Sunday, July 10, 2016

Today in Bunched History: Luche Libre Starring Blue Demon (1970)

Originally Posted July 10, 2009

I've been a fan of flamboyant Mexican wrestlers ever since my Dad and I saw Mil Mascaras beat the snot out of the villainous Greg Valentine at the fairgrounds 30 years ago. Yeah, yeah I know wrasslin' is fake, but I would think a 250 lb man jumping on you from the top rope would have to smart at least a little bit. Mexico holds its heroic grapplers in high esteem, featuring them in magazines, advertisements and, naturally, action films.

In this silly diversion, a group of luchadors enmascarado attempts to protect some beauty pageant contestants from the evil designs of a mad scientist and his seemingly inexhaustible supply of midget wrestler henchmen.

Our barrel-chested heros get themselves in a variety of pickles, but are saved by teamwork, agility and the fact that the mad scientist's various contraptions always seem to go haywire at critical moments.

The action is accompanied by a twinkly cocktail party jazz score that makes no sense whatsoever. The filmmaking is sloppy, amateurish, riddled with continuity errors and I adored every minute of it. Alain Resnais did not direct this film.

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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Climates Turns 10

Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan (last name pronounced JAY-lin) has become a fixture at the Cannes Film Festival in the past decade. During that time, his work has won numerous Critic’s Awards and Grand Prizes, culminating in the prestigious Palme d’Or for Winter Sleep in 2014. While his films have tackled a wide range of situations and subjects, his unique, singular style of filmmaking has created a body of work unified in look and feel, and consistent in its excellence. To describe Ceylan's aesthetics, one must look to the somber, deliberate tomes of his idol Andrei Tarkovsky as a heavy stylistic influence. But Ceylan adds his own subtle comedic flavoring to the mix, with sharply observed details of flawed humanity that will have you marveling at their universal truths. Ceylan’s films manage to be both morose and life-affirming, and that’s a pretty neat trick.

Climates from 2006 is a beautifully photographed contemplation on the perils of romantic relationships, and the capricious nature of dependency. It’s about a middle-age college professor and his younger girlfriend (played by Ceylan and his real life wife Ebru) who find the glow of their long term love affair fading. During a vacation amid ancient Roman ruins - a symbol for the couple’s subtle, gnawing bitterness - they eventually decide to split up. But the sense of loss and recrimination that ruined their love continues to fester, as the couple realize they can escape each other, but not themselves.

At heart, Climates is a very simple film that stands on the strength of its stark execution. In many scenes the only audio is the sound of a character breathing; the only action an intense stare. Yet out of this rawest minimalism emerges a love story that will haunt you for days. With settings ranging from sunny Mediterranean beach towns to snowy mountain villages, Ceylan maps an ever changing emotional landscape through the volatile natural splendors of his native land. Climates is not a story of humanity vs. nature, but humanity vs. human nature.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Page Turner Turns 10

Despite its elegant, understated atmosphere, The Page Turner (2006) is a powerful French thriller that delivers plenty of nail-biting tension. It’s a tale of slow-simmering revenge, as a former piano student from the wrong side of the tracks (Déborah François) hatches a subtle scheme to get even with a famous concert pianist (Catherine Frot), over an insult suffered many years ago. In a manner reminiscent of All About Eve, François slowly weaves her way into Frot’s household and eventually makes the whole family dependent on her. Her trap set, François proceeds to quietly dismantle the lives of her benefactors one by one, leaving her victims hollow emotional ruins.

Directed with brooding Haneke-esque formality by Danis Delcourt, The Page Turner is constructed with the delicacy of a spider web, and with equally deceptive strength. As François patiently and methodically pursues her goal, her true aims are often unclear to the viewer, which only makes the end results more satisfying. While most thrillers require some suspension of disbelief, here every chess move of the plot feels genuine and logical. And chess is an apt metaphor, as clearly François is thinking at least three moves ahead of her unsuspecting and hapless victims.

The Page Turner also owes a stylistic debt to the work of Hitchcock and Chabrol in the way it unleashes deep personal destruction with a minimum of conflict and violence. The thrills and chills occur in the mysterious landscape of the human mind, with fears cleverly manipulated, weaknesses exploited and false vanities crushed. It’s a film that entertains and surprises and, like its namesake, will keep you enthralled from the very first frame. It’s also a cautionary tale of why you should always try to be nice to everybody. In the long run, it’s really the best policy.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Quick Takes: July 2016

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead (2015) ✭✭✭

Interesting behind-the-scenes look at the funniest magazine in human history. We meet the wacky creatives who made the magic, as well as their less talented replacements, who ran it into the ground. If you were a young man with subversive, irreverent leanings in the early 1970s, a new issue of National Lampoon was a cause for celebration. The magazine was more than nerdy satire, filthy cartoons and pictures of women with big breasts. It was a zeitgeist confluence that will never be duplicated.

Pause (2014) ✭✭✭✭

Entertaining French romance about the travails of a slacker musician and his ambitious girlfriend. The film stars Baptiste Gilliéron who is France's answer to Johnny Depp.

In the Name of My Daughter (2014)✭✭✭✭

André Téchiné directs this fascinating Deneuve vehicle now showing on Amazon Prime. Based on a true story, it's all about shady operations at a Nice casino that eventually lead to a nasty family feud. The pacing drags a bit here and there, but it's still an absorbing watch.