Sadko (1952)

Sadko (1952) movie poster

director  Aleksandr Ptushko
viewed: 11/15/2017

Aleksandr Ptushko’s Sadko, a.k.a. the Americanized The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, is the Russian fantasy film gone all Cecil B DeMille. Featuring a huge cast, lush costumes and sets, its production values seem miles higher than some other films of the period and genre. It won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice International Film Festival, so maybe the financing aspired for more.

It rings with song, specifically the music of the Rimsky-Korsakov opera that the story works around. Sadko (Sergei Stolyarov) is the gusli-stroking baritone who returns to Novgorod to find rich merchants hording all the goods and deep levels of poverty. He also encounters a Princess from the sea who falls in love with him and helps him catch some golden fish.

Once he’s trounced the merchants and distributed all the goods, he still finds that poverty abounds, so he sets out on another quest, to capture the bird of happiness, which takes him from northern shores held by villainous Vikings to India, a land of wealth and sneaky duplicitous cheats.

Pthushko is known for his visual effects and there are some gorgeous ones on display. Even rising from the ocean looks extra-special. But the best effect is the phoenix herself, the bird of paradise who is much more like a Siren or a harpy or something.

Sadly the fantasy elements aren’t as prevalent in the running time as would make this film much more than it is. But it is stunning. I even liked the undersea world that others tend to scoff at.  Very much in the spirit (if also utterly Russian) of Raoul Walsh’s The Thief of Bagdad (1924).

Cut-Throats Nine (1972)

Cut-Throats Nine (1972) movie poster

director Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent
viewed: 11/13/2017

Cut-Throats Nine arrives as advertised, a pessimistic and violent Western, filmed in the snowy beauty of the Pyrenees. Its delicious premise, a lone lawman and his daughter are marching a chain gang across the snowy mountains, is inherently fraught with tension. The simplicity of this scenario is upended when it turns out that the chains that hold the men together are made of the gold that they had mined. And the intentions of even the lawman are thrown into deep doubt.

Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent uses interesting freeze frame preludes to flashbacks, stylizing further the backstories to the rough-hewn characters. Marchent and cinematographer Luis Cuadrado make the most of the gorgeous, icy landscapes.

It’s probably my second favorite Spaghetti Western I’ve newly seen this year, after Cemetery Without Crosses  (1969). Interesting since these two aren’t purely Italian films and feature directors who were French and Spanish. Not that any grouping or genre needs to be completely neat and clean.

Excellent stuff.

 

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971) movie poster

director Piers Haggard
viewed: 11/12/2017

Folk horror classic, The Blood on Satan’s Claw is a truly attractive production. It’s also a very earnest horror film, set in the 18th century in the English countryside. All the children, and some peasants, are going stark raving wild with evil, delving into sex and murder, and devil worship.

Be careful what you unearth when you plow the field.

Most of this is in the foreground, but it’s funny as I was reading up on this before writing, how much more the devil is in the details. When infected with evil, the innocent find a dark hairy patch on their bodies. Am I the only one who didn’t immediately attach that to adolescence and sexual maturity? Like the “deformed anatomy in those furrows,” there seems to be a lot of codified sexual innuendo throughout.

Of course, Linda Hayden as Angel, strips right down in the church to try to tempt the priest. And poor Cathy Vespers (Wendy Padbury) gets raped in a riotous frenzy.

There is that tension in a film like this, whether all is real or imagined. These are witch hunters, after all, seeking out the evil, seeing the evil in the children. Of course, in this case, it seems like the evil is real and there actually is blood on a claw belonging to some devil.

Superior stuff.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) movie poster

director Guillermo del Toro
viewed: 11/11/2017

It had been a decade since I saw Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth on its initial release in the theater. Like a lot of people, I’ve considered it his best film, certainly a partner to his 2001 The Devil’s Backbone.

I generally enjoy del Toro’s work, though his more commercial stuff seems thin on substance, if aesthetically pleasing and occasionally pretty fun.  I follow him on social media and even got to go see his collection of stuff at the LACMA Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters.

In 2007, my kids were 6 and 3 so I didn’t take them to see Pan’s Labyrinth at the time. I’ve long thought they might enjoy it, but only just now got around to sharing it with them.

I was surprised that my daughter was sort of nonplussed about it. I’d thought she would dig it more. My son, as is his wont, fell asleep early on but wanted to watch it again.

I think it holds up pretty well. The aesthetics and story are nice, the performers solid. It’s a dark fairy tale about childhood, escapism and fantasy. The CGI doesn’t hold up as well, but it never does if you ask me. Maybe it’s not as deep or rich as it could be, but I’d still call it his most complete film.

Fateful Findings (2012)

Fateful Findings (2012) movie poster

director Neil Breen
viewed: 11/10/2017

Color me initiated into the world Neil Breen.

Fateful Findings is a indeed a new Best-Worst Movie at a time when Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003) is getting a bio pic released. And Neil Breen is the fused offspring of Bob Odenkirk and Gary Shandling auteur-star to give us hope that truly sincere and amazing bad movies can continue to be made.

How many laptops were killed to make this movie?

Am I the only one to sense Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain in this?

I’m a little reticent to take my pot-shots at it. It’s sublime and bizarre, incoherent and goofy, with a soundtrack that will haunt your dreams.

As epic as it is in its badness, I can’t help but crave to see other Neil Breen films. To be honest, I never felt this way about Tommy Wiseau.

The Suckling (1990)

The Suckling (1990)

director Francis Teri
viewed: 11/08/2017

“You’ve got your wish, penis-brain. You’re locked in a whorehouse for life.”

The Suckling is amazeballs, a word I do not use lightly.  It’s a Henenlotter-esque sleazy monster-fest with tons of cool and campy practical creature effects. And, yes, this is the aborted fetus down the toilet into the toxic waste sewer revenge movie you never knew how much you needed. I loved that fetus!

I am fully willing to believe that this gloriously tasteless junk culture wonder has been appropriated in some anti-abortion tribe as a realistic scare film.

Though it sags in the middle, much like a weaponized umbilicus, it comes lashing back. Total respect to director Francis Teri and everyone else on the picture. When you’ve got a low budget but fuck it you’ve got ambition, don’t let the bastards hold you back.

And yes, it’s the touches like the repurposed coathanger, first abortion tool then garment holder, that prove this movie’s hilarious, nasty comic soul.

Drive-In Massacre (1976)

Drive-In Massacre (1976) movie poster

director Stu Segall
viewed: 11/06/2017

“On August 10th in a California drive-in it all began…”

Drive-in Massacre is 100% seedy underbelly. Two schlubby detectives try to solve a series of sword murders at a rough little drive-in theater that’s run by ex-carnies.

Before you get too excited, it must be pointed out that this low-budget indie production isn’t so much a lost gem as it is occasionally dull but overall interesting oddity.

For me, the quirks and oddity outweigh the drudgery of some scenes.

Featuring lines like “I just wanted to beat my meat!” spoken by the peeping tom pepper the flick as do bursts of surprisingly decent gore.

They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

The Return of Ringo (1965)

The Return of Ringo (1965) movie poster

director Duccio Tessari
viewed: 11/04/2017

Duccio Tessari’s 1965 Spaghetti Western, The Return of Ringo, reinterprets The Odyssey in a post-Civil War drama of return and revenge. Spaghetti-western.net features a keen analysis of the film, suggesting Tessari (as others in the genre) would use the setting of the aftermath of the American Civil War as a thinly veiled metaphor for post-WWII Italy, the return and rectification of morality in a shattered and invaded landscape.

Interestingly, when Ringo returns to his home post-war, the bandits have taken over the town and the homestead, hold his wife in their clutches, as well as a little daughter he didn’t know he had. These dudes are Mexicans and are very racist against Americans, won’t allow them to own property or firearms.

Thus: “The Return of (G)ringo”

The Return of Ringo is a notable Spaghetti Western, on many lists of the best of the genre. And it’s solid, though it didn’t really overly impress me. Actually, reading the Spaghetti-western.net article gave me further pause to reconsider. Still, some films grab you, while others just wave “hello.”

The Untouchables (1987)

The Untouchables (1987) movie poster

director Brian De Palma
viewed: 11/03/2017

Personally, I think Brian De Palma’s 1987 crime movie The Untouchables holds up pretty well.

There is a lot of cool cinematography and set pieces, the highlights of the film. That opening overhead shot of Robert De Niro getting a shave. The whole sequence of the bar getting blown up. The baseball scene. The interior tracking and everything happening in Sean Connery’s apartment when he gets it.

And the cast is great. Okay, I won’t argue strongly for Kevin Costner. He’s a bland lawman at the head of the thing. But Connery, De Niro, Andy Garcia, and in particular Charles Martin Smith are solid and each gets some choice lines and scenes. Can you imagine it if Mickey Rourke had been Eliot Ness?

Certainly, it’s a man’s man’s man’s world. And it takes some fascism (via David Mamet’s script) to gain control of Al Capone and the mafia.

The one scene that didn’t hold up so well is the balletic slo-mo Odessa Steps homage shootout. I recall thinking it was really cool back in 1987. Now it seems like a lot of build-up to almost comedic action. My son chuckled during it.

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968)

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968) movie poster

director Gianfranco Parolini
viewed: 10/24/2017

I’ve been working through a variety of lists of the “best” Spaghetti Westerns that I haven’t seen, something I’m cobbling together from a variety of sources. And I’m finding how many of these are available on Amazon Prime. Happily many.

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death launched another named antihero to the genre, starring Gianni (John) Garko as Sartana, the guy you don’t want to meet.

“You look just like a scarecrow.”
“I am your pallbearer.”

Armed with a cool four barreled Derringer, he strides into what I guess is a story about teams of robbers and other teams of robbers and local gentry robbing themselves for insurance money and a coffin full of gold (or rocks.) Apparently it’s not just me, the story is pretty hard to follow.

Luckily Gianfranco Parolini does better with the action than the story. It’s derivative but also employs other genre elements of giallo and horror, giving it some flavor.

Even with a very inept dub and an abbreviated role on his voice Klaus Kinski is by far the best actor in the film.