Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Luis Buñuel: Él

I've always loved Luis Buñuel's films, they are very fluent and his direction is almost invisible, yet they are full of surrealistic imagery and atmosphere, even though the events in the films aren't necessarily surrealistic or even weird themselves.

One of Buñuel's best films, to my mind, is this weird little melodrama Él, made in Mexico in 1952. Buñuel's Mexican period clearly was one of his most creative periods, even though there were no dull phases in his career (saying this must mean he's one of the best directors in the history of cinema, almost everyone else had their dull phases). Él is a noir melodrama that's more noir that any American film noir made in 1952 - or any other year from 1933 to 1958 (I'm thinking Touch of Evil here). Él is a hard-hitting drama about a man so jealous he's willing to kill his newly-wed wife for no reason at all, he's just imagining all the things he says his wife is doing behind his back. Yet this is a very funny film, though there's nothing funny about the way the man acts. Buñuel wouldn't be Buñuel, if the film didn't also mock the society and the Catholic church that protect and almost encourage this mad behaviour. Él is a perfect analysis of the narcissistic mind, made almost 50 years before talk about narcissism became commonplace.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Glass House

I bought this movie not knowing what to expect, but it was cheap (probably 20 cents) and it had the name of Truman Capote on its cover. It was on VHS, but being an old TV movie that didn't matter much. The cast also was pretty strong, spelled wrong though some of the names were on the Finnish cassette cover ("Vice Morrow"!). The Finnish title means "The Law of the Strongest" (or "The Strong Rules"), and the description of the movie is as wrong as can be, making the film some kind of a vigilance fest.

The story behind The Glass House is interesting. Seems like Truman Capote wrote the original screenplay, but it was so bad another writer was called in, mainly award-winning Tracy Keenan Wynn, who'd written stuff like The Longest Yard and Night Moves. He tossed Capote's script out of the window and started from scratch. Because of the contract with Capote his name had to be kept on the credits (the Finnish cassette cover says it's from Capote's novel). The film was shot in a jail, with inmates working as extras and in bit parts. There's a really gritty feel to the story and atmosphere, and the ending is really bleak. No one would be able to make this on American TV anymore - or maybe, then again, a channel like HBO might. This is a very realistic movie about the jails and the struggle for power in them, and there are not many clichés in it, though there have been lots of realistic jail movies for decades. This is not action-oriented, mind you, it's more a drama with lots of violent tension in the air.

The actors are superb. Vic Morrow as the homosexual gang leader is brilliant, Alan Alda is his usual good self. Clu Culager is for once the good guy, but there are no easy solutions for him in the film. The directing is not very visual, but it's physical and effective. Tom Gries is not known for his insightful films, but his filmography might warrant a second look.

Seems like the film is easily available on DVD, but based on what I've read about other TV movies of this era (the golden era of American TV movies?), that's not always the case.

I don't know who collects nowadays the Tuesday's Overlooked Films posts, can someone shed some light on this? Todd Mason hasn't done a blog post in over a month.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dan Gilroy: Nightcrawler

I've been saying this a lot lately: Hollywood handles neonoir pretty well these days. Just look at this list: Prisoners, Mud, The Place Beyond the Pines, Killing Them Softly, Out of the Furnace... Also End of Watch and A Walk Among the Tombstones prove my point. Even True Detective (a show I still have to write about) comes from under Ellroy's shadow.

One of these very good neonoirs from Hollywood is Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler that I finally saw the other night. I liked it a great deal - I knew going in I'd like it a great deal. It's a perfect case of noir: you know from the first minute everything is going terribly wrong, but you just can't turn your eyes away. (But saying this doesn't give away the film's superbly ironic ending.) Jake Gyllenhaal is masterful as a narcissistic sociopath who believes the neo-capitalist bullshit about how one can achieve anything if he just takes everything passionately.

Highly recommended. No easy solutions in this film, nor any genre trappings.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Killing of America

The Killing of America by Leonard Schrader and Sheldon Renan from 1982 is a controversial film that has - as far as I understand - never been seen in the US, save for some occasional screenings when it was just released. The American producers backed out on it, thinking it was too extreme and radical. In Finland the film was known mainly through the VHS cassettes that recycled from hand to hand with everyone whispering about the scenes in which real people kill real people.

The Finnish Film Archive has a beautiful 35 mm copy of the film and I just saw it last night. I was a bit surprised and disappointed at the same time. I went in thinking the film consists mainly of the serial killers being interviewed, but there's surprisingly little of this material, though there are some scenes. The Killing of America is a straightforward documentary about the gun culture in the USA, and possibly the anti-gun sentiment in it has made it a forbidden film in America.

But it's also a very grim film, full of shocking imagery and arbitrary violence, make no mistake. There are some scenes I wouldn't want to watch again, though this wasn't made for cheap thrills, like films of the Faces of Death ilk. The directors, Leonard Schrader and Sheldon Renan, approached the theme seriously, Schrader being a known screenwriter (and Paul Schrader's brother) and Renan being an expert on American underground cinema (he's written a book about it). The use of archive material - live TV, surveillance camera shots etc. - makes The Killing of America look at times like an experimental film.

There are, however, some serious problems with the film. The anti-gun sentiment is clear: why are there so few killing in countries like Japan and Germany? Because it's not easy to buy guns there, and families don't pack weapons at home. The Killing of America can't analyze this further, it just points it out. The killings depicted in the film should've been more tightly related to the gun culture of the US. So should've been the argument about the murders of JFK and Robert Kennedy causing a killing spree in the US. What Schrader and Renan are forgetting is the fact that the large media coverage of violence causes more violence, just like there are more suicides if there are more stories about suicides in the media. The Killing of America doesn't question its own role in this process, though one could ask: how should this thing be approached then?

These gripes considered, The Killing of America is still a fascinating film and remits a watch, if one can find a copy. The most fascinating part is the interview of Ed Kemper who talks about his killing spree in a jail. He's self-ironic and almost funny, yet deeply weird. With his new glasses he looks almost hipsterish... I was hoping the film would have more of this stuff.

As an interesting side note, some funny folks from the little town of Pori, Finland, where I grew up made this parody of The Killing of America - called Killing of Pori. Pori is a town of some 77,000 inhabitants, yet the statistics in the beginning of the film claim there are million people killed every year. (You can see the second part here.)


Edit: Oops, I totally ignored the fact that The Killing of America is available for viewing in YouTube. Check it out here. Some stupid commentary under the clip.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Rare Australian pulp on sale

Life is hectic, so this short post has to suffice. The famous Australian collector Graeme Flanagan has put up some items from his collection on sale, check the books out here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A star is born

This was born early today, at 6 a.m. this morning. It's a girl. Mom and baby are doing fine.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Last Starfighter

A teenage guy is so good at an arcade game about shooting spaceships that he gets shanghaied into space and fights enemy spaceships. I believe this film was sold to producers on that line, but for some reason it works pretty well, even though it's still silly.

I remember seeing posters and ads for The Last Starfighter (called Viimeinen suuri seikkailija / "The Last Great Adventurer" in Finland, maybe they thought referring to "space" would scare the audience) and feeling sorry for not seeing the film. We didn't have a VCR at our house, so I wasn't able to see even it on video at the time. Not long ago I bought the film on VHS cassette for 20 cents and was able finally to watch it.

The Last Starfighter was directed by Nick Castle whose other films are not much of interest to me, with a possible exception of his first feature, T.A.G.: The Assassination Game. Castle of course was the guy behind Michael Myers's mask in Halloween. The Last Starfighter was an early example of incorporating computer graphics into a feature film alongside with Tron. I believe this one was more successful commercially*, but it's nowhere near the innovative graphic look of Tron, although The Last Starfighter is more entertaining than Steven Lisberger's stiff movie. The Last Starfighter benefits from two good veteran actors, Dan O'Herlihy and Robert Preston. Lance Guest as "the last starfighter" isn't bad either. He should've had a better career. The main plot about the battle in space is silly and clichéd, but the aliens look delightfully goofy.

I would've loved this as a kid, and there's still enough charm for me to like it even that I'm now a cynical adult. More Overlooked Films here (when the time comes).

* In IMDb's biography for Lance Guest it is said: "He was told that Starfighter reportedly made no money on it's initial release, so he returned to the theatre", but Wikipedia states thus: "The Last Starfighter was a financial success, earning over $28 million on an estimated budget of $15 million."