Videophiled: Asghar Farhadi’s ‘The Past’ and Bruno Dumont’s ‘Camille Claudel 1915′

26 March, 2014 (12:47) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

PastThe Past (Sony, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, Digital, On Demand), Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning A Separation, relocates from Iran to Paris to tell an equally nuanced story of the complications of marriage, romance, family, and communication. Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) has returned to Paris from Iran to finalize a divorce from Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and steps into a family drama involving his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s new man (Tahar Rahim), their angry and resentful kids, and a mystery that is really none of his business, which he investigates with a gentle remove that allows him to gloss over his own baggage until he, too, must confront his own issues and failings.

Like A Separation, The Past is a beautifully observed portrait of people who fail to communicate and the assumptions that accrue in the void of understanding, and a sympathetic presentation of flawed people who don’t always make the right decisions and aren’t even always honest with themselves, and he takes his time weaving defining details through the fabric of their lives. Bérénice Bejo, so bubbly and bright in The Artist, is remarkable as Marie, struggling to work through her own resentments after four years of separation with Ahmad.

In French and Farsi with English subtitles. The Blu-ray+DVD release features both formats in a single case plus commentary by director / writer Asghar Farhadi, a filmmaker Q&A from a screening at the Directors Guild of America and the featurette “Making The Past.”

Camille11915Juliette Binoche stars in Camille Claudel 1915 (Kino Lorber, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), Bruno Dumont’s portrait of the artist during her imprisonment in an insane asylum and based on her correspondence with her brother Paul Claudel, a poet and Christian mystic whose compassion for his fellow man appears more theoretical than practiced. As Camille, famed sculptor and one-time lover of August Rodin, she is an anxious storm of anger and loss, racked with paranoia (she’s convinced that Rodin and his cronies are engineering her imprisonment and trying to poison her). But her greatest loss is not freedom but the ability to express her artistic drive and she is lucid compared to the other, seriously mentally challenged inmates. Her expression reveals an instinctive revulsion for these fellow patients, no doubt in part for the implicit suggestion that she is one of them, but also a compassion when she faces not the patient but the vulnerable human in need of help. The staff sees it in her too and they trust her to look after one or another of the patients at times. The savage duality of so many of Dumont’s characters and cultural collusions from previous films are seen here, but there’s also caring and compassion, at least until the film shifts to her brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent) and the insufferable piety that commits service to God at the expense of those on earth. French with English subtitles.

More new releases on disc and digital, including The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Beauty, and The Punk Singer, are at Cinephiled

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Review: Larry Fessenden’s ‘Beneath’

25 March, 2014 (08:18) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Sean Axmaker

Beneath was one of the best horror film of 2013. But most people never heard about it.

Produced by Chiller, a horror-themed sibling to the SyFy cable network still struggling for name recognition and access to cable systems, Beneath is the first feature in almost a decade directed by Larry Fessenden. It played a few film festivals and received a limited (very limited) release in July before hitting cable on a channel that few viewers know exists. Which means that hardly anyone has had an opportunity to see the film. With the movie coming out on DVD and Blu-ray this week, that should change.

‘Beneath’ – There’s a monster fish in the water. Let’s poke it with a stick!

The limited coverage it has received so far, at least on the horror-centric sites, seems to have missed the point, or at least became so complacent in their own superiority to the conventions of the genre that they never noticed how cleverly Fessenden, who has been turning classic horror genres inside out for over twenty years, and the screenwriters transformed the conventions of this genre—notably the idiotic behavior of potential teenage victims—into defining elements of story and character.

Beneath is both a tribute to monster-in-the-woods and the creature-under-the-water horror (the opening dream sequence turns the “Jaws” prologue into a teenage wet dream) and a genuine indie drama in the guise of a horror film. It springs from Fessenden’s love of reimagining classic genres in modern terms and real-world situations, and for using the conventions to tell character stories. And it was accomplished on a commercial cable movie budget.

Continue reading at Indiewire

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From Nollywood to New Nigerian Cinema: Obi Emelonye interviewed

25 March, 2014 (08:12) | by Sean Axmaker, Interviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Nollywood—Nigeria’s direct-to-video industry of scruffy, cheap films cranked out on hurried schedules and dumped onto the market at low prices—became the third largest producer of movies in the world in the 1990s. Obi Emelonye is one of the filmmakers challenging the Nollywood paradigm with the New Nigerian Cinema, a concerted effort to create domestic films strong enough to bring audiences back to the cinemas and good enough to be exported to other countries.

Emelonye, who practiced law in Great Britain for two decades, returned to Nigeria to follow his dream of filmmaking. His 2011 feature, The Mirror Boy, was a critical and commercial success and one of the few Nigerian films to be seen in film festivals outside of the country and his follow-up, the homegrown disaster film Last Flight to Abuja, was one of the top-grossing films in Nigeria in 2012. Unlike the fast, cheap, and out-of-control melodramas cranked out by Nollywood, Emelonye’s films took on more complex stories, complicated characters, and themes that cross cultures.

Last Flight to Abuja

Last Flight to Abuja follows the model of Airport and other American and European disaster dramas of strangers tossed together in a crisis, but frames it within a distinctly Nigerian context. Though inspired by real events, it tosses a bit of everything into the ensemble: romance and marital conflict, comedy and crime, a murder, an affair, a little Nigerian star power (and it’s clear who the stars are simply by their confidence and command on the screen), and of course a crisis on an airplane. And along with the array of stories and experiences, the film presents something not seen in many Nigerian films: strong, confident, successful women in the professional world.

Emelonye took Last Flight to Abuja to film festivals all over the world, including the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival, where the film made its American debut, and along with discussing his film, Emelonye showed a shrewd and necessary understanding of the business and culture of Nollywood, the efforts to create a cinema culture in Nigeria and the challenges in taking on the entrenched Nollywood industry.

Keyframe: I understand that before you started directing films you were a lawyer in Britain. Is that right?

Obi Emelonye: It’s more complicated than that. I actually studied theater and drama and film in Nigeria before I went to the U.K. And when I arrived in the U.K. I discovered that it was a bit impractical to make a living as a theater artist starting at the lowest of the lowest ranks, so I had to make a pragmatic decision to find a different career that would allow me the time to still practice my craft and also that would have transferable skills. And I thought law was that. I learned my trade and honed my skills as a filmmaker while still practicing as a lawyer until a few years ago, in 2008, when I decided to concentrate on filmmaking. So in a way I’ve gone full circle with a different career. A friend of mine says ‘Everything we are goes into everything we do.’ The more varied my life experiences are, the more varied my skill set and my knowledge is, the better I will be at whatever I decide to do. In this instance, it makes me a slightly better, more complete, more eclectic filmmaker.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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Watching with Larry Fessenden, director of ‘Beneath’

24 March, 2014 (15:59) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Horror, Interviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Larry Fessenden

Larry Fessenden loves horror movies. As a director he has brought his own unique approach to the classic horror stories and conventions in such films as Habit, Wendigo, and his animist ghost story / environmental thriller The Last Winter. Through his production company Glass Eye Pix his has produced or co-produced dozens of films, including Kelly Reichert’s Wendy and Lucy and Night Moves, Ti West’s The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, Jim Mickle’s Stake Land, and the recent documentary Birth of the Living Dead, a tribute to one of the holy grails of modern horror.

Apart from an episode of the horror TV series Fear Itself, Fessenden hasn’t directed a film since the 2004 The Last Winter, an eco-twist on the ghost story in the culture of big oil, so the arrival of Beneath, about a group of teenagers, a rowboat in the middle of a lake, and a giant, hungry, man-eating catfish looking for its next meal, is reason to celebrate. It begins as a classic tale of teens behaving badly, and more importantly stupidly, but what first appears to be a lazy set-up to stake out its victims for the movie menace turns out to be an insidious insight to the true nature of its characters and the basis for the real conflict of the film. It’s a smart, savage film that plays with the familiar conventions and then twists a knife in them, and it’s all done with a small cast, a confined space, and a script that reveals the worst in humanity.

While it received a brief theatrical release, Beneath was actually financed by and produced for Chiller, the cable horror channel sibling to SyFy. You say you’ve never heard of Chiller? Yeah, that’s the problem. The film just hasn’t been seen by many folks. Now that it is available on digital and VOD platforms and this week arrives on Blu-ray and DVD, I hope more people have an opportunity to discover one of the most surprising and insidiously clever monster movies of the last year. On the occasion of the disc release, I had a chance to speak with Fessenden about his career as a director, his love of old-school special effects, the real horror of Beneath, and of course what he’s been watching.

BeneathWhat are you watching?

I have a 14-year-old kid who loves movies so we watch a little of the old and a little of the new. We’ve seen all the Oscar stuff and we also watch movies from the seventies and I get him up to speed on Scorsese and Polanski and the heroes of my youth. Oddly enough he doesn’t care for horror so we don’t watch those except for the occasional time. Myself, there’s only so much time in the day so I’m more going on the journey with him. But recent films: Let the Right One In, District 9, The Mist. Those are all a little old but they are recent favorites.

And genre films too. When you are watching for yourself, are you going back to horror films?

Oh yeah, I’m pretty entrenched in genre movies. I grew up watching the old Universal films and it’s fun to watch some of these things again—and again and again—because they really are iconic. The imagery is truly… it’s what I grew up on and it’s interesting to watch them now as you’re older and try to understand what struck you, because of course we’ve become more sophisticated so the images don’t have the same impact, but they do have a strange quality. I love, for example, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, such a strange, beautiful creature design there. I like all kinds of movies.

What inspired you to take on the classic horror movie themes in a series of movies that turns the stories inside-out?

It’s exactly just what I was describing. I grew up on the old Universal films with Frankenstein played by Karloff or Dracula played by Lugosi and obviously then came the Hammer films and whatever, these were the movies you saw on TV when you were a kid in the seventies. But then I also became incredibly turned on by the cinema of Scorsese, these more realistic portraits of people’s psychology and the violence became more visceral and I wanted, in my own mind, to revisit the movies that I loved so much, like Dracula, and put this modern seventies spin on it.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of March 21

21 March, 2014 (09:27) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

Alejandro Jodorowsky

“Was his goal to make a film, or was his goal to change the world? Well, if his goal was to change the world, then mission accomplished.” With his abandoned adaptation of Dune the subject of an acclaimed documentary (directed by Frank Pavich, quoted above) and his own first film since 1990 soon to have its North American premiere, Alejandro Jodorowsky has returned from the wilderness to become the unexpected man of the moment. Eric Benson’s profile makes clear the person least surprised by this turn of events is Jodorowsky himself.

“One who follows his nature keeps his original nature in the end.” Studio interference may have hopelessly muddled Orson Welles’s ambitions for The Lady from Shanghai, but as Michael Peck’s account of its making affirms, too much of the film’s hallucinatory power remains to erase its achievement as “an evisceration of exactly the kind of entertainment [Harry Cohn] expected: a deconstruction of Hayworth, a hodgepodge of satire, existentialism, and expressionism, a symbolic interpretation of the arms race.” Elsewhere at the LA Review, the publication of The Empty Chair has Matt Thorne looking back over all of Bruce Wagner’s satirical novels of Hollywood.

“Personally, I’ve never subscribed to that old Egyptian custom.” “What Egyptian custom?” “Of walling up the widow alive in the funeral chambers of her dead husband along with his other possessions.” The barriers that entomb All That Heaven Allows’s characters extend even to Sirk’s meticulous dissolves, as Carson Lund demonstrates.

Read more »

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Videophiled Classic: Kurosawa’s ‘Fortress’ and DeMille’s ‘Samson’ Debut on Blu

20 March, 2014 (17:30) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

HiddenFortressIn The Hidden Fortress (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD), Akira Kurosawa melds western fairy tale adventure with Japanese history for a pre-Samurai era classic of a young princess and a determined General (the gruff ruthless, and often comically exasperated Toshiro Mifune) trying to escape from behind enemy lines with a fortune in royal gold. Long recognized as one of George Lucas’ primary inspiration for Star Wars (among other things, the bickering peasants who wander into the odyssey inspired R2D2 and C-3PO), it’s Kurosawa’s his first go at the widescreen format and he proves to be a master at it, dynamically spreading his compositions out to an epic scope and boldly setting his cascade of sharp action scenes against a magnificent landscape. It’s a grand adventure of flashing swords, thundering horses, giant battles and intimate duels, Kurosawa’s most purely entertaining film and one of his biggest hits.

Mastered from a 2K digital restoration with mono soundtrack and an alternate 3.0 surround soundtrack preserving the original 1958 “Perspecta Stereophonic” soundtrack and presented in DTS-HD on Blu-ray. New to this release is commentary by film historian and Kurosawa expert Stephen Prince and the documentary about the making of the film created for the 2003 series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create. Carried over from the earlier DVD release is a brief interview with George Lucas, who talks of his love of the film and the work of Kurosawa. The accompanying booklet features an essay by film scholar Catherine Russell.

SamsonDelilahBDSamson and Delilah (Paramount, Blu-ray) was something of a warm-up by Cecil B. DeMille, classic Hollywood’s defining big screen showman, for his ultimate Biblical epic The Ten Commandments. This bible story was on a decidedly smaller scale but it had all the elements that DeMille had perfected back in thirties: treat the patrons to a spectacle of sin and flesh, then punish the bad behavior with a smiting of (dare I say it?) Biblical proportions. The script is dopey and the stars unconvincing, but DeMille puts on quite a pageant.

Victor Mature plays the brawny strongman Samson, who kills a lion with his bare hands in the first act. Half of the shots reveal that he’s tussling with a moth-eaten ruin but it’s still manly enough to rouse the passion of Hedy Lamarr’s Delilah. Samson heaves enormous building stones at enemy soldiers, all but takes apart a royal house in a wild brawl and for finale pulls down a temple around him with nothing but the strength of his massive arms. Never mind that DeMille’s special effects often lack the weight of conviction, it’s all in the showmanship and De Mille is as gaudy as they come. This has all lavish sets, slinky outfits, wicked Philistines, sexy maidens, and holy retribution in glorious Technicolor. Mature walks a plodding balance between grinning arrogance and righteous vengeance as God’s strong arm on Earth while Lamarr purrs through her turn as the Bible’s bad girl, a temptress with a wicked sense of vengeance. George Sanders contributes his brand of silky villainy as the Saran of Gaza and DeMille brings out the ham in him.

It’s been remastered in HD but the Blu-ray features no supplements except for the trailer.

More classics and cult films on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

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Review: ‘Enemy’

20 March, 2014 (07:22) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Jake Gyllenhaal

Even before his life starts getting weird, Adam Bell is messed up. A schlumpy Toronto history professor who drones on about totalitarian societies, Adam walks with a crabbed, defeated gait; his lovemaking with girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) is as perfunctory as his lecturing style. Maybe this explains why he comes down with a severe case of heebie-jeebies upon discovering his exact physical double in the form of a bit player in a minor movie. At least something is happening in Adam’s life. The actor’s name is Anthony Clair, he lives in town, and he’s a much more aggressive guy than Adam. They both have beards, and they are both played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Enemy gives Gyllenhaal a dramatic workout, and he is up to the challenge.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Review: ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. I’

20 March, 2014 (07:07) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Stacy Martin

Lars von Trier’s biggest trick has been convincing the world he is not serious. The Danish filmmaker adopts such a puckish public demeanor, and is given to such willful outrageousness (whimsically comparing himself to Hitler at a Cannes press conference was a particular lulu), that he has turned himself into a brand-name oddball just this side of David Lynch. Superficially, his movies create the same kind of taboo-breaking impression: radical looks at sexuality, politics, and violence (Breaking the Waves and Antichrist among them), culminating in a remarkable portrait of depression and the end of the world (Melancholia). By titling his new project Nymphomaniac, and letting it be known that this four-hour, two-part picture includes marquee names and unsimulated sex, von Trier is acting up again. There goes that old devil Lars, fanning the flames as always.

And then Nymphomaniac: Vol. I begins. Within a few minutes, there is little doubt about the filmmaker’s seriousness. Not that the film is without a playful side; droll Danish humor is abundant. But this is a real journey, recounted to us by a woman named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who is discovered, beaten up, in an alley.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Blu-ray: ‘The Long Day Closes’

19 March, 2014 (13:33) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Terence Davies, an actor turned filmmaker who directed his first short film in 1976, has made a mere six features since 1988, when he released his debut feature Distant Voices, Still Lives. Like his earlier shorts, Distant Voices was an autobiographical film about growing up in Liverpool in the 1950s, beautiful but somber and almost heartbreaking in its portrait of a family living in fear of its angry, alcoholic father.

The Long Day Closes, released four years later in 1992, isn’t a sequel in any literal sense of the term – none of the actors return and the names of the characters are all changed – but it nonetheless carries on the story of Davies family after the death of his father with the focus on a character absent from the earlier film. 12-year-old Bud (Leigh McCormack) is the youngest in a loving family looked over by an affectionate widowed mother (Marjorie Yates). A sweet, quiet schoolboy in love with the movies, he’s Davies’ stand-in in a film that offers a fictionalized reflection on what Davies described as the happiest days of his life.

Just like Bud, The Long Day Closes is in love with the movies. After a still life of an opening credits sequence that plays like an elegant tribute to the title sequences of films from the 1940s and 1950s, the familiar 20th Century Fox fanfare takes us into a rainy Liverpool alley plastered in posters. The fanfare segues into Nat King Cole singing “Stardust” as the camera glides down the alley at a graceful stroll.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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Blu-ray: ‘Wadjda’

18 March, 2014 (17:26) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Wadjda is the first feature film produced entirely in Saudi Arabia (a country where there are no cinemas) and the country’s first submission to the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. That it did not make the final cut is no comment on the film itself, which is compassionate, committed, compelling, and accomplished. It’s also written and directed by a woman filmmaker, Haifaa Al Mansour, who learned her craft abroad and returned home to make her first feature. That in itself is a small miracle in a country that forbids women the right to drive and demands they follow a strict code of conduct in public and testament to the commitment of the director to engage with her own culture on her own terms.

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a 10-year-old girl who decides that she is going to buy a bicycle after a male classmate shows off in front of her with his brand new bike. It’s not merely a matter of expense, which she hopes to meet by selling crafts and winning a contest. Girls simply don’t ride bikes, which are seen as a threat to the “virtue” of girls by the conservative Islamic society. Wadjda is an only child looked after almost exclusively by her mother (Reem Abdullah), an educated professional who desperate to hold on to her mostly absent husband. She is unable to give him a son and suspects his family of trying to find him a second wife, despite his denials. His absence speaks louder than his words.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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Videophiled: ‘Frozen,’ ‘American Hustle’ and more New Releases

18 March, 2014 (09:10) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

AmericanHustleAmerican Hustle (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD, On Demand) was this year’s Oscar bridesmaid with ten nominations and no wins. No shame in that for it is an entertaining, energetic, and very clever take on the real-life Abscam sting operation put in motion by the FBI with the help of a Jersey con artist and his British partner. As the film promises right up front: “Some of this stuff actually happened.”

Leading actors Christian Bale and Amy Adams (playing the con artist couple) and supporting performers Bradley Cooper (as the FBI agent) and Jennifer Lawrence (as Bale’s dizzy young wife) all earned Oscar nominations, as did director David O. Russell and screenwriters Russell and Eric Warren Singer, and the film was one of nine nominees for Best Picture.

Blu-ray and DVD with a featurette and 11 deleted and extended scenes. The Blu-ray also features a bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital copy of the film.

More details at Cinephiled

FrozenFrozen (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, On Demand) comes to home video with two Oscar wins, for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (“Let it Go”), under its sash. Disney Animation isn’t about to this success go: this is their most successful animated feature in years and their best animated musical since The Lion King. And they did it by giving reworking the tragic fairy tale “The Snow Queen” into a dynamic story of Disney Princess sisters who find their strength not in a savior prince but within themselves, and more importantly in the strength of their bond. Plus there’s a goofy snowman sidekick, a reindeer with the personality of puppy, and a really cool ice palace. Kristin Bell and Idina Menzel voice sisters Anna and Elsa and Josh Gad voices the talking snowman Olaf.

WhoTommyThe Who: Sensation – The Story of Tommy (Eagle Rock, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital) is the latest of the “Classic Albums” series of BBC documentaries to comes to stateside home video in an expanded edition. Like the best of these programs, it offers a snapshot of the band’s career while focusing on a significant turning point, in this case one of the most unique projects in the history in of rock and roll: the first rock opera. It tackles the album song by song, with new interviews with Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey along with various music journalists and historians, and fills in a portrait of a band in transition from a purveyor of hit singles to pioneers of a more sophisticated brand of music, yet were still the die-hard rockers determined to perform their work in front of a live audience. The disc also features complete 35-minute appearance by The Who on the German rock TV show Beat Club in 1969 (brief clips of it can be seen in The Kids Are Alright) as a supplement.

More New Releases at Cinephiled

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‘The 10th Victim’: Give the People What They Want

17 March, 2014 (08:57) | by Sean Axmaker, Essays, Science Fiction | By: Sean Axmaker

Before The Hunger Games, before Battle Royale, before The Running Man, there was Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim. Based on Robert Sheckley‘s short story “The Seventh Victim” (Petri upped the body count), this 1965 feature is set in a near future of unlikely fashions and pop-art stylings, where comic books are the literature of the day and murder games have become the dominant form of media entertainment. The government-sponsored “The Big Hunt” is the original Survivor as a series of one-on-one bouts: “a real chase, a real victim and a real killing,” promises the cheery TV host as he outlines the rules for the home viewing audience.

Ursula Andress in ‘The Tenth Victim’

It’s ostensibly “a safety valve for humanity” but Petri’s wry perspective reveals the activity as less primal scream than the logical evolution of today’s reality TV fad. The hunter is given a target and the victim has to be on guard to pick out a potential assassin from the crowd. These games don’t play out in a controlled arena but in the streets and sometime in the nightclubs of the real world, where the occasional civilian becomes collateral damage. And unlike the usual dystopian portraits of kill-or-be-killed games, which invariably play out as a form of punishment and social control by an oppressive regime, this game is completely voluntary. No surprise, there’s no shortage of competitors. The lure of celebrity, prize winnings and endorsement deals apparently trumps survival instinct. Or maybe it’s just a matter of a population so narcotized into numbness that they jump at anything that can offer them a sensation outside of their consumer bubble.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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Fernando Di Leo’s Anti-Mob Movies

16 March, 2014 (08:05) | by Sean Axmaker, Essays | By: Sean Axmaker

‘Kidnap Syndicate’

Fernando Di Leo, the godfather of the poliziotteschi (Italy’s brutal take on the crime thriller genre of the seventies), dismantled the anti-hero glorification of the mafia in the Milieu Trilogy—Caliber 9 (1972), The Italian Connection (1972), and The Boss (1973)—with an unflinching portrait of its corrupt values. There was no criminal code for these mercenary mafia soldiers and self-serving bosses, merely greed and survival (as discussed in yesterday’s Keyframe story on Di Leo). For his next bout with organized crime, Di Leo cast his lens beyond the insular mob world to the culture at large and found that corruption seeped into every level of law and order. While it’s not quite accurate to call Shoot First, Die Later (1974), Kidnap Syndicate (1975), and Rulers of the City (1976) a trilogy in their own right, together they offer a companion series to his mob trilogy where victims of the mafia’s indifference to civilian lives take on the syndicate. Not of idealism, mind you, simply out of vengeance and rage.

Shoot First, Die Later stars Luc Merenda as a hotshot cop on the Milan strike force. Young, good looking and always at the center of big, splashy cases, Domenico Malacarne is the department poster boy for police heroism and he kicks off the film with a ferocious car chase that rivals The French Connection. (It’s the first of two riveting sequences coordinated by French stunt driver Remy Julienne, both among most impressive car chases I’ve seen in seventies cinema.) Little does the media or his own father, a modest and idealistic career cop in a sleepy station in a Milan suburb, know that he’s on the take. Not until a request from the mob puts him in a compromising position and his father in the cross-hairs of the mob.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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Fernando Di Leo, in the Shadow of ‘The Godfather’

15 March, 2014 (16:04) | by Sean Axmaker, Essays | By: Sean Axmaker

Fernando Di Leo was, in the estimation of genre-hound Quentin Tarantino, “the master” of the Italian crime movie, or the “poliziotteschi.” A violent action genre that picked up the escalating violence of American films like Dirty Harry and The French Connection, films where blood spattered and cops got their hands dirty, it was never as popular an export as the spaghetti western (which is displaced on Italian screens) or the giallo (which took the violence to surreal, sadistic extremes) but it sure put that distinctly Italian stamp on the genre. At its best, it brought the mercenary cynicism and greed of the spaghetti western into the contemporary urban milieu and, in the shadow of The Godfather, undercut the romantic notions of family and honor with a ruthless portrait of cutthroat underworld capitalism and unforgiving vengeance.

‘Caliber 9′

The films of Fernando Di Leo are the poliziotteschi at its best and four of his films in particular dismantle the pulp glorification of the mafia: Caliber 9 (1972), The Italian Connection (1972), and The Boss (1973), which make-up his Milieu Trilogy, and his postscript Rulers of the City (1976). Like most directors in the industry, di Leo worked in the popular genres of the day, writing spaghetti westerns and directing a handful of giallo and sexploitation pictures before making Caliber 9, his first mob movie. It opens on a scene like something out of a spy thriller—packages passed from hand to hand, a covert trade-off in the subway, and back through the daisy chain of handoffs until the new package is brought back home—and Di Leo admires the precision of the operation. And then it all descends into startling brutality after the mob payout is stolen. It’s an inside job and everyone who touched the package is systematically tortured and murdered with a flamboyance that would be perversely comic (death by dynamite) were it not so sadistic. They’re not guilty, merely expendable.

And that’s just in the first act.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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Film Review: ‘Need for Speed’

15 March, 2014 (06:42) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

‘Need for Speed’

As much as I want to hate a movie called Need for Speed, I have to hesitate. Yes, this film is ludicrous in its conception and irresponsible in the way it treats its subject. Despite all that, it does show signs of actual life — in the stunts, in the performances, in the headlong rush to get to the next crazy event.

The movie takes its title from a video game (and of course from a Top Gun catchphrase). The cluttered plot has hotshot driver-mechanic Tobey (Aaron Paul) avenging a serious crime, for which he served two years in the pen, by challenging his nemesis (Dominic Cooper) in a legendary illegal road race. He picks up a car-savvy Englishwoman (Imogen Poots) for reasons that are too hard to explain, and they must get from New York to the race’s San Francisco kick-off in 45 hours.

Continue reading at The Herald

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