Category Archives: Film

“THE LOVED ONE”— Dying in California

“The Loved One”

Dying in California

Amos Lassen

When “The Loved One” hit movie screens in 1965, people were outdone. Based on Evelyn Waugh’s book of the same name and adapted for the screen by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood, this is a movie that could never be made today. It was considered tasteless and offensive in its satire on the funeral business in California and I loved it. I recently watched the Blu ray release of this satire and I was even more certain as to why I loved a movie that the world hated.

It is not just about death, however. Director Tony Richardson takes on sex, greed, religion and mother love, as well. Robert Morse plays Dennis Barlow. a would-be poet who gets entangled with an unctuous cemetery entrepreneur (Jonathan Winters), a mom-obsessed mortician, Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger) and other bizarre characters played by such adept actors as John Gielgud, Robert Morley, Tab Hunter, Milton Berle, James Coburn and Liberace. The film was advertised as “the movie with something to offend everyone” and we easily see why. The story centers around the pomp and ceremony that comes with the daily operation of a posh mortuary and a climaxing idea by an owner of a Southern California cemetery of orbiting cadavers into space since we are running out of burial spaces on earth.

Dennis falls in love with the lady cosmetician (later promoted to embalmer) while making arrangements for his uncle’s burial. However, she (Anjanette Comer) is dedicated to her work and Whispering Glades Memorial Park. Jonathan Winters, in a dual role, is excellent both as the owner of Whispering Glades and his twin brother, who operates the nearby pet graveyard and is patron of a 13-year-old scientific whiz who invents a rocket capable of projecting bodies into orbit. While the film was promoted as being outrageous and offensive, I want to head in that direction. It is indeed offensive not just because of its theme or its insensitivity.

The way that some funeral rituals are practiced in some of the fancy cemeteries near Hollywood are naturally shocking and disturbing and they are vividly and vulgarly revealed shown here as commercial shams. The violent and undisciplined excessiveness of these funerals is seen in its morbid ribaldry. There is too much kidding around with corpses, too much joking in the embalming room, too many scenes of dead bodies and food. For believers, the travesties of the doctrine of the resurrection of soul is sure to offend. By using an obvious American, Robert Morse, in the role of the poet, who is a total dunce so as to offend the British, however, does not really work. John Gielgud is Sir Francis Hinsley, the loved one, the poet’s uncle who commits suicide and for whom burial is arranged. Rod Steiger is repulsive as the hideously epicene Mr. Joyboy, chief of the embalming room.

The novel on which the film is based is a short satire that was written after Waugh’s trip to Hollywood, where he attended a funeral at Forest Lawn and was struck by parallels between the pretensions of the movie industry and the lavish overproduction of the Los Angeles funeral business. The book is laced with the kind of acidly condescending sarcasm that is a British specialty, but Richardson chose to have made an American screenwriter, Terry Southern, the notorious author whose temperament and style were the antithesis of Waugh’s write the screenplay with British Christopher Isherwood, author of the stories that would inspire and who had been one of Evelyn’s Waugh’s chief literary rivals. What we get is a that is not sure what it is satirizing and being offensive. overstuffed satire that can’t make up its mind about what it’s satirizing because it’s so busy extending a middle finger to everyone watching. The film has quite a cult following despite its many problems.

The first half hourhour mocks America’s film industry, with Roddy McDowall as an unctuous studio executive at Megalopolitan Pictures and Jonathan Winters as a producer. It also parodies English class-consciousness, which is dutifully preserved by the L.A. ex-patriot conclave under the leadership of Sir Ambrose Ambercrombie (Robert Morley), who has been knighted for his services as an actor specializing in butlers and prime ministers. From that point on, the script deals with Dennis getting a job at a fancy pet cemetery called Happier Hunting Grounds. In the process, he becomes familiar with the A-list cemetery for humans, Whispering Glades, which is owned and operated by Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy (Jonathan Winters) in an ostentatious and quasi-religious style that exerts cult-like control over its employees.

Dennis falls in love with Aimee Thanatogenous (Anjanette Comer) but she is already in love with her boss, the facility’s chief embalmer, Mr. Joyboy. Unfortunately for her, Mr. Joyboy only has eyes for his corpse clientele and his aging mother (Ayllene Gibbons). In desperation, Barlow gives Aimee poems that he claims to have written himself but in fact has plagiarized from such well-known sources as Keats and Shakespeare. This mixes her up and so she seeks advice from a newspaper columnist, Guru Brahmin, whom she doesn’t know is really a gruff, cynical and perpetually soused reporter (Lionel Stander), who, when cornered in a bar, might just tell a desperate soul that killing oneself is a good option.

At Whispering Glades, Rev. Glenworthy is running out of burial space, and he conceives a plan to extract more profit from the land by converting it into retirement homes, emptying the graves by blasting their occupants into space. The rocketry will be provided by a child prodigy, 12-year-old Gunther Fry (Paul Williams). The first person to receive a space burial is, appropriately, an astronaut nicknamed “The Condor”, and his precedent-setting service is complicated by a web of deceit and blackmail.

There is not a boring moment in the film. There are subplots and twists and turns, some really good acting and really lousy acting. Instead of paying attention to what is going on, it is fun just to ignore the plot and let the offenses entertain and watch the actors trying so hard. The scenes with Mr. Joyboy and his gluttonous mother remind us of John Water. There are many \ cameos by famous actors (who are even listed as “cameo guest stars” in the opening credits). James Coburn is the immigration officer who stamps Barlow’s passport, Milton Berle is a wealthy Angeleno who wants his dog buried at Happier Hunting Grounds, Dana Andrews is a corrupt Army general. We see Liberace cleanly dressed and minus sequins as Whispering Glades’ “counselor”, gently advising the bereaved on coffins and funeral attire with the enthusiasm of a wedding planner. As each guest star appears, the film momentarily pauses as if boasting about the marquee names it managed to attract. But then the moment is over and… the film ends and Dennis Barlow returns to England a sadder man from his American adventures.

The special features include:

  • Trying to Offend Everyone: This 2003 featurette offers recollections of the film’s production by a scattered group of surviving participants, but it only hints at the film’s troubled history. Interviewees include Robert Morse, Anjanette Comer, Paul Williams, Haskell Wexler and Tony Gibbs, who is described as “supervising editor”, although the film’s editing credit is divided between Hal Ashby (future director of Being There) and Brian Smedley-Aston (a member of the editorial team on Performance).
  • Trailer

“STORMY MONDAY”— A Gangster Movie

“STORMY MONDAY”

A Gangster Movie

Amos Lassen

In 1988, Mike Figgis made his feature directorial debut with “Stormy Monday”, a noir-influenced gangster movie. From the beginning we are disoriented. The action takes place in a small British town, but one that for some unknown reason is holding a festival celebrating “America Week” where a character from the U.S. is running for office and we see that this makes no sense. However, instead of clarifying the setting and plot, the story moves forward introducing new elements and characters one after another with no indication of how these pieces fit together to make a coherent story.

The plot is presented through casual, almost throwaway snippets woven into the film and there are mumbled lines by the characters. I wonder, as do other viewers. why we should bother to fit the pieces together, when there’s no indication of anything worthwhile in the picture. It comes down to a conflict between the character of Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones) and a local nightclub owner (Sting), a conflict whose development over the course of the film is confusing and pointless.

It could well be that the screenplay left the “intrigue” plot sketchy in order to focus on the emotional battles being played out in the film. Although her role in the plot is never adequately explained, Melanie Griffith appears to be the centerpiece of the film, with her relationship to Brendan (Sean Bean) putting her in a situation where she must make a decision where her loyalty lies: with Cosmo for whom she works, or with Brendan, her new lover.

Then a light goes off and I realize that “Stormy Monday” is about the attitudes that men strike when they feel in control of a situation and the way they feel down when someone else takes power. “Stormy Monday” is also about symbols. It takes place mostly near the seedy waterfront of Newcastle, where a crooked Texas millionaire is trying to run a nightclub owner out of business so he can redevelop the area with laundered money. The movie uses a lot of symbols of America: the flag, stretched large and bold behind a podium.

American businessman Frank Cosmo fills the city with stars and stripes, parades, pictures of Reagan, a giant Pepsi bottle, and a whole lot of hand shaking deals. We know he is up to something but have no idea what it is. We meet Frank’s girlfriend-cum-accomplice Kate who’s lined up to do a “job” for Frank but before we know what it is, she backs out of it and starts an affair with Brendan (Sean Bean), a janitor at the Key Club.

STORMY MONDAY, Tommy Lee Jones, 1988. ©New Yorker Films

The Key Club is a jazz spot run by Finney who rejects a business overture from Frank. Brendan, now charged with ushering around a wacky Polish combo called the Krakow Jazz Ensemble helps Finney against Cosmo’s henchmen. Even without understanding what is going on, we see that this is a film with heart although we are never sure why.

Special Features include:

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

– Original stereo audio (uncompressed on the Blu-ray Disc)

– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

– Audio commentary with Mike Figgis, moderated by critic Damon Wise

– New video appreciation by critic Neil Young, and a “then and now” tour of the film’s Newcastle locations

– Theatrical trailer

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacey

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring new writing by critic Mark Cunliffe

“RE-ANIMATOR”— Movie Mayhem

“RE-ANIMATOR”

Movie Mayhem

Amos Lassen

“Re-Animator” is one of the most wildly popular horror movies of all-time and now Stuart Gordon’s classic is back in a new special Blu-ray restoration and packed with special features. Medical student Dean Cain advertises for a roommate and finds one in the form of Dr. Herbert West. Initially a little eccentric, it soon becomes clear that West has some very strange theories one of which is about the possibility of re-animating the dead. It’s not long before Dean finds himself under West’s influence, and deeply involved in a series of ghoulish experiments which threaten to go wildly out of control.

The film is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s classic horror story “Herbert West – Re-animator” and stars Jeffrey Combs who gives a fantastic performance as the deranged West. The film war released in 1985, at the height of the ’80s’ spate of horror comedies and it’s irreverence stripped away the seriousness that had been part the horror genre and replaced it with a willful sense of the comic.

The humor here relies on verbal asides and the sheer absurdity of its situations. It is a very gory movie, so much so that producer Brian Yuzna didn’t even bother to submit it to the MPAA ratings board and instead released it unrated. The gore we see is both repellent and utterly intriguing.

West is a nerd gone terribly who has since become a cult figure around the world. We see him holed up in his basement laboratory, injecting glowing green re-agent fluid into a dead cat and realize that he represents science gone bad.

He is determined to defeat death by finding a way to get past the “6- to 12-minute barrier” after which someone cannot be successfully revived. However, he is so resolute and calculating in his desire that any sense of moral purpose does not exist. He immediately gets on the wrong side of the fictional Miskatonic Medical School’s resident genius, Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), whose ideas West openly disputes in class. West is so sure of himself that he can’t help but verbally (and, later, physically) assault those who might stand in his way, intellectually or otherwise.

Dan becomes involved in West’s experiments, despite the pleadings of his girlfriend, Megan (Barbara Crampton), who also happens to be the daughter of the straight-laced dean of the medical school, Alan Halsey (Robert Sampson). Dan is the movie’s conscience and is the only “normal” character in the movie. Director Gordon refuses to let anything be off-limits. He constantly increases the pitch of his movie using ludicrous situation after ludicrous situation. Things really get going when West decapitates Dr. Hill with a shovel after Hill tries to steal his re-agent formula, then reanimates his head and headless body. This leads to some ghoulishly comedic moments as the decapitated Dr. Hill combines West’s re-agent research with his own development of a laser drill used for lobotomies to create an army of reanimated corpses under his control. I will not even mention the sickest scene in the film that is audacious and tasteless but so much fun.

“Re-Animator” is not for everyone. Those who are easily offended, have weak stomachs, or is not willing to find humor in gruesome scenarios should not see this.

Special Features include:

– 4K restorations of the Unrated and Integral versions of the film

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

– Original Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 Audio

– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

– Digipak packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Erickson

– Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer Michael Gingold

Re-Animator – the original 1991 comic book adaptation, reprinted in its entirety

– Unrated version [86 mins]

– Audio commentary with director Stuart Gordon

– Audio commentary with producer Brian Yuzna, actors Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, and Robert Sampson

Re-Animator Resurrectus – documentary on the making of the film, featuring extensive interviews with cast and crew

– Interview with director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna

– Interview with writer Dennis Paoli

– Interview with composer Richard Band

– Music Discussion with composer Richard Band

– Interview with former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone

– Barbara Crampton In Conversation with journalist Alan Jones for this career-spanning discussion

– Deleted and Extended Scenes

– Trailer & TV Spots

” A WOMAN, A PART”— Having It All and Dissatisfied

“A Woman, A Part”

Having It All and Dissatisfied

Amos Lassen

Maggie Siff is actress Anna Baskin. She has a role in a hit show, but feels that the writers aren’t doing right by her character. She is also dealing with the end of a bad relationship with an addict, and a some addiction issues (to prescription drugs) of her own. In many ways, she is the stereotypical famous person who has everything and yet finds herself dissatisfied.

Writer/director Elisabeth Subrin brings us a film that unfolds without much narrative structure, and feels distant and meandering at times. Anna, a mid-40s actress is tired of her empty role in a sitcom and comes home from Los Angeles to New York for a reunion with several former acting friends. Upon her return to New York, she flushes a bottle of pills down the toilet and takes an air mattress from the closet but does not inflate it giving us a hint about how deflated she is herself.

When she first appears in New York this time, it’s at a birthday party of a friend, Kate (Cara Seymour), whose reaction to seeing her is a mix of excitement and anxiety. We learn that Kate harbors some resentment for Anna believing that she used their stage show ten years ago. Anna’s sense of situational irony says a good deal about her. She uses her financial success as a source of condescension toward others who would ask about her work in good faith. During a night of drunken karaoke between Anna and Isaac (John Ortiz), another buddy, we see that even though they are each smiling on the outside, they are hurting on the inside as they realize they’ll never be able to recapture their youth.

The film explores middle age as a time of attachment, loss, anger, envy, and guilt. Anna has mysterious autoimmune disease which has drained all her energy and caused her to sink into depression. She has been taking drugs for the disease and is hooked on them. She has reached a point where she wants to quit acting. Her manager Leslie (Khandi Alexander) suggests that she take some time off to consider the possible consequences of a lawsuit and the end of her career if she were to break her five-year contract and so she goes to New York City where she was once a member of a 1990s experimental theatre troupe, trying to work out some closure on her conflicted past. As Anna, Maggie Siff skillfully captures and conveys the emotional vibrations of a woman in a tricky transitional period in her life and career. Oscar is an ex lover who is married with a kid, but his relationship is shaky. He’s excited to have Anna around again, but you wonder if it’s real friendship he’s after, or the attention she can bring to his career that is not moving forward.

The revolves around the more general themes of addiction, gentrification, sexism, burnout, and plot friendship. Director Subrin looks at women in the entertainment industry, and the demands and expectations that constrain them. The title of the film suggests that Anna is not just the part she plays, yet she seems to have trouble getting away from it. The works as a critique of the film industry and Anna represents every female actress of a certain age searching for meaningful work. Anna’s opposite, Nadia (Dagmara Dominczyk), has given up her own work to be the rock of her family; her husband, Oscar, depends on her to be the stable one at home. But Nadia doesn’t want to be the rock anymore. We see a kind of respect for the characters and their flaws in this small film that explores gender as one woman tests her own self-perception.

“PULSE”— A Strange Computer Virus

“PULSE”

A Strange Computer Virus

Amos Lassen

 

A strange computer virus is spreading through Japan and it shows grainy images of people senselessly mulling around their computers and asking “Would you like to meet a ghost?” Soon doors were sealed with red tape and the population starts to drop sharply. A group of young people get wise to this strange phenomenon and attempt to track down its origin. Soon smoke begins to loom on the horizon and city streets are empty.



“Pulse” uses the trappings of horror movies to give a meditation on urban loneliness. It’s an apocalyptic ghost story with some strange images and a surprising turn toward the end. This virus seems tooffer a portal to the afterlife (“Would you like to meet a ghost?”), with deadly consequences for the residents of Tokyo. One of director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s achievements is to present a distinctive and disquieting picture of Tokyo.

“Pulse” follows two intersecting storylines. One involves a young woman (Kumiko Aso) who works at a plant nursery in a high-rise building, whose investigation of a colleague’s suicide leads her to some very dark places. The second story follows a computer-illiterate student (Haruhiko Kato) who teams with a female geek who’s researching paranormal phenomena on the Internet.

These characters encounter mysterious and frightening images on their computer screens (and, sometimes on their TVs). The pictures are linked to various disappearances, as victims hide themselves in rooms sealed with red tape, then melt into walls and leave behind only a smudgy residue. The sequences are effective in their restraint; there is no shock scenes or gore.

Director Kurosawa is less interested in tying up loose ends than in creating a sense of melancholy and depicting psychological states like dislocation. In “Pulse,” characters ponder the terrifying possibility that the afterlife is one of eternal isolation, which reflects their own sense of estrangement. This is an intriguing notion, but Kurosawa works in roundabout ways, which some viewers will find far too slow and repetitive.

“Pulse” opens with the strange suicide of a young man, leaving his 3 friends to ask the usual question of why he did it. No sooner does they begin investigating the death then they begin experiencing strange events of their own. Meanwhile, across town, college student Kawashima decides he should try the “Internet” after hearing so much about it. However, his first experience is a bad one, as the first web page that pops up on his computer screen is one that inquires, “Do you want to see a real ghost?” Spooked, Kawashima shuts off the computer, but the computer has a mind of its own, and begins turning on by itself, connecting to the Internet, and returning to the same spooky website over and over again. We ask the questions as to why are people suddenly disappearing all over the country and who is going around sealing doors with red tape?

Kurosawa creates a intriguing and frightening “straight” horror film with an underlying theme of the loneliness prevalent in modern Japanese culture. This is the world we know, but it is suddenly completely different. There is a hopeless look and feel to the film from the very beginning and it continues until the bitter end. Everything we see seems to be in the shadows even if it is day or night.

Despite the presence of technology, the people are always alone, even when they’re among friends. The movie posits the question: Are we really still “connected” to our fellow human beings anymore? The film answers that we are not. With the growth of technology, we’re actually more isolated.

 

Every shot and sequence is covered from head to toe in doom and gloom, and phantoms easily and effortlessly appear out of every corner and every patch of shadow. The mise-en-scene in “Pulse” is brilliant and breathtaking without fantastical or magical backgrounds. Because this is the world we know, but not the world we know, and this is very unsettling.

There are phantoms who are in effect definitions of the word. They seem to quiver and slink and quite literally move in disjointed, “inhuman-like” ways. The coming and going of the phantoms are effective, and each time they appear, it is frightening. There is one particularly good scene where a character is inside a loud arcade, only to suddenly realize that he’s utterly alone. How it happened is a mystery to him as well as to us.

The film has global impact in that we see that the problems of our characters are the problems of the world. Many horror movies are so limited in scope that it’s sometimes difficult to sit through 90 minutes of our heroes trying to convince the world that “something evil” is out there. The world of “Pulse” is presently being invaded by beings from another dimension, and as a result there is a worldwide ripple affect as everyone begins to experience similar events. Slowly but surely, the world starts to thin out, but not in the loud and splashy way you expect. Like most of “Pulse” even the end of the world is quiet and unassuming. There are none of the usual horror film theatrics, no slashers, no blood and no fangs yet this is one of the scariest films I have ever seen.

Kawashima’s story runs parallel to that of the three friends, and they seem unrelated at first, but eventually merge in the end. The film is moody and spiritually terrifying. It delivers existential dread along with its frights. Setting his story in the burgeoning Internet and social media scene in Japan, Kurosawa’s dark and apocalyptic film foretells how technology will only serve to isolate us as it grows more important to our lives. 

“WELCOME TO REFUGEESTAN”— A Blight on the World

“WELCOME TO REFUGEESTAN”

A Blight on the World

Amos Lassen

Anne Poiret’s documentary, “Welcome to Refugeestan” explores the current refugee system and gives a rare glimpse at life inside the world’s major refugee camps. The film’s release comes as a recent United Nations report there are 65.6 million people currently displaced from their homes globally, with 22.5 are considered refugees..



These refugees lives in camps, in a virtual country the size of the Netherlands. The names of these places do not appear on any maps. The ways these camps are run are both efficient and absurd. This film explores the land of camps, from Kenya, to Tanzania, Jordan, and the Greece/Macedonia border, as well as at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. We see an immense system that combines humanitarian concerns with the management of undesirables who rich countries want to keep out, whatever the cost.

We see a Burundian man stepping off a bus in Tanzania and waits to be processed at a refugee camp. Two of his brothers are dead, and his parents have disappeared. With no idea what lies ahead, other than a conviction that it must be better than what he has left behind, he lines up and waits to be processed. He is about to become one of the many people all the world that are refugees.



We are given a view into life in the world’s primary refugee camps. The Dadaab camp in Kenya is the world’s largest, with a population of 350,000. The brand-new Azraq camp in Jordan, built to house Syrian refugees, was supposed to be a model of enlightened design, but this did not happen. Director Poiret also takes us to the UNHCR offices in Switzerland, where many of the policies originate.



The world’s refugees are also becoming an important captive consumer market as we see here. The camps have become places for companies to test out new technologies and retail outlets cater to a captive population forcibly prevented from shopping elsewhere.

“Welcome to Refugeestan” explores of both the refugee experience and the failures of a system that can keep people trapped and stateless for years.

The lives of refugees are not easy. They exist in camps often surrounded by barbed wire; are forbidden from working and subject to frequent dehumanizing security checks; and ruled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a distant, colonial-style bureaucracy.

Director Anne Poiret also takes us to Norway, where humanitarian workers are trained in the arts of negotiating with corrupt officials, and to the “UNHCR offices in Switzerland, where innovation is the buzzword of the day”.

“MYSTIC”— A Small Town Murder

“Mystic”

A Small Town Murder

Amos Lassen

“Mystic” is the pilot for a new series about a murder and its investigation in Mystic, Connecticut, a small seaside village where there are no secrets as the residents would like to think.

Bridget Ashling (Tara Dion Machado) has been burned to death in a boat out on the sea. The police, do not have idea how to investigate this since nothing like this has ever happened in Mystic. Once they do begin an investigation, they learn that almost everyone in the town has a secret. If there is anyone who might know who committed the murder, it is Bridget’s daughter Aidan (Rachael Perry) but she is dealing with shock and her aunt who is to be her new guardian Flanna (Darya Kravitz) has come to take her away leaving the police will nothing.

Because of the whodunit nature of the film, it is very difficult to review but then again, this is a pilot meaning that its purpose is to get us interested enough so that we will watch the entire series. I can tell you, however, that the story ventures into the supernatural and that things get more confusing as time passes and answers come to light. In the pilot we are introduced to subplots and some of the residents of Mystic including the local tycoon (David Letendre), a fisherman (Anthony Goes), clergyman (Mitchell Cardone) and a congressman (Victor Franko). The pilot definitely left me wanting to know more so it does its job well. I am sure that there are those who will be reminded of “Twin Peaks” but I have never watched that series so I have no basis for comparison.

The town of Mystic is also a character in the series and if you have ever been to New England, you know towns like this. It is beautifully photographed with little hints that there is more here than meets the eye.

 

“THE FENCER”— A Fencer’s Story

“THE FENCER”

A Fencer’s Story

Amos Lassen

Klaus Härö’s “The Fencer” was the 2016 Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as Finland’s official selection and shortlist finalist at the 2016 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. It is the story of a young man, Endel Nelis (Märt Avandi) who escapes the secret police in Leningrad and arrives in Haapsalu, Estonia in the early 1950s. He gets a job as a teacher and organizes a sports club for his students. Endel learns to love the children of whom most are orphans as a result of the Russian occupation. He begins teaching them to fence and this is his personal passion. For the children, fencing becomes a form of self-expression and Endel is quickly becomes their role model and a father figure. However, his popularity with his students causes a conflict with the school’s principal (Hendrik Toompere), who is envious and suspicious. As the principal investigates Endel’s background, he discovers a secret from his past. When the children get a chance to take part in a national fencing tournament in Leningrad, Endel faces a difficult decision— should he risk everything and take the children to Leningrad or see to his own safety and disappoint the children that he loves so much.

 

 

“The Fencer” was inspired by the true story of Endel Nelis who was Estonia’s legendary fencing hero. This is a fictionalized version of his life. Haapsalu, Estonia, is a backwater town that has been under harsh Russian Communist rule since the end of World War II. When Endel takes a job as sports teacher at the local high school he does not much care for his students but when he starts a fencing club, things begin to change. for his young students, he starts a fencing club which proves wildly popular. His stern exterior begins to break when he is charmed by moppet Marta (Liisa Koppel) and by teenage rebel Jaan (Joonas Koff). As might be expected he begins to warm to the children and to himself and begins something of a romance with his co-worker Kadri (Ursula Ratasepp).

The principal, however, believes that playing with swords is reminiscent of pre-revolutionary feudalism and goads Endel to teach proletarian sports. When the local citizenry overrides him, the headmaster begins looking for something in Endel’s past. Because Estonians live in a paranoid Stalinist climate with the secret police watching everybody, a simple rumor or denunciation can lead to arrest, exile and even execution.

We learn that Endel has good reason to lie low in Estonia but when his students begin to pug pressure on him to enter them in a prestigious all-Soviet fencing tournament in Leningrad, he is torn about risking his life for sporting glory. The film then becomes a race against time as Endel and his team fight a battle against better trained, better funded Russian rivals. How this will end has been clear all along (and even so I am not going to tell you what happens).

 

The film is shot in lovely muted tones and the entire production is a visual feast. Märt Avandi as Endel gives a beautiful performance as Endel and he is the heart and soul of the film. We watch him change from chilly to warm as he finds he has a talent for teaching after all, and an empathy with the kids that he had not expected. The film looks at Endel’s relationship with one troubled boy Jaan, whose grandfather (Lembit Ulfsak) leads the parental support for the fencing classes against the school’s principal who is jealous of the new teacher and who eventually becomes dangerous.

The story comes to life under a cloud of suspicion and paranoia that is fostered by the postwar Soviet occupation. This is a story of cross-generational bonding in the face of historical oppression and it is touching even though there are no real surprises.

There is suspense that we see on two fronts— one smartly juxtaposes Endel’s fugitive status with the climactic competition, the other is the outcome which is handled in plausibly. The team’s performance is understood to be an individual as well as collective achievement. It would have never happened had it not been for Endel’s ingenuity and determination. That determination is hard to forget.

The film opens in New York July 21 and in Los Angeles on August 11, 2017.

“FALSE CONFESSIONS”— Luc Bondy’s Final Film

“False Confessions” (“Les fausses confidences”)

Luc Bondy’s Final Film

Amos Lassen

Araminte (Isabelle Huppert) is a wealthy widow who hires the Dorante (Garrel) as her accountant. Secrets and lies accumulate as Dorante and his accomplice, Araminte’s manservant Dubois (Yves Jacques), manipulate not only Araminte, but also her friend and confidante, Marton (Manon Combes).

On one hand, we have characters who conspire for the possible union between two individuals separated by a social abyss, such as Dubois (Yves Jacques), the uncle of Dorante while on the other, there are other characters that do not form a favorable first impression such as Madame Argante (Bulle Ogier), mother of Araminte.

This is a comedy of customs performed with grace. The plot begins and is concentrated mainly inside Araminte’s mansion. Araminte has inherited a lot of money but her mother, Madame Argante does not think it is above. She wants her daughter to marry Count Dorimont (Jean-Pierre Malo), so that she will gain money and a name in society. However, young Dorante falls in love with Araminte and is helped by servant Dubois helps him to conquer the beloved. Now false confidences begin.

Dubois is responsible for enticing the mistress to be attracted to Dorante and Araminte is enchanted by the discretion and sweetness of Dorante, beyond the backstage revealed by Dubois. Then another Araminte employee is charmed by Dorante and each of the characters ends up having a personal reason to confide in one thing or another as the plot develops and a game of “cat” and “mouse” ensues. There is a lot of fun to be gained while watching the film. Director Luc Bondy died in 2015 after the movie was filmed. Yves Jacques is fun to watch and Huppert is her usual great self. The film open in New York on July 7 and in Los Angeles on July 21.

“MONSTER HUNT”— A Mythical World

“Monster Hunt” 

A Mythical World

Amos Lassen

 “Monster Hunt” is a fantasy epic that centers on a war between monsters and humans. At the center of the story is Wuba, a baby monster born to a human man.In this mythical ancient world, monsters rule their land while humans keep to their own kingdom. However, when adorable baby monster Wuba is born to a human father and the monster queen, mortals and creatures alike set out to capture the newborn, and Wuba’s epic adventure begins. Raman Hui’s film became the highest-grossing film in China’s history and here it is in a family-friendly version is intended for kids of all ages and has been dubbed in English.

Raman Hui hit all the right spots for a fantasy family action comedy adventure with an edge and this is a cute, funny, heartfelt film that “packs a punch that you rarely find in sanitized animated fights”.The film is a little complicated with its setup and narration on kingdoms and ministers that want to topple other kingdoms from within but once past that, the film is pure pleasure and fun and the visuals are impressive and the colors are beautiful and striking to the eye.

Monsters may rule the world, but a delicate balance of peace is maintained by the mortal humans living within their own kingdom. But as with any societal structure, there are good monsters and bad monsters, good mortals and bad and here we have bad monsters hunting the current monster queen who is carrying the future king, a monster king destined to make an everlasting peace between the species.

Knowing her days are numbered before she is caught, the Queen transfers her monster baby egg to a human man she encounters in the forest during an attack by evil monsters. Mayor of a small local village, Tianyin is a bit of a klutzy, goofy, hapless doofus, so when he is suddenly “pregnant”, the hilarity seen with his usual foibles, escalates exponentially. Alongside Tianyin is Xiaolan, a monster hunter. She too is seeking the as yet unborn baby.

As to be expected, non-stop laughter and action follows, especially once Tianyin goes into labor and gives birth to the cutest little monster imaginable – Wuba. While Xiaolan wants to protect Wuba on her way to collect a reward for his capture, Tianyin only grows closer to him, wanting to protect him because he is a life that should be saved.

As the trio make their way through Ancient China and the monster world and mortal worlds cross paths, we are treated to oh-so-adorable “family” moments as well as some adrenaline-fueled martial arts disciplines, all of which are so eye-popping and engaging to entertain even the youngest moviegoer. Along the way, Xiaolan does battle against fellow monster bounty hunter Luo Gan, and we learn the history of the now defunct Monster Hunt Bureau, as well as meeting Ge Qianhu who, under guise of being the owner of the most palatial restaurant/spa in the province, may have secrets designed to destroy the peace and drive up his profits. I could continue on about the plot but then you would not have to see the film. It is enough to say that the monsters themselves, especially Wuba, are just adorable.

The script is imaginative and provides strong foundation for story, although some of the antics that we watch unfold go way off. The moral aspects of the story are strong, celebrating family, respect, community and tolerance. Characters are all fun and entertaining, but let’s face it, the star of the show is Wuba.

Even though many of the cast are unknown to America audiences, for anyone that sees “Monster Hunt”, you will find yourself taking notice of each and look for them in other films.