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.