THE VESSEL”— Transformation

“The Vessel”

Transformation

Amos Lassen

 Julio Quintana’s “The Vessel” is a beautiful parable about the spiritual transformation of a community after a tragedy. Just ten years ago, the people of a small Puerto Rican village were frozen in grief after a giant wave crashed into their schoolhouse and killed 46 children, sweeping them out to sea where they drowned. Since then the women have dressed in black and refused to consider having more children. The Catholic priest, Father Douglas (Martin Sheen), is distraught about the community’s depression and low attendance at church and awaits some sign of hope and renewal among the people he loves so dearly.

Leo (Lucas Quintana) is a caring son who looks after his mentally unbalanced mother Fidelia (Jacqueline Duprey), who lost her other son in the tidal wave tragedy. When he learns that his best friend Gabriel (Hiram Delgado) is leaving town, he gives him a motorcycle. The two young sat together and drank too much during their last evening together and the following morning, they were both found dead by fisherman, who confirm that they were drowned in the sea. However, somewhat miraculously, Leo turns out to still be alive.

For Father Douglas is convinced this is the sign he has been waiting for— this inexplicable resurrection is God’s sign to the townsfolk that He is present among them. Soraya (Aris Mejias), whose husband was the schoolteacher died along with the children and she is the object of Leo’s secret affection. Because of what happened to him, she is now moved by her own emotions to align herself with him. She take her most colorful dresses out of the closet and wears them again. Then a couple comes to Father Douglas with news that they want to have a child and it is almost as if things begin to return to where they once were.

This is a very moving film about the spiritual transformation of individuals and an entire community. I was fascinated watching the villagers slowly come alive. What we see here is that hope is contagious and can be given to others as nourishment for the future and escape from the past. I think what is truly unique about “The Vessel” is that it leaves so much unsaid and unexplained. The film has several references to Jesus and his passion, the rest of the story is filled with mystery. And that is what makes it a worthy work of cinematic

We begin with seeing debilitating grief amid tragic loss and the search for hope. The film looks at real life human and spiritual questions and struggles that we all have and does so through beauty.

Father Douglas is the sole Catholic priest in the community and he hopes that he can gently and patiently help the villagers through their grief and into a stare of healing and hope. It has not been easy. He wants the couples to begin having children again but they do not listen and the weight of what is going on affects the Father. He begins to doubt himself. 

Leo is part of a generation that wasn’t entirely affected by the tragedy. He wasn’t a parent ten years ago and hasn’t felt the terrible loss those around him have but he has become restless living in this paralyzed community. He stays because he is devoted to his mother, Fidelia (Jacqueline Duprey), who has been lost in a catatonic mental state since the event. Another reason keeping Leo from leaving with his best friend, Gabriel (Hiram Delgado), who is heading to the mainland to escape the misery, is Soraya, a young woman Leo has long had feelings for but yet she is also struggling with loss of her husband who was the teacher and the school and who died with the others. What happened then as I stated earlier changes everything for the village and the villagers.

The deeply religious people begin to examine the resurrected Leo’s every move, thinking he’s been touched by God and looking for more direction in their lives. Father Douglas knows that such an obsessive reliance on man and not faith can lead to disappointment and further desperation and he finds himself attempting to calm the frustrations of the townspeople who search for hope. Leo surprisingly decides to build a structure out of the remnants of the school house and this confuses the villagers and the Father as well who are unsure of this new creation crafted from material that conjures haunting memories. Just as others are looking to Leo for a spiritual sign, Soraya is drawn to him and the two begin to develop a closeness while Leo’s mother slowly comes out of her catatonic mental state. As Leo turns his structure into a boat, the confusion of the people rises, resulting in a combination of hysteria and possible deliverance.

There is a lot of Biblical symbolism in “The Vessel” but it never distracts from the story. Granted, Leo’s comparison to Christ isn’t so subtle – he rose three hours later (unlike yet similar to Christ being risen from the grave three days later) and he winds up with a nail through his foot while building his structure but the comparison stops there and Leo never heals or stops to tell parables. He’s still Leo, dealing with how and why he is now alive after being dead. This doesn’t stop others from seeing him as some kind of messiah and there is, for example, a villager who steals a button from Julio’s shirt and feeds it to his sick donkey with the hope of it being healed. At the same time, Leo is both celebrated by the townspeople upon his resurrection and then shunned when he doesn’t fit who they expect him to be. Quintana’s decision to include religious imagery caused me to think about the world and the spiritual symbolism that often goes unseen in my everyday life.

As much as there is symbolism throughout “The Vessel” there is behavior and emotions that will feel very real and relatable to viewers. We have either known or heard of someone who has been mentally and emotionally crippled after the loss of a child or loved one. We have seen mass mourning and frustration after a natural disaster and we all know someone who struggles with spiritual awakening.

What we see here is universal and applicable to all of humanity. Like the characters here, we struggle and grieve the passing of life and we celebrate a new life. Quintana takes these concepts and themes and takes them to this distant environment which actually is just like the world we live in and is enveloped in good and cruelty.

Producer Terence Malick whose own films are contemplative and delicate has obviously influenced the director and if you have seen his films you know what I mean. Sheen comes across as natural and fitting in this setting as the other actors. He brings a needed patience and wisdom to the role, but also an understandable underlying frustration of a priest’s work and the state of his village. Lucas Quintana and Aris Mejias disappear into their roles and effectively convey the confusion, curiosity and passion that they must show.

“The Vessel” at times seems heavy-handed but that can be overlooked when we consider that this is Quintana’s first film who ambitiously captures the delicate line between faith and fallible humanity. Bravo!!

“A Very English Scandal” by John Preston— The “Trial of the Century”

Preston, John. “A Very English Scandal”, Other Press, 2016.

The “Trial of the Century”

Amos Lassen

“A Very English Scandal” is a true crime account of the scandalous private life of Jeremy Thorpe, the British MP whose covert homosexual affair led to blackmail, cover ups, a hired hit man, and ended with what became known as the “Trial of the Century.”

Jeremy Thorpe was a Member of Parliament and Leader of the Liberal Party in the 1960s and 70s and his bad behavior snuck went undetected for years. Police and politicians alike colluded to protect one of their own. In 1970, Thorpe was the most popular and charismatic politician in the country and was prepared to hold the balance of power in a coalition government.

 What many did not know was that Jeremy Thorpe was a man with a secret. His homosexual affairs and harassment of past partners, along with his propensity for lying and embezzlement, only escalated as he evaded punishment. Then there was a dark night on the moor with an ex-lover, a dog, and a hired gun that led to consequences that even his charm and power couldn’t help him escape.

 When he went to court, his case became referred to as the “Trial of the Century,” since it was the first time at the Old Bailey in London that a leading British politician stood trial on a murder charge, and the first time that a murder plot had been hatched in the House of Commons. It also was the first time that a prominent public figure had been exposed as a philandering gay man in an era when homosexuality had only just become legal. This is a story of hypocrisy, deceit, and betrayal right at the heart of the British Establishment.

Of four men on trial for murder, one was Jeremy Thorpe, the retired head of Britain’s Liberal Party. Norman Scott and Jeremy Thorpe had had an affair some years earlier and Thorpe had promised to take care of Scott, but rather, took his National Insurance card and wouldn’t give it back. Scott found it difficult to find work without the card and while this does not make much sense, it nevertheless happened.

The Jeremy Thorpe scandal was juicy – the main characters were interesting and venality ran through the case from action to the eventual trial. Thorpe was a man who thought quite highly of himself and his position in Britain’s public life. However, it was in his private life that things got a bit messy. Jeremy would go in and out of the closet when he wanted. When he met Norman Scott, a young, sexy equestrian, he fell into desire. The two men had an off and on long affair. Thorpe would bring Scott back to him when the “off” periods went on too long. And this is where the National Insurance card came into play. For whatever reason, Thorpe kept the card, perhaps as a way of controlling Scott.

The other main player was another Liberal MP, Peter Bessell. Thorpe and Bessell were close friends, though Bessell was a womanizer. Jeremy Thorpe used Peter Bessell to get him out of problems, both in his public and private lives. Bessell was often charged with the care of Norman Scott, who for years, hung “around” wanting things, like his Insurance card. Both MPs also were involved in squeezing money from a Bahamian political donor to support the party and some other behind the scenes activities.

John Preston’s book is a fascinating look at the private lives led behind the public lives in Britain in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Norman Scott was a confused and weak-willed young man, a male model with no other marketable skills who was helpless in the face of authority. Peter Bessell was a lay preacher whose oratorical skills got him a seat in Parliament despite a continuing string of failed business ventures and a willingness to sleep with every attractive woman he meets. Jeremy Thorpe was a wealthy, self-indulgent aristocrat with the charisma and charm that carried him into a prominent role in Parliament despite his reckless habit of picking up young men for sex. All three men were incorrigible liars and when they came together, we had a scandal— a political scandal at the heart of the British Establishment.

Here is nonfiction, improbable though the story may seem. Thorpe faced off in court accused of conspiracy to murder and related crimes by the other two after having been one of the most prominent and popular politicians in Britain. He fantasized about reaching 10 Downing Street. But his downfall was spectacular which his own reprehensible behavior had long foretold.

Gay sex, lies and judicial misconduct come together in John Preston’s detailed book. It shares far more about the lives and crimes of the three men at the center of the story than any casual reader would ever want to read. He shares the horrific price gay men paid in Britain before homosexuality was decriminalized and he shares a jaw-dropping story of judicial misconduct at the heart of the English Establishment.

Preston gives us front row seats to the trial and he captures the homophobia of the age, the political machinations of the male-dominated Establishment, and the intricate web of lies and deceit, which became Thorpe’s lot in life. He also shows the oppressive nature of gender roles and heterosexist society during the fifties, sixties, and seventies in aristocratic England. Thorpe, by way of his ambition, narcissism and deception, left behind him a trail of broken lives in his wake, especially Norman Scott, who is persecuted relentlessly for his sexual “deviance” and his mental illness. Scott’s allegations were discredited everywhere. Found innocent of all charges, Thorpe still was vilified in the press and seen as a pariah to the Liberal cause. No one essentially accepted his innocence and, as such, his illustrious political career ended.

It is interesting thought that suffering from Parkinson’s disease in later life and attended to by his second wife Marion, Thorpe’s reputation enjoyed a resurgence before he died in 2014 at the age of 85. A later generation of party leaders praised his record as an internationalist, a supporter of human rights, and an opponent of racism. How quickly we forget!

Thorpe’s story is not an old one. It falls in line with American gay government scandals such as Larry Craig and James McGreevey to cite just two. In some ways the anger of this story has been forgotten by contemporary LGBT millennial readers who do not have to deal with blackmail, marriages of convenience, and criminal sodomy laws but we cannot allow ourselves to forget that homophobia caused deep and painful emotional wounds along with societal stigma that still remains to be documented by future historians and described by novelists. Preston has begun to do so sensitively and with scholarship.

“Buried Heart” by Laydin Michaels— Dealing with the Past

Michaels, Laydin. “Buried Heart”, Bold Strokes Books, 2017.

Dealing with the Past

Amos Lassen

Drew Chambliss cannot remember anything before the age of 12 and this is some kind of amnesia. It seems that something happened that had been so terrible that her mind has blocked it. We learn that it was a terrifying experience that caused her adoption by a family that loved her and who helped her deal with her awful dreams and nightmares and she was eventually medicated because of them.

Now an adult as working as a park ranger, Drew meets Cicely and falls hard for her. However, the past could raise it head and destroy happiness.Unlike Drew, Cecily lives her life openly and does not have a place in her life for secrets. Even though the attraction was mutual when the two women met at a music festival, there is Drew’s fear that her secrets could ruin anything they build together.

Drew starts to remember bits of her past and a stranger stalks her so she pushed away from Cecily hoping to protect her from whatever this stranger wants. Instead of agreeing to this, Cicely wants to know the truth and Drew has a serious decision to make. She senses that her past could not only destroy her but Cecily as well.

The book is both a romance and a mystery and it can be divided into two parts. The beginning moved slowly for me and I had a rough time getting into it and understanding Cicely. Being told what the characters think is not as interesting as learning that through their actions and I felt this was missing here. Perhaps this was the reason I had a hard time understanding Cicely— she did not seem to be as well developed as Drew.

The second half was of the story seemed to be much more interesting than the first. Some of it is difficult reading because of one of the characters but rather than spoil the read I will let you discover that for yourselves. We need to know what happened to Drew and this is where the story gets intense and quite dark. It is important to remember while reading that whatever happened in Drew’s life has affected every aspect of her life.   Even after she was able to readjust to a new family as a child, there was always something missing.

There is a lot going on here and it is difficult to write about without spoiling the read but I will let you know that is covers the themes of mental issues, family drama and human sex trafficking. I suppose that the reason I had a bit of trouble getting it into it is because I am male and could not really identify with what was going on but then that could also be a cop-out. Literature is for everyone and although men and women read differently (I learned this in graduate school), everyone should be able to enjoy whatever they read.

 

 

“A MAN, HIS LOVER AND HIS MOTHER”— Going Home

“A Man, His Lover and His Mother” (“Rosie”)

Going Home

Amos Lassen

Lorenz Meran is forty-years-old and a successful gay author who is suffering acute writers’ block. He is suddenly called from Berlin and returns to eastern Switzerland to provide care for his aged mother, Rosie. When he gets there, he finds himself confronted with the fact that fun-loving Rosie refuses both outside assistance and an assisted living care home and Lorenz is stuck fast in his small hometown of Altstätten. But it is not only his mother’s battle against being dictated to and losing her dignity that he is struggling with. He is also dealing with his own midlife crisis. And when long-kept secrets are suddenly revealed under the tensions of family dynamics, Lorenz does not notice that love has found him at his parent’s house. Here is the story of a cynic who finds love and becomes reconciled to his past.

Film Rosie, Regie Marcel Gisler, Produktion Cobra Film AG

(Rosie) Sibylle Brunner is a feisty old dame who drinks and smokes too much but maintains her independence even in the face of the indignities of old age. Rosie and her jaded gay novelist son Lorenz (Fabian Krüger) share a cigarette and glass of wine now and then. If fact everybody shares a cigarette and a glass of wine now and then. Rosie’s defiance sometimes is outrageous. Especially when she’s drunk. In fact she’s an alcoholic. Lorenz and his sister, the grumpy, troubled Sophie (Judith Hofmann) frown at this, but tolerate it.

Mario (Sebastian Ledesma), a handsome, soulful young man shows up and is eager to have sex with Lorenz. He’s been a huge fan of his novels since he was a kid. Lorenz, a veteran of one-night stands, has sex with Mario once — despite back trouble — but will have none of his hanging around. He is too busy dealing with Sophie, Rosie, and his agent.

Chantal (Anna-Katharina Müller) does chores for Rosie. Then despite Lorenz’s having rebuffed Mario, he turns up to help Rosie too. Even though

Lorenz is twenty years older than Mario, he is handsome and youthful. He may need the bad back to show he has some age. As the film moves forward, Rosie takes several gradual turns for the worse. At a birthday dinner for Rosie, an old man appears who is supposedly a friend of the family and Lorenz learns something about him and himself.

All that is happening brings Sophie and Lorenz closer together, and in his acceptance of the importance of ordinary love relationships and his sadness about facing his mother’s decline, causes him to turns to Mario.

A scene from Marcel Gisler’s ROSIE, playing at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 25-May 9, 2013.

The film is mostly about Rosie herself and Lorenz, two characters that are as much unlikeable as they are likeable. Rosie’s determination to live her own life and her no-nonsense attitude are contrasted with her drinking, smoking and biting humor that is sometimes honestly funny and sometimes just plain hurtful. Lorenz is vain, narcissistic and masks his immaturity as world-weariness. But he is honest and he obviously worries about his family and tries to help. Sophie and Mario (Sebastian Ledesma) get off more easily – although both are willing to put other people first, and often ignore their own needs. The characters c crash into each other and rub against each other and they all grow through these encounters. The Meran family is full of issues and refreshingly yet Lorenz’ homosexuality is never one of them. It is not an issue here at all now. Yet even with good performances and a tight screenplay, the film does drag a few times but by and large it is entertaining.

“THE MEN’S CLUB”— A Discussion Group

“The Men’s Club”

A Discussion Group?

Amos Lassen

I had absolutely no idea what to expect in this movie— I do not remember hearing anything about it before so it was a complete surprise to me. Basically, it is the story of a group of men who get together to form a “discussion group” at one of the guy’s house.. They share their feelings about women, life, love, and work. The party gets rowdier and rowdier, and then the host’s wife returns home. Even after being thrown out, the men are not yet willing to call it a night…

Could this be the male bonding answer to sisterhood?. Women seem to have always gravitated toward groups and this is a misogynistic statement. I understand that many women’s group were created for support but that is not what we see with the seven men here. The screenplay by Leonard Michaels comes from his 1982 novel. The men we meet range in age from the 30s to the 50s and they get together at the Berkeley, California home of a psychotherapist (Richard Jordan) and they take turns talking about their experiences with women.

Cavanaugh (Roy Scheider) is a former baseball star, who is tough toward women but also vulnerable. Solly (Harvey Keitel) is a tough yet vulnerable businessman. Harold (Frank Langella) is a lawyer and something of a prude filled with romantic longings, and Phillip (David Dukes) is a relatively wholesome, if irritable, homebody and a college professor. Terry (Treat Williams) is supposedly e a doctor with a swinging bedside manner, and Paul (Craig Wasson) is the manager of an auto pasts store and he is the friendliest and nicest in the group.

Cavanaugh (Roy Scheider), college prof Phillip (David Dukes), milquetoast lawyer Harold (Frank Langella), stressed-out businessman Solly (Harvey Keitel), doctor Terry (Treat Williams), and auto parts store manager Paul (Craig Wasson). Occasionally there is some horseplay involving the whole group or an angry exchange between a couple of them, but mostly we’re watching a set of men of whom some are amusing and some are not.

After talking for a while about their wives who don’t perform up to par and other women who exceed expectations , the guys raid the refrigerator and make a shambles of the psychotherapist’s house. Kramer’s wife (Stockard Channing) comes home and puts an end to the festivities. The men then (except Kramer who is bleeping from his wife hitting him on the head with a Pot) head to the House of Affection, where they are warmly greeted by dolled-up women whose mirrored bedrooms have satin sheets.

Here again, the actors get a chance to act out their hostilities and craziness. Suddenly the movie loses its sense of direction and goes every which way. The session at the brothel strips them to the awkward and occasionally degraded core. Peter Medak’s direction is fine until the end at which point he seems to have taken a break from his film. It tries to expose the anxieties and absurdities of modern masculinity but can’t seem to find its way.

At best, Kramer is eccentric at best and at worst, he is deranged. The characters and these scenarios are unplayable and they guys are loathsome to begin with yet they are implausible. They’re not playing “real” people.  When they take a break in the discussion to destroy the inside of Kramer’s house, we have to wonder where this group of men came from.

House of Affections is a high-class brothel run by a madam (Ann Wedgeworth) who has a creepy ventriloquist dummy. The men get turns with ladies of their choosing and Solly immediately falls for Allison (Marilyn Jones).

David Dukes, who died in 2000, was interviewed and explained that the actors got together for two weeks prior to the start of filming and talked, improvised, worked out scenes, and generally got a feel for one another and how they would work that into the film.  He further said that shortly into filming, it became apparent that what they were doing wasn’t working.  Other films have explored men’s issues and male bonding and the whole “boys being boys” thing with the unabashed raunchiness that we see here. However it did not wok well.

I’m not sure what kind of movie this is and I cannot really begin to describe it. Nonetheless, I enjoyed seeing it.

“SEX, DEATH AND BOWLING”— A Quest

“Sex, Death and Bowling”

A Quest

Amos Lassen

Eli McAllister (Joshua Rush) is eleven-years-old hero and on a quest. He is also setting out to win The Fiesta Cup, a local bowling tournament. Joining him is his famous fashion-designer uncle, Sean McAllister (Adrian Grenier). Sean hasn’t spent time with his family, specifically his father, in years, but now he has come home to spend time with his older brother, Eli’s dad. Sean is into the tournament as his ailing brother’s substitute and he clashes with his father as old wounds are opened. But instead of reliving the past, they pull together to bowl their best for Eli, who stands to lose so much. This is a very human story that shows that growing up is hard enough for the average kid with an average, healthy, happy family. But in writer/director Ally Walker’s “Sex, Death and Bowling”, Eli struggles with the usual pre-teen trials, trying to live a somewhat normal life, while his family deals with illness, loss, and broken relationships.

Eli wrestles with some pretty grown-up issues. His father, Rick (Bailey Chase), is fighting a losing battle with cancer. His mother, Glenn (Selma Blair), is lost in her grief. And his uncle, Sean (Adrian Grenier), a successful fashion designer, has returned to town, opening up old wounds in the process. The only bright spot in his life is the upcoming Fiesta Cup bowling tournament. The McAllister family’s team wins every year—but, without Rick, another win is not certain.

Genre-wise, I have no idea where to put this film. Like real life, this independent drama refuses to fit neatly into any genre. At times, it’s a heartbreaking story about illness and death and saying final goodbyes. The times when family and friends gather around Rick’s bed are often difficult to endure. We see the pain and grief evident behind each character’s eyes. At other times, however, this is a light family comedy about overcoming differences and working together. The bowling alley is like a completely different world—and when the characters gather there, they (and us, too) get a slight break from the harsh reality of their lives. The changes in tone can be a bit jarring at times, but the storytelling is honest and sincere.

Eli is at the center of it all and he is a young outcast who’s just trying to be a normal kid. And in tackling such a challenging role, Rush gives a strong and heartfelt performance. Each day, Eli goes to school and is tormented by the school bully. He hangs out at the bowling alley with his grandpa and keeps the stats for the bowling team. Meanwhile, at home, his father is slowly slipping away, and his mother fights to hold on. By and large, Eli is left to cope on his own. He tries to stay upbeat for his family while he tries to understand the issues of life and death, heaven and hell. And, in return, his family members choose to overlook their differences to give him something to look forward to.

Much of the story is told through Eli’s (Joshua Rush) eyes. He visits various local religious leaders with his unanswerable existential questions about life and death. Eli promised his dad that the McAllister Sporting Goods team would bring home the trophy in the local bowling tournament again this year and we learn that the family history involves a lot of lore around great bowlers. However, Rick is in home hospice care and under morphine, so the team is down a player.

Rick’s brother Sean has been away from the family for 16 years because he is gay. It tore the family apart when Sean was in high school. Now he’s a successful fashion designer living in London and is on magazine covers. He came home when his mother died, and he’s back again because his brother is dying. We see that young Eli is just about a carbon copy of his uncle Sean and since the times have changed so much lately, we can hope that his life will be better than his uncle’s has been regarding family’s.

Eli is fascinated by speculations about the afterlife. At one point, he wants to become a Catholic because purgatory makes good sense as a place for people who aren’t good enough for heaven or bad enough for hell. Later he makes contact with a guru and takes to heart his teachings about karma and reincarnation.

Sean’s father’s disapproval of his homosexuality has kept him away for six years and when he comes home this time, family tensions again become pronounced. Sean is now quite famous having been on the cover of “Gentleman’s Quarterly” where he was also profiled. Sean remembers how much his brother, Rick defended him against bullies and always took his side. Now Eli is experiencing the same persecution because of his sensitive nature.

Eli is determined to win a bowling tournament as a gift for his dying father. When two members of the team cannot play, Sean and another man replace them. Meanwhile, at the hospital Eli’s mother grows impatient with a nurse (Drea de Matteo) whom she feels is over-medicating Rick and ruining the few intimate moments he has left with his family and friends.
There are plenty emotions here and that is because the film deals with death, grief, family, homosexuality and bullying and it does so beautifully. This is one film that you do not want to miss.

“BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY”— Three from Miike Takashi

“Black Society Trilogy”

Three from Miike Takashi Trilogy

Amos Lassen

The “Black Society Trilogy” proves that director Miike Takashi is a specialist in bloody spectacle and that his films are among the finest to deal with the way violence and brutality can unexpectedly destroy even the most innocent of lives. The films that make up the trilogy are “Shinjuku Triad Society” (1995), “Rainy Dog” (1997) and “Ley Lines” (1999). The three basic themes we see in each of the films are alienation, formation of a makeshift family and the desire for a better life in a foreign land.

The films are three separate entities without storyline crossovers and were neither filmed nor released consecutively. Tomorowo Taguchi plays a prominent role in all three of the films but as different characters.

Takashi Miike’s “Black Society Trilogy” is available on both Blu-ray and DVD. These were the films that put Miike on the cinematic map and proved he was more than just a specialist in blood and guts but rather as one of the masters of Japanese crime cinema. The films are beautiful high definition transfers and the set contains a host of special features including a brand new interview with the director himself. These three thematically connected, character-centric crime stories were the director’s first films made specifically for theatrical release, and his first for a major studio. They show that Takashi cannot be pigeonholed into one genre even though the three films beautifully show how he deals with violence and brutality and how they can unexpectedly destroy even the most innocent of lives.

Miike has never been a director to stick to one style of shooting during a film and we see here that he experiments with different lenses, handheld and static camerawork and conjures up all manner of interesting camera angles. The shock level is high and there’s gore and sexual violence some of which is necessary to the plot, some less so. But the films are never boring and the pacing is amazing.

Takashi Miike isn’t really much of a judgmental or political director, but his films do have a tendency to show Japanese society in a rather harsh light.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:

High Definition digital transfers of all three films

Original uncompressed stereo audio

Optional English subtitles for all three films

New interview with director Takashi Miike

New interview with actor Show Aikawa (Rainy Dog, Ley Lines)

New audio commentaries for all three films by Miike biographer Tom Mes

Original theatrical trailers for all three films

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films.

“FOUR DAYS IN FRANCE”— Casual Sex and Encounters

“Four Days in France”

Casual Sex and Encounters

Amos Lassen

One morning, Pierre (Pascal Cervo) suddenly decides to leave his partner Paul and go on a journey, without a destination and far from Paris. When Paul (Arthur Igual) finds this out, he hires a car to track him down.

The two main themes of the film are the relationship between the obsessive and mysterious Pierre and the desperate Paul on the other and the beautiful landscapes of a less urban France, between Paris, the Southern coast and the Alps. We also see the trail that is a result of the Grindr Smartphone app as we follow on the heels of the trail that Grindr leaves the protagonists. This is a road movie full of casual encounters with more or less charming characters who paint a portrait of society that is relatively unusual for French film.

Grindr is an App famous for facilitating homosexual encounters and works using geolocation technology. This is the original premise for the debut fictional feature written and directed by Jérôme Reybaud.

All of the encounters here that we see (even the most unlikely—a second class singer who performs at old people’s homes to make ends meet, a young lover who dreams of moving to the big city, an Italian car enthusiast, a petty thief, etc.) seem to come out of loneliness and that this is almost a necessary condition for their very existence. We see no latent threat in the singular act of getting to know someone in a more or less neutral and natural place, and this relative unfamiliarity brings about unexpected and surprising situations and dialogues, as if the director is trying to tell us that the secret to authenticity lies in making an odyssey lasting four days without a destination bearable for audiences.

The original title of the film (“Jours de France”) is almost identical to that of famous French cycling race the Tour de France and perhaps this is an attempt to create proximity between the audience and the strangers that live in their country.

The film is an intriguing and extremely compelling love affair that stars France’s gorgeous countryside and it is the story of two lovers, the younger one Pierre Thomas who suddenly and mysterious leaves Paul and their very comfortable life in Paris in the middle of night. He undertakes an unexplained odyssey driving into the heart of the country in his Alfa-Romeo with the app Grindr as his guide. He uses Grindr to pick up men so that he can have some meaningless sexual hookups.  Within a day, Paul follows him in a rental car and uses the same app to try and catch up with him.

Throughout the four days that he is on the road Pierre has some odd random encounters with people he encounters including a second rate singer (Fabienne Babe) he gives a lift to when her car breaks down on the way to sing at a Seniors Assisted Living Home; the thief (Laetita Dosch) who he catches robbing him yet allows her to negotiate what she can keep ; his ex-English teacher (Nathalie Richard) who moved to the countryside to marry but now widowed and runs a bookstore.  There is also a young handsome man (Mathieu Cheve) desperate to leave his small country town and after he has sex with Pierre Thomas pleads with him to be taken back to Paris; and the so-called “straight” traveling salesman so eager to test drive Pierre Thomas’s Alfa Romeo that he almost agrees to make out with him too.

What connects them all is a sense of unshakeable loneliness and this is a motive for his eagerness to keep on with his pointless meandering even though it in turn, only makes him even more isolated.  The one time that he actually wants some sort of advice/support is when he phones his actress godmother (Liliane Montevecchi).

All the time Paul is gets closer to him, Pierre is having some odd encounters of his own, and as time passes it is far from obvious if or when the two lovers meet up with each other again, if they will be able to resolve whatever the problem is that started this flight in the first place. 

What is so interesting is that this film consists of unsatisfactory brief relationships and lacks a destination in every sense of the word, it is still charming to watch.

“PSYCHOMANIA”— Zombie Bikers Run Amok

“PSYCHOMANIA”

Zombie Bikers Run Amok

Amos Lassen

“Psychomania” is the tale of zombie bikers run amok is southern England. The Living Dead is the name of a delinquent biker gang that loves to cause havoc on British roadways and making out in graveyards. Gang leader Tom (Nicky Henson) also has a Satanist for a mother, and when he discovers the secret of immortality, the name of his motley crew takes on a more literal meaning. Don Sharp directed this very offbeat movie and it stars Beryl Reid and George Sanders.

Tom Latham discovers some dark secrets, as well as how to die, and then how to return as one of the undead. When, he tries this, he sees that it works! Soon the other members of the biker gang are doing the same thing, and they seem to be invincible. “Psychomania” is a fun and strange little movie acting that is better than one might expect from a movie like this. Henson stands out and he is clearly having the time of his life. The dark humor is infectious and there’s the great score by John Cameron that suits the tone of the film perfectly. However, what is missing is any sense of logic. We never understand why Tom’s mother (Beryl Reid) doesn’t show that much concern for Tom and his gang’s antics until the film is almost over. We also wonder why the police allow these guys to terrorize England.

“Psychomania” is filled with campy fun that serves as good nighttime entertainment and besides, knowing that this is about zombie bikers, we know not to expect a literary epic. The screenplay written  by Julian Halevy and Arnaud d’Usseau aims for escapist low-level entertainment and does not make any social conscience points.

Arrogant rich boy Tom is bored and thinks he can get some kicks by committing suicide and returning to life. Tom’s devil worshiping, estate living, mod, widowed mother (his dad committed suicide 18 years ago, but never returned because he was evidently not a true believer) and her sinister cult leader butler Shadwell (George Sanders) help Tom make a pact with the devil through their frog-worshiping cult. Tom willingly goes over a bridge on his motorcycle in the belief that he’ll return from the dead as an immortal biker, that is, if he truly believes he’ll return from the dead. After burial Tom returns as an invulnerable serial killer monster.

As a result of Tom’s reincarnation, the rest of the gang also drinks the Kool-Aid and commit suicide and return from the dead as the now zombie Living Dead gang. Only Tom’s girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin) refuses to follow suit and the gang lives it up riding through town and bugging pedestrians and turning over grocery store shelves and going on a killing spree. The many murders draws  the attention of Chief Inspector Hesseltine (Robert Hardy) to investigate. In the end, Tom’s occultist mom gets pissed at Tom for bringing along his crude biker gang into her high-brow cultish thing and dispenses with all of them by breaking the spell that allowed them to be zombies.

Bonus Materials

* 2K restoration from preservation negatives

* High Definition (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

* Original 1.0 mono audio (uncompressed on the Blu-ray)

* Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

*  Brand-new interview with star Nicky Henson

Return of the Living Dead, an archive featurette containing interviews actors Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor

Sound of Psychomania, an archive interview with composer John Cameron

Riding Free, an archive interview with ‘Riding Free’ singer Harvey Andrews

Hell for Leather, a brand-new featurette on the company who supplied the film’s costumes

Remastering Psychomania, a look at the film’s restoration from the original 35mm black and white separation masters

* Theatrical trailer

* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil

 

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet containing writing by Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts

“PSYCHOMANIA”— Zombie Bikers Run Amok

“PSYCHOMANIA”

Zombie Bikers Run Amok

Amos Lassen

“Psychomania” is the tale of zombie bikers run amok is southern England. The Living Dead is the name of a delinquent biker gang that loves to cause havoc on British roadways and making out in graveyards. Gang leader Tom (Nicky Henson) also has a Satanist for a mother, and when he discovers the secret of immortality, the name of his motley crew takes on a more literal meaning. Don Sharp directed this very offbeat movie and it stars Beryl Reid and George Sanders.

 

Tom Latham discovers some dark secrets, as well as how to die, and then how to return as one of the undead. When, he tries this, he sees that it works! Soon the other members of the biker gang are doing the same thing, and they seem to be invincible. “Psychomania” is a fun and strange little movie acting that is better than one might expect from a movie like this. Henson stands out and he is clearly having the time of his life. The dark humor is infectious and there’s the great score by John Cameron that suits the tone of the film perfectly. However, what is missing is any sense of logic. We never understand why Tom’s mother (Beryl Reid) doesn’t show that much concern for Tom and his gang’s antics until the film is almost over. We also wonder why the police allow these guys to terrorize England.

“Psychomania” is filled with campy fun that serves as good nighttime entertainment and besides, knowing that this is about zombie bikers, we know not to expect a literary epic.

The screenplay written as sleaze by Julian Halevy and Arnaud d’Usseau, who aim for escapist low-level entertainment and do not make any social conscience points.

Arrogant rich boy Tom is bored and thinks he can get some kicks by committing suicide and returning to life. Tom’s devil worshiping, estate living, mod, widowed mother (his dad committed suicide 18 years ago, but never returned because he was evidently not a true believer) and her sinister cult leader butler Shadwell (George Sanders) help Tom make a pact with the devil through their frog-worshiping cult. Tom willingly goes over a bridge on his motorcycle in the belief that he’ll return from the dead as an immortal biker, that is, if he truly believes he’ll return from the dead. After burial Tom

returns as an invulnerable serial killer monster. As a result of Tom’s reincarnation, the rest of the gang also drinks the Kool-Aid and commit suicide and return from the dead as the now zombie Living Dead gang. Only Tom’s girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin) refuses to follow suit and the gang lives it up riding through town and bugging pedestrians and turning over grocery store shelves and going on a killing spree. The many murders draws  the attention of Chief Inspector Hesseltine (Robert Hardy) to investigate. In the end, Tom’s occultist mom gets pissed at Tom for bringing along his crude biker gang into her high-brow cultish thing and dispenses with all of them by breaking the spell that allowed them to be zombies.

Bonus Materials

* 2K restoration from preservation negatives

* High Definition (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

* Original 1.0 mono audio (uncompressed on the Blu-ray)

* Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

*  Brand-new interview with star Nicky Henson

Return of the Living Dead, an archive featurette containing interviews actors Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor

Sound of Psychomania, an archive interview with composer John Cameron

Riding Free, an archive interview with ‘Riding Free’ singer Harvey Andrews

Hell for Leather, a brand-new featurette on the company who supplied the film’s costumes

Remastering Psychomania, a look at the film’s restoration from the original 35mm black and white separation masters

* Theatrical trailer

* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil

 

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet containing writing by Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts