Monthly Archives: August 2017

“GLORY”— A Missing Watch, A Good Deed

“Glory” (“Slava”) 

A Missing Watch; A Good Deed

Amos Lassen

Co-directors  Kristina Grozeva’s and Petar Valchanov’s “Glory” starts with a simple premise, but becomes a look at a bureaucracy rife with cynicism, and a government that is glad to eat its most idealistic citizens. 

 When Tsanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov), a stuttering railroad linesman discovers millions of dollars on some rural train tracks, he turns the entire amount over to the police.  The authorities are grateful and reward him with a televised ceremony and a new wristwatch.  When the fancy new watch stops working, Julia Staikova (Margita Gosheva), the public relations head of the corrupt Ministry of Transport, can’t seem to find Petrov’s old watch and it was a family heirloom.  Then Tsanko’s humble reality collides with a bureaucracy determined to use his “heroism” to distract the public from an emerging scandal as he desperately struggles to recover both his old watch and his dignity.

The camera follows Tsanko as he walks past men siphoning gas from a railcar and when he pauses to tighten a few lug nuts, he comes upon banknotes. Though Tsanko only pockets two bills before reporting the windfall to the authorities, the results of his actions become a broad indictment of class divisions and political and media corruption. Aside from his pet rabbits, Tsanko’s primary connection in life seems to be his watch, an analog timepiece made by the Russian company Slava, (“glory” in English). Tsanko loses the watch after the Ministry of Transport decides to use his act of nobility (of turning over the money) in order to cover over stories about the agency’s entrenched corruption: The ministry awards Tsanko a cheap digital replacement as a reward and then misplaces his family keepsake, an obvious symbol of his sense of order, tradition, and honesty (he resets the Slava before leaving for work every morning). His lost watch puts a heavy burden on Julia, the ministry’s head of public relations, who works hard to orchestrate Tsanko’s hero status while at the same time, she buries stories of corruption in her department.

Julia is a commanding, complicated antagonist and she and her devious co-workers mock Tsanko’s persona and his stutter. Once Tsanko’s frustration over his lost watch threatens to take down the Ministry of Transport, their behavior becomes even more ruthless and unnervingly efficient. “Glory” generates its suspense from the inevitability of an outcome that simultaneously jostles corrupt but powerful institutions and makes unwitting monsters of those who try to combat it. We get a damning portrait of contemporary Bulgarian society fragmented by class and the rural-urban divide, where corruption is a given and even muckrakers ignore the human element. The film quietly builds to a feeling of disaster, aided by excellent performances.

The importance of time is a key element in the film, as multiple clocks — biological as well as temporal — are everywhere from the opening moment, when a voice announces the time down to the second. As Tsanko makes sure that his watch is accurate, he listens with half an ear to the TV and a report on government corruption and it is these that are the main themes of “Glory”.

Directors Grozeva and Valchanov carefully balance the themes, weaving in just enough detail to show distinct psychological profiles. Tsanko’s reticent demeanor and quiet poise and Julia’s projection of dismissive superiority, convey two sides of Bulgaria: one representing its roots, and the other its corrupt government. The film is filled with small details; lines delivered once have payoffs later. This is an intelligent, biting and quietly powerful film that blends realism with sociopolitical commentary. The tension builds gradually as we feel Tsanko’s pain and anger throughout his desperate struggle to retrieve his wristwatch. Then that anger comes to the surface in a way that’s organic and believable while leading to climax that is shocking, bold, disturbing and haunting.

“1864”— Two Brothers and a War

“1864”

Two Brothers and a War

Amos Lassen

When Prussia and Austria declare war on Denmark, two brothers are called to serve in the bloodiest battle in Denmark’s history. This is a new television series that has been called “a triumph for Nordic Noir, for television as a whole, and for viewers who owe it to themselves to watch this drama.” It is an 8-part drama about the time when Germany and Prussia teamed up to declare war on Denmark, and it’s effect on two brothers – Peter (Jens Sætter-Lassen) and Laust Jensen (Jakob Oftebro) – who sign up to take part in what became the bloodiest battle in Denmark’s history.

The series is narrated by Inge (Marie Tourell Søderberg), the lover to both Peter and Laust as she looks back on her life in her memoirs which are read in the present day by Claudia (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina), a schoolgirl sent by Social Services to care for partially-sighted old man in a wheelchair Severin (Waage Sandø). We, at first, do not know why the memoirs in his house but all shall be revealed in due course.

The story begins in South Funen, Denmark, 1851, when the Danish defeated both the Prussians and also the insurgents from Slesvig. As a boy, Peter Jensen is given a book about flowers – written in Swedish – for his birthday. Parallels are made in the present day to soldiers going off to war, and the series moves regularly between present and the past.

Actress Johanne Louise Heiberg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is helping Councillor Monrad (Nicolas Bro) to overcome his fear of speaking to a crowd, with him enlisting her help.

This is a Danish drama of love in the time of war that reaches across eras to connect individual lives, confront a nation’s trauma, and examine the events of an epic war that formed the self-image of Denmark. Director Ole Bornedal read the letters of the soldiers to create a factual fairy tale. This was originally shot as a feature film and is now available as eight episodes. Bornedal has brought together the top acting talent of the current golden era of Denmark’s film and television for this project.

“A FISH CALLED WANDA”— A Very Funny Movie

“A Fish Called Wanda”

A Very Funny Movie

Amos Lassen

“A Fish Called Wanda” is the funniest movie I have seen in a long time and I believe that is because it is so meanspirited. Hollywood can make comedies about mean people (usually portrayed as the heroes), but only the British able to use the sins of vanity, greed and lust for comedic purposes. “A Fish Called Wanda” is sort of a mid-Atlantic production, with teamwork between its two American stars (Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline) and its British stars (John Cleese and Michael Palin). This is essentially a late-1950s-style British comedy in which the Americans do and say all of the things that would be appalling to the British characters.

Charles Crichton directed and co-wrote it with Cleese. Crichton understands why it is usually funnier to not say something, and let the audience know what is not being said. The characters have venal, selfish, shameful traits and he uses these to embarrass them. The movie involves an odd, ill-matched team of jewel thieves whose leader is Tom Georgeson, a weasel of a person who gets locked up in prison after a heist and with him is along with the secret of the jewels. On the outside, Palin, Kline and Curtis plot with and against each other with a great deal depending on Curtis’ attempts to seduce several key defense secrets out of Cleese.

There is one funny moment after another and some scenes are classic farce. Timing is everything and these actors have it down pat. I rarely laugh aloud but I did so here all through the film. Cleese’s screenplay has had audiences on both sides of the Atlantic laughing and the actors are all terrific. and no wonder. Kevin Kline was never better than in his Oscar-winning portrayal of Otto, the philosophy-quoting psychopath. Michael Palin is brilliant as stuttering fish-lover Ken. Jamie Lee Curtis is excellent as a triple-crossing seductress Wanda. And then Cleese, himself, as the pompous defense barrister Archie Leach is amazing. Just the name Archie Leach should bring some laughs. The supporting cast is also excellent all around.

The jokes come fast and we love the stereotyped portrayal of English self-importance and snobbery. All of these elements come together to give us one of the finest comedies ever. You just have to picture

Kevin Kline eating live goldfish, Michael Palin driving a steamroller and John Cleese naked. “A Fish Called Wanda” was nominated for three Academy Awards and Kline won as outstanding supporting actor as the psychopathic Otto. The film has stood the test of time and is as funny now as when it first came out in 1988.

Bonus materials include:

  • Brand-new 4K restoration from the original negative, produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original English mono audio (uncompressed LPCM)
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Commentary by writer and star John Cleese
  • Brand-new appreciation by Vic Pratt of the BFI National Archive
  • Brand-new interviews with composer John Du Prez, production designer Roger Murray-Leach, executive producer Steve Abbott and makeup supervisor Paul Engelen
  • John Cleese’s Final Farewell Performance, a 1988 documentary on the making of A Fish Called Wanda featuring interviews with actors Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin, Kevin Kline and director Charles Crichton
  • Something Fishy, a 15th anniversary retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Cleese, Curtis, Kline and Palin, executive producer Steve Abbott and director of photography Alan Hume
  • Fish You Were Here, a documentary on the film’s locations hosted by Robert Powell
  • 24 deleted/alternative scenes with introductions by Cleese
  • A Message from John Cleese, a tongue-in-cheek introduction recorded for the film’s original release
  • Gallery
  • Trivia track
  • Theatrical trailer

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring writing on the film by Sophie Monks Kaufman

“NANA: A TRANSGENERATIONAL DOCUMENTARY ON TOLERANCE”— Survival

NANA: A TRANSGENERATIONAL DOCUMENTARY ON TOLERANCE”

Survival

Amos Lassen

Serena Dykman’s “Nana” is the story of her grandmother, Maryla Michalowski-Dyamant who was born in Poland and survived Ravensbrück, Malchow, and Auschwitz, where she was the forced translator of the “Angel of Death,” Dr. Mengele. She dedicated her post-war life to publicly speaking about her survival to the younger generations, so that it would never be forgotten or repeated. The documentary explores how Maryla’s fight against intolerance can continue today in a world where survivors are disappearing and intolerance, racism, and anti-Semitism are on the rise. Dykman retraces her grandmother’s Auschwitz survival story, and investigates how her life-long fight against intolerance can be taught to the new generations.

Maryla Michalowski-Dyamant not only survived Auschwitz but lived a long life after the camp and she shared talking about the extremes human beings are capable going to under despotic regimes. This is a personal narrative that spans three generations and has many direct interviews of Michalowski-Dyamant that were conducted over decades by multiple people and media outlets.  

We hear a great deal about the political situation, both then and now and see that Michalowski-Dyamant was more than a survivor. Rather, she was “one of the few beacons of light remaining after the Holocaust.” She makes connections between suffering, history and hope.  

In her own words, Michalowski-Dyamant describes how atrocities unfolded as Jews were demonized and how their existence was labeled illegal and exterminated. Her truths are much more than powerful as they find their ways into reaches into- the hearts and minds of viewers, giving them courage to think honestly about how they are living now. She reminds us that just like these atrocities happened in Germany, they can happen anywhere if people allow them to do so.

Dykman uses cinematic devices in combination with multiple voices-including her mother’s and her own-to relive Michalowski-Dyamant’s experience. As the film’s contributors read from Michalowski-Dyamant’s memoir they help fill in gaps.  

Although the content is often heavy, it is filled with moments of hope and joy. Michalowski-Dyamant is funny and her sense of humor runs deep and at the end of the credits there are some real gems that come in the outtakes.

“ATTACK FORCE Z”— A Secret Mission

“Attack Force Z”

A Secret Mission

Amos Lassen

Director Tim Burstall’s 1981 film “Attack Force Z” is the story of a group of Australian commandos launch a secret mission against Japanese forces in World War II. The script was based on a real-life commando rescue raid, Project Opossum, where a team of commandos rescued the local sultan on the Japanese-held island of Ternate near . The film features Mel Gibson and Sam Neill at the early stages of their careers.

ATTACK FORCE Z, Sam Neill, Mel Gibson, 1982

On January 10, 1945, a group of commandos, led by Australian Capt. Paul Kelly (Mel Gibson), go by sub to the coast of China, where they’re to rescue the occupants of a plane that’s recently been shot down. The plane crashed on a remote island currently that was controlled by the Japanese Imperial Army and on board was an emissary who could end the war, but getting him out won’t be easy. With Dutch Lt. Jan Veitch (John Philip Law) acting as interpreter, Capt. Kelly and his men: Sgt. Danny Costello (Sam Neill), Sub Lt. Ted King (John Waters), and Seaman Sparrer Bird (Chris Haywood), manage to make their way to shore under cover of darkness with the hope of winning the trust of the Chinese villagers, who may prove useful in determining the whereabouts of the downed plane.

They luckily meet Lin Chan-Yang (Koo Chuan Hsuing), the leader of a local resistance who despises the Japanese (they had been responsible for the death of his wife). Leaving his younger children in the care of daughter Chien Hua (Sylvia Chang), Lin Chan-Yang agrees to guide Captain Kelly and the others to the wreckage. Following a skirmish with Japanese forces, Lt. Veitch is separated from the group and makes his way back to Lin’s house, where he strikes up a relationship with Chien Hau. But now that the Japanese know they’re on the island, it may be impossible for the commandos to complete their mission. In fact, there’s a good chance none of them will make it out alive.

We see several well-choreographed battle scenes, the best of which is the movie’s final act. There really is nothing special here but when taken as a whole, the movie is entertaining.

Bonus Material includes:

  • Brand new 4K scan and restoration from the film’s inter-positive
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original uncompressed dual channel mono audio
  • ‘The Two-Men Debriefed’ (SD, 25 mins) featurette with executive producer John McCallum and actors John Waters and Chris Haywood
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Photo Gallery

“THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR”— A Mystery

“The Suspicious Death Of A Minor”

A Mystery

Amos Lassen

Paolo Germi (Claudio Cassinelli) is undercover cop on the trail of a Milanese criminal outfit following the brutal murder of Marisa (Patrizia Castaldi), an underage prostitute. But a killer-for-hire is also on the prowl and killing witnesses before they have a chance to talk.

Sergio Martino’s 1975 film belongs more to the crime and action subgenre than any other. Germi is aided by his streetwise assistant Giannino (Adolfo Caruso). They discover that the prostitute who was executed in order to cover up a wide-ranging underground ring of white slavery and teen exploitation. Tensions mount, as Germi realizes he’ll need to expose the circle of corruption even as others continue to die at the hands of the increasingly desperate killer.

 

Germi soon uncovers, after the death of the next victim a friend of Marisa’s that there was a third girl, and that they were all forced into prostitution. The first murder is the most violent murder of the film and the victim is killed with a blade. There are only a couple more deaths in the rest of the film and there are rather tame and nearly bloodless.

Sergio Martino delivers stylish set pieces that are offset by quirky moments such as a man nearly getting hit by a car and landing on his head or a bicyclist having his bike chopped in half by a speeding by car. There are two standout action sequences. The first takes place on a roller coaster when a hit man tries to kill Detective Paolo Germi on a roller coaster because he is getting to close to the truth. The other is actually a continuation of the roller coaster shoot out. The pacing of the film keeps things moving at a rapid pace ad there is rarely an opportunity to catch ones breath while watching this film. To say anymore would ruin the viewing experience for those who have yet to see the film.

 

Bonus Materials include:

  • Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
  • English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
  • New interviews with director Sergio Martino and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon

“THE MAN FROM EARTH”— A Tale from the Past

“The Man from Earth”

A Tale from the Past

Amos Lassen

An impromptu goodbye party for Professor John Oldman becomes a mysterious interrogation after the he shares with his colleagues that he has had a longer and stranger past than they can imagine.

“The Man from Earth” is an intriguing cerebral psychological sci-fi yarn intensely which was written by noted sci-fi writer Jerome Bixby. The film plays nice mind games with its shocking premise of a modern-day man of science being an ageless man from the Stone Age. Director Richard Schenkman filmed the movie as if a TV show. There are no sci-fi special effects that we expect in a sci-fi film. There is also an intrusive musical score that often overwhelmed the dialogue. Yet, the amazing narrative easily overcomes these shortcomings.

Professor John Oldman (David Lee Smith) is a respected science professor who summons a group of close school associates on a chilly day to his country cabin to say goodbye and tell them that he is just moving on after being with them for the past 10 years. Naturally they are curious about his reasons for doing so and he decides to tell them the truth, something he’s never done before. He knows his story is so outrageous that it will surely startle and may frighten them. John asks them to believe he lived in the Cro-Magnon era and has stayed alive without dying or aging for some 14,000 years. He states that he moves on every ten years because he doesn’t want people to get suspicious when they notice he doesn’t seem to age.

Naturally, the men of science begin to doubt his sanity. They talk about such things as historical events, famous artists he ran into from other centuries  and how he survived the black plague. When the talk turns to religion, he reveals he was Jesus but a worldlier one from the Bible, who never died on the cross because he learned from Buddha how to quiet the pain through meditation.

This tale is much more than the group can take. The college psychiatrist (Richard Riehle) threatens to have him committed unless he relents. The motorcyclist, book writer and archaeologist (William Katt) is livid. The mild-mannered anthropologist (Tony Todd) is stunned and just wants the truth. The biologist (John Billingsley) is offended he’s being taking for a fool and the devoted Christian (Ellen Crawford) feels hurt that John has debunked the King James version of the New Testament and she demands an apology. The only ones who are not angry are the archaeologist’s college student girlfriend (Alexis Thorpe) teacher and John’s sweet college office girl girlfriend (Annika Peterson).

 

This is a believe it or not tale that is sincere, provocative, engaging and has a great script and the right person playing the mystical lead. We all love to think about the question of “what if…?” and here it comes in the form of what if a Cro-Magnon man from the Upper Paleolithic era was still around today, having witnessed the growth of humanity from its very origins to its place in the world 140 centuries later? We get a new look at many of the assumptions and beliefs we have today based on our current understanding of science, history and religion. These disciplines that are turned on their heads when Oldman unexpectedly tells his colleagues that he has decided to leave his post and move on.

 

After learning why, his fellow faculty members are intrigued by the intellectual challenge the idea presents and going along with the idea out of curiosity to see where it leads so they push Oldman further into revealing what he has experienced over the millennia. Oldman certainly knows his facts as well as the anecdotal stories he provides that can neither be proved nor disproved. This is essentially is where the film succeeds— in the intellectual exercise of imagining the world as a very different place from the one we know, and thereby causing us to question whether we even really know and understand the world we live in today.

What we see is that beliefs we take for granted and accept as truths may not necessarily be so. We only know as much as our modern society has grown to accept, and that even the most intelligent people on earth don’t like having their beliefs challenged, and don’t necessarily want to know the truth. “The Man From Earth” challenges not only religion and creationism, but also history and Darwinism, warning us never to rest on easy assumptions and comfortable ideas that support our preconceived beliefs, but to remain open-minded and tolerant.

For this new special edition release, the producers have prepared an all-new HD master that improves upon the previously released versions on Blu-ray and DVD.

Both the Blu-ray and DVD will include the following special features:

  • Combo pack with will include both the High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation (1.78:1) of the main feature
  • Original 2.0 Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray) and Dolby Digital 5.1 mix
  • Brand new feature-length retrospective documentary “The Man From Earth: Legacy” (HD, 88 mins) chronicling the history and the phenomenon of the film with all-new interviews with the director, producers and the cast
  • Audio Commentary with Producer / Director Richard Schenkman and Actor John Billingsley
  • Audio Commentary with Executive Producer Emerson Bixby and Author / Sci-Fi Scholar Gary Westfahl
  • “From Script To Screen” (2007 featurette) [2:15, SD]
  • “Star Trek: Jerome Bixby’s Sci-Fi Legacy” (2007 featurette) [3:28, SD]
  • “On The Set” (2007 featurette) [4:00, SD]
  • “The Story of the Story” (2007 featurette) [2:13, SD]
  • Original Theatrical Trailer [SD]
  • The Man From Earth: Holocene Teaser Trailer [HD]
  • The “mini-short” film “Contagion” (2016) [:30, HD] from the producers and director of The Man From Earth (Richard Schenkman and Eric D. Wilkinson) starring William Katt.
  • Before / After comparison of the brand new HD digital restoration of the feature film
  • Photo Gallery  

“CHILDREN OF THE CORN”— A Cult of Children

“Children of the Corn”

A Cult of Children

Amos Lassen

We have had many cult films in the horror genre over the years but if there is one film that got the idea of cults correct it was 1984’s “Children of the Corn”. The film uses the cult as both subject matter and a cultural value. This is a strange film with a unique atmosphere and dated special effects yet there is a sense of nostalgia when “Children of the Corn” begins.

The opening provides some of the creepiest moments in the film. Director Fritz Kiersch gives us night of fear that few (including himself) have been able to match. We are in the small town of Gatlin, a place surrounded by farmland and little else. We watch as a group of adults sit in a coffee shop and all seems fine. But then, we see Isaac (John Franklin) fills the screen and suddenly children launch an attack on their elders with butcher knives and scythes. They proceed to chop up the coffee shop patrons and blood is everywhere.

Three years pass and Burt Stanton (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton) are on their way through the American countryside with the intention of starting a new life for themselves. However, their plans are cut short when they hit a boy on the road. We see that he was already dying; his throat had been slit. This takes them into Gatlin, where the streets are deserted and adults are nowhere to be found. They soon discover Isaac’s religious regime – a cult that worships “He who walks behind the rows”, and who treat the corn fields as their playground and any outsider will be killed, or offered as a sacrifice.

Horror fans will enjoy the film for what it offers – a creepy premise, a few decent kills. It succeeds more than it fails, and is probably better than many of the slasher pictures made during its era. Despite the ending, Children of the Corn remains a cult classic.

Though not entertaining in the traditional sense, the film defies the cliché central to film making that children are innocent until corrupted by experience, education, sexual activity, or any of the other things that Puritanical values hold in contempt. Here the titular Children open up an idyllic scene of small town Americana, where people ready themselves for a day of clean, honest work in a coffeehouse, and are quickly and efficiently butchered by the village teenagers. The adults are knifed, axed or given a hefty dose of lye in the coffee. The scene is appalling in every sense with children bringing on death.

Adults tend to forget what kids can be like – they are every bit as capable of brutality as any adult, limited only by their income and the reach of their arms. Does this mean that children are evil by default, and require intelligent and reasonable parents to prevent them from becoming murderers? It is something to think about.

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 91

Bonus Materials include:

  • Brand new 2K restoration from the original negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original Mono and 5.1 Audio Options
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new audio commentary with John Sullivan of childrenofthecornmovie.com and horror journalist Justin Beahm
  • Audio commentary with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains
  • Harvesting Horror: The Making of Children of the Corn – retrospective piece featuring interviews with director Fritz Kiersch and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains
  • It Was the Eighties! – an interview with actress Linda Hamilton
  • Return to Gatlin – brand new featurette revisiting the film’s original Iowa shooting locations
  • Stephen King on a Shoestring – an interview with producer Donald Borchers
  • Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights and Sounds of Children of the Corn – an interview with production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias
  • Feeling Blue – an interview with the actor who played “The Blue Man” in the fabled excised sequence
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
  • FIRST PRESSING: Collectors booklet featuring new writing in the film.

“DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING”— Hunting a Killer

“Don’t Torture A Duckling”

Hunting a Killer

Amos Lassen

Lucio Fulci’s “Don’t Torture a Duckling” takes place in a rural Italian village where young boys turn up dead and the authorities are stumped as to who the murderer is. A reporter goes on the hunt for the killer but more kids are murdered while the search for the murderer continues. A sexually liberated young woman from Milan, a local witch, and the village idiot all fall under suspicion until the killer is uncovered. Fulci looks at the superstition and ignorance of the villagers as being as dangerous and destructive as the murderer himself. There is vehement anti-Catholic sentiment here and this made the film controversial at the time of its release (1972).

When the sleepy rural village of Accendura is rocked by a series of murders of young boys, the superstitious locals are quick to find blame. The suspects include the local “witch”, Maciara (Florinda Bolkan). With the bodies piling up and the community in a state of panic and thirsty for bloody vengeance, two outsiders, city journalist Andrea (Tomas Milian) and spoiled rich girl Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet) team up to solve the case. However, before the mystery is solved, more blood is spilled and not all of it belonging is from innocent people.

Using many of the conventions of giallo films, (strange characters with shady motivation, violent murders), Fulci turned the genre upside down, getting away from the urban stalker motif that was popular at the time. A number of suspects include from crazy peeping toms to secretive witches, all the way back to a beautiful young woman who is a little to close for comfort with some of the victims. As the police stumble about looking for clues, our pair finally discover the shocking truth of the killer and his motivations and there was plenty of mayhem along the way.

The film works so well because of the quick pace, excellent cinematography and excellent performances. The characters are typical of the giallo cinema and violence is on full show here with the death of one of the main suspects leaving a longtime impression on the viewer.

For it’s first half, “Duckling” is an excellent but fairly standard giallo but once the sub-plot of Martiara kicks in, it really takes off and becomes incredibly moving. Martiara is actually convinced that she has killed all of the children herself with witchcraft and this is a claim that leads to tragedy when a gang of superstitious vigilantes corner her in a graveyard and take their revenge by clubbing and whipping her to death with chains. The violence is uncompromisingly depicted in all its repulsiveness. Fulci’s pessimistic worldview is expressed eloquently in this scene.

 Bonus Materials include:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
  • English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
  • The Blood of Innocents, a new video discussion with Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film
  • very (Wo)man Their Own Hell, a new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger
  • Interviews with co-writer/director Lucio Fulci, actor Florinda Bolkan, cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi, assistant editor Bruno Micheli and assistant makeup artist Maurizio Trani
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Timothy Pittides

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw and Howard Hughes

“THE WEDDING BANQUET”— A Classic Gay Film

“THE WEDDING BANQUET”

A Classic Gay Film

     Amos Lassen

Wai-Tung (Winston Chao) is in his late 20s and is a young gay Chinese man from Taiwan who lives with his American companion Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein) in a comfortable brownstone in New York, and manages some loft buildings he has purchased. All is well aside for the letters and phone calls from his parents, who wonder when he is going to marry a nice Chinese girl and present them with a grandchild. They have no idea that he is gay and he can’t bring himself to tell them. One day his friend Simon devises an ingenious plan to make everyone happy. A young Chinese woman, Wei-Wei (May Chin) lives in one of Wai-Tung’s lofts. She is an artist who cannot pay her rent and in despair she plans to return to China. She also likes Wai-Tung very much.

Simon suggests that Wai-Tung marry Wei-Wei and get her with a green card to allow her to stay in America and this will also placate his parents in Taiwan. Wai-Tung agrees to the scheme and Wei-Wei is persuaded to go along. Then everything goes away Wai-Tung’s parents announce they will come from Taiwan for the wedding.

“The Wedding Banquet” becomes a comedy of misunderstandings and deceptions yet it is even moving. Ang Lee, does everything low-key way and the characters have a curious fatalism about them, as if they are resigned to the worst. There are moments of obvious comedy and there are more moments when the film deals simply and directly with the feelings and fears of its characters.

For Wei-Wei, the pretend marriage with Wai-Tung makes good sense, but it is also painful, because she has a crush on him and would like to be married to him for real. For Wai-Tung, the whole charade is uncomfortable, because it is dishonest. For Simon what begins as a lark ends painfully, as he hangs around the outskirts of the wedding, his presence never quite explained.

The father and mother sense a certain lack of sincerity between the loving couple and a wedding by a justice of the peace does not jive with their vision of a suitable ceremony. And then an old friend of the father’s materializes who is now a successful restaurant owner, and offers to stage a proper Chinese wedding banquet. The banquet is the movie’s climax as booze and tradition and deception and expectation but ultimately lead to happiness.

“The Wedding Banquet” is not a particularly slick filmbut the underlying validity of the story makes it work. Before Ang Lee was a two time Oscar-winning director there was “The Wedding Banquet”. Although this sort of film seems a tiny bit old-fashioned now, at the time it took on an unusual subject in an unusual way. It was among the early films looking at gay issues in a mainstream filmmaking way. Lee uses many of the tropes of the Hollywood romantic comedy to tell a story about real modern issues. Here we have the clash of very different cultures seen through the eyes of a man who doesn’t believe his own country, or family, can accept him for who he is. There is great empathy for the characters and most of the time it’s a lot of fun. However, thefilm was refreshingly original in its day and helped establish Ang Lee in Hollywood by now but almost 25 years later we see that even though back it was a noble effort that unfortunately today seems filled with amateurism everywhere. It certainly was excellent entertainment on more than one level.