Category Archives: Film

“THE DREW: NO EXCUSE, JUST PRODUCE”— The Drew League

“The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce”

The Drew League

Amos Lassen

In 1970, the Drew League was created in Los Angeles in the crime and gang neighborhood of South Central. It has since grown into one of this country’s premiere destination for pro-am basketball. “The Drew” is a chronicle of the unlikely rise of a hoops institution, the men and women who made it possible, and the unifying, positive force it has become while crossing racial, cultural, and socioeconomic barriers. The film features some of the most recognizable names in the NBA and the film celebrates the value of basketball, persistence, loyalty and, above all, community. Here we see what happens when the power of sports meets the power of people.

While the film presents an inner city basketball league as fun and nourishing to a community, it’s never shy of the reality from where it is. “The Drew” follows the advancement of this 40+-year-old league as much as it looks at the brutal cultural zeitgeist of South Central Los Angeles. This is a story about basketball but it is also a story of gang violence, riots, and discrimination. In the center is a basketball league that is capable of draining that negative energy.

We meet and follow the key components of this league. Dino Smiley is a portly, calm, and enthusiastic leader who pushed The Drew from a middle school to even- larger gymnasiums through his years as owner. He’s a clear father figure who is into developing players into better people.

The Drew capably retains the purity of basketball; instead of showmanship, we see a certain elegance. From those who run this show, that element is key, along with a sense of respect. Through interviews and footage we see South Central’s violence and poverty. We also see a community that surrounds these teams. The players are proud family and a means to connect.

It is natural for teams to become close as they move toward titles so The Drew is a service as much as a sport. Everyone knows everyone else and there’s a closeness that is rare in high crime areas. The league persevered through the riots surrounding Rodney King’s beating and it has been basketball that brought this community together as whole. Without The Drew people had nowhere else to turn.

In the film we see South Central through news footage and home recordings. We see walls covered with gang graffiti and parks left in disrepair. While that still exists outside of these gyms, the Drew League provides a place of comfort. It’s entertainment, and honestly so. Smiley is a potent, quiet personality who carries this film just as he has carried his community.

NBA players have come from this league but it was slow. We see the early personalities who personified this local spot. Later, as growth catapulted The Drew into a notable position, stars came to play rather than leave for the NBA. It is great to see Kobe and Harden square off in a high school gym but Smiley and The Drew has earned that. The film shows us why.

“THE MAN WHO SAW TOO MUCH”— A Cinematic Tribute to Enrique Metinides

“The Man Who Saw Too Much”

A Cinematic Tribute to Enrique Metinides

Amos Lassen

Even when he was still a youngster, Enrique Metinides was obsessed with images and would photograph car accidents and snap pictures at the local morgue in his hometown of Mexico City. Tabloids picked up his work soon started publishing his photos, and this is how he began his thirty-year career as a crime photographer. Metinides often captures not only gruesome scenes of human tragedy but also the curious reactions of onlookers. Filmmaker Trisha Ziff explores our morbid fascination with death and accidents by looking at Enrique Metinides. “The Man Who Saw Too Much” is a self-narrated tribute to the man who turned tragedy into art without exploitation and whose work has become an international art sensation. Director Ziff learns quickly that her subject of the documentary is a “meaningful daredevil.”

Today Metinides is in his 80s and looking back at his career, we see that his specialty was tragedy – car crashes, earthquakes, gas explosions, wrecks, murder, derailments and heartbreak. This documentary goes into his history that comes to us through interviews with him and with some members of the photography community in Mexico. The film is like a slideshow and it is both “relentless and calm”.

You have to look slowly and closely at the photographs to get the full impact. In one photo, for instance, we see a group of stone-faced and men and women wearing aprons who carry a stunned-looking girl down a flight of stairs. It takes a while to notice that her arm is lost up to the elbow inside of the meat grinder attached to it. And then we see what can only be described as ground meat coming out of the machine.

At times, and this is one of them, the film is shocking and it is easy to think that you have seen too much. The film offers a rich selection of Metinides’s work from the age of 9 when he took a picture of a morgue superintendent holding up the severed head of a murder victim.

Metinides tells his story in interviews and voice-overs and he shares how he first was drawn to looking at dead people while watching crime movies as a kid. He claims that he photographed 30 or 40 corpses each day of his career until his retirement in 1978, and it seems like we see every one of them.

Ziff’s film is not just a horror show or a catalog of grotesques. Rather it’s an essay on voyeurism, our fascination with mortality, fate, the fragility of the human body, and the nature of photography.  The film explores the moral propriety of sharing images of horrific private tragedies with the public. We see that these photos are of someone’s worst memory of something they will try their whole lives to forget and will fail to do so.

The DVD features exclusive deleted scenes, the official trailer from THE film and subtitles in English.

“ALL OVER AGAIN”— Rediscovery

“All Over Again”

Rediscovery

Amos Lassen

Gregory (Joseph Fuoco) is a family man and a guitarist who tries to reignite his passion for music with the hopes of performing again one day. We first see him fooling around with his guitar and then we quickly shift to open mic night at the Bus Stop Music Cafe, a place in New Jersey. It is one of those friendly hangouts with a regular crowd who actively support those who take part in providing the entertainment. When Greg was a young husband and father, he loved playing the guitar and we understand that even with this love, he pushed it aside and concentrated on being a father and part of a family. Yet he has been working on a song and trying to gain the courage to sing it and play in front of an audience. This is the basic plot of the short 17-minute film but what is really interesting is that it that short amount of time we get to know and care for the characters. We watch various performers at the cafe and we see Greg’s home life with wife and son as well as his work on the guitar. At the end we see Greg sing his song.

It all begins with Greg accompanying his friend Luis (David Andro) to open mic night as he rediscovers his love of the guitar. We also see that in writing a song and eventually performing it pushed him to deal with his emotional baggage first— so much so that his wife (Constance Reshey) and son (Mahdi Shaji) worry about him.

What we really see is Greg’s creative process, his midlife crisis and his passion. The story is told both in the present and via flashbacks and shares the message of never giving up on fulfilling a dream. All of us have experienced some aspect of this story and it does indeed take courage to follow dreams.

Short films take us into a moment in which it is our job to find a deep meaning and feel its impact. More often than not, I am surprised at what can be done and said in such a short amount of time.

“All Over Again” is touching and like I said, its message is right there. Most of the secondary characters are there because they are the inspiration that Greg needs but I found that it took away from my concentration on the main character. This is one of those movies that make you feel good and it is now being shown at festivals. If you have a chance to see it, do so.

 

“WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN, TALE OF CINEMA”

 

“Woman Is The Future Of Man, Tale Of Cinema”

Two Films By Hong Sangsoo

Amos Lassen

This DVD/Blu ray brings together “Women is the Future of Man” and “Tale of Cinema”, the fifth and sixth films by Hong Sangsoo, the South Korean filmmaker who has been compared to Eric Rohmer that great French director and observer of human foibles.

“Women is the Future of Man” is the story of two long-time friends, a filmmaker (Kim Taewoo) and a teacher (Yoo Jitae), who have had an affair with the same woman (Sung Hyunah). They decide to meet the girl one more time and see what happens…

“Tale of Cinema” is something of a film within a film that tells two stories—- one about a depressive young man (Lee Kiwoo) who forms a suicide pact with a friend (Uhm Jiwon); and the other, the story of a filmmaker (Kim Sangkyung) who sees a film that he believes was based on his life, and who meets the actress from the film hoping to turn their onscreen relationship into reality. Hong Sangsoo employs his style to create two compelling and truthful looks at human emotion and behavior.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Original 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Newly translated optional English subtitles

Newly filmed introductions to both films by Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns

Interviews with Kim Sangkyung, Lee Kiwoo and Uhm Jiwon, the stars of Tale of Cinema

Introduction to Woman is the Future of Man by director Martin Scorsese

The Making Woman is the Future of Man, a featurette on the film s production

Interviews with the actors of Woman is the Future of Man

Stills gallery

Original trailers

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Michael Sicinski

“DETECTIVE BUREAU 2-3 GO TO HELL BASTARDS”— Redefining Japanese Crime Drama

“Detective Bureau 2-3 Go to Hell Bastards!”

Redefining Japanese Crime Drama

Amos Lassen

Seijun Suzuki’s “Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!” is a ‘hard hitting, rapid-fire yakuza film that redefined the Japanese crime drama.’

Detective Tajima (Shishido Jo) is tasked with tracking down a consignment of stolen firearms and as the investigation progresses things take an anarchic, blood-drenched grudge match. This is a rapidly paced, darkly funny, and stylish film that I predict will achieve cult status one day. “Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!” is also cheesy and mundane. An annoying jazz-pop score bounced around as our star grimaced across the screen, looking more like a man with the runs than a man on. Tajima is a freelance PI who wants in on the shady dealings of the underworld and convinces the police to let him go undercover and work his way into this new mysterious gang. He finds his way into their cool garage and in the rest of the film, the yakuza are suspicious to the point of overkill.

Shishido Jo is as tough and debonair as he finds his way through a seemingly endless stream of hoodlum warriors. I understand that this is a parody of the whole yakuza/police drama but often the acting is stiff and the humor is just not always and I believe that is because the film did not age well. The idea of broadcasting live a prisoner’s release where gangs of yakuza await outside the police headquarters is classic but it is also over the top. Also, the fact they have yakuza with swords is funny in that whole yakuza thinking they are modern-day samurai. It is a B movie and has its moments but overall it just doesn’t date well.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:

High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation

DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Newly translated optional English subtitles

Interview with historian and Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns

Gallery of original production stills

Theatrical trailer

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin

“THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL”— Special Blu-ray Edition

“The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail”

Special Blu-ray Edition

Amos Lassen

“The Case of the Scorpion s Tail” is certainly representative of 1971 it was released with citizens of the world traveling all over. The film begins in London, where Lisa Baumer (Evelyn Stewart) learns that her husband has died in a freak plane accident. She goes to Athens to collect his generous life insurance policy, she soon discovers that others beside herself are eager to get their hands on the money and are willing to kill for it. Meanwhile, private detective Peter Lynch (George Hilton) arrives to investigate irregularities in the insurance claim. Teaming up with a beautiful reporter, Cléo Dupont (Anita Strindberg), Lynch resolves to find out what is going on before he too ends up dead.

Sergio Martino directed and brings together beautiful views of views of Athens and the Greek coastline and violence as performed by a cast filled with Euro cult talent. “The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail” is an excellent example of the Italian Giallo. It has beautiful women in distress and danger, a killer dressed all in black, gruesome, bloody deaths, and a great soundtrack Bruno Nicolai.

A gorgeous reporter (Anita Strindberg of Lucio Fulci’s “A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin”) and an insurance agent (George Hilton of Sergio Martino’s “The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh) investigate the slashing death of Lisa Baumer and the million dollars of insurance money that was stolen from her. Of course, as they get closer to the killer’s identity, the bodies pile up. Both Strindberg and Hilton are perennial Gialli actors. In this movie, they prove that not only do they look great but also their acting abilities are also superb. Both give believable,, dynamic performances in this suspenseful, well-plotted thriller.

The film is a wonderful example of the many engaging attributes of the Giallo genre and that are put to fine use. Director Martino stages some strong set pieces, with quite a visual flair. George Hilton is a solid and the plot twists are satisfying.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS include

Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks

Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack

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

Audio commentary with writer Ernesto Gastaldi, moderated by filmmaker Federico Caddeo (in Italian with English subtitles)

New interview with star George Hilton

New interview with director Sergio Martino

New analysis Sergio Martino s films by Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film

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

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 Rachael Nisbet and Howard Hughes, and a biography of star Anita Strindberg by Peter Jilmstad

“THE THREE-WAY WEDDING”— Mariage a Trois

“THE THREE-WAY WEDDING”

Mariage a Trois

Amos Lassen

At home, playwright Auguste (Pascal Greggory) meets with his ex-wife and her new lover and assistant to talk about his new play. receives at home the protagonists of his new play. The combined presence of the three makes the day tumultuous and sentimental.

Auguste is struggling to complete his latest play and while looking for something to inspire him, he invites the cast to join him at his country estate. His ex-wife, Harriet (Julie Depardieu), is his leading lady, her leading man, Théo (Louis Garrel), is her new lover. Sensing their attraction, Auguste decides to seduce Fanny (Agathe Bonitzer), his beautiful young assistant join him. Auguste wonders whether he could have a three-way marriage with both women.

 This is a fast-paced sexual dramedy that equally uses the themes of affection, revenge, domination, attraction and resentment in equal measure. Director Jacques Doillon gets wonderful performances from his cast all around and once again we see that no one makes films about sex better then the French.

“CHINA SALESMAN”— Based on a True Story

“China Salesman”

Based On a True Story

Amos Lassen

The way that “China Salesman” has been advertised makes you think that the leads are Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson. In reality, both men are barely in a film that, as the title implies, is about a Chinese protagonist, Uganda-based Telecom vendor Jian Yan (Yuan Li). However, this is not what is bad about the film; “China Salesman” is terrible because it’s 110 minutes of a chest-thumping hero who swoops into a foreign country just so he save them from themselves.

 

Seagal and Tyson both play mercenaries who exploit the much discussed, but rarely specified political turmoil in Uganda. A coup d’état and/or civil war is imminent, and it’s up to Jian and his meek, but otherwise under-developed Chinese colleague Ling Ruan (Ai Li) to put the two warring factions in touch with each other by using their company’s superior cell phone technology. Unfortunately, Jian is held up by politicking, in-fighting, and corporate sabotage facilitated by imperious  Lauder (Seagal) and his vague “native” lackey Kabbah (Tyson), both of whom work for the haughty and hateful European telephone salesmen Susanna (Janicke Askevold) and Michael (Clovis Fouin).

A lot of repetitive, sluggish narrative complications that seem to only exist in order to make Jian look good follow. Jian is handcuffed after his canteen of goat’s milk is replaced with liquor (there are legally-enforced, religious laws against the possession of booze in Uganda). In the first 15 minutes of “China Salesman,” no one looks comfortable speaking Two tough guys lumber around a bar, grimacing and throwing punches in a dispute over who’s going to drink a glass of urine.

“China Salesman” is notable primarily for its patriotic verve. Yan Jian, an idealistic engineer who arrives in Africa intent on representing his country honorably, by meeting the communications needs of his potential clients, cheaply, efficiently and securely — even as devious Westerners resort to sabotage and violence.

After their opening brawl, Tyson and Seagal’s characters rarely reappear. Instead, “China Salesman” features a lot of scenes of IT experts furiously tapping away at their laptops while talking about connection speeds, intercut with the occasional explosion at a cell tower.

The woodenness of “China Salesman,” makes this “weird cinema”.

“THE GOOD POSTMAN”— Meet Ivan

“The Good Postman”

Meet Ivan

Amos Lassen

Bulgarian filmmaker Tonislav Hristov considers some of the possibilities for refugees trying to flee to Europe and those who either seek to welcome or repel them.

He looks at the problem through the lens of Bulgarian village Great Dervent – a name that may once have been accurate but now is ironic. Like many villages in rural areas of Europe it is ‘dying’. Its population is increasingly ageing and the young people migrate away in search of better opportunities. Yet, while the place may only have 48 voters, the viewpoints they hold show a microcosm of the arguments being held in other environments right across the continent.

Ivan is a hardworking postman who speaks to everyone in town on a regular basis. He’s thoughtful contemplating what has been said to him or thinking about what to do next. He has an idea, based on the fact that the village is right on the Turkish border. The border position means Syrian refugees frequently pass through the village in transit to what they hope will be a better life. Ivan frequently phones the European Border Police to report such activity. He believes that these young families could reinvigorate Great Dervent, if only he can be elected mayor and make it happen.

Refugees from Syria and elsewhere pass through the area and are watched closely by the remaining residents and the border guards.

Ivan wants to find a way to save the village. He comes up with the idea of running for mayor and initiating a program designed to bring Syrian families to the village. Adults could attend to the fields, and children could go to a rebuilt school. Ivan shares his bold idea with members of the community as he delivers the mail to them.

Another citizen is running for mayor as a Communist. He believes that his political leadership can revive the village to its old glory days. His prejudice against the refugees spreads and soon there is talk about the bad things that could happen if they let in the outsiders, who are rumored to be worse than gypsies. Both men are surprised by the outcome of the mayoral race.

Director Hristov shows the effects of hatred, fear, and distrust of the Syrian refugees. “Bigotry becomes especially toxic when given expression in hurting communities where poverty, hunger, and inequality are rampant.” This is a thought-provoking portrait of the barriers being built all over the world to protect communities from perceived threats.

“MOTHERLAND”— One of the World’s Busiest Maternity Hospitals

“Motherland”

One of the World’s Busiest Maternity Hospitals

Amos Lassen

Manila’s Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital is reputed to have the world’s highest birth rate and in “Motherland”, we get a look at it. It is more than just a hospital in that it not only provides an expressively etched account of specialized medical care, but it is also a telling perspective on dominant social trends and health care policy issues in the Philippines.

Through conversations and interactions among medical staff, patients and family members at Manila’s Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, Ramona S. Diaz’s documentary focuses on several major issues subjecting many disadvantaged women to a repetitive cycle of pregnancy and childbirth. Problems include endemic poverty, a pervasive cultural bias favoring large families and a lack of access to education, medical care and family planning services.

As the Philippines’s leading public maternity hospital, Fabella often serves as the destination for Manila’s most impoverished pregnant residents. Up to 150 patients at a time tolerate the overcrowded dormitory-style wards where two women and their newborns may share the same bed, sweltering in the tropical heat because the facility has no air conditioning.

Lea Lumanog is in her 20s and wasn’t even aware that she was pregnant with twins until she checked into the public hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), that specializes in treating premature or underweight infants. When her baby girls are born, she’s so overwhelmed that she just calls the firstborn as “A” and her sister as “B”. She tries to understand the enormity of her new responsibilities and juggle the twins’ care. Once she’s out of the delivery room, the attentive but harried nurses on the NICU ward demonstrate breastfeeding methods and the hospital’s signature “Kangaroo Mother Care” procedures. Because the hospital cannot afford incubators for premature newborns, the staff provides mothers with garments resembling elongated tube tops so that they can snuggle their infants on their chests to keep them safe and warm.

Days pass before her husband arrives for a visit, because he’s too broke to afford transportation to the hospital. Facing a bill of over $1,000, he can only barely afford a $20 payment and that he borrowed from his sister. After he fills out some paperwork, a social worker tells him that a Christian charity associated with Fabella will cover the balance of his expenses.

Lerma is in her mid-30s and has even more to manage. She has just given birth to her seventh child, while her unemployed husband is caring for the others at home. She’s quite open with the new mothers about the challenges of parenthood and she talks about the expenses of a large family and warning them not to have too many kids. Although her child is still under the recommended weight for a healthy baby, she insists on leaving the hospital, coercing her husband into signing the required discharge forms against his better judgment.

Aira Joy Jubilo is just 17 and among the youngest mothers that we meet in the film. She seems to be off to sea and has trouble breastfeeding and her premature baby is slow to gain weight. Although her mother visits the hospital almost every day, her boyfriend continues making excuses about not showing up thus forcing Aira to rely solely on her family for financial and emotional support, even though her mom has several other kids at home.

There is something to be said for a communal approach to having children like the one we see portrayed in “Motherland.” Ramona S. Diaz directed this look at a Manila maternity ward where overcrowding and limited technological resources have forced some solutions that may not be ideal.

The patients are a microcosm of the Philippines in general— poor, Catholic, and already burdened with several children. (No doubt religion is a major factor in many women’s reluctance to use birth control.) Even in the delivery rooms themselves, mothers are often crammed two or more apiece onto beds. Before and after giving birth, they stay in a ward that at first glance seems noisy and cluttered.

What is there is a sense of community like the patients have at home. Hospital staff members (which include a flamboyant transgender doctor) try to encourage good habits for the babies’ sakes, though often their advice falls on deaf ears, as the women are accustomed to deprivation.