Thursday, 26 April 2018
A lot can happen in a week. One day Yoshiro Kamogawa is a normal 16-year-old boy growing up in an insignificant little town in Japan. The next day he finds he has the ability to read minds. A few days later his new English teacher wants to destroy all life on Earth, and he's the only one who can stop her. Society is falling apart all around him. The women in his town are transformed into sexual predators. Maybe that's the wrong expression. They don't actually seduce men, they just sexually arouse them so that they're too frustrated to function properly.
This is a film made by my favourite director, Sion Sono. As far as I know this is the only comedy film he's made. As such it's very successful. Other critics, including Sion Sono fans, disagree with me. They criticise the film for having a lot of implied sexuality but no real sex or even nudity. That's the point. The film is all about sexual excitement that doesn't reach a climax. It's about young people (and a few older people) who are still virgins and may stay that way forever. When Yoshiro is offered sex he turns it down because he wants to wait for "the one", a woman he may never meet.
This film is significant to me for another reason. It features Ai Shinozaki, who I consider to be the world's most attractive actress. She only plays a small role, unfortunately, but it's always a pleasure to see her appear in any film. Of the eight films she's made so far only two have been released in English and one in German. That borders on criminal negligence. The German release is this one, "Virgin Psychics". I recently spoke to the owner of the company that has released most of Sion Sono's films in English, and he said that he has no intention to release it.
This is the first film starring Ai Shinozaki that I've been able to buy on Blu-ray. To celebrate this I have designated May 2018 as my Ai Shinozaki Month. Every day in May I shall publish a photo of Ai Shinozaki. I hope you will enjoy the photos as much as I do.
Wednesday, 25 April 2018
How did this happen? How have I gone 48 years without watching this marvellous film? I had never even heard of it until a few weeks ago. I would have given it five stars, if not for the awful song "Think Dirty" which plays at repeated intervals in the first half hour. It's a disgrace that an otherwise perfect film should be spoilt by bad music that hurts my ears.
I'm amazed that the picture quality is so good, considering the film was made in 1970. My assumption is that it's been given a high quality remastering in recent years. The indoor scenes are crisp and faultless. The outdoor scenes show minor faults, but they're still very clear.
The film is about Teddy Brown, a junior assistant in an advertising company. He's entrusted with creating an advertising campaign for McLaughlin's Frozen Porridge. He decides that the best idea is to show that porridge is sexy, and he starts a nationwide campaign to find a beautiful, sexy woman for the television commercials. He doesn't realise that the perfect woman is right in front of him, his family's voluptuous Swedish au pair girl Inga. His work brings him into conflict with his wife, who is the member of a decency group that is campaigning to remove sex from British television.
The film starts off with slapstick, then adds social commentary about the hypocrisy in British society, leading up to a hilarious fight to the death. Like most films made in England in the 1970's, it's a few years out of date. The people of London's high society are dressed in the flashy bright colours of the mid-1960's, in contrast to the decency campaigners who wear dull colours or grey suits.
The film was obviously written for Marty Feldman to boost his career. He was already popular in television comedy series, but this was his first feature film. It helped him gain popularity in America, leading to his collaborations with Mel Brooks, "Young Frankenstein" (1974) and "Silent Movie" (1976). His early death at the age of 48 was a tragedy. At least we still have films like "Every home should have one" to remember him by.
Tuesday, 24 April 2018
This film is about a battle that stretches through almost all of the two hour film. It isn't a battle fought with swords or guns, it's a battle with words. The aggressive reporter Michael Jürgs tries to squeeze sensational statements out of Romy Schneider in an interview for the magazine Stern.
The film takes place in March 1981. Romy Schneider is spending a week in a French health centre in the seaside town Quiberon. If I understand correctly, the main focus of the centre is on a healthy zero calorie diet. Whether that's really healthy is a matter of opinion. The stay also includes daily cold showers and a variety of exercises. While there she's visited by her childhood friend Hilde. On the same day the Stern reporter Michael Jürgs arrives to interview her. Romy hates the German press, but she's agreed to the interview because he would be accompanied by the photographer Robert Lebeck, an old friend of hers.
Robert Lebeck, who Romy called Lebo, was possibly the man she should have married. They met in 1976 and had an almost-affair. After a long evening of talking they slept in the same bed, although they didn't have sex. Lebo speaks in the film of a note that Romy pushed under his door. It said, "I'm afraid of you. I'm afraid of myself. Forget me fast, but say good night to me first". After they parted Lebo knew a relationship was inevitable, so he stayed away from her for years. He said that Romy was too demanding as a woman and would expect a man to be with her 24 hours a day. I think he was wrong. During her two marriages she put her career first, often leaving her husbands alone for months at a time.
In this photo Robert Lebeck and Romy Schneider pose together. Their relaxed expressions show that they're more than just friends, or at least they could be if they let themselves go.
There's not the slightest intimacy with the journalist Michael Jürgs. He repeatedly tells her that he's one of the better journalists, then drives her into a corner with hurtful questions.
"What do you think when your son reads the headline: Romy is pregnant. Who is the father?"
"Why are you bankrupt after making more than 50 films?"
We see Lebo wincing when these and other questions are asked, but he waits until after the interview to criticise his partner.
The interview itself takes place over two days. On the third day there is no interview, but photographs are taken on the beach.
Romy isn't supposed to drink any alcohol while at the health centre, but on the first evening Romy, Hilde and the two others leave the building and gatecrash a wedding reception. We see a different Romy. In the health centre she's cool and reserved, especially during the interview. When she's sitting at a table with a glass of champagne in her hand she's full of joy. She dances with an old poet, which has been saved in one of the most famous photographs of Romy Schneider.
In this article I've used the original photos from 1981, not scenes from the film. When I write about the film again I'll use screenshots instead. What I'll say here is that it's amazing how similar the actors Marie Bäumer and Charly Hübner look to Romy and Lebo. Charly Hübner especially has been transformed from his usual appearance. Whenever Marie Bäumer stares into the camera, which she does frequently, I see Romy and her suffering in her eyes. That's what moves me about "3 Days in Quiberon". It's one of the deepest, most emotional films I've ever seen.
Romy never found the happiness in her life that she deserved. I blame the men in her life, but maybe Romy herself should be blamed for choosing the wrong men. Why did she have an affair with Alain Delon when it was obvious to everyone that he was using her? Her other lovers and husbands were only slightly better. I wonder if Robert Lebeck regrets letting her go.
This was the last interview she gave. In May 1982 she died of a heart attack. Contributing factors were her chain smoking, her excessive alcohol consumption and her depression after the death of her son.
Monday, 23 April 2018
I first heard about this film last year when it was being tipped as a candidate for the 2018 Best Film Oscar. It won the award for Best Film at the Golden Globes. After this it was nominated in five categories for the Academy Awards, but won none. Later I read confusing newspaper reports in which critics were calling "Lady Bird" the most overrated film that was nominated for an Oscar this year. This almost put me off going to see it. I'm glad I followed my instincts and ignored what people were telling me.
The film takes place over the course of a year, from 2002 to 2003. It's a coming-of-age drama, a genre that has been hammered to death, but it has a greater depth of feeling than similar films without giving up its humour. Christine McPherson, who prefers to call herself Lady Bird, visits a Catholic girls high school in Sacramento, California, the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It's taken for granted that all the girls are religious, so if a girl isn't a believer nobody even notices. All Lady Bird wants to do in her last year at school is meet boys, and the best way to do this is to join the theatre group, which puts on joint productions with the boys' school.
Lady Bird isn't shy, but she is awkward. This makes it difficult for her to make contact with boys; difficult but not impossible. During her last year at school she has two boyfriends, but both relationships disappoint her.
A lot of emphasis is put on Lady Bird's relationship with her family. Her mother is emotionally stunted; she loves her daughter but is unable to show it. Her father is more openly loving, but he suffers from depression. (That sounds like my first marriage). Her brother Miguel is a Latino. He was probably adopted, but it's never stated explicitly. Lady Bird wants to break away from her family, from Sacramento and from Catholicism. She wants to go to college in New York, as far away as possible.
What makes "Lady Bird" a successful coming-of-age drama is the wide scope of her character ark. It's not just about school and boys. It's about reconciliation with her mother and with religion.
There's more I could say, but I don't want to give away any spoilers. All I want to add is that this is one of my favourite films of the year so far. I can accept that it's not a film for everyone, but it spoke to me on a personal level, and it made me laugh.
Saoirse Ronan once more proves what a magnificent actor she is. The supporting cast also play their roles excellently, but I was particularly impressed with Odeya Rush, the Israeli actress who plays her friend Jenna. It's the first time I've seen her, but I'll be watching out for her in future films.
Sunday, 22 April 2018
This is the ninth film in the Stuttgart Nights Festival.
This has been called the greatest performance of Vince Vaughn's career. I can see why. Throughout the film he treads a fine line between being a good guy and a bad guy, but he's always credible.
Vince Vaughn plays Bradley Thomas, a recovering alcoholic who works as a car mechanic. When he's fired there's only one job he can find that pays well enough to support himself and his wife: he delivers drugs for a friend of his. Bradley isn't a dealer, he just carries large sacks of drugs and collects the money.
When a deal goes bad due to the stupidity of his accomplices, Bradley turns against them. He shoots them to stop them killing the police. He's arrested and promised he can be let free if he cooperates by naming names, but he refuses to betray his friend. He's sentenced to seven years in prison.
Shortly after arriving in prison, where he intends to be a model prisoner to be paroled early, he's told that his former drug boss has kidnapped his pregnant wife. She will be killed unless Bradley agrees to assassinate another prisoner.
There are more complications in the plot, but I'll leave it there. This is an ultra-violent psychological thriller. Bradley looks like a monster -- Vince Vaughn is 6'5" and muscular -- but he's really as soft as a baby. All he wants to do is enjoy a happy life with his wife and daughter. However, he's forced to be a violent killer to do this.
The critics love the film. The general public doesn't. This is a rare case where I take the side of the critics. It was released in cinemas in America and England last year, but it did so badly that it won't be released in other countries. Is the film too violent for the public? Or is Vince Vaughn's brooding character too oblique? Whatever the reason is, I recommend "Brawl in Cell Block 99" to all my readers.
This is the eighth film in the Stuttgart Nights Festival.
This is a sequel to the film "The Strangers" that was released in 2008. It's not understandable why the writer Bryan Bertino waited so long. The first film ended with a hook to make a new film.
I'll admit that I didn't like the first film very much. I enjoy slasher films if there's a good story behind the slashing, but that didn't seem to be the case. The second film features the same three killers but even less story. When one of the killers (Dollface, on the left in the poster) is asked why she's killing people she answers "Why not?"
If you really want a plot summary, here it is:
A family with two teenage children moves into a trailer park. On their first night three strangers arrive and kill them one by one.
There's nothing else to say. They're not carefully selected victims. They're just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Most of the films shown at the Stuttgart Nights Festival are new films that haven't been shown in the cinema yet. This is an exception. It was released in March in almost every country except for Germany and the UK. The fans obviously disagree with my negative rating. It's already a massive hit which has earned more than five times its budget. Maybe cinema audiences just want to see killing without having to worry why it's happening?
There's one amusing thing that I noticed in the final credits. There was a list of set medics. 14 of them. Why does a film need so many medics? In fact, why does a film need any medics at all? Did something happen that we haven't been told about?
This is the seventh film in the Stuttgart Nights Festival.
A woman called Martha lives in the Austrian mountains with her daughter Albrun. The villagers harass her and throw stones at her because she's a witch. Throughout the film I saw no evidence of witchcraft, so why did they call her a witch? She was an independent woman living without a man, and she didn't go to church. That's all the proof that the villagers needed. Witch!
Martha dies, and 15 years later Albrun is living in the same mountain hut with her baby daughter, also called Martha. Like her mother, she's an outcast. She supports herself from selling goat's milk in the village, but nobody likes her. This changes when a young woman called Swinda befriends her. They spend time together, and eventually Swinda invites Albrun to meet her husband.
It was all a ruse. Swinda's husband rapes Albrun while Swinda watches. When Albrun returns to her hut her goats are all gone, either slaughtered or stolen. Albrun decides to take revenge on Swinda and the rest of the village.
The scenery is beautiful, but that's the only good thing I can say about the film. The story is depressing, and there are some very ugly scenes. Some things don't make sense. Why does the village's Catholic Church have a wall built out of skeletons? Something that weird deserves an explanation, but none is given.
I wasn't alone in my opinion. It was the first film in which I saw people walking out. When I spoke with my friends outside none of them had anything good to say about it.
This is the sixth film in the Stuttgart Nights Festival.
This is a Canadian film that was filmed in Ontario, but the story's location is kept vague. It's common for Canadian films to leave it unclear whether they take place in Canada or America. Watching the film today I didn't notice any street signs or other clues that would have unambiguously identified the town.
Leah is a teenage girl who lives in a small town. It's a year since her father died. Since then her mother has turned to alcohol for comfort. This, in turn, has made Leah despise her mother. Leah too is suffering and needs support, but her mother is a wreck and can't help her.
Leah's mother makes the worst possible decision she can make. She thinks that the family home is the problem. It feels like a tomb since her husband passed away, so she decides to move into a new home an hour's drive north. Leah will have to change school at the end of the school year, but until then her mother will drive her to and from school every day. This will separate Leah from her friends, who were the only small amount of support she was receiving.
Added to this, the new house is isolated in the middle of the woods, a long distance away from whatever the new town is. When Leah gets home after school she's sad and lonely, with only the mother that she despises so much for company.
With the help of occult books Leah casts a spell to kill her mother. If you're a sceptic you'll say that's better than simply bashing her mother's head in with a baseball bat, but you're wrong. Leah has summoned a demon called Pyewacket. She contacts an author of occult literature online who tells her that evil spells always have a price. The demon will first do what he's been summoned to do, and after completing his task he'll torture the one who summoned him. Leah has to undo the spell before her mother dies.
This is a chilling story which fascinated me from beginning to end. The conversations between the children in Leah's school (probably aged 15 to 16) brought up some interesting questions. It's said that children should respect their parents, but what if parents don't live a life that earns their respect? A person doesn't automatically become a figure of authority when he has a child. A weak person doesn't become strong overnight.
Some parents need as much help from their children as their children do from them. Obviously children can offer nothing when they're four or five years old, but as they grow older they can slowly grow into their responsibility. Some children can do that, some can't. If I remember correctly, I first began to become a companion for my mother when I was 12. I used to sit with her for hours talking about her problems. My sister was different. She only thought about herself and never did anything to help her mother, at least not when she was young. It wasn't until after my sister's divorce -- her marriage only lasted six months -- that she and her mother grew close. She turned to her mother for help, but the relationship became mutual and she offered help in return.
Saturday, 21 April 2018
This is the third film in the Stuttgart Nights Festival.
This is a Canadian rape and revenge film with a minimal cast of only four actors.
Richard goes on a hunting trip every year with his friends Stan and Dimitri. (All three are French Canadians). He has a luxurious house in the middle of the desert. The film doesn't make the location clear. It was filmed in Morocco, but my guess is that the film is supposed to take place somewhere in South America.
Richard arrives a few days early to spend some time with his American girlfriend Jen. It's just a casual affair. He has no intention of leaving his wife. Their love nest is disturbed when Stan and Dimitri arrive earlier than expected.
The next day Richard has to drive to the next town to get supplies. While he's away Stan rapes Jen. Dimitri sees it happening but ignores it. When Richard returns he's angry with Jen for making such a fuss about it. He offers her money and says he never wants to see her again. She makes a scene, so the men throw her off the side of a canyon. They think she's dead, but she comes back to take revenge.
It's a very good film, but I think that the violence is overdone. I don't mean that it's too much to watch, I mean that it's too much to be taken seriously. All of the characters, Jen especially, suffer injuries which would kill a normal person, but somehow they stand up and carry on fighting. Judging by the audience reactions I don't think the film achieved the desired effect. Whenever someone was shot or stabbed the audience laughed. It wasn't intended to the funny, but the audience was thinking "Not again! Isn't he/she dead yet?"
I'm interested to hear the opinion of my readers, if you get a chance to see it.
This is the second film in the Stuttgart Nights Festival.
This is an Irish zombie film. Even though I wasn't overwhelmed by it, I have to praise it for introducing new ideas to the genre.
The film's premise is that there has been a zombie epidemic raging in Europe, including Ireland, for five years. Now a cure has been found for the infection. People who were formerly zombies can live normal lives again. However, they retain their memories of what they did as zombies. About 75% of the former zombies have been cured. The other 25% are locked up and will be destroyed in the next two weeks.
The problem is that the people who were never zombies are prejudiced against the cured zombies. They think that they should be executed for their crimes, not pardoned as guiltless sick people.
The film concentrates on two former zombies, Seenan and Conor. Seenan goes to live with his sister-in-law, who fully accepts him, but there are problems with the intolerant neighbours. Seenan does his best to fit back in to society, and he gets a job as the assistant for a doctor working to find a cure for the other 25% of the zombies. Conor is more rebellious. Before he became a zombie he was a lawyer, but now the only job he's allowed to do is a street cleaner.
Seenan discovers that the zombies he works with are friendly towards him. They see him as one of them. The conclusion he draws is that the cured are all still zombies; the "cure" has only removed the symptoms, but they're still the same inside. Conor goes one step further. He says that the uncured zombies are his own people, so they shouldn't be killed, they should be freed.
This is a fascinating film, but it's obviously a parable of the religious conflicts in Ireland. The clean and the cured represent the Protestants and the Catholics respectively.
This is the first film in the Stuttgart Nights Festival.
This year's Stuttgart Nights Festival kicked off with a crime thriller, an adaptation of the 1990 novel "Double Face" by the Belgian author Jef Geeraerts. He wrote a series of books about the police detectives Eric Vincke und Freddy Verstuyft, and this is the third of the novels to be filmed. Eric Vincke (on the right in the picture above) is an efficient policeman who does everything by the book. Freddy Verstuyft (on the left) relies on his instincts to solve cases, cutting corners when he thinks the rule book is holding him back. Which method of police work is more efficient? I don't think it's a spoiler for me to tell you that criminal cases need a combination of the two. That's why Eric and Freddy are partners, even if they're constantly arguing about what to do next.
The film takes place in a town in the Dutch-speaking area of Belgium. Six dead women are found buried close to one another near the woods. They're all naked, and all of their heads have been removed. The bodies were buried over a period of about two years. Further investigation shows that there was a similar unsolved case in Germany: three headless bodies were found near Cologne (Köln) that had been buried between 1981 and 1983. The detectives concentrate their investigations on people who had lived in Cologne before moving to Belgium.
Eric, working by the book, calls in a distinguished psychological profiler from Holland to help determine what sort of killer they are dealing with. Freddy ridicules the opinions of the profiler. He's more interested in a woman found hiding naked in the bushes near the woods. She seems to have been drugged and is suffering from partial memory loss. Freddy thinks that she should have been the next victim, but the killer let her go when he was disturbed by the digging in the woods. Eric thinks she has nothing to do with the case and tells Freddy to stop investigating her.
I'm not a big fan of crime thrillers, but this is a very good film. I'd like to see the other two films starring the detectives Vincke and Verstuyft.
Friday, 20 April 2018
When I reviewed this film seven years ago I said that I couldn't recommend it because it's so unlike any of Jean Rollin's other films. Yesterday I read that it's considered to be a cult film, so I decided to give it another chance. I've never understood who gets to pick what's a cult film and what isn't, but obviously someone likes this film.
The film follows an unnamed woman who kills people and leaves a miniature car on their bodies. Her victims are seemingly unrelated: a junkyard owner, art thieves, a photographer and a nightclub owner. The police who investigate think they're random killings and label her as a psychopath. We, the viewers, see that the victims are carefully selected. The woman even invites the photographer to Paris from America, just so she can kill her. For the viewers the mystery is to figure out what the connection between the victims is.
What complicates the case for the police is the large number of victims who die as collateral damage. In the first scene the only person she intends to kill is the junkyard owner, but she doesn't hesitate to kill four prostitutes who were standing nearby and could possibly have identified her.
It's true, the film is unlike Jean Rollin's other films, in different ways. The typical beautiful scenery is missing. We don't have castles and beautiful meadows, we have junkyards, industrial dockyards and rundown areas in the Paris suburbs. Many scenes take place at night, which is unusual for Jean Rollin. There are no vampires or any other supernatural creatures in this film. It's almost a detective story, except that the viewers are told from the beginning who the killer is.
That doesn't make it a bad film. It just means it's not a Rollinesque film. My relatively poor rating in my last review was the result of me comparing it with Jean Rollin's other films. I penalised it for being too dissimilar to his earlier films. I was wrong. I should have praised him for having the courage to try something new.
My readers are probably wondering who the hauntingly beautiful woman is who plays the savage serial killer. I'm wondering the same thing. Her name is Tiki Tsang. She was born in Australia in 1968 and emigrated to France when she was 18 to become a model. "Killing Car" was her first ever film. She was given the leading role, which looked like the beginning of a big career. No, it wasn't to be. She never acted again. It was her first and last film. I'm sure there's an untold story somewhere.
Two years ago I said I would write a lot more about this film when I own it on disc. Guess what? I lied. You'll have to make do with a few screenshots instead.
And in case you're wondering who the four lovely ladies are, here are their names.
Don't they say that a picture is worth a thousand words? In that case this post is more than 8000 words long. That's my excuse for being lazy this morning.
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