July 4th: …and print.

cut2

139. Cut (Chan-Wook Park, 2004)

The second film from the Three Extremes DVD is from the phenomenally talented Chan-Wook Park, director of the excellent vengeance trilogy including Oldboy and the earlier reviewed Lady Vengeance. Cut is a smart little story about a film extra who decides to kidnap a famous director and his wife before offering the director a conundrum. He will let them both go if the director kills a young girl but for every five minutes he takes to make up his mind his wife has a finger chopped off. It’s smart, nasty stuff and Park shoehorns in plenty of visual flourish too. The end managed to remind me of Oldboy with its sick twist.

Diplomatic Immunity

Because I’ve got your best interests at heart I thought I’d show you this cracking trailer. I realise you may have some serious giant robot fatigue right now, what with the mega budgeted disappointments that were Terminator Salvation and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but hang in there. I’ve been tracking Neill Blomkamp’s first feature for a while and I think that it has got some serious potential. Blomkamp was attached to the Peter Jackson produced Halo video game adaptation which fell through, this is his way of dealing with that disappointment. The premise is a little like Alien Nation but with the setting of South Africa there is the potential for a whole other level of intrigue in the portrayal the race relation subtext. I’ll let you be the judge of how it looks…

July 3rd: Festive Spirits

Bad Santa

138. Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff, 2003)

He hasn’t directed many films but Terry Zwigoff has only made interesting stuff. Bad Santa might look a little out of line for the man behind indie fare like Ghost World, which was brilliant by the way, but this film really works. Billy Bob Thornton is absolutely spot on as Willie, the depressed alcoholic safecracker partner to Tony Cox. They rip off the department stores where they work as the Santa and Elf team in the Christmas period. During all of this Willie drinks and shags his way through life before he stumbles bizarrely into a family unit where some form of responsibility is thrust upon him. Its funny, filthy and cynical. One of the best Christmas films of recent years, it makes you wonder why Zwigoff doesn’t get more work.

July 2nd: Cooked Rare

Dumplings_cover

137. Dumplings (Fruit Chan, 2004)

I’ve watched the truncated, 40 minute, version of Dumplings which came as part of the ‘Three Extremes’ trilogy of films put out by Tartan. It’s an unsettling film about vanity and the desire for youth. Qing was once a beautiful young television actress, as she reaches a point in her life when her looks might be changing she fears the wandering attentions of her husband. Qing goes to visit Aunt Mei, a cook with a line in dumplings that offer special rejuvenation to those who are willing to overlook their origin. An origin which isn’t hidden in the film but one I’ll not give away here, suffice to say – it isn’t a pleasant kind of meat. It’s an effective film at 40 minutes, so it might drag even at the 90 minute version but, it is well worth a watch. It’s an impressively uncomfortable critique on the pressures to be beautiful for women especially in the celebrity obsessed culture. If you are a bit squeamish though, you might want to skip this course.

July 1st: Unlucky Charm

Leprechaun_five

136. Leprechaun in the Hood (Rob Spera, 2000)

Warwick Davis reprises his role as the Leprechaun in the fifth instalment of the horror franchise and is transported to ‘the Hood’ to terrorise Ice-T and a parade of hapless victims. Leprechaun in the Hood is obviously the natural evolution of the franchise after the fourth film took place in space, apparently. It’s straight to DVD writ large, take established idea and bolt it onto some kind of pop culture ideology. In this case a maniacal Leprechaun in black urban America – specifically becoming involved with a group of hungry rappers who espouse a positive message, like De La Soul only awful. The Leprechaun’s powers are weirdly never explained and seem to vary through the film, there’s the usual smattering of homophobia, only Warwick Davis can actually act and he’s buried under inches of make-up whilst squawking some of the worst rhyming couplets in the history of the English language “Look at all these glittering goods – I’ve got more loot than Tiger Woods!”

There’s a dance/rap sequence at the end of the film too – just to reinforce that it’s all a big joke. But if you hadn’t figured that out when you picked up the DVD then you might struggle with this part of the film. There really isn’t anything to redeem this, it isn’t even unintentionally funny.

June 30th: Somewhere beyond the sea.

Mediterraneo

135. Mediterraneo (Gabriele Salvatores, 1991)

A group of inept misfit Italian soldiers are stationed on a remote Aegean island during World War II. At first they find no evidence of anyone living on the island until one day the townsfolk suddenly reappear. The soldiers begin to blend into the island life, cut off and forgotten by the raging war overseas they become part of the island community and begin to settle. For three years the men become subsumed by the life of the islanders, it begins to affect them all in different ways, they mellow and partake in the joys of the simpler life and some even become romantically involved. Mediterraneo is a deeply nostalgic film, besotted with an idealised, simple and satisfying way of life. It is a credit to everyone involved that it is so beguiling; it plays out gently, slowly soothing away tension and awkwardness to a greatly calming effect. When interlopers threaten the island paradise the results are often comedic and harmless. The passage of time seems be purposefully absent, the impression is that this place has no time and that it will continue to be as it is regardless of the outside world.

Mediterraneo won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, and it’s understandable why. The powerful sense of nostalgia is dreamlike and enchanting, a nebulous emotion that is all too rarely captured in the cinema.

Cheers to Christian for the copy.

June 29th: 3 Kings

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134. Cat’s Eye (Lewis Teague, 1985)

Dino De Laurentiis is an intriguing figure in modern cinema, over the course of the 70’s and 80’s he revolutionised certain film making procedures in the financial sense. He’d been producing films since the early 40s though and continues to do so sporadically. He is in many ways the archetype of the ‘creative Producer’ and his record of films produced speaks for itself. Cat’s Eye is a curio that seems indicative of the De Laurentiis approach. He would look for opportunities that he thought might make money and evidently decided to exploit the booming popularity of Stephen King during the 80s, something he’d already attempted with Firestarter the previous year (starring Drew Barrymore who turns up in Cat’s Eye). From what I can gather De Laurentiis was involved with the pre-production quite heavily.

The film is essentially three short stories, each linked by the presence of the same cat. The first two stories, Quitters Inc and The Ledge are adapted from King’s short stories in the compendium book ‘Night Shift’ and initially the third story was to be Sometimes They Come Back, also in ‘Night Shift’. It appears that De Laurentiis specifically suggested that this story might do better as a stand-alone film and that the third story in Cat’s Eye should be specifically written for the film (Sometimes They Come Back eventually appeared as a 1991 TV Movie with Dino as Executive Producer). De Laurentiis stuck to a proven if unspectacular director in Lewis Teague who had form with King adaptations as he directed 1983’s Cujo which had been a moderate success.

All this sort of thing complicates accepted ‘Auteur theory’. If Dino is pulling all the strings then to what extent is any director that works for him truly the author of the film? The same can apply to agents too, as they supply actors/writers/directors in package deals. It’s a big old subject and not worth getting into here, but it’s interesting to note. The whole thing was really brought to my attention from a couple of different sources, William Goldman, David Thomson and my friend Nathan Ditum who writes for Total Film and will one day finish his brilliant sounding PhD on the influence of business models on the artistic production of film with its chapter on Dino De Laurentiis.

Anyway – to the review of Cat’s Eye…

The film suffers, as most compendium/portmanteau films do, from being a bit uneven in the quality of the individual sections. The first two stories are intriguing premises, in Quitters Inc. James Woods is taken to a place where they have a somewhat radical method of ensuring that you are able to quit smoking. Once you are in you are monitored for a month, if you have a cigarette at any time then your wife/loved one is brought in and lightly electrocuted in front of you. The threat continues that if you crack again the same treatment will occur to your daughter/son and a third time – your wife will be raped. In The Ledge a rich gambler finds the man having an affair with his wife and offers him an escape, climb round the penthouse apartment ledge high above the streets and he can have the wife as well as money. The two sections work well, being adapted from short stories they are tight, focused scenarios that are enjoyable tense. The whole thing unwinds in the final section where Drew Barrymore is troubled by a troll who lives in her wall and intends to steal her breath, whereupon the titular cat protects her. The whole thing lacks the energy and urgency of the earlier stories and the tone shifts slightly more towards silliness as a cat fights a troll.

Still, Dino made some money out of it and that’s the main thing.