61 Days of Halloween: The Asphyx (1973)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween and a list of past titles please go here.

The Asphyx (1973)

As I did with the last post I would like to commend a distributor to start, I got this film also at Monster-Mania but this time at the Kino Lorber table. Kino’s catalogue is fairly diverse and they offer many silent gems, other classic, art house and foreign fare as well as horror. This release is part of a line called Redemption, so named for previously rare titles in the genre. The idea for the line is wonderful, even if this particular selection doesn’t quite work for me in many ways.

I forget where I saw it, and it may have been a later film, but an interest in capturing the exact moment of death is not a new one. However, it is an intriguing concept especially when the possibility exists to cheat it. The Asphyx is the spirit of the death, which is carrying the deceased across the mortal plain when the time comes.If one has no Asphyx, it is found, they can not die.

An obsessive pursuit of immortality is a good angle to play up. Where things start to go wrong occurs quite soon after the film starts, and quite often; such that the film does eventually lose me. It starts with cheats in the motion picture images that seem to show the Asphyx. The researcher having created motion picture recording is a clever plot element but the cuts in the image, that suggest new camera angles, are clearly cheats for we see the camera he used never moved. That’s a nitpicky complaint, but it starts the snowball effect on this film.

Clearly with the setup this story has the Asphyx must be seen, but that creates many of the issues. The effects works is good considering the likely budgetary constraints and the time period, but the design of the Asphyx strikes me and unintentionally comical. Its presence, however, is not but is rather grating and annoying.

Eventually, once the obsession is full blown the pace slows down to a snail’s crawl and why every attempted inducement of death, to lure the Asphyx, needs to be a Rube Goldberg device is beyond me. There are some good building blocks to the film but ultimately the whole is ineffectual.

Review- Winter in Wartime

Martijn Lakemeier in Winter in Wartime (Sony Pictures Classics)

If one simply looks at the synopsis for Winter in Wartime then one might not be tremendously struck by the concept but upon seeing the film the one thought that kept occurring to me was “How did this film get passed up when it was submitted for the Oscars?” It just goes to show you that one, there are issues in the selection process and two the films submitted every year are worthy of finding as this film is absolutely outstanding in every facet of its production.

It is a film that tells of a young man Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) who is by chance brought into the resistance in World War II Holland. This does not even begin to convey how fascinating and compelling this tale is and how well it is told. The film starts right away with us seeing a plane crash and very creative confrontation between a British, Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower), and German soldier. This does not immediately fold itself into the thrust of the tale but does eventually.

What works is that Michiel’s character is established as well is his family life before he starts being drawn in further and further. What’s even better is that events conspire to involve him not just natural childish curiosity. A curiosity that never seems unnatural and leaves you shaking your head. It plays naturally and doesn’t ever seem contrived, which is of paramount importance in this film such that disbelief remains suspended. The matter-of-fact nature by which some others are caught and punished also adds to this.

The story is constantly delivering twists and turns at a naturalistic pace and methodically raises the stakes. It eventually ratchets things up to a become a fantastic tragic tale that never goes over the top and keeps you involved and makes it something you can relate to. As the the plot thickens and becomes more involved so does Lakemeier’s character become further developed and more and more demands are made on him as an actor, which he meets and exceeds. Principally in his cool nervousness at the end and also his frantic fear during a climactic slow-motion sequence. The rare variety of such sequence that actually augments the actor’s performance rather than rendering it comical.

It’s a portrait of the war at home without being in your face and full of histrionics but you still can’t help but feel the impact of watching a child’s world start to crumble about him and for the first time in his life he is compelled to act by a sense of responsibility rather than desire.

The gravitas that the tale carries through a bulk of the tale is beautifully scored by Pino Donaggio. The score combined with the sure-handed direction of Martin Koolhoven help this film leap right off the screen and take you into the tale more effectively than any 3D film could ever hope to.

The film isn’t a one-actor showcase nor is it a one-trick pony. Yorick van Wageningen has a tremendous two-pronged performance as the enigmatic Uncle Ben. Then there’s Melody Klaver whose relationship with Michiel changes as she too gets brought into the plot. Jamie Campbell Bower also is rather impressive as the wounded Brit, typically an English-speaking actor in a foreign language film doesn’t get too much to sink his teeth into but he does and takes advantage of it.

A testament to the wonders of this film is that one of the twists within this tale is rather large, the kind that a lesser film would hang its hat on. Not only does the whole film not hinge on this revelation and how it is handled but it is improved and propelled by it. It leads to a breathtaking climax that is even more artistically rendered than was the previous twist.

Upon walking out of the theatre the only things I was able to say that expressed the impression this film made on me was an internet acronym (OMG) and the very repetitive statement that (“I love, love, love this movie”). The reasons stated above are just some of them. Koolhoven establishes himself as a director to be followed and this film, is the best I’ve seen this year to date.

10/10

Review- Wild Target

Bill Nighy in Wild Target (Magic Light Pictures)

Wild Target in many ways epitomizes a British comedy and simultaneously epitomizes the Briton take on genre-crossing tales. The comedy is, make no mistake, ever-present throughout the course of this film making it a brilliantly farcical tale. The farce is perhaps the most difficult comedy sub-genre to pull off because it relies so heavily on the preposterous lampooning of what we typically in life or in film take seriously or for granted.

While this film excels far more easily in its comedic elements than it does as an action-thriller, those elements are there and consistent. The edit may be a little unbalanced and a cross-cut or two to the organized crime figures on the chase may be a little late it still does work.

Yet what makes this film most interesting is the interplay of the three main characters. The lead, Victor Maynard, is played wonderfully by Bill Nighy [A performance which after this writing I would honor as the Best of the Year.] This is truly a fantastic character study. We slowly see this man become the person he was longing to be, as in the beginning he imagines dinner conversation and then later on enacts it but he is also a confused man. He is so defined by being a hitman he doesn’t know himself and questions everything; even his sexuality.

The confrontation of that fact leads to one of the funniest and most complex jokes in the film, which can be taken as a triple entendre. That is not a typo watch it and consider the exchange carefully and you’ll see what I mean.

Which leads us to the performance of Rupert Grint. While he is not breaking the mold that made him famous in this part, as he has in others, it is definitely a more grown-up and comedic interpretation thereof and a wonderful counterpoint to the tension of Maynard and Rose (Emily Blunt).

Last but certainly not least is Emily Blunt as Rose who carries off a rather complex character with relative ease and makes her fully realized. She is never predictable and real and furthermore complicates Maynard’s life brilliantly.

Wild Target manages to balance the thrill of the chase and comedic situations and the mix is rather easy indeed. It eases you in familiarizing you both with the status quo of Maynard and Rose and then showing you how their fates will intertwine.

When a film opens with a hit in which the hitman may be betrayed by a parrot and the hitman places his silencer against its head, you should know what you’re in for.  The fact that they argue makes nearly Monty Python-esque. What proceeds from there is a deliriously good time.

9/10

Wild Target will be released on video tomorrow (2/8/11)