Category Archives: Film

“DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT”— An Addit

“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot”

An Addict

Amos Lassen

Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” is a dramatization of the life of quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix). The film focuses on the work of recovery, and Callahan’s unending journey to be real with himself. It takes a while but Callahan understands that only when he is real to himself can he begin to live for other people.

Van Sant tries to tell Callahan’s story in having it as many ways as possible and begins at the end by introducing Callahan as he addresses a packed lecture hall and speaking from a position of fame and comfort. We learn that a wild night out with a newfound pal, Dexter (Jack Black), ended with Callahan’s Volkswagen Beetle slamming into a telephone pole at full speed and crippling him below the chest for life. When he realizes that he is unable to pour himself a drink after his helper has left him alone at home, he decides to get in touch with an Alcoholics Anonymous group leader, Donnie (Jonah Hill), who becomes his personal guru. 

As Callahan comes into his own as a cartoonist, Van Sant intersperses lightly animated versions of the real-life artist’s politically incorrect, single-panel comics into the film. You don’t have to know anything about John Callahan before going to see this movie since it is all here. It might even be an advantage not to be a Callahan fan going and that way you will be fully immersed in Joaquin Phoenix’s excellent interpretation.

Van Sant uses this animated work to give a sense of the take-no-prisoners satire for which Callahan was famous. There is a joie de vivre with the way Callahan uses his wheelchair. He gives people rides and zooms around town in it. The crux of the film is Callahan’s long-standing fight with alcoholism and his ultimate embrace of the 12-step program. Those in his AA group and Donnie, his sponsor have no time for Callahan’s self-pity. Donnie becomes the equivalent of Callahan’s own personal Jesus whose revelations are every bit as interesting as those of Callahan. Annu (Rooney Mara) is Callahan’s therapist/girlfriend Annu is dropped in the story with virtually no introduction and left to flounder and that is unfortunate. ,

The film is fascinating even though Phoenix seems fundamentally miscast and/or barely interested in making Callahan a believable or likeable guy. This is a film about coming to terms with the consequences of destructive lifestyle choices and addictions that don’t have easy resolutions. Callahan’s repeated reference to being abandoned by his mother and subsequently adopted is a hard fact and an easy excuse as sponsor and fellow alcoholic Donnie, a rich-kid tough-love Jesus lookalike, points out. Donnie’s guidance treads a fine line between accidentally insightful wisdom and surprisingly blunt remonstrations. Callahan doesn’t just drink because of what’s happened to him, he also does things because he drinks.

“WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS?”— Dark Giallo

“What Have They Done to Your Daughters?”

Dark Giallo

Amos Lassen

In 1972, director Massimo Dallamano broke new ground in the giallo genre with “What Have You Done to Solange?” Two years later, he followed up with an even darker semi-sequel, “What Have They Done to Your Daughters?”

It begins with a pregnant teenage girl is found hanging from the rafters of a privately rented attic. Inspector Silvestri (Claudio Cassinelli) and rookie Assistant District Attorney Vittoria Stori (Giovanna Ralli) are assigned to the case that begins to grow when it is discovered that the dead girl was part of a ring of underage positions in of Italian society. At the same time, a cleaver-wielding, motorcycle-riding killer roars through the streets of Brescia, making sure that those involved take their secret to the grave.

The film brings together giallo elements with action and a high-intensity police procedural. Inspector Valentini (Mario Adorf), a cop based out of Rome, gets a phone call from an unnamed informant and based on the information he receives, heads out to investigate. This leads him to an old abandoned attic where he finds the naked corpse of a teenaged girl named Silvia Polvesi (Sherry Buchanan) hung from the rafters. At first, Valentini and the rest of the cops see this as a clear case of suicide (even though it was tipped off to the cops by an anonymous caller). Before long, Vittoria, starts to suspect foul play and looking into Silvia’s past, she finds that there are a few reasons to be suspicious. The case is handed over to Inspector Silvestri (Claudio Cassinelli) who starts snooping around and connecting the dots surrounding Silvia’s death. He discovers an underground teenage prostitution operation. As the bodies pile up, the cops quickly realize that they’re running out of time.

“What Have They Done To Your Daughters?” is a slick thriller, the kind that easily holds your attention because of the right mix of style and substance. The story does deal in some pretty dark subject matter but we do not get the impression that director Dallamano is going for titillation. Rather, it seems to me, that he is attempting to show complete disdain that these criminals. The girls were once innocent but that innocence was taken from them.

We see a lot of finger pointing— at the government and its corrupt officials, at an Italian society willing to turn a blind eye to certain disreputable acts and at the police themselves. There is a lot of social commentary here that is thinly veiled. The film is structured in a very specific manner so that it appeals to two very different groups of viewers. The bulk of the material is used to replicate the classic giallo atmosphere and there are some pretty obvious socio-political overtones in the story that suggest that Dallamano was also looking to engage a different group of viewers. To be perfectly clear, this isn’t a political film, but it isn’t a straightforward giallo either — it is sort of a hybrid project that essentially attempts to expose a troubling reality and make a point that Italians should be aware of it.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:

2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Original lossless Italian and English mono soundtracks

English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack

New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films

Masters and Slaves: Power, Corruption & Decadence in the Cinema of Massimo Dallamano, a new video essay by Kat Ellinger, author and editor-in-chief of Diabolique Magazine

Eternal Melody, an interview with composer Stelvio Cipriani

Dallamano s Touch, an interview with editor Antonio Siciliano

Unused hardcore footage shot for the film by Massimo Dallamano

Italian theatrical trailer

Image gallery

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Michael Mackenzie

“WONT YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?”— Our Man Fred… Rogers

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Our Man Fred… Rogers

Amos Lassen

For over 30 years, Fred Rogers came daily into homes across America. His television program, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was made up of Fred and his cast of puppets and friends who spoke directly to young children about some of life’s heaviest issues simply and directly. In one sensitive segment, co-star Francois Clemmons talked about coming out of the closet to Fred Rogers and this film also looks into the rumors about Rogers’ own sexuality. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that seeing director Morgan Neville’s film here is the first time I met Mr. Rogers. I was out of the country for many of the years when it was broadcast and when I was here I just never got around to it.

Early in “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” we see a clip from the 1968 premiere episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in which the leader of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe”, a puppet named King Friday XIII, announces his plans to build a wall around his kingdom because of his fear of change. Today we see the obvious irony in light of president Donald Trump’s repeated calls for a wall at the Mexican border. There is tension generated by the clashing notions that Fred Rogers was both an iconoclast in children’s entertainment and that his pleas for kindness, understanding, and basic human decency never quite took hold in American society and this is the theme of Neville’s documentary.

Now some 50 years after the idea of the beloved PBS series, many of the world’s problems remain depressingly the same. The film exhibits a steadfast belief that Rogers’s philosophy of love and acceptance can be useful as more than just a nostalgic balm in troubled times. Through carefully curated archival footage and interviews with those most intimately involved with Rogers over the years, we see the seemingly simple yet surprisingly radical methodology employed by Rogers during his years on the air.

Rogers’s 1969 senate testimony helped to secure the $15 million needed to keep public television alive is the film’s centerpiece yet a series of smaller, more intimate moments reveal the soft-spoken man’s unique worldview. The archival footage, like that of his heartwarming conversation with 10 year-old Jeff Erlanger about how the young boy deals with his sadness and disability, helps to show us a man determined to speak honestly and directly with, rather than down to, children of all ages. In clip after clip, Rogers addresses such topics as death, depression, anger, divorce, even Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, connecting with children not by protecting them from harsh truths, but by helping them to face and cope with them.

While Neville depicts Rogers as something of a saint, he also touches on a number of Rogers’s personal and professional struggles. Rogers’s relentless perfectionism led one of his sons to describe the challenge of having “the second Christ as a father.” That perfectionism also caused Rogers, who was overweight as a boy and teased for it, to be obsessed with weighing in daily at exactly 143 pounds—a number which, according to his personal numerology code, means “I love you.” Even Rogers’s professed belief in accepting everyone for who they are is brought into question when François “Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”, discusses his boss’s insistence that he remain in the closet so as not to put the show’s funding at risk.

Every unflattering fact unearthed about Rogers is offset by a dozen glowing ones, including Clemmons praising his boss’s eventual 180 on homosexuality. But Neville wisely keeps the focus primarily on Rogers’s message rather than his private life. Doing so allows the filmmaker not only to explore Rogers’s ways of reaching children and how he remained steadfast in his convictions despite his core beliefs falling out of favor. We see Rogers as a living, breathing example of love, tolerance, and openness to a world dead focused on building walls rather than tearing them down.

Mister Rogers was the writer and producer of his show and also did the voices for 10 different puppets. Lessons on loneliness and friendship are mixed with more edgy commentaries on the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the Challenger disaster, and other events. During a time when some communities were having trouble with interracial bathing in swimming pools, Mister Rogers invited an African-American policeman (Francois Clemmons) to join him soaking their feet in a common tub.

Rogers was mentor of openness and goodness, and lived his own belief that “The only thing that really changes the world is when someone gets the idea that love can abound.”

“DOOM ASYLUM”— A Demented Coroner

“DOOM ASYLUM”

A Demented Coroner

Amos Lassen

The basic story of “Doom Asylum” is simple— a demented coroner uses autopsy equipment to kill off the teenagers who trespass on the long-abandoned asylum he inhabits. Released in 1987, “Doom Asylum” is a mix of gore, gags and Goth girl groups. When a group of horny teens wind up on the grounds of a creepy abandoned asylum, they think they’ve found the perfect place to party. What they do not know is that inside the building is a freakishly deformed maniac, driven to madness by the tragic loss of his fiancée in a car accident. He has a collection of grisly surgical tools at his disposal and it’s only a matter of time before the youngsters begin meeting various gory ends at the hands of the ghoulish Coroner. Directed by director Richard Friedman the film combines outlandish gore and a smart-talking villain to give us a wildly entertainingly blood-spattered slasher.

Filmed in New Jersey, “Doom Asylum” is filled with cheesy glory. After a violent car accident, a man discovers his mutilated lover’s body beside him (he clutches her bloody hand while crying like a baby). Burnt and mutilated himself and thought to be dead, he awakens from the coroner’s slab, killing two men and taking refuge in the basement of an asylum that eventually becomes abandoned. Ten years later, a mixed group of teens arrive at the asylum one sunny day and meet Tina and the Tots, an obnoxious all-girl punk band practicing there. The two rival groups become fodder for our flesh-rotted killer, who kills the teens using a variety of medical instruments.

Obviously meant as a satire on the slasher scene, the killer (Michael Rogan) constantly speaks in wisecracks. The gore effects are for the most part too over-the-top to be really effective. The dialogue here is (intentionally) inane and absurd. Years before her “Sex and the City” success, Kristen Davis plays a brainy type. The movie is filled with cheesy eighties humor and tacky horror spots. The film could have gone wrong in so many ways, but instead turns out to be a real treat. As we approach the conclusion, the horror certainly tightens. There is quite a lot of incredibly cheap looking gore here and what I really like is that this is a film that makes fun of itself. It’s intentionally overdone in spots and is not a movie to take seriously. It’s just fun.

Bonus features include:

Archival Interviews with producer Alexander W. Kogan, Jr., director Richard Friedman and production manager Bill Tasgal

Morgues & Mayhem – a brand new interview with special make-up effects creator Vincent J. Guastini. Movie Madhouse – a brand new interview with director of photography Larry Revene.

Tina’s Terror – a brand new interview with actress Ruth Collins

Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues

Brand new audio commentary with screenwriter Rick Marx

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing,

Original uncompressed PCM mono audio , 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 versions of the feature

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative S

till Gallery, Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourne

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully-illustrated collectors booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes

“STREET MOBSTER”— A Violent Killer

“Street Mobster”

A Violent Killer

Amos Lassen

Japanese action director Kinji Fukasaku’s “Street Mobster” is the story of a violent killer who will stop at nothing to satisfy his lust for blood. 

Released from prison, gangster Isamu Okita plans to start his own gang and begins a reign of terror using beatings, prostitution, stabbings, and murders to fight his way to the top of the gangland world. “Street Mobster” takes us into Japan’s criminal underworld, where anything can be had for a price.Street Mobster” gives us a look at the rise and fall of a reckless street punk caught in the crossfire of a bloody turf war raging in the mean streets of Kawazaki.

When Okita Isamu (Bunta Sugawara) re-emerges onto the mean streets of Kawazaki after five years in prison for brutal crimes, he comes face to face with prostitute Kinuyo, who immediately names him as one of the participants in her brutal sexual assault years earlier that left her shell-shocked and forced to stay a sex worker. While the two outcasts form an unlikely bond, Okita returns to his criminal ways. He is approached by veteran gangster Kizaki (Noboru Andô) who encourages him to round up a group of local street punks to shake up the uneasy agreement between the two rival yakuza groups, who between them control the city s bars, gambling dens and entertainment areas. However, when the new outfit goes too far, they find themselves caught in the middle of a violent reprisal, before an offer of patronage appears from an unlikely source.

In the opening scene, Isamu says, “I like fighting and girls, but not gambling.” This is pretty much what the film is about. Isamu sets forth his doomed fate from the outset: his birthday is on the day Japan lost the war; he is fatherless, from a broken home, with an alcoholic mother who drowned in a river. After reform school, he moved into gangs, abused and raped women and fought a lot, before taking a share in a local brothel. Having done a stretch in prison for attacking the ruling Takigawa gang, he is out and about, looking for action. The word on the street is that the Takigawa gang has gone corporate and is ruled by a small business elite that is now in stiff competition with the rival Yato gang. Isamu decides to drive a wedge between the two rivals and carve out a little respect for himself and the expendable street kids that the bosses have used and abandoned.

The picture looks great for a Japanese film from 1972 and has style and a great narrative.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS include:

High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation

Original uncompressed PCM mono audio

Optional English subtitles

Audio commentary by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes

Theatrical trailer

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Jasper Sharp

“DON’T SWALLOW MY HEART, ALLIGATOR GIRL!”— Love and War

“Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!”

Love and War

Amos Lassen

“Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!” begins with a helpful intro that explains that the Apa River dividing Brazil and Paraguay was the scene of horrific battles in the 19th century when hundreds of thousands of Paraguayans were slaughtered. Those events continue to shape the lives of people on the border. Brazilian adolescent Joca (Eduardo Macedo) is madly in love with his Paraguayan Guarani peer Basano (Adeli Gonzales). She, however, rejects him.

Things at home aren’t so good for Joca. His mother Joana (Claudia Assunção) has been depressed for 10 years, ever since her husband left the family, so he has been raised by his older brother Fernando (Cauã Reymond). Fernando is known as “December” in his anti-Paraguayan bikers’ posse whose members are named for the months of the year (except for the leader, Telecath (Marco Lóris), who presumably has self-loathing issues since his mother was Guarani). The Calendar Gang, as they are called, keep rumbling with their Paraguayan counterparts, headed by Alberto (Marcio Verón), whose girlfriend is sleeping with Fernando, but that’s not such a big problem since Alberto has set his sights on his cousin Basano, just turning 15.

As the narratives flow (and come together) into one another, Guarani bodies mysteriously float down the river in eerie imitation of nearly a century and a half earlier. It takes some time for us to realize these aren’t phantom corpses but real ones. Their deaths are ultimately connected to Joca’s family. The core of the film is Joca’s love for Basano. Another important theme is the threatened survival of indigenous culture. The Apa river is the dividing line and the meeting place between the two cultures. The dead bodies that float by and the sword that Joca retrieves from its depths recall not just recent political turbulence in the region but the 19th-century war that decimated Paraguay. For Basano, who spurns the advances of her cousin Alberto and has no interest in “anything with anyone,” Joca’s love represents a particular danger, because to join him on the other side of the Apa would mean forgetting her identity, her people and her language.

Writer/director Felipe Bragança brings gang warfare, political history lesson and impossible love story together and while this is a well-crafted and often stylish film, it could have been so much stronger. Every part of the landscape serves as a reminder of the past; swords are retrieved from the river and  bodies are seen floating past on the currents. The ghosts of old grievances are everywhere.

“I AM ANOTHER YOU”— Following Dylan

“I Am Another You”

Following Dylan

Amos Lassen

As Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang travels in the United States from one city to another, she eventually meets a charismatic young drifter named Dylan. She is fascinated by his rejection of society’s rules and she decides to follow him with her camera on a journey that takes years and takes her across America and explores the meaning of freedom. But as Nanfu goes deeper into Dylan’s world, she discovers something that makes her question her entire worldview. This is a profound, inquisitive, sensitive film that explores experience with all of its complexities and misunderstandings.

This film made me question my own perception of reality. For about three-fourths of the film, I thought tht we were meeting a privileged white kid who chose to live on the streets and I was amazed at how well he is treated by strangers. He seemed to be escaping from the dogma of the Mormon church and the closed-mindedness he grew up with. I understood his need and desire to escape that. But what I did not know was that the way he was living was not by choice. We, unfortunately, tend to judge others by their appearance and I realized that this is what I was doing with Dylan. He is actually making the best of what he has to live with. He is sincere and completely disarming; a human being who just happens to different. He is a non-conformist with a powerful personality who gives us a fascinating glimpse into his intentional transient lifestyle. He makes us aware of the ways that sex, race, cultural experience/expectation, socio-economic and familial support origin impact an individual.

“FREE AND EASY”— A Traditional Crime Satire

“Free and Easy”

A Traditional Crime Satire

Amos Lassen

When a traveling soap salesman arrives in a desolate Chinese town, a crime occurs and sets the strange residents against each other with tragicomic results. “Free and Easy” is a farcical look at traditional crime narrative. Geng Jun’s direction creates bizarre tension throughout the film that combines absurd and nonsensical skits with stunning visual interpretation of an abandoned landscape.

Set in a desolate factory town of northeast China we meet a “Christian” evangelical, a monk trying to spread the gospel, a crooked traveling salesman, a man in charge of reforestation, an adept student of kung-fu with a gentle mind, two cops with doubtful coherence and other loony characters.

Geng Jun’s comedy gives us a gallery of sympathetic, if not colorful and peculiar characters. We have crooks that are incompetent, cops who are inept, masters and bureaucrats who are amateurs. These characters come and go off screen to appear again later in constantly shifting ridiculous alliances. Behind the simplicity of the premises hide subtle ways of forging improbable and silly links between them. They are bored, loony and misplaced. The events in the film are delivered quietly even though it is a comedy. The location itself is a character— a village in a state of decay in the middle of a wasteland where the silence is heavy and the colors are grey and brown.

“Free and Easy” is a gentle piece of dark humor in which patience is a virtue. Zhang Zhiyong is a soap salesman with a predatory con. He comes into town and introduces himself to a bystander, offering him a free sample of a bar of scented soap. When the mark sniffs it, he falls unconscious, allowing Zhang to lift his wallet and valuables. At least that is how it is supposed to work. Christian convert Gu Benben is so congested he does not fall over like the others. Actually, the Christian evangelism is just an excuse to hand out flyers for his decades-missing mother. Xu Gang, the phony dispossessed monk does not inhale either, but when the fumes from the freebie finally fell him, Zhang finds he has nothing worth stealing.

 

Soon news of Zhang and his knockout soap reach the local constable, but instead of hunting the con man, corrupt copper Zhang Xun tries to use the soap on Zhang’s new pretty landlady, Chen Jing, but she wants absolutely nothing to do with him. Her husband Xue Baohe understandably resents Zhang Xun’s pursuit of his wife but he has other problems distracting him. Someone has been harvesting the trees he has been planting along the highway as part of a rare re-forestation campaign thereby putting his own position in considerable jeopardy.

Granted, Zhang Zhiyong and Xu Gang might not be perfect, but there is no question Zhang Xun is the scummiest villain in the film which and this is in keeping with popular attitudes towards the People’s Police.

 Regardless, the ensemble is excellent all around, especially Zhang Zhiyong. Xue Baohe probably pulls off the most surprises as the formerly cringe-inducing forester Xue. Xu Gang gives the film further complicating human dimensions as Xu Gang the impostor monk, who seems to feel a need to live up to the role he has fraudulently assumed.

“Free and Easy” is a dry comedy that casts a cynical, eye on contemporary Chinese society. The cops are the worst, but there is no shortage of grifters looking to pull a fast one.

“24×36: A MOVIE ABOUT MOVIE POSTERS”— A Documentary

“24×36: A MOVIE ABOUT MOVIE POSTERS”

A Documentary

Amos Lassen

“24×36: a Movie About Movie Posters” is a documentary that explores the world of illustrated movie poster art, the artists who create it, companies and studios that commission it, galleries that display it and collectors and fans who hang it. In other words it is everything you ever wanted to know about movie posters.

Through interviews with a number of key art personalities from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as many modern, alternative poster artists, the film sets out to answer our most burning questions such as what happened to the illustrated movie poster? Where did it disappear to, and why?

In the mid 2000s, feeling and filling the void left behind by Hollywood’s abandonment of illustrated movie posters, independent artists and galleries began selling limited edition screen-printed posters. This movement quickly grew into a multi-million dollar industry, with prints selling out online in seconds, inspiring Hollywood studios to once again take notice of illustration in movie posters.

The film explores the birth, death and resurrection of the illustrated movie poster. This new Blu-ray edition features bonus material including additional interviews and the official trailer, surround sound as well as English subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired or for those of us who just like subtitles.

The topic of movie posters, and their ever-changing and evolving style is a great idea for a documentary. It’s a topic that’s rarely ever discussed anymore except for complaining about the prices. The state of movie posters in general, it’s pretty sad. They were once an art form and each decade offered a different style and each was very much an artistic endeavor, with the work being done in the 80’s being a critical and commercial high point. Once we got into the 90’s, it started to change, with photography once again coming into the format and hand-drawn or painted artwork no longer being popular. It got worse with Photoshop, where every single new film is either a floating head of the star, or a badly rendered collage of images from the film. This documentary is enlightening, and entertaining and a fun way to spend 2 hours. I especially found it interesting seeing the artists responsible for the artwork and hearing their thoughts on the current movement and where it’s headed.

The film begins by talking about the history of movie poster art and covers some of the classic artists responsible for some of the most iconic images in movie advertising. However, the film then became something of a commercial for Mondo posters (and others like them). It is important to know that Mondo prints are not movie posters. They were never used in the advertising of the films, and there is absolutely nothing iconic about them.

If you love movies, movie posters, and/or art in general you will enjoy this.

“THE NAVIGATOR: A MEDIEVAL ODYSSEY”— Special Edition Blu Ray

“The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey”

Special Edition Blu-ray

Amos Lassen

“The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey” is set in Cumbria in 1348 the year of the Black Death and is a fusion of medieval fantasy and time travel science fiction. It all begins in a Scottish village that is petrified with fear by rumors of the Black Death. A young boy named Griffin experiences clairvoyant dreams that lead a group of villagers to dig a tunnel through the Earth and through time to 20th Century Auckland in search of deliverance. They save the village, but at a price. The story is powerful, and an evocation of Medieval life and its contrast with a late 20th century setting. However, the film that was once a contender for top prize at the Cannes Film Festival has gone unnoticed.

Directed by Vincent Ward, the film is rather modest in scale, but its themes are grand and there’s a grand passion behind its images. It is about the healing power of dreamers, and it has a dreamer’s evocative intensity. Unfortunately, it also has a dreamer’s foolishness, and there are times when it comes very close to being laughable.

Mostly, however, “The Navigator” is a combination of beauty and listlessness. Ward, who grew up in New Zealand and now lives in Australia, has a talent for creating haunting visual poetry such as in images like the one in which a flaming torch tumbles, end over end, into a vast darkness. The film’s metaphors carry both beauty and meaning.

Unfortunately, Ward’s narrative gifts are not as developed as his visual ones and the story itself has no real dramatic tension or conflict. The film’s heroes are simple Christian miners, terrified by the approach of an evil tide. Ward isn’t able to convey the full dimension of the fear these villagers feel over the advance of a horror that will almost certainly wipe out their entire population. We expect panic, dissension and violence and what we see is a group of well-behaved peasants searching for a reasonable solution and when we consider the state of urgency, this is highly unlikely.

The solution they reach h is a spiritual one, urged on them by Griffin (Hamish McFarlane), a youth prone to prophetic visions. In his mind’s eye, he sees a church, a cross that is reflected in water, and a great pit, deeper than the imagination can fathom. Based on this, Griffin and four men begin a pilgrimage to find the church and save their families by placing a cross atop it but this must be finished before the coming of the full moon, which they believe carries the Death.

Production still from ‘The Navigator – A Medieval Odyssey’ 1988

To reach their destination, these pilgrims must dig a path alongside the pit, which they believe leads to the other side of the world. What they discover on their journey, though, is the other side of time. Pushing through the last wall of their tunnel, these accidental time travelers find themselves in modern-day New Zealand, a place as alien to them as another planet would be and that presents them with a great many unexpected problems.

The problem for us is that these obstacles (such as the crossing a highway) seem commonplace and predictable. In some sequences, like the one in which Connor (Bruce Lyons), the village’s leader, faces down a monstrous industrial crane, Ward is able to capture the magical oddness of the world as it must seem to these visitors. But for the most part, his depiction is lacking in wonder and fails to draw us in.

As a result, this whole section of the film is anticlimactic. The film sets us up for Connor, who has recently come back from the outside world with tales of the Death, to play the hero, then backs away from him in favor of Griffin, the artist figure, the boy visionary. In doing so, Ward makes a muddle of his story, but his message remains clear: It is the artist who must die the symbolic death in these plague times and save society — it is the dreamer who must play God. As a metaphoric sentiment, this is all well and good, but in the face of an actual plague, this is either too romantic, or just naive to suggest that artists can save us.

Ward is correct in that that artists play an irreplaceable role in the life of a culture, though he seems to have misunderstood exactly what that role is. The problem may be that his faith in the real power of art is too great. Perhaps this accounts for the film’s passion. It is also the reason for many of its weaknesses.

“The Navigator” opens very bravely and ambitiously with a four-minute dream/vision sequence, cutting between high-contrast grainy black and white images and vivid color to show us a bunch of hooded medieval characters in a surreal montage of images of fire, water, earth and rushing winds – all of them seeming to presage a dark and violent death. What we are seeing is a vision witnessed by Griffin who is prone to falling into trances that give him premonitory glimpses of the future. The images he has seen do not bode well for the village that, because of its isolated location, has so far been spared the worst ravages of the Plague that is devastating the world.

Production still from ‘The Navigator – A Medieval Odyssey’ 1988

Connor who has journeyed out of the village returns to confirm their worst fears and that is that the Black Death has a grip on the country and is claiming victims indiscriminately. The remote location of the village and their attempts to keep strangers and refugees out will not be enough to keep the epidemic at bay for long. Connor reckons that they have maybe a month, no more – just enough time for them to make an offering by casting a spike of Cumbrian copper and undertaking a pilgrimage to a great cathedral in the hope that the village might be spared the Black Death. Griffin’s visions seem to confirm this belief, and that by tunneling further down one of the deepest mine shafts, they will be able to get to the cathedral in the celestial city on the other side of the earth. A small group of men set off on this important pilgrimage and, incredibly, emerge on the other side of the world into a modern-day city. They navigate the dangers of 20th century technology to seek out a foundry to cast the spike for a cross they will mount on the cathedral in Griffin’s dream. However, as they progress, the boy’s visions become clearer and their message predicts a fatal fall by one of their number.

The film is split between the 14th and 20th centuries and being filmed alternately in black & white and color, and the time shifts and culture shock are handled with remarkable equanimity. The world that the medieval pilgrims encounter on their arrival in modern-day New Zealand is actually consistent with or representative of the no less terrifying and unknown horrors they imagine the Plague inflicts on the little-known world outside their village. Good characterization defines each of the characters with a strong and individual personality and a fervent belief and determination to carry out their mission. The lives of everyone they know depends on it and the film maintains a taut and suspenseful journey of the pilgrims through this strange world. Consequently there are many extraordinary and quite memorable scenes such as an encounter with a rail shuttle and Griffin’s mystical experience with rows of televisions in a shop window display, each of them playing out ominous natural history footage of a bird of prey swooping down on a rabbit and an AIDS information announcement.

“The Navigator” is perhaps director Vincent Ward’s purest and most visually delightful film. I immediately fell in love with it.

SPECIAL EDITION Special Features include:

High Definition (Blu-ray) presentation

Original mono audio (uncompressed LPCM)

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

Brand-new appreciation by film critic Nick Roddick, recorded exclusively for this release

Kaleidoscope: Vincent Ward Film Maker, a 1989 documentary profile of the director made for New Zealand television

Theatrical trailer

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kim Newman and an introduction by Vincent Ward