Cinema Penitentiary Diaries – August 5 -10, 2015

  1. Autumn in New York Of all movie genres, the romance relies the most insidiously upon template, causing its characters to make decisions that are determined by the writer’s conformity to expectation rather than motivated by the desires of its characters. The persons trapped in a romance movie are condemned to fall in love even before first sight; their love interests are established at the moment the movie is cast. Then they are destined to act stupidly in order that the relationship be threatened and to regret and forgive such stupidity in order to effect a reconciliation. In “Autumn in New York,”  a confessed womanizer who is redeemed by the love of a dying virgin has a quick fling on the roof with a former paramour. It is all for the benefit of the hackneyed plot, for what would a love story be without an infidelity to threaten it? Watching this movie, I wanted to break it apart, to free its characters from the deadly lives it forced them to enact.   Richard Gere and Winona Ryder deserved better. The Cannonball Run Its cross country race rooted in “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” with its ambitions somewhere astray in “Nashville,” “The Cannonball Run” peters out long before reaching its finish line, working neither as star-studded madcap comedy nor social allegory on the head of a pin.  We are even cheated of the scenery that would add zest to a 3,000 plus mile road trip. The Facts of Life A comedy of unconsummated  adultery, unconsummated because Bob Hope and Lucille Ball would never consummate such a thing.  Or would they?  Or did they?  We cannot know for sure, because the year is 1960 and it is not yet acceptable to be honest about such matters, especially when they concern such beloved personalities and Bob and Lucy.
  1. True Story There is no story here at all, simply an idea, and an idea can be bought and sold with no benefit to the consumer. Here we are given the slight gimmick of a murderer stealing the identity of his favorite journalist, recently forced from the New York Times for falsifying a story. In this story, there is nothing to falsify, because there is no story. The movie plods along on the promise of some intra-character revelation, but this is no “Persona.”  Not even close. It might have been more interesting had the casting been reversed, with Jonah Hill playing the killer and James Franco the journalist. As it stands, the actors prevent us from believing any of it, true or not as it may be.
  2. Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, All the Colors of the Dark, Torso REVIEWED
  3. Black Robe Bruce Beresford’s ignored and forgotten epic of the Jesuits’ attempts to convert Canadian Indians to Christianity in the 17th Century stands with Terrence Malick’s “The New World” and Roland Joffe’s “The Mission” as an imaginative visualization of confrontations between Europeans and Native Americans. It is one of those rare movies that goes beyond words, and can be appreciated more in the immediate experience than in recollection. Unusually unsentimental, “Black Robe” spares us neither the atrocities nor the ideals of either of the conflicting cultures.
  4. Night of the Devil Bride King Fu and vampires mix it up in this 1975 offering from China’s Shaw Brothers. Not as bad as it might have been, but not very good either. Hell of the Living Dead Bruno Mattei was not of the same caliber as Lucio Fulci, but should not be marginalized when considering the rise of Italian horror in the eighties. “Hell of the Living Dead” is one of his more memorable efforts, and one of the world’s better zombie movies.
  5. Dial: Help A girl is pursued by past lovers through murderous telephone lines that sizzle with negative energy and electrocute both her friends and enemies. It might be a stupid idea that cannot possibly find a resolution that makes any sense, but director Ruggero Deodato, who is probably destined to be known only for his cannibal pictures, gives us a dark and desolate Rome that is scary as hell, and he delivers a healthy share of jumpy moments. Charlotte Lewis is an intriguing presence as the girl who cannot keep herself from answering the ring of a telephone, even though she knows it will bring death. She has the kind of a face that is simultaneously attractive and repulsive, and she is enough of a model to understand when to emphasize or conceal either side of it. We find ourselves trying to see her real face through the hair that partially conceals it, which keeps us concerned about her fate. The Adventures of Milo and Otis I never tire of this Japanese children’s movie about the friendship of a dog and a cat.  It is the sweetest, funniest, and most imaginative animal movie I have ever seen, and I have been watching it with pleasure for over twenty-five years.

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