RICHARD LESTER’S ROYAL FLASH — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

 

1I’ve long been a fan of the work of Richard Lester. Petulia, Juggernaut, Robin and Marian, Superman II, The Three Musketeers, and The Four Musketeers are films I adore, and I’ll admit to having a soft spot (mostly due to childhood nostalgia) for Superman III. He was a filmmaker who was always interested in mixing tones (especially comedy with action), and I love the chaotic, almost frenetic sense of mise-en-scene that his movies frequently exhibited. I’m eager to check out the films of his that I’ve missed; he was always a filmmaker you couldn’t truly pin down, and it’s no surprise that a subversive talent like Steven Soderbergh would hold Lester in such high regard. One of his most asinine pictures, the 1975 slapstick swashbuckler Royal Flash, is easily one of the most ridiculous movies I’ve ever seen. It’s wonderfully cheeky fun, super clownish at all times, very light and spastic, with a pricelessly funny lead performance from Malcom McDowell as Captain Harry Flashman, a sniveling and humorous Oliver Reed, and as usual, Lester totally filled the frame with so much detail and action and energy that it’s literally impossible not to enjoy yourself on some level with this bit of lunacy. It’s undoubtedly minor, but so entertaining and a further reminder that Lester was a filmmaker capable of balancing various qualities and ideas in his work. One minute, the film feels mildly amateurish, with weird sound work and sped up film processing and strange acting on the part of background extras, and then the next scene is one that’s gorgeously appointed, with terrific vistas and epic sweep and great use of light and composition (the great Geoffrey Unsworth was the cinematographer). McDowell plays a good-hearted rapscallion serving in the British army who blunders his way from one situation to the next, always appearing to be the victor, despite his oafish manner and continual stroke of good luck. Alan Bates shows up for some hearty laughs, and the film is just one gag after another involving duplicity, impersonation, revenge, sexual mischief, and tons of terrifically staged sword fighting and general fisticuffs. There’s also a gag atop a bridge that sort of defies technical logic, especially given the era that this film was produced during. The Twilight Time Blu-ray is crisp and clean and offers a solid assortment of extras. A true pisser of the likes we never get anymore, Royal Flash is tons of fun.

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PTS Presents ARTISAN WORKBENCH with CHANTAL FILSON

CHANTAL POWERCAST

Photo Credit: Gina K.
Photo Credit: Gina K.

We are joined with the incredibly talented Chantal Filson who most recently was the costume designer for one of the best films of the year – the horror/western BONE TOMAHAWK. Chantal’s other work includes various  television shows including HBO’s The Soprano’s, Aaron Sorkin’s STUDIO 60 on the SUNSET STRIP, and countless period pieces. Chantal has also worked on various stage plays, music videos, short films, commercials and docudramas. Her most recent works include the live action commercial for the Tom Clancy video game The Division and three feature films: KTOWN COWBOYS, CARPET KINGDOM and DARK SUMMER She is also a contributing writer to Your Wardrobe Unlock’d. Please visit Chantal’s website, cfilson.com so you can see her portfolio in detail, because my words certainly do not do it justice.

Note from Chantal:

I completely neglected to thank my crew during the podcast, they truly made costuming Bone Tomahawk possible in every way and I couldn’t have done it without them– Jocelyn Hublau-Parker [Wardrobe Supervisor], Flora Ronzone [Key Costumer], Charles Nohai [costumer/tailor], Allison Choi Braun [costumer] and Kleev Guessford [Dyer/Specialty Costume Fabricator]. Their talent, endurance and patience went above and beyond in difficult conditions, I can’t thank them enough for contributing to this project.

JOE DANTE’S MATINEE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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I don’t understand how Joe Dante cajoled the Universal brass into completing his love letter to cinema, the 1993 film Matinee, after the film’s original producers went bankrupt, but I am glad he did, because it’s such a wonderful, unique, and all together joyous little gem that it stands to reason that in today’s movie climate, this film just doesn’t get made, let alone contemplated, by the major film companies. Dante’s film is a period piece set in Key West, Florida, centering on a William Castle-esque indie filmmaker played with jovial enthusiasm by a perfectly cast John Goodman, and set against the back drop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Co-starring Cathy Moriarty, filmmaker and Dante collaborator John Sayles, Simon Fenton, then popular Kellie Martin from TV’s Life Goes On, Dick Miller (a longtime Dante buddy and good luck charm), Omri Katz, child star Lisa Jakub, and Robert Picardo (Dante’s other good luck charm!), Matinee is so many things: A wistful coming of age story, an ode to the inherent power of movie magic, and a spirited shout-out to old-school showmanship. Written by Jerico Stone and Charles Haas, the film contains a film-within-the-film called Mant, which is essentially a throwback to the pulpy sci-fi movies of yesteryear featuring a half-man/half-ant with outlandish practical make-up and special effects; it’s oh-so-clear that Dante must’ve been in cinematic heaven with these scenes, as all of the footage from Mant was shot to aesthetically approximate how those movies used to get put together. The acting on the part of the teen leads was decent (if a bit stiff at times), but that doesn’t matter, because this film’s heart is so massive, and it’s wildly evident that it needed to be made by these particular creative entities. Dante is one of those filmmakers who never got his true due as a premiere director of smart and funny and always inventive mid-budgeted studio pictures, a friend of Spielberg’s who also subscribed to the Amblin philosophy of subversive family entertainment; his terrific and continually underrated credits include Explorers, Small Soldiers, Gremlins, Gremlins 2, The ‘Burbs, Innerspace, and The Howling. The film also features a fantastic score from Jerry Goldsmith, splendid cinematography by John Hora, and perfectly timed comedic editing by Marshall Harvey. Seek this one out as my guess is that it’s escaped many, many people who would absolutely love it.

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MARTIN SCORSESE’S RAGING BULL — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Raging Bull features one of the greatest performances that the screen has ever contained. It also happens to be a definitive American masterpiece, the sort of film that is unimpeachable in terms of overall quality and its standing in the pantheon of great cinema. This is a pulverizing film – emotionally, aesthetically, and narratively – and it leaves bruises, intentionally, while frequently stirring the soul. Martin Scorsese’s showy, studied, and totally commanding direction is a text book example of cinematic showmanship.  Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin’s intimate screenplay allowed for any number of moments – both big and small – to become immediate cinematic touchstones. Robert De Niro’s work as Jake La Motta will be rightfully revered until the final days of this planet; it’s a force of nature piece of acting in a film that makes the ground under your feet feel as if it’s moving. The stellar ensemble cast all gracefully dance around the edges of this tremendous motion picture, with Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty providing blistering support, with a stacked roster of faces and character actors coming and going, providing the film with a terrific sense of place and atmosphere. The combination of Michael Chapman’s electrifying black and white cinematography, which was stylistically heightened to suggest the intense speed and ferocity of the bouts in the ring, and Thelma Schoonmaker’s dynamic and propulsive editing, went a long way in providing the movie with such an urgent sense of violence, both during the numerous bloody bouts and the verbally explosive fights between La Motta and all of the people within his personal orbit. What more, at this point, can be said about Raging Bull that hasn’t been said? It’s one of those timeless classics that ages like a fine wine, and a true reminder of the galvanic force that De Niro possessed during his remarkable run in the vintage years.

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Episode 20: THE GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION with SPECIAL GUEST MELISSA MAERZ

EPISODE 20

We were joined by Entertainment Weekly television critic Melissa Maerz to discuss the continuation of the golden age of television.  Follow Melissa on Twitter, and check her podcast on Sirius/XM Women on Pop.

OLIVIER ASSAYAS’ BOARDING GATE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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I’m always wholly fascinated by this film, and it’s something I feel that’s worth revisiting every year because of how it uses aesthetics to drive the plot. Boarding Gate is genre-hopper Olivier Assayas (Carlos, Summer Hours, Irma Vep) doing a sort-of-Michael Mann-esque anti-thriller that’s more cerebral than crammed with action. It’s the kind of low-key head-scratcher that doesn’t make any ripples in the theaters, but that people end up discovering at home. It’s a naughty little film, with some kinky sex and bloody gun-play, all steeped in the traditions of the femme fatale and international crime noir. Not as interested in coherent plot developments or definitive answers, Boarding Gate operates in an almost dream-like state which heightens the actions of its sleazy characters. But what makes the film worth watching has more to do with what it doesn’t do, then what it does do.

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Asia Argento is Sandra, an ex-call girl with a history of drug problems and a taste for S&M. She’s working a legit job in Paris for some sort of international importer/exporter, while also conducting shady drug deals on the side. Her old lover, Miles (Michael Madsen), also happens to be her ex-pimp; the two have a very, very sordid past. She meets up with Miles again and it’s clear that there is still some heat between the two of them. What Miles doesn’t know is that Sandra is also carrying on an affair with her boss, the quietly mysterious Lester (Carl Ng), who runs his company with his wife Sue (Kelly Lin), who may be up to more than she lets on. Someone gets murdered and Sandra flees to Beijing, where she settles on the idea of opening some sort of nightclub. I may be missing something but that might be due to the way certain events in this film are explained. As the film nears its conclusion, Boarding Gate builds to an almost certainly grim finale; what finally transpires will be a surprise for most viewers.

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Assayas is most interested in style, tone, ambiguous characters, and the chance to photograph his sexy leading lady in black lace panties while she brandishes a pistol. The fun that Assayas has with the ingredients of crime noir is presented right from the beginning. Argento, not the world’s most amazing actress, has a clear-cut physical confidence in front of a camera that is cold, hard, and real. In this respect, it’s not far off from the work done by Rebecca Romijn in Brian De Palma’s masterpiece Femme Fatale. Argento’s dialogue, much of which is delivered in a gravelly whisper, is heavy with symbolism and often feels a bit portentous. She pouts her lips, tilts her head, and genuinely looks like she’d be up for just about anything. She’s a true femme fatale that De Palma or Hitchcock would love. Madsen, who never met a slime-ball character he couldn’t ace in his sleep, is perfectly cast as Miles, a guy who’ll never be able to keep his shit straight. One scene between the two of them, involving oral sex and a leather belt, is perverted and hysterical in equal measure, while also being rather titillating. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux bathes the film in hot, bright light that illuminates interiors with a slick, almost ghostly glow. And because the film operates in such a tentative mind-set with the characters making frantic decisions, there is a purposefully messy quality to the narrative that is both liberating and potentially frustrating to the viewer.

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There were times when I wished I better understood what was going on during Boarding Gate, yet, I can’t honestly say I was ever truly confused or annoyed by Assayas’ deliberately opaque style. The film is more about what happens in between the big moments dictated by the necessity of plot, and less about the more obvious instances of action or spectacle. But the film’s final moments, which I totally loved, really sealed the deal for me. The ending of Boarding Gate might anger some viewers who are looking for a more overtly satisfying emotional conclusion to the story. It was here when I got the feeling that Assayas was attempting to channel the tone and mood of a Michael Mann film. This is a fun, dangerous, sexy thriller that’s well worth checking out. Available in America on DVD and streaming platforms; a Region B Blu ray is available from Amazon UK.

RANDOM REVIEWS — BY NICK CLEMENT

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Buried is a nightmarish thriller.  I mean – what could be worse than being buried alive in a creaky coffin in the Iraqi desert with only a Zippo lighter and a cell phone at your disposal?  I know what could be worse – if you were put there by terrorists who are demanding $5 million for your safe return.  And nobody on the other line is taking you seriously.  And then — shit! — there’s a snake slithering down your leg!  That’s the gripping scenario posed by Buried, the fantastic and diabolical directing debut of Rodrigo Cortes; how hasn’t he become more prolific? Ryan Reynolds is in practically every single shot of the film, and I think it’s his best work as an actor; he’s never not fully committed to this one-man show and it’s something of a tour de force for him as a performer. Never once does the camera leave the inside of the coffin; no flashbacks, no hallucinations, no easy ways out for the filmmakers to cut themselves some slack.  Chris Sparling’s ingenious (and by the end totally insidious) screenplay is clever when it needs to be, tight and spare at all times, and never feels impossibly contrived given the schematics of the plot.  How will this guy ever be able to make it out of the coffin alive?  Will anyone he speaks with via his cell phone actually be able to help?  Buried is gripping from its very first frame, due largely in part to the phenomenal, award-worthy cinematography by Eduard Grau (A Single Man).  Shooting in full 2.35:1 widescreen with Reynolds dominating every frame and with what appeared to be only natural light sources, Buried is always visually interesting and frequently astonishing to look at, which is no small feat considering the solo location and cramped shooting space.  Cortes and Grau’s ability to keep their audience guessing through strategic uses of pitch blackness from inside of the coffin is one of the reasons that the film is as riveting as it is.  The dynamic use of sound also helps create a harrowing atmosphere.  This isn’t a film for the faint of heart and it’s not what I’d exactly call a happy-go-lucky picture.  But for people who liked to be scared just a bit and for those looking to be totally engrossed by a top-notch thriller, look no further than Buried.

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I really enjoyed Map of the Sounds of Tokyo. It’s nothing brilliant but it’s very well done, extremely strong on atmospherics, textures, and surfaces, providing the viewer with a tremendous visual experience.  Lots of rain, lots of steam, lots of neon colors. Very dream-like.  Stony in many respects.  You never quite know how things will play out and while the film is way more interested in style than it is story, it’s always involving thanks to the two central performances by two very different actors (Rinko Kikuchi and Sergi Lopez). The stunning, Wong Kar Wai-esque cinematography by Jean-Claude Larrieu is easily the best aspect of the movie and the explicit sex scenes (writer/director Isabel Coixet clearly has a thing for oral gratification) always keeps the vibe hot and loose.  Like Enter the Void, there’s lots of cool-to-a-foreigner Tokyo-set imagery which always keeps things interesting. The tale that Coixet has cooked up, that of a hit-woman falling in love with her mark, is fairly predictable, but that didn’t bother me because I was always visually interested in what I was looking at.  It’s a mood piece, and as such, it’s a rich success.

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Dogtooth is one of the strangest films I’ve seen over the last few years. I’m convinced that the Academy DIDN’T ACTUALLY WATCH this film before nominating it for Best Foreign Language Film of the year. Not that it’s terrible; far from it. It’s just ultra deranged, totally whacked-out, and playing by its own set of twisted rules. And it strikes me as wildly unfriendly to the mostly blue-hair members of the voting branches.  One thing is certain: this film is not for the easily offended. This is an uncompromising movie that feels completely like the product of a filmmaker who knows exactly what he wants, while also being a film that defies normal description.  Certainly living in the world of satire with detours into black comedy and mixing graphic violence with explicit (and in some cases illicit) sex, Dogtooth is a film of many tones and much ambition.  First time filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos won lots of awards for this debut effort and it’s easy to see why; there’s nothing else quite like Dogtooth and the originality of its vision, is ever present throughout the entire run time.  When people, especially film critics, are presented with something like Dogtooth, something that is challenging and taboo-breaking and envelope pushing, there’s a tendency for extreme reactions — love it or hate it.  Dogtooth sort of plays out like an extreme version of The Village; a father raises his children (two girls and one boy who are well into their early 20’s), along with the help of his wife, to believe that they should never leave their house/yard/property because of killer cats that live outside the gates. They are self-taught and home-schooled, totally oblivious to the outside world, comepletely uneducated in areas of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  Everything changes when the father starts bringing a woman home for his son to sexually experiment with and it’s then that all of the dynamics in the house change due to a series of unforseen circumstances.  Yes, the title of the movie is explained.  No, the film doesn’t end all tidy and wrapped up with a little bow on top.  Lanthimos is clearly interested in giving lots to his viewers to chew on and think about and discuss, and via the interview with him that was provided on the DVD, he stated that it was his intention to provoke debate with Dogtooth — it’s something that he feels should bother people and make them question what they’ve just witnessed.  Honestly — if you want a blow by blow of what happens in this film — then go to Wikipedia and type in Dogtooth.  It’s all right there.  What I will say is that this is a film that will appeal predominantly to movie buffs, fans of outlaw cinema, and people who are looking for something different and offbeat.  It’s a film that features pitch-perfect performances from an exceptional ensemble cast, it’s got terrific widescreen cinematography that subverts the very ideas that it is thematically posing, and the lack of a musical score in tandem with incredible Foley/sound work creates an unending sense of tension and unpredictability.

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