Category Archives: Film

“VALLEY OF LOVE”— A Voice from the Dead

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“Valley of Love”

A Voice from the Dead

Amos Lassen

Isabelle and Gérard have a strange appointment in Death Valley, California. After not seeing each other for years, they have come in answer to an invitation from their son Michael, a photographer. They the invitation after Michael committed suicide, six months ago earlier. Director Guillaume Nicloux’s “Valley of Love” is set in Death Valley where it seems that the landscape has opened itself up into an unadorned crater of a stage on which Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu, a divorced couple named Isabelle and Gérard come together because of a request from their dead son, Michael, who left them letters before he committed suicide intimating that they forge a reunion and that, if they follow his guidelines, he would reappear to them.

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We know nothing about Michael except that he’d once exiled himself in Death Valley and was a photographer who often made perverse promises. We suspect that he was gay even though he is not outed in the film and the little bit that we do now is that there is a resemblance to French writer Hervé Guibert, who also was and letter writer. We never really learn what is in the letters that Michael sent to his parents yet we feel the emotionality of it.

While Isabelle and Gérard refer to the contents of the letters without saying what is written in them, we share a sense of fatality and gloominess with what we see on the screen. The contents are eventually revealed when the actors read them out loud to each other. At that point, Michael is no longer a teasing angel, an allegorical device, or a provocateur. Instead he becomes a prankster with little skills for writing.

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. Isabelle and Gérard follow Michael’s script as best as they can and hope to receive a sign from their son. They hike in scorching desert heat, become bothered by vulgar Americans at their hotel, and yell, quarrel, and cry. They threaten to give up but then one morning, when Isabelle is taking a break from the sun, Gérard explores one of the canyons in the area by himself and runs back to Isabelle to tell her that Michael has appeared. She runs toward the canyon screaming her son’s name, only to find nothing. Her despair overtakes us and this suggests that there has been a doomed and childish refusal to accept a loss that predates her son’s actual demise. It is, as if, we have building up to this event and the film laid the ground for it from the very beginning.

. Gérard begs Isabelle to believe that he saw their son, who held his hand and told him that he loved them and that he forgave them for their mistakes. While his account seems just as fantastic as Isabelle’s believes that there was a material encounter and the “audience realizes, and accepts, that the most dignified way for the missing object to be visible again isn’t with its literal presence, but with its fantasy”.

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Indigenous peoples have long believed in and spoken of is that there is only a thin veil between this world and the afterlife and that those who have died may occasionally manifest themselves in some way to those still alive on Earth.

Gerard was very skeptical about the whole trip but shows up anyway while Isabelle is open to the spiritual adventure which unfolds. Gerard and Isabelle reminisce about their failed marriage and the challenges that their son presented to each of them. W e never really know why they taken the time to have this meeting with each other. It seems that they did so because of the guilt they feel about their inability to give their son what he needed and/or to find closure.

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Isabelle whose character is never named (but understood) arrives at Death Valley before Gerard and we do a bit of exploring with her before we even see her face. At first Gerard and Isabelle seem to be a regular sightseeing couple. Death Valley seems to be populated by people just like them, each with his/her untold story and looking for something extraordinary. “Valley of Love” defies easy categorization as it unfolds and then becomes a film that takes us on a somber narrative as we join the actors on a mysterious spiritual path. There are moments of hysteria as the film becomes spiritually evocative and a meditation on guilt, grief, and the tragedy of expectation and it is a fascinating experience.

“ACCIDENTAL INCEST”— Finding Love

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“Accidental Incest”

Finding Love

Amos Lassen

Milton and Kendra are two people who can’t find someone who understands and loves them. After each has a near death experience, they find each other. Neither had any idea that they are brother and sister by the same father. This doesn’t stop them from wanting to be together but the reaction from the outside world is pure unadulterated horror. This is the story of how they try to navigate society and the result is funny, sleazy, raunchy, and surprisingly heart warming in the end.

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The film is basically about two people who love each other and continue to do so despite the reaction of those around them and the acting is quite good especially of the two leads, Johnny Sederquest as Milton and Elyssa Baldassarri as Kendra. They deal with conquering loneliness and finding their match. Each left their marriage and looked for a more sex-filled life.  They both meet their guardian angels who inform them that they will meet someone and the child between the two will be special.  From their first meeting, they fall in love with each other and they plan to be become life partners.

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The two finally meet and fall head over heals for each other plan on becoming life-long partners.  When they discover they are actually brother and sister, it does not stop the love they share  but this gets back to their families back to her family and they kidnap Kendra while he is asleep.  Time passes and Milton becomes the forced lover of a bigger man until he decides to look for Kendra.

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While this is about a taboo subject, it is also a lot of fun. There are several very funny moments as well as those that make the viewer scratch his head as he tries to figure out what is really going on.

Lenny Schwartz gives us a consistently funny, beautifully constructed and intelligent screenplay adaptation, one that is alternately meditative and unabashed. There is audacity in the unconventional manner the story is told and  this is a movie that is a treat.

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Not only do we get incest figure into the plot, but also crime and violence, cheating and leather love. It was shot in black and white and this helps to convey the film’s bleaker moments. One critic sums it up like this— “an extremely satisfying film that will make you smile as much as want to take a shower”!

“BLOOD BATH”— Now a 2-Disc Limited Special Edition on Blu-ray

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“Blood Bath”

Now a 2-Disc Limited Special Edition on Blu-ray

Amos Lassen

“Blood Bath” has quite a perplexing plot to say the least. It is about an insane artist (William Campbell) who believes that he’s the reincarnation of his ancestor, a madman burned at the stake centuries ago. Campbell lures women to his studio above a bell tower, paints their portraits, kills them, and then dips them in wax. There are four different versions of the film and all four are included in this release from Arrow Films. “Track of the Vampire” is the television title of “Blood Bath” and it is ten minutes longer that the movie house version. The film’s history is quite interesting. It began as a Yugoslavian production called “Operation: Titian” that was helped set up by Corman himself who found the film to be unreleasable, but it later showed up on TV as “Portrait of Terror” (the second version). Then producer/director Roger Corman hired Jack Hill to shoot new scenes in California with Campbell, Sid Haig, Jonathan Haze, former playmate Marrisa Mathes, and others. Later, Stephanie Rothman was brought in to film even more scenes, mostly involving a subplot with Sandra Knight and the search for her missing sister.

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“Sordi” (Campbell) is a painter who firmly believes that he is the reincarnation of his ancestor and that the beautiful Dorean (Lori Saunders) is also a reincarnation. He e kills Dorean’s friend Daisyand Daisy’s sister Donna (Sandra Knight). A group of comical artists come to the rescue and in the end, we see several wax-covered victims come to life and turn on their creator.

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In some cases the acting is terrible but horror fans will find it to be a treat.For this release Arrow Video has searched through the vaults to bring you all four versions of Blood Bath, newly restored from the best materials available to provide a definitive release of one of Corman s craziest ventures.

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LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

Limited Edition collection of the complete “Blood Bath”

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of four versions of the film: “Operation Titian”, “Portrait in Terror”, “Blood Bath” and “Track of the Vampire

Brand new 2K restorations of Portrait in Terror” with “Blood Bath” and “Track of the Vampire” from original film materials.

Brand new reconstruction of “Operation Titian” using original film materials and standard definition inserts

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on all four versions

“The Trouble with Titian Revisited” – a brand new visual essay in which Tim Lucas returns to (and updates) his three-part Video Watchdog feature to examine the convoluted production history of “Blood Bath” and its multiple versions

“Bathing in Blood” with Sid Haig – a new interview with the actor, recorded exclusively for this release

Outtakes from “Track of the Vampire”, scanned from original film materials

Double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artworks

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dan Mumford

Limited edition booklet containing new writing on the film and its cast by Peter Stanfield, Anthony Nield, Vic Pratt and Cullen Gallagher.

“THEEB”— War and Children

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“THEEB”

War and Children

Amos Lassen

War is hell and we have heard this over and over again. One of the really tragic aspects of war is that innocent children are turned into warriors at young ages. Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) is one of those children. Living as a Bedouin in the Ottoman Empire-controlled Hijaz province with his protective big brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) during the First World War. Theeb is a little boy who is infinitely curious about the world that surrounds him even if it is a desolate desert.

When a British officer, Edwin (Jack Fox) and his Bedouin companion ask Hussein to take them to the railroad, presumably to try to blow up an Ottoman train, Theeb tags along even though no wanted him to do thinking that it will be an exciting adventure. We see that when the film begins, Theeb idolizes the British soldier and looks at him as a stoic hero who kills bad guys. “How many men have you killed?” is the first thing he says to the officer.

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Theeb follows a mysterious military box that the officer drags with him and his eyes become wide with excitement. He becomes obsessed with the box and touches, even though the officer is adamant about anyone, especially the boy, staying away from his precious cargo. That box represents an exciting piece of military equipment to Thee, but when a horrible tragedy strikes and Theeb is left in the middle of the desert to fend for himself, his experience significantly changes how he feels about war. By the end of the film the box has become a destructive force instead of just a mysterious whatever. Theeb also understands that in order to survive the desert, he has to depend on an enemy soldier (Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh) who seems to go out of his way to protect him. This could be because of the terrible guilt that the soldier felt about something he did to Theeb’s family. Nonetheless a bond grows between the boy and the soldier.

Director Naji Abu Nowar’s film opens with a vivid portrait of Bedouin society, particularly the highly formalized rituals of praise and hospitality that mark the arrival of guests and strangers into their midst. Nowar, who was born in England has crafted a nuanced look at the collision of East and West that actually occurred on the Arabian Peninsula during World War I. It was the outcome of that war that brought triumph and trauma into the Arab world.

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Theeb is prematurely burdened with the responsibilities of manhood by the war when his tribe is pulled into the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire by his soldier when he passed through town. Theeb’s older brother is chosen as the visitors’ guide to their mysterious final destination and, as I said, Theeb sets out to follow them, eventually joins the group over Edward’s vehement protests.

Despite its measured pacing and simple plot, the story takes several surprising turns, confusing us about what we think will happen but doesn’t. and thus changing viewer expectations. Since nothing is hurried here, it would seem that the plot twists would come as surprises but they do not. All is seen from Theeb’s point of view. When we hear bits of a conversation, we hope that they will be made clear.

As the men and Theeb journey they have to deal with bugs and other dangers of nature and the story seems to go one way while we go the other. It is actually a look at a boy’s initiation into the violent and social world of tribal manhood.

For Theeb, this means that killing of some kind is his rite of passage. However, when that moment finally arrives, his world is no longer what it what was when he first set out on his journey, even though it has only been a few days.

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Having participated in an event that, Theeb is transformed as is his world—- the same world that will lead to the decay of the traditional Bedouin way of life. of his world that will lead to the slow decay of the traditional way of life of his isolated Bedouin tribe. The coming of modernity and its disruption of traditional local economic and social structures will soon turn the unemployed into outlaws and the marginalized into the dispossessed.

The desert setting shows the concern with survival and revenge as seen in the men who are as unforgiving as the terrain. Now if you are still wondering about what is in that box, all I can say is to find out, you must see the film.

“FRANCOFONIA”— Art, Culture and History

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“FRANCOFONIA”

Art, Culture and History

Amos Lassen

“Francofonia” is a look the real-life events that saved Paris’s Louvre Museum under the Nazi Occupation during World War II,. At the same time, it is also a look at art, power, history and virtue—and mankind’s place among them. This is the latest film by Russian director Alexander Sokurov and is both an historical documentary and a stylized drama, a film that is an extended cinematic essay that brings together fictionalized re-enactments of past events with excursions into scholarship and fantasy. The film is set against the backdrop of the Louvre Museum’s history and artworks. We meet Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), director of the Louvre in the 1930s and ’40s and Count Franz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath), Hitler’s designated connoisseur and conservator of French art. Both men worked to keep the museum open during the occupation and to protect its collection.

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The negotiations between the two men are interspersed with Sokurov’s reflections on art and history and a tour of the museum’s galleries. We are guided on the tour by Marianne (Johanna Korthals), the symbol of liberty, equality and fraternity in Republican France, and Napoleon Bonaparte (Vincent Nemeth) who was the embodiment of the nation’s imperial ambitions. Together, they represent the idea of French universalism as they state that the Louvre is a living example of civilization.

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The Louvre has more visitors than any museum in the world, yet its galleries are noticeably under populated. Aleksandr Sokurov’s film is a paean to museum. “Francofonia” shows the Louvre to be complicated, all-encompassing metaphor for (European) civilization itself. Sokurov asks via voiceover “What is France without the Louvre?” and “Who would we be without museums?”

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These are broad questions that Sokurov pursues and “Francofonia” is most convincing when the filmmaker crystallizes his arguments through images that skirt the line between fact and fiction. When the attention turns toward the Louvre’s crown jewel, the Mona Lisa, the only visitors who get to dote on the painting are two incarnations of French nationalism— Napoleon Bonaparte (Vincent Nemeth), who, on seeing his own magnificence mirrored in the Mona Lisa’s smile, calls out repeatedly with smug glee, “C’est moi!” and the woman by his side is that great symbol of the French Republic, Marianne (Johanna Altes), who responds to the general’s ego by whispering her nation’s famous slogan: “Liberté, égalité, fraternité.” he scene is convincing for its sharp, and no less humorous, take on the perpetual battle between bureaucratic power and the will of the people.

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Francofonia zeroes in on this conflictive dynamic by examining the Louvre’s tenuous status during World War II, just after Hitler came to Paris and General Philippe Pétain fled south to Vichy, where he became prime minister. These scenes are shot with the patina of old, deteriorating film stock and show a fictionalized reenactment of the relationship between the Louvre’s one-time director, Jacques Jaujard (Louis-do de Lencquesaing), and the aristocratic Nazi officer and art historian Count Franziskus Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath). Sokurov expresses his admiration for Jaujard, as a prototypical Frenchman who, unlike Pétain, did not embrace retreat, refusing to leave his position at the Louvre. He found an ally in Metternich.

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Together, the men made sure that the Louvre’s most treasured works weren’t looted by the Nazis, by hiding them away in suburban chateaus. Jaujard and Metternich’s collaboration represents a kind of subterfuge and is living proof that belief in art can overcome ideological differences. State, dangerously coincides with a desire for presentation (we see archival footage of Hitler patrolling Paris and Napoleon’s remark that he “went to war for art” maintains this belief). However if art is inevitably an area of national interest and underwritten by the powers that be, it doesn’t mean that bureaucracy always wins out. We see this in the efforts of Jaujard and Metterninch.

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There are many freewheeling aerial shots and 360-degree pans of the Paris skyline throughout “Francofonia”, sweeping images that complement Sokurov’s overarching themes and we realize that this film is an unabashed portrayal of Gallic cultural contributions. Throughout the film, Sokurov will interrupt his commentary to get the latest update. “Francofonia” has the tone of an elegy that bids adieu to a bygone time when art and civilization were perhaps more closely intertwined and could similarly be thought of on more continuous terms.

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This is a dense, enriching meditation on the Louvre, Paris and the role of art as an intrinsic part of the spirit of civilization. At the film’s core is the relationship between Jaujard and Metternich, vanquished and conqueror, and how both men were intent on protecting the Louvre’s treasures. By the time the Nazis rolled into Paris in 1940, almost all the works of art had already been transferred to a series of safer houses across France, but the highly cultured, French-speaking German aristocrat would go on to defy his commanders and continue to keep France’s museum holdings protected from deportation to the Third Reich.

f12Sokurov is a devoted Francophile and he wonders why the Nazis safeguarded Paris while deliberately destroying so many cities of Eastern Europe, especially Leningrad, whose Hermitage suffered so greatly during the War. Perhaps it is because Paris represents more than just France, just as the Louvre is more than a building full of extraordinary masterworks. Napoleon, of course, understood this, which is why so many of the Louvre’s holdings can be directly traced to him.

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“Francofonia” also mixes formal conventions and it is multifaceted. At the center of Francofonia is a historical event that happened in 1940, a year into World War II. In occupied France, Jacques Jaudard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) was the director of the French National Museums, including the Louvre. He was no friend of the Nazis and successfully transported many works of art from the Louvre to homes where they be safely hidden. Meanwhile, Hitler assigned Count Franziskuz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath) to micromanage and eventually confiscate the art in the Louvre as part of the Kunstschutz effort. Hitler picked the wrong man for the job, though. Not a firm believer in the Third Reich, Metternich was an art historian who took his job seriously. He stalled sending back the works of Old Masters, ultimately saving world treasures from the grubby hands of Hitler, Goebbels, and Goering.

Sokurov shoots these dramatized historical events so that the scenes resemble long lost working footage for a movie. This is a brilliant rumination on art, history and death.

“KILLER DAMES”— Two Gothic Thrillers

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“Killer Dames”

Two Gothic Chillers

Amos Lassen

In the early 1970s, scores of Italian filmmakers crafted their own takes on murder-mystery thrillers. Emilio P. Miraglia was one such filmmaker. “In The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave”, troubled aristocrat Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen), haunted by the death of his first wife Evelyn, tries to move on by marrying the seductive Gladys (Marina Malfatti). However, as various relatives meet untimely and horrible deaths, there is speculation that a vengeful Evelyn has risen from the grave…

The film exploits mental illness to present a string of sadistic sexual murders and is a distinctly gothic take on the Italian thriller genre, making the most of creepy settings like an old and decrepit castle, a shadowy mausoleum, and a torture dungeon. Even though the well-worn plot of a mentally unstable character being pushed to the edge by the sudden appearance of a ghost is nothing new, it works here because of some unexpected twists and its final reel, Anthony Steffen turns in a hammy performance that alternates between suave cool and crazy. There are a few daring scenes of gore.

“The Red Queen Kills Seven Times” is about a generations old family curse hits sisters Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) and Franziska (Marina Malfatti) after the death of their grandfather Tobias (Rudolf Schündler). Legend has it that very hundred years, the bloodthirsty Red Queen returns and claims seven fresh victims. If Tobias was the first in this new cycle, the sisters wonder if they are next to die.

This is more of a traditional murder mystery Set in a castle in Germany, the Wildenbrück family is visited by a curse involving ill-fated twins and a murderous phantom known as The Red Queen. A prologue establishes the back-story in which little Kitty Wildenbrück accidentally kills her sister. The girls’ grandfather answers their questions about family portrait — of a lady with a bloody knife standing over her victim.

Years later Kitty runs an upscale fashion photography studio when more killings of women occur. First Rosemary (Maria Pia Giancaro) is attacked in a delivery vehicle and then the gorgeous but predatory model Lulu (Sybil Danning) meets a bloody end. The police are skeptical when witnesses report a mysterious person known as the “Red Queen” running from the murder scenes. Suspicion falls on fashion executive Martin Hoffman (Ugo Pagliai) when he benefits from the murder of a superior.

There is lots of gore— either-people are bashed over the head, stabbed in the hand or decapitated.

Both films are making their worldwide Blu-ray debuts in stunning new 2K restorations from Arrow Films and are part of a four DVD boxed set, “Killer Dames”.

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:

Limited Edition box set (3000 copies) containing The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Brand new 2K restorations of the films from the original camera negatives

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

Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (lossless DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray Discs)

Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks

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

Limited Edition 60-page booklet containing new writing by James Blackford, Kat Ellinger, Leonard Jacobs and Rachael Nisbet

“THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE”

New audio commentary by Troy Howarth

Exclusive introduction by actress Erika Blanc

Writer Stephen Thrower on The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

The Night Erika Came Out of the Grave exclusive interview with Erika Blanc

The Whip and the Body archival interview with Erika Blanc

Still Rising from the Grave archival interview with production designer Lorenzo Baraldi

Original Italian and US theatrical trailers

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx

“THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES”

New audio commentary by Alan Jones and Kim Newman

Writer Stephen Thrower on The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Archival introduction by production/costume designer Lorenzo Baraldi

Dead à Porter archival interview with Lorenzo Baraldi

Rounding Up the Usual Suspects archival interview with actor Marino Masé

If I Met Emilio Miraglia Today archival featurette with Erika Blanc, Lorenzo Baraldi and Marino Masé

My Favourite… Films archival interview with actress Barbara Bouchet

Alternative opening

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx

 

“THE FEAR OF 13”— A Psychological Thriller

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“THE FEAR OF 13”

A Psychological Thriller

Amos Lassen

David Sington’s “The Fear of 13” is part confessional and part performance, a haunting psychological thriller and a daring experiment in storytelling. Nick is a death row inmate who petitions the court to be executed. As he goes on to tell his story, it becomes clear that nothing is quite what it seems. Nick tells his tale with all the twists and turns of classic crime drama, with a final shocking twist that casts everything in a new light.

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Jailbird Nick Yarris shares how a petty thief and meth user became a convicted murderer on Death Row in Pennsylvania. Yarris is such a good storyteller, and pulls us in with his long, clear, articulate sentences of his time before and after his conviction, and how for many long years he tried to have his conviction for murder overturned. We are reminded of how slowly the wheels of justice turn when the authorities are convinced they already have the right guy. We learn of Yarris’ setbacks, minor triumphs, beatings, the draconian prison system, his illnesses, his time on the run, his marriage to a prison visitor and his campaign for his own retrial. There is little rancor and/or.

The title refers to triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13 and this is just one of the many words Yarris learned while reading thousands of books during his 20-year stay on Death Row in a Pennsylvania prison. Yarris is the film’s sole subject and narrates the feature to camera throughout. He is eloquent and spends the duration of the film recounting the past twenty years of his life. We never know whether he is being interviewed or speaking directly to the camera. with it very difficult to tell whether he’s speaking to an interviewer, or directly down the lens; his eyes constantly darting and his body physically reenacting the events leading up to and since his conviction of rape, abduction and murder.

Yarris dominates this documentary and his passion, emotion and constant protesting of his innocence, his maintenance of hope  and then his eventual request of asking the state’s governor to have him executed immediately, commands the screen. “The Fear Of 13” is a brilliant example of unique documentary filmmaking that is simple in its approach and wonderful in its execution.

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Yarris tells us that “True storytelling is the telling of life,” says former Death Row inmate Nick Yarris and the film rests entirely on his testimony. The simplicity of the film is as frustrating as it is remarkable since the film essentially offers a 90-minute monologue in which the former Death Row inmate recounts his 23-year experience in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Yarris’ story offers a sobering account of a troubled man. He talks directly into the camera about his life of petty crime (mostly auto theft) and substance abuse that led to a string of run-ins with the law. His narrative sets the mood by conveying the eerie silence of the Pennsylvania prison, which he describes by saying that the prison was developed by Quakers who created tightly confined cells that deprived inmates of sound and sunlight. Yarris says the prison’s “no speaking rule” has the deadliest effect on jailbirds, as it accentuates isolation and leaves every prisoner alone with his or her thoughts. The years of incarceration and isolation show their toll on Yarris and we sense his paranoia about speaking out. When he reaches the act that pertains to the murder for which Yarris was wrongfully convicted, he shares some surprising omissions in his tale. Few, if any, details of Yarris’ defense appear in his story. His testimony tells more about a trial that preceded the murder case and he explains how he was acquitted of a string of charges at the same time that the murder trial loomed. The absence of information pertaining to Yarris’ trial is curious, especially since the DNA evidence becomes crucial to his exoneration.

Yarris starts his tale with a tangential account about an escape from his guards during a routine transfer. He talks about running away during one cold night and evading the police by stealing a car and other peoples’ belongings, which he pawned for quick cash. He sounds like a career criminal who is not accountable for his actions.

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The most powerful episode is Yarris explaining when he lost all hope in the case. He recalls submitting a request to cease all appeals and expedite his execution. This relates the hopelessness and despair of Yarris’ experience in isolation. We hear him explain how literature and stories brought him a kind of salvation in the prison and how a simple exercise in repeating and remembering new words led him to a range of new experiences through literature. However, Yarris’ account never sounds like a response to a question, and one never hears the filmmaker pose a query or interject. The dramatic delivery of the story also comes ten years after his exoneration, so we sense that the subject has reframed and reshaped memories by reliving this trauma repeatedly in his mind. The simplicity of the film lets Yarris’ experience show the effect that the prison system has on an individual. It’s a powerful account and the simple direction respects the subject’s journey.

“WE MONSTERS”— Protecting the Child

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“WE MONSTERS”

Protecting the Child

Amos Lassen

Sebastian Ko’s “We Monsters” looks at how far parents will go to protect their child. Paul and Christine (who are separated) learn that their daughter, Sarah (Janina Fautz) murdered her best friend, Charlie (Marie Bendig) and the protective guilt they share forced the family back together and to make up a web of lies and deadly intentions with no way out. Sarah had been very upset by her parents’ separation. Her parents want to protect her and knowing that she indeed committee murder led them to lying.

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Paul and Christine begin to understand the effects that their dysfunctional marriage had on their daughter, Sarah, when she takes adolescent mischief too far. The film moves quickly—it does not long to move from Paul’s taking Sarah and Charlie on a trip to the woods to his finding Sarah alone at a dam and there is no Charlie but whose backpack can be seen floating in the water below. Paul tries to save the girl, but she’s not to be found. This is a parent’s worst nightmare, losing the child of another and Sarah makes the incident extra troubling by telling her father, “I pushed her” and she shows no remorse. No remorse as if killing her friend is just something that happened.

 

Sarah’s parents wonder how to react to news that their child is a murderer. Naturally it is their instinct to protect her, so Charlie’s disappearance remains a mystery even to her own negligent father (Ronald Kukulies). The parents’ dilemma fascinates as they accept their complicity in Charlie’s death and understand that their daughter is a monster.

 

Paul and Christine are complex characters and the actors who portray them give compelling performances. The problem that I have with the film is the strained credibility with the adolescent characters and their unintelligible motives. There are a few plot twists that shake the effective and chilling realism of the parable as the parents’ actions seem to be farfetched. What is important about the film is that we see that anyone can become a monster like Sarah. Paul and Christine feel that turning their child into the police conflicts with their paternal instincts but they have no idea at first as to far they will go to protect their daughter when Charlie’s father begins questioning the family about what transpired?

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The film takes a situation that no parent would want to experience and pushes it to its limits, and in doing so, things become terrifying. Anxiety remains high, and violence intensifies as the film moves forward., Paul and Christine attempt to deal with Sarah, who never seems concerned about what has happened. In the first half hour of the film we see Sarah as despicable but then we slowly begin to see more of her motivations, allowing us to empathize with her situation, but this is information that’s kept from her parents.

We are left wondering what we might do in the same situation and we see that one horrible act only leads another. The film is as brilliant as it is disturbing.

“SOUTHLANDER: DIARY OF A DESPERATE MUSICIAN— A Musical Journey

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“Southlander: Diary of a Desperate Musician”
A Musical Journey

Amos Lassen

 Chance (Rory Cochrane) is a hapless LA Musician, who found his ticket to fame, fortune and romance with the coveted keyboard, the 69′ Moletron. The keyboard that got him the gig and the girl (Beth Orton) is missing, and Chance must reclaim it by working his way through “The Southlander”, the ultimate buy/sell classified paper for musicians in Southern California. 

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Along the way, Chance and his pal Ross Angeles (Ross Harris) come upon the unstable defunct Funk star Motherchild (Lawrence Hilton Jacobs III) and his toadie (Richard Edson), Beck’s ramshackle recording trailer, a ruthless junkyard cowboy (Hank Williams III) and his mechanical dinosaur (Robosaurus). They find their way to an eccentric millionaire’s Bacchanalian party, a clairvoyant goddess (Laura Prepon, ), and intergalactic Jazz Egyptians (Billy Higgins).

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The film includes performances by Beck, Beth Orton, Hank Williams III, Union 13, and Billy Higgins and there are cameos from Laura Prepon, Ione Sky and Elliott Smith. “Southlander” is a comically uncanny rock & roll party adventure by director Steven Hanft. 

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Quite basically the film is about a young guy trying desperately to retrieve a stolen synthesizer and plays like an improvised tour of the lower echelons of the Los Angeles rock scene whose sense of humor could only be fully appreciated by struggling musicians.

Special features include Deleted Scenes, Uncut Performances, Director’s Commentary, Music Videos, Bonus Audio, Photo Gallery, and Theatrical Trailer.

“THE WHOOPEE BOYS”— Misfits

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“The Whoopee Boys”

Misfits

Amos Lassen

Two obnoxious and dim-witted misfits, Jake Bateman (Michael O’ Keefe) and Barney Benar (Paul Rodriguez) make an attempt to save a school for needy children by attempting to sneak into the wealthy high society of Palm Beach to get the money needed for their cause. The two men fled New York and end up in Palm Beach, Florida and get involved with a beautiful heiress who runs a school for needy children. Unless she gets married in 30 days to a high society “gentleman,” the school will be bought and turned into condos. While Jake takes a liking to her, he decides to prove he can be a worthy husband by enrolling in a charm school.

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As a comedy, “The Whoopee Boys” just does not work totally. Many of the gags include belching, farting, vomiting, and masturbation and predictable, politically incorrect potshots. I did not find most of this funny and the film really is quite childish. John Byrum, directed but he is just not suited for this comic material.

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Raunchiness and ribaldry have their place but these do not work here either. There’s a plot in here somewhere as I shared in my opening paragraph. Yet there are those that love this film and proclaim that it is the funniest movie ever.

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Paul Rodriguez is a very talented comedian. However, his raunchiness did not hit me as funny. The film tries to hard to be bawdy genre exercise like “Animal House” was but it seems to have lost its direction and is crude. The movie is disjointed and punctuated by one unfunny bit after another  Rodriguez gets the best line of the movie when he tells two women:  “As long as I have a face, you’ll always have a place to sit!”