Your high school was never like this.
Let's double up on the sexploitation today. The Schulmädchen-Report, or Schoolgirl Report series tries to pass itself off as an educational exploration of different aspects of youthful sexuality, but really it's about as informative as an abstinence class, except much more likely to turn you celibate. The third entry, Schulmädchen-Report 3. Teil—Was Eltern nicht mal ahnen, aka Schoolgirls Growing Up, aka Schoolgirl Report Part 3: What Parents Find Unthinkable, is racy stuff, far beyond the pale for casual filmgoers, some of it undoubtedly illegal to film today. To get an idea, consider that the U.S. version of this is twenty minutes shorter than the uncut international version. And yet, it isn't a porno film. There's no actual sex—just relentless stretching of the deviancy envelope, for example a chapter dealing with incest, and another dealing with the sexual urges of two underage kids. So really, the cut version is better because it doesn't make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Trimmed, you get a film that's harmless, if occasionally tasteless, but fun in parts. We can't go so far as to recommend it, but doubtless some will like it—the series had twelve iterations, after all, which tells you that it did have redeeming qualities. We, however, shall take a pass on the rest of these. Schulmädchen-Report 3. Teil premiered in West Germany today in 1972.
The riddle is this: why didn't Lesley-Anne Down wear that outfit?
We'll admit we watched Lesley-Anne Down's 1981 thriller Sphinx just to see if she ever got into the gauzy number she's wearing in the promo photo above. We thought it unlikely, and we were right. She mostly wore what you see below—no spike heels with asp straps, sorry. But it wasn't the worst expenditure of time, finding this out. Sphinx feels like a television movie by today's standards, but the location shooting is excellent, and some interesting performers pop up—among them Sir John Gielgud and John Rhys-Davies, the latter of whom you may remember as Sallah from another Egyptian themed movie—Raiders of the Lost Ark, which hit cinemas four months after Sphinx. Like Raiders, in Sphinx you get an antiquarian on the trail of a lost tomb while baffled by arcane clues and beset by duplicitous locals. We don't think a single Egyptian had a noteworthy role here, but at least a few of the cultural details are accurate (though perhaps not the most flattering ones). Are we recommending this one? Not without Down wearing that outfit we aren't, but the movie isn't as bad as many would have you believe. It premiered today in 1981, and the awesome poster was painted by Bob Peak.
Don't hate the dealer. Hate the game.
Did you know the main character in Super Fly is named Priest? Over time he's become known as Superfly, but in the film the term comes up only once—when someone says to Priest, “You always got some super fly shit!” He's referring to cocaine. Priest is a drug dealer, but he wants out and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. This is one of the better blaxploitation flicks. Ron O'Neal's Priest is tough but three-dimensional, showing vulnerability, confusion, even desperation. Dynamic if uneven direction from Gordon Parks, Jr. and a propulsive soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield help put the whole concept over. In fact, after you watch the movie, you should listen to the album, particularly the sparkling, “Give Me Your Love,” which we think is one of the most immaculately constructed soul tunes ever written. Super Fly premiered in the U.S. in the summer of 1972 and opened in Japan today in 1973.
This is our most desperate hour. Help us Santo—you're our only hope.
We were dubious toward Santo when we learned of his movies, but after screening three features the guy has really grown on us. So last night we watched Santo contra los asesinos de otros mundos, which was known in English as Santo vs. The Killers from Other Worlds. You know the basics—Santo is a Mexican luchador who is also an ace international crimefighter. Which is convenient, because an evil mastermind named Malkosh is demanding a fortune in gold bars from the Mexican government or he'll unleash a monster on the populace. This terrifying blob, which in the script has been somehow derived from moon rocks, in reality is three guys huddled under a giant shammy. Doubtless bumping heads and asses while crabwalking under this thing, the poor guys move at about the same speed as traffic in central Mexico City. But no matter—the blob is a whiz at triangulation, and its victims are agility challenged. Whoever it chases inevitably finds himself or herself trapped and, after futilely heaving staplers and coffee cups, consumed down to a skeletal state.
Santo's crimefighting technique is often to be captured. It's never intentional—it just works out that way. And just as form dictates, Malkosh snares Santo, but rather than kill him outright forces him to fight Spartacus style against ever more deadly opponents, an entertainment that of course backfires when the third gladiator accidentally flamethrowers a guard, allowing Santo to grab a machine gun and get the drop on everyone. You have to wonder why these villains toy with him so. The man is well-known as the most lethal crimefighter in Mexico, if not all of the Americas, yet the crooks insist upon underestimating him. Maybe it's just hard to be awed by a guy in a gimp mask who's wearing the drapes from a Guadalajara whorehouse as a cape. Even so, Santo's record speaks for itself, which means you ignore the brief at your peril. Malkosh, foolish lad, dies ignominiously, screaming even, but not before Santo learns from him that the moon blob grows like federal overreach. And indeed, soon there are four guys knocking body parts under the shammy, then five, looks like.
The rest of the film tracks Santo's efforts to find Malkosh's partner Licur, who has imprisoned a Professor Bernstein, the only person on Earth who knows how to corral the lunar abomination busily scuttling across the landscape. Locating Licur involves a bit of Holmesian deduction, at which point Santo gains access to the top secret high security lair by scaling a low wall. In the subsequent fistfights, he's ferociously pounded about his face and semi-soft body, yet his gimp mask never slips and his whorehouse drapes never rip. Finally he squares off against Licur himself, who proves to be no match, and at that point all that's left is to defeat the beast, now about the size of a Winnebago. We'll leave the last bit as a surprise, but suffice to say Santo is always one step ahead. In the end, the film was another satisfying outing, with all the hallmarks of the series—terrible dialogue, poorly staged fights, truly atrocious acting, and a script conceived during a blinding mezcal bender. What's not to love? Queue it. Watch it. Santo contra los asesinos de otros mundos premiered in Mexico today in 1973.
You got anything to eat around here? I'm famished.
Even she doesn't know it yet, but she's a danger junkie.
The Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco closes tonight. We couldn't be there, living as we do across the ocean, but like last year we screened some of the films at home and that has been a treat. We said at the end of last year's group of write-ups that we probably wouldn't do it again, and that turned out to be a lie. Next year we definitely won't do it. It's fun, but makes the website almost like actual work, which isn't what this is about at all. It isn't you, Noir City, it's us.
Tonight's final entries on the festival slate are Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, which we've discussed below, and the film for which see two promo posters above—Victoria. The hook here is the movie is shot by director Sebastian Schipper and cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen in one take—not many takes digitally spliced, but a single analog take about two hours and fifteen minutes long, beginning in the wee Berlin hours and extending into dawn. Schipper has said in interviews that he had three chances to get it right, and the finished film the is the result of the third effort.
It tells the story of Spanish millennial Victoria (Laia Costa), whose lonely existence is changed when she meets local boy Sonne (Frederick Lau) and his three friends during a night at a disco. Sonne seems like a nice enough guy, and Victoria leaves with him and his buds for a sojourn along streets and a rooftop that ends with the two agreeing to meet again. It's at that point one of the friends get sick from all the booze he's ingested, and Sonne desperately asks Victoria to drive the remaining trio somewhere. Why? Because wherever they're going there are supposed to four of them and three will not do. Uh oh. Where are the boys going? To commit an armed robbery.
Victoria doesn't know this at first. It becomes clear soon enough, but only after she's in too deep and stuck as a getaway driver. Of course, the audience knows she's in trouble long before that. If there's a flaw with the movie it's merely that Victoria doesn't seem lonely, reckless, or clueless enough to get herself into this mess. But maybe that's a function of the movie's nature. We can't know her in two hours, filmed in real
time,with no structural concessions for subplots, flashbacks, or any of the standard expository digressions. We have to take her at face value, and accept her as revealed to us. If you do, then the blossoming of her inner danger junkie is logical and seamless. Victoria is really an astounding achievement, and not just because of the single take. Schipper is almost twenty years older than the cast he directs, but he's made a generational landmark of a film.
Nobody can hurt you quite like your own family.
Noir City ticketholders are in for a nasty treat with Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Made in 2007, well reviewed but under appreciated, it doesn't tick the film noir box but it's a top level thriller, gripping from explosive beginning to crushing end, with timelines restarting to drip feed plot twists to the viewer. And “drip feed” is apropos as a descriptive, because it's like water torture watching the lives of the family at the center of this film come apart.
It all starts when Philip Seymour Hoffman—in desperate need of cash—convinces his little brother Ethan Hawke—also in need of money—to knock off a jewelry store. Neither are criminals, but the potential robbery is too easy to resist. The store, you see, belongs to their hardworking parents. It's literally a mom and pop operation, located in a quiet suburb, insufficiently guarded because there's never been an instant of trouble in all the years the place has been in business.
Hawke is good as a man who is never remotely in control of his circumstances, and Hoffman is brilliant, but Albert Finney drives the movie with righteous anger and unbearable heartbreak. Critics'fave Michael Shannon has a crucial role, Oscar winner Marisa Tomei is perfect as a woman in the middle of a mess she can only barely discern, and fourteen-time nominee Sidney Lumet directs with austere precision.
We originally saw Before the Devil Knows You're Dead years ago and always planned to rewatch it, but kept shying away from doing so because we knew it would be difficult to sit through again. Yeah. It's like that. Hard to watch—even with Marisa Tomei in it—when you know what's coming. But since you have no idea how it unfolds you'll get through it fine. We highly recommend that you queue this one up.
You mess with the bull you get the horns.
Expert safecracker Gal Dove, played by Ray Winstone, has retired to sunny Spain, but criminal associates back in England want him for a job. Arriving in the Costa del Sol to make the pitch for them is the persuasive—and psychotic—Ben Kingsley, who terrorizes Gal and his close circle in an effort to bully him into partnering up. The movie mainly focuses on the battle of wills between a man trying to move on with his life and a monster that won't take no for an answer. For a long while it looks as though there won't be a heist at all, but the film circles around to that eventually, showing the event in montage form. And though this robbery is unique in execution it's ancillary plotwise, because Sexy Beast is less a heist film than a psychological drama about how difficult it is for a talented crook to get out the rackets, and how his former self and past sins are never deeply buried. Made in 2001 and directed by a man who clearly knows his film noir in Jonathan Glazer, this is both the most straightforward film showing at Noir City, and also the one—with its dialogue driven pacing and shorts bursts of violence—we can most easily imagine as a 1940s production. Dark, quirky, visually dazzling, and fun.
Just being able to survive feels like success.
Tonight the Noir City Film Festival is screening the urban drama Blue Collar, possibly the best film on the ten-day slate. Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and the underrated but indispensable Yaphet Kotto star, but this is Pryor's show, his star turn. A trio of Detroit auto workers are driven by financial desperation to rob their own union hall. They end up netting three-hundred dollars. Trouble is the union, seeking insurance money, claims it was twenty thousand. The organized crime guy who backed the job isn't interested in stories about a three hundred dollar take—he's owed ten percent and that's two grand. But there's hope—the robbery also netted a notebook filled with information on illegal loans, and if Pryor and company can sell it maybe they can come out on top after all. But just how likely do you suppose that is?
Blue Collar is a brilliant work of art. Cinematic maverick Paul Schrader directed it, operating in a gritty milieu that would become his trademark. But the pressurized lives of the working class heroes are truly brought to life by the cast. Keitel studied under Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, as well as at the HB Studio, while Kotto is a guy who studied at the Actors Mobile Theater Studio and made his professional acting debut in Othello, but Pryor the stand-up comic outacted them both, using self-contained fury, razor sharp humor, and just the right amount of improvisation. The man was a once-in-lifetime talent. His comedy was fused with desperation and pain, but Hollywood tried to harness the funny Pryor and jettison the rest. It was like removing his heart. He truly shone only in serious films, where he would break high tension with moments of humanizing comedy. Blue Collar was the best of the lot.
By today's movie standards a couple of thousand dollars hardly seems like much to fret over. Audiences are used to crime films dealing with millions. But the small amounts here make the movie feel real. A 2016 study showed that half of adult Americans would not be able to come up with $400 in an emergency—they would have to sell something, borrow money, or not pay. Back in 1978, when Blue Collar wasmade, real wages in the U.S. were higher than they are now, so the movie depicts travails among working class people who were better off than working class people are today. Let that sink in. We think this is a perfect movie to show in San Francisco in 2017, a city overrun by tech workers contentedly pushing longtime residents out. The movie won't change anything in the city. But it will be remembered by the ticketholders at the screening.
The only thing as hard as being in prison is being out.
In Straight Time Dustin Hoffman plays a parolee having a hard time adjusting to life on the outside. Things go well initially. He gets a job. He meets a woman (Theresa Russell, so excellent work there). He stays out of trouble. But civilian life is difficult to navigate, especially when his nosy parole officer (the impressively slimy M. Emmett Walsh) expects the worst of him. It doesn't take long for Hoffman to fold under the pressure, and just like that he's back in the rackets, robberies specifically, and of course they escalate until he's aiming for a big score.
Straight Time is Hoffman doing his thing after brilliant efforts in Little Big Man, Straw Dogs, Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man, All the President's Men, and Lenny. In other words, he's at the height of his abilities and he turns the story of a con making bad choices into a viscerally believable ride. He would move on mainly to less gritty roles the rest of his career. For example, the next year he did Kramer vs. Kramer, and a couple of years after that came Tootsie. So Straight Time is worth seeing just to witness Hoffman in a mode he was moving beyond. If that isn't enough enticement, well, the movie is great.
Eastwood tries to teach a new dog old tricks.
Squirrelly young criminal Lightfoot, played by Jeff Bridges, is just the kind of guy you want to smack. Always running his mouth, never paying attention, totally wrapped up in himself. He picks up John Doherty, played by the older Clint Eastwood, and the two form a bromance. During their travels, Lightfoot learns that Doherty is a famed bank robber known as the Thunderbolt, for his usage of an anti-aircraft cannon to penetrate a bank vault. Thunderbolt has two ex-partners on his trail who are seeking a cache of hidden money from a previous job. The money is hidden behind a blackboard in an old, one-room schoolhouse, but when Thunderbolt and Lightfoot travel to the site of the school it's been replaced a modern new building.
The angry ex-partners eventually corral Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, but when they learn the money is gone, rather than exact revenge, they decide to pull off the same job, the same way, and maybe the loss of the other cash will be forgiven. The only snag is they have no way to finance the robbery—particularly the acquisition of another cannon. So they do what any career criminals would do—get jobs. They drive an ice cream truck, groom dogs, anything to earn cash. The question is never really whether they'll finance the heist, but whether their fragile coalition—which is strained by mistrust from the loss of the previous bank loot, as well as by Lightfoot's grating antics—can hang together.
Jeff Bridges' Oscar nominated performance is a reminder that Millennial, Generation X, Beat Generation, et al, are just marketing terms used for social engineering. Every young generation is infuriating to the older ones. It's genetic, not social. Lightfoot is impatient, oblivious, andrude—like someone raised on mobile devices, only decades before those existed for people to focus their ire upon. A constant underlying concern is whether he will finally go too far and get his ass seriously beaten, or maybe even get killed. He's likeable, of course, but he's also a protagonist. If you met him on the street you'd wonder if he was ever dropped on his head as an infant—and then proceed to drop him on his head. And no—he doesn't turn out to be secretly a criminal genius. He's exactly the constant annoyance he seems.
Though Thunderbolt and Lightfoot isn't film noir, it's full spectrum entertainment, with laughs, thrills, and a touch of sex, as well as just enough menace to keep viewers on edge. But we don't think Noir City patrons will walk away from the screening 100% pleased. We get that they're being asked to think outside the box, but there's a pretty wide gap between noir, with its beautiful visual palette and nostalgia invoking cultural stature, and a ’70s road thriller, with its dusty look and twangy country music soundtrack. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a great movie in the wrong festival, in our view. As a side note, the promo poster, which we're sure you've noticed is high quality, was painted by Ken Barr, who was a respected comic book and promo artist for many years. You can read a bit more about him here. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
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