Le Corbeau

Nothing gave me more pleasure than – while looking for appropriate pictures to accompany this post – discovering a still of The Giant Claw. Rest assured, that monumental piece of cinema couldn’t be more apart from today’s topic. Both movies are in black and white, but that’s about it. Le Corbeau, which is French for “raven”, is a 1943 film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Yes, that means this film is 73 years old, but that does not mean you never should’ve heard of the director. Unless you’re adamant about boycotting Le Corbeauanything made prior to the 21st century (in which case you’re an idiot). Clouzot is after all the director of that essential classic Les Diaboliques, a must-see movie for anyone claiming to be a lover of cinema.

Le Corbeau is no Diaboliques, but don’t worry: watching this film is no act of masochism. On offer is a semi-classic, which was made in 1943. That was during the Second World War and it definitely adds to the movie.
An unknown person is sending messages that are smack in the middle of whistleblowing and village gossip. The messages, thrown through windows or using even less subtle methods, are always signed by… the raven. In other words, the film becomes one big question: Who is the Raven? Add to this a protagonist who may or may not have a mysterious past and you have all the elements to make an interesting movie, especially in the hands of a more than capable director. You have your typical anti-hero and the scene where he tries to discover who’s the Raven by forcing all the suspects to write lines in a classroom is one you’ll remember for months after you’ve seen this film.

To be honest, Le Corbeau was on our shelves for years before we decided to give it a go and the trailer we’re about to show may not be the most convincing of this season, but it’s as good as we could find and maybe you’ll just have to trust us on this one. If your French is decent enough, you should check this out on France 3 next Sunday (Cinéma de minuit). If not, we’re sure you can find this film elsewhere. It was even released by Criterion (sadly out of print by now) and they don’t release just any old film.

Extraterrestre

After a night out you wake up in a strange bed and have no recollection of what happened or indeed the name of the person you spent the night with. You find out her name is Julia (Michelle Jenner) and you introduce yourself as Julio (Julian Villagran). Oh, what a funny coincidence. Anyway, it’s been fun and you’re about to bid farewell when you notice there’s nobody extraterrestrein the streets. Oh, and there’s a UFO on top of a nearby apartment block. Turns out you’ve both missed the invasion of extraterrestrials.

Is the Spanish film Extraterrestre a movie about extraterrestrials? Well, yes and no. While the invasion is part of the story, the plot seems to be around Julio and more importantly Julia. It turns out Julia’s neighbour has an unhealthy obsession with her and Julia seems to have a boyfriend too. Excuses have to be made and stories have to invented to cover up their nightly affair. How that happens and the consequences of all those stories is the core of this film by Nacho Vigalondo. Don’t expect a lot of sci-fi or you’ll be bitterly disappointed. Expect a quirky comedy about people whose lives are being taken over by lies (and some flying saucers that inspire them). The fun thing is that none of the characters may be exceptionally likable, but because of the situation you sit there and wonder how their futures will develop. Because I wasn’t expecting anything, I can’t say I was disappointed and indeed, I genuinely liked Extraterrestre.

That’s also why I offer you this trailer with the biggest reservations. A lot of the developments are already hinted at or indeed shown. But if you want to see how the film is visually made, then feel free to check out the trailer or at least a couple of seconds. Hovering between 7.5 and 8 out of 10, Extreterrestre will probably find itself in my Top 10 of 2012. Of course, it’s already 2013 but because of the recent events in my personal life there’s a handful of movies I still need to review before the list can be compiled, so expect the list in approximately two weeks. Which leaves you for now with the trailer of Extraterrestre or, if you don’t like any form of spoilers, the end of this article. Happy New Year!

TRAILER EXTRATERRESTRE (English subtitles) from Arsenico / Sayaka Producciones on Vimeo.

Take This Waltz

Sometimes a review is inappropriate. All you can say might ruin the movie. All you can say is but an opinion. Take This Waltz, by Sarah Polley, is such a movie. In it, Margot (Michelle Williams) meets a guy she’s interested in. To complicate stuff, he (Luke Kirby) appears to be her new neighbour and the platonic flirt is even less innocent because she’s married. Furthermore, there seem to be intimacy problems between Margot and her husband (Seth Rogen). For instance, when she’s lovingly fighting with her husband, she doesn’t like it when he kisses her while calling her a little girl. Those issues and the fact that her husband is very pre-occupied with the cookbook he’s writing, draw her to the flirty neighbour and it’s time for an hour of “Will they, won’t they?”. And while that’s going on, you can spend the entire time observing how Margot moves (in a way a key to understanding the film better).

Williams looks like she’s here because she was in Blue Valentine. Rogen and Sarah Silverman appear to be cast because they’re comedians and their roles needed some funny lines, but none of it matters because everything just works. Atom Egoyan is thanked in the credits and Polley seems to have learned from him how subtly added music can highlight a scene (I had to think of Egoyan during the “postcard scene”).
Speaking of music and how subtle the film is, check out this clip from the film. It features another song by Leonard Cohen (and before you ask, yes, the title of the film does appear as a song in the movie):

At which point it might seem odd to talk about Swedish-Danish cop show The Bridge… Not really though, part of what made it so good is that the Swedish cop Saga Noren looked like she had Asperger’s syndrome. However, nowhere in the series were you pointed to that fact. That’s the good thing about this film. So much of the many relationships (Margot and her husband, the neighbour, Margot’s family-in-law) are they for what and how they are. Amateur psychologists might be quick to give their diagnosis, but stay until the end and things might not necessarily be like you’d expected at first. Even the opening scene of the movie doesn’t get clear until later in the film.

Speaking of staying until the end… the movie ends with punches you might not have expected. As the lights went on, three couples hadn’t moved an inch. Had it lasted another minute, I might have left the cinema in tears too. And even though I didn’t, when I left the cinema, the sky was crying instead of me.

8/10

Haywire

This was going to be a post about two movies, but not only did the review of the second film become too long to keep it all in one post, there was also the issue of the IMDb, where I was fact-checking like any good reporter would do. Unless you work for a tabloid, CNN or Fox… What bothered me was that the IMDb kept the ‘news’ about the second Snow White movie as lead news of the day. According to the IMDb, Kristen Stewart would be dropped from the next movie. Anyway, I actually bothered to check and according to the site Gossip Cop, it’s not true. I’m glad to hear that because the ‘article’ on IMDb suggested that Stewart would be dropped from the movie but not the director. That rumor, for that’s what it was, highlights the bottom line of the past weeks: why is everyone pretending that Kirsten is the only one to blame in this story? [Because she’s more known than the director she had a fling with? – Ed.] Without justifying her actions (which she doesn’t do either), can everyone stop this madness? War criminals and convicted athletes got a better press this past month. Whether you like her or not, Kirsten started acting at the age of 9. She’s in the spotlights because she was in successful movies, she didn’t look up the press to sell her career. How many “Give us some rest”s does it take before the press get the message? And why did it take the IMDb a full day to post the rectification to their story (which, given the news about Mayim Bialik‘s accident got buried to the smaller news)? If we had to nail all the 22-year-old girls who’d made a misstep to the cross, we wouldn’t have time to watch any movies. And that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? Stewart recently starred in On The Road and Robert Pattinson in Cronenberg‘s Cosmopolis (reviewed here). Now there’s something to focus on, people. Back to business everyone! Speaking of “business”, here’s a review:

My digital tv provider offers me one free movie a month, which is awfully nice of them. In the past I used that chance to see some movies which never got a cinema release, but after the past year – which was so demanding I was forced to spend the past two weeks resting (which luckily coincided with the Olympics) – it mainly enabled me to see the movies I never even caught in the cinema. Last month I had to choose between Haywire and Poulet aux prunes (the latter won) and this month Haywire was once again of the final three movies in my list. As I couldn’t decide, I went to the IMDb to look up some information on the films from my shortlist. The lead actress from Haywire looked familiar, though and I couldn’t exactly pinpoint which movie I knew her from. Still the choice hadn’t been made, so up to YouTube for some trailers and clips. And that’s when it hit me. I had seen actress Gina Carano before and I knew her from… Haywire.

In earlier reviews at the Avenue (or its predecessor) we might have mentioned that it might be better for Steven Soderbergh to make one good movie a year rather than two acceptable films. But even then we didn’t expect that we could forget about one of his movies entirely. The synopsis, the poster, some stills… no recollection. It even took us a couple of seconds during the trailer to jumpstart our memory. Then a couple of scenes returned: the hotel scene, one of the scenes where our heroine has to escape the police and especially the remote house in the climax. Oh yes, that movie. Soderbergh is a capable director, but at the time we didn’t think this was a memorable movie. Turns out that this conclusion would prove to be painfully correct.

5.5/10 (I think)

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford

If ever this blog tended to persuade you I was too busy to write a decent review, it was nothing more than a lie. Compared to these weeks, I mean. Do not forsake me, oh my darlings, the Avenue will be updated with brand new review, albeit it not regularly. However, in an attempt to not make this blog look cobwebbed, the Avenue will find a creative way to continue regular postings: there will be 7 posts in June and the first one will be in just five days (1 June). Find out more then… for now, a brand new mini-review.

And tonight it’s time for a classic screwball comedy. Fans of this site may remember that we’re deeply in love with The Thin Man, mostly because the comedy salvoes were served by William Powell and Myrna Loy, good friends and therefore blessed with wonderful chemistry. In The Thin Man Powell played a detective, very much on the way to becoming a former detective. Sadly for him, events didn’t allow him to retire.

In The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, William Powell plays a detective who desperately wants to become a former detective. Sadly for him… hang on, this sounds familiar…
The big difference is that Powell’s co-star is not Myrna Loy but Jean Arthur and that, unlike Loy’s character in The Thin Man series, Arthur’s character actually wants Powell (or Mr. Bradford) to investigate the death of a jockey. Not only did the jockey die of a mysterious death, he’s not the first to die this way. Who better to shed some light into this murky business than a former detective…?

The lines between Powell and Arthur are almost as good as the chemistry between Powell and Loy. If you’ve always been sad they never made more Thin Man movies, then The Ex-Mrs. Bradford is an unmissable movie. Even if you don’t like old movies but you’re addicted to contemporary shows like Castle, this movie is great viewing as well as a historical lesson as to where this sort of series got its inspirations. No, The Ex-Mrs. Bradford can’t be compared to the best of the Thin Man series (which is still so watchable they’re about to remake the film), but do not forget that not all the films in the Thin Man series were masterpieces: it may not be as good as the original film, but it is better than a lot of its sequels. Too bad then The Ex-Mrs. Bradford never got the same status. This is not a movie by MGM, Powell’s usual studio: it’s produced by RKO Pictures. Powell briefly abandoned his regular studio because he liked the script and wanted to work with Jean Arthur again. The result shows this was not a bad decision.

In this scene Bradford’s dinner is interrupted by the doorbell. Disappointingly, it’s his former wife:

A quick search – even as much as clicking on this video to open it on YouTube – may help you find this movie and save it from obscurity. There are less nobler causes in the world.

8/10

The Personals (Zheng Hun Qi Shi)

Sometimes it’s nice to see a film at a festival, but it’s hard to share your love about it. The movie got a limited release at best and it may not even be available on dvd. And yes, you can wait for a tv broadcast, but that doesn’t do you any good if the networks don’t seem to pick up on the movie.
Ages ago, I saw a Taiwanese movie at the Ghent Film Festival and that’s about the last I’d heard of it. Luckily, I wrote a review about it at the time. You see I’d forgotten about the film and stumbling upon that review, suddenly the movie worked its way back into my head. One quick internet search later, it turns out that the movie can now be watched at Mubi and that there is a dvd release in Asia (with English subtitles). Looks about the right time to dig up that review then…

When I saw the movie at the Ghent Film Festival, I didn’t know what to expect. The only thing I knew was that it was going to be the story of a woman who wants to get married and hopes to find the ideal man through a personal ad. A lot of time is spent on her sitting in a bar and talking to the men who answered the ad.
This way the film wants to give us an idea of what life is like in Taiwan.

Though this promises to be either very interesting or very boring, the result is that you are watching a film which can somehow move you, but at the same time you regret that it isn’t more than only slightly moving. As the story continues and we meet weirdo after weirdo (a lot of these men are fun to watch), we learn that she once had a lover who abandoned her to return to his wife.
There is a lot more to the story, but I don’t want to spoil the ending. She regularly phones her ex-lover to tell him how much she misses him and how none of the men can compare to him, but he is never home so she tells her story to his answering machine. This second story is more intriguing than the first and it’s a pity that the story can’t fully grip you.

But still, Zheng Hun Qi Shi is interesting and well worth its 7/10.

Interested? Here’s the link to MUBI.

50s sci-fi double bill: THE GIANT CLAW vs. THE KILLER SHREWS

Happy Easter everyone. April is upon us (sweet showers and all) and as promised there should be more updates now. As long as I can manage to log-in at WordPress of course… so with a couple of days of delay but without further redo, let’s open the Vault again and enter two movies at once. Both worthy pedigree owners of that “50’s sci-fi” label.

What is “50s sci-fi”?

A 50s sci-fi is a science fiction film from the 50s (no points for guessing that). Lots of those films were shown in drive-in theaters where they accompanied ‘better’ films. Two for the price of one. Atomic monsters (both human and animals), robots, aliens, prehistoric animals that for some reason weren’t that extinct… there weren’t many topics the 50s sci-fi flicks didn’t touch upon. (And don’t forget those were the fifties: more than a handful of prehistoric monsters were metaphors for the Evil Communism attacking the pure and decent American minds.)
Most of these movies were low budget or even no budget. Which is why you shouldn’t look at the things you’re not supposed to see (e.g. the strings on many monsters). Also, there were a lot of sillier things to look out for. In one particular film, teenagers were scared by an alien monster (read: the shadow of a lobster being waved in front of a spotlight). You might want to hide behind the couch for this double bill… The first film is The Giant Claw.

THE GIANT CLAW

Before we start, may I say I hope you’ve already eaten when you’re reading this. Why? Well, after I’d seen this film for the first time, the bird’s look and sound made me want to eat chicken after the words ‘The End’ had appeared on the screen. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Fred Sears might have made Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, an okay film and one of the bigger examples for Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, but The Giant Claw is not that giant a film.
Yes, it’s a prehistoric monster that flies in the air, attacks planes and cities and occasionally treats itself to a man on a parachute. The beast is giant, except in the scenes where it’s considerably smaller, but who needs consistent proportions in a movie? Scary? It could be, but not if the monster looks like the abomination you’re seeing on your left.
Yes, admit it rather looks like a Sesame Street derelict. And by derelict, I mean Big Bird’s evil cousin who occasionally has a plane for lunch.

THE KILLER SHREWS

The Killer Shrews was directed by Ray Kellogg (director of another turkey, The Giant Gila Monster) and tells us the story of a scientist who wants to breed giant rats.
If you want to know why a scientist is on an island trying to breed bigger rats, I’ll tell you: the world population is expanding and if we all want to keep eating meat, there’s nothing wrong with creating more (read: bigger) food. And what better animal to experiment with than rats? Erm, yes, we’ll gloss over that one…

In Kellogg’s other masterpiece the gila monster was such a giant because of the wonderful special effect called “close-up”, a technique later also used in Night of the Lepus to make bunnies look scary. Well, at least they tried… The Killer Shrews does not go for the same option, very likely because nobody wanted to work with shrews. So how do we solve this problem? Easy, let’s get some dogs in, create a couple of ratlike heads in papier maché and put those heads on the dogs… surely, nobody will spot the animals are dogs. (Especially not if you’re gullible enough to believe rats can wag their tails.)
In this particular scene, the professor’s daughter is going to get coffee for everyone, only to discover one of the shrews has managed to enter the house. (If you don’t like waiting, fast forward to 1:30.)

Still, that isn’t even the highlight of the film… in the movie’s climax, the heroes try to escape from the island. They hope to get to the ocean because after all, rats can’t swim (erm… yes, they can and so can dogs – again, something to gloss over). And what better way to do so than to tie a couple of empty barrels together, turn those around and let’s march off the island, shall we? Yes, you may wonder if you’ve taken drugs, but at that point you’re really watching actors walking in upside-down barrels being jumped on by dogs wearing rat masks. (The wonderful climax truly kicks off 4 minutes into this clip.)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we love cinema…

How to watch these masterpieces?
The Giant Claw can be watched on the Icons of Horror Collection: Sam Katzman dvd box set, together with Zombies of Mora Tau, The Werewolf and Creature with the Atom Brain.
The Killer Shrews is in public domain and can be watched online (or downloaded) at the Internet Archive.