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.

Superhero Schlock: The Cat-Beast

Shehnaz Begum directed The Cat-Beast (Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay in its original title) and cast herself as the catlike avenger. Her feline tongue movements are unlike any other you’ve ever seen in a movie before and are so eerily mimicked even David Attenborough could be fooled into thinking we’re dealing with a genuine animal. Well, at least the sponsor of this film was subtle…

Lady on a Train

Let’s celebrate the Avenue’s return with something topical and what is more topical on Boxing Day than a movie that takes place on Christmas? Christmas Eve, to be precise, but we’ll gloss over that for now.

Lady on a Train is a movie from 1945 that combines a whodunit with comedy and musical. Sounds like more than you can handle? Well, you’re not entirely wrong: it is more than a handful of elements for one movie and the scenes don’t always fit perfectly, but none of it bothers too much to spoil your viewing. The movie is built around Deanna Durbin, the classic actress who was cast throughout the late 30s and 40s for her good looks and dito voice. Say what you want about Deanna, but she was versatile enough to appear in any sort of movie, from film noir (Christmas Holiday) to musical western (Can’t Help Singing). In almost all of her 22 movies, Durbin performed at least one song and Lady on a Train is no exception, but we’ll return to that later.

The poster on the left is not from the movie, but from the mystery book it was based on. The author is Leslie Charteris, whom you might know from his books about The Saint. This movie starts with Nicki Collins (Durbin) reading a thriller on the train, when suddenly she sees a real murder being committed. The police don’t believe because she’s still carrying around Wayne Morgan’s book The Case of the Headless Bride and suggest she’d better go and bother the author (David Bruce) with her alleged murder story… which she promptly does, much to the dismay of Morgan’s fiancee. At first, Morgan doesn’t want to believe her and Nicki starts to investigate things herself, bumping into the family of the deceased (a cast including Dan Duryea and Ralph Bellamy). The family mistake her for a nightclub singer the deceased had an affair with, which doesn’t make the plot convincing, but is a handy step-up to have Durbin sing more than one song.

Overall, Durbin’s character is quite a sassy young lady. The poor man her father hired to look after her (played by Edward Everett Horton, a comedy legend from the 30s) definitely has his hands full and certainly can’t seem to go home unscathed after a hard day’s work. All in all, the character of Nicki Collins looks like a barely legal version of Nancy Drew. By then, Durbin had become such a darling of the silver screen that the seductive scenes in the nightclub songs might not appear too risqué, but I don’t think a genuine nightclub artist would’ve gotten away with sitting on someone’s lap and stroking his head in such a way the man’s girlfriend leaves the place with slamming doors.

Something contemporary this 1945 movie seems to be a distinct relative of is the series Castle: not only is there lots more “will they won’t they” atmosphere around than what’s actually being shown, it’s also one of the few shows that managed to find itself a niche where it doesn’t really matter if the story is believable or not. The twists and quirkiness suffice you keep you hanging until the end. And if that’s not enough, there’s a scene where Deanna Durbin is on the phone to her father (while she’s unaware there’s someone in the house who’s trying to get some evidence back). It’s a scene that is completely different from the rest of the film, but it’s Deanna Durbin and you’ll forgive her anything. Especially on Christmas Eve.

R.I.P. Kôji Wakamatsu

Once again, there’s no room for the planned and/or promised updates, as it’s time to pay tribute to a recently and suddenly deceased director. This time that’s even to be read literally, because Japanese cult director Kôji Wakamatsuwas run over by a taxi. Some

Violence without a cause
Violence without a cause

sources claim it was no accident as Wakamatsu had claimed he wanted to make a critical movie about the nuclear company Tepco. Of course, that’s only speculation at best, but how fitting an ordered execution would be for such a director.

When these pages belonged to a cult review site, DV, Wakamatsu’s filmography was mentioned and discussed. One of the most overused expression was fitting for him: you either hated or loved him. Smutty pornographer to some, bleak observer to others, his movies didn’t leave most members unmoved. And whereas it’s true that some of his work was little more than pornographic (especially in the 1980s), the same could be said for Jean Rollin or Jess Franco, directors who did get to keep their medals of cult directors.
Make no mistake, The embryo hunts in secret (1966) is extreme cinema. Basically, it’s like watching a woman who’s constantly tortured by a man. Like Fifty Shades then, but bleaker, less eroticising and more stylistic. Well, a lot more stylistic.

Kôji Wakamatsu directed so many movies – his IMDb profile, which may not even be complete (but it’s hard sifting through the movies with countless titles) – clocked off at 105 titles. That’s more than a hundred titles for a director who didn’t do anything between 1997 and 2003, or indeed skipped a couple of other years too. By contrast, he managed to complete ten titles in 1964. (He debuted in 1963, at the age of 27.)

Go go, second time virgin
Go go, second time virgin

No wonder then that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish which movie you’re watching. There are so many and most carry his cinematographic style. When asked why his body of

work was often repetitive, the director answered: Because the basic theme is the same, because all my films deal with the same primal element – the fight against authoritarianism, the individual hate and revenge against authority and repression. That hate and revenge explode in lust and violence. Is this bad?”

Wakamatsu was also a producer and even made some of his fame there, being the executive producer of In the realm of the senses, Oshima‘s erotic classic. Oshima is a lot more known and a little less extreme than Wakamatsu, but if you like Oshima’s work, there’s a chance you’ll like Wakamatsu as well. (I had to think of Oshima’s Naked Youth a.k.a. Cruel story of youth the first time I watched a Wakamatsu movie.)

For a lot of Wakamatsu’s work you’ll have to rely on the internet as most of his movies aren’t out on DVD anywhere else than Japan. A couple of movies were released in the US,

Shinjuku mad
Shinjuku mad

such as the excellent Go, go, second time virgin or Ecstasy of the Angels (both Image) or The notorious concubines (SWV). If you manage to catch Italian channel RaiTre, the often excellent Fuori Orario is currently showing a weekend long of movies as a tribute to the late director. On the internet, MUBI has a page on him with more than 20 films which he either directed or produced.

To me, Wakamatsu’s work are more political than erotic, no matter how much sex there is in some of his exploitation movies. (Then again, I’ve only seen ten of his films, that’s less than 10% after all.) The low budget he often had forced him to limit locations, but it helped to make his films claustrophobic. His style allowed you to understand his movies even if you can’t speak a word of Japanese (check). One of his films is called Violence without a cause, which neatly sums up Wakamatsu’s body of work. You can find a lot of clips from his movies on YouTube, but I’ll leave you with the opening scene of Ecstasy of Angels, which shows Wakamatsu didn’t need sex or violence to know where to point his camera to.

“I don’t think much of critics, so naturally they don’t think much of me either.” (Kôji Wakamatsu, 1936-2012)

Horror Europa

Halloween is upon us and even channels which never deal with horror may want to pre-empt their schedule for one night of spine-chilling movies. Here in Belgium, the public network has a threesome of movies planned for Halloween night: The Thing from Another World, The Body Snatcher and Rubber (which seems an odd choice after two B&W classics). BBC Four doesn’t do anything special on the 31st of October, but one day earlier you can catch Horror Europa, a 90-minute special with Mark Gatiss.

“Actor and writer Mark Gatiss embarks on a chilling voyage through European horror cinema. From the silent nightmares of German Expressionism in the wake of World War I to lesbian vampires in 1970s Belgium, from the black-gloved killers of Italy’s bloody Giallo thrillers to the ghosts of the Spanish Civil War, Mark reveals how Europe’s turbulent 20th century forged its ground-breaking horror tradition. On a journey that spans the continent from Ostend to Slovakia, Mark explores classic filming locations and talks to the genre’s leading talents, including directors Dario Argento and Guillermo del Toro.”

Seems like an appointment you don’t want to miss…