Saturday, August 30, 2014

Episode #302: Lost Freaks

Welcome back for another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week we are joined by Todd, great friend of the show, for coverage of Freaks (1932) directed by Tod Browning and Lost Souls (1980) directed by Tun Fei Mou. We want to thank Todd for coming on and programming the show, he does a ton of favors for us and we admire all his hard work!!!

Direct download: ggtmc_302.mp3 
 
Emails to midnitecinema@gmail.com

Adios!!!



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Killer Cop (1975)

Matteo (Claudio Cassinelli) is an Italian cop muddling his way through the daily routine of chasing down drug smugglers and general scofflaws.  However, his life takes a turn for the dramatic when a hotel lobby is bombed by scag fiend Franco (Bruno Zanin) and his cohorts, Rocco (Paolo Poiret) and Falena (Valeria D’Obici).  

It is difficult to discuss Luciano Ercoli’s Killer Cop (aka La Polizia Ha Le Mani Legate) without talking a little bit about the political climate in Italy at the time of its production.  I also feel it is necessary to state that I’m in no way an expert on the particulars of this point in the nation’s history except for extreme generalities, so I’ll paste together what I think is enough to give you an idea (from some admittedly hastily assembled internet research, so take it for what it is).  This is because the film doesn’t deal with the usual nefarious criminal element we’re used to seeing in many Eurocrime films (which are still reflective of the time, just not quite like this).  This one deals with domestic terrorism.  Now, the Seventies in Italy are often referred to as the Years of Lead due to the massive amount of bombings and shootings perpetrated by activists on both the right and the left.  No one was spared, be they factory workers, police officers, students, or politicians.  The culprits were just as diverse as the victims with affiliations from communist to fascist and everything in between (and probably a few outside of all of them).  Supposedly, this film’s plot was inspired by the 1969 bombing of the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura headquarters (known as the Piazza Fontana Bombing), but from what I gathered the explosion is the only actual link between truth and fiction.  

In mid-Twentieth Century Italy, one almost needs a score card to keep track of the factions, their ideologies, and their activities, and one would still likely wind up with one hell of a tangle of threads to navigate.  Though one really has to wonder at what point is the line crossed between politics and bloodshed, especially in one’s own backyard?  What I mean is, when does a person go from being an activist to simply being a killer?  While this question does intrigue me, it doesn’t seem to intrigue the filmmakers, because it is taken as given that this is the atmosphere in which these characters live.  This is the Italy with which Matteo and company regularly deal.  Ergo, it requires no explanation to an audience, and for people unfamiliar with this aspect of the country’s past, it can be a bit confusing.  Even blame for the hotel bombing is nebulous, with characters on a tram blaming “the Reds,” “the fascists,” and “the anarchists,” by turns.  Since no one can pin down who did the deed, their purpose goes out the window.  It’s just another act of brutality to the common person, the actors inconsequential since there seems to be no overt discussion about the incidents after they occur (except in their narrative role).  The incidents themselves are the sum total of the perpetrators’ statements.  We assume that Franco, Rocco, and Falena are leftist militants, simply from their home.  Rocco and Falena are shown briefly watching a news report about the bombing.  Their apartment is small, their attitude casual, bohemian in some respects (as we’ve been taught to identify through film watching).  Again, we are given no introduction to the characters, and the scene doesn’t linger long enough to fill in any details.  It’s only after the very young Franco appears at this apartment that we understand that the three are in collaboration.  Meanwhile, Papaya (Sara Sperati), Matteo’s confidential informant and casual lay, is a weed-smoking college student.  She passes rumors and intelligence to him, but she is somewhat reluctant, considering herself on the side of the left-leaning students rather than the right-leaning police.  It’s an indication of the obstacles a cop like Matteo has to overcome to seek justice, as well as being indicative of the society on a whole.  

Despite their being the hands though, the bombers are not masterminds of any stripe.  At the time, there was the notion in Italy of a “strategy of tension” being played on the country.  This refers to the theory that there were nefarious forces at work behind the scenes, fomenting violence to their own ends.  Since communism was growing in popularity in Italy, naturally Western forces (read: the United States) would want this tamped down.  After all, this was at the height of the Cold War.  It makes sense, then, that agencies like the CIA and so forth would use whatever methods they needed to in order to keep Italy capitalist.  That said, while I know of no concrete evidence this was actually done in Italy, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it had been, but still…  The puppet masters behind the bombing are not identified to the viewers.  Their minions are, to be sure.  But the actual power brokers pulling the strings are enigmatic.  They are shown in single shot scenes, their faces never revealed (with the exception of their assassin played by Giovanni Cianfriglia), though they also make no real effort to remain in the shadows of the frame.  

Two of the main characters wear eyeglasses, and for me this is a statement that the general populace (left and right) cannot see the truth (though one is also clearly more myopic than the other).  And still the villains’ motivations remain ambiguous.  They state that only a pylon was supposed to be blown up as a protest.  Why?  For the right?  For the left?  We’re never told, and therein lies the interesting bit.  The bosses use the leftist students to do their dirty work.  The fact that they claim no credit (even though it was a botched job to begin with) or speak at all in terms of their movement’s purpose implies that there is none outside of the anarchy created for their own ends (maybe they’re just anarchists?).  This is further reinforced by how they deal with the fallout, and it’s hinted that this was the plan either way.

Yet in the midst of all these maneuverings, there are still honest men.  Aside from the aforementioned Matteo and Luigi, there is Minty (Arthur Kennedy), the gruff but earnest judge in charge of the investigation.  He is a no-bullshit, all-business type of guy, and he doesn’t play politics or suffer fools.  Naturally, this irks those who do, and even despite Minty’s strict adherence to the law, it’s shown that he is still blocked and duped by these exterior/extraneous forces.  This is not to say that he is gullible enough to be completely hornswoggled but certainly just enough to be frustrated by his partial failures.  Still, we get the feeling that he has been here before, and he will be here again.  In a way, this mirrors Matteo and his very on-the-nose love for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  Nonetheless, the “white whale” he and Minty pursue is one worth chasing.  This is not merely a quest for vengeance.  This is a search for justice.  That this is ultimately confounded to some degree echoes the vexation of the country and its people, subjected to forces beyond their control, unable to conquer them, but resigned to their roles alongside them.

MVT:  The story is not what you would expect from this genre.  It is not action-packed, but it is extremely compelling from the opening to the ending.  That there are elisions of time and exposition in the narrative may cause confusion, but (at least for me) it makes sense by the end (mostly).

Make Or Break:  The hotel bombing is the standout.  It is clearly done on a small budget, but each of its cuts achieves a nice sense of verisimilitude and sustained horror.  The wide shot at its culmination sums up all that needs saying as well as providing the through line that will touch the characters’ lives for the rest of the film.

Score:  7.25/10   

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Instant Action: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)



Severus Snape was always a dicey fellow, eh?

Screenplay By: Pen Densham & John Watson
Directed By: Kevin Reynolds

As big and dumb of a Hollywood action-adventure movie as one could ever hope to find. I’ll tell you what, I don’t care how big and dumb this movie is. I love every second of this movie. Every dumb gesture, every over orchestrated musical cue, and every attempt at insipid sentiment. There’s nothing wrong with a Hollywood movie that pleases, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is an example of a Hollywood movie that pleases.

There are a few areas where Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves genuinely excels. The location filming and the costume design are of special note. They evoke the feel of being in an olden time, of really being present in Sherwood Forest. It’s not an easy sensation to achieve, especially considering I obviously wasn’t alive back when Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is supposed to of taken place. Yet achieve that sensation the movie does, and I applaud the movie for its efforts in this realm.

Another area where Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves has always impressed is in its action scenes. They are simple action scenes really, but they are very well done. Kevin Reynolds is able to establish place and time easily. He also has an eye for blending swashbuckling old school action with a more modern savagery. It’s an odd mixture, but in this film it works surprisingly well. The attempts at emotion within the action also work nicely. I could never shake the feeling that I was watching an old Hollywood action-adventure with the way Mr. Reynolds presented his pathos within the action.

In most other areas Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves should be a dud. The acting is pretty bad, the score is overwrought, and the film is full of overly sentimental moments. For whatever reason none of these potential deficits end up being actual deficits. The film is able to pull all of its elements together into one cohesive package. The well done and the subpar facets of the film come together to make Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves an enjoyable experience.

Like I said earlier, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is big and dumb. Usually that’s a bad thing, but not when it comes to this motion picture. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves succeeds precisely because it is okay with being big and dumb. The mawkishness, the overdone nature of the picture, it just works. I enjoy watching Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves just as much now as I did oh so many years ago and that is the sign of an action film worth its weight in gold.

Rating:

***

Cheers,

Bill Thompson

Episode #301: Scanner Raid

Welcome back!!!

This week we are sponsored by diabolikdvd.com and it was Large William's turn to program the big show. Films covered this week are Scanners (1981) directed by david Cronenberg and The Raid 2: Berandal (2014) directed by Gareth Evans!!!

Direct download: ggtmc_301.mp3 
 
Emails to midnitecinema@gmail.com

Adios!!!



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shadowman (1974)

Via scrolling text we are informed that, on Friday, October 13, 1307, the Knights Templar were ordered burned at the stake by King Philip IV of France.  Their crimes: Heresy, Sorcery, Sodomy, and Black Magic.  But the question remains: whatever happened to their fabled treasure?  Cut to Maxime de Borrego (Roberto Bruni) and his snooping butler Albert (Annet Yvon Sarray).  Maxime is a modern day Templar and knows all the secrets about their booty (read that any way you like).  Albert, being the faithful servant he is, sells this information to Mademoiselle Ermance (who is totally not a man in drag played by Jacques Champreux, who also happens to be the film’s writer).  Next thing you know, the titular Shadowman (three guesses who he is played by) launches his quest for the treasure, and nothing is going to stand in his way.

Shadowman (aka Nuits Rouges) is Georges Franju’s final theatrical film (according to IMDb), and it is set firmly in the realm of the European Supercrook.  Characters like Diabolik, Kriminal, Judex (about whom Franju also made a film along with Champreux), Fantomas, and so on all play on the audience’s dual interest in schemes and geniuses (even when they’re not so much).  Like Hannibal Smith on The A-Team, we love it when a plan comes together.  We even love it when a plan falls apart.  But most of all, we love watching a plan unfold, good or bad.  This is why we love Heist films, why Police Procedurals are perennial television favorites, why films like Escape From Alcatraz are so involving.  So, what could be better than a Supercrook after a legendary pile of mystical riches?  

The criminal mind behind the machinations is important, as well.  We love masterminds, whether they be for good (Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes) or evil (The Master, Professor James Moriarty).  These people breathe rarefied air from us, because their minds work on a different level.  But our acceptance of their superior intellects all boils down to the writing behind them and the actors’ portrayals.  Anyone can claim that they’re a genius, but if they cannot make an audience buy it, they’re just blowhards.  Geniuses can be stoic or manic or a combination of the two, but they usually favor one over the other (and even then there is typically a limit to how long their demeanor can be maintained under duress).  Shadowman, rather surprisingly, goes way over the top into Cobra Commander levels of psychopathy (probably even higher).  His penetrating eyes bug out at every opportunity, and he flings himself into situations with unhinged abandon.  This is not the cool customer we’ve come to expect from the likes of Anthony Hopkins’ suave Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  He will kill, and he has no compunction about doing so.  His female right hand (Gayle Hunnicutt, billed solely as “La Femme”) mirrors Shadowman’s lunacy and even ups it a notch, if such a thing is possible.  In the midst of a mission, she kills an elderly lady through whose window she enters.  A few moments later, she watches the blood drip down, a soulless, dead glaze in her eyes.  This sequence is backed by a leisurely, ethereal score (also by Franju) which is atypical for action scenes but gives this one an almost haunting quality.  These characters don’t just kill because they are forced into a corner.  For these people, murder is something of a perk.

The opposition in the film is laid out in terms of new versus old, of technology versus antiquity.  The Templars depicted here are still an ancient sect.  They carry their rituals out in old catacombs, surrounded by carved rock.  Even in de Borrego’s house, there are hidden sliding panels (powered by Norelco electric shavers, by the sound of them), but they lead to dank, musty, old cellars and tunnels.  The most modern they get is in their use of radioactive “Alchemist’s Gold” to track Shadowman (and even this is ancient in nature, requiring no moving parts or electricity).  By contrast, Shadowman’s lair is slick and sterile, all white and steel.  There are banks of computers from which he controls things like his mechanical taxi driver (I believe Paul Verhoeven probably saw this before making Total Recall; yes, that’s a joke).  He has a doctor on call to turn humans into mindless killing machines in his service.  He does partake in the world around him, but he is just as adept at watching it through a tube and acting directly on it through same (manipulating reality through televised media).   The most low-fi Shadowman and his cohorts get is in La Femme’s use of a blowgun.  Needless to say, the police in pursuit of Shadowman (lead by Goldfinger himself, Gert Fröbe) are almost entirely ineffectual, most likely because they sit between these two extremes.  It doesn’t help any that they seem to not give much of a shit whenever they have an opportunity to spring a trap.  I suppose this could be a bit of nigh-existential angst inserted by the filmmakers in regards to the common man and feelings of powerlessness.  That said, the acting from all concerned does not go very far in selling this anyway (or go very far at all, if I’m being completely honest).

The core concept behind Shadowman lies in notions of identity, or more specifically, lack of identity.  Shadowman is referred to repeatedly as the man without a face (recalling Franju’s own, superlative Les Yeux Sans Visage).  We never get his real name, nor do we ever lay eyes on his true appearance (or if we do, this is never indicated to us as such).  If anything, he is his pure self only when wearing his red hood, his head a featureless orb with wild eyes.  When he wants to be seen, it is always in disguise.  His true persona generally only comes out in the dead of night (making his name even more relevant).  He surrounds himself with assistants who also wear blank masks (though theirs are black, differentiating him in the only way he can, all things considered).  He has an army of zombie-esque killers, and they are strictly automatons.  They are expendable both in the sense that they do Shadowman’s bidding but also in their planned exploitation for the corporations and militaries of the world who will be able to purchase them as disposable labor/fodder.  We do see La Femme’s face, but she wears a mask of apathy at every turn, distinguished only by the occasional sneer or grimace.  Shadowman and his ilk work towards a stripping away of individuality, the ultimate in horror and the ultimate thing we, as people, struggle against on a daily basis.  What makes it worse is that his motives are nothing but selfish.  He isn’t doing this to make everyone equal.  He is doing it so that he has power over the faceless masses.  Consequently, he cannot succeed, but he also cannot be defeated, because he is the stone that grinds us all down.  And even at the top of the mountain, it still hangs overhead.

MVT:  The mean streak running through this movie is intriguing.  In one sense, it makes it a little harder to get involved in the film.  In another sense, it separates this one from the majority of its kind.  I regard that as a good thing.

Make Or Break:  The Make is the scene when Shadowman shows up at an auction house.  He appears from behind a full-size statue.  But it isn’t just that he glides out from behind it, like he’s emerging on rollers from some surreal Trojan Horse.  He is also in the same position as the statue, mimicking its form and creating a simulated animation of the inanimate.

Score:  6.5/10