Roku Channel of the Day: TUBI TV and Director of The Day: Roman Polanski

One of the best free VOD channels, TUBI TV has a great selection of movies and TV shows and keeps the commercial interruptions to a minimum. Replaces CRACKLE as the best free Roku channel.

Today’s Recommended movies are:

 

Born to Raise Hell The first 10 minutes of this film do not fill me with confidence. The shaky cam direction, the string of cliches, the chaotic editing. But stick with it, because it becomes a fun vehicle for some great Steven Seagal one-liners and butt kicking. And by the end, the chaotic nature of the beginning is actually revealed as something pretty innovative. This movie is not going to win any awards for originality, but it is an enjoyable watch. And has a couple impressive fight scenes. B-.

 

The Tenant Director Roman Polanski remains a famous and infamous figure, breaking onto the directorial stage in 1962 with KNIFE IN THE WATER, he has crafted some of the definitive films of the disturbed, of the latter 20th century. Among them REPULSION , CUL DE SAC, ROSEMARY’S BABY and this film THE TENANT.

While not one of the films of his prolific or golden age period (from 1962 to 1968 where he was doing a film every two years, before being derailed by horror and madness, in the tragic loss of his wife), THE TENANT is one of Polanski’s oddest films, which is saying a lot, dealing as it does with one of the central themes of Polanski’s  golden age films, ie the fragility of sanity and the deterioration of the protagonist, preyed on by forces both within and without.

 

 

While THE TENANT is not a favorite of mine, the third act is too absurd for my tastes, it should be watched to see Polanski’s genius as an actor (his performance here is great, with wonderful bits of physical comedy thrown in), and his unwavering visual style as a director. 

And its very existance is testament to the indomitability of its director, a man whose life has been beset by enough tragedy and hardships to crush (if not end) most people, from escaping a concentration camp at the age of seven to being at the heart of one of the most infamous mass murders in American history, to being beseiged by various courts, Polanski has continued to not just endure, but to create at a high level, cinema that endures and contributes to our definition of art.

For more on Roman Polanski go see an excellent NY Times peice on him Here.

 

And when done sampling his work via VOD and Roku I recommend the following DVDs and Blurays:
Repulsion (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Macbeth [Blu-ray]

Rosemary’s Baby (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Chinatown [Blu-ray]

Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir (2011) [ Blu-Ray, Reg.A/B/C Import – Australia ]

Roman Polanski: A Retrospective

THE CINEMA OF STATUES : The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder


“He was a personable looking man. First your eye said he’s not young anymore, he’s not a boy anymore. Then your eye said : he’s not old. There was something of youth hovering over and about him, and yet refusing to land in any one particular place… In short the impression was agelessness. Not young, not old, not callous, not mature – but ageless. Thirty Six looking fifty six, or fifty six looking thirty six, but which it was you could not say.”

FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE by Cornell Woolrich

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Have you ever watched a film, and mere moments into it been so captured by its construction, its strangeness, and its audacity that it earns a spot in your pantheon, your metaphoric showcase of worthy things? I’m guessing the answer for some of us is yes. I say some, because the strange, by its very nature, will not be the cup of tea of everyone.

MARTHA based on a Cornell Woolrich story “FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE” was my first introduction to the world of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and what an introduction. I’ve been a huge devotee and fan of all things Cornell Woolrich since discovering his pulp fiction a few years ago. I own and have read a ton of Woolrich stories and novels. When I heard about this movie based (illegally it seems) on one of his stories, I had to try it.

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And MARTHA finally seen, I was blown away by the strange, nearly alien craft and audacity of that film, and that led me by fits and starts to today’s review of Fassbinder’s WORLD ON A WIRE.

I’ve watched movies all my life, I consider myself well informed when it comes to cinema. I’ve seen all the great genres, and most of the great directors. I can speak to you about German Expressionism, Film Noir, French New Wave, Italian Neo-realism, the Pan-African and Post-Colonialism movements. I can talk to you about blockbusters and straight to VOD masterpieces. And when you have seen as many films as I have, to get me through a movie these days… you have to either a/tell the familiar in a captivating way, or b/create something vibrant and unfamiliar.

Most movies and all Blockbusters are the former, they are variations on types of movies and a thematic structure that we have seen time and time again, since the dawn of cinema; what makes them successful is the ability to do the ‘rescuing the girl from the train track’ in a fresh and innovative way.

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Much rarer is the latter, films and filmmakers that fundamentally challenge and expand are definitions of the scope and pathways of cinema.

I’ve seen two of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films all the way through, and both of them have struck me that way. Now admittedly they are from phase 1 of the three loosely defined phases of his career. Phase 2 being his Melodramatic phase, Phase 3 being that melodrama morphed into his identity films, dealing with themes of national, sexual, and familial identities in collusion and in conflict. (for more on this and for an overview on the films of Fassbinder please see the excellent Film.com article by Daniel Walber here!)

Phase 1 is arguably his most experimental and innovative films, here you’ll find the genre infused stuff, tinged with film-noir, horror and scifi trappings, the genres that I enjoy. Pro-active genres. I find myself generally not the audience for his phase 2 or 3 films, I’m not a fan of melodrama or just statement films. But with most of these later films not yet tried, I’m open to being pleasantly surprised.

But Phase 1, his cinema of statues and stylization, static but wonderfully composed frames, filled with actors who are at times more statues than men, and when they are animated it is often in very jerky, stilted ways. His women, leading ladies, are variations on a theme, big eyed, statuesque but often emaciated to the point of boniness, strawberry blonds, odd beauty bordering on the antithesis of beauty, mannequins and masks, and a wonderful use of angles and reflections.

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In pieces the movies should not work, stilted, unnatural performances, what is generally considered signs of amateurish or bad acting. However in WORLD ON A WIRE (WELT AM DRAHT, 1973), that ugliness and unease, the uncomfortable pauses, the shots held too long, the awkward pacing, inappropriate and at times overbearing use of music, things we typically identify with bad films and bad filmmakers, in these two films of Fassbinder all these flaws are stylistic choices and become instead function, negating themselves and becoming calling cards of a fundamentally different definition of cinema.

WORLD ON A WIRE, which virtually nobody talks about, is this outrageous and ambitious and way long mini-series of a movie, equal parts science fiction, mystery, and avant-garde film, that has this incredibly intriguing and prophetic premise about a world in which they create not just an artificial intelligence, but an artificial world peopled with artificial intelligences.

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The intelligences are programed to be perfect representations of people, and have a based in time and motion relation to each other, and capable of sex and love and procreation. So an AI universe that is self propagating, and more predictive, as the world is designed to be on a 20 year curve, so the shopping habits and economic changes and housing changes and conflicts that occur in the artificial world today, will be predictive of what happens in our world in 20 years.

It’s a brilliant, mind blowing concept, that you’ll find in better science fiction stories, but not in movies; particularly not in movies of the period, the early 1970s. On top of which the AI universe is viewable and interact-able by means of downloading someone into one of the AI inhabitants of the AI world. What??? That is mind blowingly brilliant and audacious premise for a film, even today in 2016 in an age of avatars, much less for a film made nearly 50 years ago.

And all of that, is not even what the movie is mostly about: it’s a film-noir movie. With a scientist trying to get to the bottom of his coworker’s disappearance. And then there is all the Fassbinder weirdness going on this movie, that just adds yet another level to the movie.

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The doll like women who never seem to blink, random moments of strangeness, [a party scene, where people seem not to move, and the few who do, do the same movements over and over again. A scientist called into his bosses office for serious conversation which they have while not looking at each other and spinning in circles in their chair. a night club with mostly nude attractive Black Men and women dancing while the clothed patrons walk past feeling them up… it is just craziness that comes out of nowhere, but all of it leaves you gobsmaked and off-kilter and not knowing what is coming next.} And it’s not comedy, Fassbinder isn’t just taking the piss or going for laughs here, he is telling a straight story, but he is using a crooked path, fueled by dream logic, he wants the delivery not to be what you are expecting and in WORLD ON A WIRE he succeeds.

Fassbinder, very much the spiritual predecessor to later avant garde filmmakers such as David Lynch and Lars Von Trier, was a young maverick director who died way before his time at the age of 37, however in less than a score of years (before his untimely departure) he would make 44 films, 39 of those being feature films. It is a staggering body of work to have produced by the age of 37. How many of us will ever make one film, much less 44 of them. And to make such across the board unique films, love them or hate them, is a great testament to someone who obviously ate, drank and slept cinema.

600full-rainer-werner-fassbinder Image courtesy of film.com

I can see people not liking or dismissing Fassbinder’s 3+ hour Sci-Fi epic as just flawed. And it is flawed, like I said previously, Fassbinder likes the mistakes, the mistakes of time, mistakes of gender, mistakes of intention, mistakes of moment, and out of all these mistakes with WORLD ON A WIRE he makes, at least for me, something composed of the old, that feels endlessly new.

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Grade: B+. It is definitely not for everybody, but if you like directors who are creative with cinematography (not just 360 degree shots but 540 degree shots), adventuresome in storytelling, and loyal to their actors (Fassbinder works with the same actors repeatedly, including actors of color, such as El Hedi ben Salem, rarely done for the period, and still too little done today) then this is a film for you. Recommended.

The Fassbinder Collection Two – MARTHA

World on a Wire (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Speak to Me of Death: The Selected Short Fiction of Cornell Woolrich, Volume 1 (Collected Short Fiction of Cornell Woolrich)

Currently Watching Movie : BONE TOMAHAWK

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BONE TOMAHAWK– I’ve been looking forward to seeing this Horror Tinged Western starring Kurt Russell, since hearing about it way back in 2015🙂. And finally seen courtesy of AMAZON PRIME I have to say, it does not dissapoint, it more than lives up to the hype, of being a great, gritty Western with some startling moments of horror.

The debut film of S. Craig Zahler is a tremendously engrossing, exciting, and brutal film. Highly Recommended. This is one I would love to purchase on DVD or Blu-Ray if it had a director’s or cast commentary. Unfortunately it doesn’t which means while a highly recommended viewing, I can’t recommend purchasing until theY release a better Blu-Ray. Grade: B+/A-.

 

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Movie Poster of the Day! Support Quentin Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT!

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Finally we get a good poster for Quentin Tarantino’s eagerly awaited eighth movie… THE HATEFUL EIGHT!

I for one am definitely looking forward to it, as it has a great cast and an intriguing premise, and I’m a fan of westerns. Tarantino remains one of the most interesting filmmakers, and this is one I want to lay down my money for.

Plus it would be great to send a big FU to “not-worthy-to-be-named Tarantino haters”, by making this movie a box-office smash!🙂

Netflix Movie of the Day: BEYOND THE LIGHTS

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What we watch in cinema, if you ask a thousand people, you may get a thousand answers. But what we want from cinema? I think that answer is simpler.

We want cinema even at its most fantastic to tell us something true. To tell us something about ourself, and how we can aspire to be better than ourself. And that is what the best cinema does, for the fleeting time we share our attention with it, whether in a darkened theater or a light lit living room, we want to aspire to more than we are, to be better than we are.

Whether inspired to, if only in our dreams, be nicer, or more caring, or more concerned, or more heroic, or more… humane. That’s a rare gift, in a dire age, for cinema for a fleeting moment to have us believe in being better.

That is what BEYOND THE LIGHTS does. With a stellar cast of new faces and seasoned pros, Gina Prince-Bythewood of LOVE AND BASKETBALL and THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES here with her third feature film, creates inarguably her best film, and one that will become a perennial classic in households everywhere. But particularly households of color, in an America that increasingly is more ethnically diverse, our cinema and media is, doggedly and obstinately it would seem, ever more dismissive and marginalizing and denigrating, to characters of color or stories of color, that do not fit into narrow, nonthreatening, and tired stereotypes.

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That’s why Gina Prince-Bythewood as writer and director is so important, and BEYOND THE LIGHTS should be so heralded. In an America where Urban Love is often defined for young people in terms of players and hos, or in terms of its absence, it is so rewarding and refreshing to see a movie with intelligent Black Characters (ie more than one or two token characters) and healthy Black relationships, between Black Men and Black women, that does not fall into tired rhetoric, or bashing, or talk show idiocy.

 

Korean media and cinema is filled with such loving positive interplay, as is Japanese, or Thai, or Russian, or Dutch, or Indian, or Spanish. But somehow when it comes to the broad and diverse ethnic group called Black (African-American being a marginalizing appellation, misapplied and removed from the inclusive, unifying bridge it was meant, but failed to be. Defining an ethnic group, using a nationalistic descriptor being the height of stupidity), positive loving images are in drastic shortage.

As Black Men are increasingly invisible or the sexless , funny sidekick or cross dressing Enuchs in mass media, and Black women increasingly the hor, or the pining 2nd choice for the White Knight of American mass media. Or they are self-hating thugs, raised and bedded on ignorance.

With such a table, and such rotten food to feed young and old alike on, when someone brings to the table a fine steak or beautiful trout, you realize just how empty you had been, and for how long.

BEYOND THE LIGHTS is a great film, that makes you feel better for having seen it. Makes you feel better. What a concept.

Hopefully we can look forward to more such filmmakers and more such films. Highly Recommended!

Try it for free on Netflix, but only long enough to realize you really want to own this film in Blu-Ray. Get your copy here:

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Beyond the Lights [Blu-ray]

Movie Review : A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT

 

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A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHTThis is a drenchingly romantic and exquisite film with a soundtrack to die for. One of the most sumptuously beautiful “horror” films of all time, and to call it a horror film is to undersell it. This is more. This is a parable that defies simple genre. A sublime bit of movie making, fueled by masterful sound design and cinematography, and patient, stylized and phenomenal direction, with echoes both Lynchian and Murnauistic.

Writer, directed Ana Lily Amirpour with one film has catapulted herself into the ranks of “Must See” Filmmakers.

Most films don’t live up to their poster or their hype (I’m looking at you BIG BAD WOLVES and BABADOOK), I’m happy to say A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT absolutely does.

I just saw it for free courtesy of Netflix, and this is one I HAVE to own in the highest quality Blu-Ray available. Ideally with commentary and special features. It is that impressive of a debut.

 

Grade: A+.  Highest Recommendation.

 

And run, do not walk, to get the Blu-Ray at the link below:
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Special Collector’s Edition Blu-ray)

THE SHOUT (1978) – Expressionist 70s Horror at its Best!

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THE SHOUT (1978) – THE SHOUT is a type of horror film that the 70s managed to produce arguably better than any other decade (save perhaps our current streaming generation, the share bulk of content at our fingertips allows for a diverse range of content and experimentation). The eerie existential tale of foreboding; tales of protagonists beset from seemingly all sides by nameless and unnameable dreads that live disturbingly close to the fragile facade of our normal lives.

A culmination of sorts of the filmic movements before it (namely Expressionism, often called German Expressionism, and Film Noir) and the new dynamism of the conflicted post war, post age of Aquarius 70s; 70s Expressionist horror grafting the fatalism of Film Noir to Expressionism’s use of exaggeration and distortion to illicit an emotional response, to create a horror that was more about broader questions of what lives beyond the borders of the accepted, and the illusions… of control.

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Films like DON’T LOOK NOW, IMAGES, THE ABOMINABLE DOCTOR PHIBES, AND SOON THE DARKNESS, THE DUNWICH HORROR, LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, MAGIC, OBSESSION, PHANTASM, DEEP RED, THE SENTINEL, SUSPIRIA, ERASERHEAD, SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS, GANJA & HESS, NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND are marked by extreme directorial flourishes, bordering on surrealism, creating worlds of emotive rather than accepted reality.

THE SHOUT, features a stellar cast of burgeoning British Stars, among them Alan Bates, Susannah York, John Hurt and Tim Curry, all brilliantly directed by the legendary filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski. His only film in the horror genre, THE SHOUT much like IMAGES (directed by another great, serious filmmaker Robert Altman), manages to be not just a great genre film, but one of the best films of Skolimowski’s lauded career.

Not the typical Horror movie, the best horror of the 70s resists and transcends easy classifications, and trite genre labels. Indeed THE SHOUT would be as justified in the drama or fantasy or art film designation as any other, but somehow horror seems to sum up best the creeping unease that these types of 70s films in general, and THE SHOUT in particular, provide.

This is horror not of the slasher or torture porn fodder that unfortunately passes too-often for horror in the 21st century, but something more… imaginative. While the 70s had its own knife wielding maniacs, that was often played as a facet of the horror, rather than the horror in total. The horror that the 70s dealt in was rather a call back to the existential roots of cinema, horror, and arguably humanity, the MR James and Wakefield definitions of horror… the horror, with questions that endure.

Jerzy Skolimowski’s THE SHOUT is a film that rewards repeat viewings. See it for yourself courtesy of Amazon Prime, or get the DVD here: The Shout [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import – United Kingdom ] or Blu-Ray here: The Shout (1978) [ NON-USA FORMAT, Blu-Ray, Reg.B Import – United Kingdom ]

Grade: B+.