Week 30: of 52 films I’ve never seen

Bordello Death Tales” (2009)

Directed & Written by James Eaves, Pat Higgins, Alan Ronald

Source print: DVD (UK). Length of time in personal collection without having been watched: Just a few months – not bad!

I do love independent film… what I live more is when I come across a kick-ass little gem of indie genre filmmaking, and Bordello Death Tales totally fit the bill, hit the mark, was spot-on. Okay, it’s not amazing in the overall cinematic sense of that word, but yes, Bordello is an awesome sex/horror anthology by a trio of indie British filmmakers who obviously understand how the short-form genre storytelling works, and they totally exploit their talents – among many other things – in this highly entertaining opus they’ve created together. Jim Eaves’ first story is gory, sexy, and well-edited, making up for the unfortunate shortcoming of his predictable Buffy-esque script about a modern-day Jack-the-Ripper serial killer. In utter contrast to this gory murder yarn, Alan Ronald’s second story, Stitchgirl, might even be more entertaining as a totally off-the-wall black-and-white semi-musical slapstick comedy homage to Bride of Frankenstein with a killer lead performance by the doe-eyed Eleanor James;leading us into Pat Higgins’ final tale, which is a very cleverly-written supernatural tale taking place between a prostitute (indie actress-turned-pro-bodybuilder Danielle Laws) and a politician over an on-line sex chat service. Bordello is a great balance between the three directors’ talents – Eaves’ flare for editing and style, Ronald’s imaginative comedy and Higgins’ ability to tell a bare-bones tale and make it completely enthralling. All the stories are tied together through the Bordello theme, a sort of sexy Tales-from-the-Crypt-type wraparound segment intertwining all of the three main Tales together, hosted by Madame Raven (played by Natalie Milner). There was talk on the special features of this DVD that Madam Raven would return to possibly host other Death Tales… I’ve just recently been back to London and was excited to find their follow-up, Nazi Death Tales. And here I though they’d been kidding. If I don’t procrastinate on this Nazi Zombies DVD, it might be showing up here in the coming weeks…

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Week 29: of 52 films I’ve never seen

Colombiana” (2011)

Directed by Oliver Megaton and written by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen

Source print: HDTV (in the UK).

I can’t believe I’d actually use the name “Luc Besson” and the less-than-flattering term “another one of these…” in the same sentence. Zoe Saldana (The Losers, Star Trek) takes the lead role in this characteristically over-the-top and insanely unbelievable action-for-action’s sake scripts by French writing/producing team Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. The plot: A young girl’s parents are killed by bad men. She escapes from them (and Columbia altogether through some pretty incredible means), grows up with an uncle living in America, who teaches her everything he knows about becoming a hitman. Hitwoman. Whatever. Despite the obvious underlying plot similarities to Besson’s own classic Leon / The Professional, the action in this film is of the wholly fantastic and utterly unbelievable, and it’s of the type that has hitherto been reserved for male protagonists in every previous Besson/Kamen-written film, which includes the likes of three Transporter flicks, Taken, From Paris with Love (two male protagonists in that one), Kiss of the Dragon, and, well, you get the idea. The closest I’ve come to falling in love with one of the I-don’t-want-to-direct-it Besson films was Transporter 2. And it wasn’t really love, it was more of a good smashing. When it comes to kick-ass female protagonists, Besson then prefers to direct (The Fifth Element, The Messenger, Angel-A, La Femme Nikita, and even 12-year-old Natalie Portman in Leon). That is, until now. Colombiana falls into the another one of these insane action flicks that Luc Besson came up with, but will only artistically take so far category. It is, in fact, hugely entertaining, but the entire time we’re witnessing this dual ode to flashy violence and the lovely female form, we’re clearly aware that we’re watching nothing but flash and flare with nothing underneath when the smoke clears. Like pretty much every other one of these Besson-scripted explosive action opuses, it’s kept brisk at a pretty tight hour and forty-odd minutes, and at that, this is one of the longer films of its ilk. (I think Transporter 2 clocked in at eighty-something minutes). Anyway, getting back to the basic plot of this thing, the now-trained hitwoman (Zoe Saldana) uses her new skills and resources to start whacking the drug cartel that was responsible for her parent’s death. Things go wrong, she becomes the hunted, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before at the movies, including films from Besson’s own cannon. So why the hell was it so damned attractive? (Notice I said attractive, not engaging). Well, because Besson and Kamen know how to expertly push the buttons of a specific demographic. Basically, boys. Yes, shock and awe, boys like to see sexy women with shit blowing up all around them. The only explanation I have for this is – we’re boys. Hey, nobody said we’re of the higher intellect. And if they did, they must’ve been fibbing, how else do you explain a completely nonsensical movie with a paper-thin plot that’s been recycled fifty-eight thousand times making sixty-two million bucks?

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Week 28: of 52 films I’ve never seen

Requiem for a Dream” (2000)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Darren Aronofsky & Hubert Selby, Jr.

Source print: Digital streaming. (Okay, it was Netflix.)

Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans, Jennifer Connelly and Ellen Burstyn start in one of Aronofski’s early urban fantasy tales, this one about four points of view of drug addiction told from the point of view of four characters who are deeply and dramatically connected. Leto plays the central character, a heroin addict who is trying to built a legitimately illegal drug trade and with his best friend and partner, Marlon Wayans, in order to offer his live-in girlfriend the living space and financial support she needs to continue her dreams of building her own fashion design business. Problem is, she likes heroin just as the Leto and Wayans characters. Thing go well for a little while, then once things take a turn downhill, it becomes impossible for any of the character to pull themselves up out of the quicksand. Leto’s mother, meanwhile, become inadvertently addicted to diet pills, which begin confusing her thoughts and then start her hallucinating. Hers is the story with portent, as it delves more behind-the-scenes of the seemingly “safe” world of prescription drugs, hers is also the most tragic, dealing with nativity, insecurity, and a diminished sens of one’s self. She thinks that only because she’s gotten thin, more energetic, and has been accepted to appear on television, her friends and neighbors in the apartment block have finally accepted and started liking her. Tragically, we only find out in the end that their friendship and camaraderie were there for her all along – if only she’d had a better sense of self-worth. Ironically, this might have also stopped her from going on the diet pills in the first place. All four stories are stories of tragedy and a string of bad choices, bad timing, and bad coincidences that these people, because they are addicts, seem incapable of avoiding, instead bringing them all to a shatteringly tense conclusion. Only Leto’s partially sympathetic character gets some sort of redemption, but by the time that happens, he’s too far gone to know it, nevermind understand it. Every other character gets stuck with a lesson, whether they know it or not. Poetically drastic in its own way, it’s a gritty urban dream of a film, something that Aranofsky has continued to practice thematically through The Wrestler and Black Swan. All three of those films are tragedies. Actually, all of the work I’ve seen of this director has been firmly footed in some kind of poetic tragedy. But Requiem for a Dream, in particular, might leave you thinking on it a lot longer than his other works, whether it’s actually better than his other works is up to the viewer, as individualistic as this films itself is.

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Week 27: of 52 films I’ve never seen

Women in Cages” (1972)

Directed by Gerry de Leon ; Written by David Osterhout, James H. Watkins

Source print: Blu-Ray

I was fully expecting this flick to be directed by Jack Hill or Johnathan Demme. Nope. One of Corman’s earlier and early-seventies Women in Prison flicks that must’ve been a pretty popular series for him at the time, Women in Cages is without the comic-book humour of Hill’s films or the slighter satirical tone of Demme’s. It does, however, still have all the double-crossing, bitch prison guards, female-fighting, sex, nudity, and shower scenes, and relentless torture of all of the others in this unfathomably charming sub-genre in Croman’s nearly exhausting film cannon. It also takes itself more seriously than the others, and I’d have to say, this is to the film’s credit. I actually think this one was my favorite of all of the WIP films I’ve seen (sorry to Jack Hill, Jess Franco, and Sid Haig, the latter who was somewhat surprisingly not part of this outing). We still got Judith Brown, Roberta Collins, and Pam Grier, the staple actresses from the other WIP films in Corman’s series (The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage), and between Gerry de Leon’s directing and the Philippino cinematographer – Felipe Sacdalan – who would put most action cinematographers to shame even in these times, Women in Cages is a hugely entertaining and luscious account of the WIP period of Corman’s productions. The tale itself is also much darker than the other films, which delves into power and control, racism, drug addiction, making use of some pretty Mark-of-theDevil-type torture devices, and delving into some harsh ramifications for the villains of the picture, with some seriously Biblic irony cast upon the wrong-doers.

This time out the leading lady role goes to Jennifer Gan, who strangely, was probably the weakest of the young group of actresses, but certainly had an on-screen charm of her own. Like the lanky awkward girl at the prom that all the boys end up wanting to dance with. After a few television and minor film appearances, Jennifer Gan’s movie career ended as soon as it began, Women in Prison was her second and last feature film-starring role before suddenly leaving the business completely by the end of that year. (She died in September 2000).

The legacy of Corman’s Women in Prison films is actually pretty amazing. Homaged by Tarantino in films like Jackie Brown, and the inspiration for the recent special-interest documentary Machete Maidens, it’s hard to ignore the pop-culture value of these charming, if strange, motion picture commodities representative of the low-budget, rebel filmmaking present outside of Hollywood in the seventies. I loved this picture!

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Week 26: of 52 films I’ve never seen

The Outlaw Josie Wales” (1976)

Directed by Clint Eastwood; Written by Philip (Phil) Kaufman, Sonia Chernus.

Source print: Blu-Ray

Well, judging from the last few weeks of films I’d never seen before, you’d think I’d never seen a damned Clint Eastwood western in my life! It ain’t true, I tells ya. I swear. But I think I’ve seen the rest of them now, closing off with his post-spaghetti classic The Outlaw Josey Wales – a tale of revenge set in the times of the American Civil War and taking place mostly in the American mid-west, which in itself strays a little away from the genre norm. The movie is hard-edged and sure-handedly shot, with fantastic editing (check out the first few shots of the film’s setup – amazing in its original cinemascope format) and it’s pretty clear that Eastwood’s film sits firmly in a spot in mid-seventies American cinema – influenced by Leone’s films, undoubtedly, but also influential in its own right, while watching this story I witnessed scenes and shots that clearly had some influence over other filmmakers from many outside genres, both in and out of Hollywood, including, in my opinion, George Romero.

Edited by Ferris Webster, the Acadamy-award nominated cutter would be Eastwood’s editor into the 1980’s, until the pair had an apparent falling-out (as noted in the book Clint: The Life and the Legend; published in 2002). This in one of only two films where the cutting struck me as completely inspired on its own merit, before discovering that the editor in question was an established and major talent. The other film being Jaws, cut by Verna Fields.

Both the story and the direction of the film are infused with humour, as our leading Outlaw makes his way across the country and picks up his band of unlikely heroes, including Chief Dan George (whom I actually didn’t think was that great of an actor – the Apache warrior at the end of the film was far better), a squaw, and a wagon filled with protestant pilgrims, including the young and attractive Sandra Locke, who would become one of Eastwood’s leading ladies for the next fourteen years. Together they make their way across a decidedly violent landscape, outrunning the Union bounty hunters who are after Josey Wales. Eastwood’s film is also infused with a hell of a lot of exploitation elements. It was the seventies, after all, and I do think that Eastwood, as a filmmaker and an actor, is a right-wing exploitation artist at heart, even these days. The only thing I couldn’t really figure (although it’s briefly explained away at the end of the film via some throwaway-line delivery) is how every damned person in the United States seemed to know who Josey Wales was, and how much he was wanted for, even if he was caught up in some backwoods island off of a one-boat river? They didn’t have the internet back then, did they? Were the newspapers that widely circulated? Had he caused that much trouble for the civil union? Well, I suppose he might have, killing as many as he had… but still. Even the slight over-stretching of that suspension of disbelief did not keep me from enjoying this had-ass western.

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Week 25: of 52 films I’ve never seen

Yes, I’m three weeks behind, wow, what a little vacation does to you. So lazy… Anyhoo:

Bronson” (2008)

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn; Written by Nicolas Winding Refn, Brock Norman Brock.

Source print: Digital file.

The film that got director Refn the job of directing 2011’s cult hit Drive. Well, generated the interest in having him directed it, anyway. I think he ended up actually getting the job after screaming in Ryan Gosling’s face on a drive home from a Hollywood restaurant. At any rate, this led to a best director award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, prior to Drive being released theatrically (and subsequently getting sued because it was marketed as some Fast & Furious crash-’em-up in the United States). Anyway, although I still prefer the more recent Drive, I have to say, Bronson is actually a better, stronger, punch-in-the-gut film. This is a story about a man whose ambition is to be famous. This ambition later consumes him to the point that he doesn’t really care how he does it. But this comes more into play after getting pinched for a 30-pound heist as a British post office, when he’s sentenced to seven years in prison. From there, he really begins to make a name for himself. Over thirty years in prison, with over two of those decades spent in solitary confinement, Bronson has become marked as Britain’s most dangerous prisoner. Yes, he’s famous now, and he’d never actually killed a single person. In this film we’re told a story about a man, portrayed (brilliantly by Tom Hardy) as likely undereducated, and definitely under-lucked. This is the epitome of an unfortunate series of events, a complex subtext that sees outsider personality managing to step directly every shit-filled pothole that mainstream society has to offer. These are the potholes most of us manage to avoid, or those of us with some bad luck and a couple of bad decisions bump through every now and again. But when someone like Bronson hits every one in a row, these potholes just get deeper and more filled with shit and trash as the road goes on. And this becomes absolutely fascinating in Refn’s film. There is seemingly no end to Bronson’s mad life. And how much of the system has perpetuated Bronson’s utter misfortune and nihilistic personality? Refn’s film is shot with the technical clarity and style of a Stanley Kubrick film. I’m actually amazed that it took last year’s Drive to bring this director international attention, three years after the release of this movie.

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Week 24: of 52 films I’ve never seen

Get the Gringo” (2012)

Directed by Adrian Grunberg; Written by Mel Gibson, Stacy Perskie, and Adrian Grunberg

Source print: HD Digital file / streaming.

Well, well, well, so here’s the answer to: What to do when you get kicked out of Hollywood and the only job you can get requires sticking your hand up a stuffed beaver’s behind in a Jodie Foster flick? You write and produce your own bad-ass shoot-em-up action flick in Mexico, that’s what. Oh, yeah, and you star in it, too. Get the Gringo is an Icon* brainchild about a thief who gets caught on the south side of the American/Mexican boarder with two million bucks. Wanting to keep the cash for themselves, the cops who found the Gringo thief (Gibson) decide to keep it and toss Gibson in a Mexican prison without a trial of any sort. This prison, as described by the film’s star and narrator (very old school, but it works), is pretty much like the mall from hell. All walks of life come and go0 as they please, including women and children, the inmates all have guns, there’s prostitution rings and a heroin shack. This place has everything! As the backdrop to a post-noir crime film, it’s actually really impressive, the location is without a doubt the best part, and surely the most inspired idea, of the film. The plot, from when Gibson is dumped in the Mexican prison, forks off between the slimy American consulate officer who discovers Gibson is being held in prison illegally, the group of highly dangerous thugs who have tracked down Gibson and want their two million dollars back, and a chain-smoking 10-year-kid whose liver is hot property. Actually, his mother is hot property, as well. Gibson and the other screenwriters do a good job entwining these plot strings through violence, suspense, action and humor, but ultimately, it’s Gibson’s writing and portrayal of the main character that betrays the film when it’s clearly trying to be something different in all other aspects. The problem is that the lead character’s attitude, actions, and actually his personality, has been totally aped from the character of Porter as written by Donald E. Westlake and Brian Helgeland for the film Payback, in which Gibson also starred as Porter, back in 1999. The Gringo in Get the Gringo could have been Porter from Payback fifteen years later, it’s that similar. But is this really a totally bad thing? Considering why I, and I imagine quite a few others, would even think about seeing this movie in the first place: The promise of Mel Gibson harkening back to his Payback / Lethal Weapon / Mad Max action-exploitation days. And it is. So what’s next for our fallen star? Well, I don’t know if this is ironic or not, but according to the internet, Gibson will next be seen in Rodriquez’s Mexican thriller Machete Kills! with Rodriguez’s penchant for having nearly iconic casts of bizarre cult and out-of-work B-listers– andwhich has already wrapped principal photography as of this summer. Actually, speaking of summer, I forgot to mention the original title of this flick in review: How I spent My Summer Vacation. Um, yeah…

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Week 23: of 52 films I’ve never seen

The Lady Vanishes” (1938)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Written by Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder.

Source print: Digital file / streaming.

This early Hitchcock classic stars Margaret Lockwood as a young and energetic traveler who embarks a train with an elder lady. Lockwood blacks out on the train due to a concussion, and when she awakes she finds her companion gone. No big deal, right? Only when Lockwood starts asking about the old woman, every passenger and employee on the train denies ever having seen her. The sympathetic Michael Redgrave, a traveling musician (and general pain-in-the-ass) gets involved to help the attractive Lockwood uncover the mystery, a turn of character which is actually quite sweet, considering the two of them were nearing a fist-fight in the opening scenes of the film, with Redgrave coming off like a completely pompous ass while the two of them were guests in a hotel. There’s a surprising amount of humour in this film, and I think I was caught off-guard by that simply because of the date of the film, certainly not because it was a Hitchcock film – he was known for his dark humour as much as for his mastery at cinematic suspense. The characters are very likeable and there’s a few red herrings thrown into the train to keep us on our toes. It is light entertainment, with Hitchcock deftly moving from comedy to mystery to his classic conspiracy situations, while the whole plot eventually swells bigger than one would expect by the end. Even from this early film I can see contemporary influences, particularly in DePalma’s cartoonish conspiracy-mystery Snake Eyes. While the material might not be as intense as it might have been in the thirties, the film, as a classic mystery, has still aged well and there is plenty of entertainment and wit to be found in this engaging suspense opus. Check it out! And as usual, watch for Hitchcock’s cameo (he’s near the end). This film has also recently been re-released on Blu-ray by Criterion.

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Week 22: of 52 films I’ve never seen

For a Few Dollars More” (1965 Italy / 1967 USA)

Directed by Sergio Leone, Written by Luciano Vincenzoni, Fulvio Montella, Sergio Leone.

Source print: “The Man With No Name Trilogy” blu-ray – recent addition to personal collection.

Okay, so I’d never seen this one, either! Don’t worry, before anyone jumps to irrational conclusions, I have seen The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly several times. I remember as a teenager my best friend and I took a hike down to the local video store called “Super Video” in North Vancouver (we lived in the ‘burbs as teenagers) to rent a couple of tapes, He picked The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly while I chose 2001: A Space Odyssey. I remember him giving me a hard time all the way back to his place because the tape I’d rented was so long it was 2 full cassettes in two plastic Amaray cases rubber-banded together. – only to discover, when we were about to load the tape into the VCR, that it was actually the spaghetti western, his choice, that was the mammoth epic. (And yes, we watched both of these films in one night). At any rate, anytime I’d revisited a Leone western epic over the years it was either this film or Once Upon a Time in the West. Within this past 2 weeks was the first of my discovery of the genesis of the oft-refereed-to-as “Dollars Trilogy”. While I dug A Fistful of Dollars quite well, For A Few Dollars More was the real meat and potatoes of Clint in his heyday. The day after watching this flick I was down at London Drugs where I got into a conversation with a female cashier about spaghetti westerns because Ennio Morricone’s themes were blasting out of the drugstore’s overhead speakers. Okay, there’s a lot weird with that whole thing, but at any rate, this cashier and I actually agreed that For a Few Dollars More was probably the best of the Dollars Trilogy. Not quite as epic as The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, it’s still pretty epic in its own right, and it introduces Lee Van Cleef as a competing bounty hunter. While Lee and Clint spend the first half of the film racing to catch bounties on wanted criminals before the other can get the upper hand, they soon shift gears and decide to team up when they come across a murderous gang of 20 (or so) who are planning the biggest bank heist in Spaghetti Western history. Each one of the gang members has a bounty on them, so that in itself is a pretty heavy payday for Clint and Lee. And while I went on to re-watch The Good, The Bad and The Ugly right after this, I’m still unclear as to the extent of the connection between Lee’s and Clint’s characters from this film to the next. If the subsequent epic is truly a sequel to this film, the characters are certainly behaving radically different from one film to the next. But in comparison to the first film of the loose Dollars Trilogy (which was pretty rad, too, don’t get me wrong), this film (For a Few Dollars More) in particular is just brimming with what would become trademark shots and mis-en-scene, and ranks up with Leone’s best, next to Once upon a Time in the West. At least with me, that is.

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Week 21: of 52 films I’ve never seen

A Fistful of Dollars” (1964 Italy / 1967 USA)

Directed by Sergio Leone, Written by Victor Andres Catena, Jamie Comas Gil, Sergio Leone.

Source print: “The Man With No Name Trilogy” blu-ray – recent addition to personal collection.

Yeah, I can’t believe I’d never seen this flick, either! The one that started it all, in a sense, that is, the explosion of Spaghetti Westerns and the genesis of Clint Eastwood’s popularity. An unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa’a Yojimbo, Leone’s film see the lone gunslinger walking into town that is in the midst of a feud between warring families over control of the town. Clint decides to take advantage of the situation (monetarily speaking) by playing them against each other. While Fistful might be a hallmark of the Spaghetti Western genre, I have to say for my money, it was the weakest of the “trilogy” (Funnily, the whole Man With No Name trilogy was just a marketing ploy in North America – in the following film, For a Few Dollars More, the name of Eastwood’s character in clearly revealed, while the stories are only loosely tied together at best). Hollywood urban legend has it that when Kurosawa saw this film in the theatre he said, “Leone stole my film!” only to decide that it was alright, as he enjoyed the western version so much. I don’t know how much of that is actually true as Yojimbo’s production company Toho successfully sued the makers of the film shortly after its release. In any case, it is a drastically important part in cinematic history with one of the most iconic (and possibly replicated) Spaghetti Western gunfighter showdown finales ever shot. And while I did mention that Eastwood’s character is mention by name in the following film, you’d have to hit up Wikipedia to see the controversy and explanations regarding that and the continual reference to the character as the man without a name. Now onto the next one…

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