Category Archives: Film

“SHALLOW WATERS”— A Deconstruction of a Life and a Death

“SHALLOW WATERS”

A Deconstruction of a Life and a Death

Amos Lassen

I am always amazed by filmmakers who can show us in a short film what many others cannot do in epic length movies, In just 32 minutes, Jaime Longhi looks at how a mentally ill person can drown himself in a few feet of water on a crowded Memorial Day beach. We see a tall, middle-aged, fully dressed man walks up to his shoulders into the cold shallow waters of San Francisco Bay; and then waits. Soon many police and fire units arrive at the scene in response and they wait. A crowd watches and waits as the man succumbs to the tide and within an hour loses consciousness. His body slowly washes back to shore and still, they wait. “Shallow Waters” deconstructs the events of that hour as a way to understand what happened and why as what everyone was waiting for. It also asks important questions about the value of life and the social contract and it truly gives us a lot to think about.

The man was Raymond Zack and the incident of his public drowning is a deeply disturbing event. As we look at that day that was to be his last, we have real questions about what being human means. I find the entire business hard to believe. No one, not one person tried to help and I am just not sure what this says about morality. The documentary says nothing about it either and like the people who were there that day, it just waits. However, it waits it gives us some serious and ethical questions to think about. It always says something about how we feel about the mentally ill and those less fortunate than we are. In watching this compelling film, we ask ourselves about the ethical responsibility we have for each other and why bureaucracies today do not work as they should. I try to imagine what was going on in the minds of those that waited and did nothing. Where was the quality of trust here and what about the funded community services that have been created to protect us. Even more important is that I am sure that everyone who sees this brilliant film will ask him/herself when he/she would have done if they had been there.

“DEAD OR ALIVE TRILOGY”— Outrageous and Dramatic

“DEAD OR ALIVE TRILOGY”

Outrageous and Dramatic

Amos Lassen

“Dead or Alive” trilogy is made up of three of Takashi Miike”s most outrageous moments and some of his most dramatically moving scenes.  The films were made between 1999 and 2002 and essentially gave Miike’s reputation overseas a boost and we see him as one of Japan’s most talented and innovative filmmakers.  The trilogy begins with six minutes ofsex, drugs and violence, and end with a phallus-headed battle robot taking flight.

Takashi Miike ignores the taboos diligently observed in mainstream Japanese and totally freaks out his audiences with his taste for perversity. We see such things as a woman’s body plunging off a roof onto the street; cocaine being snorted down the length of a bar; a stripper grinding through her gyrations; two men having sex in a restroom soon covered with blood; and gunmen pulling machine guns out of a supermarket’s vegetable crisper before a slaughter.

 

Jojima (Show Aikawa), our protagonist, a taciturn detective investigating a case that involves Japanese and Chinese drug dealers. His home life is a mess with his daughter needing an operation he can’t afford, and his wife receiving late-night phone calls that require whispered responses.

”Evil, in itself, is not bad, as long as we keep the balance,” Jojima says, and he ends up corrupted and in the midst of thugs. His nemesis, Ryuichi (Riki Takeuchi) has to deal with his treacherous Chinese partners and guilt for financing his younger brother’s American education with blood money.

”Dead or Alive” is about bombast and firepower. Miike is a skillful director who can rouse an audience and dazzles with his quick reflexes. Miike’s films contain explicit “portrayals of violence; sex; violent sex; sexual violence; clowns and violent scenes of violent excess, which are definitely not suitable for all audiences”. We see murder, bestiality, sodomy and homosexuality (or as a friend of mine says, there is something for everyone). Beyond giving us creatively shocking films, Miike is a good filmmaker.

This film is very tough to follow with its many characters all speaking Japanese. This is made up of stories in which a bunch of characters together. Several factions of similar-looking criminals and a Kitano clone cop kill each other. I am unable to give more detail than that as each viewer will understand the films differently. There is a lack of clarity even though I was completely entertained by what I saw here.

Miike seems to have a bottomless reserve of negative energy and an urge to constantly top himself with the amount of gore in his films. My summary reads something like this—In Tokyo’s crime-ridden Shinjuko quarter, scores of Chinese Mafia members, Japanese yakuza, and corrupt cops constantly fight for power and settle old scores.

Bonus Materials include:

– High Definition digital transfers of all three films

– Original stereo audio

– Optional English subtitles for all three films

– New interview with actor Riki Takeuchi

– New interview with actor Show Aikawa

– New interview with producer and screenwriter Toshiki Kimura

– New audio commentary for Dead or Alive by Miike biographer Tom Mes

– Archive interviews with cast and crew

– Archive making-of featurettes for DOA2: Birds and DOA: Final

– Original theatrical trailers for all three films

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Orlando Arocena

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Kat Ellinger.

“HOUSE”— Two Stories Limited Edition

“HOUSE”

Two Stories Limited Edition

Amos Lassen

“House” is an ’80s mishmash of gothic horror, goofy comedy, and rubbery monsters. Though the films are hardly remarkable, they are endearing and off-kilter enough to grab one’s attention.

Recovering from the trauma of a separation from his wife (Kay Lenz), struggling writer Roger Cobb (William Katt) moves into the spooky house owned by his aunt, who recently took her life by hanging. Roger attempts to turn his disturbing memories of Vietnam into a gripping memoir, but his creative efforts are stymied by an eager neighbor named Harold (George Wendt) and by inconvenient monsters like the unforgettable Sandy Witch and a decrepit old Army buddy, Big Ben (Richard Moll).

“House” works well as it brings together some strange ideas such as happy union of elements ranging from a surprising screenplay to a playful, diverse score. from Harry Manfredini. Cinematographer Mac Ahlberg captures every little shiny, menacing wooden detail in the house itself. The film has dated fairly gracefully, and as a Reagen era meditation on the aftermath of Vietnam, it’s a sensitive look at war. It was such a success that it was followed by “House II” although each film stands alone.

In “House”, Roger decides that he’s found the ideal place in which to get some writing done but the house’s monstrous supernatural residents have other ideas…  In “House II” we see young Jesse (Arye Gross) moving into an old family mansion where his parents were mysteriously murdered years before. Plans for turning the place into a party house are soon changed when Jesse’s mummified great-great-grandfather, his mystical crystal skull and the zombie cowboy stop at nothing to lay his hands on the house.

Both “House” and “House II” are era-defining horror classics and have been newly restored and loaded with brand new extras. The films are entertaining, campy treats. These are fun films that reminds us why we love the cheesy 1980s horror films as much today as we did then. These films aren’t great they are sheer entertainment.

Limited edition contents include:

– Brand new 2K restorations of House and House II: The Second Story

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

– “The House Companion” limited edition 60-page book featuring new writing on the entire – – House franchise by researcher Simon Barber, alongside a wealth of archive material

HOUSE

– Audio commentary with director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley

Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House – brand new documentary featuring interviews with Steve Miner, Sean S. Cunningham, Ethan Wiley, story creator Fred Dekker, stars William Katt, Kay Lenz, and George Wendt, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Barney Burman, Brian Wade, James Belohovek, Shannon Shea, Kirk Thatcher, and Bill Sturgeon, special paintings artists Richard Hescox and William Stout, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder

– Stills Gallery

– Theatrical Trailers

 

“HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY”

– Audio commentary with writer-director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham

It’s Getting Weirder! The Making of House II: The Second Story – Brand new documentary featuring interviews with Ethan Wiley, Sean S. Cunningham, stars Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Lar Park Lincoln, and Devin DeVasquez, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Chris Walas, Mike Smithson, visual effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder

– Stills Gallery

– Theatrical Trailer

“LATEST NEWS FROM THE COSMOS” (“Dernières nouvelles du cosmos”)— Helene’s World

“LATEST NEWS FROM THE COSMOS” (“Dernières nouvelles du cosmos”)

Helene’s World

Amos Lassen

For most of her life, Hélène, who lives with her parents in rural France, did not communicate. When she turned twenty-one-years-old everything changed. Despite having had no formal schooling or ever having been taught to read or write, she began to do both. By arranging laminated alphabet letters, Hélène created words, then phrases and finally a book, one letter at a time. And then she wrote another book. Using the pen name, “Babouillec Sp” (the letters stand for sans parole or non-verbal), Helene, a severely autistic woman writes poetry that can be “soaring and childlike, surreal and funny, dense with allusions and filled with insight”. Hélène’s latest book is “Eponymous Algorithm” and her parents helped her adapt if for the theatre. In the documentary, “Latest News from the Cosmos”, we are taken into Hélène’s world as the play is developed. The film was nominated for the 2015 Best Documentary César Award. As we watch it, we are challenge to contemplate the nature of creativity and communication as well as the hidden potential in humans of all abilities. This is what human creativity looks like.

“CHILD EATER”— A Confident, Disturbing Monster Movie

“Child Eater”

A Confident, Disturbing Monster Movie

Amos Lassen

I bet there is not one among us who was once not afraid of the dark. What’s more we remember that fear and even today we have strange feelings about venturing into absolute darkness. This is something of a communal feeling and director Erlingur Ottar Thoroddsen and he creates something unforgettable here making us want to see what he comes up with next.

“Child Eater” begins with a young girl is holding her own severed eyes as she innocently says, “He hurt me.” The movie then jumps ahead some twenty-five years and the community is still dealing with the horror that happened there a quarter of a century ago.

The film centers on Helen (Cait Bliss), who has been hired to babysit Lucas (Colin Critchley) after the recent death of his mother. Helen’s babysitting session soon turns into a nightmare as Lucas goes missing and it’s up to Helen to find him before the worst takes place. We have a simple premise that complicates nothing. This is a simple and old-fashioned monster story.

Robert Bowery (Jason Martin) is the “Child Eater” and a terrifying monster. He suffers from an eye disease, so he kidnaps children and it becomes even more upsetting. Even just watching Bowery in motion is chilling with his twisted body language and cane. There’s a moment where Bowery grabs Lucas and it’s very, very scary. Aside from Bowery, there are other uncomfortable aesthetics throughout the film that keep the audience in a state on unease. Creepy dolls with missing eyes become even creepier, and there is eerie singing of children, mysterious calls to the Sheriff’s office, and the disturbing symbol of a fake glass eye that acts as a memento and symbol for Bowery’s destruction. We see Lucas staring at the camera and feeling small and powerlessness. The film also shows children’s fears of the basement and the dark and how overwhelming those things can be.

“Child Eater” takes place in Lucas’ house, the woods, and a hospital and these places frequently switch. Each time something new is added to the story in some way. We actually care about Lucas through all of this and the moments where you get to see him outsmart Bowery elate us and make us want to cheer for him.

The boogeyman is quite real in Thoroddsen’s film. He loves ripping out and eating his victims’ eyeballs in order to keep from going blind. His legend goes back decades, but it’s not until curious Lucas (Colin Critchley) goes missing that his babysitter must venture out into the woods to confront the child eater myth in person.

The mythology surrounding the killer isn’t exactly far-reaching but there’s just enough back-story and creature design to establish interest in the character.

This is a well-made, well-executed independent film with a compelling creature and some memorable shots and sequences. We tend to forget the more pedestrian and cliché scenes.

“THE STUDENT AND MR. HENRI”— Henri and Constance

“The Student and Mr. Henri” (“L’Etudiante et Monsieur Henri”)

Henri and Constance

Amos Lassen

Ivan Calbérac brings us his film a adaptation of his hit play “The Student and Mr. Henri”. Henri (Claude Brasseur who at 79 is in excellent form) is a grouchy old man forced into sharing his apartment with Constance (Neomie Schmidt), a penniless student. We might think at first there is nothing really original here but surprises await us as does great chemistry between the two main characters. The film is equally funny and moving.  We get two hours of pure, old-fashioned entertainment.

Because of his fragile state of health, Monsieur Henri (Brasseur) can no longer live alone in his Parisian apartment and reluctantly agrees to rent out a room to a student.  He makes no effort to welcome the young woman into his home and help her adjust to life in the big city— he rather has something else in mind. He decides to use Constance to carry out his malevolent plan to destroy his son’s marriage to Valérie.

Basically, this is a classic tale of the older generation passing on the wisdom of their years to today’s youth.   There is a slight difference here, however. Monsieur Henri and Constance are very alike.  Henri feels he’s missed out on the opportunity to lead the life he wanted, while Constance’s self-doubt (having been overly criticized by her father) leads her to the same conclusion. They both decide to really live now. Henri isn’t moved by Constance’s lack of money or academic failure and he is much too bitter to see the error of his ways and too proud and selfish to correct them. Constance lies with consummate ease and accepts Henri’s unpleasant suggestion to ruin his son’s marriage without too many qualms.

Because she has no cash, Constance accepts Henri’s offer of a free room if she can drive a wedge between his son Paul (Guillaume de Tonquedec) and his airhead daughter-in-law Valerie (Frederique Bel). Constance deploys her seductive skills and soon enough the forty-something Paul is falling for her. Not only that, he begins dressing in cool leather jackets, clubbing and sending text messages in slang. Even more interesting is that bitter old Henri who is usually misanthropic and graceless, sees his defenses crumble before Constance and her sweet nature. Henri is a former accountant, filled with regrets about what might have been. He tells Constance not to make the mistakes he did and to enjoy life and pursue her dreams.

Claude Brasseur is excellent as Henri and he shows both comedy and pathos in the same scene in this intergenerational comedy that deals with the themes of the difficulty of housing, especially for young people, family conflicts and relationships, the fear of making a mess of one’s life at any age, middle age crisis, the temptation of adultery and the courage to follow dreams.

Noémie Schmidt as Constance is very convincing as a young provincial student who is cursed by her panic fear of examinations. This does not prevent her from being successively full of life, playful, sensual, generous and courageous. Her main flaw in the story is her lack of confidence, to the extent that when she fails her retake exam at the university, she lies to her parents because she feels ashamed of herself. Her budding friendship with Mr. Henri is touching. Especially when Henri pushes her to develop her musical skills.

Guillaume de Tonquédec as Paul, a man who would like to get along with his father and he is disappointed that Henri despises him and never accepted his marriage with Valérie also turns in an excellent performance. When he meets Constance, he starts to lose his inhibitions and reawaken his youth.

Frédérique Bel is Valérie, the perfect bigoted and goofy wife of Paul. Her silly thoughts, her false air of maternal complacency and her cheesy attitude are fun to watch. This is a movie filled with charm, emotions and incredible situations.

“PAINLESS”— A Modern Day Fable

“Painless”

A Modern Day Fable

Amos Lassen

This is really not a review but rather a look at a new film that will premiere in early March where it will be screened at the Cinequest Film and VR Festival (CQFF).

”Painless” is a science-based drama and was written and directed by New York native Jordan Horowitz, whose 2015 documentary Angel of Nanjing took home thirteen best film and best director awards from festivals around the world. “Painless” is produced by the award winning, Rhode Island duo of Anthony Ambrosino and Nicholas Delmenico, whose last film “Almost Human” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival where it was purchased by IFC.

“Painless is a modern-day fable about loneliness and alienation, and the sacrifices one makes for what they believe in,” said Horowitz. He added, “feelings I think we’ve all experienced at some point in our lives.” It was filmed in both New York City and Rhode Island. Montreal native Joey Klein stars .

“MARINONI: THE FIRE IN THE FRAME”— From Champion Cyclist to Master Bike Craftsman

“Marinoni: The Fire in the Frame”

From Champion Cyclist to Master Bike Craftsman

Amos Lassen

Giuseppe Marinoni of Montreal is a former champion cyclist who is now, at age 75, is a master bike craftsman. He has been an inspiration to many; a man whose attitude constantly changing. We see him at one moment speaking to documentarian Tony Girardin (who directed this film) about the process behind his constructions, and then at the next minute we see him yelling at the filmmaker for asking silly questions. He has a dry sense of humor and much of what he says is sarcastic thus making it difficult to really know his tone. A lot of what Marinoni conveys is so thickly rooted in sarcasm, that it’s easy to misinterpret his tone.  It takes a while to warm up to him and the film but it does indeed happen. One of the reasons that Girardin wanted to make this film was because of enigmatic personality.

As filming continued, a friendship developed between the two men and I really think that the film is much more intimate than anyone suspected it might be. While Marinoni’s story is interesting on its own, watching the relationship develop on camera is really fascinating.  The friendship steadies the film all the way to the final scenes in which Marinoni pushes himself to earn a golden title. The interviews with friends and family add a great deal to the film.

I purposely neglected to say earlier that at 75 years old, bicycle craftsmen Giuseppe Marinoni is determined to break the one-hour cycling record for his age group.  He is an Italian immigrant who moved to Montreal in 1965 to professionally race. Then he was a tailor but he crafts custom bike frames that are used and respected by cyclists around the world.

Tony Girardin follows Marinoni for two months leading up to the race, getting him to reluctantly open up about his life to the camera, as he struggles through his training to cut minutes off his time. The film is a look at not allowing age to cause on to stop moving forward. 

Giuseppe Marinoni is both a cranky but revered man Montreal manufacturer of bicycle frames who decided to set a world distance record for his age group. We see him training for his 2012 date with destiny and this involve a trip back to Italy and an hour of furious cycling. The race is held on an indoor track, and he rides for 60 minutes straight.

The bike he has chosen to ride in on a frame that he designed in the late 70s for Canadian cycling legend Jocelyn Lovell. We see Marinoni is happier

caring for chickens and looking for mushrooms than he is talking about himself, and there are moments that he becomes annoyed with Girardin’s camera giving us a few laughs.

“CASABLANCAS: THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN”— The Man Who Invented the Supermodel

“Casablancas: The Man Who Loved Women” (“Casablancas, l’homme qui aimait les femmes”)

The Man Who Invented the Supermodel

Amos Lassen

In 2011, John Casablancas, the founder of Elite Modeling Agency and the man who invented the supermodel sat down with a friend to record his life story. He would pass away two years later after battling cancer. These recordings became the basis of this documentary. We also see archival footage and pictures along with the story of the man that changed the modeling industry and became a world power.

John Casablancas was convinced by someone in the industry that he should be a modeling agent. But that wasn’t enough for him, as he decided to take on the giants of the industry like Ford Modeling Agency, and start his own company. It was unheard of at the time that a heterosexual male would be a leader in the fashion industry. Casablanca shot to stardom by “stealing” talent from the bigger agencies and establishing his own. He represented people like Christie Brinkley, Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford, and just about every big name at the time. It was his idea to turn the models into celebrities thus making them household names so as to increase their value. It revolutionized the industry and set off a nasty war between the agencies.

We see Elite Models founder John Casablancas reflect on his loose and lucrative career. He certainly seems to have had all the luck— not only was he born rich, handsome and multinational, he was educated at the best Swiss schools and then chaperoned into high society. He went on to create the global powerhouse Elite Model Management, which caused the careers of many to take off and remain grounded.

The documentary features a lengthy one-on-one interview backed by tons of personal archives, TV clips and fashion-spread photos and it is almost like watching a dream sequence. This film is a glimpse at how one man managed to transform the sleepy world of modeling, in the mid-1960s into a star-driven enterprise of the ‘80s and ‘90s that made beautiful women into rich and famous celebrities. He was a successful lady-killer and a very decent person.

Casablanca was born in New York to Catalan parents and then raised in France and Switzerland. At times he seems to be a parody of the International Playboy. He was tall, suave, handsome and athletic and he appealed to beautiful women. What is most

impressive about Casbalancas’ career is how he more or less single-handedly reshaped the modeling business into the giant that it is today, taking his Paris-based Elite (which he founded in 1972) from a boutique agency of some thirty models and expanding it into the U.S. and dozens of other countries, with annual billings reaching close to $100 million during at its prime.

All of this was done on the backs of young women — many of them underage and handpicked in the company’s Elite Model Look beauty contests and is never questioned in this film. Director Hubert Woroniecki has a tendency to be more hagiographical than biographical in his approach to Casablanca. Still, he provides some intriguing details about the gradual shift in modeling from nameless faces in magazine ads to superstars like Eva Herzegovina and Heidi Klum (both of whom were once represented by Elite), particularly the “model wars” of the 1980s between newcomer Casablancas and New York stalwart Eileen Ford, whose conservative approach was a far cry from the, headlines-heavy atmosphere of Elite.

Casablancas does not brag about any of this, and his modest, matter-of-fact way of recalling his rise to power is refreshing. The documentary is full of home movies, private and professional photos, appearances on Oprah and Letterman, as well as newsreel footage of the Swiss Alps in the 1950s to the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan some three or four decades later.

“DEADLY VIRTUES: LOVE. HONOR. OBEY”— A Break In

“Deadly Virtues: Love.Honor.Obey.”

A Break In

Amos Lassen

A menacing young man (Edward Akrout) breaks into a suburban home and encounters a married couple, Tom (Matt Barber) and Allison (Megan Maczko) having sex. He quickly ties them up and tortures the man who he puts in the bathtub and forces Allison to watch.

First time screenwriter Mark Rogers has quite brutally explored the terrible impact of domestic violence in “Deadly Virtues” but it is so deeply buried beneath the torturous moments that it fails to connect with the audience.

 Sadomasochism and rape on the screen are hard to watch and we want to know why this is happening. We do not get the heartbreaking back-story until the finale. This is a somber story that requires a degree of patience and resilience to see all the way through.

We realize that there is a strained form of bondage that has held the marriage together. The intruder is the catalyst to spark change, the necessary force to get Alison to improve the condition of her rotting marriage. The intruder is the driving force and the necessary antidote for to reflect upon her predicament and take action. “Deadly Virtues” is a horribly and finely nuanced examination of hurt, anger and hidden love.

The premise is simple. An obscured man (Edward Akrout) breaks into a suburban home and makes his way upstairs. He picks up a woman’s shoe on the staircase and smells it. The camera lingers on the under-toe sole and the overall impression is one of distaste. He continues up the beige staircase as we become increasingly aware of the lovemaking sounds at the top of the stairs and we soon see the young couple engaging in a bit of light bondage. He enters the room and prepares to join in.

The sadomasochistic role-play is taken to an extreme with the dominant partner’s knowledge of both psychology and physiology that both confirms and then completely disrupts the idea of consent. The point of the drama seems to show that our mainstream sexual cultures are based upon an almost childlike “understanding of sex as a game rather than as the biological response to physical touch. What is more, the depiction and justification of rape culture is part of the story and it is true to the characters and it is not to be denied or ignored”. We see the Tom’s fingers slip inside the shiny second skin that Allison is wearing while tied to the bed and we hear her panting and see her tear-stained cheek all the while he discusses how victims often feel pleasure at the time of the crime despite its circumstance. The effect is visually incredibly erotic and at the same time cold and horrifying to hear.

The film is looks at the difference between true BDSM relationships, the ‘couple play’ associated with pretty little whips and clean, shiny latex and the misunderstanding of these relationships that is regarded as psychopathy. By concentrating on the subject through the shifting gaze of the players in the context of a simple home invasion thriller, it leads us to think about the nature of physical and mental consent and how likely we all are to do things against what we understand as our own will.

Edward Akrout as Aaron combines a sadism that manages to be quite disgusting with a sexiness that relies not so much on charisma but on his gestures that he carefully controls. He is dominant and each twitch of his eyebrows and mouth says something about the lining of the mind and body with his d philosophy. He does not just play the role, he enters in completely. As the film moves forward, his performance makes it clear he is not simply a villain, but a true dominant male in every sense of the word.

Megan Maczko is also stimulating as Alison. She matches the film’s tone with perfect poise. She has plenty of very emotional scenes and when she cries, the emotion always feels somewhat deadened. She comes across as someone sleep talking around her existence and is riveting. Matt Barber as Tom feels less real than the other two but he is also excellent.

During one weekend, “our grand-inquisitor/marriage-guidance counselor from hell” explores and exploits Alison and Tom’s relationship, uncovers uncomfortable truths and acts as a catalyst for extreme liberation.  

Zoran Veljkovic’s cinematography enriches the drama and infuses it with arresting images and a visual palette. Almost abstract-like close-ups of a dripping tap, and a pivotal wine-drinking scene played out largely in shadow complement and enhance the narrative are amazing.