Before The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and The Illusionist (2010), Sylvain Chomet made the award-winning The Old Lady and the Pigeons (La Vieille Dame et les pigeons, 1997). The animated short features an impoverished and starving gendarme who dresses up like a giant pigeon in order to be fed by an old woman (and that barely scratches the surface of how hilariously bizarre the short gets). Chomet was inspired to make a film of his own after seeing Nick Park’s Creature Comforts (1989) and set upon his production after pitching the concept to Didier Brunner of the French animation studio Les Armateurs. Backgrounds were designed by Chomet’s comic book collaborator Nicolas de Crécy, although the two would later fall out over Crécy’s view that Chomet improperly copped his style for the designs of The Triplets of Belleville. The Old Lady and the Pigeons is silently comic and strangely surreal and establishes many of Chomet’s characteristic styles and themes, making it an easy access point to Chomet’s limited filmography. It is also a quick 24-minute scratch for those of us still itching to see his next film, The Thousand Miles, a Fellini-inspired story about the world’s most beautiful road race, Italy’s Mille Miglia.
Spring is here, Easter is this weekend, MMC!’s next imagined release is taking typically longer than expected, and it’s been some time since a post have gone up, so now seems like the perfect opportunity to offer something cute, furry, and vaguely off-centre. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to appreciate Fyodor Khitruk’s trilogy of short films adapting A. A. Milne’s beloved tales of Winnie-the-Pooh for Soviet audiences!
Khitruk’s trio of Vinni-Pukh films — Winnie-the-Pooh (1969), Winnie-the-Pooh Pays a Visit (1971), and Winnie-the-Pooh and a Busy Day (1972) — were made out of Soyuzmultfilm studios and without the director having seen Disney’s theatrical short Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1966). Khitruk’s initial interest in the character came from English editions of Milne’s stories and he was only exposed to Boris Zakhoder’s Russian translations later. Zakhoder served as screenwriter to the Trilogy and he frequently clashed with Khitruk as Zakhoder promoted an approach faithful to the original stories while Khitruk sought to transform the material. The films reflect Khitruk’s vision, doing away with the authority-figure of Christopher Robin and presenting Milne’s characters living forest creatures, not stuffed toys brought to life. Pooh remains rather dim, but he is far more assertive and boisterous than Disney’s bear. The animation is wonderful, merging the primitiveness of children’s drawings with the clean abstraction of mid-century modernism and the earth-toned colour palettes of the ’60s and ’70s. The films adapt three stories from Milne’s original 1926 book, avoiding stories from Milne’s 1928 sequel, The House at Pooh Corner, which introduced the Tigger character. If these adaptations are new to you, congrats! You are now free from the adorable hegemony of the Disney films!
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Straight Time.
In this highly underrated classic of ’70s crime cinema, Dustin Hoffman shrewdly stars as Max Dembo, an ex-con just released from a six-year stretch in prison for armed robbery and struggling to go straight while under the oversight of his smug parole officer. Despite finding a job, a home, and even a girl of his own, Max remains trapped in an unrelenting criminal system until he breaks free with ruthless, criminal abandon and tragic consequences. Adapted from Edward Bunker’s No Beast So Fierce, featuring a score by David Shire, and boasting a terrific supporting cast including Theresa Russell, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, M. Emmet Walsh, and Kathy Bates, Ulu Grosbard’s Straight Time is a lean and bitter portrait of inevitable recidivism.
- New 4K digital master with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
- Audio commentary from 2007 with director Ulu Grospard and actor Dustin Hoffman
- New interviews with actors Hoffman, Theresa Russell, and Kathy Bates
- Straight Time: He Wrote It For Criminals, a 1978 documentary on writer Edward Bunker and the making of the film
- Theatrical trailer
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- PLUS: An essay by novelist Jonathan Lethem
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Bandits of Orgosolo • Ten Documentary Shorts by Vittorio De Seta.
Heralded by Martin Scorsese as “an anthropologist who speaks with the voice of a poet,” Italian director Vittorio De Seta produced a string of extraordinary short documentaries in the 1950s that distill their subjects to pure cinema. Shooting in vivid color in the rural villages of Sicily, Sardinia, and Calabria, De Seta captured the rhythms and rituals of everyday life among the fishermen, miners, shepherds, and farmers who continued to live and work according to the preindustrial traditions of their ancestors. These shorts were followed by Bandits of Orgosolo, which presented with neorealist authenticity the tragic plight of a poor Sardinian shepherd unfairly accused of rustling and murder. Together, these miniature marvels and this hardscrabble feature-film debut stand as essential, ennobling records of a vanished world.
- New, restored 4K digital transfers of all eleven films, overseen by the World Cinema Project in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays:
- The Age of Swordfish (1954 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) Vittorio De Seta’s rhythmic editing adds drama to this chronicle of a Sicilian spearfishing expedition.
- Islands of Fire (1954 • 11 minutes • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) This prize-winning short is a poetic portrait of life on the coast of Sicily before, during, and following a volcanic eruption.
- Solfatara (1955 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) Harshness and beauty exist side by side in this look at the lives of sulfur mine workers and their families in southern Italy.
- Easter in Sicily (1955 • 10 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2:35:1 aspect ratio) De Seta captures the music and pageantry of an Easter celebration in Sicily.
- Sea Countrymen (1955 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) The rhythms of the sea set the tempo for this vivid account of a day in the lives of Sicilian fishermen.
- Golden Parable (1955 • 10 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) Filming amid the flaxen wheat fields of Sicily, De Seta documents the everyday rituals of farmers during harvest time.
- Fishing Boats (1958 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) The unpredictable nature of the sea governs the world of Sicilian fishermen as they work, rest, and seek refuge from a storm.
- Orgosolo’s Shepherds (1958 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) The striking landscapes of rural Sardinia provide the backdrop to this lyrical look at the hard-earned lives of the region’s shepherds in winter.
- A Day in Barbagia (1958 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) From sunrise to sunset, De Seta chronicles the lives of Sardinian women who look after both home and fields while their shepherd husbands are away tending their flocks.
- The Forgotten (1959 • 21 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) De Seta travels to a remote province in southern Italy to capture a unique celebration known as the “Feast of Silver.”
- Bandits of Orgosolo (1961 • 95 minutes • Black and White • Monaural • 1.37:1 aspect ratio) Returning to the Sardinian countryside, De Seta presents a ruinous portrait of a poor shepherd wrongfully associated with some bandits and forced to flee, taking his flock and his younger brother into remote, inhospitable lands.
- Introduction by Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival chief Gian Luca Farinelli
- New interview with director Martin Scorsese
- Détour De Seta, a 2004 documentary by Salvo Cuccia
- The Filmmaker is an Athlete: Conversations with Vittorio De Seta, Vincent Sorrel and Barbara Vey’s 2010 interview with De Seta
- New English subtitle translations
- PLUS: Essays by scholar Alexander Stille and critic J. Hoberman
It’s Tuesday and MMC! is aiming its spotlight at La Casa (2019), Jorge Olguin’s latest which drops on VOD today! Tired of his recent forays in big film productions and having seen a five year project fall apart, Olguin’s latest is a lean 75-minute effort that he calls “a full-on, classic haunted house movie.” He served as his own writer, director, cinematographer, sound designer, composer, and editor on the project and his mere three-night shoot took Olguin a year to assemble in post-production. Olguin’s reward for his effort was a premiere of La Casa at the 2020 edition of the prestigious Sitges Film Festival.
La Casa is set in 1986, amid the brutal and repressive regime of Augusto Pinochet, and is based on accounts of the Casona Dubois, an infamous Santiago residence associated with various urban legends of unnatural mysticism and paranormal activity. Officer Arriagada (played by acclaimed Chilean actor Gabriel Cañas) is on duty one night patrolling the empty streets and enforcing the government-imposed curfew. Already troubled and distraught, Arriagada is sent to investigate complaints about noises emanating from a nearby home and he is drawn into the building by screams of a woman. Once inside, Arriagada in confronted with horrors connected to personal and national traumas that threaten him both physically and psychically. La Casa resembles contemporary found-footage horror cinema with its single-camera perspective, its concealed edits, and its progression in real-time, and Olguin’s technique is commendable, masking what is likely a limited budget and modest effects with a constrained point of view, evocative lighting, and an electronic score that would easily be overbearing were it not proceeding in such tight lockstep with the film’s visuals. The result is intensely impressionistic, making La Casa almost feel more like a walkthrough than a film, more like a ride than a story. It’s a highly affecting experience which is hardly subtle but thoroughly engrossing if you acquiesce to being pulled into its dark undertow. This trailer precisely expresses the experience of viewing La Casa and so, if you wish this minute and forty-second audio-visual experience could last another 73 minutes, Olguin’s film won’t disappoint.
ONE HELL OF A FAIRY TALE
When a bank heist goes awry, Rex Coen (Ben O’Toole) spends eight years in prison and is hounded by the media on his release. The unwanted attention forces Rex to flee his hometown of Boise, Idaho, in search of anonymity in Finland, but his arrival in Helsinki lands him in a new, fresh hell. Gassed during his taxi ride from the airport, Rex wakes up drugged, beaten, and bound in the basement of a twisted family hiding a dark secret. With only his personified conscience to help him, Rex is in a race against time to save himself and a beautiful young woman (Meg Fraser) from his terrifying captors and a fate worse than death.
An action-horror-comedy that merges Fight Club with Fargo, Alister Grierson’s Bloody Hell is a raucous midnight crowd pleaser ready for fans of Sam Raimi, John Wick, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Special Edition Contents:
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Boi To Hel, new interviews with cast and crew
- Rex in an Ass-Kicking Contest, an interview with director Alister Grierson and lead actor Ben O’Toole on the film’s special effects
- Behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes
- Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices