All posts by El Rob Hubbard

CHANNEL 366: 30 COINS, SEASON 1 (2020)

30 Monedas

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Eduard Fernández, Megan Montaner, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, , Pepón Nieto, Manolo Solo

PLOT: In a small Spanish town, strange supernatural take place involving the town’s new priest, Father Vergara, previously an exorcist and currently an ex-convict. Vergara has in his possession a coin: one of the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas for betraying Jesus. He gets swept up in the increasingly strange events along with the town mayor, Paco and the town veterinarian, Elena. Amidst the deaths and strange creatures that appear, the three discover a conspiracy within the Church which involves gathering together all thirty coins.Still from "20 Coins" (2020)

COMMENTS: Getting A-level cinema talent to bring their A-game to the smaller screen can pay off; see with “Poker Face” and “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.” In most cases, that talent creates the concept and is involved in some way—directing a few episodes, writing/producing—but then the majority of production gets farmed out to others. It’s a rarity to have said talent directly involved in a the entire run of full-season of television (where a season is eight to ten episodes, in a world where “miniseries” appears to be a dirty word). Notable exceptions are ‘s “Twin Peaks: the Return” and Mike Flanagan’s Netflix shows (“The Haunting of…,” “Midnight Mass,” “The Midnight Club”).

Add “30 Coins” to that list. Spain’s Álex de la Iglesia, together with co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría, combines elements of trashy telenovelas with a supernatural conspiracy involving the Vatican over eight episodes. Fans of de la Iglesia’s Day of the Beast will find this  familiar ground. Beast is comparable to early ; “30 Coins” is like later Raimi, but with a bit more edge.  The telenovela aspect involves the star-crossed romance of childhood sweethearts Elena (Megan Montaner) and Paco (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) who has an ambitious and jealous wife, Merche (Macarena Gómez). This triangle weaves in and out amongst the Lovecraftian events (several of the creatures who appear are explicitly named in that mythos).

The main title, one of the most vivid and memorable created for a television show, establishes the tone. It evokes the already over-the-top Biblical epics of the 1950s, with the Crucifixion shown in lurid detail, Judas getting paid off, and Jesus and his betrayer sharing a look that can be described as psychotic triumph. Judas’ suicide and the scattering of the coins end the sequence, setting up the show’s backstory.

The eight-episode series was created for HBO Europe, and proved to be successful enough on HBO Max that it was renewed for a second season, scheduled to premiere October 2023.  Advance word on the second season suggests it focuses on the people of Pedraza, who have lost their minds and are confined to a psychiatric hospital. Elena lies in a Madrid hospital bed in a coma; Paco, shattered by remorse, tries to take care of her. Paul Giamatti will join the cast as Christian Barbrow, an American tech and business billionaire, science guru, writer of sci-fi novels, and head of a mysterious brotherhood of global elites. As horror grows around the cast, they must face a new enemy.

The first season can be streamed on HBO Max (or whatever they’re called today). Those thirsting for a home video release are out of luck, as there is no domestic release of the show as of this writing. There is, however, a Spanish Blu-ray release that has an English dub soundtrack as well as Spanish/English subtitles and a Spanish soundtrack—and is region free (although the format is incompatible with Playstation 3 and maybe some other units). Contact your favored importers.

Season One trailer:

Main title:

Season 2 teaser:

Season 2 trailer:

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this season remains bogged down in dull relationship drama and a confusing, mutating conspiracy, with only occasional flashes of the weird horror that the concept and the first episode’s opening scenes promise.”–Josh Bell, CBR (contemporaneous)

MIKE MCCARTHY/JMM – A (SOMEWHAT LENGTHY) PRIMER

Mike McCarthy – or JMM?

Twins?

Actually, both are one and the same. When John Michael McCarthy started in comics, he branded himself with the JMM logo. And if you’ve seen JMM’s work either in comics or movies, your impression is probably:

GIRLS! (Nudity!!)

GARAGE! (Rock and aesthetic)

GARISH! (look, plotting, dialog, attitude)

ELVISNESS!

Basically, what was/is considered to be the rudiments of American pop culture of the 20th Century. If you really want to get into subtopics, specifically Southern American Pop Culture, including the films of David Friedman, early , and lots of others I can’t begin to list…

JMM started in the late 80’s/early 90s, just ahead of the Nu Garage/Greaser/Glam Explosion* of the late 90s, which he and his work helped spread.

[* – NOT an official genre term]

McCarthy’s pinnacle (?) was possibly Superstarlet A.D., which was picked up for distribution by in 2000, making it the easiest of his films to find. After that… that Garage/Greaseball/Glam Boom slowed down and got overshadowed by Whatever New Thing was current. And although McCarthy got notice and acclaim overseas, back home he was just what was called a “cult figure”; an interesting but obscure branch of underground film. Meanwhile, others in the Memphis film scene broke through to studio interest, and money.

As McCarthy has stated himself, as a mantra: “My work is UNPOPULAR“.

I’ve long wondered why. Full disclosure: I was a crew-member on Superstarlet A.D. for the last half of shooting. But I was a fan of McCarthy’s before that, having seen The Sore Losers in Kansas City during the “Vice Parties” tour. My San Francisco roommate was a fan of Russ Meyer, which is how I started discovering that particular corner of film. So when an opportunity came to check out that type of filmmaking, I jumped right in—but that’s another story for another time…

Afterwards, I delved more into McCarthy’s work, and tried to keep an eye on what he was up to. If there’s a genre label for McCarthy/JMM, it’s “Redneck Art-house.” He remarks in the Blu-ray commentary for Damselvis, Daughter of Helvis that a reviewer once referred to him (and the film) as a “Pawnshop .” Both terms sound derisive, initially; but they’re both on-the-nose and correct, and not in a bad way.

McCarthy’s work follows two distinct paths:

JMM comix adaptations. McCarthy’s lo-fi versions of his own personal Cinematic Universe: Damselvis (1994), The Sore Losers (1997), and Superstarlet A.D. (2000) fit in here, along with his comix “Cadavera”, “SuperSexxx”, and “Bang Gang.”

Mike McCarthy graphic novel adaptations. These include features Continue reading MIKE MCCARTHY/JMM – A (SOMEWHAT LENGTHY) PRIMER

CAPSULE: ZU: WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN (1983)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Yuen Biao, Adam Cheung, Damian Lau, Mang Hoi, Moon Lee, , Sammo Hung

PLOT: In the midst of a civil war, soldier Dik Ming-kei (Yuen Biao) is threatened by generals who want him to follow contradictory orders, and whose solution is to sentence him to death. He deserts and falls in with Master Ding Yan (Adam Cheung) who saves him from supernatural forces. Dik wants to be Ding’s pupil, but Ding isn’t interested; an attack by the Blood Devil and his disciples brings in Master Hsiou You (Damian Lau) and his acolyte Yi Chen (Mang Hoi), but Hsiou doesn’t like Ding and can’t work with him to defeat the Blood Devil. Therefore, Dik and Yi team up after both Masters are poisoned by the Blood Devil and Ding succumbs to the Dark Forces.

Still from Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983)

COMMENTS: 2001: A Space Odyssey lit the fuse for cosmic films where special effects took center stage. Star Wars was the inevitable explosion of the trend. The 80s were a time when technology supported genre-based projects, doing what couldn’t be done before, supported by young directors and technicians who were hungry to show their stuff. That’s why some now consider it to be a golden age of genre film. That spirit wasn’t just limited to films made in the West, as Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain shows.

Calling Zu the “Star Wars of Chinese cinema” is dead on. Tsui Hark may not be George Lucas (thankfully), but he was a film-school brat like Lucas and had previous feature experience: Zu was Hark’s fifth feature, Star Wars Lucas’ third. Both took material that they loved from their childhoods and upgraded/synthesized it for a contemporary audience: Lucas from “Flash Gordon” and other serials, Hark from historical fantasy (“Legend of the Swordsmen of the Mountains of Shu“) and Chinese action films. Hark also imported special effects people from America to assist the production, names familiar to effects geeks who grew up on those post-Star Wars films: Robert Blalack (Altered States, Robocop), VCE Film’s Peter Kuran (Conan the Barbarian, Dragonslayer), Chris Casady (Airplane!, The Empire Strikes Back). (All of them also worked on the original Star Wars.) Like Star Wars, Zu kicked off a huge change in the local film industry. It practically was the flash point for the fertile late phase of the Hong Kong New Wave.

Unless you were a major fan of kung-fu films, often watching 5th generation VHS dubs, most audiences in the U.S. got introduced to this kind of material via Big Trouble in Little China—and most audiences at the time weren’t ready for that. As good as China is, compared to Zu, it’s methadone vs. pure uncut, mainlined heroin. Watching Zu 40 years after it came onto the scene was exhausting—but in a good way. It’s almost non-stop set piece after set-piece, but it does take time to breathe. And while Star Wars only offers brainless entertainment, Zu gives the viewer plenty to chew over along with all the eye-candy action. At the start, Dik is either threatened by those in authority or is dismissed by those who have the power to help and refuse to. It’s when the establishment figures fail that Dik and his allies step up and take control to defeat the evil: “woke” way before woke became a thing.

Eureka Video issued a Region B Blu-ray of Zu in 2020. This year, Shout! Factory brings out a Region A release that ports over quite a bit from the Eureka release and adds some new features. Returning is the 2K restoration with a commentary on selected scenes from Tony Rayns. There’s also the alternate “Export Cut,” Zu: Time Warrior. This English-dubbed version adds a framing story set in Hong Kong that sets things up as a variation of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”; it’s notable mainly as a reminder of garish 80s sweater fashions. Also ported are interviews with actors Yuen Biao, Moon Lee and Mang Hoi from 2002, and an hour long interview with Hark from 2020.

New to the Shout Factory package is a feature length commentary by Gilbert Po and Sean Tierney (a fun listen), two featurettes with academics Victor Fan and Lin Feng, and an interview with Peter Kuran, visual effects consultant.

 

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Shedding the veil of heightened reality to get to the weird, nutty centre underneath serves this martial arts fantasy incredibly well. The madcap silliness of each new character and scenario is liberally slathered with tongue-in-cheek humour that is executed as rapid-fire as the narrative itself.”–Daryl Bär, Battle Royale with Cheese [Eureka Blu-ray]

HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN: RARITIES COLLECTION

Recommended

Severin Films 5-disc set.

I’ve sung Kier-la Janisse’s praises earlier here about the “All the Haunts Be Ours” folk-horror boxset that she curated for Severin Films. I assume a good many of the people reading this are familiar with Janisse already from her book “House of Psychotic Women,” published in 2012. 2022, the book’s 10-year anniversary, saw the publication of an updated edition (new films appear in the book’s appendix) and this boxset of four movies. Though much smaller, this release is equal in quality to “Haunts,” if perhaps more niche-focused: all of the films featured could fall under the heading of “Eurocult.” This is the first American Blu-ray release of each.

Identikit (1974), directed by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi and based on Muriel Spark’s novel “The Driver’s Seat,” stars as Lise, a somewhat prickly woman on a trip from London to Rome on her way to meet up with a man. The film jumps around in time as Lise is apparently being pursued by the police, and we see the reactions of people who have encountered her and their interrogations. With incidents of terrorist activity in the background, it seems that Lise is on a mission that will end up in dire consequences—which indeed it does, but not all how one might expect.

Identikit comes at the end of what has been referred to as Taylor’s career decline, a period that included offbeat projects like Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Boom! (1968), Secret Ceremony (1968), and Night Watch (1973), all of which were thoroughly roasted by critics at the time and no more successful with audiences. Those films are being reevaluated and are now considered to be among some of Taylor’s best work. Identikit stands proudly amongst that body of work. Lise is abrasive and disagreeable to most she encounters: service people; airport security (note that the movie was shot one year after airport security measures were put into place, which look quaint and lax compared to current times); and toxic men like Bill (Ian Bannen), a buffoon who thinks he’s just her type, and Carlo (Guido Mannari), a mechanic who gives her a ride to a hotel and attempts to rape her. But Lise shows some wistful vulnerability with an older woman () with whom she goes shopping, a man she thinks might be the person she’s looking for ( in a cameo), and the man who is the one she’s searching for. As the movie skips around in time, Lise proves to be a totally enigmatic character, even as she achieves her goal.

The audio commentary by Millie De Chirico (late of TCM Continue reading HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN: RARITIES COLLECTION

CAPSULE: ESCAPE TO THE SILVER GLOBE (2021)

Ucieczka Na Srebrny Glob

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Xawery Żuławski, Małgorzata Braunek, , Krzysztof Zanussi, Janusz Zaorski

PLOT: A documentary on the making of On the Silver Globe, Andrzej Żuławski’s adaptation of his great-uncle’s “The Lunar Trilogy.”

COMMENTSOn the Silver Globe is the other notorious Andrzej Żuławski film, although not yet as widely known as Possession. That’s not surprising, knowing the science fiction epic’s troubled production history. Globe was pivotal in many ways. Had it been completed on time, it would have been the largest science fiction film made in Europe at the time, and could have put Żuławski on a different career path had things worked out… perhaps.

Understanding that career path, which Kuba Mikurda lays out in detail, is key to everything in Escape. Via interviews with crew and family members (his brother and oldest son on camera; his ex-wife is heard on audio) and archival interviews with Żuławski, we see the director from his start as an assistant to Andrzej Wadja to directing his first two features. The second, Diabel [The Devil] (1972), got noticed by government authorities and resulted in Żuławski’s exile from Poland… for the first time. He returned to Poland in 1976 to make On the Silver Globe, a large scale sci-fi epic, during an economic crisis. Its cost made it a huge target in the political sphere. Escape does a good job making the political situation clear to audiences. Best of all, it features behind-the-scenes footage of Żuławski at work. It also doesn’t shy away from an unflattering portrait of Żuławski, recognizing him as a brilliant filmmaker, but a man with many issues when it came to interpersonal relations. Escape addresses the dissolution of his family during his first exile (which created the creative fodder for Possession), as well as giving insight on his later years.

Escape from the Silver Globe accomplishes several things. Besides serving as an in-depth look at a film that was just a legend for many years and is now ripe for discovery by audiences, it’s an approachable introduction, especially for Western audiences, to Żuławski and his work.

Escape will be released on Blu-ray by French distributor Le Chat Qui Fume (The Smoking Cat) as a stand-alone, and also as part of a long awaited boxset of Żuławski’s “Polish Trilogy” (The Third Part of the Night, The Devil and On the Silver Globe), which was previously available only in Japan. Unfortunately, it will not have English subtitles. That seems to also be the case with a German release from Camera Obscura. It has been confirmed that there will be a U.S. distributor, but no official announcement has been made at the time of this review.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Oscillating somewhere between Andrei Tarkovsky’s cerebral sci-fi and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s intricate surrealist iconography, On the Silver Globe was all set to mark a critical turning point – not just for Żuławski and Polish filmmaking, but for international cinema at large… [Escape] never falls into the trap of boredom, simulating the contagious energy of a Żuławski picture, and the love and fascination at the heart of this project are truly palpable.”– Marina Ashioti, Little White Lies (festival screening)