Archives for March 2011 | Varied Celluloid

Archive for March, 2011

‘Capone’ review!

Posted by Josh Samford On March - 21 - 2011
And now, with the Korean cinema blogathon finally over, we here at Varied Celluloid can start to settle down! Well, if by “settle down”, you mean post more film reviews and news items – then yes! Today we have a review for the previously mentioned Capone, from the good people at Shout! Factory who will be releasing the film on the 29th of this month! If you’re a crime film fan, this one may just prove to be worth your while!

The Plot: Al Capone (Ben Gazzara) begins our film as a petty hoodlum who manages to finally catch the eye of mob boss Frankie Yale (John Cassavetes) and his right hand man Johnny Torrio (Harry Guardino), and begins to sneak his way into the organization. When he is given the opportunity to wipe out the boss by Johnny Torrio, Capone finally steps into the role of a kingpin and begins to muscle his way into the Chicago underworld. His biggest enemy however is Hymie Weiss, and the two gangs begin to clash almost immediately. Capone begins to see Johnny Torrio as being weak when the boss doesn’t want to run head first into a gang war with Weiss, and thus Capone has his right hand man Frank Nitti (Sylvester Stallone) slip Weiss’ gang information on Torrio’s location and the boss is nearly killed. Torrio at this point decides to leave the gang and the blood thirsty Capone takes over the operation. Will anyone cool this savage or will his own love affair with violence bring his downfall?


CONTINUE READING HERE!

Capone

Posted by Josh Samford On March - 21 - 2011

Capone (1975)
Director: Steve Carver
Writers: Howard Browne
Starring: Ben Gazzara, Susan Blakely and Sylvester Stallone



The Plot: Al Capone (Ben Gazzara) begins our film as a petty hoodlum who manages to finally catch the eye of mob boss Frankie Yale (John Cassavetes) and his right hand man Johnny Torrio (Harry Guardino), and begins to sneak his way into the organization. When he is given the opportunity to wipe out the boss by Johnny Torrio, Capone finally steps into the role of a kingpin and begins to muscle his way into the Chicago underworld. His biggest enemy however is Hymie Weiss, and the two gangs begin to clash almost immediately. Capone begins to see Johnny Torrio as being weak when the boss doesn’t want to run head first into a gang war with Weiss, and thus Capone has his right hand man Frank Nitti (Sylvester Stallone) slip Weiss’ gang information on Torrio’s location and the boss is nearly killed. Torrio at this point decides to leave the gang and the blood thirsty Capone takes over the operation. Will anyone cool this savage or will his own love affair with violence bring his downfall?

The Review
The gangster genre has seen its ups and downs throughout generations past, but it still seems to be one of the most dramatic and successful of all film cycles. Here in America, where we make heroes out of our most notorious of criminals, it is especially popular. Although there have been many post-modern renditions of the gangster-mythos, there is still an underlying view that outlaws are somehow very alluring. With gangster films we allow ourselves to see a point of life that we would never attempt to experience personally. It is a cathartic vacation from the mundane, in a way that we know is entirely real. However, we as a society often take things to their extreme. This an unfortunately common thread for we Americans, and the thousands of Charles Manson posters that have adorned the walls of college dorm rooms across the country can certainly attest to this. Before the age of the serial killer, however, we had the big mob bosses, and one name that still stands in infamy is that of Alphonse Capone. A larger than life figure within the Chicago theater of crime, during the prohibition era, he has been presented in numerous film renditions throughout time but there are few films that deal primarily with him as a character and a human being. Capone, our film today, looked to do just that.

A film that has been woefully left in the past, Capone shows a distinct, post-The Godfather (1972), era in Hollywood moviemaking. Produced by the brilliant schlock-meister Roger Corman, Capone takes inspiration from every facet of crime-cinema up until that point and tries its best to amplify its intensity along the way. The Godfather inspired an endless amount of interest in the mafia, in a way that the relatively simplistic crime-movies of the fifties and sixties never managed to do. More than just a series of gangs fighting amidst each other, all of a sudden la cosa nostra was on the lips of the average American. The fact that this was a true business enterprise for those involved, and not just petty squabbling amongst criminals, finally took hold within the American consciousness. Capone, in that manner, is a more fully realized vision of Al Capone, but with an over the top quality that is purely the inspiration of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.

Roger Corman, who had a cameo role in The Godfather Part II and who directed The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967), certainly has a history with mafia related cinema. Always the opportunist, Capone may have been an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of The Godfather, but it is far from a duplication or simple cash-in. A more violent and antagonistic film that Francis Ford Coppola’s film ever attempted to be, Capone comes across as a delightfully eccentric piece of work that looks to try new and very different things with genre conventions. Ultimately, it acts as a piece based around a single run-a-way character in the form of Al Capone, played by the brilliant Ben Gazzara. We are never told directly whether or not Al Capone is a man to root for or against, and the movie takes a daring stand in that respect. The actions of Capone and his brutal behavior makes him seem like a madman, but due to Gazzara’s intimidating performance, you can read into this role in various different ways.

Everything about this film screams Ben Gazzara. You can watch this movie with any set of eyes you want, but at the end of the day what makes the movie everything that it is, is: Ben Gazzara. With a once in a lifetime role, Gazzara takes it over the top and ends up stealing the show with every scene he has. Similar to dominating performances from the likes of Al Pacino in Scarface or Jack Nicholson in The Shining, Ben Gazzara ends up defining this film. A tremendous actor who would later go on to star in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, under the direction of his fellow Capone castmate John Cassevetes, Gazzara has always been an actor that could be called on for an intense and intimidating performance no matter what. Even with roles such as his in Road House, Gazzara was able to steal the thunder from most of the cast due his sheer booming presence. With the character of Al Capone, Gazzara has the perfect vehicle for delivering his grit and intensity. Although the performance could be criticized as being one-dimensional (as much as Al Pacino was in Scarface), the entire production ultimately rests on his shoulders and everything that this movie does right almost always boils down to him. A very young Sylvester Stallone also puts in a worthwhile effort as Al Capone’s right hand man Frank Nitti, and although he isn’t called on for a lot of the dramatic moments, he is good as the physical bodyguard with ulterior motives. Susan Blakely stars as Iris, Capone’s girl, who makes for one of the more interesting roles in the film. A beauty with a vulgar mouth, her love affair with Capone is one of the larger detriments of the film, but Blakely remains quite ensnaring in her role.


The Conclusion
The previously mentioned love affair between Iris and Capone is shoe-horned into the story unfortunately, and marks some of the most boring sequences within the movie. An easier way for the audience to connect with the psychotic Capone, these sequences often drag the pacing for the film down a considerable degree. Although I generally liked the character of Iris, I began to wish she would leave the film a whole lot sooner. Regardless of pacing issues or forced drama, Capone is actually a very well made crime film and a jewel in the rough. Released through Shout! Factory, it is a movie worth tracking down.




The great thing about older European arthouse cinema, other than the transgressive and groundbreaking attempts at deconstructionism, is the never-ending supply of films to search out. Even when it seems as if all of the old masters have had all of their films released to us here in the North American market, there are still several titles that pop up now and then. One such “lost” title would be Michelangelo Antonioni’s (Blow Up, L’Avventura and La Notte) The Vanquished which is now heading to the North American market via the European Raro label who are looking to expand into the R1 territory. The DVD will be released on March 29th and appears to be stacked as far as special features go.



As far as the film itself, it looks like it will grab the attention of any genre-fans. The story looks to follow three different instances of murder. The murders take place in three different locales: London, France and of course Antonioni’s Rome. All murders seem to be inexplicably committed by aristocratic young men with varying motivations. The film certainly has my attention, and after reading that brief summary: I know I must track this one down.




Special features for the disc include:
-The first draft of the story/film script for I Vinti by the writers of I Vinti: Michelangelo Antonioni
-Giorgio Bassani and Suso Cecchi d’Amico published by the film magazine “Cinema” 7/25/1954
-A developed and revised final story – the original screenplay of the three episodes obtained from the Bologna Cinemateque
-A Critical Anthology of the film that includes an analysis of the film, and a collection of different critiques of the movie
-The original exclusive, un-cut and elongated version of the Italian Episode from the film that was presented at the Venice Film Festival
-An interview with the producer, Turi Vasile, an interview with one of the protagonist, Franco Interlenghi.
-An exclusive rare short film by Michelangelo Antonioni entitled, Tentato suicidio, 22 Minutes, 1953.
-An 8 page booklet containing critical analysis of the genesis of the film



Also released from Raro’s U.S. line is Francesco Barilli’s The Perfume of the Lady in Black, which looks to further Raro’s coverage of classic European cult cinema. A horror-thriller that shows Mimsy Farmer (Autopsy, Four Flies on Grey Velvet) as a successful chemist who begins to suffer from strange hallucinations. Similar to many giallo films of the time, her character also has a dark past that won’t let her escape easily. Described as surreal and hallucinatory, this obscure title should please the majority of Euro-cult fanboys the world over.



Special features for The Perfume of the Lady in Black includes:
-Documentary “Portrait in Black”
-Director’s Biography
-Director’s Filmography





Not exactly a weak lineup! Keep an eye on Varied Celluloid for further coverage whenever it comes in!

Korean cinema blogathon 2011: ‘Thirst’

Posted by Josh Samford On March - 13 - 2011




Wow! It’s hard to believe that the Korean cinema blogathon is finally coming to a close. Seven days and seven reviews later, we are finally drawing to an end. This has certainly been a growing and learning experience for all of us involved. For those who haven’t dipped your feet into South Korean cinema, I hope that this week and these reviews have opened the eyes of some!

The Plot: Priest Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) is devoted to his faith and seeks to help those that can not help themselves. Through his selflessness, he volunteers for a secret experiment that looks to find a cure for the highly contagious and horrifying EV virus. After a short time with this group of “lepers”, Sang-hyeon is infected with the disease and ultimately comes close to dying. When he does, he is given a blood transfusion that also has the blood of a vampire mixed in with it. Sang-hyeon, who is now a creature of the night, is the only survivor out of the 50 infected members. When released from the hospital he begins to volunteer at the hospital so that he can feast off of coma victims and blood bags as a non-violent form of quenching his thirst. While working at the hospital he meets up with an old friend who has now married Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), an old flame of his. Sang-hyeon, who has uncovered a weakness with refusing the needs of the flesh, begins an affair with Tae-ju. With Sang-hyeon’s new disease, will this romance ultimately turn tragic?


CONTINUE READING HERE!

Thirst

Posted by Josh Samford On March - 13 - 2011



Thirst (2009)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Writers: Park Chan-wook, Émile Zola (based upon the book “Thérèse Raquin”) and Jeong Seo-Gyeong
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-bin and Kim Hae-sook



The Plot: Priest Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) is devoted to his faith and seeks to help those that can not help themselves. Through his selflessness, he volunteers for a secret experiment that looks to find a cure for the highly contagious and horrifying EV virus. After a short time with this group of “lepers”, Sang-hyeon is infected with the disease and ultimately comes close to dying. When he does, he is given a blood transfusion that also has the blood of a vampire mixed in with it. Sang-hyeon, who is now a creature of the night, is the only survivor out of the 50 infected members. When released from the hospital he begins to volunteer at the hospital so that he can feast off of coma victims and blood bags as a non-violent form of quenching his thirst. While working at the hospital he meets up with an old friend who has now married Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), an old flame of his. Sang-hyeon, who has uncovered a weakness with refusing the needs of the flesh, begins an affair with Tae-ju. With Sang-hyeon’s new disease, will this romance ultimately turn tragic?

The Review
Although this may seem like blasphemy to admit, especially during the Korean cinema blogathon, but I have never considered myself a tremendous fan of director Park Chan-wook. It seems fairly obviously to say that he is the most well known of all working Korean film directors, perhaps the best known Korean filmmaker of all time at this point. He has reached heights that only a handful of other Asian filmmakers (such as Takashi Miike or Takeshi Kitano, you could fit Johnnie To or John Woo in here as well) have managed to escalate to. Park Chan-wook, however, is that one “big” Asian filmmaker that generally doesn’t float my boat. When he is good I usually “like” his work, at best. His films, for whatever reason, do not inspire me to write glowing reviews or profess him as a genius. I think he is a director who has made several good movies that have, for whatever reason, caught on spectacularly well with film geeks the world over. Thirst is his latest release, and has received a very split reception amongst film fans. Although some of Park’s most adamant fans have professed it as yet another work of genius, there has been a vocal group who have claimed it as pretentious and uneven. Despite my general bias against Park’s work, I will not take up the torch and claim Thirst to be an embarrassment. Instead, I think my opinion lies somewhere in the middle.

Although I used the word just a few moments ago, truly the best word that one could use in describing Thirst is: uneven. This is where nearly all of my issues with the film stems from, as it is a movie made up of select moments that work and some really bad ideas that ultimately should have been abandoned. I speak primarily about one sequence within the film that ultimately feels completely shoe-horned into the story. Although I prefer not to spoil the story for anyone, it deals with the guilt of one character completely demolishing their mental psyche. With this guilt comes… a ghost. A ghost that moves in on our story in such an awkward and bizarre manner that it adds an unnecessary degree of unintentional comedy. The sequence comes about so abruptly, that after watching this two hour film the one thing that stands out the most for me is this ten minute sequence. Park Chan-wook makes a very gutsy move to include this bizarre trip into the surreal, but it is a gutsy move that ultimately doesn’t pay off because it adds seemingly nothing towards the development of the film, other than confusion. Was the ghost really there? Was it just a manifestation of guilt for one, or both, lead characters? And an even larger burning question, did Song Kang-ho have sex with the ghost as it certainly appeared that he might have?

Okay, jokes aside, I have to contend that Thirst isn’t all bad. In fact, somewhere beneath the excess I have a good feeling that there is a “great” movie lying under that surface. As with any and all of Park Chan-wook’s work, it is a brilliantly made film for sure. It is a technical marvel with a polish that isn’t seen often. That is to be expected however, but the area where the film really excels in is its ability to grab the audience. If there’s any one thing I can say about the filmmaker, even when he makes a movie that I don’t particularly like, Park Chan-wook remains one of the most “watchable” filmmakers that I have ever seen. If you take ten minutes to sit down and watch any one of his films, chances are you’re going to find it hard to pull yourself away. I found the same addictive reaction with the last Park Chan-wook film I watched, which was Sympathy For Lady Vengeance. Despite it being a flawed film, it too includes enough interesting and inspired moments that its almost impossible to turn your head away from it. Thirst grabs you by the collar from the very start, with its bizarre rhythm and pacing during the opening moments as well as Song Kang-ho’s plight with the EV virus is grotesque. The use of music as texture during the introductory scenes, and the obtuse scene progression, is what really starts to make the audience wonder and ultimately stick with the movie. Park Chan-wook is brilliant when it comes to getting your attention and with Thirst he is as successful as ever in that regard.

The performances by the cast are universally fantastic, as one might expect. Song Kang-ho, who may be the world’s most famous Korean actor alongside Lee Byung-hun, is subtle in his role and it works well for a man so astute in his beliefs. Kim Ok-bin, however, stands out the most. Playing a diverse role that calls for her to be many things, her character remains an enigma throughout the film. Playing coy and deceptive throughout the entire course of events, you never know what to expect from her. Kim brings a slightly child-like naivete to the role when it comes time for her to reveal the darker side of her personality, and it works to perfection. When you put these two actors together, their chemistry dominates the screen. Park Chan-wook perfectly captures the erotic nature of a burgeoning relationship when these two characters first begin to share screen time together, and when they make love: things get steamy. The sex scenes are far from being the soft-focus, frilly music and slow motion shots that are often considered “erotic” by mainstream concepts. This is sex in a much more realistic light, with animalistic tendencies coming out and taking over. These scenes of course feature lots of biting and scratching, as one might expect from a tale of vampirism.

The Conclusion
For every good point, there is a bad one. For every bad point, there is a good one. Is your glass of microwaved blood half empty or half full? I suppose that’s what it comes down to, doesn’t it? Park Chan-wook has a loyal fanbase and I’m sure they were as pleased as punch with Thirst. Myself, not being an overly dramatic fan of his work, found it to be a mix of good and bad. I suppose in this world we all have a bias, in one form or another, but I am willing to admit that Park Chan-wook is a visionary filmmaker who knows how to control and manipulate his audience like few can. With Thirst, he commands the screen when it works and he dips his finger in so many concepts and ideas (from religion and conceptualized morality, to modern vampire mythology) that you have to sit back in awe. However, immediately after seeing the movie… all I could think about was that odd ten or twenty minute sequence featuring the ghost-character. A non-sequitur moment that was unnecessary, but ultimately speaks volumes about the film. I give it a solid three out of five rating. With a little editing, this very well could be a four out of five. An interesting twist on vampire-lore, Thirst is certainly worth checking out.




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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