Tuesday, May 31, 2016

#2,115. Marquis de Sade's Justine (1977)

Directed By: Chris Boger

Starring: Koo Stark, Martin Potter, Lydia Lisle

Tag line: "No woman suffered more..."

Trivia: This movie was also released as Cruel Passion

An 18th century writer who turned sexual excess into an art form, the Marquis de Sade was a controversial figure in his time, and it’s safe to assume that a movie based on his writings would be equally as scandalous. Director Chris Boger’s 1977 film Marquis de Sade’s Justine certainly lives up to it's author's reputation; it is, indeed, scandalous, and more besides.

Inspired by the 1791 novel Justine: The Misfortunes of Virtue, Marquis de Sade’s Justine (also released as Cruel Passion) relates the sad tale of two sisters: Juliette (Lydia Lisle) and Justine (Koo Stark), who, following the death of their parents, are forced to leave the convent they’ve called home for most of their lives. With very little money between them, the sisters head to London to visit their cousin Pauline (Ann Michelle), who works as a prostitute in a brothel owned and operated by Madame Laronde (Katherine Kath). Realizing her options are limited, Juliette decides to join Pauline and become a prostitute, while the more virtuous Justine, disgusted by the scandal of it all, makes her way back to the small town where the convent is situated, asking the pastor of the local church (Louis Ife) for sanctuary. Alas, not even the clergy can be trusted, and when the pastor attempts to rape her, Justine rushes to the roof to escape him. The Pastor gives chase, but falls to his death when he loses his footing.

Now wanted for murder, Justine hides out with a band of criminals led by Mrs. Bonny (Hope Jackman), who force the girl to join their operation. Meanwhile, Juliette, fearing for her sister’s safety, asks her lover, Lord Carlisle (Martin Potter), to track down Justine and bring her back to London. Carlisle does eventually find her, but is himself captured by Mrs. Bonny’s crew. Will Justine and Lord Carlisle escape the clutches of these dangerous criminals, or is it the end of the road for them both?

While the movie does shy away from graphic depictions of sex and barbarity, Marquis de Sade’s Justine still manages to astound and appall with some fairly intense material, including rape, S&M, and necrophilia. In addition, there’s plenty of nudity, and a few lesbian encounters early on in the convent, where Juliette would satisfy the carnal desires of Sister Clare (Malou Cartwright) on a nightly basis. The film is also quite violent; the scene in which Mrs. Bonny and her henchmen rob a stagecoach is troubling, to say the least. Still, not all of the depravity is designed to horrify the audience; in one lengthy sequence, Mme Laronde, Pauline, and a few of the other prostitutes take great pleasure in showing Juliette the ropes, each having their turn with the house’s “boy toy”, George (Barry McGinn), before letting Juliette “finish him off”. Played mostly for laughs, this scene manages to be sexy without taking things too far.

Yet even more revealing than the nudity and blood is the film’s basic message that a life of iniquity has its advantages over chastity and virtue. We see it in the way director Boger presents each sequence, flooding Mme Laronde’s brothel with plenty of light-to make it feel warm and inviting, while in turn keeping the religious institutions (the convent and pastor’s home) dark and ominous (the cinematographer was future Oscar winner Roger Deakins, working on what would be his first dramatic film, and even at this early stage of his career Mr. Deakins’ talent was on full display). The sisters themselves are also proof positive that “sin” is sometimes preferable to “saintliness” (Juliette becomes a whore and lives comfortably, while poor Justine follows the path of righteousness and is tormented at every turn).

It’s not the sort of message you’d find in an average film, but with a story that jumped from the pen of the Marquis de Sade as a starting point, it would have been foolish to expect anything else. Marquis de Sade’s Justine is not for those who are easily offended, but as sleazy exploitation films go, it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen.

Monday, May 30, 2016

#2,114. Hungu (2008)

Directed By: Nicolas Brault

Music by: René Lussier

Premiere: This film premiered at the 2008 Rendez-vous du Cinéma Québécois

Trivia: Walked off with two awards, including Best Animation, at the 2008 Palm Springs International ShortFest

I conclude my week-long journey through the films of Animated Express with Hungu, a story about a mother’s love that’s so strong not even death can extinguish it.

While following the rest of her tribe on a journey for food and water, a young mother staggers and falls. As she lay dying in the heat, the chief collects her son and continues on, with the others close behind him. To ensure that her son survives, the mother finds a way to provide the food and drink he needs, but it’s after her death that she gives him the greatest gift of all.

Animated in the style of African rock drawings, Hungu breathes new life into an ancient folk tale of a mother and her son. Even as the end draws near, the mother (who has been left alone to die) creates a flowing river with her tears (one that will nourish her son and the others), and when the tribal leaders are unable to hunt down any food, she sends some fish their way. But when she too tries to drink the water, the tribe’s leaders strike her down. Her son, distraught over what’s happened, refuses to leave her side, and is there when she breathes her last. But the mother ensures that it isn’t the end of their time together.

Despite its simplistic imagery, director Nicolas Braut’s Hungu is a poignant bit of animation that weaves a fantastical, sometimes heartbreaking tale of love and loss, and does so wonderfully.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

#2,113. Robes of War (2008)

Directed By: Michèle Cournoyer

Written By: Michèle Cournoyer

Awards: Won the award for Best Animated Short

Trivia: Played at 2009 Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival

Written and directed by Michèle Cournoyer, 2008’s Robes of War presents armed conflict as seen through the eyes of a woman, one so completely torn apart by war that she herself has been transformed into a weapon.

Featuring hand-drawn animation, Robes of War is a most unusual anti-war film, relying not on gruesome imagery, bot on a series of interesting transitions to get its point across. With an unnamed woman at the center of it all, the film watches as her body twists and contorts, forming into dangerous weapons (most notably an armored tank) and, even more intriguing, into men on the battlefield (the fingers on both hands change into soldiers, each armed and fighting their “enemies” on the other side). Perhaps the film’s most clever, and indeed most troubling transition occurs when the woman appears to be crying. Instead of a tear rolling down her cheek, though, it’s the body of slain soldier, which she then cradles as if it were the remains of a close family member.

Cournoyer’s Robes of War definitely has something to say about warfare, and how it affects not only the men who fight, but the wives and mothers left behind, each of whom feels the war as deeply as those on the battlefield. The fact that Robes of War is also quite stylish and visually arresting only works to its advantage.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

#2,112. Subservience (2007)

Directed By: Patrick Bouchard

Written By: Martin Roldophe Villeneuve

Awards: Was nominated for the Grand Prix Award and the 2008 Hiroshima International Animation Festival

Trivia: This film was also released as Reverence

Director Patrick Bouchard’s 2007 animated film Subservience is perhaps the most thought-provoking short I’ve seen thus far, a pointed attack on class system that explores the callousness of the upper crust, as well as their vulnerability when left to fend for themselves.

Story-wise, there isn’t much to it. An aristocrat walks through a barren wasteland followed by his servant, whose job is to ensure his master’s feet never actually touch the dirt (the poor guy does this by continually rolling and unrolling two short pieces of red carpet, moving one to the front while his master is on the other). After some time, they come to what we assume was a pre-arranged meeting place, where the aristocrat encounters a pretty young woman ( with a servant of her own) standing on a patch of red carpet much like his. The two meet, exchange pleasantries, and head off into the distance together, all as their servants work tirelessly alongside them. But when the woman accidentally drops her handkerchief, it leads to a catastrophe that neither the aristocrat nor his female companion ever considered.

Produced with stop-motion, Subservience (also released as Reverence in areas of France and Canada) features some intriguing visuals, with characters that, while certainly not attractive, are always interesting. Yet even more powerful than the imagery are the emotions the movie stirs in its audience, the anger at seeing two supposedly “refined” people mistreat their “lessers”, and the frustration that comes when they (and we the audience) realize just how helpless these two “important” people are when left on their own.

In 8 short minutes, Patrick Bouchard hammers his point home. He has created one hell of a movie here.

Friday, May 27, 2016

#2,111. Ha'Aki (2008)

Directed By: Iriz Pääbo

Written By: Iriz Pääbo

Premiere: This movie had its premiere at the 2008 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma de Montréal

Trivia: Former NHL player Eric Nesterenko served as the writer / dir's inspiration

I continue my journey through the short films of Animation Express by looking at a very unique motion picture that pays tribute to that most “Canadian” of sports: hockey.

Ha’Aki, a 2008 movie by writer / director Iriz Pääbo, utilizes a technique its maker calls “animbits” (a process by which the sound and images are created simultaneously) to tell the story of a hockey game. At first, the scenes are familiar: players moving about the ice, passing the puck and shooting it towards the net as the crowd cheers. It isn’t long, though, before Ha’Aki adopts a more impressionistic view of its subject, relying on bubbles, flashing lights, and geometric “pieces” to signify the game is still in progress.

Apparently not the biggest fan of hockey herself, Pääbo used Eric Nesterenko, a former player with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks, as her inspiration, and from the looks of it, she couldn’t have picked a better one. I’ve been to more than my share of games over the years (In the ‘80s, my father had season tickets for the Philadelphia Flyers), and Ha’Aki does manage to capture the excitement, as well as the adrenaline rush, of watching live hockey. But Ha’Aki is also highly artistic, using the backdrop of a game to present imagery that is, at times, quite stunning (at the halfway point of the movie, we see what appear to be players continuing the game, yet surrounded on all sides by bright lights, which flash and recede in unison with what’s happening on the ice).

Those who love hockey will undoubtedly enjoy Ha’Aki, but thanks to the filmmakers unique approach to the material, even those who have never experienced a single game will find something to their liking in this short.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

#2,110. Land of the Heads (2009)

Directed By: Claude Barras, Cédric Louis

Written By: Claude Barras, Julien Sulser

Premiere: This movie had its U.S. premiere at the 2010 Nashville Film Festival

Trivia: Was nominated for Best Short at the 2009 Montréal World Film Festival

Here’s a macabre little tale that sprang from the minds of animators Claude Barras and Cédric Louis (who also teamed up to make 2007’s Sainte barbe). Released in 2009, Land of the Heads features a vampire and his wife, who reside at the top of a tall tower. Unhappy with her wrinkles, the wife has cut off her own head, and now forces her dutiful husband to go out each night in search of a new one. One young girl after another falls victim to the vampire, but each time the wife (who is a picky sort) rejects the new severed head. Before long, there’s a huge pile of noggins on the floor, at which point the vampire decides he’s had enough.

A fantasy / comedy with just a hint of horror, Land of the Heads is a vibrant, imaginative bit of stop-motion animation. Though the story is set primarily at night, there’s plenty of color (including lots of red), and the characters themselves, though unmistakably dark in nature, are humorous enough in appearance to keep the proceedings on the light side. Land of the Heads also marks that rare occasion where we’ feel sorry for a vampire; I couldn’t help but chuckle each time his wife knocked on his casket, demanding that he bring her fresh heads (for each venture, she gave him a new, more potent weapon with which to complete his task, including a chainsaw). Because he’s undead, the poor guy may be forced to carry out this arduous task for all eternity, and we share his frustration each time his finicky wife sends him out to kill again.

Not to worry, though, because Land of the Heads does have a happy ending.

Well, at least as happy as we are gonna get in a story of this sort!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

#2,109. Sainte barbe (2007)

Directed By: Claude Barras, Cédric Louis

Written By: Cédric Louis

Premiere: This movie premiered at the 2007 Nuit du Court Métrage de Lausanne

Trivia: Won the award for Best Swiss Short at the 2007 Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival

Young Léon loves his grandfather, and is especially fond of the old man’s bushy black beard. Grandma, who recalls fondly how handsome Grandpa was in the old days when he had just a moustache, would like nothing more than to cut off the old man’s scraggly beard, but Léon won’t allow her to do so. Unlike most people, Léon knows that his grandfather’s beard possesses magical qualities (moments after some caterpillars fall into it, they emerge as beautiful butterflies). Alas, not even an enchanted beard is powerful enough to keep poor Grandpa alive forever.

A stop-motion animated short from directors Claude Barras and Cédric Louis, 2007’s Sainte berbe may look a bit rough around the edges, but its unpolished look only adds to its overall charm. What’s most impressive about the movie, however, is its story, which, at the beginning, is carefree and light-hearted; at one point, when Grandpa dozes off, Grandma grabs a pair of scissors and tries to cut off his beard. Realizing what she’s up to, Léon quickly drops a plate on the ground, which makes a noise loud enough to awaken Grandpa from his slumber. At about the halfway point, though, Sainte berbe takes a decidedly dark turn, and it’s thanks to Claude Barras and Cédric Louis that the movie remains just as appealing even when it’s tugging on your heart strings.

Like many of the shorts in the Animation Express collection, Sainte berbe is dialogue-free (apart from the background music, the movie is completely silent). But then, no words were needed. Equal parts joyous and sad, Sainte berbe puts its images to great use, relating a story that’s sure to have you laughing one minute and crying the next.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

#2,108. Drux Flux (2008)

Directed By: Theodore Ushev

Music By: Alexander Mosolov

Premiere: This movie premiered at the 2008 Ottawa International Animation Festival

Trivia: Won the award for Best Sound at the 2009 International Animation Film Festival

It’s been a while since I checked out the movies on Animation Express, a collection of shorts (many produced by the National Film Board of Canada) spanning a variety of genres and techniques. The movies I’ve seen thus far ranged from good (Sleeping Betty) to great (Madame Tutli-Putli, Ryan), and this time around, I decided to watch Theodore Ushev’s Drux Flux, an abstract short about industrialism and progress that’s all at once jarring and engrossing.

Originally in 3-D, Drux Flux begins innocently enough, presenting images of machinery and factories, most popping on and off screen so quickly that we barely get so much as a glimpse of them. As the music of Russian composer Alexander Mosolov starts to swell, the images move a bit more rapidly, and are joined by Russian propaganda posters (which have also been slightly animated) that praise the worker. Soon, geometric shapes and blueprints have joined the fracas, all leading up to a reference to Herbert Marcuse’s “One Dimensional Man” (which collapses in a heap just as the movie ends).

Drux Flux definitely has something to say about progress and industry, and the dehumanizing effect both have on the individual (the few people we do see as the pictures and clips storm by are relegated to the background, working the machines). It’s a message reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, but more than its social commentary, Drux Flux stands as a shining example of the power of film, and how things like rapid cuts and sharp angles can affect our emotions as well as our perceptions. As the pictures were flying by, I found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed, even off-kilter, and the reason why had as much to do with the movie’s style as it did the photos themselves.

Taken on their own, the images in Drux Flux are nothing more than a few hundred (thousand?) snapshots of buildings and machines. Toss them together in the manner that Ushev has in this film, and they have an unmistakable power.

Monday, May 23, 2016

#2,107. Rock & Rule (1983)

Directed By: Clive A. Smith

Starring: Don Francks, Gregory Salata, Susan Roman

Tag line: "The Beauty... The Beast... The Beat!"

Trivia: This was the first English speaking animated feature film produced entirely in Canada

The war was over… 

The only survivors were street animals: dogs, cats and rats. From them, a new race of mutants evolved. 

That was a long time ago…” 

A rock-infused glimpse into a 
post-apocalyptic future, 1983’s Rock & Rule is a unique, highly entertaining animated fantasy.

Omar (Paul Le Mat) and Angel (Susan Roman) have a band that, for some time, has been performing each and every night at a dingy bar in Ohmtown. Then, all at once, lady luck shines on them; after catching one of their shows, world-famous rocker Mok (Don Francks) invites the group to his spacious mansion for the evening. 

As it turns out, though, Mok has more on his mind than music. For years, the reclusive singer has been trying to conjure up a demon from hell, which he plans to use to take over the world. To open the gate to this other dimension, he needs a woman, one who sings in a specific key, and Angel fits the bill. 

When she refuses to join him, Mok kidnaps Angel and, with the help of his 3 dim-witted assistants Sleazy (Brent Titcomb), Toad (Chris Wiggins) and Zip (Greg Duffell), flies her to Nuke York, where, at a concert the following day, he hopes to put his evil plan into motion. 

But Omar and his fellow band members Stretch (Greg Duffell) and Izzy (Dan Hennessey) aren’t about to let Mok get away with it, and head to Nuke York to rescue their friend before it’s too late.

This was the first time I’d ever seen Rock & Rule and several things about the movie impressed me, starting with the character of Mok, the rocker hell-bent on world domination. Physically, Mok resembles Mick Jagger, but it’s the voicework of Don Francks that makes the aging musician so damn eerie. Mok may be the villain, but he’s also the film's most fascinating character. 

I also liked how director Clive Smith and his team depicted a post-apocalyptic New York, called “Nuke York” in the movie (our first view of the once-great city reveals that tenement apartments have been built into the side of the decaying Statue of Liberty). The majority of Rock & Rule is set in the much less interesting Ohmtown, and it isn’t until these few scenes in Nuke York that the film finally gives off a convincing post-apocalyptic vibe.

Then, of course, there’s the music, with songs written and performed by Cheap Trick, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, and a handful of others. I enjoyed each and every tune, but two in particular - both by Lou Reed - really blew me away; Reed was the musical voice of Mok, and his songs "My Name is Mok" and "Triumph" proved the perfect fit for this sinister character. Also strong were the final number "Send Love Through" (co-written and performed by Debbie Harry) and the disco-esque "Dance, Dance, Dance" by Earth, Wind, and Fire.

I’m not sure how this movie slipped under my radar for all these years, but I’m guessing there are others who have yet to see this Canadian-produced animated musical fantasy. Take my advice and do so immediately. If you’re a fan of Heavy Metal, odds are you’ll enjoy Rock & Rule just as much.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

#2,106. The Bat (1926)

Directed By: Roland West

Starring: George Beranger, Charles Herzinger, Emily Fitzroy

Tag line: "A laugh with every gasp!"

Trivia: For many years this was regarded as a "lost film" with no known prints or elements existing

1926’s The Bat opens with the following statement:

“Can you keep a secret? Don’t reveal the identity of The Bat. Future audiences will fully enjoy this mystery play if left to find out for themselves

While the central mystery was, indeed, engaging, it was the film’s look and feel that really impressed me.

A masked killer known only as “The Bat” has struck again, strangling a noted millionaire and making off with his valuable collection of jewels. The police have thus far been unable to stop “The Bat”, but they also have their hands full with another matter: the theft of a large sum of money from a local bank. All signs point to the culprit being a teller named Brooks Bailey (Jack Pickford), who is engaged to be married to Miss Dale Ogden (Jewel Carmen). Naturally, Brooks is innocent, so Dale (to hide him from the police) whisks him off to a large mansion that her aunt, Miss Cornelia Van Gorder (Emily Fitzroy), is renting for the summer (which, by coincidence, belongs to the bank exec whose facility was just robbed). But there are others lurking in the corners of this spacious house as well, one of whom may be The Bat! Will Miss Cordelia, with the help of her frightened maid Lizzie (Louise Fazenda), solve this perplexing case before the police can? Where is the money? Where is The Bat? More to the point: Who is The Bat?

Sit tight and you’re sure to find out.

A fair number of characters come and go throughout The Bat; aside from those listed above, we have Miss Cordelia’s Asian butler Billy (Sonjin); Det. Moletti (Tulio Carminati), who is researching the bank heist; and physician Dr. Wells (Robert McKim), who knows more than he’s letting on. Yet, despite its plethora of personalities, I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with them all. The film’s single best aspect, however, is its collection of ominous sets, which come courtesy of famed production designer William Cameron Menzies (the creative force behind Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s Thief of Bagdad and the superior sci-fi entry Invaders from Mars). Using shadows and lighting to great effect, Menzies helps shape The Bat into an early version of an “Old Dark House” picture, where each new room is as creepy (and interesting) as the last.

Remade in 1959 (a version that starred Vincent Price and Agnes Moorhead, among others), The Bat tells the fascinating story of a masked killer and a missing fortune, while also featuring moments of genuine humor (most provided by Miss Cordelia’s maid, Lizzie, who, though overplayed by Louise Fazenda, brings a few laughs to the otherwise dark proceedings). This, plus the work of William Cameron Menzies, makes The Bat a twisting, turning, visually appealing murder mystery.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

#2,105. More (1998)

Directed By: Mark Osborne

Writer: Mark Osborne

Prmeiere: Premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival

Trivia: Was nominated for Best Short at the 1998 Academy Awards

Written and directed by Marc Osborne, 1998’s More is an award-winning stop-motion animated short about an alien being that longs to return to simpler times. Tired of his humdrum existence (which includes working in a factory, where he performs the same task over and over again), our hero finally finishes the invention he’s been working on for years, one that allows people to see the world in a completely new light. This invention proves to be a best-seller, making its inventor rich beyond his wildest dreams. But will his newfound fame bring him the joy he seeks, or simply more emptiness?

Save a brief sequence late in the film (when he finally finishes his invention), the animation style in More is bleak and colorless, yet that doesn’t prevent it from being interesting (I especially liked the factory scene, where the lead character is a cog in a machine that never seems to stop running). And while its story of corporate greed and lost innocence is nothing new, Osborne tells it well enough to ensure that its point is driven home.

Despite being only six minutes long, More was, as director Osborne put it, an “absolutely massive undertaking” (it took 9 months to shoot the movie), though his efforts weren’t in vain; the film won a number of awards, including Best Animated Short at both the B-Movie Film Festival and the South by Southwest Festival (among others). Chock full of emotion and pathos, More deserved each and every one.

Friday, May 20, 2016

#2,104. All the Love You Cannes! (2002)

Directed By: Gabriel Friedman, Lloyd Kaufman, Sean McGrath

Starring: Lloyd Kaufman, Jean Pierre, Doug Sakmann

Line from the film: "He had a little bit too much fun. Just a little"

Trivia: This movie was shot on-location at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival

You would think that at an event as prestigious as the Cannes Film Festival, Lloyd Kaufman and His collection of Troma fanatics would stick out like a sore thumb. Well, you’d be right, and in the 2001 documentary All the Love You Cannes, we see JUST how far out there that “thumb” truly is! 

Shot on-location at the 2001 Festival, All the Love You Cannes stars Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman, who, along with shooting much of the footage himself, offers advice on how best to save money at Cannes (everything from “stay at an apartment as opposed to a hotel” to “bring your own peanuts”). In addition, the film follows Lloyd and his band of Tromites as they promote the hell out of the company, inviting prospective distributors back to their offices at the Carlton Hotel and sponsoring daily “Troma Parades”, which march through the streets, stopping traffic and drawing attention to the studio and their newest films (in this case, the big Troma release was Citizen Toxie, the 4th installment in The Toxic Avenger series). Sometimes, the Troma gang gets a bit too rambunctious and pisses a few people off (aside from the security at the Carlton, who object to the fake blood that occasionally splatters on the wall, Warner Bros., which occupies the office across the hall, complains about the noise and general mayhem that Troma unleashes on a daily basis). More than anything, though, All the Love You Cannes captures the spirit of independent cinema, while also revealing how difficult it can be for the smaller studios to get their voices heard.

A few celebrities occasionally pop up during All the Love You Cannes, most notably movie critic Roger Ebert, longtime Independent producer Roger Corman (who joins Kaufman on a panel discussing the current state of Indie cinema), and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Reporter John StosseL, doing a piece on self-promotion for 20/20, observes the Troma gang during one of their parades; and even Jean-Claude Van Damme turns up briefly, at what must be one of the briefest photo ops ever (his boat pulls up alongside a dock, and after posing for a few pictures, he instructs the boat’s driver to leave. As you can imagine, the press was not happy).

But All the Love You Cannes is at its best when Kaufman and company turn the cameras back on themselves, revealing, sometimes in shocking detail, how far they’re willing to go to pull in an audience. The parades are an inspired bit of lunacy, with volunteers, dressed up like Toxie and Dolphin Man (among others), handing out fliers and staging little shows for the crowds (one guy, not so amused, tries to push Troma employee Doug Sakkman into a public fountain). There are other promotional gimmicks as well, some subdued (Scott McKinlay of Troma’s L.A. office has a display built that encourages recycling), others wild as hell (women take off their tops and put Troma stickers over their nipples, while the studio’s own Yaniv Sharon strips down to his birthday suit and runs through the streets).

Holding it all together is Lloyd Kaufman, whose running commentary fills us in on every aspect of Cannes, including promotion, deal making, and the various parties that spring up. At times lamenting the difficulties Troma has luring prospective buyers (most of whom are being wooed by the million-dollar studios), Kaufman usually keeps things light, and his observations are both witty and insightful. This, along with some of the hilarious hijinks that occur over the course of the movie, make All The Love You Cannes a must-see for Troma enthusiasts and potential filmmakers alike.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

#2,103. Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002)

Directed By: Masaaki Tezuka

Starring: Yumiko Shaku, Shin Takuma, Kana Onodera

Tag line: "The Battle of the Century!"

Trivia: Japanese baseball player Hideki Matsui, a member of the New York Yankees from 2003 to 2010 and a member of the Los Angeles Angels since 2010, appears as himself

Toho’s 27th Godzilla film and the fourth in what’s known as the series’ “Millennium era” (which began in 1999 with Godzilla 2000), 2002’s Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla pays homage to the franchise’s roots while at the same time incorporating modern special effects, resulting in one hell of a kick-ass motion picture!

Some 45 years after Godzilla first wreaked havoc in Japan, another member of its species makes its way out of the sea and decimates a coastal town. The Japanese military does what it can to fight this new Godzilla, but their unpreparedness, combined with an error in judgment by Lt. Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku), prevents them from destroying the beast. In an effort to protect the country form future attacks, the Government assembles a team of scientists, including biologist Tokumitsu Yuhara (Shin Takuma), and asks them to build a giant mechanical monster capable of defeating Godzilla.

Using DNA from the skeletal remains of the original creature, Yuhara and his colleagues construct a robotic monster that they nickname “Kiryu”. Armed with missiles, machine guns, and a superweapon known as “Absolute Zero” (a ray that works on a subatomic level, obliterating the molecules of whatever gets in its way), Kiryu is put into service the very day that Godzilla returns. As expected, the two enormous foes meet each other on the battlefield, but during the fracas, something happens that causes Kiryu to lose control, turning it into a monster more dangerous than Godzilla himself.

I liked how Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla incorporated the original film into its story; along with showing clips from the classic 1954 Godzilla, there’s an awesome scene where Yuhara and the others are taken to an underwater facility and shown the skeletal remains of the first monster. In addition, both Godzilla and MechaGodzilla are brought to life not by CGI, but actors in rubber suits (a tradition stretching back to the beginning). Where Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla does enter the modern age is in the effects department, resulting in plenty of high-tech explosions, dozens of missile strikes, and a handful of convincing destruction sequences (especially in the opening scene, where Godzilla runs rampant in a beachside community, leveling houses and buildings with the greatest of ease).

From its exciting opening to its entertaining finale, Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla is a thrill-packed movie that even gets the quieter moments right (along with Yashiro’s struggle to regain the respect of her comrades, Yuhara, a single father, tries to balance his professional responsibilities with the needs of his young daughter Sara, played by Kana Onodera). Exhilarating and intense, Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla is a whole mess of fun.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

#2,102. Fangoria's Blood Drive (2004)

Directed By: Various

Starring: Lee Perkins, Patrick Tierney

Tag line: "America's Best Short Horror Films"

Trivia: Features the winning seven films from Fangoria Magazines Blood Drive contest

Blood Drive is a straight-to-video release featuring the seven shorts (chosen form hundreds of entries) that won Fangoria Magazine’s Blood Drive contest in 2004. From slashers to ghosts, zombies to serial killers, Blood Drive is a mixed bag of horror goodies, and regardless of whether you’re a gore hound or a fan of the psychological, there will be something in this collection for you to enjoy.

Blood Drive kicks things off in… well, bloody fashion with Drew Rist’s The Hitch, the story of a serial killer terrorizing the backroads of Texas. With plenty of blood spurts scattered throughout, The Hitch tells a slasher-esque tale topped off with a dash of the supernatural (there are a few twists in this one, all effective). A Man and his Finger is a comedic short in which a man accidentally cuts off his finger while slicing lettuce, only to find the severed digit has a life of its own (it’s a fun premise, but the joke wears thin after a while). Christopher Garatano’s Inside is a well-made film that ventures into psychological territory. There’s a lot going on in this stylish short, and it’ll probably take more than one viewing to drink it all in. Shadow of the Dead by Joel Robertson is a spooky zombie tale that, for the most part, is dialogue-free (aside from a radio broadcast, consisting of audio lifted from Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, not a single word is uttered in this short). Undeniably intense (especially the finale), Shadow of the Dead is one of the collection’s creepiest entries. 

Also quite creepy is Mister Eryans, about a woman whose house is haunted, and a man sent by the church to investigate it. As much a psychological thriller as it is a ghost film, Mister Eryans features some strong performances (especially the female lead) and a surprise that pretty much turns the entire tale upside-down. Rounding out Blood Drive are the ghost-heavy Disturbances (not the most original of the group, but effective nonetheless) and the comedy-musical Song of the Dead, in which a man belts out a song while transforming into a zombie.

All seven films were shot on video, with budgets that were obviously next to nothing, and as it is with all collections, some movies are better than others (if I had to choose three, I’d recommend the middle segments: Inside, Shadow of the Dead, and Mister Eryans). But, honestly, I think you should check out all of Blood Drive; there’s not a stinker in the bunch!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

#2,101. The White Buffalo (1977)

Directed By: J. Lee Thompson

Starring: Charles Bronson, Jack Warden, Will Sampson

Tag line: "Two legendary enemies unite to fight the charging white beast!!"

Trivia: Kim Novak earned $50,000 for just 3 days work

Equal parts action and mythos, 1977's The White Buffalo is an exciting, thought-provoking western, but it’s the superb cast that makes it so unforgettable.

The year is 1874, and Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson), using the alias “James Otis”, sets out on a quest to find the animal that has been haunting his dreams: the elusive, and very deadly, white buffalo. His journey will carry him deep inside territory controlled by the Cheyenne, who don’t take kindly to trespassers (especially white men). Joined by his old friend Charlie Zane (Jack Warden), Hickok trudges deep into the snowy wilderness to find and destroy the white buffalo. But he’s not the only one after this rare creature; Chief Crazy Horse (Will Sampson) of the Sioux nation, whose infant daughter was killed when the Buffalo attacked his village, also plans to bring the great beast down. Realizing they have a common enemy, Hickok and Crazy Horse form a temporary alliance, but which of them will be the first to finish the job?

Equipped with a pair of shades and his usual bad-ass attitude, Bronson gives a terrific performance as the legendary Hickok, who is bound and determined to see this adventure through to the end. Like a good many western heroes, Hickok has his dark side (his hatred of Native Americans caused him to gun down an innocent man, making him the enemy of all local tribes), and the dreams he’s having of the white buffalo may be the result of a lingering illness (he contracted syphilis from a prostitute years earlier). Still, despite his flaws, Bronson’s Hickok is a stand-up guy, and never backs down from a fight; at one point, he’s jumped in a saloon by troops loyal to his longtime adversary, military officer Tom Custer (Ed Lauter), but manages to finish them off with a few quick shots.

In addition to Bronson, The White Buffalo also features Native American Will Sampson, who has an undeniable screen presence (which served him well in his two most memorable roles: the deceptively mute Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the helpful Medicine Man Taylor in Poltergeist II: The Other Side). Joining them both is the always reliable Jack Warden as Hickok’s loyal friend Charlie Zane, an old codger who dislikes Native Americans even more than Hickok. The movie also has its share of awesome celebrity cameos, including Slim Pickens (as a riled-up stage coach driver), Kim Novak (as Poker Jenny, a former flame of Wild Bill’s), Clint Walker (as Whistling Jack Kileen, who has a score to settle with Hickok), and John Carradine (appearing in a single scene as a undertaker with an Irish Brogue).

As with most westerns, The White Buffalo has some exciting shoot-outs (aside from the showdown with Custer’s men in the bar, there’s a tense sequence where Hickok, Zane, and Crazy Horse face off against 15 heavily armed Native Americans). Yet the film’s most thrilling moments involve the titular creature, the white buffalo, which remains something of a mystery throughout. Director J. Lee Thompson did a great job building suspense in the scenes featuring the buffalo, and was careful not to show the creature itself to often (it was obviously animatronic). Throw in the excellent cast, and you have what amounts to an intensely entertaining ‘70s western.

Monday, May 16, 2016

#2,100. Symphony in F (1940)

Produced By: The Ford Motor Company

Score Composed by: Edwin E. Ludig

Release: This film was shown regularly at the 1940 New York World's Fair

Trivia: Most of the Ford-related footage was shot at the company's Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan

From the Earth come the materials to be transformed for human service by Ford men, management and machines”.

Symphony in F, a promotional short for Ford Motors, was included as a bonus feature on my DVD for Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Released in 1940, the movie combines documentary footage and stop-motion animation to celebrate a landmark in the company’s history: the manufacturing of its 28 millionth car, and while Symphony in F is undoubtedly a glorified commercial for Ford, it’s not without its charms.

The film opens with footage of various manufacturing plants across the United States, turning out everything from cotton to lumber, all of which were used by Ford to build their vehicles. Once the raw materials are delivered (by way of a train), we’re shown the assembly process, and as each new car rolls off the line, a counter adds another number, moving faster and faster as it approaches the 28 million mark. Then, when we’re a digit or two away from that magical milestone, an animated man pops to life and leads a parade of auto parts, all marching in unison as a crowd of people (some animated, some real) watch in amazement, cheering them on.

I suppose I should start by telling you that the 10-minute version of Symphony in F I watched is not complete; produced for the 1940 World’s Fair in New York, the entire movie (which is 17 minutes long) begins with an animated segment (much like the one that closes the film out) before launching into the scenes at the manufacturing facilities. But even in this truncated state, Symphony in F is fairly interesting. The animation sequences are certainly well-done, but it’s the real-life, documentary-style scenes at the factories I found most enjoyable (in particular, the process by which glass is made, which included a glassblower and an assembly line for the car’s side windows).

In addition to praising the American production system, Symphony in F harkens back to an era before TV commercials, when companies relied on motion pictures to “get the word out” about their products. And while some may roll their eyes at the grandstanding that occurs towards the end, Ford’s Symphony in F is an entertaining time capsule of a film, and one I was glad I got a chance to see.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

#2,099. Sea Child (2015)

Directed By: Minha Kim

Writen by: Islay Bell-Webb, Minha Kim

Awards: Won an Honorable Mention for Best Animated Short at the 2016 Nashville Film Festival

Trivia: It took director Minha Kim 8 months to paint the individual frames of this film

It took director Minha Kim a year to produce Sea Child, a 7-minute animated short about a maturing girl on the verge of becoming a woman. Every frame was hand-painted, a process that itself required 8 months to complete, and Kim often worked tirelessly on the project, sometimes painting 7 days a week. It was a gargantuan effort to produce what proved to be a very poignant, extremely personal film.

A young girl, who lives with her grandmother by the sea, awakens from a nightmare and follows a group of men into town, where she comes face-to-face with her birth mother. All the while, the girl struggles with her changing body, and the doubts and insecurities that all children experience when faced with the realities of adulthood.

The animation style that Minha Kim employs throughout Sea Child is, at times, jarring (it isn’t until the film’s young protagonist enters town that splashes of color are introduced), as are the images themselves; in exploring the changes her character is undergoing, Kim doesn’t shy away from nudity, and the final sequence revolves around the girl’s first menstrual cycle (the scene in which the girl encounters her mother is also unsettling). Yet, at the same time, Sea Child is quite beautiful, telling the story of a girl’s passage into adulthood in a manner that is undeniably fascinating.

It’s really hard put my finger on a specific thing that was my inspiration for Sea Child”, director Minha Kim told Filmbuzz in a recent interview, “but large parts of the story and the visuals came from my memories of being a child, and the strange feeling I felt of ‘growing up’”. Drawing from her personal experiences, Kim has crafted a singularly unique, often stunning film that has no problem whatsoever getting its point across.

Sea Child Trailer from Sverre Sørdal on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

#2,098. So You've Grown Attached (2014)

Directed By: Kate Tsang

Starring: Levi Abrino, Cindy Cheung, Madeleine Conner

Premiere: This film premiered at the 2014 San Francisco International Film Festival

Trivia: Featured in season 3 of the TV series Film School Shorts

Director Kate Tsang’s 2014 short film So You’ve Grown Attached is a unique coming-of-age tale in that it’s told not from the perspective of Izzy (Madeleine Conner), the awkward girl growing into a young woman, but that of her imaginary friend, Ex (Simon Pearl), who must decide whether or not his continued presence is helping Izzy on her road to maturity.

Izzy, who, along with her single mother (Cindy Cheung), just moved into a small suburban neighborhood, passes the time by playing with her imaginary friend, Ex. After eight years together, Izzy and Ex have become inseparable, so when BearBear (voiced by Luke Matheny), the case worker at the Imaginary Friends front office, recommends retirement, Ex refuses to listen. But after his attempt to help Izzy buddy up to new neighbor Ron (Jake Miller) prove disastrous, Ex realizes it may be best if he voluntarily steps aside and lets his young companion get on with her life.

So You’ve Grown Attached has a bit in common with Pixar’s Toy Story series in that it shows us what happens to the objects of our youth when we finally outgrow them. For Ex, the realization that Izzy may no longer need him comes very suddenly; as the two play together outside, Izzy spots Ron sitting in his front yard, reading comic books. At first, Ex doesn’t understand what’s just occurred, but in that brief moment, Izzy discovered there are real people in the world, and that it wouldn’t be so bad to spend a little time with them as well. To stay in Izzy’s good graces, Ex reads a few magazines and offers suggestions on how she can impress Ron, but his advice is far from helpful. This, coupled with a sad story that BearBear tells of his own experiences as an imaginary friend, causes Ex to realize what must be done, and whether he likes it or not, he has to do it sooner than later.

Walking a fine line between comedy and pathos, So You’ve Grown Attached is a satisfyingly heartwarming film that might also bring a tear to your eye.

Friday, May 13, 2016

#2,097. For the First Time (1969)

Directed By: Octavio Cortázar

Starring: Charlie Chaplin

Trivia: The entire film was shot on April 12, 1967 in the village of Los Munos, in the Baracoa municipality of Cuba

Produced by the Cuban Film Institute, For the First Time is a wonderful little documentary that’s sure to delight cinephiles the world over.

For the First Time was shot in its entirety on April 12, 1967, when a “cine-mobile” truck carrying a generator and movie projector rolled into the small village of Los Munos. A remote village nestled deep in the mountains near Gunatanamo, Los Munos is well secluded (the driver comments at the beginning of this documentary that he’s had trouble in the past just getting his truck in there), and its residents rarely venture far from home. As a result, most of them have never seen a motion picture before. After gathering what appears to be the whole town together, the two men in the cine-mobile proceed to show the crowd excerpts from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. It was a huge success.

Designed to promote Cuba’s home-grown film industry, For the First Time kicks things off with a few interviews: first with the two men who spend 28 days a month living in the Cine-Mobile, driving it from town to town;, and then with the villagers themselves, many of whom admit they’ve never seen a movie before. Where this film truly excels, though, is in its second half, when we catch a glimpse of the faces of those viewing the film, and reacting to the images they’re seeing on the screen. The entire audience, young and old, howled with laughter as they watched the scene in Modern Times where Chaplin tests the “automatic feeder”, a contraption built to keep workers on the job during their lunch hour. 

Along with creating a new bunch of film fans (one villager, after viewing Modern Times, says “A movie is a beautiful and important thing”), the Cine-Mobile vehicle and For the First Time also prove just how magical moving images can be, and to see these people sitting back and enjoying something produced 30 years earlier definitely brought a smile to my face.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

#2,096. Coming Distractions (2004)

Directed By: Various

Starring: Tiffany Shepis, Lloyd Kaufman,

Tag line: "See what's behind 30 years of legendary filmmaking"

Trivia: Critic Roger Ebert appears briefly in one of the short films in this collection

Released around the time of their 30th anniversary, Troma Studios’ Coming Distractions is over 4 hours of trailers, short films, and other miscellany featuring all the nudity, gore, and gross-out humor we’ve come to expect from Lloyd Kaufman and company.

Kicking things off with a short introduction (which offers a history of the studio and their various accomplishments), Coming Distractions then presents us with a plethora of movie trailers, separated into four categories. In the horror section we have previews of The Legend of the Chupacabra, a 1999 found footage-style film released on the heels of The Blair Witch Project, as well as a few other “highbrow” titles, including Rabid Grannies, Killer Condom, Redneck Zombies and Curse of the Cannibal Confederates. The Comedy category offers the likes of Fatty Drives the Bus and Blondes Have More Guns, while in Action there’s Surf Nazis Must Die, Troma’s War and Femme Fontaine: Killer Babe for the C.I.A. Perhaps most interesting of all was the inclusion of a Documentary section, with one film in particular cautching my eye: All the Love You Cannes, in which Kaufman and associates invade the French town just in time for its annual film festival (Troma actually had a retrospective at Cannes one year). Rounding out the trailers is a “Top 10” category, where we see previews for Troma’s most popular films, including Bloodsucking Freaks, The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘em High, and Tromeo and Juliet

Next up is a peek at some of the studio’s short films, from PSAs (there’s one for pollution, and another for masturbation) and music videos (for the bands Lunachicks and Seeing Red) to a comedy or two, such as Rashomoron and Toxie Gets Killed (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t really). Yet my favorite short in this section is the one that shined a spotlight on “Tromette” Tiffany Shepis, who, after getting her start in Tromeo and Juliet went on to bigger and better things, hosting Troma’s Edge TV for a while before breaking away from the studio (she was quite good in Nightmare Man). A sexy, talented brunette with plenty of confidence, Shepis is always a treat to watch, and I enjoyed getting a chance to find out a bit more about her.

Fans of Troma will eat up Coming Distractions, and it's also a good introduction for the uninitiated, who are sure to see a few things in this collection they’ve never seen before!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

#2,095. One Froggy Evening (1955)

Directed By: Chuck Jones

Starring: Bill Roberts

Trivia: No voice is heard except the frog

Trivia: Steven Spielberg once described this as "the most perfect cartoon ever made"

Steven Spielberg called it “The Citizen Kane of Animated Films”, and in 2003 the U.S. Library of Congress deemed it so “culturally significant” that they selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (side note: that same year also saw movies like Gold Diggers of 1933, Patton, White Heat and Young Frankenstein enter the registry). It’s even been named the 5th best cartoon of all-time by 1,000 professionals working in the animation field. That’s a lot of praise to heap on what’s generally considered a kid’s cartoon, but One Froggy Evening deserves every bit of it, and probably more besides.

While working on a demolition crew, a man finds a box cemented inside the cornerstone of an old building. To his amazement, the box is home to what is likely the world’s only performing frog! As the talented amphibian belts out tunes Like “Hello My Baby”, “I’m Just Wild about Harry” and “The Michigan Rag” (a song written especially for this short), the construction worker dreams of the money he’s going to make once people realize he owns a dancing frog. Unfortunately, the frog performs only for him; the moment anyone else is watching, it stops dead in its tracks and transforms into an ordinary amphibian. Try as he might, the man cannot convince the world that his frog (which, in the ‘70s, was given the name “Michigan J. Frog” by the short’s director Chuck Jones) is anything special.

There’s a lot to love about One Froggy Evening, from its upbeat musical numbers (all performed by Bill Roberts) to the hilarious situations that the construction worker finds himself in (my favorite is when he rents out a theater, then draws a big crowd by offering “Free Beer”, only to be disappointed once the curtain finally goes up). Yet what I find most impressive is that, aside from the music, One Froggy Evening gets the job done in complete silence; the human characters never utter a word throughout the entire short.

By combining awesome visual gags with catchy, toe-tapping music, director Jones and his crew have created a mini-masterpiece, and I'm sure that One Froggy Evening will continue to entertain kids and adults alike for many years to come.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

#2,094. The Mummy's Shroud (1967) - Hammer Horror Movies

Directed By: John Gilling

Starring: André Morell, John Phillips, David Buck

Tag line: "Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet!"

Trivia: This was the last Hammer production to be shot at Bray Studios

The Mummy’s Shroud was the third entry in Hammer’s Mummy series, behind 1959’s The Mummy and ‘64s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, and by this point, the series had run out of steam.

Following a pre-title sequence set 2,000 years ago, in which we learn the history of the boy pharaoh Kah-To-Bey (Toolsie Persaud) and his faithful servant Prem (Dickie Owen), The Mummy’s Shroud transports us to 1920’s Egypt, where an expedition to find the burial chamber of Kah-To-Bey is currently underway. Led by the prestigious archaeologist Sir Basil Walden (Andre Morell), the expedition, which also includes Sir Basil’s assistants Paul (David Buck), Harry (Tim Barrett), and Claire de Sange (Maggie Kimberly), has been missing for a month, and wealthy aristocrat Stanley Preston (John Phillips), who financed the mission, has come to Egypt to help look for them.

But Sir Basil and his team aren’t lost; they’re simply closing in on their ultimate destination, and as luck would have it, Preston meets up with the group just as they find Kah-To-Bey’s final resting place. Despite the warnings of Hasmid (Roger Delgado), the tomb’s guardian, who tells them a curse awaits those who desecrate the boy Pharaoh’s body, the group transports Kah-To-Bey’s remains back to Cairo. But along with the fame that their discovery brings them, Preston, Sir Basil and the others find themselves being hunted by an ancient mummy (Eddie Powell), the protector of Kah-To-Bey, who will not rest until all of them are dead.

Like most Hammer films, The Mummy’s Shroud features some excellent music (the score, composed by Don Banks, is amazing) and top-notch performances. John Phillips is simultaneously slimy and arrogant as “money man” Stanley Preston, who tries to convince the world he himself was responsible for locating Kah-To-Bey’s tomb (Preston even arranges to have Sir Basil, who was suffering from a nasty snake bite, shipped off to an asylum to get him out of the way). Also quite good are Richard Warner as Inspector Barrani of the Egyptian police force (who is investigating the mysterious murders committed by the mummy); and the always-reliable Michael Ripper, who plays Longbarrow, Preston’s sheepish personal assistant. And while the pre-title sequence (where we’re whisked away to ancient Egypt) wouldn’t rank as one of Hammer’s best flashbacks, it was good enough to start the movie off on the right foot.

Unfortunately, The Mummy’s Shroud doesn’t have much else going for it. Missing are the impressive set pieces that graced most of Hammer’s earlier films (including the original Mummy), and the make-up effects on the mummy itself are especially weak (his face looks like its covered in Papier-mâché, and instead of being wrapped in bandages, this mummy wears what looks like tan pajamas). 

Worst of all, though, is the fact that the first half of The Mummy’s Shroud is dialogue-heavy, and moves along at a snail’s pace. Tings do liven up a bit in the second half, and the finale, complete with some impressive special effects, is pretty damn exciting. Alas, it’s too little too late (the creature itself doesn’t even appear until we’ve past the halfway point). Slow and plodding The Mummy’s Shroud ranks as one of the dullest Hammer films I’ve seen in a while.