Wednesday, August 21, 2019

A Yakuza can Always Go Home

When a formidable and handsome young yakuza is released from prison, all he wants is to find the sister of one of his fellow gangsters who died in prison. But he's not allowed a simple retirement any more than any other yakuza who ever sought it in a movie and 1968's Outlaw: Goro the Assassin (無頼 人斬り五郎) has no shortage of knife fights, betrayal, and shakedowns. It's part of a series of films featuring Tetsuya Watari as the cool and capable Goro. By this point, Studio Nikkatsu had put out scores of yakuza movies like this since the 50s and you can see the fatigue in many aspects of the production. While Seijun Sezuki was breaking new ground in the genre--and getting in trouble for it--movies like Goro the Assassin, directed by Toshio Masuda, were going the safer route and taking the old familiar ideas and adding more explicit sex and violence. And it's a pretty entertaining film for all that.

Really, the quality evident in this production is remarkable, and reflective of a well-oiled machine, when you consider it's the third film in a series of six--five of which were released in the same year! This is probably why some of the sets look a little familiar but the action and story keep everything feeling fresh enough.

Watari sure looks cool in that leather jacket with the collar up. Seeking his friend's sister, his first stop is the theatre where she used to work. But he finds the place has been turned into a strip club while he was prison and although no-one's heard of the woman he's looking for he decides to have a look inside. He tells the cashier the girls had better get completely naked because he's "very horny" in a cool, teasing way that implies he's, in reality, above such things.

How else to explain the fact that he's surrounded by beautiful women who lust after him but achieve no satisfaction? A stripper takes an evident liking for him after he diffuses a fight between the club manager and a young yakuza in the back room--somehow winning the love and devotion of both men in the process. Goro!

A beautiful woman named Yukiko becomes his real love interest--she's played by Chieko Matsubara, who also played Watari's love interest in Tokyo Drifter, and she's just as dismayed and bothered by his aloofness as she was in that film. But while Tokyo Drifter, a Seijun Suzuki film, has an interesting perspective on the perhaps self-perpetuating situation of the lonesome, lone wolf, Goro the Assassin is more of the familiar mud bath but, as with the sex and violence, pushes things a bit further in the same direction. Like many, many films of this kind, there's a scene where it seems like the gangster and the girl are going to go off together only for her to turn around at some point to realise he's gone. Goro the Assassin has that scene and then it's followed by another one that almost repeats the entire film and relationship within a few sudden occurrences to end on a somewhat more enigmatic note that emphasises that bitter-sweetness further.

Fights in the film generally consist of tantos, though there are a few swords and one gun. The choreography is pretty good but the really effective cringe factor stuff is the torture, like a scene where Goro has his hands pinned to a wall and another scene where a young yakuza's held down while his thumb is smashed repeatedly with a mallet.

With the pinned hands, one wonders if there were some conscious effort to invoke Christian symbolism. The movie focuses a lot on guilt and duty, maybe slightly more than other yakuza films. In one of the most interesting scenes, Goro manages to track down his friend's sister to where she's now working in a brothel. He unloads his resentment towards her for not showing up to the prison to collect her brother's body and she lets him--only to then reveal that she'd received notice of her brother's death too late to arrange matters for his burial. She tells Goro she'd allowed him to rebuke her because it satisfied her own desire for punishment--but now, of course, Goro has something to feel guilty about.

Goro the Assassin is currently available on Amazon Prime under the title of Outlaw: Gangster VIP which is actually the title of the first film in the series. I assume that first film is on Amazon somewhere, under some name.

Twitter Sonnet #1269

A patch of brains excluded wheat and corn.
A timely gum informed a floppy tongue.
Awarded plates allow the spoon some scorn.
No music's fork could scrape what dish had sung.
A fleeting glimpse, a vision cut betimes.
A window left upon the green and grey.
A solemn warning sounds as hollow chimes.
A shaking sea disturbs a fragile day.
A fox's glass disturbed a paper sun.
Appointed flames convene with candle wicks.
A jelly stopped a course in middle run.
A solar clock emits surprising ticks.
A cannon's smoke precedes a fishing craft.
Abundant tools've sunk the sloop abaft.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Strange Things in the Canals

Memories and precognitions dovetail with present sensory experience in Nicholas Roeg's melancholy 1974 supernatural thriller, Don't Look Now. Roeg's experiments with film technique are eerily effective at capturing a sense of nature behaving in ways human thought can't comprehend even as it is intimately involved with them.

Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play a married couple whose daughter drowns in a pond at the beginning of the film. John (Sutherland) and Laura (Christie) are busy inside when the accident occurs but John almost manages to get to their little girl in time because he mysteriously panics and runs out of the room to where the girl is without any discernible means of knowing her plight.

A jump cut brings us to Venice and John, smartly dressed and in good humour, overseeing the restoration of a church. Shot on location in Venice, Roeg utilises labyrinthine visuals of stone and shadow to great effect--and auditory sensation as well. A blind psychic woman named Heather (Hilary Mason) remarks on how the echoes in Venice are distinctly different depending on how close one is to the canals, and we can hear this as she and John walk through darkness between stone buildings.

Mostly it's Laura who is interested in the psychic, though. Laura meets the blind woman in a restaurant when she helps Heather into the restroom. Laura's shocked when Heather starts talking about seeing Laura and John's daughter.

Laura is excited to have something in place of the terrible void left by their daughter's absence but John, like many movie husbands in this kind of situation, is sceptical and worried his wife is being scammed. His worries are compounded by the fact that there's a serial killer on the loose. In one memorable scene, he watches among a crowd as a woman's body is being pulled out of the canal--he frowns when nearby children laugh because the corpse is pulled out feet first, showing the dead woman's underwear.

In an earlier scene, a maid in his hotel walked in while he was sitting naked at his drafting table. Eroticism is an important part of the film but there's also a recurrent, kind of brutal absurdity in the human body being accidentally revealed in a way on one level comical and on another terribly humiliating. When John's talking to a priest, there's a random poster of Charlie Chaplin in the background showing his ass.

This comes right after a brilliantly suspenseful scene where John is nearly killed when scaffolding he's standing on inside the church is broken by a timber that falls silently from above. It altogether creates a sense of a cold, hazardous universe that is unconcerned or maybe hostile to the poor humans that inhabit it.

But there's more than randomness to John's behaviour. He repeatedly glimpses a small figure wearing a red coat like the one his daughter wore--Heather says John is also psychic, explaining his premonition at the beginning of the film. But does this account for some strange, compulsive behaviour on his part in the film's cruel and brilliant climax? When he pursues the red coated figure, why does he lock a gate behind him? Why does he speak to the figure in Italian?

There's an undeniable emotional, dreamlike sense in the events depicted by the film. There's a real sense of grief and that grief somehow fuelling a supernatural trap of some kind, drawing John in. Don't Look Now is available on The Criterion Channel until August 31.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Sometimes a Vorc is Just a Vorc

Which is the cure and which is the virus? It's not always easy to tell but, on Farscape, there is a right answer and recognising it can mean not only the difference between life and death but the difference between succeeding and doing something really, really stupid.

Season 2, Episode 14: Beware of Dog

In another episode written by Naren Shankar, currently showrunner of The Expanse, Chiana (Gigi Edgley) and D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) return to Moya with a solution for a problem no-one aboard realised they had. While shopping on a local planet, Chiana and D'Argo learned that there's a virus loose in the system Moya has wandered into and they've been talked into buying a creepy/cute little guy somewhat reminiscent of the alien from Mac & Me.

This "Vorc" is supposed to sniff out and destroy any virus on board. Meanwhile, Crichton (Ben Browder) is busy playing chess with himself and won't give any satisfying explanation to Aeryn (Claudia Black) for why he's doing so. In the previous episode, he'd found himself mysteriously incapable of killing Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) when he had the chance ("Look at the Princess, Part III"), now the hints that Scorpius may have actually done something to Crichton's brain are becoming even clearer--he's starting to have visions of Scorpius, this time without Hawaiian shirts and Margarita shooters and the influence of psychoactive sunbeams (as in "Crackers Don't Matter").

This is something that's not resolved in this episode but it's worth noting that this isn't a story about seeing things that aren't there but about misidentifying things that are, with hazardous consequences. Crichton is the first to spot some kind of giant bug monster in an air duct and both Aeryn and Pilot (Lani Tupu) find themselves inclined to put this down to Crichton being crazy. But then Chiana, Rygel (Jonathan Hardy), and D'Argo find themselves confronting it in the maintenance bay. D'Argo helpfully informs Crichton that "it's real" as the Luxan warrior lies injured on the floor after trying to fight the thing.

Meanwhile, the Vorc is being more of a pest than a solution and even bites Aeryn on the tummy--significantly, she isn't poisoned by the bite, something no-one mentions in the episode but which has significant implications later in the plot. At some point, it becomes ambiguous whether the Vorc is a cure for the virus or if Chiana had been effectively sold the problem in the form of its solution.

On top of all this confusion, a twist near the climax adds another layer of misapprehension. But there are always clues and always a real solution.

Stories like this are pretty common in Science Fiction--Crichton himself even references Invasion of the Body Snatchers within the episode. "Beware of Dog" makes a point of showing how many other factors can be added to a single point of interpretive error, adding to the difficulty of untangling real truth from apparent truth. In some cases, as in this episode, even suspecting an error in interpretation leads in itself to the error. Is Crichton simply hallucinating on his own? Is the Vorc the real monster? Or was everyone right the first time?

. . .

Farscape is available now on Amazon Prime.

This entry is part of a series I'm writing on Farscape for the show's 20th anniversary. My previous reviews can be found here (episodes are in the order intended by the show's creators rather than the broadcast order):

Season One:

Episode 1: Pilot
Episode 2: I, E.T.
Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis
Episode 4: Throne for a Loss
Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future
Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again
Episode 7: PK Tech Girl
Episode 8: That Old Black Magic
Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist
Episode 10: They've Got a Secret
Episode 11: Till the Blood Runs Clear
Episode 12: Rhapsody in Blue
Episode 13: The Flax
Episode 14: Jeremiah Crichton
Episode 15: Durka Returns
Episode 16: A Human Reaction
Episode 17: Through the Looking Glass
Episode 18: A Bug's Life
Episode 19: Nerve
Episode 20: The Hidden Memory
Episode 21: Bone to be Wild
Episode 22: Family Ties

Season Two:

Episode 1: Mind the Baby
Episode 2: Vitas Mortis
Episode 3: Taking the Stone
Episode 4: Crackers Don't Matter
Episode 5: Picture If You Will
Episode 6: The Way We Weren't
Episode 7: Home on the Remains
Episode 8: Dream a Little Dream
Episode 9: Out of Their Minds
Episode 10: My Three Crichtons
Episode 11: Look at the Princess, Part I: A Kiss is But a Kiss
Episode 12: Look at the Princess, Part II: I Do, I Think
Episode 13: Look at the Princess, Part III: The Maltese Crichton

Sunday, August 18, 2019

What's Bad for the Earthing is Bad for the Martian

It turns out Communism doesn't work in practice even when your whole planet is red. The 2011 Doctor Who audio play Thin Ice draws a parallel between the 1960s Soviet Union and a generation of Ice Warriors--the hissing, green helmeted Martian natives--who have a sobering encounter with one of the founding, legendary figures of their society. Adapted by Marc Platt from his own teleplay, Thin Ice is based on Ice Time, the story that was to be the season opener of the 1990 season that never happened. If it were anything like the audio play, it would've been a pretty good serial.

This was also originally meant to be the last story for Ace (Sophie Aldred) and we finally learn the purpose behind the manipulations which the Seventh Doctor (Sylvestor McCoy) put her through in stories like Ghost Light and Curse of Fenric--he's grooming her to enrol in a Time Lord academy on Gallifrey. This seems to make it clear once and for all that "Time Lord" is a title, not a species, which makes sense, though, as usual, the script creatively dodges addressing whether Ace would be called "Time Lord" or "Time Lady".

Supposedly the TARDIS is knocked off course in an attempted trip to late 60s London--they get the time right but location ends up being Moscow. They make friends with a Soviet lieutenant called Raina (Beth Chalmers) and a cockney thief called Markus (Ricky Groves). The Soviets are trying to use some Ice Warrior relics to their advantage which of course results in resurrecting an Ice Warrior, a fellow named Hhessh (Nicholas Briggs).

Through all this, the Doctor is leaving more and more decisions up to Ace and we gradually learn why when we hear his secret conversations with a Time Lord Adjudicator (Nigel Lambert). Ace indeed has to make some decisions when she finds herself in the midst of Ice Warrior drama after an ancient leader called Sezhyr (Beth Chalmers) is resurrected in the body of Raina. Sezhyr's occupation of Raina's body underlines some thematic paralleling of the dashed early idealism behind the formation of the Soviet Union and an ancient, revolutionary group on Mars headed by Sezhyr. The Ice Warriors even start calling one another "comrade". Hhessh's realisation that he can't blindly submit to his group's imperatives is contrasted with Ace grappling with the need to take greater control of the situation as an individual. Naturally her decisions involve Nitro-9.

It's an entertaining story and the cast are great as always. Platt also, thankfully, rewrote the story so that it does not, in fact, mark Ace's departure.

Twitter Sonnet #1268

A miller's stone adorns Tenochtitlan.
A floating crane alights beyond the state.
A squad of trees adrift support the swan.
A brig and sloop assist a second mate.
Selected stars appeared in mirror drinks.
The lightning froze to make somebody's veins.
The frozen air combined for skaters' rinks.
These summer thoughts diverge from proper lanes.
Prophetic rocks adorn the planet Mars.
A walking rabbit told a final joke.
A shave was sold behind the hidden bars.
A drawing's sequinned heart at last was broke.
Approaching tides harass the crabs and weeds.
An ancient drake subsumes a lizard's needs.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Here or Along the Way

Successive relationships with three men waylay Alice on her journey from New Mexico to Monterey, California. It's not always clear whether or not that's a good thing in 1974's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, a Martin Scorsese film about a single mother scraping by in Arizona after the death of her husband. With great characters and performances set against beautiful, expansive location shots, it's a pleasure to accompany Alice on her journey.

Following a fascinating opening flashback, a 4:3 sequence drenched in red light showing a little girl dreaming of being a singer, we're introduced to a now adult Alice (Ellen Burstyn), discontent in a marriage to a taciturn truck driver (Billy "Green" Bush) with a bratty kid named Tommy (Alfred Lutter). This kid is seriously annoying and it's hard to believe he hasn't made Alice lose her mind yet. But I think Tommy mainly works in the film as a personification of Alice's own anxieties.

After her husband dies suddenly in a car accident, Alice decides to head back to the brief career as a singer she had before she married Tommy's father. So she and Tommy start heading west and we're treated to lovely shots of desert rolling by while Mott the Hoople and T. Rex dominate the soundtrack.

Alice seems to be doing well until Tommy starts complaining about the unlikelihood of her finding a job, about their rapidly depleting funds, and the utter absence of hope for the future. But once in Phoenix, Arizona, after some shopping for new clothes, Alice does manage to find a job singing in a bar, though she had to break down crying in desperation to a bar owner to get that job.

Burstyn has a sweet voice and gives some lovely, soft, distinctly 70s piano bar renditions of Rogers and Hart and George and Ira Gershwin.

The film can be looked at as two episodes following a prologue depicting Alice's life before her husband's death. There's the Phoenix episode and the Tucson episode. In Phoenix, Alice dates a younger man called Ben (Harvey Keitel) and works as a singer. In Tucson, Alice is forced to work as a waitress and she dates a farmer called David (Kris Kristofferson). The first episode ends in a scene of effective, raw violence. Ben turns out to have a temper in a very credible scene depicting a man who responds to discovery of his own guilt with fury aimed at everyone else. What can Alice do but skip town with Tommy?

In Tucson, she's accepted among a slightly oddball group of employees of a diner. Her fellow waitresses include a meek woman named Vera (Valerie Curtin) who, in a scene of subtle physical comedy, constantly delivers the wrong orders to the wrong people, and a loud woman named Flo (Diane Ladd) with a raunchy sense of humour. Meanwhile, Tommy befriends a spectacularly wardrobed tomboy who calls herself Audrey (Jodie Foster), though her mother calls her Doris.

David, man number three, starts hanging around the diner and flirting with Alice, eventually working his way into her life by befriending Tommy.

In contrast to the earlier parts of her story, Alice finds herself surrounded by people who consistently demonstrate real concern for her and one another. David turns out to be a pretty sweet guy though there are some aspects of the way he treats Tommy that would probably never fly in a movie or TV show to-day. But he comes off as a decent guy nonetheless. Still, the movie wisely leaves unsettled the question of what precisely Alice needs to find fulfilment. It's certainly a pleasant journey in any case.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is available on NetFlix.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Bring Me the Head of John Crichton!

When Crichton's head is cut off, a variety of problems arise. The problem of succession is thrown into disarray and the Empress threatens to execute every off-worlder around, something that dampens Rygel's confidence considerably.

Season 2, Episode 13: Look at the Princess, Part III: The Maltese Crichton

Aeryn's (Claudia Black) absent for most of this because she impulsively decided to go against her misgivings and actually go on a date with the guy who'd been bugging her since Part I. Things go even worse than she imagined, though, when they decide to go rock climbing and he ends up being a useless dweeb. While complicated machinations and action scenes are happening in the capital, poor Aeryn is forced to drag her injured date across the desert.

Crichton (Ben Browder) has a more successful tryst with Jena (Bianca Chiminello) who again rescues him with her martial arts. In fact, she rescues him from his rescuer, Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), who'd pulled his severed head out of a pool of acid.

By the way, in case you forgot, Crichton was turned into a statue, which is why his head can get up to so much without his body and he's still okay when Jena "reconstitutes" him back into fleshy form. I wish they'd given him some terrible gash around the neck, though, or some other kind of creepy visual remnant of what happened to him. Maybe it wasn't in the budget or maybe the creative team just didn't want Crichton to have a noose scar for the rest of the series.

Anyway, why would Jena rescue Crichton from Scorpius if she's a Peacekeeper agent and Scorpius is a very high ranking Peacekeeper? I can only guess it's a sign of how much she's really attracted to Crichton, so much so that, after their night together, she presents him with the local kissing sauce, established in Part I as being able to show the genetic compatibility of two people. Season one had established that Peacekeepers routinely had loveless sexual encounters so it's a little surprising Jena is this into Crichton. It's even more surprising that she takes it so well when he rejects her with a simple "We're not compatible" after refusing to use the sauce.

But thinking back to Peacekeeper sexual practices does make sense of what Aeryn's going through in this episode. It makes sense that she would be feeling afraid of a new sense of emotional attachment to Crichton despite the fact that she's sexually experienced and had slept with him several times. She really is in new territory.

I do wish a little more time had been spent with Jena and her motives--maybe the writers intended to bring her back at some point and never got around to it. But reading more into the show than what's strictly there, one could surmise another reason she's so ready shoot at Scorpius is the xenophobia characteristic of the Peacekeepers which also makes Scorpius a misfit. This episode also reveals Scorpius' struggle for "thermal constancy" when the Scarran ambassador taunts him about it, an aspect to Scorpius' character I always liked. As previously established, Scorpius is half Sebacean, half Scarran. We know from season one that Sebaceans are vulnerable to heat--they experience "heat delirium" when it gets too hot--while Scarrans, apparently reptiles, thrive on heat and can produce waves of heat from their hands--which can be lethal or can be used as a truth serum.

So Scorpius' very existence seems impossible. This explains his strange S&M suit and the coolant rods inserted directly into his brain. The series began with Crichton, D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), Zhaan (Virginia Hey), and Rygel (Jonathan Hardy) all trying to find their way home. Then Chiana (Gigi Edgley) was introduced, someone trying to do just the opposite and escape from home. And now Scorpius is the ultimate misfit. It's actually kind of admirable he's so focused on getting the wormhole technology from Crichton's brain when he has so many other issues to deal with.

Meanwhile, the subplot about Moya's builder (Jonathan Hardy) wanting her to commit suicide is resolved. It turns out to be something like the reverse of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son--it turns out the builder's whole purpose from the beginning was just to test Zhaan, who passes said test when she tries to kill "God", the builder. Zhaan is understandably not amused and I don't blame her for being unwilling to see this guy as a deity. But it's a thought provoking story. Is it really an analysis of religion or of just a sentient being pretending to be God?

It doesn't quite connect with the main plot which concludes with Chiana becoming a damsel in distress, chained over the pool of acid by the Scarran who's desperate now that he's graphically murdered Prince Clavor (Felix Williamson). But, of course, everything resolves well enough for Crichton to agonise over the fact that he can't be turned back into a statue, a fate he's willing to undergo when he learns Princess Katralla (Felicity Price) has been impregnated by his DNA.

So concludes the three part episode and the three loves of Crichton are whittled back down to just Aeryn as the two swap kissing sauce in a nice scene at the very end where Aeryn's emotional journey comes to a surprisingly satisfying fruition.

. . .

Farscape is available now on Amazon Prime.

This entry is part of a series I'm writing on Farscape for the show's 20th anniversary. My previous reviews can be found here (episodes are in the order intended by the show's creators rather than the broadcast order):

Season One:

Episode 1: Pilot
Episode 2: I, E.T.
Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis
Episode 4: Throne for a Loss
Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future
Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again
Episode 7: PK Tech Girl
Episode 8: That Old Black Magic
Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist
Episode 10: They've Got a Secret
Episode 11: Till the Blood Runs Clear
Episode 12: Rhapsody in Blue
Episode 13: The Flax
Episode 14: Jeremiah Crichton
Episode 15: Durka Returns
Episode 16: A Human Reaction
Episode 17: Through the Looking Glass
Episode 18: A Bug's Life
Episode 19: Nerve
Episode 20: The Hidden Memory
Episode 21: Bone to be Wild
Episode 22: Family Ties

Season Two:

Episode 1: Mind the Baby
Episode 2: Vitas Mortis
Episode 3: Taking the Stone
Episode 4: Crackers Don't Matter
Episode 5: Picture If You Will
Episode 6: The Way We Weren't
Episode 7: Home on the Remains
Episode 8: Dream a Little Dream
Episode 9: Out of Their Minds
Episode 10: My Three Crichtons
Episode 11: Look at the Princess, Part I: A Kiss is But a Kiss
Episode 12: Look at the Princess, Part II: I Do, I Think

Thursday, August 15, 2019

When Maniacs Collide

A man wearing a big rubber mask holds a hammer over Ellie Masters where she lies in bed, staring confusedly back at him before finally screaming. The cruel matron of the orphanage where Ellie is staying explains this is only a dream in 1971's Blood and Lace, a captivating and schlocky riff on Psycho with a theremin-heavy soundtrack oddly pulled from Sci-Fi films. This only scratches the surface of this famous pulp film's free-associative plot which also includes frozen corpses that bleed, at least four murderous maniacs occasionally at cross purposes, and a whole lot of really short dresses and nighties. It's hard to take your eyes off this movie, it's a terrific pleasure.

The Wikipedia entry calls Blood and Lace a proto-slasher film. Like later slasher films, it takes some conspicuous cues from Psycho. Blood and Lace focuses on a pretty young blonde woman, Ellie (Melody Patterson), before introducing an unrelated maniac, Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame), who routinely turns to her dead husband for advice on how to run her orphanage.

I suspect this movie had a substantial influence on David Lynch. Ellie looks and behaves so much like Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive it's uncanny--and I'd be spoiling both movies if I told you why the resemblance doesn't end there. The film starts with the murder of Ellie's mother, a prostitute, and one of her mother's johns. For this sequence, director Philip S. Gilbert introduces the novel technique of attaching a hammer to the camera, offering us a first person "hammer cam", if you will.

In the aftermath, Ellie has been temporarily committed to a hospital in her lacy nightie but she argues with a social worker named Mullins (Milton Selzer), insisting she be allowed to leave so she can seek out her biological father. The fact that she knows virtually nothing about him doesn't seem to discourage her.

Managing to sneak out of the hospital, she's immediately pursued by a strange man (Vic Tayback) who doesn't think to mention he's a police detective until after she's run off the road and along the train tracks for a while. There are a lot of logical problems in this film but there actually turns out to be sort of an explanation for this later on.

He informs her she needs to go live in an orphanage. Ahead of this, we're introduced to Mrs. Deere and her henchman, Tom (Len Lesser), who cuts off a boy's hand when he attempts to flee the place. We also have a glimpse of Tom's and Mrs. Deere's routine of moving corpses out of the freezer and into beds in order to pass inspections by Mullins. He doesn't look too closely at things due to a tacit understanding he has with Mrs. Deere who sleeps with him in exchange.

There's a scene later in the film where Mrs. Deere talks to Ellie about remembering what it was like to be beautiful and warns Ellie that one day she'll look in a mirror and see someone like her. But Gloria Grahame, who was 46 at this point, actually looks really good. I'd say her performance is more animated, too, than in The Man Who Never Was though she still has the almost totally paralysed upper lip.

Ellie discovers a girl tied up in the attic, begging for water--a victim of Mrs. Deere's brutal discipline, but Ellie doesn't think to mention it when the police detective drops by. The detective, whose name is Calvin, is shown in an earlier scene reminiscing with Mullins about how nice it was sleeping with Ellie's prostitute mother and talking about how much he'd like to get into Ellie's pants now. At the same time, he does seem genuinely interested in getting to the bottom of shenanigans at the Deere Orphanage.

Which all leaves the question, who is the man in the mask with the bright red and black shirt, wielding the hammer? He looks like an ancestor of both Freddy Krueger and Leatherface. Also, why does Mrs. Deere like to talk about reanimating corpses?

This movie is so much better than I was expecting it to be and it's available on Amazon Prime.

Twitter Sonnet #1267

Selected cats perform the martial role.
Along the wall the tabbies claw the stone.
A crenelated glimpse revealed the soul.
The fastest paw acquired nip alone.
A tower guard's asleep in iron helm.
A whisker set detects an arrow's path.
To save a kitten, cats reclaim the realm.
Or mug or glass provokes the paw to wrath.
The brave and bristly troop prepares.
A team of tails arrays atop the wall.
But hark: a bigger cat appears.
A secret puma stands and swipes them all.
The snarling foe attacks a squeaking bait
As coiled storms of fur in boxes wait.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Rambling On Through 18th Century England

A big Frenchman, presumed dead, rises from a coffin, somehow not much startling the young draper's apprentice left to watch the corpse. The imperturbable lad joins the big man on the road with vague indications of reluctance in Ken Loach's 1979 film Black Jack. Apparently employing non-professional actors and displaying a dedication to natural lighting and locations, there's a Neorealist vibe to the movie, much like Loach's earlier film, Kes. Black Jack doesn't as successfully portray the psychology of its characters and some of their actions remain mysterious by the film's end. But with the attention to detail in costumes and props, there's always a nice feeling of watching candid footage of 1750 England.

The big Frenchman is Black Jack (Jean Franval), called that because no-one can pronounce his real name. His first attempt as a footpad is forestalled by the lad, Tolly (Stephen Hirst), who convinces him to help the occupants of a coach that gets stuck in a puddle instead of robbing them. The grateful occupants reward the pair with money so Black Jack decides to create more opportunity by throwing a big rock in the puddle.

The next coach to run into trouble is bearing a little girl named Belle (Louise Cooper), the most entertaining character in the film. Stricken with madness, her wealthy father has decided to quietly send her off to a madhouse, to where she was en route when Black Jack's rock stopped her. The first thing she says when Tolly catches her running off into the woods is, "I can use the privy!"

Cooper has a charming, toothy grin and seems committed to telling people about a golden topped tower only she can see. Stephen Hirst as Tolly gives a lifeless performance that sometimes works to convey an emotionally numbed or insecure child. But mostly his monotone, mumbly line readings are good proof of the value in some professional training (it was hard to get a screenshot of him with his eyes open).

Black Jack recedes into the background somewhat when Tolly and Belle are taken in by a travelling, miracle elixir merchant accompanied by three of the dwarves who'd later appear in Time Bandits--Malcolm Dixon, Mike Edmonds, and David Rappaport. It was pretty easy to imagine Randall, Strutter, and Og themselves were there, still on their quest to find plunder throughout history.

The climax of the film turns on some kind of arbitrary character motives but it was effective enough that I was hoping for the heroes to prevail. Black Jack is available on The Criterion Channel.