Category Archives: Film

yhomeless

“YHOMELESS”— To Be Homeless

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“yHomeless”

To Be Homeless

Amos Lassen

Most of us have never experienced what it is to be homeless. Director Glen Dunzweiler was faced with the threat of becoming homeless and it seemed very real to him. As far as he knew, those who were homeless were drug addicts and the mentally ill and the realization that he might be soon joining them caused him to question what it is like to live on the streets. To find the answer to this, he traveled across America to meet with the homeless of this country. Several years ago, I did the same and decided to live for a month among the homeless and I gained a whole new understanding of what homelessness is.

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Just recently, homelessness was declared to be a state of emergency in nine states in America. We began to see that there is an upward trend in this country that began after the recession. Many began to understand that thy were just a few steps from the street. This film focuses on the new homeless. In 2015 California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and New York were among the nine states that were declared to be in a state of emergency. In that same year, New York City reported that between 2011 and 2014, homelessness rose at an astonishing rate. Statistics show that 60,939 men, women and children were living in municipal shelters.

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Using money that he had emarked for the bank, Dunzweiler went on the road to thirteen American cities where he interviewed homeless people and service providers to find out what it is like to be homeless in America. The new homeless were those who lost their homes due to a job loss or the economic downturn and these were the people that Dunzweiler was interested in. He was on the road for four months, living out of and sleeping in his car (or on friends’ couches) and taking showers at a local branch of his gym. He did the interviews and the filming himself and he soon learned that what he had thought about the homeless was incorrect.

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He thought being homeless meant that a person was an addict or a mental case and while in some cases this is true, it is certainly not true for all homeless people. He interviewed people living on the streets in Santa Monica (CA), Riverside (CA), Sacramento (CA), Los Angeles (CA), San Francisco (CA), Las Vegas (NV), Portland (OR), Denver (CO), Kansas City (MO), Washington (DC), Memphis (TN) and Springfield (MA)] and he interviewed service providers in the same places.

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His film looks at the misconceptions many have about the homeless. We see that not all people “choose” to be homeless and that panhandling does not supply one’s basic needs. Many have thought that panhandlers make good money and se see here that this is not the case at all. We also see that not all who are homeless and living on the streets are addicts or mental cases. It might surprise some to learn that while men are more visible, thee are many families and women who also are homeless. It seems that homeless veterans get better care than just the homeless but in some cities the number of homeless veterans is one in four. One of the main reasons for being homeless is the lack of affordable housing and incomes that decline for whatever reason.

“TYRANT”— Going Back to Abuddin

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“TYRANT”

Going Back to Abuddin

Amos Lassen

Barry Al-Fayeed has been living in the United States for twenty years, during which time he got married to Molly Olson, and had two children (Sammy and Emma), with her. He a pediatrician in Pasadena. This When he was sixteen, he, whose family names was then Bassam, escaped his e middle eastern country of Abuddin, where the Al-Fayeeds have been the dictatorial rulers for generations, normally of violent and repressive regimes which he could not morally tolerate. He has not been back to Abuddin since. On his mother’s urging, he decides to go back to Abuddin with Molly and family in tow. He may find that leaving Abuddin this second time around is more difficult as he gets ensconced in the troubles the Al-Fayeeds are facing in general as they continue to rule the country as a repressive dictatorship. The longer Barry stays, the more it affects the only life of democratic freedom Molly, Sammy and Emma have ever known.

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Set in a make-believe land called Abbudin a country that is economically prosperous but politically oppressed because of the iron-fisted rule of its dictator Khaled Al-Fayeed (Nasser Faris), with an assist from his deranged oldest son, Jamal (Ashraf Barhom).

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Enter, Barry (Adam Rayner), the younger son, who moved to America 20 years ago and hasn’t been home since. Now he has come back for his nephew’s wedding brings Barry, his wife Molly (Jennifer Finnigan), and their teenage children, Emma (Anne Winters) and Sammy (Noah Silver) back to Abbudin. Molly thinks a heart-to-heart with his dad will be good for Barry’s soul. Sammy is, of course, enticed by his family’s wealth, and oblivious to the dangers around him. Barry, however, knows that dark secrets and violence are a family legacy, and indeed, he understands both the risk and the allure of power. He wants to leave as soon as possible. The family, however, won’t let him.

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The entire population of Abbudin is divided between the obsequious and the murderous but we must remember that Abbudin does not exist even though what we see may indeed exist somewhere else. Barry had hoped to cut all ties to this kind of life, and we see why through flashbacks to some of his earliest days. His older brother Jamal was clearly chosen to take over, and Barry was largely ignored. Such is the way of second sons. Jamal has grown into a psychopath but he isn’t quite as bright as his younger brother.

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Despite the atrocities his father visited upon him in his youth, and the fact that he fled to the U.S. all those years ago, he decides to return for a visit.

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We also realize that Barry doesn’t head back to America in the near future from almost the moment the show begins.

“JEKYLL AND HYDE… TOGETHER AGAIN”— A Raunchy Comedy

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“JEKYLL AND HYDE… TOGETHER AGAIN”

A Raunchy Comedy

Amos Lassen

If you are in the mood for a raunchy comedy, Mark Blankfield as Henry Jekyll, whose split personality turns him into a crazy “macho man” Jerry Belson directs Blankfield and Bess Armstrong in this early ‘80s cult comedy favorite, being brought to DVD here for the first time.

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 Belson turns the Robert Louis Stevenson classic upside down.  While researching a drug that would make surgeries obsolete, Dr. Daniel Jekyll inadvertently discovers a substance that unleashes the animal that lives inside every man. Using himself as a guinea pig, Jekyll reverts from his shy, self-effacing, serious self to the hypersexual, non-stop party guy alter ego, Mr. Hyde.

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 While most film adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, tend to center their attention on the story’s memorable portrayal of a dual persona split in two, others have tried to rework the material for comedy. These usually focus on the underlying sexual connotations. Here is one that is both very funny and very clever. Hubert Howes (Peter Brocco) comes to Our Lady of Pain And Suffering in dire need of a complete transplant — heart, lungs, kidneys, testicles, the works. He has unlimited funds at his disposal and has specifically requested that Dr. David Jekyll one of the world’s leading surgeons, be scheduled to perform the risky and demanding procedure.

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Unfortunately for Mr. Howes, Dr. Jekyll has decided to turn his back on surgery and instead is focusing his attention on pharmaceuticals. His ongoing research in creating a drug that would enhance one’s natural animal instincts have yet to produce any positive results, but Jekyll has stayed firm trying achieving his goal. Not even Jekyll’s boss Dr. Carew’s (Michael McGuire) empty threat of intervening in the young doctor’s engagement to daughter Mary (Bess Armstrong), will deter him from turning his back on surgery. After a long night of cataloging earlier failures, Jekyll inadvertently snorts a powdery concoction that transforms him into the spastic, gyrating Hyde. He has chest hair, a gold tooth and an unruly head of hair and gathers as much of the white powder as he can and goes out into the night in search of a good time.

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He meets Ivy (Krista Erickson),a prostitute and is smitten by her. Hyde tracks her down at the local sushi parlor/punk rock club, Madam Woo Woo’s, where performs with her new wave band, The Shitty Rainbows. Hyde talks himself into Ivy’s bed but the following morning, it’s Dr. Jekyll who awakens. Filled with guilt, Jekyll tries to spice up his relationship with his fiancée, but the feeling of freedom and sexual empowerment that Hyde has introduced to him becomes addictive. Eventually he agrees to perform the surgery on Mr. Howes and Jekyll attempts to break free from his alter ego by flushing the remaining powder down the drain.

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This is a movie with no political correctness as it pokes fun at the issues of the day (the 80s) including the popularity and use of cocaine as it exploits such trends as video arcades and the emerging hardcore punk scene. Mark Blankfield seems to be having great fun in the dual role and gives us quite a performance as Hyde. Produced by Joel Silver, we see a number of familiar faces, most of whom have less than two lines of dialogue, if any. Tim Thomerson plays cross-dressing plastic surgeon Dr. Lanyon, and is a key player in one of the film’s many unforgettable scenes. Distracted by collogue Jekyll’s emotional confession, Dr. Lanyon botches a boob job to epic proportions, although the surprisingly thankful patient doesn’t think her husband will mind. Lin Shaye plays the nurse opposite Hyde. A young Barret Oliver gets an egg smashed into his hair at a supermarket. George Wendt plays an injured patient wary of Dr. Jekyll’s peculiar behavior, but look quick because he is only briefly heard and seen in profile. Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), who plays Dr. Jekyll’s right hand nurse, has a number of scenes but wears a facemask with a lipstick kiss imprint throughout her screen time that completely covers her lovely face. If it were not for her distinctive voice and recognizable chest, you’d never know it was even her. Robert Louis Stevenson even makes a brief cameo just before the end credits..

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The people behind this movie knew what kind of movie they were making. Not only did they say that Robert Louis Stevenson, would be turning in his grave, they went right ahead and showed him doing exactly that in the final moments of the film. This is the kind of comedy that isn’t afraid to over-do it and they use slapstick, sexual innuendos and drug humor.

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

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“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.