Category Archives: Film

“THE IGUANA WITH A TONGUE OF FIRE”— Murder in Dublin

“The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire”

Murder in Dublin

Amos Lassen

“The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire” is an  excessive giallo film with a rogues gallery of perverse characters; violent, fetishized murders, and one of the genre s most nonsensical, red-herring laden plots (which sees almost every incidental character hinted at potentially being the killer). Set in Dublin, the film opens audaciously with an acid-throwing, razor-wielding maniac brutally murdering a woman in her own home. The victim’s mangled corpse is discovered in a limousine owned by Swiss Ambassador Sobiesky (Anton Diffring) and a police investigation is launched, When the murders continue and the ambassador claims diplomatic immunity, tough ex-cop John Norton (Luigi Pistilli) is brought in to find the killer…

This is a lurid over-the-top film directed by  Riccardo Freda. It is trashy and filled with slashes and begins with the horrible mutilated, acid-splashed and razored body of a young Dutch woman being found in the boot of a Rolls Royce. Her murder is seen just after the credits, at the hands of a killer wearing dark glasses. The discovery sparks an investigation, which is hampered by Ambassador Sobieski’s diplomatic immunity. However, along with the Ambassador there  are many shifty looking characters littering the embassy, including his opium addicted wife (Valentina Cortese); the sweaty chauffeur, Mandel (Renato Romano), who needs to wear dark glasses because of his conjunctivitis; the Ambassador’s beautiful daughter Helene (Dagmar Lassander) and his smarmy son Marc (Werner Pochat). 

Another body turns up connected to the steely-eyed Ambassador. His mistress, a flame-haired nightclub singer (Dominique Boschero), is found slashed to death just after he was seen leaving her backstage dressing room. it is here that the frustration from their lack of progress causes the police bring in the unofficial help of ex-Inspector John Norton. Norton had been kicked off the force after his incompetence led to a man he was violently interrogating grabbing his gun and blowing his brains out (a moment lovingly shown in slo-mo several times). When not at home with his teenage daughter and amateur sleuth mother, Norton gets stuck into the case by getting stuck into the Ambassador’s daughter.

However, despite Norton’s best efforts, more of the Sobieski clan – and their friends and associates – end up at the wrong end of the iguana’s tongue of fire …

The film has many red herrings, from almost everyone owning a pair of dark glasses (like the one the killer wore during the first murder) to one of the characters protesting his innocence by producing a receipt from ‘Swastika Laundry’.

Director Freda seems to revel in gore to a level not usually seen in the giallo. The gore effects are wholly unconvincing but those who love sleaze should enjoy them— we see throats slashed emitting geysers of blood and a mannequin has acid thrown at her face. An exciting and improbable ending and confrontation with the killer comes at the end of the film.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  New 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Uncompressed mono 1.0 LPCM audio

  Original English and Italian soundtracks, titles and credits

  Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack

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

  New audio commentary by giallo connoisseurs Adrian J. Smith and David Flint

  Of Chameleons and Iguanas, a newly filmed video appreciation by the cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer

  Considering Cipriani, a new appreciation of the composer Stelvio Cipriani and his score to The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire by DJ and soundtrack collector Lovely Jon

  The Cutting Game, a new interview with Iguana s assistant editor Bruno Micheli

  The Red Queen of Hearts, a career-spanning interview with the actress Dagmar Lassander

  Original Italian and international theatrical trailers

  Image gallery

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys

  Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Andreas Ehrenreich

“AT THE DRIVE-IN”— Facing the Future

“At The Drive-In”

Facing the Future

Amos Lassen

Alexander Monelli’s documentary “At the Drive-In” captures the essence and atmosphere of a drive-in movie theater and those who bring it to life. His original plan to look at the drive-in industry changed when he met the crew of the Mahoning Drive-In in Lehighton, Pennsylvania. The long-standing establishment, like most theaters has been trying to stay fresh and relevant and played first-run movies for as long as they could. Things became challenging for Jeff and his team at the advent of digital projection when distributors were phasing out 35mm prints. Jeff was faced with the dilemma in that he realized that he could not afford to buy  a digital projector and  along with Matt and Virgil, decided to program retro film screenings, which would allow them to obtain 35mm film prints. However, what he could not know was whether crowds would come.

 

The staff of the Mahoning Drive-In work for free and choose to make this a part of their lives because they love movies and appreciate old slasher films and comedies, which can’t often be screened in mainstream theaters. “At the Drive-In” is the story on the Mahoning community who refer to themselves as a family.

The film is both a celebration and a eulogy but it’s without a doubt something every film lover should see. It is not just a documentary about a theater — it’s a story about friendship, family, life and passion. The Mahoning Drive-In Theater sits at the gateway to the Poconos about a half-hour drive off the Pennsylvania Turnpike and has been in operation since 1949.  The theater ran first-run movies up until about 2014 when movie studios began eliminating 35 mm presentations and offering their films exclusively in a digital format.

This mean that a digital projector was a requited purchase putting the owner, Jeff, into a quandary.  Audience turnout was low and acquiring a digital projector was out of the question. Two film enthusiasts Matt and Virgil, were able to convince Jeff to focus exclusively on retro movies that could be shown in all their 35 mm glory. This gives a new angle to the story in that aside from the story of this theater, this is the story of the blossoming friendship between Jeff, Matt and Virgil as they work to keep the theater operating amid very real financial concerns.  While Jeff, Matt and Virgil are the key figures in this story, we also learn about other film aficionados who volunteer their time to work at the theater simply for their love of the theater — or in one woman’s case, love for Jeff.

We meet some of the fans who frequent the theater.  Some live close by, but one enthusiast comes all the way from Hartford, CT to watch movies and volunteer behind the counter.  Additionally, Monelli introduces us to personalities and characters who are bound by their love of movies and their love for The Mahoning Drive-In Theater.

The film captures what makes a theater like The Mahoning Drive-In Theater so special.  Watching this, we get a true sense of the devotion that these people have for movies and particularly this theater. 

SPECIAL FEATURES

  Over 17 minutes of deleted scenes

  Cast Commentary #1: Featuring Director Alexander Monelli, Mahoning Drive-in owners Jeff Mattox, Matt McClanahan, Virgil Cardamone and cast.

  Cast Commentary #2: Featuring Director Alexander Monelli, Mahoning Drive-in owner Jeff Mattox and cast.

  Director Commentary #3: Featuring Director Alexander Monelli and special guest Robert Humanick

  Q&A from a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY (30 mins)

  Original Theatrical Trailer

“TERRA FORMAS”—An Intergalactic Epic

“Terra Formars”

An Intergalactic Epic

Amos Lassen

Director Takashi Miike brings us an intergalactic epic in which a team of space explorers find themselves up against a horde of oversized anthropomorphic cockroaches. (Yes, you read that correctly).

In the mid-21st century, humankind has been forced to look to colonizing other planets as a means of combating overcrowding on Earth and their first stop, Mars has a population of cockroaches. They were introduced on Mars some 500 years prior to help prepare the way for human colonization. A manned mission sets out to the red planet with the aim of clearing away the bugs. Upon arrival, however, they discover that the roaches have evolved to huge, vicious creatures capable of wielding weapons. The film on the popular Manga series of the same name and is an action-packed space adventure brought to life by one of Japan’s most celebrated contemporary filmmakers.

However, the high concept sci-fi adventure quickly descends into a repetitive series of violent scuffles and bizarre mutations as a ragtag team of outcasts head to Mars to battle an army of giant anthropomorphic cockroaches. Set in 2599, Earth is facing a serious overpopulation crisis. Fronted by the mysterious Dr Honda (Oguri Shun), a crew of convicts, outcasts and reprobates are hired to participate in a dangerous exploratory mission to Mars. However, two years ago the six members of the BUGS 1 mission all died shortly after arrival. 

Now the expendable crew of BUGS 2 has been sent to investigate, only to discover the cockroaches have mutated into hulking 7-foot beasts with a penchant for decapitation. The crew learn they have each been injected with an experimental serum that temporarily mutates them into different insects, giving them use of their various defense and attacking characteristics. However, the sheer size and number of the cockroach “Terra Formars” means the battle is far from won.

Once the high-concept premise has been put in place, there is little plot to “Terra Formars” beyond scientific infomercials into the various insect characteristics adopted by each character. and occasional flashbacks or expository monologues detailing how each character got to be on this apparent suicide mission. 

Ito Hideaki and Takei Emi play Shokichi and Nanao, siblings both accused of murder, only for Nanao to become the first victim of the alien bugs, infusing Shokichi with a vengeful determination. Other crew members include a pair of yakuza, a serial killer, the head of a child prostitution ring, and a hapless kickboxer. Kikuchi Rinko cameos as a corrupt ex-cop along for the ride while Kane Kosugi also appears as a former terrorist. Needless to say, the nefarious powers-that-be back home ensure not all is as it seems and by the end, characters have been double crossed, romantic yearnings declared and newfound friendships formed.

 Even though the film is lacking in substance, individual action sequences or imaginative mutations work on their own. I also had a great time watching it.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Original uncompressed Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA options

  Newly-translated English subtitles

  The Making of Terra Formars – feature-length documentary on the film s production featuring a host of cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage

  Extended cast interviews

  Footage from the 2016 Japanese premiere

  Outtakes

  Image Gallery

  Theatrical and teaser trailers

  Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options

  FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully illustrated collector s booklet with new writing on the film by Tom Mes

“LIFE AFTER FLASH”— Taking Stock of a Film and a Life

“Life After Flash”

Taking Stock of a Life and a Film

Amos Lassen

It is only vaguely mentioned in the film (most likely out of respect to Jones’ Evangelical faith), but his first claim to fame was a nude pictorial in “Playgirl” Magazine. This brought him to the attention of larger-than-life producer Dino De Laurentiis, who eventually cast him as the lead in his ambitious “Flash Gordon” reboot but their relationship was not good. Jones very definitely wanted to continue playing Flash.

There are a lot of behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the film, with extended reminiscences from Melody Anderson, Brian Blessed (who really came to play), Topol, Peter Wyngarde, Richard “Rocky Horror” O’Brien, and Brian May from Queen. Timothy Dalton and Max von Sydow are missing but that was a real mistake on their part. In fact, the participating cast-members and other assorted talking heads make a great case for the film, especially Blessed, who argues: that it is not camp, it is a cartoon strip.”

The real surprise is how interesting Jones’ life after “Flash Gordon” has been. He has done plenty of low budget movies and guest appearances on episodic television, but viewers will really want to hear more about his second career as a personal security specialist (bodyguard), specializing in escorting VIPs across the Mexican border.

Jones also talks quite a bit about his family and his Christian faith. He always sounds sincere, and transgressions. Frankly, given his military background, Jones definitely sounds like he is out of step with most of his Hollywood friends.

All things considered, Jones’ survival story is downright inspiring. It isn’t just him. Anderson and Topol have also gone on to contribute to society in ways beyond their acting careers. Yet we get a lot of nostalgia for fans of late 1970s and early 1980s science fiction.  There is a lot of fun in this documentary that combines the making of story of how legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis brought the disparate elements of “Flash Gordon” together to make the adaptation of one of the first comic book superheroes and the story of what happened after the movie. Naturally, much of what we see is classic talking head documentary filmmaking. The key difference is that the heads doing the talking are really interesting. 

Leading the way, of course, is Flash Gordon himself, actor Sam Jones. While Jones has had something of a pop culture resurrection in recent years with his delightful cameos in “Ted” and “Ted 2”, the former Flash Gordon wandered for many years after his 1980 screen debut was widely panned and his behind the scenes clash with the legendary producer left him blackballed from Hollywood. 

Today, Sam Jones is a family man and a man of deep faith who is enjoying a bit resurgence and the seeming reevaluation of “Flash Gordon” as a cult classic. Sam was loved by his fellow cast members but struggled with demons that separated him from his family and led to the end of more than one marriage. Now, he’s found a stable new love and reconnected with his family and friends in ways that are inspiring. 

There is a sequence in the documentary that juxtaposes Sam’s remarkable workout regimen, for a man of his age, and a recounting of the kind of delusional behavior that led to him being replaced with a stand-in near the end of filming. The sequence is not intended to make Sam look bad; it plays with the image of the Sam Jones who struggled with overwhelming fame and fortune, and the healthy, happy, and wise man he is today. 

Jones isn’t the only great thing about “Life After Flash”. The highlight of the documentary is longtime character actor Brian Blessed, whose anecdotes on the behind the scenes goings on are funny and naughty. Blessed’s voice is as booming and exciting as it was when he portrayed Prince Vultan, and his recounting of the story of how fellow character actor Peter Wyngarde, who played the metal-masked baddie, Klytus, delayed filming because he desperately did not want his character to die at the end is very funny. 

We meet the “Flash Gordon” fans who are an earnest group who truly believe in the quality of the movie. While comedian Rich Fulcher appears to recognize the camp appeal of  it, fans such as writer Jason Lenzi, director Robert Rodriguez, and actor Sean Gunn appear to legitimately love the movie. The film features a pair of memorabilia collectors as well whose collections of paraphernalia are remarkable. 

Holding all of this together is director Lisa Downs. Directing at a brisk pace and featuring a very colorful talking head cast, she tells a terrifically entertaining story and while I really don’t believe the movie is any kind of forgotten classic, I appreciate attempting to rehab the movie into a lost classic. Of course, the truly most memorable thing about “Flash Gordon” is the Queen soundtrack. Queen guitarist Brian May is featured in the film and offers a couple of fun stories about how the band came to be part of the movie, going almost as far as scoring the entire movie. The music of Queen became iconic, even as the movie faded from memory. 

There are lots of entertaining moments in “Life After Flash” including a series of impressions of legendary film producer Dino De Laurentis.

Sam J Jones was Flash Gordon, in 1980. It’s a film whose influence is still felt, one that featured a frankly ludicrous cast, and Queen’s second best set of contributions to a soundtrack. Sam was new to acting though, to the whirl of Hollywood, and though unnamed and unseen advisers are credited with the decision he takes ownership for picking a fight with Dino. He lost, to the extent that it’s not his voice on the screen. However, he’s had a later career that sees him attending fan conventions on a regular basis and he’s also made money from helping people cross the Mexican border as s a bodyguard for VIPs travelling south from the US.

Lisa Down’s film is a lot of fun with a variety of locations and she had to go through  hours of interviews, Downs manages to assemble a fun collection of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and fascinating stories about the making of one of the greatest moments in eighties cinema. Highlights include Queen’s Brian May dishing about which members of the band came up with which parts for the iconic score, Melody Anderson discussing the physical transformation that she went through for her role as Dale Arden, and actor Peter Wyngarde confessing how he tried to talk producer Dino De Laurentiis and director Mike Hodges into not killing off his Klytus character so that he could be in the inevitable sequel (which, despite what the film’s cliffhanger ending insinuated, never materialized).

Most entertaining is how just about everyone agrees that Flash Gordon is one of the campiest movies ever made, yet they also acknowledge with a sly wink that De Laurentiis thought he was making a serious science fiction epic. Even though most of “Life After Flash” is pretty much about “Flash Gordon”, it is also about Sam J. Jones. The two are basically intertwined, and while most actors might resent being pigeonholed, Jones seems to love that his character that has become such a beloved cultural icon, something which many of his contemporaries will never get to experience. Instead of trying to outrun his past, Jones leans into it. And that’s why this documentary is just as much about the character as it is about the man.

“BEYOND ATLANTIS”— The Search For Buried Treasure

“Beyond Atlantis”

The Search for Buried Treasure

Amos Lassen

A band of adventurers on the search for a reported fortune in buried treasure investigate many islands to the south of the Philippines and discover an unknown civilization that may be descendants of the lost continent of Atlantis. These half human, half fish creatures, have pearlized eyes and can stay underwater for great lengths of time. This is important because all of their important rituals, including love-making, take place on the sea bed. But this lost tribe needs outsiders for mating and when they capture the greedy band of fortune hunters, the adventure becomes a fight for treasure.

The heart of “Beyond Atlantis” is that of a typical Amazon exploitation movie from the 1950s. There are many elements here that will be familiar to even viewers with a casual knowledge of this genre; shifty members of the expedition, hidden treasure, and intersociety romance are just some of the things here that will have you nodding in a familiar way.

The film was made around the time the Hollywood production code completely collapsed, and moviemakers had the chance to add fun stuff to their movies like explicit sex, nudity, and gory violence.. It was around the 70s when a sudden burst of new Amazon movies – seemingly all with some level of foreign participation – suddenly hit theaters. This film is significantly different from the other typical Amazon movies that got made during the revival. For one thing, it’s a rare Asian and not European (or American) take on the formula. Despite the fact the filmmakers made this during an era where they had more freedom than ever before, and that previous and later Filipino/American productions were full of sex, nudity, and violence, the results here are almost shockingly tame. 

And that is one of the biggest problems with this movie. Somewhere in the Philippines, times are tough for prominent gangster East Eddie (Sid Haig); not only must he find income by goading on his two prostitutes by telling them, “You go pop for poppa!”, he recently has had to kill a rival gangster and take over his operation. But it isn’t very long until his fortune changes; a stranger (Vic Diaz) from a distant village comes to the city, and upon approaching Eddie sells him some valuable pearls. Having learned that this man gets pearls from a mysterious woman on a regular basis in return for supplies, Eddie quickly comes up with a scheme; eliminate the middle man by forming an expedition to find the island this mysterious woman lives on and get every pearl he can get his hands on. After making a partnership with his greedy and desperate friend Logan (John Ashley), all they then need is a sailor with extensive knowledge of the area, fulfilled when they find Vic Mathias (Patrick Wayne).

Just before the expedition takes off to waters unknown, the three men are blackmailed with the threat of publicity by a nosey female anthropologist (Lenore Stevens), who wishes to join them in order to investigate evidence of a lost tribe in the area. As it eventually turns out, her suspicions prove correct; when the foursome get to the island of pearls, they find it inhabited by a tribe of people that are revealed to be the descendants of the lost civilization of Atlantis. It’s never explained how this low-tech society ended up several thousand miles from their lost Mediterranean homeland, nor how the typical citizen looks remarkably like your typical Filipino, save for a pair of bug-eyes. It is also explained why the king of this society (played by the late George Nader) is remarkably Caucasian and normal-eyed in appearance, exactly like his sexy fur bikini-wearing daughter Syrene (Leigh Christian). Anyway, while the three men search for pearls, the king not only keeps pushing Syrene to mate with one of the men to bring in fresh blood to the society, but to do so while underwater. 

Sounds agreeably sleazy, doesn’t it? And with the setting being underwater, there is also the promise of there being some genuine eroticism to be found during this but instead we have to rely on the power of suggestion and our own dirty minds. There isn’t just a distinct lack of honest-to-goodness sex but also a remarkable lack of nudity. You would think that this tribe, which possesses the ability to breathe underwater, would choose to make their traveling in this environment faster and more maneuverable by foregoing their clothing (unless the males had problems moving about due to their “rudders”.) But while the tribe may be advanced physically, they apparently aren’t mentally, since neither Syrene nor any of the bug-eyed natives ever take off their togs. As for action, until the climax, there is just about nothing that could be considered genuine “action”, and what does happen here is pretty unremarkable and unexciting.

So if this film is just as free of sex, nudity, and violence as those 1950s Amazon movies, it bothered me that I could accept that innocent attitude those previous times because they were made in more innocent times. This was made in a more permissive era with an attitude much closer to our present-day one than in the ’50s, or even the ’60s. You therefore can’t help but expect the movie to have a more “adult” approach, and its more simple-minded approach just doesn’t work.

Bonus features include: Original Theatrical Trailer, Video Interviews with John Ashley, Leigh Christian and Sid Haig, Full commentary track by filmmaker, Howard S. Berger and filmmaker Pinoy film historian, Andrew Leavold , Original 30 & 60 second TV Spots.

THREE NEW AFRO-CENTRIC FILMS“— Mash-ups of American Genre tropes and African Sensibilities”

THREE NEW AFRO-CENTRIC FILMS

“Mash-ups of American Genre tropes and African Sensibilities”

Amos Lassen

Red Dirt Report’s Louis Fowler says that “this is the way cinema is supposed to be, without the studio notes and constant interference. It’s the last bastion of true independent cinema”. IndiePix brings us three Retro Afrika films that are new Apartheid-era cult classics. Rarely Seen Outside South African Borders, these Three Digitally-Restored Genre Films Will Be Available on DVD ($19.95srp each), VOD and Digital, as Well the SVOD Service, IndiePix Unlimited on March 26, 2019

The Retro Afrika Collection pays homage to Hollywood action B-movie style and features the forgotten and discarded genre classics of African cinema. On March 26th, the third three-film collection of “RICH GIRL”, “ISIBOSHWA” and “HOSTAGE”. The films from Retro Afrika Bioscope, a label dedicated to locating, acquiring, restoring and re-releasing retro South African films from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, have all have undergone a highly-specialized digital restoration process for optimal viewing. Louis Fowler of Red Dirt Report says, “It’s remarkable to watch these films in their original Zulu language — as they really should be seen — transporting you to a new world of creative geniuses who wouldn’t let the oppressive government hold them or their home-grown art down.”

We get hapless kidnappers, blackmail and greed run amok, the trio of crime capers includes: 

“RICH GIRL (1980) — The work’s cut out for a highly trained bodyguard, tasked with protecting a wealthy businessman’s pampered and beautiful fine arts connoisseur daughter. She’s a girl who doesn’t believe she needs protection from anyone! The two end up kidnapped by thugs, while the crooks have no clue as to what they have in store. Director Tonie Van Der Merwe, one of the most popular filmmakers among black audiences in the 1970s and ’80s with 400 films to his credit, helmed this drama starring Innocent “Popo” Gumede, who was featured in many of Van Der Merwe’s films. (Zulu with English subtitles, 87 mins.)

ISIBOSHWA (1989) — In a wilderness fable of adolescence and greed, a group of boys set out on adventure, lured by a tale of missing treasure. Once the booty they seek is found, they’re overcome by gold-fever and turn on one another. Met with a similarly feverish pair of thieves, they realign in their camaraderie to get the last laugh over their treasure-seeking competitors. Tonie Van Der Merwe directed this adventure-filled caper, starring Popo Gumede Sizwe Dlamini and Hector Mathanda. (Zulu with English subtitles, 70 mins.)

HOSTAGE (1980) — Bra Jack and his two underlings, Jabu and Thabi, decide to blackmail a young local businessman, Ben, in the hopes of using one of his warehouses to store a shipment of incoming drugs. Ben, proving himself an upstanding citizen, refuses to cooperate, at least until his wife Thuli is kidnapped by the crooks! Ben turns to a friend, Michael, who helps him come up with a rescue plan in this crime drama starring the prolific Popo Gumede. Co-stars include Dumi Shongwe, Pepsi Mabizela, Vincent Vilakazi and Zanele Nyidi. (Zulu with English subtitles, 69 mins.)

Looking for a deeper dive into Sollywood? Don’t miss the first six RETRO AFRIKA titles, available now, including UMBANGO and REVENGE, a pair of unforgettable Zulu Westerns, FISHY STONES, GONE CRAZY and THE COMEDIANS, a trio of outsized, humorous crime capers representative of the genre and CHARLIE STEEL, a thriller featuring the eponymous renowned private investigator. (All have been reviewed here).

 

About IndiePix Films®

Since 2004, New York-based IndiePix Films® has delivered a highly-curated collection of the best independent films from around the world. Offering a singular catalog of nearly 2,000 films across genres, the IndiePix team selects singular titles from the international festival circuit. Avenues for distribution include their newly-launched streaming service, IndiePix Unlimited, their dedicated commerce site, IndiePixFilms.com, which offers download-to-own, streaming rental and physical media direct to consumers, and via national retail channels and select theatrical exhibition. IndiePix also owns Festival Genius, the premier platform for connecting film festivals to audiences through online ticketing, calendars, iphone apps, and more.

 

“THE GREASY STRANGLER”— Strangely Funny and Totally Disgusting

“The Greasy Strangler”

Strangely Funny and Totally Disgusting

Amos Lassen

I am not sure how to react to “Greasy Stranger”. My intellect say one thing and taste for trashiness says another. Like other movies of its kind it is disgusting and very strange. Jim Hosking directed this whatever it is and has secured his position as  one of the weirdest and absolutely most disgusting midnight movies in memory. It is also very, very funny and in truly bad taste. 
Forty-something year old Brayden (aka Big Brayden, aka Sky Elobar) still lives with his father Ronnie (aka Big Ronnie, aka Michael St. Michaels). They spend most of their time hanging around home in their undies, cooking up greasy meals, and running their walking disco tour. This tour gives Big Ronnie the perfect opportunity to show his talent as a “bullshit artist.” Ronnie has a second love as well— murder but a specialized kind of murder. We learn that Big Ronnie is also the deranged killer known as The Greasy Strangler; a man covered from head to toe in grease, including his rather sizable penis. The Greasy Strangler strangles unsuspecting people who have done him wrong.

The father and son’s comfy and greasy life changes when Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo) joins their walking disco tour and immediately is attracted to Brayden. This annoys Big Ronnie because  Brayden becomes distracted from their work. That annoyance quickly turns to jealousy when Big Ronnie realizes that his son is actually having sex with Janet. 

The plot is secondary to the weird dialog and bizarre character exchanges. However, for those who cannot handle jokes about the male anatomy be warned— there are more scenes with exposed dicks than without. The exposed penis humor is so utilized you actually get bit desensitized to it. It doesn’t stop at the male anatomy. Many laughs come from how funny the naked human body actually is. 


Hosking has managed to make one of the weirdest movies, maybe ever. He seemed to be aiming at John Waters-style transgression but without half of Waters’ wit and affection for eccentric lifestyles. The performers are directed in a stilted way to suggest “bad” acting; some of the supposedly clever one-liners are repeated long after they’ve stopped being funny; and the visual effects are made to look as amateurish as possible. Then there is an over-abundance of gore, lard, nudity, and bodily functions. It is as if  Hosking was challenging us to see how long we’re willing to stick with his unpleasant characters, crude jokes, and cheesy violence before we decide to walk out.

What makes the film even more unfortunate is that there are hints of the incisive character study that this could have been. Big Ronnie may have unnatural obsessions with both grease and disco, and his son, Big Brayden may be a middle-aged case of arrested development. Look past the surface grotesqueness, we see that Hosking is essentially telling a family story: that of a faithful son who desires to break free from the control of an overbearing father who can’t bear to let him go. There’s a genuine childlike innocence to Brayden’s manner that contrasts sharply with Ronnie’s domineering insanity.

When Brayden meets Janet on one of the fake disco walking tours he hosts with his father, he believes he’s fallen in love for the first time in his life, Ronnie, finding his home life threatened by this woman, tries to sabotage his son’s happiness, including seducing Janet away from him. We must also remember that Ronnie is the Greasy Strangler who annoys everyone who annoys him. anyone who annoys him. Hosking and co-screenwriter Toby Harvard reveal this within the film’s first 15 minutes, thus placing the focus of the rest of the film on the sexual and psychological war that develops between Ronnie and Brayden.

Perhaps the film’s biggest problem is in its misogynistic treatment of Janet, its one major female character. Though at first she’s charmed by Brayden’s earnestness, midway through she gravitates toward Ronnie’s predatory ways with callousness. Outside of one scene in which she claims she feels “confused” in the wake of a recent breakup, Janet comes off as little more than a handy plot device that exists simply for the sake of Ronnie and Brayden to fight over.

We have a whole lot of grease and prosthetic junk in the movie but there is not much else. I see it representative of  the worst instincts of midnight movies. Yes, its offensive and nasty and crude, etc. but it is also a lot of fun. Try to get a copy and groan along with it.

The Blu-ray includes 5.1 surround sound, stereo and English subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired. Bonus features include: Teaser Trailer, Red Band Trailer, Exclusive Cast and Crew Interviews, Theatrical Trailer, Audio commentary with director Jim Hosking, Michael St. Michaels and Sky Elobar.

“SYNONYMS”— An Israeli in Paris

“Synonyms”

An Israeli in Paris

Amos Lassen

Nadav Lapid’s  “Synonyms” is a bold, unsubtle allegory that unsettles the audience’s understandings aggressively. He does the same with the political binaries of his young expat protagonist who has been made over in a supposedly cosmopolitan Europe. The film is built around a state of confusion and every character and every narrative development has a metaphorical function. These elements show a rebuke of Israel. “Synonyms” is filled with chutzpah backed up with the necessary aesthetic and philosophical rigor and eschewing black-and-white polemics to reach a nuanced, probing and productively confrontational engagement with the film’s contentious theme. Relax, this is a film that will both entertain and make us think. with its contentious central thematic.

Many things in the film do not add up and this is an essential part of Lapid’s anti-schematic strategy. He introduces  fundamental uncertainty in the first scenes. Yoav (Tom Mercier), an Israeli who recently completed his military service, arrives in Paris and lets himself into a stunning, gigantic and completely empty apartment with a key that was left under the doormat. As he takes a shower, his belongings are stolen. Naked and freezing (it is winter), he tries and fails to get help from the neighbors.

The next morning, Emile (Quentin Dolmaire) and Caroline (Louise Chevilotte), a young couple who live upstairs, find him hypothermic in the bathtub. They take him back to their apartment, warm him up and when he comes to, give him an iPhone, expensive clothes and cash. Now with this y in a plastic bag, Yoav then leaves to move into another empty apartment, this one is tiny and dilapidated, located on “the other bank”. Emile is an aspiring writer, interested in Yoav’s bounty of stories from the Israeli army, and in his curious turns of phrases. Caroline is interested in Yoav for reasons that have more overtly to do with having seen him naked. Their rescue of him is the beginning of a passive-aggressive love triangle with a homoerotic subtext.

Yoav doesn’t know anyone in Paris, so how does he have access to these two apartments, which are such conspicuous opposites? Who would want to steal a ratty backpack and a sleeping bag? Why are Emile and Caroline so generous with a complete stranger they meet in suspect circumstances?

We never get answers to these questions and the film never dispels, nor confirms, the suspicion that Yoav might have died in the bathtub and that the rest of the film is a fantasy. What’s clear is that his naked and dispossessed awakening represents a rebirth that invites an allegorical reading of everything that follows, and it is amazing that the film does not die under its own weight.

Early on, Yoav buys himself a French dictionary and starts learning new words, reciting synonyms as he walks around Paris. The first one we hear is an attack against his homeland. His face framed in a tight close-up, he speaks straight into the camera: “Israel is nasty, obscene, odious, sordid, abominable…” The list goes on for a while. Whereas Yoav wants a complete break with his past and refuses to ever speak Hebrew again, another Israeli character, Yoron, wields his ethnicity with aggressive pride, getting in the face of strangers at bars or on the subway and shouting that he is Jewish, daring them to attack him and prove themselves to be anti-Semites.

Through such contrasts, Lapid presents differences in Israeli identity. By setting “Synonyms” outside of Israel, Lapid introduces an explicit international dimension elaborating his deceptively dialectical approach. Yoav imagines France as a utopia, whose core egalitarian values of liberty, equality and fraternity as well as strict separation of church and state are the opposite of Israel’s. At the same time, Emile and Camille personify his aspired-to French ideals: beautiful, rich, cultured, romantic, promiscuous.

Yoav conceives of everything in binary terms and when his experience fails to neatly corroborate these dichotomies, it brings about a breakdown. Late in the film, he attends an integration course and the teacher gets him to sing the Marseillaise. Taken aback by the militaristic and xenophobic content of the lyrics, Yoav sings each successive verse with increasing ferocity, giving expression to the violent extent of his disillusionment. As the reality checks accumulate and his fairy tale becomes scarred by exploitation and intolerance, Yoav is forced to confront the impracticability of escape as a solution to conflict, be it internal or external.

This film is  feature is an incendiary portrait of psychological trauma of a man on the run from himself. It also works as a migrant’s story and follows an exiled Israeli soldier who comes to Paris where he is determined to forget the past and forge a new future. There’s nothing new about the expat-in-Paris plot line but Lapid brings a refreshing physical energy to his drama making it absurdist and at times exasperating, but ultimately entertaining and watchable, even though the plot is thin and too long. 

Tom Mercier exudes energy that propels the film forward though its highs and lows. Some scenes are engaging, others ridiculous and banal. Mercier’s physical presence alone is a force to be reckoned with— he is muscled and lean and he conveys violent unrest and also a vulnerability, best in the scenes when he takes his clothes off, as he often does. In one burst of action, he jumps up on a table and does a striptease and in another he goes through a humiliating nude photo shoot for an off-the-wall artist, who pays him cash. 

Yoav is a mystery, both to Emile and Caroline and to the film’s audience. He professes his hatred of Israel and refuses to speak Hebrew with other Israelis he meets in Paris, but it’s unclear precisely what happened to make him leave Israel aside from his being after the army. At various times, Yoav shows himself to be fastidious, unorganized, controlled, childlike, learned, naïve, capable, and easily overwhelmed. He is more or less inscrutable from moment to moment.

The attraction Emile and Caroline feel to Yoav, and the tensions that drove Yoav away from Israel, will come full circle, but only after the film  takes a roundabout route through Yoav’s brief employment in security at the Israeli embassy (which ends when he spontaneously declares “no borders” and lets everyone in line enter); his friendship with a militant Zionist who tries to provoke fights  so that he can claim them as anti-Semitic attacks; and a required assimilation class he takes as he attempts to legitimately immigrate.  The audience feels that something is missing; we flash back to some of Yoav’s experiences in the army, but the events that drove him away are always just outside of the bounds of the scene. There is an inconsistency in style and pacing that makes the film feel elusive and estranging, but that’s probably the point. One theme of Lapid’s film is the irrational sickness that’s nationalism: At times it appears that Israeli nationalism has driven Yoav mad, given him his detached affect and his habit of obsessively reciting synonyms in the street. His seemingly unmotivated outbursts of eccentric behavior suggest a kind of madness. But perhaps he seems mad because he’s between identities, an Israeli who’s no longer an Israeli, and still only has “weird French”.  “Synonyms” is a bold film about the refusal to assimilate in one country, and the failure to assimilate in another.

“DARK RIVER”— Coming Home

“Dark River”

Coming Home

Amos Lassen

Following the death of her father, Alice (Ruth Wilson) returns home to Yorkshire for the first time in 15 years, to claim the family farm she believes is rightfully hers. Once there she finds her older brother Joe (Mark Stanley), a man she barely recognizes, worn down by years of struggling to keep the farm going while caring for their sick father. Joe is thrown by Alice’s sudden arrival and upset by her claim. He cannot deal with her being there and soon the siblings fight to regain control. Alice is forced to confront traumatic memories and family betrayals to find a way to restore the farm and save her bond with her brother before both lost forever.

This is a slow-burning, intense tale of a sibling power struggle. Alice is a roving sheep shearer who returns home and finds both the farm and her younger brother Joe in comparable states of disrepair.

Ground down by the day-to-day care of their recently-deceased father (Sean Bean in flashback) and looking for a quick sale, Joe struggles to understand his sister’s motivation for returning the farm back to its former glory. The rightful owner of the property, Alice finds herself battling not only her brother but also her abusive past. An increasingly unhinged Joe accepts a backhander from the farm’s unscrupulous landlords to sell Alice’s inheritance from under her nose, setting a tragic chain of events.

Anchored by two excellent but contrasting performances (Wilson and Stanley), the film expands upon the themes of childhood kinship while at the same time serving as a condemnation of the historic exploitation and mismanagement of rural agricultural heartland. Throughout the film, bonds, both familial or statutory, are abused and betrayed, the only true loyalty is seen is in the duty-bound dogs that slink along at Alice’s side. A kindly neighbor (Dean Andrews) provides a bit of respite from the mounting pressure, but as Joe’s psychological integrity begins to crumble, Alice finds herself in danger of losing more than physical property.

Beautifully filmed by Brazilian cinematographer Adriano Goldman, the film explores exploring both the inner and outer-workings of the characters. Perfectly-cast Wilson is constantly swimming against the current of her own harrowing memories, often telling more in a single glance than her broken brother ever could. Clio Barnard  directed this relentlessly dismal look at one of Britain’s bleakest enclaves with a haunting intimacy that brings us deep inside her characters’ volatile psyches. She leaves the specifics of Alice’s abuse tastefully vague and focuses instead on her strained relationship with her brother, Joe, whom she feels failed to protect her from their father. The two become involved in a dispute over control of the family’s sheep ranch that symbolically represents their diverging paths since Alice left home 15 years ago. While she has dealt with her demons by always keeping busy, her brother has sunk into indolence and alcoholism, allowing the farm to gradually fall into disrepair.

“PUSHER”— Opioids in the Heartland

“PUSHER”

Opioids in the Heartland

Amos Lassen

On the simplest level, “Pusher” is about Brittany Lee, is a small time drug dealer in the quiet Appalachian town where she grew up. She is forced to come to terms with herself when she sees her high school sweetheart years later and she sees that he suffering from drug addiction. She finally realizes the damage that she is responsible for. We have had stories about addiction in the Heartland but because it does not affect us directly, we ignore it.

​Andi Morrow slaps us across the face with her film and it is a slap that really stings because it is so real. Morrow takes quite a different approach to addiction than the usual. She avoids the common clichés and conventions that we have associated with drug dealers in the past.

This is not a film about violence, deals gone bad or territory battles. Instead we see the harm and devastation it shines a light on the devastation that addiction brings with it. Morrow is not only the writer and director but she also plays Brittany Lee who realizes what she is doing to her community. of the path she is on. She sees her supplier ready to take her profits and begin an education, and she also sees her former school sweetheart suffer from his addiction. We also see the split between the generations when she goes to a church services where the few other churchgoers are elderly and find comfort in the church as contrasted with the hopelessness of the younger generation that suffers from  in their boredom and aimlessness.

The church scenes are quite sensitive and touching and what I really enjoyed here is that this is a film that (faces a serious social problem but it offers no solutions. What we do see via the characters is humanity and on Morrow’s part self-acceptance thereby giving us a ray of hope in an otherwise dark world. The film was made with the purpose of inspiring users, pushers and  communities to fight addiction.