Lisa and the Devil takes place almost exclusively in a house in Spain -- the location and time are never quite sure, nor are we certain these properties even exist within the mansion. Except for one, all the characters inside the mansion gradually come to terms with the fact that they will never leave, and gradually become just another of the house's faded memories. As a viewer, I began to feel the same enchanted qualities as the characters on screen, with little idea about my surroundings and certain that almost anything could lurk behind the next door. Lisa and the Devil is one of those rare movies (like Playtime, Nashville or even Rio Bravo) where you stop watching it to follow the story and start to soak up the atmosphere and characters as if you were one of them.
Lisa and the Devil is Mario Bava's most magical movie, but it also carries one of the cruelest of legacies. The director was given carte blanche privileges and a matching budget by producer Alfredo Leone (the duo's second collaboration, after Baron Blood), for the first time in his career he was able to make a film limited only by his imagination. With these expansive resources, Bava was able to assemble a quality cast and create a horror film without the shocking exploits or contrived plots of his previous efforts. While those films were brought to unforeseen heights by Bava's creative style, Lisa and the Devil would be his from the beginning -- and his high-art visuals would be matched with a story of subtle, morbid mystery. But this resulted in a commercially inviable product, which was shelved and later re-cut with new material and released as The House of Exorcism, a movie designed to cash in on The Exorcism's wake of popularity. It was a cruel fate for a movie that obviously took great pains to create -- especially since Bava himself had to film new scenes of a potty-mouthed possessed Elke Sommer that transformed the movie into a baffling genre exercise.
Filmed in Toledo, Spain, Lisa and the Devil begins with a tourist named Lisa (Sommer) viewing an ancient mural depicting the devil. After wandering away from her tour group, Lisa stumbles into an antique shop and meets a man later identified as Leandro (Telly Savalas) who looks remarkably like the devil she just saw. Shaken by the strange occurrence, Lisa tries to find her way back to the tour group, but everyone in the city seems to have disappeared. Leandro passes by Lisa in the city's confusing maze, this time carrying a handful of mannequins he purchased at the shop. The next man Lisa meets looks exactly like one of Leandro's mannequins, and he calls Lisa "Elena" and acts as if he knows her. Day quickly turns into night, and Lisa is taken in by a rich couple being chauffeured in a 1930s limousine. The party becomes lost, and stops for help at a strange mansion where Leandro is the doorman. The house has no phone, but Leandro invites everyone in for dinner.
At dinner Lisa meets the odd occupants of the house: the dapper Max (Alessio Orano) and his unnamed mother, the Countess (Alida Vali, of The Third Man fame). The two are surprised to see Lisa at the table, and silently speak of her presence. After the tension-filled dinner things start going terribly wrong for everyone at the house: strange and brutal murders, appearances by ghostly visitors and a slow descent into the house's labyrinth of sin and madness. Lisa is also haunted by the fact that she is destined to remain in the mansion, possibly as a result of a previous life's event.
Bava makes little effort at crafting a cohesive narrative, and its relaxed pace makes Lisa and the Devil feel like a tour through the director's personal haunted house. If there is a central focus of the story, it is Savalas' ambiguous character: he is the mansion's butler, but he's also the only character in the movie unafraid of his fate, and seems to revel in the evening's morbid events. If he is the devil (as the title would suggest), then was his meeting with Lisa simply fate? Bava leaves this and many other plot questions up to the viewer, and there are more than a few valid interpretations (Nate Yapp has an excellent analysis of the story at Classic Horror). More unsettling than scary, Lisa and the Devil often has the claustrophobic feel of Sartre's No Exit. Typical of Bava, the end is perfect -- a nice, believable twist that will make you want to watch everything again.
More than the story, it's the imagery of Lisa and the Devil that make it one of Bava's best movies. Every room in the mansion is filled with color, but they all have the shades of a wilting vase of flowers. This sense of rotting life is played creatively, none better than Leandro picking up a stale cupcake in his room and biting into its frosting with no emotion. The geography of the house seems to gradually melt, with no end to its corridors or decaying landscape in sight, and a late scene where Lisa tries to escape looks as if she has stepped into a painting. This adds to movie's increasing theme of isolation, as all views outside the mansion seem to fade away into darkness with no horizon in sight. Lisa and the Devil is my favorite of the eight movies in The Bava Box 2, and I've watched it more than any others in the set. It's hard (impossible?) to pin down, and that only adds to the experience.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
Visiting Pacheco's Bohemian Cinema is similar to wandering into a high-end men's hat shop in Vienna. Both of them have the look and feel of luxurious craftsmanship, but while the Austrian hat salesman will say "Let me show you the kind of hat that helped launch M. Emmet Walsh's career," Pacheco will say "Can I interest you in a tour of Boogie Nights' best close-ups, an honest review of The Office: Season 3, or perhaps even a spirited defense of Any Given Sunday?" Pacheco's writing reflects his Web site's tasteful ambiance, with satisfying reviews that often question popular opinions. So take a visit to Bohemian Cinema -- because unlike that high-end men's hat shop in Vienna, it's open 24 hours.
EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'When I was just a couple of years old, I remember sneaking into the living room while my older brothers and uncles were watching Just One of the Guys. I remember a surprising amount of details about the film, especially the language and the nudity. And it was only PG-13!'
LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'I don't buy too many DVDs anymore since subscribing to Netflix, which is a shame. But the other day I convinced my girlfriend to let me buy Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 5 at a vastly reduced price. My next acquisition? I'm eyeing that Dance Party USA/Quiet City set. I've seen the latter of the two, and it's got a special place in my heart. '
TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES RECENTLY WRAPPED UP A MONTH OF GUEST PROGRAMMING, IF YOU WERE A GUEST PROGRAMMER WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU PICK TO BEST REPRESENT YOUR TASTES, OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME: 'I'm thinking of a "Was it worth it?" motif. There's City Lights. You can ask The Tramp if all of his trouble was worth giving a girl her sight, and he'd say it absolutely was. Annie Hall is a different take on the question, asking whether the doomed relationship was worth the trouble. Alvy confirms that it was, at the very end, when he says "I guess we keep goin' through it because most of us... need the eggs." And A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, such an underrated film (flawed but bold), asks the little robot boy if his odyssey through cities and centuries was worth the one, final day he'd get to spend with his mother. As she lays in bed that evening and softly tells David that she loves him…as the tear rolls down his cheek (and mine) – yes, it was worth it. And he'd do it again if he had to. A.I. may not be a film played on TCM, but who cares?
FAVORITE GROSS-OUT MOMENT: 'It would have to be in Kill Bill Vol. 2, when The Bride plucks out Elle Driver's remaining eyeball, drops it on the floor, and squishes it between her toes. My goodness! That's the only time I've ever physically applauded a film in a movie theater. I could not believe what I had just seen, and I could not stop laughing.'
WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN, AND WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE: 'Before I incriminate myself too much by listing several of the candidates, I will just admit to having never seen Young Frankenstein. Why? No reason, really. I hear it's one of the funniest films ever, but I just keep forgetting about it. Yet whenever someone asks me if I've seen it, I never have the heart to tell them "No." So I just end up saying "Yes," then nodding and smiling when they throw quotes at me. I'll often add a very fake chuckle as well.'
PICK ONE OF THE FOLLOWING FOUR MOVIES AND WRITE TWO SENTENCES ABOUT IT:
The Black Hole
Airport -- 'Having never seen Airport, I wonder if viewing it will further enhance the already-hilarious Airplane! I think I'd rather hold off and just enjoy Airplane! as it is….
FAVORITE KIND OF MOVIE TO REVIEW: 'Ones I've seen several times, no matter the genre. The awesome part is when I find a new spin on something I've known so well for so long (like finding parallels between Starship Troopers and the War in Iraq).'
LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, AND WHAT DID YOU SEE: 'Sadly, I've never been to a drive-in. If it's any consolation, I'd really like to open one up some day…'
FILM ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH: 'I've been on somewhat of a horror kick lately, and that's very odd, because growing up I was never allowed to see horror films, and they never really interested me anyway until now.'
LAST TIME YOU VEHEMENTLY DISAGREED WITH SOMEONE OVER THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'Well, I recently argued with my brother over American History X; it's one of his favorite films and I think it's utter junk. But more recently we got into a debate of whether Zoolander's roommate (Meekus) had an accent or not. I was convinced he didn't, but I now think I'm incorrect….'
FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'Didn't you hear what Steve Jobs said? People don't read anymore!'
DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM INTAKE: 'I watch something every day, but lately my viewing habits have presented me with more TV shows than actual films. I tend to watch a few episodes of a show, and then perhaps one film after that, and then some more TV or another movie once my girlfriend has gone to bed. The problem is that most of the time, these shows or movies are ones I've already seen.'
THREE THINGS YOU'VE LEARNED FROM WATCHING MOVIES:
1. All films are subjective in almost every sense -- and I don't like that.
2. If I'm going to be opinionated about a film, I better be prepared for the fact that a few years down the road, I'm going to look back at myself and think, "What an idiot."
3. Most movies are made for stupid people, and vice versa.
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Thursday, March 27, 2008
OK enough about them -- time to talk about me (sorry)! Now you can read my Traumafession, in which I reach all the way back to 1989 and a particularly creepy episode of Freddy's Nightmares. But don't just read it, send in a Traumafession of your own!
Filed Under Casual whimsy
Monday, March 24, 2008
Over the past year I've been slowly digesting producer Val Lewton's horror movies from the 1940s. I've found that they're a lot like good hamburgers, in that the last one you've had always seems like the best one you've ever eaten. I was ready to be disappointed with his other works after being blown away by the creative chills of The Leopard Man, but then I saw Cat People, and then The Body Snatcher was my favorite, which was then trumped by I Walked With a Zombie, before that was usurped by Ghost Ship. It would be impossible for me to rank Lewton's horror movies, as they are all so similar in quality, yet very different in subject matter.
The latest Lewton Burger to top my list is The Seventh Victim, which I watched twice this weekend (finally broke down and bought The Val Lewton Horror Collection -- now that it includes Scorsese's The Man in the Shadows documentary). Like all of Lewton's movies, The Seventh Victim has scenes and sequences that will stay with you long after its short 71 minute running time is up. Similar to its stablemates The Seventh Victim has a constant air of death -- this time dealing with a woman who has always been "obsessed with death" and never afraid of it. The woman is Jacqueline Gibson, a young owner of a beauty products business who has recently gone missing. Her only relative is sister Mary Gibson, who is informed of her sibling's disappearance by her school masters before setting out to New York City to find the truth. Mary and a private investigator think they have found her sister's location in a locked room, but the detective emerges from it not with Jacqueline, but with a fatal stab wound. After running for her life, Mary learns her sister may have unwisely come under the ire of a mysterious group of devil-worshippers called the Palladists.
A scene that jumped out immediately to me was Jacqueline's startling entrance -- where should this rank among the all-time great character entrances? If Harry Lime is No. 1, then Jacqueline's scene has to be in the top 5. Her name is mentioned multiple times in every scene, and the movie is about her disappearance -- yet we never see her until she's abruptly revealed behind a knock on a door. Jacqueline's silent introduction and subsequent vanishing make the scene all the more memorable.
Though we see little of New York City, director Mark Robson is able to add small background touches to make the locale grow more sinister as Mary and her allies plunge deeper into Jacqueline's disappearance. The most prevalent of these for me was this oddly prominent sign above the morgue, which is only seen for a few seconds...
More mystery than suspense, The Seventh Victim has a handful of scares, with the most noteworthy being a bathroom confrontation that set the table for Hitchcock's seminal scene:
Watching it a second time, I noticed details that didn't stand out during the initial viewing. What pleased me the most was seeing a Palladist symbol projected onto Mary while she and the detective break into the factory. It's easy to miss upon first viewing, because the symbol at this point in the movie has no meaning. Although one is partially obscured by the detective's shadow, when Mary passes in front of the light, there are four Palladist symbols in view:
What an amazing shot, especially since the corridor we're focused on also features the silhouette-filled window where any number of evils could be lurking. This is probably the best-directed scene in the film, especially from a horror sense. The tension builds at a believable pace, even though there's really nothing happening beyond waiting for a character to open a door. The door itself is even scary, it's draped in just the right amount of darkness, and shot in such a way (with near silence) that your imagination instantly fills in the amount of terror that could lurk behind it.
I also noticed that the preface sonnet is actually taken from the stained-glass window at Mary's school. Seems pretty morbid for a stained-glass window at a girls' school:
The aforementioned scenes and elements are so great that they largely mask the storytelling deficiencies of The Seventh Victim. Though it's only 71 minutes, this is a thick plot that never feels like it properly unfolds. The short running-time has been attributed to RKO Studios punishing Lewton for his choice of rookie Robson as a director -- they reportedly demanded Lewton to find someone else or have his project slapped as a B-movie. Lewton obviously chose the latter, and had to excise four crucial scenes (disappointingly missing from the DVD). Those with knowledge of these scenes say they did not completely remedy the film's confusing plot, but greatly aided certain aspects such as the unexplained matter of how the Palladists located Jacqueline while she was in hiding, and how Dr. Judd was able to know so much about the group. But even with these four scenes restored, it seems we would still not see any more of Jacqueline -- too bad because it seems like her strange, death-obsessed character deserves more screen time and depth.
As it is, The Seventh Victim is a challenge to keep up with. There are probably too many characters, and by the end I felt like I didn't know much about any of them (I'm still confused by Jason). But any frustration was quickly erased by the movie's many moments of brilliance, in particular the last act. The movie is at its best when the Palladists are on screen, and I think it's best that we never learn too much about them. Judd and Ward's moral confrontation with the lead Palladist is a triumph, and it could have been even better if the latter's last line was more sharply written (or possibly delivered by a superior actor). The morbid ending may be my favorite of any Lewton film, and it's amazing that it survived the Production Code cutting room. The Seventh Victim currently stands as my favorite Val Lewton flick, but of course that's subject to change when I get around to seeing Isle of the Dead, Bedlam or Curse of the Cat People.
Filed Under Classic reviews
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Friday, March 21, 2008
If your life is lacking in quality music conversation, you would be well-served to give a listen to the Free Movement to Music podcast. Produced about once a month or so by friends Gareth Moses and Matthew Griffiths, FMtM is a rocking good time where the best new and classic tunes are played and talked about. Stretching out well over an hour, there's a constant energy to the podcast and never a lack of interesting subjects. The pair seem to have the world by its ears, as they count the all-knowing DVD Savant as a fan. Moses also has plenty to say about movies, and you can find his words at the FMtM blog -- with subjects ranging from ponderences of Raiders of the Lost Ark as a perfect movie and The Eye of the Devil as very far from perfect movie.
EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'Weeping copiously as BAMBI’s mother is shot. My mother had taken the day off work due to a terrible cold and has taken me to the local flea-pit to get some rest. As my heart broke I looked to her for emotional salvation but she was fast asleep. Trauma and unhappiness followed…
'And then LIVE AND LET DIE!'
LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'I have quite an appalling DVD habit. I love having thousands of movies I adore at my fingertips so I can bore my friends and family with examples of shots or sequences (Lined up on the wall arranged in different ways: Criterion, Hitchcock, Hammer etc…/). My most recent haul included This Sporting Life, Green For Danger, Blood From the Mummy's Tomb, Lifeboat and a pirate of Island of Lost Souls.'
TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES RECENTLY WRAPPED UP A MONTH OF GUEST PROGRAMMING -- IF YOU WERE A GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO BEST REPRESENT YOUR TASTES OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME: 'I’d attempt a thematic connection, perhaps to do with film itself and the various arts and crafts it utilizes. So we’d begin with Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful as a perfect film about film and a great example of the highs and lows of the studio system; then for a dark satire about the actor’s art we’d see Theater of Blood with Vincent Price; and finally end with Leigh’s Topsy Turvy, better to understand that all this hard work and heart ache can be at the service of silly, insubstantial, superficial and wonderful entertainment.'
FAVORITE GROSS-OUT MOMENT: 'From the grubby 1970s, it has to be Shiela Keith stabbing her daughter’s boyfriend in the head with a pitchfork in Frightmare. A recent glory is the fabulously squirmy sewing the eye shut in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.'
WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN -- AND WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE?: 'I’m not particularly ashamed but I‘ve tried twice to get through Le Regle De Jeu – a film often in the top ten of all time - and failed miserably both times.'
PICK ONE OF THE FOLLOWING FOUR MOVIES AND WRITE TWO SENTENCES ABOUT IT:
The 400 Blows-- 'Forgive me Truffaut, I still haven’t seen your coming-of-age classic. (There’s the shame from question 6!).'
Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter.
FAVORITE KIND OF MOVIE TO REVIEW: 'The best film to review or analyze for me is an undiscovered (at least unknown by me) gem of a B-movie; something that had small ambition and less money but still retains some strange power or fascination. I love the idea of the small band of filmmakers with few resources and barely a hope of getting the thing made. A Canadian horror called Rituals was a recent such discovery for me.
LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, AND WHAT DID YOU SEE: 'Raised in London I have never experienced the splendor of the drive-in but I did used to take myself off to the Odeon cinema on Saturday mornings; they’d show cartoons, some obscure and usually cheap looking British flick followed by a beefed-up swaggering American import (Battle of the Bulge was my favorite). It would start at 9:30am and would finally wind up around 1pm.'
FILM ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH: 'Many! I love the lurid excesses of British horror films in the seventies (Blood On Satan's Claw, Witchfinder General, House of Whipcord etc…/). I also adore the fantastic run of films by the Archers, which include such outstanding classics as I Know Where I'm Going and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.'
LAST TIME YOU VEHEMENTLY DISAGREED WITH SOMEONE OVER THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'I haven’t argued much of the subject of film since university days but there’s much discussion over particular films in our household. Predictably the most recent free-for-all concerned the coda of There Will Be Blood and just exactly what that final showdown represents.'
FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'I’m in the thick of Patrick McGilligan’s enthralling book on Hitchcock, A Life in Darkness and Light, so that’s going to join the list along with Jonathan Rigby’s English Gothic, Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies and the BBC Film Guide in which you’ll find the occasional review by me!'
DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM INTAKE: 'I’d say I watch between 6 and 8 movies a month in the theater and 3 or 4 movies at home a week. I’d watch more if I could but the usual excuses apply – work, family, sanity…'
THREE THINGS YOU'VE LEARNED FROM WATCHING MOVIES: 'One point perspective can be both beautiful and terrifying (The Shining); the true awesomeness of the unknown can be the most uplifting and rare emotional experience in the cinema (2001, Close Encounters); and there’s nothing better than a really good cry (Bambi, It's a Wonderful Life, Love Story, Elephant Man, E.T., The Iron Giant, Brokeback Mountain, The Royal Tenenbaums, Atonement etc…/).
Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
It recently dawned on me that April is just around the corner. I hate April. Can we just agree that April is the worst month ever? Sports-wise is doesn't get much worse: football season is over, college basketball is over, baseball begins its four month monopoly, and the first round of the NBA playoffs feels longer every year. April is the Tuesday of the months -- too far from summer to get excited about it, and any remaining glow from the holiday months has already worn off. And even though Spring technically begins in April, you don't get anything in the way of consistent sunshine until May. Even though April's one holiday may have been fun at some point in history, April Fool's Day has probably been litigated to the point of no return. No offense to my friends and relatives with April birthdays -- but you're tainted.
So in order to beat back the disappointment of April before it hits, I'm announcing the WORST MONTH EVER here on DVD Panache -- a month of posts celebrating and pointing out the worst in movies. I will break down the two contenders for Worst Movie of 2007, name the Worst Scenes from the Best Movies, try to find the Worst Sex Scenes, give you my pick for the Worst Scene of All Time, and more. And if you have something worse than me to post, go right ahead and play along -- we need to battle April on all fronts.
Filed Under Worst Month Ever
Friday, March 14, 2008
If you're questioning the validity of Erich Kuersten's claim of 'currently accepting fellowship offers from around the world,' consider that he used the term quadruple-Lolita-simulacrum in his review of Death Proof. No, Erich's credentials run deep and his writings span far and wide: from the indispensable Bright Lights Film Journal to the gargantuan Pop Matters, and he even dabbles in print media (pick up a copy of Scarlet Street, if you have the chance). Erich's writing often has an academic feel to it, and when class is in session you best put down your pencils listen up -- his essay on Lewton's The Leopard Man is a remarkable analysis of a film that's too often dismissed among its more well-known Val Lewton productions. Erich can regularly be read at the Bright Lights blog and Acidemic-Film, where his tribute to Chief Brody would have sparked great conversation at Roy Scheider's wake.
EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'I was crazy for monsters since before I can remember, and loved the old UHF creature feature showings of Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi and giant bug movies. In the theaters the first thing I remember was a Czech sci fi kiddie import called "The Wishing Machine" which my mom took a bunch of us kids to see for my sixth year birthday party. I remember all us kids laughing at it because it was so bad. I think my whole love of "roasting" cinema turkeys began that day. I never could find a mention of this film anywhere until here: http://www.kiddiematinee.com/w-wishing.html'
LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'Last week I pre-ordered the Criterion 2-disc edition of Pierrot Le Fou, before that, Woman in the Window and Face in the Crowd over at Kim's Underground. I try to only pick up movies I know I will want to re-watch again and again for years to come, but sometimes I go crazy and just need to buy something... like Eyes of Laura Mars.'
TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES RECENTLY WRAPPED UP A MONTH OF GUEST PROGRAMMERS, IF YOU WERE A GUEST PROGRAMMER WHAT THREE FILMS WOULD YOU PICK TO BEST REPRESENT YOUR TASTES OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME?: 'To best represent my tastes (and because they're not on DVD): Ruggles of Red Gap (McCarey), Shanghai Express (Sternberg), Freud (Huston).'
FAVORITE GROSS-OUT MOMENT: 'It's at the end of Cronenberg's remake of The Fly: this hideous fly monster bursts out of Jeff Goldblum's lifeless husk and begins stalking Geena Davis around the room. Jeff and Geena were really dating and in love at the time and you feel their chemistry all through the film, so it's both chilling and deeply heartbreaking when Goldblum--whose been slowly dissolving all through the movie-- just "disappears" in front of his anguished lover, replaced by this animatronic, lumbering beast. Having been in a dysfunctional relationship or two, I feel her pain... and his.'
WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN -- AND WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE?: 'I still haven't seen Brokeback Mountain. My excuse is having to review one too many Hong Kong "forbidden romance" pictures over the last decades. I think having spent my childhood in the American suburban swingin' 1970s really made me intolerant of the stoic "we must sacrifice our hearts to honor the social order" plots so beloved by conservative cultures. In my own life, I know I've given up everything for love on several different occasions, and probably would and will again. I'm a hopeless romantic, and a rebel, and sensitive, and all that, so a film like Brokeback is actually painful for me to contemplate going to see. I have to be really, really, really in the right mood. I'm going to see it this week, though... for Heath.'
PICK ONE OF THE FOLLOWING FOUR MOVIES AND WRITE TWO SENTENCES ABOUT IT:
3 Days of the Condor -- 'Robert Redford in 3 Days of the Condor is the freakin' antichrist of 1970s cinema; his bland attractiveness as a smug publisher-CIA agent heralds the end of gritty, ugly depth in our lead male actors. He bosses around Faye Dunaway like a spoiled kid with his dad's new trophy wife; Tom Cruise must have been taking a lesson.'
FAVORITE KIND OF MOVIE TO REVIEW: 'The very, very bad ones. I am only really enthused about a film if it's either in the top 90% or the bottom 10% on the "tomatometer." Everything in the middle is just filler. I find that often the top and the bottom meet each other, as part of the circle of cinematic life. This point where they meet is what I try and capture in my writing. I love sitting in an empty theater on a bad film's opening day and then writing a positive review that doesn't lie or misinform, but which helps the reader "see" the movie through a warped enough lens that they can understand it as art. Two recent examples that come to mind: Hitman and The Marine. A recent bad film I really want to learn to enjoy is The Wicker Man remake. I still can't stand it, but I never give up trying.'
LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, AND WHAT DID YOU SEE?: 'It was in 1987; my college girlfriend and I saw Nightmare on Elm Street 3 in this central NJ drive-in, in the pouring rain over summer break. The place was nearly empty, fallen into ruin--cracked pavement, weeds coming up, trees looming, growing in around the screen. By then the big gray boxes you hang in your open window for sound were no longer used and you tuned instead to some AM station where they broadcast the soundtrack... we could barely get the station in, the windows were all fogged up. It was a nightmare in every sense of the word and I loved it, of course. I was panicking that the battery would get drained from playing the radio, and we'd be stuck there, and eventually killed.'
FILM ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH: 'It all bleeds together for me so it's tough to pick one - I see it as a sort of flowing evolution - from the pre-code 1930s Fields, West, Marx Bros. and Dietrich/Sternberg Parmaount films, the WB gangster films and the Universal Monster films through the war to noir and 1950s auteurs like Hitchcock, Nicholas Ray, Howard Hawks and John Huston - and from there the French New Wave, and onwards to the gritty American urban cinema of the 1970s and its sexual revolution, to the New World 1980s of John Carpenter and Paul Verhoeven.'
LAST TIME YOU VEHEMENTLY DISAGREED WITH SOMEONE OVER THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'I used to play poker with a bunch of guys and one of them started going to Columbia film School. He and his buddy were over at my place, talking about how they were against art in movies and wanted to bring back "simple romantic comedies" that would make money and not try to deliver any message or meaning, just a "feel-good time." I canceled the game and kicked them out of my apartment.'
FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'Manny Farber on Film; he's mainly an art critic/writer and painter, so his take on cinema is very much about the image, and he's brilliant, humble and hilarious- the Nabokov of film criticism. Camille Paglia's BFI book on The Birds is a close second. The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film was my bible through junior high school. All film writing by Truffaut, Godard, Kael, Agee, Newman and Robin Wood is essential...'
DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM INTAKE: 'It's hard to go out to movies when you have a really good home projector and a growing inability to suffer fools gladly. I don't have cable or a TV, just the projector and a lot of DVDs... sometimes I get paralyzed by the options. So all things considered, I see maybe 4 or 5 a week.'
THREE THINGS YOU'VE LEARNED FROM WATCHING MOVIES: '1. Always prolong the showdown before a fight, for maximum effect. 2. When someone asks you to go on a camping trip, say no. 3. If an unstoppable killer comes after you, don't cower and cling to your civilized veneer; access the inner savage right away. And don't assume they're dead when they fall over! I'd say the best tactic is to cut off their thumbs. Cut off their hands and the disembodied hands can strangle you in your sleep, but once the thumbs are off, it's over.'
Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
COSTCO CRITERION MAGIC: Despite its limited selection, Costco has always been one of the best places to find great DVD deals on quality titles. Box sets like The Alien Quadrilogy and the new 007 sets are sometimes far below other stores' prices. So with this in mind, it was quite a sight this weekend to see a number of Criterion Collection titles on sale at Costco, all going for $24.95! The Criterions on sale were all good ones: Days of Heaven, The Third Man, Gimme Shelter, Night on Earth, Stranger Than Paradise, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Ace in the Hole and The Ice Storm .... which doesn't come out until March 18, but there it was on the shelf! The Third Man is probably the biggest steal of this lot, it's a blockbuster of a release that rarely dips below $35. Since Costco rotates its DVD stock pretty frequently, it will be interesting to see if they continue to sell Criterion and what titles will be available.
SPEAKING OF MAGIC: When Xanadu makes its DVD debut on June 24, it will be a big day not only for roller skate groupies who want to see Gene Kelly on wheels, but also for those of us who wish for soundtracks to be included on DVD releases. Xanadu's rocking soundtrack featuring ELO and Olivia Newton John will be featured on a CD with this release -- and I think I'll pick it up for that reason alone. Outside of the opening and closing sequences, I can do without Xanadu (thought I would love to see it on Broadway), but it's a solid soundtrack and how often do you get a CD with your DVD, especially one with as many hits on it as this one? It's a great feature that I wish was more prevalent.
Filed Under DVD
Sunday, March 09, 2008
The film opens with American graduate student Peter returning to his ancenstral castle in Austria. The lad is familiar with his infamous relative Baron Otto von Kleist, who allegedly terrorized the area centuries ago before meeting his doom at the hands of a witch. With a handy parchment in tow, Peter hopes reciting a ghastly incantation will resurrect the dead sadist, and laughs will likely ensue ... what could possibly go wrong? In Austria, Peter finds the castle being renovated as a tourist attraction by the lovely architect Eva (Elke Sommer), who has taken the liberty of preserving the castle's torture chamber. But after wooing Eva and successfully reciting the incantations, the vacation starts to go wrong for Peter: the parchment accidentally falls into a fire, and the Baron is now on the loose. Finding his castle a tourist trap (complete with a Coca-Cola machine!), the Baron sets out on an eviction spree -- and he may just put that torture chamber back in working order.
When the Baron rises from the grave, Baron Blood grabs your attention and doesn't let go until the final shot. The undead, cloaked Baron exists mostly as a silhouette in between Bava's world of shadows, and we occasionally get a glimpse of his decaying face. With the Baron on the loose we start to see the castle as a decaying house of death instead of a tourist trap, with endless staircases and dark corners. In one memorable scene, Peter and Eva find themselves in the balcony of the castle's sanctuary and Bava's camera moves from Eva's shoulder to a near nose-dive into the pews below. On the big screen the shot might induce motion sickness, and is a great example of how Bava's filmmaking style catching you off guard. Even in the requisite cat-and-mouse sequence between Eva and the Baron, Bava is able to create an exhilirating chase inside and out of the castle, with his lighting acting as the real star between the two performers.
While the Baron is wreaking havoc, Peter and Eva start hatching a plan to get rid of the ghoul -- hmm, that parchment would have come in handy right about now. Without the incantation that would have sent him back to the grave, the pair turn to a local psychic who will attempt to channel Elizabeth Holly, the witch who originally vanquished the Baron. This scene is border-line spectacular: the group builds a fire at the spot where Holly was executed long ago, and soon we see her spirit in the fire, using the psychic to tell Eva and Peter about a weakness of the Baron. Even with the film's limited budget, the special effects in this scene are almost perfect. But before we can get rid of the Baron, who's this old guy (Joseph Cotten) who just purchased the castle at an auction? He seems to know a lot about the Baron, and he does a lot of cackling. Could he actually be Baron Blood? Cotten does everything but wink at the camera about this possibility. This aspect of the story was probably written to be a twist at the end, but Bava makes no illusions about the mysterious man's true identity. The old man is happy to give a tour of his newly-purchased castle, especially the stylish torture chamber where our final act will play out. The ending is flat-out fantastic, a startling resolution where the Baron gets a dose (or 10) of his own medicine in his own torture chamber.
Tim Lucas notes in the commentary that Baron Blood was a personal triumph for Bava in the fact that he got to film in a real castle -- after years of using matte paintings and other tricks for such locale. It's easy to see that Bava was not going to let this excellent location go wasted -- one scene plays the structure like it's another living and breathing character, practically "watching" a young girl who is outside its walls. The young girl is one of a handful of great secondary characters, as her youth allows her to see the Baron's spirit before the adults, and even see through his old man disguise. Produced by Alfredo Leone, Baron Blood was an international hit and resulted in another Leone-Bava production, Lisa and the Devil (in which Bava was given total creative control and a large budget). Baron Blood may never be put amongst the more popular of Bava's movies, but it has no shortage of the director's signature "moments" -- particularly the sinister ending and the aforementioned witch channeling scene. As with all the other films in The Bava Box 2, Baron Blood looks and sounds excellent, and Lucas has plenty to say in his usual scholarly commentary.
Friday, March 07, 2008
Bob Turnbull doesn't hide his esoteric tastes, and that extends to the title of his blog, Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind. Another in the distinguished line of Canadian film bloggers, Bob regularly highlights the best of Toronto's film festivals, including a long string of reports from the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. Bob also has a habit of illustrating his posts with glorious screencaps, with the most recent shining example being his contribution to the Deeply Superficial Blog-a-thon with captures of his favorite film visuals. And if you're a Val Lewton fan like me, don't miss his rich tribute to the talented producer.
EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'Likely my first movie experience was watching Bambi or Dumbo during TV's "The Wonderful World Of Disney" on a Sunday evening at home. I'm sure we also went to a couple of the re-releases of Disney films in the theatre as well - Cinderella strikes me as one I saw in the theatre for the first time. Those Love Bug movies would've been early big screen viewings as well. I have vague memories of being in a theatre for 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I really can't recall how old I was. I know I had no idea what the hell was going on though. Drive-ins also would have played an early part of my viewing experience - our entire family used to go to drive-ins during the summer while on vacation with my cousins. I know we saw Return Of The Pink Panther several times and I still love that movie because of those nights and remembering my dad shaking the car with laughter at Peter Sellers. Actually, my whole family loved it while my cousins thought we were loons.'
LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'The In-Laws (1979) just arrived the other day in the mail. As great and manic as Alan Arkin is in the film, Peter Falk's exquisite timing and totally calm demeanor make the film for me. In particular, his description of the perfect chicken sandwich during a car chase kills me every time. The most recent blind buy was the documentary/concert film Heima by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros. The gorgeous trailer was enough to convince me to pick it up, but I've also been meaning to dive into their music a bit more having only heard snippets of their songs and realizing that was nowhere near enough. The film is a bit self-serving and occasionally self-important, but my goodness Iceland is a beautiful country. And the music is at times revelatory - the closing 12 minute "Untitled 3" is simply glorious and combined with both the terrific sensory overload stage presentation and insertions of random audience and nature scenes from previous stops on the tour, for me it distills the whole experience into about as religious an experience as a non-religious person can find. So yeah, I kinda liked it...'
TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES RECENTLY WRAPPED UP A MONTH OF GUEST PROGRAMMING. IF YOU WERE A GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT 3 MOVIES WOULD YOU PICK TO BEST REPRESENT YOUR TASTES, OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME?: 'As much as I love Film Noir and my recent fixation Horror, those are both left to other more knowledgeable folks. Instead, my first instinct is to go with a few modern Japanese films that embrace, if not fully exist within, surrealism. I know this isn't TCM's bread and butter, but if we're living in a world where TCM gave me a block of their programming time, up would be down, night would be day and Michael Bay would be subtle - so I think I can stretch the rules a bit...Three that I've watched recently that I might choose:
'The Taste Of Tea (2005 - Katsuhito Ishii ) - A simple quiet lovely story about the individuals in a family who each have their own obsessions and personal worlds and how they eventually get to a more peaceful happiness. Gentle, funny and filled with inventive ways of showing how the characters are feeling.
'Takeshis' (2005 - Takeshi Kitano) - The beginning of Kitano's personal deconstruction of his creative methods, this film kind of folds upon itself in a way similar to Spike Jonze's Adaptation. Within the film, famous actor Beat Takeshi meets a struggling actor named Kitano who could be his twin. After their meeting and an autograph, Beat goes off into makeup and as he falls asleep he wonders what life is like for his doppelganger. Within his "dream", we see this imaginary life of Kitano populated with Beat's own acquaintances in various new roles - sometimes popping up several times. To remove us even further from reality, within Beat's dream the struggling actor Kitano has his own dreams. And there's a terrific dance sequence with three tap dancers and a huge caterpillar.
'Princess Raccoon (2004 - Seijun Suzuki) - Working with several different Japanese folklore tales, the film presents the story of young Prince Amechiyo who encounters and falls in love with the lovely raccoon spirit of the film's title. More important than the plot really is the staging of the story - as its Japanese title indicates, it's an operetta and the story unfolds through numerous songs and is actually staged as a play would be with typical sets and props. However, Suzuki uses the fact that he is filming these staged events in order to superimpose backgrounds, move figures around and do many other little tricks that obviously couldn't easily be done during a play.
'I don't expect they'd invite me back...Which reminds me of the time that I co-hosted a radio program with a buddy of mine. It was a Sunday morning progressive rock show for a local university radio station and he said I could play anything. I tended to the heavier riff side of things (Djam Karet, Circle, Happy Family) which didn't really go down well with the station programmer who happened to be listening that morning. Even though we followed the overnight death-metal show, he called my friend in for a frank discussion. My friend quit the show. I still owe him...'
FAVORITE GROSS-OUT MOMENT: 'Mr. Creosote in Monty Python's Meaning Of Life. The funniest part isn't the buckets of barf or Mr. Creosote's explosion and resulting exposed internal organs. It's the offer of the "waafer thin" mint.
WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN, AND WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE?: 'I'll give you two: Casablanca and It's A Wonderful Life. My excuse is that I kinda feel like I have already seen them...Through countless clips I feel I know the plots, major scenes and can quote pieces of dialog. Of course, that's not the same as experiencing the entire movie and capturing it all in context, but neither of those films are high priorities for me given my excitement for so many other titles. One day though...'
PICK ONE OF THE FOLLOWING FOUR MOVIES AND WRITE TWO SENTENCES ABOUT IT:
Sleeping Beauty--'Though I remember the dragon, the spinning wheel and the three good fairies reasonably well, not much else of "Sleeping Beauty" has stuck with me since having last seen it decades ago. I also vaguely recall that the Prince was a total dullard.'
The Last Starfighter
FAVORITE KIND OF MOVIE TO REVIEW: 'Visually arresting films...My "reviews" of those tend to be just a series of screen captures (I did this for both Tears Of The Black Tiger and Citizen Dog). I could have put more into the narrative description of these films, but I like the end result of seeing all those screencaps in a row and enjoy fast forwarding through the films for the scenes that jump out. It also appeals to my sense of laziness...'
LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, AND WHAT DID YOU SEE?: 'Well, those drive-ins we saw as kids morphed into those drive-ins we saw as teenagers and the last one I can clearly remember was Children Of The Corn. Pretty terrible movie...But we saw it twice that summer and the second time was even more fun (yelling "Malachai!" at the screen, sitting on the roofs of our cars with a frosty beverage of some variety or other, etc.). This would've been 84 or 85.'
A FILM ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH: 'I'm pretty spread out...I tend to bounce around a lot. If I've seen a few documentaries in a row, I get pulled back into Film Noir, then back to recent Hollywood releases, then a craving for Japanese yakuza films, then Horror (my biggest of late). Even within horror I'm bouncing between Italian 70s to Corman's Poe films to the Amicus crew to recent mainstream stuff. I guess I was pretty sucked into the whole J-Horror "genre" and I'm still a big fan of it (though there's quite a bit of chaff in it too). The shocks are fewer, but I love the approach of creating an atmosphere of dread that slowly curls you up into a ball on the couch. A sure sign that I may like it a bit too much - I'm actually looking forward the The Grudge 3.'
LAST TIME YOU VEHEMENTLY DISAGREED WITH SOMEONE OVER THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'My favourite soapbox film - Ocean's Twelve. People tend to hate it because it didn't make sense or the heists were stupid or because they can't stand Julia Roberts. I can't help them on the Julia front, but the plot does actually hold together. And the plausibility of the heists doesn't really matter - it's an art film and a playground for Steven Soderbergh. I had pretty much this same conversation with a friend and a new acquaintance at a Christmas party this year (I'm pretty sure we drove several people from the kitchen), but all was well in the end as we agreed that Takeshi Kitano rules.'
FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'I'm just no good at giving single answers on these types of questions...
'1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die is a favourite as it's one of the best compendiums of great films I've ever read. It covers mainstream blockbusters, classic Hollywood, foreign art films, experimental, documentary, short films, etc. I've seen a little over half of the list, so it'll continue to be a driver of new films to see for some time. Another fascinating book is Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age at the American Film Institute by George Stevens Jr. Through transcripts of question and answer sessions from the 1970s, directors like Billy Wilder, Hitchcock, Rouben Mamoulian and George Stevens discuss their approach to film, the studio system and the good and bad of modern day movies. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that most of these guys have very straightforward concepts of filmmaking. They are also huge personalities and characters so the book is never less than entertaining. It's helped give me a whole new appreciation for a slew of 30s, 40s and 50s films.
'Others I love to browse through - Eddie Muller's The Art Of Noir, all those Taschen decade books (Movies Of The 90s all the way down to Movies Of The 20s), The Midnight Eye Guide To New Japanese Film (by Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp) and just recently another Taschen book called Cinema Now which covers young auteurs and the current state of world wide cinema (with beautiful stills).'
DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM INTAKE: 'I've cracked 400 the last three years, so it's an average of just over one per night. I'd love to bump that up to an average of two per night (my list of movies to see keeps growing!), but apparently my body needs this sleep thing that's all the rage.'
THREE THINGS YOU'VE LEARNED FROM WATCHING MOVIES:
1) A much wider and deeper appreciation of art in general.
2) Watching movies just makes me want to watch more movies.
3) The life of a fruit cart in action movies seems to be shorter than that of a fruit fly.
Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
I had known of Bava, and was formally introduced to him through the frighteningly entertaining Danger: Diabolik two years ago. The fact that Tim Lucas was able to fill 1,100 pages on the man intrigued me enough to buy the box set, and it has turned out to be the perfect way for a Bava newbie to break into the director's oeuvre. Each movie in the set has captured my imagination as a film fan more than the previous, to the point that writing a singular review of the box set now seems silly. So I present THE BAVA BEAT, a label that will feature individual reviews of Vol. 2's films, and eventually Vol. 1 and beyond. The first entry will focus on Baron Blood, hopefully before next week.
Incidentally, next week also marks the opening of Mario Bava: Poems of Love and Death from the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles. I have heard it on good authority that one Dennis Cozzalio could be in the audience at the Egyptian during this series, and hopefully he'll give his readers a word or two (thousand) on the experience.
Monday, March 03, 2008
Recently I touched on the issue of Lucasfilm releasing a new Indiana Jones box set to advertise the latest movie in the series, but now it's gotten even more ridiculous. While the new DVDs will have new extras (I'll get to those in a moment), the true star of this press release is Lucasfilm vice president Howard Roffman, who manages to give a pair of pop-your-eyes-out spins in his only quote:
An entire generation of movie lovers will get to see these classic films in a digital format that makes them even more amazing than when they were first in theaters [...] .
These new, individual DVDs are a fantastic way to introduce young audiences to the unforgettable, action-packed adventures of the most daring archaeologist in the world.
"Yeah, hey parents? Turns out those Indiana Jones box sets you bought five years ago are no good for today's kids, trust me ... and we'd really like to make some more money." Who would fall for this? A greater insult to consumers may be what Lucasfilm and Paramount are passing off as "exclusive extras." Outside of photo galleries, illustrations and storyboards, here is what you get:
--Introductions to all three movies by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (possibly delivered without either man setting down their cup of coffee)
-- Indiana Jones: An Appreciation-The cast and crew of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" pay tribute to the original trilogy. (can't wait to hear Shia Lebouf's thoughts on Sallah)
-- The Melting Face-A recreation of the amazing physical effect of the villain's melting face in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas commenting on the evolution of visual effects and CGI. (translation: Spielberg and Lucas joke about the Star Wars prequels)
--Creepy Crawlies-Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Frank Marshall reminisce about snakes, bugs and rats. (yes, this is the only real extra on Temple of Doom. Is Spielberg refusing to talk about this movie now, I mean outside of those icky snakes and rats that is. Are there any rats in Temple of Doom? So it's just a har-har convesation about all the yucky moments in the series? Fantastic.)
-- The Women: The American Film Institute Tribute--The three Indiana Jones women (Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw and Alison Doody) reunite for a discussion. (The AFI did a tribute to Alison Doody?)
-- Friends and Enemies--Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Indiana Jones writers discuss how they created the most iconic characters in film history, including a look at new faces in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." (Spielberg: "Tell me, are there any snakes, rats or bugs in the new movie?")
The DVDs also include a preview for the video game "LEGO Indiana Jones," which may be the best news of the new year. Have you played "LEGO Star Wars"? Only one of the most addictive games ever. And I mean, Short Round already looks like a LEGO character -- there's a lot of potential here. For the game, not the DVDs.
Filed Under DVD