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Review: Ugetsu

Mar 03 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221341:43446:0[/embed] Ugetsu (Ugetsu Monogatari, 雨月物語)Director: Kenji MizoguchiRating: NRRelease Date: March 3, 2017 (limited)Country: Japan  Watching Ugetsu felt like walking into an austere room where an ancient handscroll has been unrolled, spread out, and hung up to observe. Its meters and meters of period narrative are told along the four walls. The scroll starts in one corner, traces the length of the room, and ends in the corner it began. Ugetsu is wonderfully looped and completed, wrapped neatly like an old-fashioned fable or tale. The return to the starting point of the story, that initial tableau, is marked by change, much like the lives of characters in the film. Ugetsu is an adaptation of two braided plots from Ueda Akinar's 1776 book of ghost stories of the same name. One story follows Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa), a bumbling peasant who dreams of becoming a samurai. The other story follows Genjuro (Masayuki Mori), a potter who is seduced and waylaid by a mysterious noblewoman called Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo). In the backdrop is a senseless war that ravages the countryside, with samurais pillaging and looting from peasants. In a tense moment early in the film, Genjuro risks his life waiting at a kiln as samurai approach on a rampage. His wife tells him to wise up and flee, yet Genjuro knows that the only future he and his family has are those pots that are firing away, just not fast enough. Throughout the film, the gentry and the warrior classes disregard the people beneath them, while Tobei and Genjuro dream of wealth and status. Both will risk everything for armor and kimonos. Ugetsu contains those perennial critiques of greed and vanity, sins for which the wives of the two men suffer. Even before researching Mizoguchi's background, I could sense his love of kabuki and painting in the visual style and rhythms of the Ugetsu. The film ushers itself in with traditional song, and there's a measured theatricality to the blocking, staging, and performances of this period ghost story. The first time Lady Wakasa appears on screen, she is an otherworldly presence. It's not just the manner of dress, but a manner of being. Her servant follows to her side slowly, and she approaches Genjuro at a pace of her own that defies the bustle of the market. She is not one of these people, that much is clear. Mizoguchi's extended takes are marvels of deliberation. Contemporary filmmakers tend to use long takes as a sort of spectacle, calling attention to ballsy filmmaking craft (i.e., the long-takeness of the long-take) while paradoxically aiming at audience immersion (i.e., this unfolds continuously like real life). There's little sense of how form and content are wed in the contradictory presentation. For Mizoguchi, the extended take is part of the period storytelling. I mentioned the wall scroll idea earlier, which is a fitting way to depict a period tale. The story is fantasy touched by reality; its form and content are rooted in a time and a place and an art tradition that is tied to said time and said place. The 4K restoration of Ugetsu looks excellent, and I was actually thrown by it for a moment. It may have been the digital projection, but there was an uncanny sense of movement about some objects in the frame. They moved a little too smooth, a little too fast, sort of like when watching a new movie on a new TV with the settings just a little off. I don't know if that's a flaw since I eventually adjusted to it, but maybe it speaks to the film being so much an evocation of a period centuries ago that a contemporary presentation made uncanny movement more apparent. But hey, a classic is a classic.
Review: Ugetsu photo
A wall scroll on ghosts, war, and class
The films of Kenji Mizoguchi have been a major blind spot in my life as a filmgoer. I've seen plenty of Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu films, but for some reason Mizoguchi had always hovered on my to-watch list, always put o...

Review: Tampopo

Oct 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220968:43157:0[/embed] TampopoDirector: Juzo ItamiRating: NRRelease Date: October 21, 2016 (limited)Country: Japan  There's a familiar old west tale in Tampopo, with variations on cowboys and saloons and pretty schoolmarms. Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) are a pair of truck-driving gourmands that mosey into town. They stop by a noddle shop in a sorry state run by a widow named Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). She's quaint, mousy, often dressed in gingham, demure to a fault. Also, her ramen just plain sucks. Since they're good cowboys, Goro and Gun help Tampopo improve her shop, sort of like working the farm or rebuilding this here schoolhouse. Tampopo spends the the film perfecting her ramen and in the process attempts to perfect herself. It's not just a western but, philosophically, a martial arts movie. This is a story about the discipline of mastery. Think Jiro Dreams of Sushi, except ramen: self-improvement through a process of trial and error and practice. It's a familiar narrative, but when filtered through an unexpected intermediary, it achieves remarkable existential heft. Even in a decidedly lighthearted comedy like Tampopo, it's moving to witness someone try and try again until they achieve some ennobling dignity, no matter how small. All that effort for a good bowl of soup. But that's just part of the oddball/heartfelt appeal of Tampopo. Soba isn't the only noodle. The movie starts with a gangster in white (Koji Yakusho) and his moll (Fukumi Kuroda) entering a movie theater, ostensibly to watch the main story of Tampopo described above. The gangster waxes philosophical about life, death, and the movies, and then roughs up a guy crinkling a bag of chips in the row behind him. Later in the film, the gangster and his moll reappear periodically, using food as foreplay. By comparison, these scenes make 9 1/2 Weeks seem like the missionary position in Mormon underwear. Swirling around these two recurring narratives are a series of one-off skits on the role of food in people's lives. So many rituals, roles, and social codes are built around food and propriety, and we take a break from our gal at the noodle shop to get a survey of food culture in 1980s Japan. What Tampopo seems to emphasize in most of these one-offs is the sensual pleasure of food, and how our desire for sweets and richness and even just sloppy eating can't be restrained. Yet even when defying restraint, our taste for the sensual can be refined and in the process our appreciation for pleasure deepened. Tampopo isn't a movie for foodies. What a wretched, bourgie word that is. Tampopo is a movie for uplifting gormandizers who want to suck marrow rather than spoon it from the bone. Tampopo was just the second film from Itami, though it seems so assured and confident. Who else but a confident filmmaker decides to include a goofy rice omelet scene with a hobo? At numerous times the actors address some off-camera interlocutor by looking directly at the audience. This recurring quirk is sort of like Ozu, but not like Ozu at all. Tonally I was reminded a little of A Christmas Story, but then in comes a sexy or dark or sensitive moment redolent of some separate influence. Every couple minutes, unexpected surprises, and just more and more delight.
Review: Tampopo photo
Zen and the sexiness of ramen making
Prior to this week, the last time I saw Juzo Itami's 1985 food comedy Tampopo was in the mid-90s. I remembered so little of the movie save for the fact that I enjoyed it. Some isolated scenes are easy to recall, though. There...

Willy Wonka 35mm photo
Willy Wonka 35mm

NYC: Metrograph showing Willy Wonka in 35mm Labor Day weekend

Young lovers love the spring
Sep 02
// Hubert Vigilla
If you live in New York City and can't get into the AMC screenings of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory this weekend, you may still get to see the movie on the big screen in the next few days. Metrograph (one of my favori...

Check it out: new poster art company FAMP Art to release City of God posters

Aug 20
// Liz Rugg
Perhaps riding on Mondo's coattails, a new poster company based out of New York will be debuting next month. FAMP Art claims it wants to "bridge the gap between pop culture art and art-house cinema, focusing on films that don...

Teaser trailer for restoration of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is impressive

Jun 09 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Caligari Restoration photo
The somnambulist never looked so good.
If you haven't seen the 1920 classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, you need to fix that immediately. Conveniently, it's out of copyright, so I've embedded it below. But like most films from back then, it doesn't look so good....

Re-releases photo

Forrest Gump and Ghostbusters re-releasing in theaters this September

"Sorry I had a fight in the middle of your Black Panther party."
Jun 06
// Nick Valdez
Forrest Gump is one of my top ten movies of all time. It's probably in the top five too. It's just something I can watch over and over again without fault. Ghostbusters is something I'll watch again for sure, but not nearly a...

Gallery 1988 to bring traveling Ghostbusters art show to NY, LA, Chicago and SDCC

Apr 04
// Liz Rugg
As fans still reel at the loss of actor and writer Harold Ramis, here's something for Ghostbusters fans to look forward to -- in celebration of the movie's 30th anniversary, LA based pop culture art gallery Gallery 1988 is or...
Animated Short Films photo
Animated Short Films

A look at the 2014 Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films

Reactions, predictions, and spoilers!
Feb 19
// Liz Rugg
One easily overlooked part of the flurry of The Academy Awards is the shorts sections. Perhaps they seem less interesting or less consequential due to their bite-size nature, but to me, short films are often all the more acce...

Watch a clip from new Mickey Mouse cartoon Get A Horse!

Feb 12
// Liz Rugg
Get A Horse! is the Disney short film that has been playing before Disney's newest feature-length movie, Frozen, in theaters. Directed by Lauren MacMullan, Get A Horse! is a hand-drawn homage to classic Mickey Mouse cartoons...

It's A Wonderful Life NOT getting a sequel

Nov 21 // Liz Rugg
"No project relating to ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights." It's a holiday miracle! Theoretically, if these producers were to make a deal with Paramount and acquire said licenses, the project could move forward -- possibly even with Paramount's backing, but hopefully the major negative backlash about the project will make Paramount hesitant to proceed.
NO Wonderful Life sequel photo
Thank you, Santa!
It's A Wonderful Life is commonly known as a quintessential classic Christmas movie. The black and white 1940s movie has been loved for decades and for many people watching it is an annual Christmas tradition. So when news br...

Like Die Hard, but with poltergeist
Hey guys, it's October! You know what that means: Halloween is right around the corner! As such, we will be bringing you some of our favorite horror film suggestions, in the hopes that they will lead to some sleepless nights...


Mondo to relase poster series of Disney classic DuckTales

Not pony tails or cotton tails!
Aug 27
// Liz Rugg
Mondo is once again creatively tapping into the current twenty-something generation's nostalgia with a poster series of the beloved late-1980s Disney cartoon (and movie) DuckTales. With art from several staple Mondo artists s...

Wizard of Oz getting 3D re-release

Runs for one week starting Sept. 20
Jun 04
// Matthew Razak
It's hard to imagine how stunning The Wizard of Oz must have been to someone seeing it on the big scree 75 years ago. The incredible color and spectacle weren't really matched back then, but for a modern audience seeing the c...

Check out these remade original trilogy Star Wars posters

May 16
// Liz Rugg
An artist and illustrator who goes by the name Old Red Jalopy recently created these awesome posters for the original Star Wars trilogy; A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi, in the style of other ic...

Check out the 10ft Robocop statue going up in Detroit

May 14
// Liz Rugg
Just when you think the world couldn't get any more awesome, we finally have pictures of the glorious statue of Robocop that's going to be placed in the city of Detroit. Detroit is were the original movie takes place and thus...

This Is Spinal Tap soundtrack getting reissued on vinyl

The tracklist goes to 11
May 10
// Hubert Vigilla
This Is Spinal is one of the best movies of the 1980s and one my my favorite movies of all time. It's still the grandaddy of the mockumentary genre, and I don't think it'll be topped in terms of execution or sheer quality. Th...

Cleopatra getting 50th anniversary re-releases

May 06
// Matthew Razak
Cleopatra, the epic film known as much for its off screen issues as it was for its grandeur, is turning 50 this year and 20th Century Fox isn't about to miss out on the opportunity to celebrate it. They've remastered the...

Watch the trailer for a 1926 Great Gatsby silent film

Apr 11
// Liz Rugg
Baz Luhrmann will be the newest director to try his hand at creating a cinematic adaptation of the classic American novel The Great Gatsby, but he definitely isn't the first. Only one year after F. Scott Fitzgerald novel was...

Two dozen Akira Kurosawa films free on Hulu this weekend

Classics from a master
Mar 22
// Thor Latham
If you're sitting at home wondering exactly what the hell you're going to do with yourself for the next 48 hours, you may want take Hulu up on its offer this weekend. In celebration of the acclaimed director's 103rd birthday ...

Trailer: Much Ado About Nothing

Whedonites and Shakespeare fans rejoice!
Mar 08
// Liz Rugg
After director Joss Whedon's mega block-buster The Avengers last year, he decided to tone it down a bit for his next project. It's a bit of a palate cleanser - Much Ado About Nothing is an adaption of the classic Shakespeare...

MGM to reboot The Incredible Shrinking Man

Richard Matheson and his son will collaborate on the film
Feb 14
// Hubert Vigilla
MGM is going to reboot The Incredible Shrinking Man, one of the best sci-fi films of the 1950s. The movie was based on a novel by Richard Matheson, the 86-year-old genre maestro also responsible for I Am Legend and the Twilig...

You're a mean one Mr. Grinch. Animated reboot planned

How many times can Christmas be stolen?
Feb 08
// Thor Latham
Universal and Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me) have banded together to take another crack at Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas, a holiday classic that's already seen a big screen adaption in the way of Ron H...

Considering John Ford's The Quiet Man

Jan 23 // Hubert Vigilla
The Quiet Man follows Sean Thornton (John Wayne), a boxer from the United States who goes to Ireland in order to reclaim his family land. While there, he falls suddenly and deeply for Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O'Hara), a fiery Irish beauty with a fluttering accent and red hair rendered all the more striking in hypereal Technicolor. But then there's Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), her hog of a brother, who doesn't take kindly to Sean being in town. It's a conflict driven both by suspicion of the outsider and by the need for alpha male intimidation. You can tell the two will eventually come to blows, and yet Sean holds back even though he'd have the upperhand in a fight. (It's the Wayne way: simmerings of anger, bubblings or violence, and then the inevitable boil over.) Will is the roadblock between Sean and Mary Kate. If he gets his way, any marriage they have won't be a happy one. There's also Michaleen Oge Flynn, a supporting character played by Barry Fitzgerald, who serves as matchmaker and a bit of drunken Irish color. Fitzgerald's character is a stereotype too charmingly cartoonish to be considered offensive -- like Lucky of Lucky Charms, but a couple pints deep. With all that male pride, it's a a rough and unhappy union for Sean and Mary Kate in a couple of ways. Wayne was never an actor with range, but he could play the hell out of being John Wayne. It's the same with Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime: he would only ever play himself, and that was sufficient. As Sean Thornton, Wayne has a certain kind of command that goes with his star status. He's an imposing conquerer, the Platonic idea of an old-fashioned American movie star who can beat the hell out of everyone else on screen. But the person who takes the abuse for the majority of The Quiet Man is Mary Kate. There are a few scenes where Sean roughs up Mary Kate, and they're pretty ugly given modern sensibilities. In one he tugs her hair to kiss her in a way that seems brusque and unwarranted before tossing her on the marriage bed like a duffel bag full of dirty laundry. She's upset that she can't have her dowry, acting like a shrill little shrew who only cares about money. It's clear that her dowry is supposed to mean more to the character than just the money -- there's a sense of getting what she's owed, a sense of personal pride, an upholding of traditions -- but her concern plays out like she's materialistic and that's it. She's also upset that her burly new husband, a former boxing champ no less, seems too yellow to beat the crap out of her own brother. She wanted a butch cowboy, but all she got was some tall, slow-talking, funny -walking doof named Marion. The most famous scene of sexism and abuse in The Quiet Man occurs when Sean is ready to accept his responsibility as a man and win his wife's dowry. (Again, simmer, bubble, boil -- it's the Wayne way.) It's not enough that he's going to march over to her brother and beat the shit out of him. Sean wants to show the wifey that he means business. So he brings her along to the ass whooping, and he does this by dragging her, kicking her, shoving her over miles of scenic Ireland; a jaunty old death march for the Oscar-winning lass. Sean handles Mary Kate with the abandon of Tom Sawyer swinging a dead cat; and his hand is so big around her forearm, Paul Bunyan-like, it seems like the bones will snap just below the wrist. All the while, the townsfolk cheer him on because they've been eager for the boil over too. One kind old woman even offers him a stick to beat Mary Kate with in case she doesn't oblige. (This is more hilarious than troublesome or problematic.) This brusqueness, sexism, antiquated gender ideas, and violence against O'Hara are what turn off many people about The Quiet Man. Watching it myself for the first time since early adolescence, I was pretty shocked, like hearing an older relative say something quaintly bigoted (aka old-timey bigoted). But maybe it's not necessarily abuse. Maybe they like it rough. There are parts in The Quiet Man where you realize that Mary Kate can give as well as she can get, and there's a bit of seduction to their aggressiveness with each other. They're both in on the game. Maybe this physicality is a given in their relationship. Their first mutually consensual kiss is the stuff of high romantic literature: in a cemetery, in the pouring rain, their clothes so soaked through you can see their skin through the fabric. (Only John Wayne's skin, so calm down, fellas.) Later in the film, Sean plants a firm and playful smack on Mary Kate's backside and she turns to look at him. She's not upset. By the look on her face, she's turned on. Maybe it's okay if they're both in on the game; maybe the safe word is "dowry." But it is okay? This is one of the dilemmas of encountering older art with dated values and viewing this older art with the progressive views of the present, i.e., views on abuse, gender roles, feminism, machismo, etc. In other words: how do some people measure the past when burdened with ideological guilt and the cynicism of the present? Take the Frank Loesser song "Baby, It's Cold Outside." These days a lot of people consider the song date-rapey, skeevy, off-putting, especially the line about what's in the drink; but for a long while it seemed like a couple's preamble to foreplay. Context, the delivery, and the performance of the song may be key. Yeah, I can easily see the negative side of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," but one of my first memories of the song was seeing it performed playfully, flitariously, on Saturday Night Live by Sigourney Weaver and David Johansen in his Buster Poindexter persona. (If only he'd done it in New York Dolls drag.) Watching that performance, it was a mutual seduction from two willing parties rather than an act of coercion. This all gets to something I've noticed which may be linked to the culture war or the new ways we think of personal taste. There's a tendency today to like only the things than align with your beliefs. That goes for your politics, your views on sex, your views on religion, and so on; and this applies to the movies you watch, the books you read, the comedians you like, the food you eat, the music you listen to, and the clothes you wear. It extends even beyond the work and can involve the beliefs and actions of the people who make the work -- think Chris Brown and Roman Polanski. So many people want a neatness to what they like, as if our taste were simply an extension of our deeply held beliefs. And there's nothing wrong with that since that's part of the nature of taste. But taste is a funny thing. I write that because I think we all can think of works we enjoyed that include things we find personally objectionable. There's the undeniable historical/aesthetic value of Birth of a Nation or Triumph of the Will, for example, and while both of which are important, that importance as artifacts is at odds with the despicable ideas those works communicate. The joys of films like A Day at the Races with The Marx Brothers or Swing Time with Fred Astaire are almost undermined by scenes featuring the actors in black face. Almost. Maybe I'm just trying to redact those offensive bits and concentrate on everything else. And yet this only goes so far. In the case of torture and actionable intelligence, I can give the show 24 a pass, though I suspect the water to be muddier, and maybe uglier, with Zero Dark Thirty, which I'll finally see this weekend. (Fictionalized accounts of torture and ticking-clock scenarios are held to different standards than purportedly accurate retellings of true events. And Chris Brown and Roman Polanski are still awful douchebags... but have you seen Repulsion lately? Wow.) And with The Quiet Man, yes, it's sexist, and yes, there are uncomfortable moments that border on abuse, but I still really enjoyed it. Because it's charming in an odd way. It's a view of the way gender roles and masculinity worked a couple decades ago, and these are fixed things -- as much an expression of an idea as an artifact depicting the idea. And I'll be damned if a priest obsessed with catching a giant fish isn't funny in a quaint, folksy sort of way. That's maybe one of those odd holes in my taste that I've noticed as I get older. I can be charmed while being a little appalled, so long as I'm not too appalled. The Quiet Man, for all the affronts it may pose to a progressive city liberal educated in the humanities, is charming in its own peculiar way. They don't make them like this anymore, and I doubt anyone would try. And just because I can laugh in shock and disbelief as Maureen O'Hara is treated like a rag doll, it's just a quirk of taste and not an extension of belief. So maybe if I wanted to be ideologically consistent in everything I do, I shouldn't like The Quiet Man. But taste isn't so neat and clean and easy. I'd rather just enjoy what I enjoy and then come to terms with it ideologically after the fact. There's an odd fun to figuring out what's going on in the things I like that don't align with the way I see the world. Some people like it easy when it comes to things they like, and, admittedly, there is a certain comfort in knowing that the stuff you like is a perfect expression of your values. But taste is a messy thing, and maybe in this situation, like Sean and Mary Kate, I like it rough instead.
Considering The Quiet Man photo
Extremely problematic and yet somehow charming
There's a great piece by Jonathan Lethem about John Ford's The Searchers, the classic Oscar-winning western starring John Wayne. The gist: I like this movie, but boy, given some of the content, maybe I really shouldn't. Lethe...

Review: Wake in Fright

Jan 15 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]214236:39481[/embed] Wake in FrightDirector: Ted KotcheffRated: RRelease Date: October 9, 1971 (original release); October 5, 2012 (US re-release); January 15, 2013 (DVD, Blu-ray release)Country: Australia In last week's Cult Club piece on Six-String Samurai I quoted the following line from Douglas Sirk: "There is a very short distance between high art and trash, and trash that contains the element of craziness is by this very quality nearer to art." While it may seem lazy to re-use the quote, it just so happens that Wake in Fright is another film in which the craziness elevates the content and calls attention to its power. Psychological horror movies share a lot with melodrama since both are about heightening the inner emotional world of a person so that it hits harder on screen. Since we're dealing with a man's private hell, what we get is the darkest, ugliest stuff in a dark and lonely heart. It all happens in an Australian shithole called Bundanyabba, a place the locals in the film call "the Yabba." And yet maybe it's not quite the shithole it seems since the film is told from John Grant's point of view. Played by Gary Bond (who looks like a young Peter O'Toole), John is a self-righteous, haughty jerk who looks down on everyone whether they deserve it or not because he's bitter. He's bonded by the Australian government to teach middle schoolers in a podunk town. At one point he jokes about being a slave rather than an educator. Still, John carries himself with air of a major intellectual. He talks up his education and quotes love poetry in a nauseating, self-fellating way to chat up a woman. With class dismissed for Christmas break, John stays in the Yabba en route to Sydney. Everyone around him is a roughneck and an oaf, and it's heightened by a key detail in John's wardrobe: he's wearing a safari jacket. He doesn't think he's in a small town, he thinks he's surrounded by dumb savages and dumber animals. Things start to go wrong that first night in the Yabba when the local sheriff buys round after round of drinks for John. Then there's a bit of gambling involving coin flips. What was supposed to be one night in the Yabba becomes many, each spent spiraling lower and lower with the beasts around him. During this lengthy fall, kangaroos are slaughtered, values are devalued (as John might put it when sober), days are wasted in squalor, and there's rough housing to put the rednecks in Gummo to shame. Fueling this descent is a reckless, bottomless pour of alcohol, and all of it given to John by the good folk of the Yabba. What seems like hospitality uncovers a deeper wretchedness in the town and its people. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Kenneth Cook, one thing that makes Wake in Fright work so well is what it reveals and doesn't reveal about our hero John. We learn very little about his life, but we get enough hints to keep us guessing -- a few glimpses of skin, but mostly shadows and outlines; the enticement of backstory without the whole thing. He mentions that he has a girlfriend who lives in Sydney who we only see in old photos and in a single flashback, but that's it. (This flashback of John's girlfriend is the only sensual moment in the entire film. Anything else resembling a love scene is unerotic.) Maybe their relationship ended? Maybe it's on the rocks? We know John wants to leave Australia if he could just get out of his teaching gig, but there's no greater sense of purpose. He's a prisoner who wants out who's now a prisoner of the Yabba, which may or may not be some manifestation of his deeper anxieties. Which is where, I think, Tydon (Donald Pleasence) comes in. Tydon was a doctor, an intellectual just like John thinks he is, but now he's just one of the Yabba's many comfortable alcoholics. In between his moments of insight -- Tydon's first line, an assessment of the Yabba, is "All the little devils are very proud of hell," of which he is one of them -- are moments of creepy abandon. Pleasence is a subtle force of evil in this movie. His eyes have something scheming in them, and the way Kotcheff pieces his film together, there are many moments of uncanny dread that come just from one of Tydon's little looks. It adds a sense that everyone in the Yabba knows what's really going on. (The paranoia also creeps in from some cultish behavior, setting the unhinged, uneasy tone of the film.) Pleasance's performance reminds me what a brilliant and horribly underappreciated actor he was. This isn't to sell Bond's performance short, since he's more than just a young O'Toole lookalike. As John gives in to his urges, Bond's performance zigs into elation and zags back into revulsion. There are urgent questions loaded into Bond's expression and carriage: "What am I doing? Why do I like doing this? Why can't I stop? What is wrong with me?" There's a kind of dark comedy underlying all the darkness, I think, which comes through in Bond's performance as well as many other touches that rest of the cast adds. But it's comedy that's pitch black, the sort of stuff that may make you ask "Why am I laughing at this? What is wrong with me?" One of the more controversial aspects of Wake in Fright involves actual kangaroos getting maimed and killed on camera. Kotcheff and his crew weren't responsible for the brutality themselves. They instead filmed hunters in the act of killing as a means of highlighting real-life cruelties in the bush. It's effective in an unpleasant, visceral way, maybe even an unnecessary one. How much uglier can it get? Uglier still than this dose of mondo carnage. The kind of real-life cruelty Kotcheff caught on film might be too much for some people to take. (According to Wikipedia, there were at least a dozen walkouts when Wake in Fright played a special retrospective screening at Cannes in 2009; the film debuted at Cannes to rave reviews back in 1971.) I don't know if Kotcheff is able to make the ugliness of the film's private hell match the ugliness of real-life cruelty, but he does manage to make the movie all-ugly in the best possible way: at a deeply personal level, and a deeply affecting one. This is a melodrama of the grotesque. Though difficult to watch, I actually want to watch Wake in Fright again just to see how the movie deepens and intensifies. Some nightmares can be worth revisiting, as long as they're someone else's, and as long as they're as riveting as this film.
Wake in Fright photo
On holiday in a private hell -- go on, have a drink, mate
I've always wanted to delve deeper into the world of Ozploitation movies (exploitation films from Australia). I have a major fondness for Mad Max, The Road Warrior, Turkey Shoot (aka Escape 2000), and Razorback, and my intere...


Sol Yurick, writer of “The Warriors” novel, dies at 87

Can you dig it?
Jan 11
// Logan Otremba
Sol Yurick passed away last Saturday in Manhattan at the age of 87. According to his daughter, the cause was complications of lung cancer. Before he wrote “The Warriors,” he worked as a social investigator with th...

Check out the original Star Wars trilogy as maps

Jan 02
// Liz Rugg
These awesome posters were made by artist Andrew DeGraff for an upcoming two person show featuring DeGraff and fellow artist Bennett Slater. The show will be at Gallery 1988, which we've talked about before. In these works De...

New Great Gatsby posters show off 1920s glamour

Dec 18
// Liz Rugg
Continuing with the eye-candy as only Baz Lurhman can, these three character posters for 2013's The Great Gatsby premiered online today. Featuring actresses Elizabeth Debicki and Ilsa Fisher as well as actor Joel Edgerton, ea...

The Cult Club: The Warriors (1979)

Dec 11 // Sean Walsh
Let me break it down for the uninitiated: Loosely based on Xenophon’s Greek epic “Anabasis,” the movie follows the nine members of titular gang The Warriors as they and every other gang in New York City assemble in Van Cortlandt Park at the behest of Cyrus (Roger Hill), the ultra-charismatic leader of the city’s most powerful gang, the Gramercy Riffs. He tells them that they outnumber the city’s cops five-to-one and if they were to all join together, they could take the city over. Things go real bad real quick when Luther (David Patrick Kelly) leader of the trouble-making gang The Rogues, shoots Cyrus, sending the gangs into disarray. Luther then proclaims that the Warriors shot Cyrus, which pretty much marks them for death. The Warriors quickly find themselves hunted by every gang in the city as they desperately try to make their way to their home turf (approximately twenty-five miles away, according to Google Maps). They will face cops, guys with painted faces and baseball bats, punks on roller skates, and treacherous ladies as they make their long trek home. One thing I remember most about the first time I saw The Warriors was being captivated by the movie. Everything about it oozed with awesome. The electric soundtrack seeped deep down into my system, the gangs were ludicrously colorful and each had their own gimmicks that would be silly to hear about but were, in practice, pretty badass (if you told me a bunch of dudes in karate gis were the most powerful gang in the movie before watching it, I would’ve given you quite the look), and the plight of the Warriors played out much like a video game: go from point A to point B, beat these dudes up while you do it, and don’t die. I think that might be the magic of The Warriors. It’s basically Beat’em Up: The Movie, despite coming out half a decade before the first beat’em ups, and ultimately became an excellent last-gen beat’em up itself, where it greatly expanded on The Warriors canon. While several of the cast members went on to have decent careers, the most famous is likely to be James Remar, who you might recognize as Harry, Dexter’s late father and constant hallucination on Dexter. Remar plays the Warriors’ resident meathead jerk would-be rapist, and one of the most memorable characters in the film due to his crude behavior and aggressive streak, and has said that he owes his career to The Warriors. Almost ever scene in The Warriors is memorable, but there’s several lines and characters that have gone down in cinema history, and even those who haven’t seen the film might recognize them: “Caaaaaaaan yooooooooooou diiiiiiiiiiiig it?” has popped up here and there, and while I can’t swear to it, wrestler Booker T may have gotten his one-time catchphrase from the film. The most iconic, “Warriors, come out and plaaaaaaaay-iayyyyyyy” and its accompanying bottle-clinking, has popped up in numerous places, including the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Shame on a Nigga,” Twisted Sister’s “Come Out and Play,” and by Puff Daddy at the start of the remix of Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear.” The Baseball Furies are arguably the film’s most iconic gang, and years later, a very similar gang of thugs popped up, appropriately enough, in the Streets of Rage games. If you haven’t seen The Warriors, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the Director’s Cut. It takes something that was already nearly perfect and makes it even more awesome. The Warriors is one of those really great pieces of cult cinema because it’s pure badassery at its finest almost from the word ‘go.’ References pop up here and there and whenever you hear them, you’re sure to grin because you’re in on it. That’s ultimately what cult film is all about, right? Being in on it? And any movie that has a video game adaptation made (even decades after the fact) that actually comes out good? Well, I think we all know that’s saying something. [embed]214010:39285:0[/embed] Next month: Be sure to tune in when one-time Electric Eliminator Hubert Vigilla takes a look at the classic post-apocalyptic rockabilly action-comedy Six-String Samurai. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB November: Funky Forest: First Contact (2005)  October: Casino Royale (1967) September: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) August: Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002) July: Batman (1966) June: Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)
Insert your favorite "Come out and play" reference here.
The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pac...

Review: Nothing But a Man

Nov 06 // Hubert Vigilla
Nothing But a ManDirector: Michael RoemerRating: NRRelease Date: November 27th, 1964; week-long engagement at Film Forum in NYC begins November 9th Sidney Poitier was originally considered for the role of Duff. As good an actor as Poitier is, he would've been the exact wrong person for the character. Nothing about Poitier says, "I'm a bastard son of a Birmingham drunk, and I lay track on the railroad for a living." On top of that, Poitier wouldn't blend in with the rest of the guys doing manual labor. The most recognizable co-worker is Yaphet Kotto who plays the cynical Jocko, and I think Kotto could have played a fine Duff. But again, there's Dixon, and he has an everyman quality to him that fits just right. To put it another way, Dixon is so grounded and so real, while Poitier is no one else but Poitier. Duff meets a pretty young school teacher named Josie (Abbey Lincoln). She's also the preacher's daughter, and she knows Duff's probably no good for her. (Had Poitier played Duff, it would be like watching two school teachers or two preacher's kids dating each other.) But there's such an easy, genuine chemistry between them. He smiles at her, Josie smiles with a sideways glance back at him. He charms, she flirts, they court in an old-fashioned sort of way. It seems like a little hokey at first, maybe too polite, but we learn that Duff's made some mistakes in his past and wants to try to live right this time. They get married and get a small house together, which means Duff needs to leave the railroad and look for other work. Since it's Alabama in the 1960s, living right is going to be difficult. From the beginning, Roemer establishes his vérité approach to the material. We're out laying track with the crew during the credits. The film quality and the angles remind me of educational docs and news reels. We come to their living quarters and it feels authentic, right down the the checkerboard that's split in two and the checkers which are just bottlecaps -- one player has the caps facing up, the other has the caps facing down. In the church, we get loud praise and worship, and a sermon that sounds as spontaneous as it is ecstatic. And before church for contrast, we're in a pool hall/bar where an acned prostitute looks for a date. "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas blares. This approach to the material makes the racism more menacing. We get a mention of a lynching a couple years back, but there's no dealing with the Klan or cartoon brutes. Our first glimpse of racism is during one of Duff's and Josie's dates. They're parked and talking, and he's careful to show interest but not put the moves on her. Two white guys show up and shine a flashlight. They intimidate them, and it's unclear if they want to do more than just intimidate them. The uncertainty is the danger. Josie endures it just waiting for them to leave. Duff seems more adamant. If he had to, he'd beat the hell out of them right there, but he probably wouldn't because it would just make things worse. The white guys know this all too well. There are more encounters like this in the film, and each one is tense. It makes the quieter moments of racism stick out more. Unintentional condescension feeds into the overt hate -- there's just no other way to characterize the use of the word "boy" when a white person talks to a black man, even if the white character seems oblivious or otherwise kind. Duff's struggle to make an honest wage is all about achieving a shred of dignity. Almost everyone he sees grimaces through the bigotry and tries to shrug it off. Duff wants to be treated like a man, not a boy, and not something less than human. To his bosses, the mere demand for dignity is taken as a sign that he's being uppity. As he gets more desperate to make ends meet, betrayal and resentment build inside him. He distrusts white people, which leads to a few tense moments in the last third of the film. He even gets bitter about black people who willingly get treated like dirt. He feels like the only person who wants to be treated like a person. The most withering thing about this depiction of racism is that it makes you feel like the other while also breaking up camaraderie with your fellow man. It has an ugly way of making you completely alone. Josie's there for Duff at least. In a way she can be viewed as one note, but I think Josie's meant instead to be a kind of anchor in the film. This is someone Duff genuinely does care about, and it may be because Lincoln plays Josie as someone stable and compassionate. But this resentment wears on their marriage. Now we can begin to see the counterpoint to their cute beginnings. There's a brief moment of levity between them while things are getting bad. They play like two kooky kids in love as they hang up the laundry. Motown's on the radio again. It's a beautiful scene, and we feel like we're watching from an adjacent yard as they move behind sheets and shirts. That moment ends abruptly with an ugly vision of where they may end up in a couple years. The resentment is also tied to Duff's past, and Nothing But a Man has a lot to do with people confronting past mistakes. In Birmingham we get to meet Duff's estranged father Will, played by Julius Harris. (Harris would later co-star with Kotto in Live and Let Die.) We pick up the vérité style to remarkable effect as we wind through Birmingham. The people on the streets mostly do their thing naturally. Sometimes they stare at the camera, but a few white people seem more intent on Duff passing by. In the slums where Duff's father can be found, we see snippets of the hundreds of stories in dark halls, tiny apartments, dirty streets, and front porches. If he can't stand up for himself, then what's the use in fighting? But if he gives up fighting, will he just wind up a broken man like his father? And then what about Josie? The moments between Duff and Will are icy. There's blood between them and not much else, but blood's enough to care just a little. What's more, you sense Duff may repeat the sins of his father. In a few ways he already has, but he doesn't seem willing to atone. By the time we're halfway through the film, we're operating on different levels of moral obligation and self-respect. How do we do right by our family? How do we do right by our friends? How do we live with dignity when people have nothing but contempt for you? None of these questions get asked outright, but they're all there and so apparent, and that's part of the brilliance of the film. As much as this is conveyed by Roemer's direction and the script (based on a 1933 play), Nothing But a Man owes a bulk of its success to Dixon's performance. He communicates Duff's train of thought without always having to declare anything. All he needs is a knowing "Okay" or "I see," just a look or a pause, and we can feel what's welling up inside. We may begin to doubt the possibility of redemption and of dignity, but we never doubt Dixon's ability to make us believe in this story, however it may turn out. It's too human to be denied. [Director Michael Roemer will be in attendance at the 7:30 screening of Nothing But a Man on Friday, November 9th. There will be a Q & A session after the film.]
A classic 1964 film about fighting for dignity in the deep south
[This review was originally posted as part of our 2012 New York Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the week-long theatrical release of the film in New York City.] In a lot of social message movies t...


Ghostbusters 3 possibly filming as early as next summer

And in other news, pigs everywhere are obtaining pilot licenses
Oct 18
// Thor Latham
It almost seems cruel to post news about the long purported Ghostbusters 3 because nothing ever comes to fruition, no matter how many drafts of the script are written or how many times Dan Aykroyd reassures us ...

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