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Acme Sponsored Screenings at E & O

e&oBeginning this month on Wednesday nights at the E & O Tap, 289 Knight St. on the west side, Acme will be sponsoring Double Feature screenings presented by Liz Lemon! Films will range from the highest of brow to the lowest of trash. Coming up in December, various films of Nicolas Cage will be the focus to coincide with the release of the new Werner Herzog film Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans! See links for more info.

Dalton Trumbo – Yes, The Brave Are Lonely

johnny-got-his-gun4Recently, the people at Shout!Factory, an independent releasing company on the fast track to greatness in the post-Rhino era, had the good sense to put out a special release of a long unavailable independent film. (Shout is continuing to release also the beloved Mystery Science Theater, which Rhino had the good sense to deliver for a while until they went broke because not a huge market exists apparently for indie products because people are so homogenized and blah blah).   Johnny Got His Gun, written and directed by Dalton Trumbo, is perhaps THE most inflammatory indictment not just of war, especially for the sake of “democracy”, but of any bureaucratic system led by those who would ignore individual determinism while claiming to represent the greater morality.  It is the story of a soldier in WWI named Joe Bonham who winds up in a bizarre predicament after surviving a mortar shell explosion. Armless, legless, blind, and unable to speak, he is trapped inside what remains of his physical  body, and at the mercy of those around him while he lies on a hospital table and tries to reckon with his despair and the idealism that led him down the road. Through memories and a few conversations with Jesus Christ, his life replays in his mind and for the audience.johnnygothisgun13

The thing about Trumbo is his language, very intelligent and written with a flair for meter, at times very poetic. The film retains little of this, so the book is a must read. The book came out in 1939, won the National Book Award for best original story, and was promptly squelched, pulled out of print for being “subversive”. What followed for Trumbo was a brief period of successful screenwriting for Hollywood films and then a long nightmare of persecution by HUAC, a jail sentence, and years of being blacklisted. Despite the merry turn of events, he continued to write screenplays for Hollywood films using fronts to take credit for his work, which allowed him to scrape by financially and raise his family. It would come out years later that he actually wrote some true classics like Gun Crazy, Roman Holiday, and The Brave One, for which he won an Oscar but never got credit until years later.JOHNNYGOTHISGUN_THUMBNAIL

In 1960, Otto Preminger made his screenplay for Exodus into a film and pushed to have his name credited as screenwriter. Next was Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas, a supporter of Trumbo and his work. He continued to work and wrote several good stories and screenplays including Lonely Are The Brave, The Sandpiper, Hawaii, The Fixer, The Horsemen, Papillon, and Executive Action. In a sense, one could say he beat the odds of his situation and he acheived a lot. Certainly getting to make Johnny Got His Gun into an uncompromised film was a major acheivement, despite the lack of any commercial success for the film. It stands as a major independent work and perhaps as people get to see it on dvd and the new Magnolia documentary, Trumbo, a new generation can fully appreciate the work of an American artist whose life was adversity, while his work reflected the adversities faced by his fellow man and resonate as powerful contributions.trumbo_l200805221603

In the new documentary by Peter Askin, cast members of productions of Trumbo’s works including Donald Sutherland, Michael Douglas,Brian Dennehy, Paul Giamatti and Joan Allen read Trumbo’s letters to family, friends and foes alike, bringing to life his language which was so eloquent and infusing the emotions he was going through. A fragile but passionate Kirk Douglas, always a champion of Trumbo, pays tribute even as he struggles to speak. It is a wonderfully warm documentary that leaves you disturbed by our nation’s capacity to get it wrong and at the same time feeling a sense of celebration for the human spirit and the concepts worth fighting for.

The Johnny Got His Gun release is packed with extras including interview material with Trumbo used in the new film.  Trumbo comes out this week, and has outtake footage of readings as added bonus features.

Seoul Connection

Thanks to my friend Nate, who is in Seoul, South Korea escaping the American ruse and living his dream, Acme has a few additions to the Korean film collection. He has passed along several films from past and present that are of varying type but all of which are interesting and recommended to those who enjoy Korean cinema, or foreign film in general.
gagmandg1Gagman, a 1989 film from director Myung-se Lee, is a rather funny action comedy about an unsuccessful stand-up comic who yearns to become a big-time film director.  He is joined by two friends who aspire to be actors, and the three concoct a scheme to break into films by doing bank heists, and in the process, there is much hilarity and many nods to Chaplin and Keaton. The film is the director’s homage to these great gagmen.

Friend, a 2001 film by Kyung-taek Kwak, is the director’s semi-autobiographical and tragic story of four Friendposterchildhood friends spanning a number of years in the 1970′s. At the time of its release it became the largest grossing Korean film ever (not how we really care to measure a film’s worth, mind you, but 2001 was a worldwide breakthrough year for Korean filmmakers). It is beautifully shot in and around Korea’s second largest city, Pusan, and reflects the director’s affinity for the place. To keep it interesting storywise, there are elements of sex, drugs, underworld crime, karaoke, and even murder and courtroom drama that are mostly true to life.

posterphoto5992The Power of Kangwon Province, from Sang-Soo Hong (Woman Is The Future of Man), is a release from 1998. This particular film has been regarded as a low-budget masterpiece with a feel for the slow pace and long takes of older Antonioni films but with a directness that is of more recent cinema. A young student and her married professor end a secret love affair, which we sense is very painful for her. Some time later, she travels from Seoul to Kangwon province, an Eastern resort area. Simultaneously, her ex is making his own trip there, although they never meet. The film shows both journeys through a challenging time structure which is linear as a film, but simultaneous as a story. Hong has made several films in which he follows two threads of story occurring at the same time and has said that he sees his films more as stories that fit structures he has thought up rather than films about reality. Through his subtlety concerning story, the viewer has a chance to interpret things occurring rather than being blatantly shown, which make this a very satisfying, smart, and refreshing kind of film to see.

horrorgameGawi, aka Horror Game Movie, aka Nightmare, from 2000, by Byeoun-ki Ahn, is a solid addition to the Korean horror section. It came out amidst a slew of ghost story slasher films, and is definitely one, but it is the great camerawork and visual style of this one that make it worthwhile. The storyline is nothing new – a girl is haunted by the ghost of her murdered friend, and people are being killed off one by one as the story of her death unravels.

Many thanks to Nate for sending these along. Stay tuned for reviews of new Korean films as they arrive. Anticipated releases include A Bittersweet Life and Breathless, both from 2008/9.

Toots – A Film About Toots Shor

toots2Now here’s a documentary that has it all. Toots Shor, saloonkeeper in New York City from the 40′s through the 60′s is profiled by his granddaughter, Kristi Jacobson. In the process, she delves into NY history as far back as 1900, using amazing archive photographs and newsreel footage. In addition to all these great materials to work with, she uncovered a lost, fortunately preserved oral taped interview with Shor made by an historian back in the 1970′s, when he was out of the limelight and near the end of his life. The story of Toots is told also from many perspectives in interviews that took years to gather. Entertainers, sports figures, newsmen, sports writers, novelists, and even gangsters are in the mix.  It is worth mentioning that this is a straight, no chaser documentary – meaning that although this is a personal film, Jacobson is not trying to reckon with a family member’s sordid past. There is no attempt to psychoanalyze anyone. However, he is shown warts and all, and still remains an interesting and admirable man of his times.

The man was a legend, and hearing the stories of various interview subjects is really where his story is told. It really makes you wish you had a chance to pop in for a drink or a meal at Toots Shor back in the day (really the 1950′s was the peak) andToots witness him joking around with Jackie Gleason or slapping Frank Gifford on the back. You pretty much could have, as well. Amazing as it seems now, there was an openness that you get a sense of – a lack of velvet-rope exclusivity that is really appealing. There is so much in this film you’ll want to watch it a couple of times. The original score by Mark Suozzo is absolutely brilliant, and puts you right in the times. The DVD also has a really informative and interesting commentary track with Jacobson in which she describes the process of making the film, where she got certain materials, etc. DVD Released Jan. 13,2009 on Indiepix.

Indie Arts Fest 2009 Acme Video Showcase

lostskeletonofcadavraSaturday July 18th is Indie Arts Fest downtown if you don’t know already, and in the evening, hopefully after a nice sunny day, Acme will be presenting 2 films projected outside at the Tazza Caffe. Come by around 8:00 or so, showtime is around 8:30, running til midnight. This year we have a Sci-Fi/Lo-Fi theme, and will kick it off with a spoof of 50′s/60′s sci fi called The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra by Larry Blamire. Nearly a classic now in it’s own right, this tackles every cliche of the era and is super entertaining and well done.

American-AstronautNext up will be a lo-fi indie feature called The American Astronautlost-skeleton-c by Cory McAbee. With a grainy home-made look, recognizably junky sets, wacky space-western storyline and a few rock ‘n roll set-pieces, it also is an indie classic. Both films are in black and white, and will look great outside. See you there!

Gran Torino – Clint’s Ode To A Changing America

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The Ford Gran Torino was among the last American muscle cars produced in the 1971-1975 decline of Detroit factory performance cars. From about 1957-1970, American companies designed and built many particularly beautiful and fast cars. Corvette, Mustang, GTO, Challenger, AMX, Camaro, Firebird, Barracuda, to name a few. Originally conceived for racing purposes, these cars were later developed for street use, and were marketed specifically to the young using very powerful advertising tools like movies,television and magazines. The resulting street culture was dangerous and short lived in some ways, but today is a huge subculture involving young and old alike. Restoring, showing and collecting these cars is now the industry, kept alive by enthusiasts who undoubtedly feel these cars represent who they are or want to be.

1970 marked a definite shift away from the pursuit of faster and more outrageous cars for street purposes. Safety issues and manufacturing costs played a part, but mostly the new decade was shaping up to be hard economically for America. The country plunged into a record recession caused mainly by the reckless Vietnam War. Sound familiar? After 1973 there were shortages of fuel due to upheaval in the global oil industry and soon the focus was on energy efficiency. U.S. companies persisted in the marketing of muscle though, but increasingly failed in both design and execution. The 1972 Gran Torino is a perfect example. It was an ugly, terrible car by most muscle car standards. Now, though, in an age when cars are SO boring, the car of the movie may have some retro appeal, but it is the symbolic nature of this particular beast in the 2008 Clint Eastwood masterpiece Gran Torino that is more powerful.

The name Gran Torino comes from the Italian city of Turin, or Torino. It is the capital of the Italian automobile industry, headquarters for Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia, just as Detroit has been the home of the big three American companies Ford, GM and Chrysler. The car was actually more of a standard level of automobile, a replacement in name and design for the mid-level Fairlane line that Ford had. Like they had for about a decade, the companies would offer a performance model at the high end of their lines with special engines and added sport features. These were always limited production cars, the most costly, and supposedly the best the companies had to offer. In 1972, Ford putting a big V-8 and some stripes and mags on a bloated family car and calling it Gran Torino was a lame attempt at preserving muscle car prestige. It signaled the end of an era and the tough times that lay ahead.

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It is an interesting choice of car and title for a film about a bitter man near the end of his life, struggling with the scars of his past and his relationship with the world around him. Clint’s character Walt Kowalski is one of the last of an old breed in a relentlessly changing world. He is a retired Detroit auto worker and Korean War veteran. A widower, he sits alone and stares with hatred at the world around him, especially his neighbors next door, a family of Hmong. His view of them is shaped by his past, the enemies he fought and killed in Korea. To him they are just more “gooks” and he’s bitter that his neighborhood has gone to shit and he blames them. When a gang tries to recruit the young boy next door, Kowalski will be drawn into their lives and be called to action, unwillingly at first. Through helping to boy and his family, he comes to know them and realizes that he has much to give, including the symbol of his youth.

He’s had the Gran Torino in his garage since it rolled off the line in 1972, and it has a special significance for him because among other things he actually worked on the assembly of the car. To him it’s a mean green street machine, an expression of his character that he preserved and cared for, a reminder of how things used to be in his life. This film is an ode to that past, and to ours as Americans, and a sort of poem to deal with the last century as we move into the next.

From about 1972 to present we have witnessed the downhill slide of the American auto industry as international competition (specifically Japan’s Big Three – Honda, Toyota and Nissan) took hold of the market with better and more efficient products. Most recently, to the amazement of American consumers and auto workers alike, it’s as if the U.S. industry has finally gone careening like a giant idiotic boulder down a huge mountainside with no brakes and certainly no will to reverse course. General Motors, once the world-dominating auto company, has just gone out of business, leaving its employees marooned. Chrysler and Ford may soon follow. Failure to make better products and to embrace new technologies is to blame, as is most certainly collusion with the oil industry. We are seeing the total collapse of an industry through reluctance to move in a responsible, forward-thinking way.  Since seeing this film at a snowy winter midnight screening, it has resonated more and more to me as a timely and poignant powerhouse of a movie.

It should be said that I have been a fan of Clint Eastwood the actor all my life, even in the cheesy films like Every Which Way But Loose (“Right turn, Clyde!….”) and the weaker recent ones like Bloodwork. I guess I’ll watch him in anything. He’s always been a favorite action hero. More recently, specifically since Unforgiven, I have watched all of his directorial films and witnessed a great progression and range of material. Starting in 1971, using skills he learned from director Don Siegel over the course of making five films together, he began directing on his own. Play Misty For Me is a powerful little thriller made on a small budget and no paycheck for Clint. It was a fairly successful start and is a real favorite of mine since I first saw it on a TV rerun in 1976. Since then, he’s directed great Westerns like Pale Rider and Unforgiven, excellent period dramas like Bird, a film about Charlie Parker, and The Bridges of Madison County, as well as top notch hits like Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby. In 2008 he had two films completed – Changeling, an underrated and chilling period thriller, and Gran Torino, a film that could be a capstone. He has hinted in recent interviews that it may be his last role as an actor. I hope not, but if that is true, he’s ended a long career triumphantly.

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The screenplay was written by Nick Schenk, surprisingly not a Hollywood insider but rather a first-timer who wrote the story sitting in a bar with friends in Minneapolis. Supposedly, material for the story developed over many years, from encounters with veterans he’d met on different jobs and Hmong people he worked with during a stint at a VHS factory in Bloomington, Minnesota. A blue collar guy, Schenk was interested in the plight of war vets and factory workers, but learning about the Hmong propelled the story in a new direction. The story of the mountain people of Laos, displaced during the Vietnam war and migrating from refugee camps in Thailand to the U.S. impressed him, and those he met revealed to him the fact of many Hmong who were recruited and fought alongside U.S. soldiers against the North Vietnamese. Details of their cultural traditions and family life also became known, and he came up with the scenario of Kowalski being drawn out of his isolation and prejudice through helping this family next door. The boy and his sister face tough problems, and Kowalski is the guy righting wrongs all through the story, both for them and himself.

When Clint got the screenplay, he decided to produce and direct it without any changes but for location. It would be set and shot in Michigan instead of Minnesota as Schenk intended. The story of Kowalski’s transcendence from hate for the world and his neighbors to redemption is classic and compelling, and watching Clint as Kowalski, it’s as if he’s infused all the best from his past roles to make this one indelible. It’s as personal as it gets in many ways, carrying a weighty message about ways of dealing with problems, understanding and sharing. By meeting his challenge and taking responsibility Kowalski is redeemed, in the process presenting a more realistic kind of hero, with more depth and certainly more human. It’s all there, some humor included, but this time the Dirty Harry style violent revenge is cleverly reworked so that Kowalski can make the ultimate sacrifice for people he once mistook for old enemies.

As the credits roll, Clint can be heard singing his ode Gran Torino, a gravelly, ghostly voice from beyond. It’s the final signature on the film, and while it’s sad, there is a feeling you get that as bad as things can be, life in this world is what you make of it. Time will march on, changes will happen, and if there’s a good reason to look at the past, it’s to guide us into the future and not live with old mistakes.

Monks – The Transatlantic Feedback

monks_combinedAnother addition to the “long overdue” department is this film, by Dietmar Post and Lucia Palacios about the mysterious band The Monks of the mid 1960′s. Highly influential in underground music, this band’s story is told here with revealing footage and interviews with most original members as well as the German avant-garde managers who shaped the image and sound of the band. The historical context for the band’s approach is well explained and makes this a film of value also for those interested in the art culture of  the 60′s. In this case we get an examination of Vietnam-era Germany where band members stayed after military service to create music. The DVD features much live footage of the band before as the Torquays and after transformation into The Monks. Released by PlayLoud! Productions, May 9, 2009.

Scott Walker – 30 Century Man

scott3 eyeLike a flashlight beaming into a dark room, this is the long awaited film about one of the most curious singer songwriters ever. Walker left the 60′s pop group The Walker Brothers in 1967 to escape the insanity of being a pop star, and would embark on a solo recording career during which he has made some of the most dark and compelling music known to man. This film, by director Stephen Kijak, features impressive historical background and talking head interviews about the subject, but really delivers with Scott himself being interviewed and most of all with glimpses of him working in the studio on a current project. For fans it is a real treat without destroying the mystique at all. For those unfamiliar, it serves as a great introduction. Released on DVD June 16,2009 by Oscilloscope.walkerposing

The Friends Of Eddie Coyle – Finally Available!!

friends_of_eddie_coyleThanks to the Criterion Collection, this item from the “LOST” list surfaces in a very nice, although bare-bones edition. The 1973 Paramount film, directed by Peter Yates (Bullitt) and starring Robert Mitchum, is possibly one of the best films of it’s genre and of the 70′s. It’s also a late tour de force for Mitchum. Friends and the 1975 Farewell My Lovely would mark a return to the noir pictures of his heyday in the 40′s and 50′s, and Mitchum would show that he never lost his chops despite hard, wild living.

Based on a crime novel by Boston prosecutor George V. Higgins, the film is set in the very realistic world of small-time hoods in early 70′s Boston. The tone is set mostly by the tough-guy dialogue deftly written in the book and expertly delivered by Mitchum and Peter Boyle in the film. Eddie “Fingers” Coyle is up to his neck in a gun deal with small-timer Jackie Brown, and the law is not far behind. Eddie’s associate and bartender Dillon (Boyle) is caught between Eddie and the mob, and must play both sides, as Eddie does. It’s every man for himself.

The entire film is shot on location in and around Boston, which at the time was the perfect run-down mean kind of town for the film’s aesthetic. Yates’ use of long-shot exteriors and dark, claustrophobic interiors enhances the mood. Near the climax of the film there is also the bonus of a glimpse into the long-gone Boston Garden, where the famous Bobby Orr-era Bruins play a game attended by our hoodlums. Priceless. It may be the best film of Boston ever.

On DVD, the film retains its grainyness and washed-out look, and there is a very fortunate commentary track by Director Yates, now in his 80′s. The only other extra is a booklet with reprints of some articles, one in particular by Grover Lewis written on the set and behind the scenes with Mitchum that is really good. Released on June 2, 2009.  Get it before the “mooks” at Paramount get it back and shove it on a shelf for another 30 years.

Speaking of Mitchum – Get out your VCR

farewell_my_lovelyAs mentioned in my piece on The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Robert Mitchum was in another noir in 1975 called Farewell, My Lovely. So far no DVD release has come for this overlooked film from the cycle of 70′s noirs.  It’s a color film version of the Raymond Chandler potboiler, set in 1941 L.A.  Mitchum plays private eye Philip Marlowe, of course, but the supporting cast is excellent also, including Harry Dean Stanton, Charlotte Rampling and Sylvia Miles.

Directed by Dick Richards, a former Life photographer, the film is an updating to 70′s realism of an old story from the days of the dark, sinister dream-world noir style. The period L.A. of this film stands out much more than it would in earlier films, and feels much more lifelike. The noir lighting style is employed, but here in dazzling reds and shadows of all colors, for the first time you get a sense of things as they looked for real. Neon signs jump out of the night, and sidewalks are washed in color. Broad daylight is, well, broad daylight. Refreshing.

Polanski‘s Chinatown, Altman‘s Long Goodbye, Penn‘s Night Moves, Kulik‘s Shamus and Benton‘s Late Show are the other stand-out films of the 70′s that revisit the 40′s private eye film and reinterpret it for their own time. The 40′s paranoia becomes 70′s cynicism and the made in studio picture becomes a location feature. All are very successful and worthwhile films, but Farewell is somehow the most perfect balance of style and revision, and is made more poignant by the presence of the aging Mitchum, who seems  a more world-weary version of Marlowe than he would as a younger man.

big sleep picHe also appears as Marlowe in Michael Winner‘s 1978 The Big Sleep, an all-too-flawed remake of the nearly perfect 1945 Howard Hawks film of the same name with Bogie and Bacall. Winner’s film is mostly forgettable but for Mitchum, who tries his best but is undone by the director’s ineptitude and the film’s overdone approach to updating, so far as to set the film in England with an overly-jazzy score. Worth mentioning on this subject of The Big Sleep, the 1973 Buzz Kulik film Shamus, starring Burt Reynolds as private eye Shamus McCoy, has a great homage to the Hawks original. It’s a replay of the scene where Bogart stakes out the shop across the way and “whiles” away the afternoon with a nice young lady and a pocket bottle of rye, except no whiskey and much more sleazy talk. Really fun.

Both Mitchum films are in the non-DVD limboland, but Acme Video, the only place that cares, has them available for you to watch on cassette, so dust off your VCR.

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