Thursday, August 27, 2020

#2,515. Flavia the Heretic (1974)

Flavia the Heretic, a 1974 Italian film, fits neatly into the nunsploitation subgenre, with sex and violence aplenty. But director Gianfranco Mingozzi takes things a step further by presenting the story of a woman who has grown weary of living in a male-dominated society, and decides to do something about it.

Puglia, Italy, circa 1400. After angering her father by taking a lover, Flavia (Florinda Bolkan) is sent to a convent, where she witnesses a number of atrocities committed against women by the local men. Shocked and angered, Flavia risks her position as well as her life by siding with an invading Muslim army, in the hopes they will help her destroy those who have wronged both she and her fellow sisters.

Flavia the Heretic has a rough-around-the-edges look and feel, which, seeing as its story takes place in the early part of the 15th century, works in its favor. You fully accept that you are watching events set hundreds of years in the past. The film’s real strength, though, lies in the performance of Florinda Bolkan, and the fact that her character is bold enough to do something most women of this time period (or, indeed, most leads in a typical nunsploitation film) wouldn’t dream of doing: hitting back against those who mistreat her, and fighting for her independence regardless of the consequences.

As mentioned above, Flavia the Heretic has plenty of nudity and violence. There is also a graphic rape scene (set in - of all places - a pig pen), and when the sexual passions of Flavia’s friend Sister Livia (Raika Juri) are ignited by a visiting Tarantula cult (one of the movie’s most memorable scenes), the poor nun is punished for her “transgression” by being tied to a table, stripped naked, and having hot oil poured onto her breast.

Flavia The Heretic does lose its way towards the end, when Flavia is in full revenge mode. After she leads the Muslim army into the convent, the nuns are made to drink an elixir that stimulates their libido, leading to what I can only describe as a drug-induced orgy (with a dash of cannibalism thrown in for good measure). Though certainly unique, this sequence feels out of place with what has gone before it.

Still, as nunsploitation flicks go, this one is more interesting than the standard fare. Be warned, though: Flavia the Heretic is an often brutal motion picture (with its most disturbing bit of violence coming right at the end), so if you’re squeamish, you might want to think twice before sitting down and watching it. But by straddling the line between straight-up exploitation and historical drama as well as it does, I was ultimately impressed with the results
Rating: 7 out of 10 (worth watching if you think you can stomach it)

Thursday, August 20, 2020

#2,514. The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) - The Films of Peter Greenaway

Director Peter Greenaway’s 1982 film The Draughtsman’s Contract is set in a bygone era (1690’s England, to be exact), and follows the exploits of the upper class, some of whom we meet at the outset as they are attending a dinner party. 

Everyone is dressed elegantly, yet the various conversations we are privy to prove anything but graceful. There’s plenty of not-too-subtle sexual innuendo, and Mrs. Clement (Lynda La Plante) even tells a story from her childhood, about how her father, petrified that a fire might someday destroy his posh estate, kept hundreds of water buckets in a small room, to fight any potential blaze. During the course of the conversation, Mrs. Clement confesses that she and her brothers, when the need would arise, often urinated in these buckets.  

"Those buckets were filled before my mother died”, she says, “I expect them to be still there, with the same water of thirty years ago, I shouldn't wonder - mixed with a little of myself, of course. I used to pee like a horse. I still do”.  

As we see throughout The Draughtsman’s Contract, the 17th-century aristocracy, in spite of their titles and wealth, were not above scandal, intrigue, gossip, and, yes, even a little toilet humor.  

In an effort to win back the attentions of her estranged husband (Dave Hill), who is more impressed with his property than his family, Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) commissions noted draughtsman and amateur artist Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins) to create a series of landscape drawings of the family’s estate while her husband is abroad. 

Mr. Neville, who fears he may be called away by another employer at any time, refuses at first, only to agree when Mrs. Herbert succumbs to his demands that she, in turn, provide him with room and board for the duration, and meet with him privately each and every day for sexual favors.  

Though it causes her some emotional distress, Mrs. Herbert fulfills her end of the bargain. As for the rest of the Herbert household, Mr. Talmann (Hugh Fraser), the Herbert’s son-in-law, objects to Neville’s abrasive manner, while his wife. the Herbert’s beloved daughter Mrs. Talmann (Anne-Louise Lambert), is agreeable to the situation. 

But as Mr. Neville continues to draw, he notices, on more than one occasion, several garments scattered around the grounds, all of which suggest that Mrs. Herbert’s husband may never have made it out of town. In fact, he might very well have been murdered, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who could have possibly finished him off.  

The Draughtsman’s Contract is often quite funny (along with its witty dialogue, there’s a recurring joke involving a naked man - painted head to toe to look like a statue - who appears in the background of numerous scenes). What's more, the movie is tastefully presented (Mr. Neville’s instructions to the household, telling them which portions of the estate they must avoid during the time he is drawing, are as precise as they are condescending). 

Then, when the potential murder mystery takes shape, the story grows a bit more complex, mostly because anyone and everyone, including Mr. Neville, had both opportunity and motive to kill Mr. Herbert.  

How it finally plays out is shocking, to say the least, and once all was said and done, I found The Draughtsman’s Contract to be a very satisfying motion picture experience. 
Rating: 9.5 out of 10 (buy it and watch it several times)  

Thursday, August 13, 2020

#2,513. Deluge (1933)

A pre-code disaster film with some astounding special effects (including the total destruction of New York City), 1933’s Deluge stars Sidney Blackmer (who years later played Roman Castevet in 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby) as Martin, a man who loses his entire family when unexplained meteorological events bring about the near-destruction of the entire planet.  

Convinced that his wife Helen (Lois Wilson) and their two children perished during the cataclysmic event, Martin eventually meets and falls in love with Claire (Peggy Shannon), a professional swimmer.  But can the two avoid a roving gang of thugs, one of whom (played by Fred Kohler) is bound and determined to make Claire his wife? 

Directed by Felix E. Feist, Deluge gets off to a quick start (the world is all but destroyed by the 15-minute mark) and features scenes that, even today, are a bit shocking (at one point, Martin stumbles upon the body of a young girl, and the inference is that she was raped and killed by the gang that’s harassing Claire). 

The cast is serviceable (Peggy Shannon delivers the strongest performance), and the post-apocalyptic storyline is good for a few thrills, but it’s the special effects, complete with a tsunami that obliterates the Statue of Liberty (a la The Day After Tomorrow), that make Deluge a must-see for classic movie aficionados.
Rating 8 out of 10 (watch it now!) 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

#2,512. The Captain (2017)

Written and directed by Robert Schwentke, 2017’s The Captain is a black & white German film set during the final weeks of World War II. 

While trying to evade the authorities, German army deserter Willi Herold (played to perfection by Max Hubacher) stumbles upon an abandoned vehicle, inside of which he finds a Nazi officer's uniform. 

Initially, Herold puts the uniform on to hide from his pursuers, but it isn’t long before he starts acting the part, assembling a band of thieves as his own personal army and ordering them to accompany him to a nearby prisoner camp. Claiming he has direct authority from Hitler himself, Herold seizes control of the camp, inflicting harsh punishment on the German soldiers held there, all of whom (like Herold himself) have been accused of desertion. 

Expertly crafted by director Schwentke, The Captain is an often brutal motion picture about the corruptible influence of power (Herold not only joins the ranks of those who were after him, but becomes the very man he himself had feared the most). Yet what is most disturbing about this 2017 film isn’t the violence (which is plentiful), but the fact that it is based on the true story of a man history has dubbed the Executioner of Emsland! 

Hard-hitting and unflinching in its approach, The Captain features moments every bit as shocking as those Spielberg gave us in Schindler’s List. Believe me when I tell you this is a film you won’t soon forget. 
Rating: 9.5 out of 10 (Watch it now!)

Saturday, August 1, 2020

#2,511. Blinded by the Light (2019)

Now here’s a little gem from 2019 that took me by surprise! 

Based on a true story and set in 1987, Blinded By the Light whisks us to Luton, England, where Javed (Viveik Kalra), a Pakistani teen, changes his entire outlook on life after discovering the music of Bruce Springsteen. Not only do the Boss’s lyrics help him find the courage to stand up to his father (Kulvinder Ghir), a stubborn traditionalist, but Javed also learns how to deal with the racism and bigotry he and his family face on an almost daily basis. 

Kalra is strong in the lead role, and watching his character transform from a shy introvert into a confident young man will surely bring a smile to your face. But it’s the musical numbers, set to the rock ballads of The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, that make Blinded By The Light such a life-affirming experience (the Born to Run scene, where Javed and his friend Roops, played by Aaron Phagura, invade their high school’s radio station now ranks right up there with the street dance in 1980’s Fame as one of my all-time favorite musical sequences). 

Directed with plenty of style - and a lot of heart - by Gurinder Chadha, Blinded By The Light is a coming-of-age tale you won’t want to miss. Highly recommended! 
Rating: 9 out of 10 (watch it more than once)