Friday, June 17, 2016

Capsule Reviews for You to Etc.

Scroll down for them.

Crimson (d. Juan Fortuny) - This film, recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, is, I'm afraid I must admit, my first exposure to Eurocult horror star and eventual director Paul Naschy. Most famous for playing a Polish werewolf in a number of films, in Crimson Naschy is billed as the star, but as my friend Richard Harland Smith points out in his commentary track, found on the Blu-ray, and as the film itself confirms, Naschy's character here -- Jack Surnett, a thief shot in the head, non-fatally but only just, by the police as he and his gang race to escape a botched jewelry story robbery -- may be central to the events of the film, but Naschy himself is merely a supporting player. And not even a major supporting player: just about everyone in Crimson is a supporting player, and almost all of them get more screen-time than Naschy.

Naschy is central because these criminals, ruthless though they are, are also loyal, and so they want to save Surnett without alerting the cops. One thing leads to another, and eventually their normal, dipsomaniacal doctor (Carlos Otero) leads them to the brilliant and devoted neuroscientist (Ricardo Palmerola) who, with his wife (Silvia Solar, who after an unspecified lab accident must be her husband's hands)...fixes brains, I guess. Anyway, their experiments are delicate, and they're the only ones under the circumstances who can save Surnett. They need a new brain, so the gang, led by the cold-hearted Henry (Oliver Matot), kill a rival gangster known as The Sadist (Roberto Mauri), so when a portion of The Sadist's brain is glued or whatever onto Surnett's, Surnett, after a while, first recovers, and then goes nuts.

However, the mayhem that ensues, and Crimson has its share, is far less of the Frankenstein's Monster, or Two-Headed Transplant, variety, and more of the gang-war sort. That Naschy's Surnett has been transformed into a tortured psychopath is merely a device to blow the whole thing wide open and bring all these gangsters too their knees. Which is a fun enough series of events to witness, but the film is undeniably dopey -- the head of The Sadist is removed from his body through a goofball train-track scheme that only becomes necessary when one of the gangsters, who we'd seen moments ago with a large knife to be used for decapitation purposes, confesses to have lost the knife. He just lost it.

You could do worse, though, and you could do worse with better filmmakers: see Jean Rollin's Zombie Lake.

(Also included on the Blu-ray is the supposedly more sexually explicit French edit of the film, which is odd because the edit that is being presented by Kino as the preferred cut contains almost no sex at all.)

10 Cloverfield Lane (d. Dan Trachtenberg) - This surprising cousin to 2008's found-footage giant monster movie Cloverfield was released more or less out of the blue earlier this year. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a young woman whose car crashes on a lonely rural road, and who wakes up in a bomb shelter built by the looming, unnerving Howard (John Goodman), this is basically a three-person thriller -- it's rounded out by John Gallagher, Jr. as the likable good-old-boy Emmett -- that focuses on two things: Winstead's Michelle trying to figure out if Howard's claim that a potentially apocalyptic disaster is currently taking place above ground is legitimate, and what that disaster, should it be real, consists of.

10 Cloverfield Lane both tips its hand about what's up and entices (well, depending on whether or not you liked Cloverfield, which I did) by leaving that for the end. Most of the film, as I've suggested, is comprised of the three characters living underground and trying to come to terms with their situation. Michelle goes from disbelieving Howard to sort of trusting him -- there's evidence he's not wrong. But she never lets herself fully buy into Howard as someone who doesn't pose a danger to her, and this is where much of the film's very effective suspense grows from. And it's quite remarkable how much help three very good actors can give to a film that is certainly well-made, but is not, for much of its length, breaking new ground. But Gallagher, Winstead, and Goodman are all wonderful, with Winstead and Goodman being particularly engaging. Goodman is able to play his character for comedy here and there, but in a way that increases the unease.

Eventually, the plot goes to places that made me actually gasp, if only because things were set up so well, and the timing of the narrative was so correct. And finally, that word "Cloverfield" becomes important, and if that pay-off is somewhat less successful than what happened in the bomb shelter, that doesn't mean it's unsuccessful. And anyway, if any of this is indication that there will someday be another "Cloverfield" movie, then that's good enough for me.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

History Repeats

Recently I learned, I can't remember where, that HHhH, Laurent Binet's post-modern novel about the assassination of Nazi demon Reinhard Heydrich, had been made into a movie set for release later this year. Then tonight, I happened to be browsing IMDb, where I saw a sinister-looking poster for a film called Anthropoid. The poster appeared to suggest a Nazi theme, so I looked it up and it turns out it is also a film about the assassination of Heydrich. Further research revealed to me that the Czech plot to kill the SS-Obergruppenführer was called Operation Anthropoid, which was Binet's original choice for a title before his editor suggested the much more oblique HHhH.

I couldn't help thinking, of course, of all the times two films with strikingly similar premises are released in the same year, and close enough together that one couldn't have ripped off the other, and how often the two films are about very specific things. Take Capote and Infamous, for example, both of which focus on the period in Truman Capote's life when he researched and wrote In Cold Blood, as well as his relationship with killer Perry Smith. These similarities can also be a tad broader, but still surprising, as when two films about major Eastern-American cities being threatened by volcanic eruptions were released in 1997.

Still further research revealed that when Binet submitted HHhH (which stands for, in case you're curious, "Himmlers hirn heißt heydrich", which translates as "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich"), the manuscript included several pages in which Binet takes down Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones, a massive and controversial novel also about Nazi Germany. Binet's publisher made him remove that section, but subsequently the literary magazine The Millions was given permission to publish those pages. In his introduction to Binet's writing about Littell and The Kindly Ones, critic Garth Risk Hallberg writes this:

So. Patterns within patterns, and so on.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Secret History of Movies #14

(Barton Fink, 1991, d. The Coen Brothers)
(Hail, Caesar!, 2016, d. The Coen Brothers)

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Embarrassing Moment

Oh hello. Good? That's great! I myself am feeling somewhat mixed. Please let me explain. I won't bore you with too much expository information, but there are two incidents (one of them doesn't even count as that) I feel compelled to describe to you, and some background is necessary. Right at the moment, I'm sliding down the long barrel of a four-day weekend, because my wife is in Wisconsin on family business, and I, quite honestly needed the rest. Today is my first full one of the four, and my plans had been to be dropped off by my wife, on her way to the airport, at a spot where I could get breakfast, shop, etc., ending up, finally at a point where I was walking out of a movie theater, having just seen Warcraft, and starting the long walk home that would be broken up by dinner at a Japanese restaurant that was very near where my wife and I have lived for over a decade but had never been inside, despite the fact that Japanese cuisine is a favorite of ours.

So cut to me catching a much earlier show of Warcraft than I'd initially planned, because I was tired, I'm a pedestrian, and I just couldn't kill that much time (I picked up Hail, Caesar! on Blu-ray, though!). The first preview before Warcraft was for Central Intelligence, the Dwayne Johnson/Kevin Hart vehicle, which begins with a fat man dancing in the shower. In the row in front of me was a guy who was very clearly digging it, and laughing, and nodding along with all the jokes I hated. I looked at him in the light coming from the movie screen and thought "What kind of person thinks these jokes are funny?" Then, very quickly, I thought to, and about, myself: "You're a real asshole, you know that?"

Thus epiphanized, I settled in to watch Warcraft, which is a big unsuccessful goofball of a movie that I don't quite regret paying to see but will forget ever having seen in about seventy-six hours. And I walk home, with the intention of bypassing the Japanese restaurant entirely, because listen, I am tired, guys, and they don't start serving dinner until 5:00, and with this shift in film showtimes (I was originally going to see Warcraft at 3:00, and...well, never mind) it just wouldn't pan out for me, long as fuck though the walk home was, and is. Finally I get home, and I'm dicking around like a total dick, when I think "I should walk back to that Japanese place." Japanese is my favorite cuisine, I get excited every time I'm planning a visit or heading to a Japanese restaurant, I love the food, I love the atmosphere, I love the variety, I love every single thing there is to love about a good Japanese restaurant, whether it be modest or high-end. Plus it's gonna be hot as literal shit the next two days, and I don't plan on leaving the house, even if some magic asshole is like "Come join me in my billionaire fire balloon!" I'd be like "No thanks, Chester," because our air conditioning is working pretty well at the moment.

So I walked back to the restaurant, and I ordered a lot of food. I spent way too much money today in general, and I should probably just role over and go to sleep and not even post this. But I spent what I spent, and I loved my meal. In the midst of which, and here we reach our point, at the sushi bar I began talking to a woman two seats down from me. I can't remember why this conversation began, exactly, but she's Caucasian and American, while her (I'm assuming) husband is a native of Japan. Among the things discussed were which is the best Japanese restaurant in our general region, and the husband, who I have no reason to believe did not know his business, said the best such restaurant was the very place in which we were currently sitting.

That's great! He kept having to get up, so I talked mostly to his wife. She was very nice, and she'd clearly been to Japan many times. Since Japanese culture is a subject of some fascination for me, I both asked her questions and, and this is the whole point, wished to prove that, look, I know a little bit about Japan, okay? How, I can imagine you asking, did I prove this lack of ignorance? Interesting story: I said "I saw this movie once by Yasujiro Ozu called A Hen in the Wind which is about a married woman who feels like she has to prostitute herself because..."

And so on. Pretty quickly after the above, I was moved to add "I'm sorry, I just..." and she said "No that's okay" and then her husband came back and wrote down other Japanese restaurants my wife and I should try, even though the one which currently housed us could not, in his estimation, be beat in the region. They left, my dessert came, I paid my check. The dessert was delicious.

Don't ever try to impress anyone. If you're me, at least. The End.