Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tuesday's (or actually Wednesday's) Overlooked Film: Trance (1998)

It's odd how cheap VHS cassettes are now: I found this in a trash bin at our yard, with some other TV-recorded cult items like Plan 9 from Outer Space and weirdish new movies, like Henry Selick's Monkey Bone. The only copies of the three first Star Wars movies (I mean the first actual three: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi) in our household came from the same batch.

Okay, to the movie: Trance (Muumion kosketus/The Touch of the Mummy in Finnish) is a strange horror film, shot with low budget, but with a decidedly artsy feel all the way through. The film deals with double identities (and it's fitting that Jorge Luis Borges gets mentioned in the thanks credits) and with how history repeats itself through generations. The film is very much like David Lynch's more impenetrable films like Lost Highway in its dream-like logic. There's not much backstory to the events in the film and the viewer is pretty much lost in the mist of the story.

This produces at times a nice, dark feeling, but the film suffers greatly from uninteresting characters, indifferent acting (there's Christopher Walken, but he doesn't have much time on screen) and implausible behaviour of the characters (plus the pretty inept special effects). The story doesn't have much depth to it, even though there's some supposedly deep stuff going on all the time. The film leaves the spectator baffled.

The director of Trance is one Michael Almereyda, whose best-known film seems to be a vampire film called Nadja (1994). Haven't seen that one, so can't comment. There's also Hamlet from 2000 with Ethan Hawke, set in the present day. Trance, called The Eternal on its DVD release, has only been released as direct-to-video in the USA, though it was shown at the Toronto Film Festival. The Finnish VHS release from 1999 veers towards blatant commercialism with a close-up of a (badly-done) mummy and shocking lines about the revenge of an ancient witch (with Walken's name and "Pulp Fiction" big in the cover). This film is commercially doomed from the start and the filmmakers knew it from the word go. It remains a fascinating failure.

More Tuesday's Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where is this picture taken from?

I've seen it a dozen times, I know it's from a pulp mag from the late thirties, but I can't place it. Black Mask?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Miina Supinen's mini-review of my sleaze novel

Writer friend Miina Supinen had nice things to say about Mynämäen motellin munamällit/The Spunk Gang of the Mynämäki Motel:

Se oli kyllä hyvä, vielä parempi kuin edellinen! Kävi kauheasti sääli kaikkia, varsinkin sitä Supista. Niillä äijillä oli kyllä kauhea tuska munansa kanssa koko ajan, raukoilla. Hyvä kohta oli se jossa se Virtanen on tuskainen ja kauhea stondis ja vitutus ja sitten "Virtanen katsoi mäntyjä. Ainakin Suomen luonto oli kaunis."

In translation:

It was good, all right, even better than the previous one! I felt awfully sorry for everyone, especially the Supinen character. [The book is full of Tuckerizations.] Those dudes sure had awful pain with their dicks, poor ones. It was very good when Virtanen was painful and had a huge boner and then: "Virtanen looked at the pines. At least the Finnish nature was beautiful."

Brian Lindenmuth's list on Top Ten Noirs of the last ten years

Here, check it out. Seems like I'm way behind my reading. Note also that many of these books are from the small presses, so it's no wonder there's not been much talk about these books. But many sure look interesting!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Treasure of Sierra Madre

It was over 20 years since I'd seen this film and when I was suddenly bed-ridden with flu, I decided to watch it. And what a great film it is!

The Treasure of Sierra Madre, as you know by now, is based on a novel by German-born Leftist novelist B. Traven and written and directed by John Huston. It stars Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter "John's dad" Huston, and they work together marvellously. There's not a bad scene in the film. Huston's direction is very cinematic without being overtly so (look how he uses deep focus almost throughout the film, and the set-pieces are very nice, just like they are in The Maltese Falcon, where Huston has a very good eye for a composition), and the pacing is superb.

The greatest thing about the film, though, is its depiction of actual work. Not in many a Hollywood film working men look so dirty, worn out and ragged. The almost anti-Hollywood attitude shows also in how Huston (and Traven) show the men in their raw passion for gold and the pure hatred and paranoia that's spawn from that passion. Bogart especially makes that clear - and his portrayal of Fred C. Dobbs is one of the best I've seen from him, full of insanity and paranoia, all that talking to himself and weaving back and forth.  This is not merely a morality tale: it's a tale of what makes capitalism work, a tale of why gold is so expensive.

The only thing I'm sorry about the film is its casual racism towards Mexicans. They are simple, stupid, naive and superstitious, and if they're not, they're thieves. But then again it'd be pretty hard to avoid those clichés in 1948.

I haven't read Traven's novel in ages, either, but I'm not sure whether I have time for it right now. As I'm in flu, I'm getting seriously behind my deadlines...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Kauto soon seven and..

..going to school! Tomorrow actually. I'm soon beginning to put him into sleep. Wish me luck! He's not very easy in these matters, let me tell you. But how time flies by! I'm just proud to have kept him alive. He's a very smart kid, reads, calculates with big numbers, runs like a lightning, but these seven years haven't been very easy. The old cliché says "I wouldn't change a day", but I'd really like to change one or two. Yet, I love the kid very, very dearly.

The picture is from 2009, I think. The hipster clothes were picked by him.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hard Case Crime

Life magazine offers a run-down of the Hard Case Crime covers here.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Mikey and Nicky

I've been trying to watch Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky for weeks now. "Trying?" you ask. Yes, trying. The VHS I've bought years ago from a thrift store is a mess and makes your eyes wet with tears: the picture is fuzzy and scratched to begin with, but the main thing is that the picture size is wrong. I can make it just about right by zooming the television screen, but then the captions disappear. And it's pretty important to understand what the guys in lead - Mikey and Nickey - say, because they talk all the time. Talk talk talk, that's what the film is about.

But there's also a plot. John Cassavetes plays Nicky, a small time crook, who's afraid a mobster is trying to kill him. Peter Falk is Mikey, Nicky's friend, whom Nicky calls for help. They wander around the city, hit some bars, visit some women, try to stay away from the mobsters. And talk all the time. Ned Beatty plays a hitman, who's really looking for Nicky.

It's no wonder John Cassavetes is in this, since the film looks a lot like one of his. The conversations between Mikey and Nicky seem improvised, and Elaine May shot the film with three cameras, sometimes letting the cameras roll for minutes after Cassavetes and Falk had disappeared from the focus. May crossed the budget with several million dollars (something she did later on with more disastrous results in Ishtar) and the film got only a limited release. I don't know if it's easily available on DVD.

If it is, I think I'm gonna drop this VHS into a river and get done with it. I can't bear to watch it. The film is a good experimental noir from the seventies, on par with Taxi Driver, Night Moves, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and others, so it's highly recommended if you can stand two hours of rambling conversations. And oh, I think this influenced Sopranos. The picture Elaine May gives about the mob and the small crooks affiliated with them is pretty similar to David Chase's masterpiece. (Same goes for James Toback's Fingers, a very good film I saw a couple years ago, but failed to write about here in Pulpetti.)

More Forgotten Films at Todd Mason's blog.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Lionel White's only Nick Carter

Lionel White, the writer of Clean Break and other classic caper thrillers, wrote only one novel under a pseudonym, and it's a Nick Carter. Here it is, in a great blog by a guy called Scott, in Denver, Colorado. Wonder why White wrote a Nick Carter novel? I guess he needed the money.