Romeo/Juliet musical from ballet choreographer Robbins (who directed the Broadway version) and Hollywood’s own Wise, who shared the best director oscar. The movie won ten oscars total, and with its reputation still pretty huge, I thought I’d love it more than I did. In ‘scope and full of color, glad we held out for a high-def version at least.

Puerto Rican girl Maria (Natalie Wood, actually of Russian ancestry but whatever Hollywood) is in love with whitey Tony (Richard Beymer). But she hangs with the PR Sharks, and Tony co-founded the Whitey Jets, and the groups’ leaders (Marie’s brother Bernardo and Tony’s BFF Riff) die in a turf fight. PR Chino loves Maria, reveals that Tony killed her brother. Jets nearly rape messenger-of-peace Anita, who then lies and says Maria has been killed by Chino, who really kills Tony when he runs suicidally into the streets. Maria actually lives, Chino goes to jail and everyone is sad. Most of the songs were quite good though, and the dancing was all great.

Wood was a few years past Rebel Without a Cause and The Searchers, and Beymer would play Ben Horne in Twin Peaks. Riff had been a child star (Russ/Rusty Tamblyn), played the lead in George Pal’s Tom Thumb. Anita was Rita Moreno, star of The Electric Company through the 1970’s. Bernardo was George Chakiris, one of the dancing dudes who likes the Young Girls of Rochefort. Outdoor scenes were filmed not on massive sets but in a crumbling, condemned neighborhood of NYC. Wise followed up with a romance where Robert Mitchum plays a Nebraska lawyer.

Full of great twists that I’m about to give away. Soon after Ben Affleck’s wife disappears, and he’s sad and hanging out with his sympathetic sister (Carrie Coon of HBO show The Leftovers, also about disappearing people) and doing press, and the cops are slightly suspicious that Ben might be a murderer, Ben’s secret girlfriend shows up, turning the tables on his perfect husband image. Then after things start getting worse for Ben amd his sister is mortgaging the house to pay for celebrity lawyer Tyler Perry, the movie reveals wife Rosamund Pike (The World’s End), alive and well and plotting to frame him as a murderer as revenge for the secret girlfriend. Rosamund grew up the subject of her parents’ series of children’s books (Amazing Amy) and is not gonna settle for a less-than-amazing husband. She’s also not very street-smart, and soon loses all her money to thieving motel neighbors, and instead of heating up her plan to commit suicide and have her body’s discovery be the final nail in Ben’s coffin, she hides out with super-rich ex-boyfriend Neil Patrick Harris, then decides to claim the whole thing was an abduction, murders Neil and returns covered in blood to perfect husband Ben. Somehow it managed to outdo itself in the last couple minutes with the creepiest ending possible.

Novel/screenplay by Gillian Flynn. Fincher has kept the efficient snappy editing to the rhythm of dialogue from The Social Network. Who’d have thought circa 2004 that I’d end up liking Ben Affleck so much? Was going to quote from the Fincher interview in Film Comment but it’s all too good, can’t decide which bit is best.

DCairns: “Like a 40s women’s picture, the movie evokes a pleasurable response of condemnation mixed with admiration. The woman is bad, and we should want to see her punished, but she’s also very impressive, and we find ourselves rooting for her. At a certain point in the story, we are rooting for both man and wife — maybe this is what Fincher means by calling it a perfect date movie.” I certainly wonder what Katy would’ve thought, and what conversation would’ve ensued had we watched it together. Maybe someday she’ll have a semester off and we’ll run a week marathon of long movies I wish she’d seen with me: Gone Girl, Interstellar, Margaret

“What goes up must come down.”
“Brilliant!”

No dialogue for the first ten minutes, stylish use of camera, Vincent Price, and a mechanical band called Dr. Phibes Clockwork Wizards – this is already a favorite movie. Huge step up from the Freddie Francis anthology horrors I’ve watched in Shocktobers past. But British horror just can’t help itself from being campy.

Vulnavia and dog:

Hopefully this was an influence on Se7en, as Phibes (Price, a few years after Witchfinder General and The Oblong Box) takes revenge on the doctors present during the hospital death of his beloved wife via the ten curses of the pharaohs, killing doctors with bats, frogs, rats, locusts, etc. It also may be an influence on the Saw movies, as Chief Surgeon Joseph Cotton has to cut a key from inside his son’s chest before he’s killed by a slow acid drip.

Inspector Trout (Lindsay Anderson regular Peter Jeffrey) figures out the curses thing but doesn’t do much else besides attract unfunny fish-name jokes. Dr. Cotton actually knocks him out to go face Phibes alone. Phibes has an unexplained female assistant named Vulnavia (Virginia North of a James Bond movie and a James Bond knockoff movie). A guy who describes himself as a head-shrinker gets his head crushed by a Halloween III frog mask. Terry-Thomas has a cute role as a doctor who secretly watches snake-charmer films when the housekeeper is away; he bleeds to death but still returned for the sequel.

T-T:

Quality cinematography by Norman Warwick (Tales from the Crypt). Who is Fuest? He went straight from making acclaimed horror films to ABC after-school specials. Gotta check out his Phibes sequel and The Final Programme.

Amazing locust death (LOL at the full-body smiling-woman sketch):

Shaggy, homeless Dwight (Macon Blair of a Bubbles-starring horror-comedy called Hellbenders) learns of the release of Wade Cleland, imprisoned for killing Dwight’s parents, so kills that dude with a knife right away then cleans himself up and goes into hiding at his sister’s house (she is Amy Hargreaves, Ed Furlong’s dream girl in Brainscan).

Dwight’s family apparently had a feud with the gun-totin’ Clelands, due to a cheatin’ incident, and Wade had taken the prison time for his now-deceased father, who’d done the killing. By the time Dwight learns all this, he and his sister’s family are under attack, so he gets some help from a gun nut friend (Devin Ratray of Nebraska), kidnaps one Cleland and assaults the others.

Dwight checks on his kidnap victim:

Movie is getting critical credit for portraying the murders and injuries more realistically than usual, paying attention to the difficulty of each task. It’s also a tense, well-made thriller, which has become a rare thing.

Devin gives shootin’ lessons:

Angry Clelands:

“Which is the worst monger: fish, iron, rumor or war?”

Returning cast and situations from I’m Alan Partridge, which I watched eight years ago and barely remember, and Mid Morning Matters, which I haven’t checked out yet. Alan is wedged into a hostage plot, in which Colm Meaney (The Road to Wellville) takes over the radio station in revenge for the corporate takeover that got him fired. I knew all this going in, but I watched it anyway in the hopes that it’d be unremittingly hilarious – and it is! Even the opening titles are pure pleasure, and in fact I restarted the movie to see them again and almost watched the whole thing twice.

“Is there nothing more to life than carrying the burden of one’s past mistakes?”

Helene (the great Maria Casares of Orpheus) is engaged to Jean (Paul Bernard of some Jean Gremillon films), who misses their anniversary so she has dinner with Jacques instead, shortly before breaking up with Jean. It seems from the conversation to be a mutual agreement to part ways, but for her facial expressions and closing line (“I’ll have my revenge”).

Helene looks up old friend Agnes, a former dancer who has sunken to prostitution, with her awful mother living off her, and offers to help them out, puts them in an apartment where they can escape the men who hound Agnes, who now wants to see no one. But Helene manages to slyly hook her up with her recent ex Jean, and he falls for Agnes immediately but she takes some work.

“cabaret dancer” must be movie-code for prostitute:

Jean manages to get the reluctant Agnes (Elina Labourdette, later of Lola) to agree to marry him, and immediately after the wedding Helene reveals her plot: “You’ve married a tramp, now you must face the consequences,” an awful blow to a classy rich fellow. But scandal is no use – it’s assumed at the end that the couple ends up happy while Helene is bitter and alone.

Adapted by Jean Cocteau (the year before his own Beauty and the Beast) from a novel by Diderot (1700’s author of source novel for Rivette’s The Nun).

On a Bergman kick lately, so I meant to watch this and Hour of the Wolf for SHOCKtober, but only made it to one. The beginning of Bergman’s extensive work with cinematographer Sven Nykist, brilliant looking but with less of the extreme blacks of Smiles of a Summer Night and The Magician. Supposedly this was stylistically influenced by Akira Kurosawa, after which Sven and Ingmar created their own style.

Pure and flowery Karin with dark, suspicious Ingeri:

Karin (Birgitta Pettersson, a housemaid in The Magician) is the beautiful daughter of Tore (Max Von Sydow, The Magician himself) and Mareta (Birgitta Valberg of Port of Call), sent to church to deliver candles one Sunday wearing her nicest dress. Pregnant dark-haired servant girl Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom of Winter Light) comes along. The parents are devout Christians (especially mom, who whips herself in atonement) but the girls aren’t – Ingeri prays to Odin and Karin seems to only care about being spoiled by her parents and looking pretty for boys. Along the way Karin flirts with a boy whom Ingeri knows, and the two flee from an icky bridge keeper.

Commentary says the raven represents Odin

The raven appears right after the old man at the bridge, an Odin supporter:

While Karin is alone she comes across a grotesque gang of acrobat goat-herdsmen brothers, and shares her lunch with them, but the two older ones chase then rape and kill her, while the youngest watches, afraid.

The herdsmen:

Karin, first realizing she’s in danger:

The brothers continue on their travels, ask refuge at Tore and Mareta’s house, and in private offer to sell Mareta a beautiful dress – the one Karin was wearing when she left that morning. So the parents already know Karin is in trouble, possibly dead, when Ingeri comes along and confirms it to Tore. “Kill me first. My guilt is greater than theirs. I willed it to happen. Ever since I became with child I’ve hated her. The very day I prayed for it, he did it. It was him and me, not the herdsmen.”

Sad parents:

Tore puts himself through a purification ritual, wrestles a tree to the ground, then waits for the brothers to awaken and kills them all (knife, fire, and throwing the young boy into the wall). Ingeri walks them to their daughter’s resting place. Mareta: “I loved her too much, Tore, more than God himself. When I saw how she favored you, I began to hate you. It is me God meant to punish by this. I bear the guilt.” When Karin’s head is moved, a spring bubbles up from the ground beneath it. Tore senses God is speaking to him, knows he went too far killing the boy, and swears to devote the rest of his life to building a church on that spot.

Von Sydow, out for blood:

Earlier when Ingeri is preparing sandwiches for Karin’s lunch, she puts a live toad between slices of bread, which falls out just before the murder. The DVD commentary: “in ancient scandinavian folklore, toads were thought to be the devil in disguise.”

The movie won an oscar (against Clouzot’s La Verite), but the American and French critics who’d been Bergman’s biggest champions trashed it. Bergman later said it should be regarded as an aberration in his work, and never made another film in an historical setting.

Tree wrestling:

A decade later Wes Craven took the same story and made reprehensible trash out of it with Last House on the Left.

Opens with grainy shaky videocam footage of cussy drug addicts in an alley who then shoot a girl while on a hectic motorbike ride – meaningful cut to black with the words, in tiny print, “a film by daniel barber,” signaling that this will be an Important Film About Urban Problems (see also: the overbearing music throughout). That’s how Michael Caine treated it in interviews also. Normally Caine wouldn’t be into this sort of grimy personal revenge story of course, but this is an Important Work on a Meaningful Topic, not just some action catharsis. And some viewers even treated it that way – it won a couple of best-film awards – but me, I wanted some action catharsis and found that the movie delivered that well.

Also: Emily Mortimer plays a cop:

MC’s violent spree kicks off (after he has Lost Everything He Had, of course) with a parody scene of extreme urban decay. Caine visits an illegal dealer who sells him a gun while shooting up heroin into his leg while firing a pistol and smoking crack out the barrel while growing pot in his basement while sexually exploiting a young girl while threatening his partner and swearing up a storm and playing loud electro music. Predictably, that scene doesn’t end well, with Caine killing the dudes, taking the guns and burning the whole fucking place, which explodes behind him as he drives the girl to safety. There’s a long action-movie history of vigilante violence by One Man With Nothing Left To Lose Who Couldn’t Take It Anymore, and I don’t see why Sir Michael and crew have to deny that proud tradition and fake like they’re making some documentary expose about the streets, especially when their baddies are so cartoonishly evil. They could do with a few viewings of The Wire. Or hell, maybe street life is really this shitty in England – if so, I’ll take Baltimore any day.

Sho Aikawa starred in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Eyes of the Spider and Serpent’s Path, which felt like revenge-drama genre-killers, then he starred in Miike’s Dead or Alive series, which felt like an action genre-killer, now here he is starring in a by-the-books actioney revenge-drama for Miike. How quickly we forget. Or how quickly undistinguished screenwriter Toshimichi Ohkawa forgets, anyway. I get the feeling that Miike’s heart was in Big Bang Love this year, and Scars of the Sun was a standard studio flick a la One Missed Call.

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Not that it’s bad – just standard, well-made but with no particular flair or invention. Sho Aikawa’s hardworking architect hero is perhaps too blank of a character, though his acting is thoroughly excellent. Sho stumbles across some kids beating a homeless man senseless, moves to intervene and gets attacked himself, so he beats hell out of the youngsters then is surprised when the cops let them all go and tell him he’s in trouble for pummeling underage kids. The screenwriter wants us to know that youth crime is a problem in the city and that the laws aren’t equipped to deal with it. This is best expressed by having an unrepentant 15-year-old, shamed from having been beaten by Sho, kidnap and murder his young daughter. Better still would be if the ensuing media circus finds out about the earlier incident and portrays Sho as a bully who drove the kid to crime. And best of all, since we don’t want to accidentally end up with long scenes exploring the relationship of parents dealing with loss a la In The Bedroom, have the wife (Miho Ninagawa of Dream Cruise) kill herself straight away (we see her on a rooftop, then we see Sho walking past a car. Camera stops moving and I know the body will hit that car two seconds before it does).

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Three years later the murderous kid (Kamiki) is out of prison. Sho tracks down Kamiki’s parole officer Mayumi (above left), his slimeball lawyer, and his ex partner-in-crime, trying to find Kamiki and meet him face-to-face. The movie hammers its theme of criminal youth being coddled by the justice system as Kamiki is left free to create a new gun-toting youth-crime syndicate while Sho is treated as a dangerous criminal and watched closely. Finally Sho goes on the run, takes out the kids with guns, is jumped by Kamiki, shoots the parole officer by accident, then kills the hell out of Kamiki. Sho is either dying or going to jail, but the movie doesn’t tell us which, as he calls his sister’s cop boyfriend and tells him to take care of her, then roll credits.

I thought Kamiki was a girl for a while:
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The one cool stylish part: since Sho seems incapable of expressing emotion facially (not in general, just in this movie), Miike connotes his inner trauma cinematically, fading to black and white as he watches his wife die, and suddenly snapping back to color three years later after he’s returned to his old neighborhood to find Kamiki, a dripping faucet bringing back the memory of his wife’s bloody death.

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