great performance as Tchai, whose sharp suits and slippery dialogue delivery are used by Hayakawa to hide a ruthlessness under the table, whilst seductive Mireille Balin tugs at the Melodrama heartstrings of Krall as Mireille. Sailing in just after the ban of him appearing in French cinema had been lifted, Erich von Stroheim gives a great,gruff performance as Krall,whose love for Mireille Stroheim has get trapped in a gambling hell.

Caprices
(1942)

"A caprice,can make the heart unhappy."
With a best of 1942 films taking place on ICM,I started looking for films from the year waiting to be viewed. Finding her terrific in Beating Heart (1940-also reviewed),I was pleased to stumble on another Darrieux title, (with so few votes!) which led to me meeting Caprice.

View on the film:

Placing the glass slipper on Lise with chic swipe edits,co-writer/(with Andre Cayatte/ Jacques "dad of Nina" Companeez and fellow film maker Raymond Bernard)director Leo Joannon & cinematographer Jules Kruger bake a fluffy, fairy tale atmosphere in elegant panning shots round Lise being the star of every ball, glittering in high above wide-shots under a chandelier, to winding shots down streets over her sparkling clothes displaying Lise becoming a dream princess. Sitting down to Lise acting in a imploding stage show before her wishes are granted, Joannon contrasts the high-life with jump-cuts on Lise and her entourage being confronted by cops, looped with cramped whip-pans during Lise's attempts to perform on stage.

Mentioning Cinderella a number times in the film, the writers pour the basic outline of the fairy tale out and whisk up a a tantalising, dreamy tale, via Lise's down on her luck roots of having to struggle as a actress and a poor flower seller being kept in tact even as she gets to the ball on time. Unhappy with Lise stepping on his toes, Jean Paredes slices the film with a comedic relish as Constant, whose eye rolls and off the cuff comments high light the luxuries Lise is becoming surrounded by. Looking immaculate from her stage intro, alluring Danielle Darrieux gives a fantastic turn as Lise,thanks to Darrieux being able to twist Lise's humble beginnings into a street smart,playful confidence among the caprices.

Sing, You Sinners
(1938)

Sing,You Saints.
A few weeks away from his birthday,I started looking for a movie I could watch with my dad on the day. A fan of "The Road To" and "Flubber" films, my dad gave some less than subtle mentions about being keen on seeing Bing and Fred MacMurray team-up,which led to us hearing the sinners sing.

View on the film:

Featuring the two future hit numbers Small Fry and I've Got a Pocketful of Dreams,director Wesley Ruggles & cinematographer Karl Struss spin the Musical numbers with a razzle, dazzle atmosphere of swooning wide-shots over Beebe brothers singing in smoke-filled night clubs (they also offer chance to see MacMurray in drag!) Away from the Musical set-pieces,Ruggles contrasts the happy-go-lucky mood with the aftermath of the 1929 crash still looming in Joe Beebe's search for get-rich quick schemes leading to runs round horse racing, (a real life interest for Bing) and ending in a surprising brawl.

Firmly against Joe's gambling ways, the screenplay by Claude Binyon buys winning tickets for the Melodrama between the Beebe's, as David has to sacrifice everything for the good of the family, whilst mother Beebe is left in dismay by her youngest son Mike idolising Joe's quick-buck-ways, to the point where he joins Joe at the races. Although they do not look like brothers at all,Bing,MacMurray and Donald O'Connor each give delightful turns as the Beebe's,with O'Connor bursts of energy having Mike bounce between David's worn-down life,with the slippery antics of Joe getting the sinners to sing.

South African Spook Hunter
(2018)

South African Demon Hunter.
Planning to visit Birmingham in two weeks with a friend,I decided to check the listings for upcoming releases at The Electric Cinema (the oldest working cinema in the UK) in Birmingham. Going down the listings,I was surprised to find a screening taking place with a Q&A by the cast/crew this weekend,this led to me quickly grabbing a "Gin Jarmusch" and meeting the Spook Hunter.

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Inspired to make the film after chatting on the way home about how disappointing they had found Conjuring 2 to be, co-writers/co-directors Kathryn MacCorgarry Gray & Daniel Rands make a impressive feature debut, featuring sly visual gags on jump scares and the Found Footage genre. Made on a low budget and in a fake documentary format,the directors do very well at not breaking the rules (such as not placing it at angles where it would be impossible to hold) that many fake doc/Found Footage flicks break,thanks to the documentary crew following Matty squeezing into each room to capture him "curing" the Damon-Murray family.

Visiting the Damon-Murray haunted house, the screenplay by Gray & Rands lays out a scattering of Horror moments leading to a spooky twists that allows for a jolly spoofing of ghost hunting shows. Doing spook hunting as a part time job, the writers give the dialogue a fake documentary "in the moment" feel, as Matty hilariously stumbles awkwardly into letting out too much info, such as that this part-time ghost hunting is used for him to pick up women, and cringe-inducting comments on Africa and Jason Bourne. Appearing in every scene, Matt van Niftrik gives a excellent deadpan, completely lacking in self-awareness as Matty, who unintentionally becomes a real spook hunter.

The Undying Monster
(1942)

Hammond House of Horror.
For the best of 1942 poll taking place on ICM,I checked my DVD's on the shelf for titles waiting to be played from the year.Having seen a good doc about him,I was happy to find a 1942 title from auteur film maker John Brahm,which led to me meeting a undying monster.

View on the film:

Crawling into Fox studio's shot at joining Universal and RKO in entering the Horror genre, director John Brahm & cinematographer Lucien Ballard bring Brahm's German Expressionism into the Victorian Old Dark House Gothic tale,with elegant tracking shots slithering down the spider-web cover corridors of the Hammond's. Brewing the Gothic Horror chills against the ragged rocks that keep the mansion isolated, Brahm howls in the direction of Film Noir that he would follow in his limited film credits,via the wisely limited appearance of the monster casting a chilling shadow of mistrust in the family,where the shadows are lit by the flickering of fire that keep family secrets buried.

Unmasking the secrets of the Hammond's with an adaptation of Jessie Douglas Kerruish's novel, the screenplay by Lillie Hayward and Lillie Hayward superbly capture the Victorian atmosphere by weighing the Hammond's with personal horrors that are every match for the monster shocks. Whilst the neat & tidy ending has the whiff of the Hays Code,the writers make up for it by having the mystery being driven by Robert Curtis (played by a wonderfully quick-witted Robert Curtis )dissection of any slip of the tongue from the Hammond's on the undying monster howls.

Volk en vaderliefde
(1976)

The real Smerdis.
With a Dutch viewing challenge taking place on ICM,I took a look at the handful of Dutch flicks waiting to be played. Whilst checking Netherlands titles,I found Eng Subs had recently appeared online for a TV play from the country,which led to me taking a seat for the play.

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Opening the play with a scene which feels like the first 10 minutes have been cut, editor Ed Braad cuts the film in a clumsy, jarring style, keeping frames from end of the takes on screen for far too long, and hard mismatches in the edits from scene to scene. Taking on a Harry Mulisch play, (adapted by Mulisch himself) deemed too expensive by the TV company, director Wim T. Schippers entered, (who got the say in the final cut) and turns the play into a strange, 4th wall breaking production, via the Costume Drama being tied with horribly cheap beads,Euro sleaze and horse sex (eh?!) all knocked down by slams into a modern day couple reading the Mulisch play.

Anna
(2019)

Annabelle.
Getting back from seeing Toy Story 4 over the weekend with friends,I left YouTube on whilst doing bits round the house. Finding his dips into the fantastical and Cinéma du look cool with The Fifth Element, Angel-A and Nikita, (1990,1997 and 2005-all also reviewed) to be wonderfully creative, I was surprised to find a trailer playing for a upcoming movie from auteur film maker Luc Besson,which led to me meeting Anna.

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Targeting Euro Spy thrills,writer/directing auteur Luc Besson & regular cinematographer Thierry Arbogast take the icy cool colours of Nikita, and burn them into washed whites and bleeding reds, reflecting the drained state of the Soviet Union's final days. Whilst flawed in the technology used for the late 80's/1990 (from Wi-Fi and Memory Sticks to high-speed internet!) Besson overcomes these bumps, in continuing a long time collaboration editor with Julien Rey, Besson loads up the stylisation of Cinéma du look in gripping Action set-pieces, struck by the blunt force gun shots and hand combat being met with slick edits, closing in for bruising close-ups of Anna's battle warrior face.

Spying from the late 80's-1990,the screenplay by Besson needlessly complicates things with large jumps back and forth in time, which gets in the way of the nifty twist and turns from playing out Anna's major assassination missions from different perspectives. Loading up right back from Nikita, Besson vividly brings out the themes that run across his credits in the characterization of the disenfranchised, battered and bruised loner Anna, who Besson has intensely entrap all,as Anna finds her inner strength in the spying game. Sent out by Helen Mirren's dead-pan wit KGB head Olga, sexy Sasha Luss peels into the anguish of the spy, which Luss twists into deadly sass as Anna.

Onna no mizûmi
(1966)

"I think I was in love with the woman you were on the pictures,a woman who does not exist in reality."
After watching Delicate Skilful Fingers (1972-also reviewed) I looked down the list of other Japanese films waiting to be viewed. Having a Arrow box set of 3 films by him waiting on the shelf to be viewed,I was pleased to find that I unknowingly had a 4th tile from auteur Yoshishige Yoshida not yet played,I went to meet the woman of the lake.

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Backed by an ominous wood instruments score by Sei Ikeno, co-writer/ (with Toshiro Ishido and Yasuko Ono) directing auteur Yoshishige Yoshida & cinematographer Tatsuo Suzuki play a impeccable, eerie Japanese New Wave (JNW) atmosphere over ultra-stylised silhouettes of Mizuki and Kitano keeping their affair in the shadows. Snapping their liaisons, Yoshida brings it into contact with daylight in a deeply sensual mood, shining from graceful overhead tracking shots giving a birds eye view of Momoi getting close to the woman in the photos, against the laid bare JNW streets masked in shadows,to the mesmerising surreal activity on the beach and the deep focus, delicately framed final train ride Mizuki and Momoi take.

Photographed from Yasunari Kawabata's novel, the adaptation continues Yoshida's theme of going against the grain in a run of Anti-Melodramas, where instead of being at the peak of passion,the affair between Mizuki and Kitano is in it's dying embers when Kitano takes naked pics of Mizuki, and Mizuki's emotions being withdrawn,rather than overcome,when Momoi reveals he took the photos after secretly watching the affair for months. Encountering Mizuki on a beach where a film production is taking place, the writers brilliantly frame the Anti-Melodrama with Yoshida's other major theme of the alteration in photos/film from reality, via Momoi's obsession over Mizuki being exactly like her photos,over riding desire for money,coming into sharp focus when confronted by the staging of proactive scenes taking place in the film production.

Continuing her collaboration with Yoshida after they got married in 1964, Mariko Okada gives an incredibly expressive, subtle performance as Mizuki,thanks to Okada giving a thoughtful restrained gaze to Mizuki, which brings out a poetic quality to the end of the affair for the lady of the lake.

Shiroi yubi no tawamure
(1972)

Nimble fingers-My first Roman Porno.
After a month of largely viewing Eastern European cinema, I got in the mood to dig into the mountain of Asia cinema waiting to be played. Having found the Nikkatsu Noir's I've seen to be outstanding,I decided to see their fingers turn to Roman Porno.

Note:Some spoilers in review.

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Pickpocketing characters who would have been on the wrong side of the tracks in Nikkatsu Noir from a decade earlier, the screenplay by co-writer/(with Tatsumi Kumashiro) director Toru Murakawa slots them all into the Roman Porno genre with ease,via loner Yuki becoming entangled with each two-bit thief on the street, whilst the cops look over her shoulders as Yuki learns the moves of thrives. Told "The ceremony is over" (classy!) the writers neatly blend the skin flick antics with the Noir/crime thrills via Yuki's loss of innocence also leading to a loss of any doubt on staying in the petty underworld.

Appearing to be illegally filmed outdoors, (the odd passing member of the public looks into camera) director Murakawa & cinematographer Shinsaku Himeda brush a Pop-Art shine on the flick with rapid whip-pans, reflecting pans along windows reflecting Yuki's view,and closely-held hand-held tracking shots following the pickpocketing in the middle of a bustling city. Whilst offering all the naked Yuki you could want, Murakawa displays a subtle touch to the sex scenes, going from dark shadows and lingering close-ups on Yuki's face, to glossy, glamour showcases for Yuki's love of crime and Taku. Joined by Ichiro Araki as the swaggering with dark glasses, street-smart Taku, Hiroko Isayama gives a terrific turn as Yuki, thanks to Isayama pulling at Yuki's anxieties until they snap to Yuki's embrace of Taku and crime with her delicate skilful fingers.

Man of the West
(1958)

"There's a point where you either grow up and become a human being or you rot, like that bunch."
Recently getting the remastered Masters of Cinema (MoC) version of Raymond Bernard's Wooden Crosses (1932-also reviewed), I started trying to think of other titles I've been meaning to buy for ages. Dusting down an old issue of UK film magazine Empire, I found a great review for a Anthony Mann Western MoC has put out-which was too pricey a few years ago. Finding that the price has gone down a good bit since first reading the review,I got set to meet the Man(n) of the West.

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Including a booklet with detailed essays on the title,such as Jean-Luc Godard's "Supermann",and new extras such as a informative audio commentary, Masters of Cinema present a masterful transfer,with the image being pristine and the soundtrack being clean.

Returning to the Wild West with a different outlaw, directing auteur Anthony Mann & his regular cinematographer Ernest Haller continue their razor-sharp de-constructing, frontier-pushing examination of the genre, vividly bursting to life in Mann's sparse use of blood putting Link on a knife edge, and the red bullet wounds making each shot land with a thump. Contrasting the visceral with the poetic, Mann and Haller continue to build on their visual theme of the left and right corners of the frame being stylishly gripped by the threats towards Link and Billie pushing them to the corners of being on the wrong tracks.

Bringing Link back to his old friends, Mann lassos them with a rich brooding atmosphere of pastel colours and fading blue skies on Noir-like loner Link having to confront the past he had left behind. From the framing of Link in the corner of the screen in his intro, Mann displays a outstanding creativity in the subtle stylisation of shots, as Mann breaths in Link's regrets with long-held medium wide-shots, being cut by Mann's lateral tracking shots firing at the menacing state of the gang,with the anxiety wrapped around Link.

Largely working in TV before he adapted Will C. Brown's novel, the compact nature of TV is one that Reginald Rose makes a perfect fit for the lean movie, where Rose slices the excellent dialogue with a thoughtful maturity of uncovering another layer of Link, leading to a enticing play against traditions, ( such as Link and Billie liking each other,but not being passionately in love) and a tangible grit to the outlaws forcing Link to watch them order Billie to undress,matched by them expressing a harsh bitterness over Link leaving their side.

Accepting a role which led to James Stewart never speaking to Mann again after missing out,Gary Cooper gives a haunting performance, weighed with a gravitas on his shoulders and a enticing Billie, (a terrific, vulnerable Julie London) Cooper holds Link's head high as he fights pain, sorrow and regret until he leaves himself in the wilderness,as the man of the west.

Bílá paní
(1965)

"Here we are entering a new phase of history,and they want to go calling out ghost!"
Getting back from seeing Toy Story 4, (2019-also reviewed)I felt like watching a Comedy before bed. Recently viewing a number of outstanding titles from Eastern Europe,I took a look at my download list and found one which sounded like it was worth Czech-ing out,which led to me meeting the white lady.

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Inspired by the real Czech Folk tale the Perchta of Rozemberk, director Zdenek Podskalsky & cinematographer Frantisek Valert bring a kitsch Bewitched atmosphere to the glowing appearances of The White Lady,who casts spells, (which includes a funny gag involving freezing someone else in her painting) to improve the shortcomings in the economy and society of 1960's Czech, with stop/start camera pauses, and ghostly overlapped images tracking The White Lady walking through walls. Following The White Lady by keeping the film in a whimsical mood,Podskalsky picks up a satirical wand to burst the self-importance of the local Communist/Government in stylish, imposing upwards wide-shots on the locals in charge making grand, vapid speeches trying to come up with explanations for The White Lady.

Framing The White Lady as a unexplainable supernatural being, the screenplay by Karel Michal brilliantly takes the light fantasy and paints it with funny satirical flourishes brushed from the local Commie party attempting to place the "miracles" of White Lady into their designated, micro-managed boxes. While taking digs at the local bureaucracy,Michal refreshingly avoids a bitterness in the comedic tone, (the film later got banned from being shown during the Soviet Occupation) instead going for warm,folk-flavoured mishaps, as the local government ( which includes a hilarious Rudolf Hrusinsky as puffed-up predseda MNV) fumble to offer rational explanations for the improvements made by The White Lady.

Toy Story 4
(2019)

Toy Story:Part 4.
After having told a friend about how much I enjoyed seeing Shazam!, (2019-also reviewed) at the Manchester IMAX in The Printworks (the second biggest screen in Europe) he expressed interest in going at some point. I was happily caught by surprised,when he invited me to join him and his family in seeing Toy Story 4 at The Printworks today.

View on the film:

Opening the toy box after 9 years, PIXAR display the remarkable progression of CGI from the opening scene of photo-realistic rain and the shiny reflections on plastic toys. Soaring on a dynamic atmosphere, the director Josh Cooley plays with giving shots the appearance of long "one take" panning shots, highlighting the bursting with colour character designs (which includes evil dummies!) and the pristine animation being filled with a real attention to detail of each background/setting, (from an antiques shop to inside a RV) being packed with interesting objects and visual gags in every corner.

Whilst Buzz Lightyear (who has a very funny "inner voice" running gag) moving to a supporting role is notable, the writers unexpectedly make the near decade gap from the third evaporate, by the arrival of Forky taking the themes of friendship,growing up,belonging and existing which have run across all the films,are gathered together into bringing closure to the toys which they have given their owners. One of the few animated films to not have a all-out baddie, the writers unbox new toys and smoothly fit them in with the classic range,thanks to the mix of hilarious set-pieces, (such as Woody trying to stop Forky seeing himself as "trash") and striking warmth, (such as avoiding from making Gabby Gabby a mere boo-hiss villain) making this toy one which can be played to infinity and beyond.

Obchod na korze
(1965)

"There's an old saying that two glasses help you sing,three help you to embrace,and five help you to quarrel."
In the run-up to Christmas 2018 a DVD seller kindly sent me this title as a present. Sent in a plain white sleeve, I somehow misplaced it for months (!) until finding the disc just after the ICM Eastern European viewing challenge had started,which led to me at last going to the shop.

Note:Some spoilers.

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Opening the shop just a few days before the first camps open and the "Slovak Republic" (a client state of Hitler) being created, the screenplay by co-writers/(with Ladislav Grosman) co-directors Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos surprisingly begins with the scent of a comedic tone as Tono finds his hands full with dotty Lautmannova.

Beneath the comedic side, the writers gradually build a psychological study of Tono, whose poor state has him jump at the chance to be a "controller" who will get bundles of cash from taking over the business, until the seeping of Hitler's rule hits Tono with the realisation of what other locals are being complicit in. Whilst the state of Tono's mind is laid bare,the writers spend a little too long in keeping Lautmannova in a dotty mode,where instead of displaying a change in her relationship to Tono, Lautmannova is kept completely unaware and dotty,until the plot needs for her to become aware in the last 20 minutes,rather than a gradual pace.

Surviving being placed in a labor camp, (and his parents and sister being murdered at Auschwitz ) Jan Kadar continues what would become a 17 year collaboration with fellow co-writer/co-director Elmar Klos with a potent atmosphere from graceful two-shot whip-pans opening the fraught relationship between Lautmannova and Tono. Unlocking the anxiety of Tono on the troops of Hitler entering the shop with fractured close-up angles, the directors & cinematographer Vladimir Novotny brilliantly build-up a dark,poetic edge touching on a Jesus motif for Tono,and a transcendence, tragic dream final.

Spending the film together, Ida Kaminska and Jozef Kroner give outstanding, complimentary performances as Lautmannova and Tono,thanks to the compassionate, care-free state Kaminska dresses Lautmannova in,being a excellent balance to the raw with hurt and fear Kroner finds Tono with in the shop on main street.

Ekstase
(1933)

The Ecstasy of Gold.
When reading up about actress Hedy Lamarr in connection to the praise for the doc Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017),I was surprised to learn that Lamarr had appeared in a Czech film,which is credited as the first non-"Adult" title to feature a (simulated) sex scene and a woman having a orgasm on screen. Having been interested in viewing the movie for ages,I decided during ICM's Eastern European viewing challenge to drop ecstasy.

View on the film:

Part-Silent Movie/Part-Talkie, co-writer/(with Frantisek Horky and Jacques A. Koerpel) director Gustav Machaty makes both formats hold together with a refined Expressionism style spun from evocative close-ups on Hermann's face with eye-catching shards of light illuminating the disintegration of Hermann and Emil's marriage. Going on only a five page script (!) Machaty makes each snippet of dialogue count, by using it to open up Hermann's innermost feelings in crisp outdoor sequences, and to also unveil the drained state Emil and Hermann share.

Adapting Robert Horky's novel into a really short and sweet script, the writers do very well at drawing a silky smooth Melodrama by holding Hermann as the key to it all,who hands out the wish fulfilment in this "Women's Picture" of falling passionate in love with a strapping young woodsmen,met at a time when Hermann's psychological sexual desires are reaching the surface. Lying that she was older than 17 when production started in 1932, Hedy Lamarr owns the film as Hermann,thanks to Lamarr taking left-field choices with her expressive performance, such as playing scenes when topless not as sexual, but joyfully free and liberating,and bringing a frustrated, downcast withdrawn state to Hermann on her marriage lacking any feeling of ecstasy.

Transport z ráje
(1963)

Transport from the Terezin Ghetto.
In the New Year sale I decided to order £10 worth of Czech DVDs by UK DVD company Second Run. Choosing Larks on a String & Intimate Lighting (1969 and 1965-both reviewed) I went for the first title that appeared on the page as the third movie. Having watched Larks and Lighting recently,I got set to view the final of the three discs.

View on the film:

Filmed in the real Terezin Ghetto, co-writer/(with Arnost Lustig) director Zbynek Brynych & cinematographer Jan Curik present an utterly harrowing atmosphere, which dissects the Czech New Wave (CNW) stylisation with a almost documentary rawness of slightly out of focus interviews, jagged whip-pans attempting to film a unfolding event, and random lone shots of walls/buildings, (like those at the end of a reel of film.) Brynych's presentation makes a subtle comment on the manipulating manner film can be used (a staged "documentary" is shown being made,where the Nazis force the prisoners to say everything is going fine at the Ghetto for the film.)

Keeping a lone sliver of Jiri Sternwald's score, Brynych (who was joined by fellow CNW film maker Juraj Herz,who has a small role and was second assistant director) brings a delicate minimalist touch to the soundtrack,as long, silent walks of the prisoners crackles with the landing of feet on the dry ground, and the growing noise of planes coming nearer in the final days of WWII,being matched by the increasing whistles from the train departing to take prisoners to camps. A survivor of The Holocaust ( a train taking him to his death in Dachau was dive-bombed by a US fighter-bomber) Arnost Lustig's (who said on the film: "The movie sometimes goes beyond the book.") intelligent adaptation of his own book with co-writer Brynych avoids any War Film stereotypes to instead hit a realist tone of the Nazis degrading/ sending the prisoners to death,in a chillingly casual manner, whilst the victims are dragged into doing depressing, mundane tasks until the train to the camps returns to the Ghetto.

Popiól i diament
(1958)

Diamonds and Ashes.
In late 2017 I got the film on from a local CEX after seeing it sell for a good amount on eBay,and after listing the DVD put it with other stock. Many months later,someone purchased it,but due to how long it had been I could not find it in the stock (I ended up ordering/sending a brand new copy for the buyer!) Since having found the disc after all that a while late,and with ICM's Eastern European viewing challenge taking place, I looked at the diamonds.

View on the film:

Shining when the French New Wave was gathering pace, while also being taken by the elegance of US cinema such as Citizen Kane (1941), co-writer/(with Jerzy Andrzejewski) directing auteur Andrzej Wajda & cinematographer Jerzy Wojcik create an immaculate fusion of the two, in Wajda and Wojcik using sets for truly immense wide-shots filling the screen from the floor to the ceiling, which are threaded with fluid, outdoor tracking shots gliding round the crumbling side-streets with Chelmicki. Taking place in the raw post-WWII aftermath,Wajda contrasts the dialogue via putting the title through a modern filter of dazzling, ultra-stylised low shadows and burning bright white lights, with a New Wave "in the moment" atmosphere from stark close-ups crossed with depth of field corner shots hitting Chelmicki's conflicting mind-set.

Altering the adaptation from Jerzy Andrzejewski's more blunt view in the novel, the screenplay by Wajda and Andrzejewski have the fear of holding alliances linger in an air of hushed dialogue about "The Uprising", and anxiety over which new combating force (the Soviets and the anti-Communist underground forces) can get a footing over what direction the country takes. Offering little light in the title, the writers bring a sweetness to the bubbling romance between Krystyna and Chelmicki,with the care-free nature they share being finely balanced by the tightening of screws over the assassination orders weighing hard on Chelmicki's loyalties.

Standing out in the middle of a grubby bar, Ewa Krzyzewska gives a mesmerising, expressive turn as Krystyna,whose flirting and compassion tugs at Chelmicki. Looking incredibly cool in every frame, Zbigniew Cybulski gives an astonishing performance as Chelmicki,due to the "natural" acting method of Cybulski bringing an intimate fragility over Chelmicki having to decide to choose either ashes or diamonds.

Skrivánci na niti
(1990)

"We abolished saxophones as bourgeois instruments."
Nearing the end of the Eastern European viewing challenge on ICM,I decided to dig into the small pile of titles from UK DVD company Second Run that I had picked up during the New Year sale. Recently viewing the very good I Served the King of England, (2006-also reviewed)I was happy to find another title by film maker Jiri Menze,which led to me having a right lark with this viewing.

View on the film:

Beginning production during the Prague Spring and Alexander Dubcek's "Socialism with a human face",only to end just after the Soviet invasion and a 20 year ban being slapped on the film. The earthy, surrealist humour underneath co-writer/directing auteur Jiri Menzel's regular collaborations with writer Bohumil Hrabal are pushed to the front here via a deliriously sarcastic streak of humour ruthlessly satirising Communism (Menzel afterwards got banned for 5 years from making films) via the scatter-shot mini-tales taking in the forced workers making vast quantities of poor quality steel which no one needs or wants, and the secret police taking people to work at the yard for the most absurd reasons.

Whilst being far more comedic than Closely Observed Trains (1966-also reviewed)the humanist outlook of Menzel and Hrabal is a major theme that they wonderfully continue to explore here,in the "bourgeois elements" being grounded down by guards for re-education/to become worker drones,holding onto what they hold dear, to the point of even defying the eyes of the guards with rebellious romance. Sticking posters on the walls ripping into the vapid slogans of totalitarian on "Comrades" working for the good of all, director Menzel reunites with cinematographer Jaromir Sofr and turn the scrap yard into a excellent, post-apocalypse wasteland,where tracking shots round the slabs of rusting metal make it appear all of humanity has been wiped out,only for Menzel to zoom in on the holes in the metal,to find larks on a string.

Hra bez pravidel
(1967)

"He's a detective, he's paid to be unpleasant."
During the Eastern European viewing challenge on ICM, I've been keeping a look out for any "new" titles appearing online. Having found Tomorrow I'll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea (1977-also reviewed) to be a hilarious, invented Comedy,I was thrilled to find a Noir by director Jindrich Polak recently got Eng Subs,which led to me playing a game with no rules.

Note:Some spoilers in review.

View on the film:

Breaking in with a 8 minute robbery,the skill co-writer/(with Vaclav Sasek and Ludek Stanek) director Jindrich Polak later showed in the staging of physical comedy in 1977's Tomorrow I'll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea is on display here in the dialogue-free opening sequence, as Polak runs down the streets of Prague to the thieves staking out the jeweler's shop, who Polak follows by circling them on screen, (a clever precursor to the photos the cops are later shown to have)and grabbing them out of the middle of real crowds with swift wide-shot zoom-ins. Driving to the beat of Wiliam Bukovy's outstanding blend of Hard Jazz/ Electronic score, Polak & cinematographer Rudolf Milic shine a diamond Film Noir atmosphere,lit by intense close-ups on the faces of the robbers, covered with scars over the passage of time since the robbery, joined by crisp tracking shots diving into the shadows which the thieves try to remain under.

Playing the game over 4 years (the movie skips to "Four years later") the screenplay by Polak/Sasek and Stanek weighs the passage of time down on criminologist Malek,whose inability to get all the thieves found guilty leaves Malek with a itch which leads him to cross lines and leave blood on the tracks. Going their own ways after the robbery, each gang members attempt to remain under cover becomes thrillingly splintered from mistrust seeping on from one dying during the getaway, to tense paranoia,from Malek continuing to press on and fight to get closer to them. Firming holding his ground over the passing of time, Svatopluk Matyas brings out a gripping slow-burn intensity into Malek's growing obsession leaving him as the lone figure trying to stop a game without rules.

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