Monday, April 06, 2009

Blood and Sand

I finally got around to restarting my Netflix this week. They didn't have the disc at the top of my queue at my local distribution center so they sent it afterwards and sent out an extra movie. I'm not complaining. The disc to which I was most looking forward was Street Angel (1928, directed by Frank Borzage), which I've only ever seen on crappy public domain VHS sources. Borzage is one of the great unheralded directors, and his work makes up the bulk of the Fox Murnau and Borzage box that came out last year, which Netflix claims to have. Unfortunately, that's not what they sent me. They sent me a public domain disc with a copyright date two years before the Fox box, and with a transfer that's among the most unwatchable things I've ever seen. I think I got ten minutes in. Imagine my disappointment. Grrrr...

Anyway, next in the queue was a Spanish horror film called Satan's Blood (1978, directed by Carlos Puerto), in which a young couple and their dog accept an invitation to come out to the estate of a man who claims to be the husband's old college buddy. Many Satanic hijinks ensue, including an ominous session with a Ouija board, a four-way, wife-swapping orgy, and a double suicide. For the most part, this film is an excuse to take advantage of Spain's then newly-lax censorship standards, and there's flesh aplenty in this movie almost from frame one. As for the rest? Well, it's a nicely nihilistic little film. It makes the most of its microcosmic setting. None of the actors is of much worth, but they are nicely apportioned for the numerous nude scenes. The ending seems a bit too Twilight Zone-y, and the film's conception of Satanism is very 1970s. Still, I've seen a LOT worse from Spanish horror of the period. Take that however you like.

I did another kung-fu movie night this past Saturday, and, again, we dipped into the Shaw catalogue. This time, we came up with a piece of insanity called Holy Flame of the Martial World (1983, directed by Chin-Ku Lu), which shows the Shaws trying to capture the lightning of the newly dawning HK New Wave in a bottle. The movie that this most resembles is Tsui Hark's Zu: The Warriors of the Magic Mountain, but as filtered through Shaw's stock players, stock sets, and stock direction. Just add special effects and completely insane fantasy elements and shake well. The result is completely absurd, the kind of movie that would play well to children if it weren't for all the bodies piling up. My favorite character in this is the guy whose main kung-fu technique is a demonic laugh that bursts organs, but I also love the Golden Snake Boy, a minor, but pivotal character played by Hsueh-erh Wen (a woman). Add this to the pile of transgender kung fu movies.


Has there ever been another filmmaking career like Clint Eastwood's? Has there ever been a late flowering like his late movies? I'm trying to remember why I gave Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) a pass when it was in theaters, and the answer I keep coming up with is "because I was stupid, that's why." Holy cow, this was good. Eastwood's unfussy direction is perfect for this portrait of the Japanese before and during the battle of Iwo Jima, and he manages to get better performances out of his principles in Japanese than he got out of his English-speaking actors in The Flags of Our Fathers (this film's companion piece). This film doesn't try nearly as hard as its weak sister, and as a result, it conveys its themes with admirable grace. Ken Watanabe is the standout here, playing the Japanese general who gets command of the forces on Iwo Jima, and he's a paragon of military virtues. He's the kind of commander George C. Scott's version of Patton would have called "you magnificent bastard." Eastwood invites the audience to genuinely like the characters here, which is rare enough in an American WW II movie. That he manages to turn their lives into high tragedy is no small feat. This stands with the great Japanese war movies (Fires on the Plain, Black Rain). It may be the best WW II movie from Hollywood that I've ever seen. But don't hold me to that.

1 comment:

DeAnna said...

Letters From Iwo Jima... among the few great films that I've had the privilege to see first run on the big screen. As genres go, war movies are my least favorite. I probably only own one war movie and its Letters From Iwo Jima. It's an amazing film.

And I probably watched shaw brother's films as a kid. When I was in grade school, I rented every movie in the martial arts section of our video store. All poorly dubbed and often bizarre or just hilarious. I'm a jealous that you're having Shaw movie nights.