Category Archives: Film

“THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK”— Secret Desires and Perverse Passion

the horriblr dr. hichcock

“THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK”

Secret Desires and Perverse Passion

Amos Lassen

 Dr. Bernard Hichcock (Robert Flemyng) is a man whose secret desires and perverse passions lead to the death of his wife, Margaret (Teresa Fitzgerald). Hichcock is a necrophiliac doctor’s first wife died from an overdose of an anesthetic that the doctor used on her to simulate death. Twelve years later, the doctor returns to his ancestral home with a new wife. Right away strange things begin to happen. We see that Hichcock suffers from necrophilia and this makes what we see all the more perverse. This is a well-made Italian Gothic horror film directed by the Egyptian-born Italian filmmaker Riccardo Freda. His direction is passionate and the film is based on a story by Ernesto Gastaldi.

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Set in London in 1885. Hichcock is a respected surgeon who accidentally poisoned his wife during one of their strange sexual “funeral games.” Bernard has kept his wife’s corpse locked in the lab of his gloomy country mansion. When he returns to the isolated country mansion with new bride, Cynthia (Barbara Steele), after having been gone since his wife’s death, the mansion unnerves wife number two. Cynthia is immediately frightened when she hears screams in the night and there are said to be those of the mentally ill sister of the housekeeper Martha. Then there’s a skull found on the pillow of Cynthia’s bed and a ghost-like veiled figure of a woman (Margaret) roaming the premises.

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The doctor tries to restore his first wife’s youthful beauty by drugging Cynthia with a lethal amount of sleeping pills and then drain her blood for Margaret. Cynthia suspects that her arrogant and cold-hearted husband still loves only his first wife and is up to no good. Therefore she doesn’t drink the drugged milk and gets Hichcock’s young assistant Dr. Kurt Loewe to analyze it. When Kurt discovers the milk has been drugged, he rushes to the mansion and rescues Cynthia before Hichcock hangs her and drains her blood. Kurt struggles with the madman Bernard as the mansion burns down with only Cynthia and Kurt leaving the place alive. We see that the plot line is fairly simple so what makes this film interesting?

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First it is a catalogue of Victorian repressions regarding desire and death, the marriage bed and the grave. Then we see that perverse behavior of Hichcock results in the creation of a fetish-object of desire and death from each of his wives.

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The good doctor and his first wife play sex games that have tragic consequences. Margarita is a willing participant in these activities that seem only to satisfy her husband, a man whose lust remains unfulfilled if the body in question is not as cold and lifeless as possible. Margarita’s role during these games seems to be her closing her eyes and pretending to be dead.

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As Cynthia moves toward a psychological breakdown, Dr. Hichcock succumbs to his demons. His world is about to come crashing down around him, and a decades old secret is soon to reveal itself. We see that the film crosses all lines of good taste as we watch the film from the doctor’s perspective.

“JOHNNY GUITAR”— Still Radical

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“JOHNNY GUITAR”

Still Radical

Amos Lassen

Olive films introduces Olive Signature, a new series of DVD/Blu-ray titles for the loyal Olive Films fan with two titles— “High Noon” (reviewed separately) and “Johnny Guitar” The Signature collection highlights “cult favorites, time-honored classics, and under-appreciated gems, each Olive Signature edition boasts a pristine audio and video transfer, newly designed cover art, and an abundance of exciting bonus material”.

Considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made, Nicholas Ray’s subversive, still-radical “Johnny Guitar” finally gets a North American home video debut. Joan Crawford plays essentially the role that Van Heflin played in “Shane.” She is the law-abiding squatter who stakes a claim and builds a saloon on land that greedy Mercedes McCambridge says should be kept open for cattle range.

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We see not femininity coming from Crawford and that is probably because she sexless as she is sharp. There’s the rivalry between Miss Crawford’s and Miss McCambridge’s gangs and there is a lot of talk but not much shooting.

François Truffaut wrote that Johnny Guitar “is the Beauty and the Beast of westerns, a western dream.” In a crucial early sequence in “Johnny Guitar”, we find titular musician, Johnny (Sterling Hayden) interrupting a showdown between former flame Vienna (Joan Crawford) and a posse of seething lawmen and townspeople with nothing more than his name. Nobody can look at anybody since desire destroys everyone and everything meaning that each glance shared a chance for death. In fast, the movie is named for Johnny Guitar who doesn’t exactly qualify as the protagonist or even lead character of the film since that is Joan Crawford’s Vienna, the fierce entrepreneur (and sometime gunslinger) of her newly established saloon that should become a goldmine when the construction of a railroad promises to bring people through.

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What many might find surprising is that the film’s most significant character, on whom all of its action and drama essentially hinges, is the one who most intensely and violently opposes Vienna. This is a local rancher named Emma (McCambridge). She gives a look of evil that burns and the power of the film comes from that very look. We see Emma quivering from the shock of her own confusion and hatred and her slight figure seems to tower over everyone and everything. Emma is the cinema’s most frightening villain precisely because she isn’t evil. She is overcome by a confusion and a fear shared by all of us, a fear of the other and of the self that manifests itself as pure hate.

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The film is based on Roy Chanslor’s novel and directed by Nicholas Ray. This western portrays two women who are even more hostile and violent than most of the men. Vienna is ambitious in business and tries to keep Johnny from killing, but Emma is relentless in her desire to kill Vienna. The result of these hostile and aggressive attitudes and actions is much futile violence. The film also makes much to do about sexual role-reversals.

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Nicholas Ray’s exotic psychological and neurotic Western covers his usual outsider theme but in a Western that doesn’t feel like any other. It seems like Freud might have possibly written the script about everyone’s sexual motivations that are constantly being psychoanalyzed. It was almost as if the film examines what a man and a woman are supposed to be like, while at the same time, it plays games with the conventions of a Western. It might also be seen as a political allegory and a critical reaction to the witch hunt of McCarthyism taking place at the time with the senator’s self-righteous attacks on those he didn’t like and for going after others for reasons of guilt by association. The film opens in stunningly beautiful Trucolor, as Johnny Guitar is crossing the mountainous terrain and the mesas, and the pastel colors of that scenery comes across as particularly striking. He soon witnesses the dynamite blast from the railroad people, leveling the ground and then sees from afar that a stage being robbed. He doesn’t stop to help as he rides straight to Vienna’s saloon, accompanied by a dust storm.

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The saloon is empty and Vienna greets Johnny from atop the staircase. The film goes on to become a sexual drama of mythic proportions gets played out as Emma has a crush, which she won’t admit. She hates for Vienna, detesting her more than anyone else in the world. Vienna is going out with the guy Emma lusts after but it is evident that Vienna secretly longs for Johnny Guitar. Guitar pines for Vienna, after dumping her five years ago because she wasn’t ready to get married. And Vienna decides to be the bitch by saying that men no longer interest her but money does.

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I could go on summarizing the plot but there is no point to that. I have suggested the main points of my take on the film. I prefer to see it as a veiled allegory for the McCarthy-era Red Scare and we know that the film was misunderstood upon its initial release. It remains one of the most original takes on the western genre where the women are far tougher than the men and it has been praised by fans, filmmakers, and critics alike as groundbreaking. 

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Below are the new special features that come with this release.

  • Mastered from new 4K restoration
  • Introduction by Martin Scorsese
  • Audio commentary with historian and critic Geoff Andrew
  • “Tell Us She Was One of You: The Blacklist History of Johnny Guitar” – with historian Larry Ceplair and blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein
  • “Is Johnny Guitara Feminist Western?: Questioning the Canon” – with critics Miriam Bale, Kent Jones, Joe McElhaney and B. Ruby Rich
  • “Free Republic: The Story of Herbert J. Yates and Republic Pictures” – with archivist Marc Wanamaker
  • A critical appreciation of Nicholas Ray with critics Miriam Bale, Kent Jones, Joe McElhaney and B. Ruby Rich
  • “My Friend, the American Friend” – Nicholas Ray biographical piece with Tom Farrell and Chris Sievernich
  • “Johnny Guitar: The First Existential Western” – an original essay by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum

“HIGH NOON”— An Olive Film Signature

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“HIGH NOON”

An Olive Film Signature

Amos Lassen

Olive films introduces Olive Signature, a new series of DVD/Blu-ray titles for the loyal Olive Films fan with two titles— “High Noon” and “Johnny Guitar” (reviewed separately). The Signature collection highlights “cult favorites, time-honored classics, and under-appreciated gems, each Olive Signature edition boasts a pristine audio and video transfer, newly designed cover art, and an abundance of exciting bonus material”.

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Many critics and moviegoers consider “High Noon” to be director Fred Zinnemann’s best film. It has long been a classic and the Olive Film release gives the western a dazzling, crystal-clear presentation appropriate to its status. With a near-flawless print as its source, the Blu-ray looks terrific, with outstanding detail and impressive contrast levels. “High Noon” has often been regarded as “the western for people who don’t like westerns”.

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“High Noon” stars Gary Cooper as lawman Will Kane, a marshal who stands alone to defend a town of cowardly citizens against a gang of killers out for revenge. Engaged in the fight of his lifetime, Kane stands to losing everything when the clock strikes noon – his friends, his honor, and his Quaker bride (Grace Kelly in one of her first screen roles). Unfolding in real time, the tension builds as we race ever closer to the duel from which the film takes its name. Cooper won the Oscar® for Best Actor. Other cast members included Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney, Henry Morgan), Jack Elam and Lee Van Clef. “High Noon” won four Academy Awards including Best Editing, Best Score (Dimitri Tiomkin, The Old Man and the Sea) and Best Song, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’,” written by Tiomkin and Ned Washington and sung by Tex Ritter. It was also nominated for Best Picture (Stanley Kramer, producer), Best Director (Fred Zinnemann) and Best Screenplay (Carl Foreman).

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This film is a masterwork of the western genre. In essence, it is actually an anti-western western. Contrary to the other western films of the period, this film is slow moving, evenly paced and deliberate in presentation. Most westerns are shoot-em-up action flicks but this is not. It tells a story, something Hollywood has always been good at when it puts its mind to it. It is the story of a lone Marshal who has every chance to escape a coming threat with his new wife. But he cannot. His morals and values will not let him run for the hills, he must stand and fight, even though he will stand alone.

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Throughout the film, Cooper as Kane conveys a quiet sense of desperation as he searches for and finds no help among his townspeople. His quiet demeanor belies the fire that burns inside him.

The film takes place in near real time and we are reminded of it by a continual barrage of brief shots of a clock ticking away. The bad guys are coming at noon, and everyone knows it. Kane has a little over an hour to gather support to fight four evil doers, but it never comes. Continually showing us how much time Kane has just builds the suspense.

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Below are the extras:

“A Ticking Clock” – Academy Award-nominee Mark Goldblatt on the editing of High Noon

“A Stanley Kramer Production” – Michael Schlesinger on the eminent producer of High Noon

“Imitation of Life: The Blacklist History of High Noon” – with historian Larry Ceplair and blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein

“Ulcers and Oscars: The Production History of High Noon” – a visual essay with rarely seen archival elements, narrated by Anton Yelchin

“Uncitizened Kane” – an original essay by Sight and Sound editor Nick James

Theatrical trailer

“THARLO”— A Tibetan Shepherd

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“THARLO”

A Tibetan Shepherd

Amos Lassen

“Tharlo” is director Pema Tseden’s autobiographical film that is based on his own novel. Tharlo is nicknamed “Ponytail” because of the long braid down his back. Tharlo can recite the Mao Quotations in Mandarin by heart, but spends most of his time tending his flock, far from academia or modernity. When he is ordered by a local policeman to get an identification card, he meets a young woman who could change everything. Whether that happens or not, you will only know by watching the film that is beautifully photographed in stunning black-and-white. The film is composed of eighty-four shots and beautifully acted. It is deeply political, romantic and philosophical narrative fable from one of Tibet’s leading contemporary artists.

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Tibet’s transition from an agricultural past to the more urban present is a key subject in Pema Tseden’s work. Tharlo (Shide Nyima), has worked his entire life as a shepherd in the mountains, visits the Tibetan capital of Lasha in order to get for the first time an ID card and he carries in his satchel a baby lamb. He is in his forties but despite his excellent memory he knows so little about himself. He doesn’t even respond to his real name as everyone calls him Ponytail due to his hairstyle. His life is quite secluded and he is almost never in the city. Due to his harsh appearance he must visit a barbershop in order to be properly ready for the ID photograph. It is there that he meets Yangtso (Yangshik Tso), a young hairdresser who will immediately capture his attention. He tells her a lot of his personal details, including the value of his flock. From that moment, Yangtso seems extremely interested in Tharlo and this meeting will change his entire life.

Tseden tries to present his hero in a more realistic and sometimes even poetic way. Through the character of Tharlo/Ponytail, we see the current generation of Tibetans that are struggling to adapt. His hero is divided between the city and nature and, like the film, tries to balance his life with some new unexpected and most importantly unknown challenges.

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When the policeman tells Tharlo that he needs to get an ID card, he responds, “I know who I am. Isn’t that enough?” During this abrupt process he will understand that he doesn’t really know and he must find out who he really is and how he can be a part of today’s world. An ID card is used as an excuse to discover his hidden and true identity that has never revealed to anyone not even himself. For the first time he must be open and change and through this experience he can no longer be Ponytail, he must become Tharlo.

Lu Songye’s black and white cinematography enhances this feeling of lost space and the research of a new identity that the protagonist is experiencing. As the film takes place both in the city and the mountains Tharlo is always present but apparently he feels out of focus and he always seems to be isolated and removed from each environment. He is a stranger to everyone (and to himself) and he doesn’t feel part of any place anymore. The journey to his inner self is not as simple as he thought that it could be. His loneliness isn’t just sentimental, he is actually losing everything and for that reason he must find a way to escape. The problem is that he doesn’t know the right direction.

As one who has changed countries and cultures and language, I can tell you that it is not easy to leave one place for another. Tseden succeeds through this realistically lyrical and visually beautiful film to transfer this slow burning procedure to the viewer. We see all of the necessary emotions that could transform and soften even the most boorish shepherd.

Tharlo’s visit to the city and his life in the hills are brought into sharp contrast by a ‘second act’ in which the shepherd returns to his flock and his outsider loneliness, drinking from liquor bottles as the clock ticks on a return visit to the city.

Tharlo’s state of confusion is emphasized by the vagaries of his memory. He can recite huge chunks of Chairman Mao by rote, but he constantly forgets everyday items. Tseden also makes the clear distinction between knowing something (or someone) and understanding.

This is a slow moving, low-key film that requires patience on the part of the viewer. The film is in no hurry and in no mood to rush to conclusions and this measured pace helps us to invest in Tharlo, whose confusion is conveyed with wonderful skill by Nyima. While some of the devices used (particularly those that symbolize the full stripping away of Tharlo’s sense of self) might seem familiar and a bit too predictable, they are used in order to express what we need to see.

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The landscapes of Qinghai appear as unforgiving and we are taken into Tharlo’s routine of Tharlo the shepherd, of the city nearby, of the slow evenings where nothing much happens, of the police station. We feel the place and the people and along the way, the film has wry humor with no bitterness. There is only the pleasure of observing irony. This is a film whose scenes will continue to haunt for long, long time after.

“THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS”— A Big Problem

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“THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS”

A Big Problem

Amos Lassen

Piedras Blancas is a sleepy little lighthouse community of Piedras Blancas that has a big problem. Bodies begin piling up and a scale from a thought-to-be-extinct prehistoric amphibian is found nearby. There are quite a few characters in the town:  Sturgis (John Harmon) is the lighthouse keeper who makes it a ritual to leave food out near a secluded beach cave for something; Lucy (Jeanne Carmen) is Sturgis’ heavy daughter, a free thinker who doesn’t pay attention to her father’s warnings about skinny dipping near the cave; Lucy’s boyfriend Fred (Don Sullivan) is a young man more than willing to keep an eye on Lucy; and the dedicated man of science Dr. Sam Jorgensen (Les Tremayne). Also in the film are Forrest Lewis, Frank Avidson and Wayne Berwick and Irwin Berwick directed.

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We learn that Sturgis feeds a monster that lives in the ocean every day.  When he misses his regular feeding, the monster takes to attacking townsfolk. Things happen slowly until the monster appears and things get moving. However, the movie never really moves at the pace that it could. There is just too much talk from the townspeople and very little doing.

 Frank Arvidson steals the movie. He is very funny at the storekeeper. What the movie is, is a monster film, plain and simple. When Sturgis notices a couple of men walking along the cliffs, carrying fishing tackle, he shoos them brusquely away by telling them that the cliffs aren’t safe. We immediately assume that he might be saying something about more than the dangerous cliffs. Sturgis is actually thinking about the monster and the damage it can do.

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     The next day, Sturgis on a trip to the store, he meets Constable George Matson, the only cop in the town closest to the lighthouse. Matson and two other men are looking over the cleanly decapitated bodies of the Renaldi brothers, the two men Sturgis tried to warn away from the cliffs the night before. Sturgis tells the constable that he saw nothing, and then continues to make his way into town. His destination is the tiny grocery store run by a non-specifically foreign man named Kolchek (Avidson). Kolchek turns out to have been the one who found the Renaldis, and he proceeds to tell about his theory about what happened. Kolchek doesn’t buy the boating accident explanation that Matson is pushing pending a thorough examination of the bodies; he thinks the Renaldi brothers ran into the legendary Monster of Piedras Blancas, which has been rumored since Spanish colonial days to inhabit the caves below the cliffs below Sturgis’s lighthouse.

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Sturgis, for his part, thinks Kolchek is a fool, but then again, he seems to get awfully worried when the shopkeeper tells him he sold the meat scraps he usually saves for Sturgis to a hog farmer from the other side of town. Meanwhile, Constable Matson meets with Dr. Jorgensen atthe little restaurant that seems to be Matson’s main source of income. Jorgensen may not agree with Kolchek about a monster, but he doesn’t think the Renaldis’ deaths were accidents either— their necks were so clearly severed that it looks like the work of a professional. However, there was no blood anywhere. Sturgis comes into the restaurant to talk to his daughter, who works there and brushes Matson off with claims not to have seen anything. He is however suspicious. Where the story goes from here you will have to see in the movie.  It has a great monster, a skinny dipping scene, an impressive severed head, and a franker treatment of interspecies lust than any monster movie made lately. It is also the story of a local scientist who finds a prehistoric humanoid presumed long extinct.

“MEET THE GUILBYS”— Road Trip

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“MEET THE GUILBYS” (“Paris Willouby”)

Road Trip!!!

Amos Lassen

Arthur Delaire and Quentin Reynaud who brought us the wonderful films “Persepolis” and “Delicatessen” now bring us a family road trip comedy. Both Claire and Maurice have been married before and now, united in marriage have established a family like few others. We meet them as they take a road trip to Claire’s estranged father’s funeral. There is Alex, Claire’s son, a vegetarian who is secretly crazy about Lucie, Maurice’s daughter who we might describe as a teen rebel.

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Claire’s brother a poet, is with us to go to his father’s funeral as is Prune, both Claire and Maurice’s daughter who has a passion for cows. We might just call this a non-nuclear dysfunctional family that is not representative of anything except perhaps modern family relations. The Guilby-Lacourts form a family of our time. Between a father, stepmother, little sister, brother, half-sister, and even a half-uncle, they sometimes have difficulty knowing who’s who. 

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One evening, they learn of the death of a grandfather with whom they’d cut off all contact years ago. Inevitably doomed to be stuck with each other during a long journey so they can go to his funeral, they must quickly adapt to the concept of “living together” in the cramped space of the family car.

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Daily life in the Lacourt-Guilby family is not easy. On the trip, Alexander and Lucy who are forced to share their room and I will not tell you anymore so that I do not ruin the movie for you. I will say that it is great fun.

“DARK DIAMOND”— An Elaborate Plan of Revenge

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“DARK DIAMOND”

An Elaborate Plan of Revenge

Amos Lassen

Arthur Harari’s “Dark Diamond” is a thriller about a man who, out of retribution, vows vengeance against his relatives who abandoned him. Pier Ulmann comes from a family of powerful diamond dealers, who he believes are responsible for his estranged father’s death. In order to take revenge, he insinuates himself back into the family enterprise but has an elaborate caper in mind. The film is almost Shakespearean in concept. Set in Antwerp, the action takes place in the guarded world of diamond merchants. We get a combination of noir and Hamlet-like vengeance in a toxic atmosphere as we see an accurate depiction of diamond merchants. Director Harari plays on contrasts and colors to show his story and we are pulled in from the opening shot of a quivering closed eye that morphs into a violent almost unreal sequence in which a teenager mutilates his hand following a fatal moment of distraction as he’s cutting a diamond.

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The teen is the father of Pier Ulmann (Niels Schneider), a young man living a double life in Paris: by day he renovates apartments, and by night he carries out burglaries masterminded by Rachid (Abdel Hafed Benotman), who is his mentor and substitute father. When he gets news of the death of his real father, who he hadn’t seen in years and who ended his days in wretched poverty, he has feelings of guilt and a troubled family rises to the surface giving Pier a thirst for vengeance. He is fuelled by a feeling of injustice and loss of social status. Indeed, his father was rejected by his family of diamond merchants from Antwerp and stripped of his inheritance by his brother Joseph (Hans-Peter Cloos).

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When Pier is offered an office refurbishment job offered to him by his cousin Gabi (August Diehl), he grabs it and slowly infiltrates the inner circles of the Ulmann family and the ultra-secure neighborhood home to Antwerpian diamond merchants. This is a closed-off world to which he gains access with the intention of staging a robbery. But like in Shakespearean tragedies, sons turn against their fathers, curses are set, the future is not all it seems, and the destiny has a say. 

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This is a multi-faceted story that is both abstract and equation-like that feels like a ‘documentary’ thriller, taking us on a journey from the workshops of India to the safes of Western diamond dealers.  Pier’s father died in a flophouse, while his uncle, the inheritor of the family’s diamond-cutting business, thrives. When Uncle Jo invites Pier to renovate his office and offers his nephew a room in the family estate, he has no idea what awaits him. Hold on tight—this is quite a bumpy ride.

“FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION”: TheComplete Collection— Vengeance

female prisoner scorpion

“Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection”

Vengeance

Amos Lassen

“Female Prisoner Scorpion” stars the beautiful Meiko Kaji in the iconic role that came to define her career, the four-film Female Prisoner Scorpion series charts the vengeance of Nami Matsushima, who assumes the mantle of “Scorpion,” and becomes an avatar of vengeance and survival as well as an unlikely symbol of female resistance in a world dominated by men.

In “Female Prisoner #701”, Scorpion introduces Nami, a gullible young woman unjustly imprisoned, who must find a way to escape in order to exact revenge upon the man who betrayed her. The visually avant-garde “Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41” director Shunya Ito and star Meiko Kaji re-unite as Nami and six other female convicts escape prison once more. In the gothic horror-inspired “Beast Stable” we find Nami branded public enemy #1 and on the run. She soon finds refuge with a sympathetic prostitute, but runs afoul of a local gang. The final film in the series, “#701’s Grudge Song” (from director Yasuharu Hasebe, Retaliation, Massacre Gun), shows a gentler side of Nami as she falls in with Kudo, an ex-radical suffering from physical and psychological trauma caused by police torture.

Spiritual kin to Ms. 45, Coffy and The Bride Wore Black, the Female Prisoner Scorpion is the pinnacle of early 1970s exploitation cinema from Japanese grindhouse studio Toei, and one of the greatest female revenge sagas ever told.

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

Limited Edition Blu-ray collection (3000 copies)

Brand new 2K restorations of all four films in the series presented on High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD

Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays) for all films

Optional English subtitles for all films

Double-sided fold out poster of two original artworks

Reversible sleeves for all films featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan

Booklet featuring an extract from Unchained Melody: The Films of Meiko Kaji, an upcoming book on the star by critic and author Tom Mes, an archive interview with Meiko Kaji, and a brand new interview with Toru Shinohara, creator of the original Female Prisoner Scorpion manga

FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION

Newly filmed appreciation by filmmaker Gareth Evans (The Raid)

Archive interview with director Shunya Ito

New interview with assistant director Yutaka Kohira

Theatrical Trailers for all films in the series

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41

Newly filmed appreciation by critic Kier-La Janisse

Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Shunya Ito

New interview with production designer Tadayuki Kuwana

Original Theatrical Trailer

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: BEAST STABLE

Newly filmed appreciation by critic Kat Ellinger

Archive interview with director Shunya Ito

New visual essay on the career of star and icon Meiko Kaji by critic Tom Mes

Original Theatrical Trailer

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: #701 s GRUDGE SONG

Newly filmed appreciation by filmmaker Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts)

Archive interview with director Yasuharu Hasebe

Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Yasuharu Hasebe

Visual essay on the Scorpion series by critic Tom Mes

Original Theatrical Trailer

“THE RATINGS GAME”— An Unseen Very Funny Movie

the ratings game

“The Ratings Game”

An Unseen Very Funny Movie

Amos Lassen

 “The Ratings Game” (aka “The Mogul”, 1984)   was met with indifference or so-so reviews when it came out but I think it was one of the funniest movies that went unseen. One of the surprises of this film is that Jerry Seinfeld and Michael Richards appeared together here some six years before “Seinfeld” made its debut on television.

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Danny DeVito plays a more-energetic-than-talented TV producer and Rhea Perlman is a ratings service employee. Of late they came together to make some really terrible television shows that become big hits. The film is a satire on television and there are some really funny situations and one-liners.

Vincent Schiavell almost puts the movie in his pocket as a Jersey dimwit with delusions of being a Hollywood insider. Kevin McCarthy is a really hard TV executive who seems to be having a lot of fun with this movie. This is a look at mock TV shows ala Mad TV and skits on Saturday Night Live. The humor is dark and sarcastic.

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As a struggling producer Vic de Salvo (DeVito) hatches a scheme to become a big TV star by creating and staring in his own shows and selling them to a struggling network. He meets and falls in love with Francine, (Rhea Perlman) a woman who works for the Neilson Ratings Bureau and uses her knowledge to kidnap the Neilson families and send his mobster crew to “house-sit” for them and tune into his shows.

The mock shows are hilarious and the humor keeps us laughing almost non-stop. The three shows that Vic creates are “Hot Bods and Levar”, “Whacked Out”, and “The Dawn Patrol”, “a pretentious drama about inner city garbage men and their hopes, dreams and fears.” What a cast we have with Steve Allen, Ronny Graham, Huntz Hall, John Megna, Gerrit Graham, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards, Jerry Seinfeld and the Voice of Selma Diamond.

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The movie was made for a premium pay cable TV network in the mid-1980’s, and never released in theaters. De Vito also directed the film and his character has some organized crime connections. By pulling an elaborate scheme to manipulate the TV ratings system, he is able make all of his wretched TV series into ratings bonanzas.

“THE OUTSIDER”— Love and Violence in Belfast

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“The Outsider”

Love and Violence

Amos Lassen

Idealistic Vietnam veteran Michael Flaherty (Craig Wasson) was enthralled by the stories told to him by his grandfather (Sterling Hayden) and disillusioned by the lack of a clear cut cause in Vietnam, leaves his comfortable life in a Detroit suburb and goes to Ireland to fight for the IRA, only to discover that nothing is ever clear cut as he had thought. Michael goes to Belfast to fight for the Irish Republican Army, and in some ways his story is the weakest part of this otherwise compelling movie. The reasons that Michael travels from Detroit to Ireland are trumped-up to a certain degree, and so is a love story that aims to make his experience more interesting. Michael’s feelings about his grandfather which are supposedly at the heart of the matter, also seem incidental to the film’s larger concerns. Nonetheless, ”The Outsider” is vivid even if it isn’t much of a character study, and energetic even though it’s often clumsy. War-torn Belfast makes for a tremendously effective dramatic backdrop and Tony Luraschi, who directed the film and adapted its screenplay from Colin Leinster’s novel has created a sense of authenticity that outweighs the shortcomings of the story line.

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The cast is large and unfamiliar, composed of English and Irish players, most of them excellent in small roles as they convey Belfast’s troubled atmosphere. When Michael arrives in Ireland, the action divides itself between the two warring groups to whom he can be useful. The local I.R.A. leaders, having no great love for either Michael or his homeland, think it might be just as well if he were killed by British soldiers while on a dangerous assignment; the propaganda value of such an event might give a real boost to the I.R.A.’s fund-raising efforts in the States. As for the British, they wouldn’t mind seeing Michael dead either, but they would, of course, prefer to see the I.R.A. held responsible for his fate. Either way, Michael’s future prospects are anything but rosy.

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The film follows him tensely through the bombed-out streets of Belfast, and waits to see which of his potential enemies will catch up with him first. Meanwhile, he sees to day-by-day events inside this war zone and these are graphically deal with. We see five little boys, barely into their teens, engage in amateur bombing raids.. A blind I.R.A. sympathizer is tortured savagely by the British. ”The Outsider,” dramatizes the bitterness of its subject.

Most of the actors are so low-key the film seems something like a documentary and the direction generates more realism than excitement. Mr. Wasson, though overly feverish at times, makes Michael a believable figure, and the rough edges of his performance help contribute to the power of the film. Mr. Hayden, as the grandfather, is asked to do the impossible, to explain in about 10 minutes’ worth of screen time why Michael’s life has taken a particular course. While he could not accomplish this, he still remains a strong figure all the same.

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This is a film which will rely more on its reputation than its achievement; at a time when ‘anything goes’, is this one of the limits? The ending is very, very strong and it is something you will remember for a very long time.

We see that there are no moral men anywhere. Even the twisted morals of bloodthirsty killers are subject to easy compromise. People in a fanatic rage quickly change their minds and turn on their own kind when it is expedient to do so.