Wear the Face of Your Enemy

When the United States officially entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hollywood got busy producing morale-boosting entertainments with a heavy accent on flag-waving patriotism and pro-American propaganda. One of the stranger efforts to emerge from this uncertain time in U.S. history was First Yank in Tokyo (1945), a B-movie espionage thriller directed by Gordon Douglas and set inside a Japanese concentration camp.  Continue reading

Payback is a Bitch

We’ve all heard the famous quote “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” which came from the 1697 play The Mourning Bride by William Congreve, but what are the options for the discarded one? Shame the perpetrator in public? Internalize the rage? Become detached? Laugh it off? In Hollywood, the idea of the scorned woman bent on revenge is usually depicted more along the lines of Jessica Walter in Play Misty for Me (1971) and Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (1987) but you really don’t have to wield a knife and go berserk to redeem your self-respect. Instead, you can be creative, unpredictable and non-threatening in appearance like Emily (Geraldine Chaplin), the protagonist of Alan Rudolph’s Remember My Name (1978).   Continue reading

Happiness is a Thing Called Little Joe

Austrian director Jessica Hausner has been a favorite of the Cannes Film Festival ever since her 45 minute short Inter-View won a Special Mention in 1999. Since then her subsequent feature films, Lovely Rita (2001), Hotel (2004) and Amour fou (2014) have all been nominated for Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Award. And her new feature Little Joe was nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or award and won the Best Actress award for Emily Beecham. It is also worth noting that all of Hausner’s previous features with the exception of Lourdes (a French language production) have been in German. Little Joe, not to be confused with the 2008 documentary about Warhol star Joe Dallesandro also entitled Little Joe, marks Hausner’s English language debut and it is a remarkably self-assured and hypnotic work that displays none of the usual drawbacks that detract from a director’s first foray into a non-native language production.   Continue reading

Female Drifters and Grifters

Films about hobos have always been predominantly about male characters, with few exceptions such as Veronica Lake donning a male hobo disguise and tagging along with Hollywood producer-turned-drifter Joel McCrea in Sullivan’s Travels [1941]. So, it’s particularly unexpected and refreshing to see a Depression era based film like Girls of the Road (1940), in which almost all of the central characters are women, playing runaways, vagrants and other homeless cases, fending for themselves on the margins of society.  Continue reading

Freaking Out in Franco Era Spain

Not all film preservationists are focused on saving and restoring lost classics of silent and early cinema like Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927) or overlooked noir indies from Hollywood’s golden era such as Richard Fleischer’s Trapped (1949). Mondo Macabro, which has been around since 2003 or so, is dedicated to introducing movie lovers to fringe cinema from around the world – obscure genre films that run the gamut from horror to sexploitation to art house oddities from countries as far flung as Japan, Latvia and South Africa. Among some of their offbeat releases are Lady Terminator (1989), a cheesy Indonesian rip-off of James Cameron’s The Terminator, The Living Corpse (1967), a vampire thriller from Pakistan, and Strip Tease (1963), a melancholy French drama starring Nico (of The Velvet Underground) with music by Serge Gainsbourg and Alain Goraguer. The company’s most recent release on Blu-Ray, The Killer of Dolls (El asesino de manecas, 1975), is easily one of their most peculiar and transgressive acquisitions to date.  Continue reading

William Greaves: Pushing Boundaries

What the heck is Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One? Is it a documentary or is it fiction? Maybe it’s a pretentious mess masquerading as art or possibly the most unique experimental film of the late sixties. We’re talking about William Greaves’s rarely seen 1968 work which was released on DVD in December 2006 by the Criterion Collection, thanks to the efforts of filmmakers Steven Soderbergh and Steve Buscemi who were so impressed with this one-of-a-kind collaboration that they helped Greaves’s produce his long-in-the-works sequel to it – Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take 2 1/2 – in 2005 (and which is also included on the Criterion disc).   Continue reading

Hollywood’s Holy Grail

Often cited as one of the worst major studio movies ever made, The Oscar (1966) lives up to its infamous reputation but unlike many films which get tagged as “the world’s worst” and are usually tedious and only intermittently hilarious in small doses such as The Conqueror [1956] or The Swarm [1978], this one is consistently entertaining for its flamboyantly excessive performances, sordid situations and bitchy, mean-spirited dialogue that paints Hollywood as a place where you sell your soul and become an easily disposable product.  Continue reading