Shura (Toshio Matsumoto, 1971)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Shura.

Experimental filmmaker and critic Toshio Matsumoto followed up his queer opus, Funeral Parade of Roses, with a “mere” samurai film, yet underneath its seemingly traditional surface lurks just as many subversions. In Shura, a samurai poised to join the famous 47 ronin and avenge the death of his master becomes distracted from his duties by his love for a lowly geisha, who in turn betrays him. Driven mad by his desire for vengeance, the samurai embarks on a bloody path of revenge marked by riveting intensity, a nightmarishly black aesthetic, and an uncertain blurring of fantasy and reality. A Borgesian satire in the guise of samurai horror, this nocturnal masterpiece is one of the darkest films of its era, both visually and politically.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
  • Security Treaty, a 1959 short film by Toshio Matsumoto
  • For My Crushed Right Eye, a 1969 installation piece by Matsumoto
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays on the film by Matsumoto and Nagisa Oshima, director’s notes, and an essay by Japanese film scholar Hirofumi Sakamoto

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Elephant (Alan Clarke, 1989)

Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989) is a short film made for television and produced by Danny Boyle and BBC Northern Ireland. Set amid the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the short presents 18 matter-of-fact murders with a coldly observational approach, providing limited dialogue and utilizing the predatory look of steadicam follow shots. The film takes its title from Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty’s description of the Troubles as “the elephant in our living room,” and it served as an inspiration to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003), a film that likewise attended to the broader social problems that underlie American school-shootings and gun violence.

Clarke’s short is overdetermined in its intentions, being full of intense men and purposeful walks, yet it is also disturbing empty. Despite its apparent single-mindedness, there are no explanations of the hows and whys of its killings and there are nearly no sounds of surprise or panic, yet there is always the banality of violence and death, a lifeless body in a drab room and a getaway that rarely strays from the same purposeful walk. For more on Elephant and the psychology it embodies (or withholds) in its particular cinematography, MMC! offers Jordan Schonig’s impressive and insightful video essay, The Follow Shot: A Tale of Two Elephants (2018). Schonig’s essay provides a concise exploration of what may be contemporary cinema’s most ubiquitous and conspicuous shot and perfectly unpacks the themes and tensions at work in Clarke and Van Sant’s respective films.

The Phenix City Story (Phil Karlson, 1955)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Phenix City Story.

Corruption, brutality, and vice plagued Phenix City, Alabama, for 100 years, so who would dare to change it? Based on real-life events and filmed on location in what was called Sin City USA, director Phil Karlson’s semi-documentary tears this jolting tale from its Pulitzer Prize-winning headlines and tells the story of those citizens who risked their lives to bring down the burg’s syndicate of thugs and murderers. Signalling the end of stylish film noir and pointing to the crime-busting exposés that followed, this classic B-noir remains indelible for its shockingly transgressive violence, its unsettling authenticity, and its subtextual awareness of the struggling civil rights movement.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Phil Karlson: The Core of Fact, a short appreciation featuring writer/film historian Alan K. Rode
  • New interview with critics and one-time Alabamans Jonathan Rosenbaum and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Historic photos of Sin City-era Phenix City
  • PLUS: An essay by critic R. Emmet Sweeney

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Knife + Heart (Yann Gonzalez, 2018) – Ithaca Fantastik 2018

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Knife + Heart.

In the neon glow of 1979 Paris, Anne (Vanessa Paradis) makes her living producing low-budget gay pornography and struggles with the heartbreaking rejection of her longtime lover and current film editor Loïs (Kate Moran). She aims to inspire Loïs back into loving her with increasingly ambitious productions, even using the murders of her actors by a leather clad killer as inspiration, but as the killings continue and her troupe becomes increasingly cautious, Anne assumes the role of amateur sleuth investigating the secret of the mysterious figure that stalks her company. Deftly blending Parisian porn silliness and Italian slasher conventions with a pulsing score by electronic music group M83 and a perfect period production design, Knife + Heart is an affectionately queer tribute to cinema’s body genres and to love in its many forms.

Disc Features:

  • 4K digital master, approved by director Yann Gonzalez and director of photography Simon Beaufils, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Two audio commentaries, one featuring Gonzalez and actors Vanessa Paradis, Kate Moran, and Nicolas Maury, and the other featuring Gonzalez, Beaufils, co-writer Cristiano Mangione, and production designer Sidney Dubois
  • New interview on the film’s soundtrack with Yann Gonzalez and his brother Anthony Gonzalez
  • New interview with historical advisor Hervé Joseph Lebrun on the 1970s Parisian porn scene
  • Mondo Homo: A Study of Gay French Porn in the ’70s, Lebrun’s 2009 feature-length documentary
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by Anthony Nocera

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SFFF Day 5 – The Good, the Bad and the Heavy

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s final day kicked off by wrapping up its body horror retrospective with Philip Brophy’s Body Melt (1993). MMC! imagined an Arrow Video edition of the film earlier this summer, back when word of its restoration began circulating. The film now has a packed Blu-ray release compliments of Vinegar Syndrome, bringing this lesser known wonder to the world. The SFFF paired Body Melt with Chris McInroy’s practical effects-based We Summoned a Demon (2018), a fun and goofy short about a couple of guys who just want to be cool and end up summoning a demon. Overall, a fun way to start the Festival’s end.

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SFFF Day 4 – Fractured Minds and Fantastic Capitalism

Day 4 of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival was loaded with screenings and bracketed by a pair of animated programs – the Saturday Morning All You Can Eat Cartoon Party and the web-series Crisis Jung (Baptiste Gaubert and Jérémie Hoarau, 2018). MMC! has already proclaimed the greatness of Crisis Jung and we’re loath to spoil Keir-La Janisse’s program of Saturday morning content given that it continues to tour festivals and cinematheques. Themes do tend to run through the Cartoon Party programs and “women’s lib” stood at the forefront with cartoon episodes on equal opportunity, commercials for the YWCA, and PSAs that addressed federal pay equity laws through iconic comic book figures. The Cartoon Party enjoyed a large audience that was quick to applaud for great content and progressive messages and to shout along with the enthusiastic narration of the cartoons. Expect to see another Cartoon and Cereal Party at SFFF 2019!

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