Category Archives: Film

“DARK WATER”— A Battle for Custody

dark-water

“DARK WATER”

A Battle for Custody

Amos Lassen

Japanese director, Hideo Nakata’s “Dark Water” tells the story of Yoshimi (Hitomi Kuroki) who is in an intense custody battle with her husband over their 6-year-old daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno). Yoshimi rents an apartment in an old building and looks for a job. The apartment is dank but livable with a slowly spreading water stain on the ceiling. When Ikuko finds a Hello Kitty bag (which reappears no matter how many times Yoshimi throws it away), she starts to hear footsteps in the overhead abandoned apartment. Yoshimi learns that a little girl living in the apartment above mysteriously vanished a year before and she begins looking at what happened back then causing her to question whether or not she is fit and able to take care of her daughter who she thinks might be in some kind of supernatural danger.

dark1

“Dark Water” is an original 2002 Japanese thriller, that is just about as perfect and predictable as a ghost movie can be.  The characters make foolish decisions, and the “ghost” is elusive, dropping clues, willing to communicate remains glib.  It is not enough that Yoshimi suffers from the problems connected to her divorce, her new apartment has a leak and the more the black water infiltrates her home, the more unstable Yoshimi becomes. Then….

dark2

Extremely late one afternoon, Yoshimi, while searching for her missing daughter, sees a poster of a girl who has been missing for 2 years.  Soon afterwards, she has visions or dreams about this girl.  Suddenly she knows things that she should not and she begins seeing the girl in the apartment above, where the water comes from.  The child has hair covering her eyes and her face is a blur.

dark3

The film begins as a frivolous horror picture and then becomes something more sinister and uncomfortable. It tricks its audience into sympathy by using a child and that bothered me. Of course, Yoshimi was also having to deal with a nasty divorce. This had already caused her world to be difficult and she fears that the lawyers might take her child.

dark4

Yoshimi’s imagination creates a separate horror, that of the child in the yellow raincoat. We see that child as a ghost who wants to replicate her passing, as if the loneliness of the unburied yearns for affection in death. Hideo Nakata’s technique is to imply terror by suggestion, rather than the overuse of special effects. He depends upon the collaboration of his actors to create a feeling of uncontrollable fear. Hitomi Kuroki is brilliant as the neurotic, paranoid Yoshimi, whose inability to remain safe in her own head exacerbates the likelihood that the court might find her an unfit mother, thereby destroying her will to live and, in some bizarre way, increasing the power of the fantastic child to influence the workings of a dysfunctional plumbing system.

dark5Rio Kanno, as Ikuko, is equally brilliant as we watch her innocence come apart.

Dark and murky water is everywhere in this film, and it’s an integral part of the plot as well, giving us clues and images that propel the story and hint as to what’s happened and what’s coming. Nakata generates a quiet menace, and this film very quickly gets under our skin. We are taken into Yoshimi’s head and feel her combination of fear and defiance.

dark6

Bonus materials include:

– High Definition digital transfer

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

– Original 5.1 audio (DTS-HD on the Blu-ray)

– Brand new interview with director Hideo Nakata

– Brand new interview with novelist Koji Suzuki

– Brand new interview with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi

– Archive interview with actress Asami Mizukawa

– Original ‘Making of’ documentary

– Trailer

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain

– First pressing only: illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing by David Kalat, author of J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge and Beyond, and an examination of the American remake by writer and editor Michael Gingold

“NOW WE’RE ALIVE”— Becoming Twenty-Five

now-were-alive

“NOW WE’RE ALIVE” ( Et Maintenant Nous Sommes en Vie)

Becoming Twenty-Five

Amos Lassen

French director Thibault Arbre in his third feature film brings us a new look at modern love. The film tells the story of Tom, a young man who must choose his wife simply based upon her voice. This unique marriage ritual comes strictly from the mind of the director who uses it to highlight his theme of either fighting for something that has little if any chance of happening or accepting things as they are.

now

On his 25th birthday, Tom sits blindfolded in a room of women. By tradition, he must choose a mate based on voice alone. He then has 30 days to go into the world and find her. Unbeknownst to Tom, if he cannot locate her within that time, she is then brought to him. Tom is so terrified of failure that he seeks the aid of a counselor, who tells him to visualize her and this will help him as he searches.

now5

However, when he meets Lea, the soul voice he had chosen, she is unlike what he had imagined and be thinks that there has been some kind of mistake. He is under pressure from both sets of parents, so he and Lea move in together but Tom is unable to surrender his fantasy of the woman that he feels is his real soul voice. This woman begins to come to Tom in increasingly uncontrollable visions and she urges him to seek her. At the risk of losing his own sanity, Tom defies both society and family, and risking his own sanity, Tom sets out to find his true love.

n0w2

Tom names his woman Jeanne and even after he succumbs to his family and marries Lea, Jeanne continues to come to him when he closes his eyes. Soon Tom spends most of his time with closed eyes and this upsets Lea and his family. He tries to explain but gets nowhere. Lea knows that he is hiding something and we wonder if Jeanne is real or fantasy and if Tom will ever find her. I began to wonder whether Tom will do what his generation usually did and fight for the woman that he thinks he loves or will he give in to the demands that surround him? We have been taught to believe to fight for what we want. We are to not only follow our dreams but chase them in the hopes of a better life. In many cases, this puts reality at war with fantasy or the impossible. In the film we see there is indeed a choice between the two and each of us makes that decision.

now4

Charles Lemaire is Tom and he turns in a fine performance of a young man who dares to go to extremes. He admirably carries the film on his shoulders and he gives his audience something to think about. For me, that is the purpose of film.

“VAMP”— Grace Jones is Back (Again and Again)

 

vamp

“VAMP”

Grace Jones is Back (Again and Again)

Amos Lassen

“Vamp” is like all Grace Jones movies— no one knows what to do with her. She is not the star—she is just a supporting player with no lines but from the ads, we would think she had been nominated for an Academy Award or something.

vamp1

To escape the rigors of a fraternity initiation, a couple of pledges (Chris Makepeace and Sandy Baron) offer to go into the big city and hire a stripper to appear at the house’s next big party. They convince a third guy who has a car (Gedde Watanabe) to drive them. After falling into a space-time warp or something like that, they find themselves in an otherworldly metropolis where the local strip club is a front for a vampire ring. Visiting businessmen are invited to the back room, and that’s the last time they are seen alive.

vamp2

Jones dances in the club with Dedee Pfeiffer, a dancer who still has a human heart of gold. One of the guys becomes a vampire but yet still retains all of the instincts of a college roommate. There are some funny lines, and the relationship between the human kid and his best pal the vampire is handled with a lot of originality. However, the film becomes one of fights and chases.

vamp3

It does not take a lot of imagination to guess where this is going and it does get there. The viewer has several laughs along the way but Jones is once again lost along on the film. On the other had, it is a lot of fun to watch even as just a curiosity.

vamp4

The bonus material includes:

– High Definition digital transfer

– Original mono audio

– Subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

– One of those Nights: The Making of Vamp – a brand new documentary featuring interviews with director Richard Wenk, stars Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer, Gedde Watanabe

– Behind-the-scenes rehearsals

– Blooper Reel

– Image gallery

– Dracula Bites the Big Apple (1979) – Richard Wenk’s celebrated short film

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

“MEAT”— A Chilling Character Drama

Template 401 DVD Wrap

“MEAT”

A Chilling Character Drama

Amos Lassen

“Meat” is a movie but it is also raw, confrontational guerilla theatre. It deals in abstracts rather than talking about characters who are instantly recognizable as real people performed by a talented cast who have to live with the choices that they make. It is very possible that viewers will see some of their own desires and frustrations here. The film does not resolves any of the questions it raises and this is not a film for anyone who easily tires of ambiguities. The film has high art shock aesthetics and some memorable imagery and lines of inquiry

meat1

 Victor Nieuwenhuijs and Maartje Seyferth’s directed this quite bizarre, chilling little character drama and they every major synonym, metaphor or other interpretation of that one word is in there somewhere. The film seems to be about people who have lost the capacity for emotional attachment and therefore obsess over the flesh versus the spirit. It also looks at the way our carnal impulses overrule our better judgment and what this can drive us to do. Some of this comes out through how characters communicate, but while there’s no graphic violence as such it’s a pretty explicit film. Much of the human body is on display, as well as animal carcasses hacked to bits. However, sometimes it’s simply too obtuse and convoluted to manage the impact it ought to have yet it remains a haunting and unsettling piece of work.

The story involves two roughly parallel plot threads. A nameless butcher (Titus Muizelaar) can’t find a woman who wants to return his affections; he has something with a prostitute who calls on him at work, but she’s beholden to her pimp and doesn’t seem to acknowledge how deeply the butcher feels for her. Unable to make that happen, he turns to his assistant, Roxy (Nellie Benner), a pretty young thing whose resistance to the butcher’s overtures could be hiding more than simple reticence or distaste. Police inspector Marin (also Muizelaar) is an ageing cop who is tired of his useless, fat frame and is taken over by ennui thus remaining indifferent to his wife’s problems with their marriage or his mother’s efforts to communicate. When he’s called on to investigate Roxy’s relationship with the butcher after an unexplained death, Marin finds himself caught up with her story.

This is a slasher flick or erotic thriller, but this an art house story that is told through oblique camera angles, stilted two-handers consisting of little more than elliptic dialogue, blunt-force symbolism and explicit sexual come-ons. People rarely interact like normal human beings would, or do anything that ties them to the real world. “Roxy films the butcher and his paramour screwing in the meat locker, then ends the tape with slow, loving pans across trays of offal. Inspector Marin walks away from a tragedy the fallout from which would occupy the next few months of his life, and it’s never referred to again. Dreamlike situations are treated at face value, and conversations with patently obvious conclusions devolve into awkward silences seemingly for the hell of it”.

There is a purpose for the film and subtexts are contained in identifiably human failings under this layer of contrived psychological theatre.The coldly explicit visuals are rough, filthy and graceful but never reach the level of being artistic and “Meat” never rises above being eighty minutes of rough DV footage, and the occasional experiment.

meat2

The blurb for the film says this:

“The film is a surreal erotic thriller set in a flesh-filled and violence-prone butcher shop.  A large, lustful butcher, used to living out his sexual fantasies in the shop, becomes interested in his young female apprentice. The girl, documenting everything with  a video camera, enthusiastically gets involved with him. But when the butcher is murdered and a police inspector, who looks exactly like the dead butcher, investigates the crime, the story takes on a dreamlike quality. A visually explicit, beguiling tale – think Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, meets Gaspar Noé’s Carne by way of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen”.

“OVATION”— A Backstage Drama

ovation-poster

“Ovation”

A Backstage Drama

Amos Lassen

Director Henry Jaglom takes us backstage at a production of “The Rainmaker” that is being put on by a small theater group. Maggie (Tanna Frederick) is torn between keeping the failing production going with her presence, or pursuing a TV role, opposite hunk Stewart Henry (James Denton), who is doing everything to woo her away. As the two wrestle with their chemistry and conflicting feelings, there are various smaller dramas that orbit around them — Maggie finds herself in a rut with her co-star and longtime boyfriend; the producer will have to close the show if she can’t find a financier, and there’s a romance between two actors that turns violent. Then there is a psychic whose tarot readings keep everyone on their toes.

o1

“Ovation” is a tribute to the theater and to the power of live performance and the bond among performers and crew to the stars on the stage. The film wonderfully captures that there is “no business like show business”. It is a “stubbornly sharp, sincere and distinctive” film.

ovation1

The theater production has had its share of problems and the main thing it has to offer is the star, Maggie, whom is also the reason why Stewart, a television star, comes backstage to congratulate her. As he flatters Maggie, she is taken in by his smile as well as the promise of a television contract and she begins to fall for him. Alongside of there are several subplots. One of them involves a bad romance between a pushy young actor and his female co-star and another is about the attempts to keep the play afloat. The script uses the theme of the value of art over commercialism yet the film never seems to be advocating anything and is just supposed to be a fun time.

o2

Jaglom’s representation of the theatrical scene feels real and entirely convincing. We do not see much of the actual production and what we do see is structured, organized and controlled to a level of slick proficiency. Jaglom is concerned with what goes on behind the scenes where there is chaos and insecurity and nervous energy that produces art.

ovation3

The plot moves forward based on its own anxiety that leads to various events and plot twists keep us totally entertained. We never see the production of “The Rainmaker”; rather we only get glimpses of the actors going on-stage and coming off after curtain calls. We are aware that the entire theater complex is under threat of destruction in a secret high-end real estate deal, unknown to the members of the theater company or the play’s producer (Cathy Arden).

o3

It all takes place backstage and in various parts of the theater complex, but we never see any of these people anywhere outside of their natural habitat of the theater.

Denton and Frederick both give great performances that are filled with chemistry and are fun to watch. However the others are a bit more awkward. Personally I had a great time watching it.

“LAST CAB TO DARWIN”— To Die with Dignity

last-cab-to-darwin

“Last Cab to Darwin”

To Die with Dignity

Amos Lassen

Rex (Michael Caton) drives a taxi in Broken Hill, NSW, Australia. He is a loner even though he has his fellow cabbie as friends and an occasional girlfriend, Polly (Ningali Lawford-Wolf). Then, two things happen. He is diagnosed with terminal cancer and, in Darwin, some 3000 kilometers away, euthanasia is legalized. He begins a lonely trek across the country so that he can die with dignity.

last1

Rex meets colorful characters along the way, including Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), a native Australian who helps Rex out and cajoles him to take him along, and Julie (Emma Hamilton), a nurse turned barmaid who helps care for the dying man when things get bad for him.

Rex doesn’t want to rely on anyone.  He hears a radio show featuring Dr. Farmer (Jacki Weaver) who discusses the machine she’s devised for euthanasia and we learn that recently it has been made legal and it is then that Rex decides to be the last cab in Darwin.

Director Jeremy Sims has filled his film with a wonderful cast and we soon realize that this is not a film about euthanasia. Rather it is about a dying man’s romantic odyssey of self-awareness. 

last2

Rex tells Polly before heading to Darwin that he left some things in his house for her and she finds Rex’s dog and his will that says that he has left his house to her.

As he travels, his windshield is smashed by a flying rock and Rex stops in Pussy Willow, (named thus because of its macabre landmark, a tree full of hung feral cats.  An indigenous scoundrel, Tilly, offers to fix it at the local cafe and ends up traveling all the way to Darwin. Rex calls Polly and catches hell, Polly saying she doesn’t want his dog or his house. He then picks up another passenger when British bartender Julie (Emma Hamilton) who also happens to be a nurse and is concerned for Rex’s welfare.  When the trio arrives in Darwin, Rex finally learns what Farmer had been trying to tell him – that there are several legal hoops she must jump through in order to use her machine.

The film is an endearing tearjerker that deftly and respectfully handles big issues with subtlety and a personal touch. Aside from his dog (named ‘Dog’), the closest thing that Rex has of family is neighbor and part-time lover, Polly. We first meet her when she is in a pink dressing gown, yelling at Rex early in the morning for using her garbage bins. She crosses over to his house and asks him how he feels and we sense the affection, understanding and true love that the two share.

last3

The film is a visual feast with scenes that emphasize the earthiness and forward motion of the action, tying together sound and image effectively. Rex’s face effortlessly emotes resignation, despair, joy, loss, amusement and a dozen other emotions from first to last. We see, as that old cliché says, “It’s never too late to start living” but here it rings true.

This is a wonderful story of how death and dying can become a spiritual teacher for those who are willing to open their hearts and minds to this unusual source of wisdom Rex’s spiritual journey is a quest for love and meaning.

“MEN & CHICKEN”— An Absurd Danish Comedy

men-and-chicken

“MEN & CHICKEN”

An Absurd Danish Comedy

Amos Lassen

“Men and Chicken” is a dark and hilarious slapstick comedy starring Mads Mikkelsen. It follows a pair of socially challenged siblings (who discover they are adopted half-brothers in their late father’s videotaped will). Their journey, is in search of their true father, takes them to the small, insular Danish island of Ork, where they stumble upon three additional half-brothers-each also sporting hereditary harelips and lunatic tendencies. They are living in a dilapidated mansion overrun by barn animals. Initially unwelcome by their newfound kin, the two visitors wear them down until they’re reluctantly invited to stay. As the misfit bunch gets to know each other, they unwittingly uncover a deep family secret that ultimately binds them together.

men-and-chicken1

 Director Thomas Anders Jensen understands the appeal of the bizarre and the film is an analysis of the peculiarities and grotesquery of nature in both man and animal, and the uncomfortable and unbreakable ties that bind family together. A menagerie of farmyard animals co-inhabits the broken house (including plenty of chickens) and the brothers all display animal tendencies that correspond to the decorated plates that they argue over during diner.

men-and-chicken2

Those who favor highbrow comedy over slapstick may find the comedy tiresome, especially as the brothers beat each other senseless with stuffed animals and other bizarre detritus, but there’s a smart streak running through the film too. Its disgusting surface is supported by a framework that’s intelligent and it is possible to find laughs in a compulsive masturbator. This is a curious movie that has no real empathetic characters; they’re all disgusting either inside or out – but it is perhaps a more accurate mirror than the shattered screen that cinema often deliriously reflects back at us.

men-and-chicken3

It is a movie with “a weirdly touching sense of shock-tactic decency and mixes bestiality, fantasy, and coming-of-age into a family farce”.

men-and-chicken7

“Men & Chicken” is bizarre and beautiful. Yet, Jensen’s empathy for his characters gradually impedes his imagination. The jokes dry up giving the characters little to do. Jensen has an unusual, almost commendable problem: He likes his characters too much to put them through the wringer of farce or even horror, leaving them stuck in a no-man’s-land of silliness.

men-and-chicken8

Special features include a lengthy booklet featuring gorgeous behind-the-scenes photos and concept art from the film’s production as well as a brief essay from Jensen, trailers for Drafthouse Films releases and a free HD digital copy of the film.

“MACBETH”— The Dark Version

macbeth

“MACBETH”
The Dark Version
Amos Lassen

Orson Welles plunged into what was already one of Shakespeare’s darkest works into the primeval darkness and assumes the title role of the thane who, in response to the pre- and post-determinate urgings of four women, hacks and slashes his way to assume the crown of Scotland and spends the entirety of his short reign fearing the similarly presaged events that threaten to depose him wit great violence. In Grand Guignol fashion, Macbeth’s fears and dirty deeds result in his sanctioning further atrocities and self-fulfilling prophecy. The limited scope of Welles’s production design, turns Macbeth into the king of a kingdom that resembles nothing so much as a replica of Stonehenge and ends up making subconscious comments on his perceptibly fallen fortunes. That Macbeth’s crown rests so uneasily makes one wonder if Welles, at this point, wasn’t even less confident in his artistic command than anyone realized.

macbeth1a
Welles, himself, inverts his usual charisma so that it here represents a rotting soul. But beyond him and Jeanette Nolan, who plays Lady Macbeth, the rest of the cast seems stuck in readers’ theater mode. The new Olive Films release offers the long cut with the Scottish accents intact. Some of the more heavily processed sequences bear the mark of age, but there are a few scenes in the darkest recesses of those dripping caves where the black levels are incredibly inky.

macbeth4
“Macbeth” is surreal and primitive and wonderfully imperfect. The production is a clear act of madness, on par with the insanity that takes place within the story. It is somewhat of a gothic murder mystery–but without the mystery. We know that Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth invent a scheme to commit regicide and take over the throne. They are spurred on by the murky prophecy of three witches, and to take care of business, Macbeth must betray his friends, murder children, and basically transform himself into a tyrant. Haunted by their crimes, both husband and wife go crazy. In addition to the magic of the three witches, Macbeth also sees ghosts. The spirits of the men he betrays return to torment him (or he’s just losing his mind).

macbeth2

Welles plays up on this, and his “Macbeth” is a spooky horror tale. The rocky walls of his cavernous sets box Macbeth in, trapping him at the crime scene. The sky is dark, and thunder claps echo in the distance (though regularly without the lightning that follows) and the wind whistles through the corridors of the royal caves. The fabric of the plot takes on elemental proportions. Everything in this version is exaggerated. Welles shoots from low angles with ominous shadows on the walls. He frames actors in extreme close-ups so that it feels like we are eavesdropping, particularly during the monologues, which also dissolve into hallucinations. Sound effects are unreal and unrecognizable. When King Macbeth finally does take the throne, it is oversized and perches him high above his people. We wonder if this is just a dream? And if so, is it a delusion brought on by the witches and their smoky brew, or is it a product of Macbeth’s own paranoia?

macbeth5
Welles has a tendency to be a bit of a ham, but he keeps his propensity of overdoing it well modulated here. The famous “is this a dagger I see before me?” soliloquy is delivered as a whisper with the director saving his blustery temperament for when the fever truly grows hot. Jeanette Nolan, who makes her film debut ere, is fantastic as Lady Macbeth. Her devious, thoughtful performance stays away from anything resembling comical evil, making her slide into dementia all the more disconcerting. She’s too together to fall apart. The scene of her suicide is shocking and Welles pulls off one of the best falling body special effects in classic cinema. Likewise, the eerie lead-in to the climactic battle, with Malcolm’s army advancing on the castle while camouflaged, is fantastic. In terms of cinematic Shakespearian adaptations, tis is easily one of the oddest. It’s an imperfect picture, but it’s a bold one, and is an essential part of the Orson Welles’ canon. Its breathless escalation to the frenzied finale is a desultory rush, and has finally found its way to DVD.
Olive Films’ Blu-ray of “Macbeth” is a careful encoding of the full-length, restored original Orson Welles cut. The materials exhibit a number of flaws here and but the overall appearance of the show is very good, and certainly far better than older TV prints of the short version, which were both soft and dark. The HD image pulls out a great deal of previously unseen detail in makeup, costumes and the massive sets of rocky caves and battlements, complete with painted backdrops.

macbeth6
 
OLIVE SIGNATURE FEATURES include
New High-Definition digital restoration
Includes 1948 and 1950 versions
Audio Commentary with Welles biographer Joseph McBride
“Welles and Shakespeare” – an interview with Welles expert, Professor Michael Anderegg
“Adapting Shakespeare on Film” – a conversation with directors Carlo Carlei (Romeo & Juliet) and Billy Morrissette (Scotland, PA)
Excerpt from We Work Again, a 1937 WPA documentary containing scenes from Welles’ Federal Theatre Project production of “Macbeth”
“That Was Orson Welles” – an interview with Welles’ close friend and co-author, Peter Bogdanovich
“Restoring ‘Macbeth’” – an interview with former UCLA Film & Television Archive Preservation Officer Bob Gitt
“Free Republic: The Story of Herbert J. Yates and Republic Pictures”
“The Two ‘Macbeths’” – an essay by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum

“COFFEE AND CIGARETTES”— Seventeen Years in the Making

coffee and cigarettes

“COFFEE AND CIGARETTES”

Seventeen Years in the Making

Amos Lassen

Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes” is an unmistakably nostalgic film that takes place in a series of eleven brief discursive vignettes. It tookJarmusch over seventeen years to make this anthology of conversations most among famous or semi famous people, who to a degree play themselves. We see Bill Murray moonlighting as a waiter, Cate Blanchett as a blond movie star, Steve Buscemi waiting on tables, spilling bad coffee on Joie and Cinqué Lee (whose more famous brother, Spike, is mentioned in a later vignette).

coffee1

Some of the episodes are slight and anecdotal. Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes discuss the physics of the Tesla coil; Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni talk past each other before one of them goes off to a dental appointment and others sound like good short stories.

coffee2

We see that under the influence of nicotine and caffeine, and with too much time on their hands, people have a way of getting on one another’s nerves. You might think that a meeting between Iggy Pop and Tom Waits would be a kind of summit of uncompromising cool, but in each other’s company those musicians turn defensive and passive/aggressive. Even in the most casual exchanges, hidden agendas and unspoken tensions exist beneath the surface. Mr. Buscemi’s idle chatter, and the Lees’ response to it, shows a bit of racial hostility. Two old friends (Isaach de Bankolé and Alex Descas) talk in circles around some unnamed emotional distress before saying their inconclusive and sad goodbyes.

Title: COFFEE AND CIGARETTES ¥ Pers: WRIGHT, STEVEN  /  BENIGNI, ROBERTO ¥ Year: 2003 ¥ Dir: JARMUSCH, JIM ¥ Ref: CAC008AG ¥ Credit: [ SMOKESCREEN/UNITED ARTISTS / THE KOBAL COLLECTION / JARMUSCH, JIM ]

Title: COFFEE AND CIGARETTES ¥ Pers: WRIGHT, STEVEN / BENIGNI, ROBERTO ¥ Year: 2003 ¥ Dir: JARMUSCH, JIM ¥ Ref: CAC008AG ¥ Credit: [ SMOKESCREEN/UNITED ARTISTS / THE KOBAL COLLECTION / JARMUSCH, JIM ]

In the two strongest chapters (one featuring Blanchett and another in which Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina play a deft game of celebrity one-upmanship) we realize that vague discomforts blossom into one-act dramas of envy and suspicion.

coffee4

This movie has great music that ranges from Mahler to the Skatalites. Its magic lies in the echoes and unexpected harmonies between the selections. Snatches of conversation and stray thoughts recur like musical motifs.

cofee5

In the short film vignettes where one or two characters meet in coffee shops or dilapidated hotels and warehouses, they talk, sometimes have a misunderstanding, and at some point mention that there’s nothing better than the simple pleasures of a cup of coffee and a cigarette. However, at times, “Coffee and Cigarettes” becomes redundant and dull. Not all of the sketches work, but there are highlights: a confrontation between a goofy Iggy Pop and a growly Tom Waits inside a jukebox bar; Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and GZA discussing herbal remedies with a caffeine-delirious Bill Murray; Steve Coogan making a pompous ass out of himself to good-willed Alfred Molina; and especially Cate Blanchett playing twins, sending up her own glamorous movie star image while simultaneously proving her multitalented range as an actress. The ending comes with two old blue-collar guys on a coffee break, with an ode to the workingman (to Mahler’s music). The film is shot in black and white making the whole business seem dreary.

cofee7

The characters in the film discuss things as diverse as caffeine popsicles, Paris in the twenties, and the use of nicotine as an insecticide, all the while sitting around sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. Jarmusch seems to takes delight in nostalgia, fine music and absurd dialogue to fully capture just how absorbing the obsessions, joys, and addictions of life can be. 

coffee10

As master of minimalism and of using unique camera angles, Jarmusch draws out contrasts in pictures that tell stories without words. The main themes are the nature of celebrity and the misunderstandings that can arise between friends and relatives. The film is original and for that it should be seen.

“HOUDINI”— The Legend

houdini

“HOUDINI”

The Legend

Amos Lassen

In the years following Houdini’s death, the legends about him, like all legends, became much more interesting than the truth. Yet as time passed and the legend, it began to reverse itself and we learn that the truth far more interesting than the legend. We certainly would rather hear that Houdini was the greatest escape artist instead of learning that he was actually boring and had no stage presence. Houdini overcame potentially fatal flaws to become someone whose very name is synonymous with magic and escape artistry and this is the Houdini we want to remember.

houdini1

Directed by George Marshall and written by Philip Yordan, “Houdini” is a fluffy, sometimes even comical presentation of Houdini the legend that highlights several key escapes and playing up his fabled interest in the paranormal. It overlooks almost every important fact about the real Houdini but there is enough other stuff to keeps us entertained. Thanks to Tony Curtis we see Houdini as a charming man and he is supported by Janet Leigh as Bess, his wife and the popularity of the couple in real life helped the film.

houdini2

The film begins at a cheap sideshow where Harry is not yet Houdini and working as a magician and “the wild man”. He sees Bess in the audience and when the two met it was love at first sight and they were quickly married. Already thinking about the legend, he claims that on their wedding night, he sawed Bess in half. That gives us a hint of where this movie is going. The film jumps around Houdini’s life with little basis in fact (which does not make this any the less entertaining). It just seems that it has chosen to the urban legends (or simply make up new ones).

houdini5

Scenes detailing Houdini’s interest in the occult stick more to the truth. After his mother died, we see that Houdini turned to spiritualism in hopes of soothing his loss, only to discover every medium he encountered was a fraud. Thus began Houdini’s side career as professional debunker, but this dealt with on a shallow level.

houdini6

The screenplay is more interested in getting back to the daring escapes which are recreated with plenty of excitement that are presented in over-the-top ways. It all ends with Houdini’s death and once again there is no relationship to the truth about how Houdini died. It is certainly more interesting and more fun to see him die as the result of a failed escape than having him die as a result of peritonitis. It might be fiction but it is fun to watch.

houdini3

What is missing here is any sense of Houdini’s personality here, and understanding of character. This is simply a straightforward point-by-point account of famous moments in Houdini’s career with no subtext. To an extent, it works, as the film achieves exactly what it sets out to accomplish but nothing more than that.