The B-Movie Isle (01/26/2017)
The B-Movie Isle a small written (sometimes) weekly companion piece to the B-Movie Podcast.
Every B-Movie is an Isle onto itself. The B-Movie Isle recommends a few films either being released or already released in theaters, VOD, streaming or on Blu-Ray/DVD. These are not going to be blockbusters but those movies you’ll probably find in the door buster clearance bin. Films that people told you weren’t worth your time or you may have not heard about. You and I know they’re just un-enlightened to the beauty of a killer B-Movie!!!
THE TOP SHELF TITLE AKA FEATURED TITLE OF THE WEEK
The Film(s): Takashi Miike for my generation was the outlaw renegade filmmaker du jour. Like a mash up remixed version of David Lynch, Sam Peckingpah, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Tito Brass all rolled into one. The first films I saw direct by Miike was a double feature of Audition and Ichi: The Killer. Those films just about summed up the highbrow-lowbrow approach that Miike loves. It also made me fall head over heels for the man’s work.
Arrow Video has done it again. They continue their streak of important genre films, giving them the releases they deserve. Here they are releasing lesser known but equally important work by Miike that deserves to be dissected at length.
The Black Society trilogy is a loose connective film trilogy the way that The Cornetto Trilogy is a trilogy. It’s one because the Director says it is. This unofficial trilogy consists of Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog and Ley Lines. The films deal with the underbelly of Japanese culture. The cultural taboos that Japanese hate to discuss; racism, classism, prostitution, gangs, drugs, corruption. It’s all here in this trilogy masking as genre fodder.
Miike makes anything but genre fodder but be warned… these films all great are definitely fringe approaching extreme cinema. These are not designed to be for mass consumption. Because of that very fact, Miike creates three films thematically cohesive though telling vastly different films from different perspectives.
Shinjuku Triad Society at its core is a Cop vs. Gangsters but done in a way that you’ve yet to see it. There’s a major plot element that deals with Homosexuality in a way that you will be surprised coming from a gangster film. The film’s gay characters are refreshingly unique never living up to a cliché of caricature. There is a grime that plays out through the entirety of the film that’s on par with Paul Schrader’s work or the work that William Friedkin did in the 70’s and part of the 80’s. The cops are as dirty as the crooks in this film. It’s survival of the most psychotic in this film. Miike keeps everything on the cusp of danger, filth and unease to make it a truly thrilling film.
Rainy Dog is the best of the trilogy. Miike takes the “Hitman with a heart” and shocked it with a healthy dose of cynicism that’s almost comically shocking. In Miike’s hand the hitman is a low level hood eeking a living in the slums of Taiwan. The hitman is saddled with not just losing his job with the local triad gang but also with a kid who may or may not be his child. What occurs defies any sort of sentimentality you are expecting. Miike creates a world that good is served up in small doses and harsh truths are pushes at every corner. The path that the film takes in its final third is truly great. This is Miike at his emotional best.
Ley Lines may be one of the toughest films to find an entry point into. A sort of youth in revolt meets coming of age Gangster film allows us into the world of three criminal Chinese youths in Japan. Miike ensure that these kids are products of their environments, wild and brimming with hatred for a society that at length systematically destroys their egos and self-worth. There are no easy answers by the end of the film with characters. Miike creates a film that isn’t an indictment of youth but of a culture that rewards homogenization and “purity of race”. He understands that this kind of abject hatred and malaise leads to the violence and criminality that’s pronounced in this truly great film.
The Transfer(s): Arrow gives these films (which were shot on 16mm and 35mm) beautiful grain filled transfers. The films are as sharp as you can get without loss of that grain detail. Again they’ve gotten transfers that look more like great archival prints than spruced up DNR’ed to death copies. Those expecting spotless transfers look elsewhere. These films have character and Arrow let the films be released as such.
The Extras: The films come with commentaries on each by Miike biographer Tom Mes, two new interviews (one with Miike and the other with actor Show Aikawa). The commentaries having been sampled are great. Mes gives the kind of information that we expect from a Stephen Prince commentary on an Akira Kurosawa film. Which is to say it’s packed with not just information on the film but gives you context within Japanese society and also how they figure into Miike’s filmography. Both interview segments filled with information on the film making and hearing from Miike himself is truly worth the price alone.
The Bottom Shelf: Arrow has released the “loose” trilogy of films by Takashi Miike. For any hardcore crime fan and Miike fan this is an insta-purchase. For those curious and love fringe outlaw cinema this is a must have even if curious. Buyers (e.g. non-Miike Fans) beware this is pretty hard stuff but well worthy of your time. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS.
The Film(s): The film runs a breezy 68 minutes and you can’t fault the film for not being entertaining BUT with that being said it’s a truly fascinating relic of the time. Sabotage is a propaganda film and is propaganda film through and through. The film about a factory worker who’s accused of sabotaging Military airplanes at a factory is ripe for some gripping material. Here it’s actually funny and fun without an ounce of anything gripping. Because it’s propaganda we now that everything’s going to be all okay and the good guys will win!!!
The most interesting aspect of the film is its central heroes. Rather than a square jawed Dudley Do-Right you are given Dudley Do-Right’s fiancée and his crazy kooky father. Yes, you heard me right. It’s one of the more refreshing aspects of the film, which was made in 1939 in the midst of WWII, actually the only refreshing aspect of the film. Arleen Whelan who plays Gail (the fiancée) and Charley Grapewin (the dad) who plays Major Matt Grayson are presented as the heroes of the piece. It gives a rather fascinating glimpse into just how propaganda works and how “no stone left unturned” was truly at work in Hollywood as the US began to get involved with WWII. The film shows that “everyone” has to do their part.
The Transfer(s): With the exception of a few specks, the film is immaculate. Olive continues to get prime time beautiful transfers from Paramount (their main provider of content). Other than a complete 4K restoration, this is as great as the film is going to look. I’m betting that the film didn’t look this good upon release 70 years ago.
The Extras: No Extras on this Disc.
The Bottom Shelf: The film is a fascinating relic of a bygone era. Any WWII fan will eat this up as this is golden era Hollywood propaganda at work.
The Film(s): There are always areas of films that a film geek is sorely lacking in. Silent films is one of those areas for myself. I mention this because any chance to review or even watch a Silent film is am more than willing to take the plunge, I do so with glee.
Wagon Tracks stars William S Hart as the aptly named Buckskin Hamilton (not to be mistaken with Puntey Swope or Buck Swope) our square jawed hero. A tale of adventure and revenge set on the Santa Fe Trail. Buckskin leads a group of frontier peeps on the trail, including (without his knowledge for a time) the people who murdered his brother. The film though troubling in some respects to a modern audience is a heck of a good time. There’s a seriousness that everything is taken at that you have to respect. Hart is at the center of the film always pure and righteous trying to get his charges safely through his dangerous terrain. The film’s ending is shockingly oblique with a budding love affair treated with some amount of realism and left dangling.
The Transfer(s): The transfer is gorgeous. Something about the B&W nitrate films that are beautifully rendered in Blu-Ray that hits me in the right spot. Like Criterion releases of Silent Films, this film just looks beautiful.
The Extras: No Extras on this Disc.
The Bottom Shelf: Any Silent film Geek is a no-brainer of a purchase, William S Hart delivers with Wagon Tracks the style of Western you would expect from the Silent film superstar.