Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison revels in the release of not one but two new Jackie Chan movies

Twenty years ago I did an interview with the amiable Jackie Chan and he told me he didn’t want to be a sixty-year old action star like Clint Eastwood. Well, he’s sixty-three now and guess what?

Jackie has had two movies released here in a month - and he has another nine (!) announced.

Still time to catch KUNG FU YOGA (Hong Kong/China, 2016) in the multiplexes and that’s a good idea. Basically it’s a big handsome kiddie pic with all the things kids like including snot, vomit and decomposing bodies. The plot, if you dignify it with that term, has archaeology Professor Jackie accompanied by a squad of good looking young people setting out to retrieve the treasure lost in the frozen wastes back in all digital history. The genial Eric Tsang makes another re-appearance. The glamorous Indian scientist is not what she seems and Bollywood nasty Sonu Sood comes with his own squad of murderous kung fu heavies. It’s all played against great scenics in Iceland, Dubai and India

This is like the great Chan films of yore, just an excuse to get it from one action set piece to the next - punch out in an ice cave, the camel race which could be longer, motorway chase with a lion in the back of Jackie’s van (that’s the one people remember), a particularly skillful encounter in a zoo pit full of vicious Jackals, which Jackie leaves to the young ones, and the climax battle (“Kick my legs again and I will kill the girl”) in the chamber that has more than the world’s reserve of gold, turning into a Farah Khan dance number.

Back in the day, Jackie was buckling under the stress of running the show, performing and directing.  Golden Harvest hooked him up with a young beginner director named Stanley Tong who Jackie watched with amusement running about doing all the heavy lifting he used to. Well the partnership has persisted and you can see Tong’s good natured notion of entertainment here.

The star is still doing it though now the routines are organised so that his stunt partners can handle the rough stuff, including tossing Jackie around in the action and he only has to make one move instead of the six to eight he used to manage in a single run of the camera.   

The Chan grin is getting a little fixed and the make up a little heavy but it’s more endearing than the waste of his talent in his Hollywood movies.

What hasn’t faded is Jackie’s comic timing which is one of the elements which makes his RAILROAD TIGERS a better film and indeed a film that’s better than most of what is circulating.

Set in WW2, the film, like Sammo Hung’s EASTERN CONDORS, carries the ghost of FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (guerrillas in a cave blow up a bridge). The gang who loot the railway are inspired by a dying Eighth Army soldier to take over his mission against the beastly Japanese invaders. This one is also a succession of big action scenes usually involving speeding trains. The moment when the mercenary, disillusioned when he found that even the War Lord he used to serve couldn’t turn back the Nips, joins the action on horseback is worth a cheer and the climax which runs for a couple of reels is full of great what will they do now invention.

The team who put this one together are younger. Director Ding Sheng did a couple of Jackie’s recent films but RAILROAD TIGERS is better than those. Jackie in wig and full beard is barely recognisable though we can’t mistake that killer grin. The most popular actor in human history is still doing it and we are getting the benefit.

Having finished a theatrical release, you may have to pursue RAILROAD TIGERS into the few remaining Asian video stores.

On Blu-ray - David Hare tracks down a Spanish edition of Luis Bunuel's DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (France, 1964)

Le Journal d'une Femme de Chambre, (Luis Bunuel, France, 1964)
(click to enlarge image)
A l'interieure, a l'exterieure. Two irresistible images from Bunuel's savage comic masterpiece from Mirbeau's perverse, bitter 1915 satire of sex, class and revolt, Le Journal d'une Femme de Chambre which he re-stages to the late 1920s and the rise of fascism in France. The screens come from a new Spanish Divisa Blu-ray with alternate original French audio and Spanish dub, with Spanish subs only optional on original audio setting. So for Francophone viewers only. 

The very beautiful HD master is from rights holder Studio Canal. This is the only movie Bunuel made in Scope and one wishes he had used it more often. He plays with the width to keep long takes running as he brings multiple characters at a time into the critical downstairs/upstairs group huddles in which a lot of the narrative is unravelled through gossip and lies. Scope seems to actually amplify the beauty of his mise en scene, if that were even possible with such a transparently direct and seamless master of film. 

In a post Madman world, Bunuel and his piercing absurdist humanity is perhaps the best antidote currently possible for sanity. Only humor, and an eye that strips prejudice and hypocrisy bare can take the contagious shine of bullshit like the contemporary American monster away. I don't believe Don Luis ever made a bad movie although two or three of the mid fifties French pictures are less appealing to me than their earlier and later Mexican siblings for instance. Certainly his run from Viridiana in 1960 is unstoppable in terms of inspiration and consistency to the end, regardless of whichever producer or writer was privileged enough to work with him. This film does mark his first co-screenplay with the sublime Jean-Claude Carriere however. 
I hope this lovely transfer from what looks like a crisp and sparkling 2K lands an English friendly release this year. it would be nice to see a period in which as many missing titles as possible get a release to give all of us a break from the actual horror of modern politics.

Editor's note: If you want to test the market Try this link if indeed you are curious enough and linguistically adroit enough to benefit 

Monday, 30 January 2017

Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato - Curator Mariann Lewinsky interviewed by Victoria Duckett

What follows below is a short introductory extract from a much longer interview, with some fascinating pictures accompanying, which appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of the online journal Feminist Media Histories. I was interested in the subject having observed Mariann Lewinsky do intros and lead discussions at Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato in recent years. The interview was conducted by Victoria Duckett the Director of Entertainment Production and Lecturer in Screen Studies in the School of Communication and Creative  Arts  at Deakin University, Melbourne.

VICTORIA DUCKETT Thank you for agreeing to talk with me today. I would like
to start by asking you to explain what you do.

Mariann Lewinsky at Cineteca Bologna
MARIANN LEWINSKY I mainly do silent cinema programs for Il Cinema Ritrovato
here in Bologna. Il Cinema Ritrovato is by now the major international festival
for films of the past, screening not only silent films, but also [films that go] up to the present. This year, for example, the restoration of Chantal Akermans Jeanne Dielman (France, 1975) was screened here. But I mainly work with silent films.

Victoria Duckett What do you do with these sections? What is your role?

MARIANN LEWINSKY: I decide and propose which sections and films I would like to do. However, there is one section we do every year (since 2003), the “100 Years Ago (Cento anni fa] section, presenting films from one hundred years ago. This is a very important
source of inspiration for other [festival] sections. For example, the first feminist or
 womens section I did came from viewing films from and, where I discovered how strong female comedy was in early cinema; it was a real surprise. These, of course, were also the years of the suffragette movement. So I decided to do something on comic actresses and suffragettes. With this program, which I curated for the 2008 Il Cinema Ritrovato together with Bryony Dixon and Madeleine Bernstorff, I managed to implement a womens section. 

Since then we have regularly done programs dedicated to a feminist or lets say a female subject or figure, like “Fearless and Peerless: Adventurous Women of the Silent Screen (in 2010, co-curated with Monica DallAsta); directors Alice Guy (curated by Kim Tomadjoglu), Germaine Dulac (curated by Tami Williams), and Lois Weber (curated by Shelley Stamp); actress-directors like Musidora and Rosa Porten (curated by Annette Förster); and many others. By the way, Il Cinema Ritrovato always had a focus on great actresses, the Italian divas, Lyda Borelli [figure, Bertini, Menichelli, performers like Loïe Fuller or Sarah Bernhardt which you curated in 2006….

For the remainder of this quite long and detailed discussion you will have to go to this post at academia.edu

More on Il Cinema Ritrovato which takes place in Bologna from 24 June to 2 July 2017 as news comes through.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

On DVD - Random Summer Viewing (2) - Documentary Days - THE OTHER SIDE, MUSCLE SHOALS, BRIGHT LIGHTS, 13TH

Before Christmas I spent a lot of time viewing the documentary entries for the Film Critics' Circle Awards. Winners will be announced at the Awards night in February and you can click on the link here if you are interested in the details. For $20 (buy your own drinks, light supper provided) it's a great night out with the occasional incandescent speech that lights up the night. Rolf De Heer's angry words uttered on the day that the buffoon Tony Abbott had told Aboriginals living in communities to give it up and head for the city was one highlight. Aaron Pedersen's acceptance for Best Actor for Mystery Road was another. But I digress...

The Other Side, Roberto Minervini, 2015. 
The Other Side, Roberto Minervini's portrait of some of the denizens of the back blocks of Louisiana, in this case a town called West Monroe, is as remarkable as advised. Rod Bishop has already reported on on this piece of cinema verite, a film which burrows into the lives of a community in a way that mostly just saddens at the thought that  within a nation built on enlightenment and education some among its population have descended into such base squalor and vulgarity. We had an interesting discussion about the first hour long section of the film centering on the drug maker and dealer Mark and his girl friend Lisa. The filming was so intimate that it can only have been created with the willing participation of the two and you have to wonder how much they became 'actors' re-creating their own story. The end credits are presented in a way that makes this curiosity linger. It has a 'cast' list with 'Mark' and 'Lisa' both having their names listed underneath as Mark Kelley and Lisa Allen. I had a trawl around the net and came across Godfrey Cheshire's quite lengthy review on rogerebert.com which compares the film with a couple of movies, Trash (1970) and Heat  (1972) made by Paul Morrissey under the aegis of Andy Warhol, back in the seventies.

Muscle Shoals, Greg 'Freddy' Camalier, USA, 2012
Not far away in Alabama, one man, Rick Hall, supported by his local musician friends, has worked all his life to make music in a tiny music studio in a town with a population of 8000. As is usual in the music business he had his share of betrayals by the bigger guys that set him back but as he looks back over a 60 year career he can advise that all the greats of rock and roll and blues have made their way to his place of work, the FAME Music Studio in the small town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Some, including a modest Mick Jagger and an egomaniacal Keith Richards, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Cliff and Alicia Keys help tell Hall's story of his lifetime enterprise. Hundreds of millions of copies of dozens of hit records began their life in Rick's recording studio. Rick's personal life is covered as well in a very touching fashion. Brilliant exposition. It took me close to five years since the film was made to catchup. Never mind, the task has been completed and I feel a lot better, and a lot more informed, than I used to be.

Bright Lights, Fisher Stevens & Alexis Bloom, USA, 2016
Basically made for cable TV and largely ignored since it was first shown in early in 2016, this doco suddenly developed a new poignancy when its chief participants, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, died suddenly within 24 hours of each other. Since then it has had another screening on the local Showcase cable channel. It's sort of touching to see Debbie seeming to be more sprightly than the overweight and somewhat shambling Carrie. The latter's addictions seem now to be reduced down to a single act of being permanently attached to a large plastic cup of Coca-Cola. Debbie does two concerts to adoring fans, most of whom seem to be about her age. Carrie accompanies her to the venues in Connecticut and to Las Vegas, which she denotes as her last ever. It finishes with a near doddering Debbie accepting a Screen Actor's Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. Throughout the bonds of mother and daughter are remarkably visible and the insight into showbiz lives is constantly droll. There is some info you might not have been aware of either - Debbie's second marriage to a shyster turned out as bad for her as her first; the sight of a dying Eddie Fisher being comforted by Carrie is revelatory; queues still form for Princess Leia autographs at Star Wars conventions and people happily pay $70 a pop for a signature or photo.

13th, Ava de Vernay, USA, 2016
A Netflix original doco and more power to the corporate giants for this fearless exposition of America's transition from slavery to mass incarceration as the method of maintaining white control over America's black and more latterly Latino population. Almost excruciating in its forensics, the examination of the history, politics and economics of the exploitation of the black man, the film assembles a cast of academics who take us step by step through the ways by which that control has been maintained. Inevitably a serious major villain in the story is D W Griffith's inflammatory Birth of a Nation  (USA, 1915) which on its own revived the near dead KKK and invented the image of the burning cross. Brilliant, hard hitting talking heads with not a moment wasted. The ability of doco makers to assemble archival footage in these days of digital availability of the contents of archives and libraries is one of the great features of modern documentary film-making and is on display to maximum effect in this film, a superb exposition of the shit that has rained down on America as it fails, often hardly trying, to address its great problem of race.