La Femme Nikita – French Fried week

There are quite a number of French films available on instant Netflix. We will be featuring some of them this week. La Femme Nikita is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: La Femme Nikita (1990) – Rated R.

“Internationally acclaimed director Luc Besson delivers the action-packed story of Nikita (Anne Parillaud), a ruthless street junkie whose killer instincts could make her the perfect weapon, in this French film that was remade as Point of No Return in the U.S. Recruited against her will into a secret government organization, Nikita is broken and transformed into a sexy, sophisticated “lethal weapon.””

“And suppose I refuse?” – “Aisle seven. number 30.”

First I have to say that it is quite bizarre that a film called “Nikita” in France would be called “La Femme Nikita” in English. Instead of using the same title, you add “The Woman” in front of it? Of course La Femme sounds so much cooler than The Woman.

Second “Crayone” does not translate as “May I write it?” Although I do like that “chewing gum” is apparently colloquial enough to be used in the French as well. Also “See you later” (in English) is translated as “See You later”.

Both La Femme Nikita and the American remake Point of No Return are currently available on instant Netflix.

Nikita here is a completely unrepentant drugged-out murderous thug and that is before her transformation into an elite assassin. Nikita is played by the wonderful Anne Parillaud. In Point of No Return, she is renamed Maggie and played by Bridget Fonda.

Tcheky Karyo plays Bob, the handler. He does a convincing job of playing a consummate professional who is also in love with Nikita. He conveys a sense of heartbreak that he must always maintain a professional relationship with her. The scene where he gets a kiss is very good. His role is capably played by Gabriel Byrne in Point of No Return.

Nikita is also trained by Amande (played by famous French actress Jeanne Moreau). In Point of No Return, Anne Bancroft plays Amanda adding a touch of class to that version. As you can see both versions have good actors.

Luc Besson does a very good job of directing La Femme Nikita . He goes more for substance than style. There are several scenes that pack a real punch but most are in the last act so I will not spoil them.

There is more emotional depth and complexity in the French version (not surprisingly). The American version also tones down the beginning to make Nikita/Maggie more appealing – it actually just makes her less believable. I did think the setpieces were actually better in the American version.

I recommend watching La Femme Nikita. It is the better of the two films. If you cannot stand reading subtitles or just have a yen for Bridget Fonda/Gabriel Byrne/Anne Bancroft then watch Point of No Return.

Canada later made a series of La Femme Nikita with Peta Wilson in the starring role. I have not seen it but it is available on DVD through Netflix.

People Watch: Jean Reno has a brief but very memorable role as Victor Nettoyeur (the Cleaner). This role is played by Harvey Keitel in Point of No Return.

District B13 – French Fried week

There are quite a number of French films available on instant Netflix. We will be featuring some of them this week. District B13 is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: District B13 (2004) – Rated R for strong violence, some drug content and language.

“Produced and co-written by acclaimed filmmaker Luc Besson, this stylized action thriller is set in Paris 2010, where the government has fenced off the ghettos in the city, the most dangerous of which is District B13. Teaming up to infiltrate the lawless sector, an elite-unit cop and a reformed vigilante put their lives on the line in a gutsy attempt to retrieve a stolen nuke and thwart a terrorist attack by the most powerful gang in the city.”

Kudos has to be given to Pierre Morel. His directorial debut here is a quintessential action movie.

The movie begins with a riff on the classic John Carpenter film, Escape from New York. Instead of criminals being walled off in New York, we have “troublesome” suburbs of Paris walled off.

While I normally give almost all the props of a film to the director, the two leads here are nothing short of amazing. You might think from that statement that I am referring to the acting but that is not it.

David Belle plays Leito, one of our two heroes. David has a superb claim to fame – he is the founder of the sport called Parkour. Parkour (PK – The Art of Moving) “is the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within ones path by adapting movement to the environment” (wiki).

Watching him in action is utterly astounding. His inventive use of objects and his ability to squeeze into very tight spaces quickly is breathtaking. Although it is not martial arts per se, the closest thing I remember to it was the first time I saw Bruce Lee fighting in Enter the Dragon or the first time I saw the inventive combination of gymnastics and martial arts by Jackie Chan in Rumble in the Bronx.

Cyril Raffaelli plays Captain Damien Tomaso, our other hero. Not only is he also a traceur (practitioner of Parkour) and friend of David Belle but he is also a martial artist and is the fight co-ordinator for District B13.

Parkour was popularized two years later in the film Casino Royale. This features an excellent sequence involving traceur Sebastien Foucan. Parkour is also used in Live Free or Die Hard and music videos from Madonna (Jump), Janet Jackson (Feedback), and My Chemical Romance (Whip It!) (not to mention an episode of House :P).

I expect Parkour to become an action movie staple, perhaps even a cliche, in the same way that martial arts entered almost every action film after the 70s. While entertaining, it does beg the question, has every police detective/private investigator/etc. received substantial martial arts training?

The story by Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri is fun (I really liked how the villain inspired his minions to come up with an idea) and works quite well but is really just reasoning for the epic action setpieces. The futuristic setting lets them make social commentary while being entertaining.

Sadly there are a few action movie inanities. The villains chain the girl up right next to the rocket which makes zero sense.

I wholeheartedly endorse District B13. It is subtitled but that certainly will not prevent you from enjoying the action. Although it is true that you might miss some subtitles while marveling at the Parkour.

Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle reteam for District 13 – Ultimatum to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 27th so stick it in your Netflix queue if you enjoyed District B13. Unfortunately it is not directed by Pierre Morel so I will have to wait and see how good it is.

People Watch: While you may not yet recognize his name, director Pierre Morel was also responsible for the marvelous revenge thriller, Taken.

Man Bites Dog – French Fried week

There are quite a number of French films available on instant Netflix. We will be featuring some of them this week. Man Bites Dog is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Man Bites Dog (It Happened in Your Neighborhood – 1992) – UR – This movie is unrated but the theatrical version earned a rare NC-17 for strong graphic violence.

“A satirical look at how the media affects and promotes violence in modern society. Spoofing reality television, a fascinated documentary crew follows a charismatic yet unrepentant serial killer on his murder sprees. The crew attempts to objectively document the horror, but as the violence escalates, they ultimately get sucked into participating. Man Bites Dog won the International Critics Prize at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.”

“I try to start the month off with a postman.”

“I once buried two Arabs in a wall over there…facing Mecca of course.”

Here is a movie that proves that you do not need a big budget to make a good movie. This movie is shot in black and white, has no stars, no special effects, no score and essentially no action. In spite of this it is very enjoyable.

It is basically exactly what the synopsis describes: a film crew following a serial killer around documenting his thoughts and exploits. The best moment in the film is when they encounter another camera crew.

I do have to warn you that the humor in this film is very dark and twisted. As if being a serial killer was not bad enough, our protagonist, Ben, is also a racist and a rapist. It is odd that while I find the killings humorous, the rape scene made me very uncomfortable. Perhaps there are some things that play better for European audiences.

There is even some meta-humor in the film. At several points it is mentioned that the documentary crew does not have enough money to complete the film. In reality, it took over a year to complete the film because the real crew ran out of money several times.

I do have to admit that I found out after the fact that this film is a bit of a cheat. It is in French but is actually a Belgian film.

The acting is just fine in the film. Everyone is very natural except for Ben (Benoit Poelvoorde). Ben displays not only some charisma but that sense that everyone is a character in his play. He discounts anything others say or do and apart from his cheerfulness and whimsy (which are fun), plays the role of sociopath quite well.

I recommend this film but you have to appreciate a dark sense of humor, not mind black and white films, and not mind reading subtitles.

People Watch: The mother, grandmother, and grandfather of Ben (Benoit Poelvoorde) are played by, you guessed it, his mother, grandmother and grandfather.

The Crimson Rivers – French Fried week

There are quite a number of French films available on instant Netflix. We will be featuring some of them this week. The Crimson Rivers is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: The Crimson Rivers (2000) – Rated R for adult content, brief nudity, graphic language and graphic violence.

“A pair of French investigators working on seemingly unconnected cases — a grisly ritual killing in an insular university town and a graveyard desecration that occurred 150 miles away — join forces when their clues ultimately dovetail. Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel play the mismatched sleuths whose paths converge, and the icy French Alps serve as the eerie backdrop for this atmospheric thriller from director Mathieu Kassovitz.”

“You are here for the desecration. Follow me.”

Mathieu Kassovitz had Jean-Christophe Grange adapt his (Grange) own novel for the screen. It is a very interesting whydunit set in a mountainous region of France.

The outdoor cinematography here is gorgeous. The nature shots are spectacular including long shots of a superb rockface waterfall and helicopter tracking shots of glaciers high atop the mountains. The scene where Pierre and Fanny are climbing down into an ice crevasse is breathtaking.

Almost as fascinating to look at are some superb shots of architecture particularly some elegant stone work.

The English translation of this film is very troublesome. There are whole sections of dialogue that are clearly not translated at all. It is as if the transcriptionist was deciding which bits were important to read and which were extraneous detail.

Jean Reno is always excellent in my opinion. Heck I even enjoyed him in the American Godzilla remake (even though the film was not good). Vincent Cassel is a bundle of energy as the other cop, Max. Nadia Fares is the glaciologist Fanny Fereira.

With the exception of the subtitle issue, this film is very similar in nature to The Da Vinci Code.

I enjoyed the film and do give it a watch recommendation but with reservations. The translation is very frustrating – I imagine that if you understand French this is much more enjoyable.

If you really enjoy this film then stick Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse in your DVD queue.

People Watch: Look for director Mathieu Kassovitz in a cameo as a hooded killer attacking Pierre.

The Wages of Fear – French Fried week

There are quite a number of French films available on instant Netflix. We will be featuring some of them this week. The Wages of Fear is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: The Wages of Fear (1953) – NR – Not rated.

“An oil company enlists four destitute drifters — Mario (Yves Montand), Luigi (Folco Lulli), Bimba (Peter Van Eyck) and Jo (Charles Vanel) — for a dangerous mission transporting volatile explosives across Central Americas treacherous terrain. Packed with nerve-racking tension that never lets up, director Henri-Georges Clouzots gritty masterpiece took home the Grand Prize at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival.”

“Yes Mr. Bradley, because those do not have any union, nor any families. And if they blow up, nobody will come around bothering me for any contribution.

“Wherever there is oil, there are Americans.”

“Put all the blame on the victims, they are done for , they cant feel it.”

“Even when they guillotine you, they dress you up first.”

Henri-Georges Clouzot made a wonderful film here. He creates quite an atmosphere of boredom amid squalor. The despair is evident in the characters but could have used a bit more atmosphere. To my mind there is only one character in the whole film that is likable (Luigi) and he is third lead.

It is funny to see a film that is such an indictment of American oil companies made more than a year before Michael Moore was even born. Of course that meant that it was subject to censorship so the important framework scenes were cut for U.S. release.

I have always wanted to see this film. I really love the American remake, Sorcerer (1977), starring Roy Scheider. It was made by William Friedkin 24 years after The Wages of Fear.

The Wages of Fear is in black and white with subtitles (for much of the film), both of which may put you off the film. For those of you that are cineastes, this is a wonderful high-definition transfer from the Criterion Collection.

While The Wages of Fear is well-filmed and ground-breaking in many respects, there are a few niggling flaws that detract from the film. The first is that many of the driving scenes feature that projected background so prevalent until the 70s. This does hurt the suspension of disbelief somewhat. The other is that the female lead is far too attractive for the setting. It is very jarring to see her amid the squalor.

If you watch one of these films then I recommend getting the Sorcerer DVD (even though it is an ugly full frame transfer). William Friedkin fixes a number of the issues plaguing The Wages of Fear. The atmosphere of Sorcerer is dread and squalor where for The Wages of Fear, it is boredom and squalor. Sorcerer uses real jungle locations where The Wages of Fear is filmed not always convincingly in France. The somewhat whimsical ending of The Wages of Fear is transformed into something more subtle for Sorcerer.

Just a note: Bendaho does not really translate as louse. Some of the other words have interesting translations as well.

If you have not seen Sorcerer then I highly recommend this tense film. It is a classic piece of cinema for its time and though it was later surpassed by the remake, it is still quite good.

People Watch: Vera Clouzot, wife of Henri-Georges, appears as Linda.

Peter Graves – 1926 – 2010

I would like to take a moment to mourn the passing of Peter Graves.

Peter Graves was best known for the Mission Impossible series. He played Jim Phelps in the original series from 1967-1973 and again in the revival series 1988-1990. He wisely declined to reprise the role in the Tom Cruise movie given the treatment of his character.

His other signature role was as Captain Clarence Oveur in Airplane and Airplane II. “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”

Sadly neither of his signature roles are currently available on instant Netflix. Netflix does have a number of his early movies on instant play.

Red Planet Mars (1952) – “A scientist (Peter Graves) attempts to contact life forms on Mars and receives a response that changes the world in this Cold War-era sci-fi film. The message, claiming a utopian society exists on Mars, causes a panic in the United States as fears of the aliens presumed advanced technology result in a collapsing economy. But is the message really from outer space, or is there a communist plot brewing?”

Beneath the 12 Mile Reef (1953) – “In the first underwater adventure shot in CinemaScope, competing boat crews dive for valuable sponges off the coast of Key West, Florida. Soon, a feud arises between the Greek Petrakis family, led by Mike Petrakis (Gilbert Roland), and a WASP team of divers led by Thomas Rhys (Richard Boone). The feud only intensifies when the Petrakis son (Robert Wagner) falls for the Rhys daughter (Terry Moore).”

Wichita (1955) – “Gunman Wyatt Earp (Joel McCrea) tries his hand at law and order in a booming cow town in director Jacques Tourneurs intriguing take on a slice of Wild West history. When Wichita’s leaders push Earp to become marshal, his first act is to ban all arms except his. But the move doesn’t go over because it’s bad for business, causing the townsfolk to rebel — until rowdy cowpokes go too far and the line between right and wrong becomes all-too clear.”

Trivia: Peter Graves was born Peter Aurness and is the brother of James Arness (Marshal Dillon on Gunsmoke)

Sick Nurses – The Doctor is Out! week

In honor of my sudden illness this past weekend, this is The Doctor is Out! week. Sick Nurses is available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Sick Nurses (Suay Laak Sai – 2007) – NR – Not rated but not for the kids – this is quite gory.

“Six nubile nurses and a devious doctor are brutally slain one after another by a vengeful spirit in this bloody shocker. The group had been illegally harvesting body parts for sale on the black market until pretty Tahwan threatened to squeal to the law. Not about to give up their lucrative scheme, her co-workers put her on the table for carving. But a week later, her dying curse comes true as her corpse rises from the grave to take its revenge.”

This is the fetish film that Maniac Nurses wishes it was. The women, all incredibly gorgeous, are either in nurse uniforms or various stages of undress and essentially the entire film takes place in the hospital. We even have voyeurism and the sexual removal of clothing via scalpel.

Thai film boards must have a prohibition on nudity because I have seen many Thai films that would lend themselves to it (especially one as fetishistic as this one). They even have a shower scene here where the lady is clothed. They do try to show as much skin without nudity as possible.

While the overall plot is standard revenge from beyond the grave, the overall theme seems to be the self-destructiveness of beauty. All of the nurses are narcissistic. One nurse constantly eats snack food (potato chips, donuts) and either spits it out or induces vomiting. Another imagines plastic surgery while a third is constantly exercising. Almost all are preening at one moment or other.

The beautiful nurse twins love each other and believe everyone should love them, especially for their looks. They also love taking pictures of each other with their cellphones. All of the characters but specifically the twins seem surrounded by mirrors.

I love the subplot of how the nurses selling body parts find themselves not being able to control their own body parts.

They certainly do take some pages from other Asian horror – instead of a ghostly figure climbing out of a well or a television set, we have one climbing out of a handbag. Instead of making the figure albino, they blacken her skin.

Taglines for this film include “Take a deep breath. This is going to hurt.” and “Beauty cannot last but death is forever.”

The film is interesting and fun to watch albeit quite gory. The indictment of our beauty culture is quite well done.

Many of the effects are cheesy (Evil handbag of doom anyone) and the director does not actually create any scares or atmosphere of dread.

In spite of that (and having to read subtitles), I give this a watch recommendation (barely). The indictment of vanity is better handled than Death Becomes Her even if it is less professionally filmed.

People Watch: Director Piraphan Laoyont was most recently second assistant director on Bangkok Dangerous, the Nicholas Cage remake.

Panic in the Streets – The Doctor is Out! week

In honor of my sudden illness this past weekend, this week is The Doctor is Out week. Panic in the Streets is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Panic in the Streets (1950) – NR – Not rated.

“A medical official races against time to stop a deadly epidemic from spreading across the United States in this taut drama. Lt. Cmdr. Dr. Clinton Reed (Richard Widmark) frantically scours New Orleans to locate two murderers (Jack Palance and Zero Mostel) infected with a deadly plague. Reed must inoculate the criminals and anyone with whom they have come into contact, without causing widespread pandemonium. Barbara Bel Geddes also stars.”

You know, my mother always told me if you looked deep enough in anybody… you would always find some good but I dont know.” – “With apologies to your mother, that is the second mistake she made.”

Elia Kazan does a wonderful job of directing here. The opening scene comes across as a classic film noir as do many of the scenes featuring Palance. The rest of the film is shot very matter of factly – almost documentary style.

Elia Kazan previously won an Oscar for Gentlemans Agreement and would go on to win for On the Waterfront. He was also nominated for A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, and America, America.

His honorary Oscar in 1999 was full of controversy. During the McCarthy hearings, he informed on many of his fellow artists causing “irrevocable harm” and in some cases driving them out of the country or the business. Many of the attendees neither stood nor applauded when he was awarded.

Edna and Edward Anhalt won the Oscar for Best Writing for their work on Panic. They would go on to be nominated again in 1953 for The Sniper. Edward won a second Oscar for writing Becket. Part of the reason the writing is so good here is that it seems exceptionally forward-thinking for 1950.

Jack Palance makes his film debut here. He is wonderful as a psychotic killer although I expect that that facility and his angular, swarthy looks caused him to be typecast. I love how he spends most of the movie physically shoving people. Jack is billed here as Walter Jack Palance.

This is also the debut of Zero Mostel and there is not a trace of his humor to be found in this very serious performance.

A young Richard Widmark plays our (somewhat cranky) heroic investigator, Dr. Reed. Barbara Bel Geddes has fun as his long-suffering wife Nancy Reed. Paul Douglas is the disbelieving police captain.

I give this forerunner to Robin Cook/Michael Crichton a watch. It is flawed but the melding of film noir to medical thriller is very interesting.

People Watch: Director Elia Kazan has a cameo as a mortuary assistant.

Corey Haim – 1971-2010

Today I would like to depart from The Doctor is Out week to note the passing of actor Corey Haim. He died this morning at the age of 38. While he made many films (often with the other Corey, Corey Feldman), my favorites were his three 80s horror movies: Silver Bullet, Lost Boys, and Watchers.

Corey Haim has five films currently available on instant Netflix.

Murphys Romance – (1985) – “In this low-key romantic comedy, newly divorced Emma Moriarty (Sally Field) and her son, Jake (Corey Haim), move to a small Arizona town to establish a horse farm. Widowed druggist Murphy Jones (James Garner, in his first Oscar-nominated performance) befriends the feisty divorcee and her son. Emma and Jake grow to love the town and its quirky characters, but things get dicey when Emmas ex-husband, Bobby Jack (Brian Kerwin), shows up.”

Dream a Little Dream – (1989) – “The elderly Coleman (Jason Robards) and the young and brash Bobby (Corey Feldman) learn what life is like from each others point of view when their bodies are unwittingly switched by way of transcendental meditation. But they are not alone on their strange journey; Colemans wife, Gina (Piper Laurie), is renewed in the body of Lainie (Meredith Salenger), the girlfriend of Bobby””s best friend (Corey Haim). Can they switch back?”

Snowboard Academy – (1996) – “Hotshot snowboarding instructor Chris Berry (Corey Haim) shreds the slopes but finds himself out of his snowy element when a gangly, bumbling pupil (Jim Varney) overwhelms him. Can he shape up his protégé in time for the big downhill race — and resist an evil temptress (the bodacious Brigitte Nielsen) who does not give out, um, incompletes? School is definitely in session.”

The Backlot Murders – (2001) – “The Back Lot Murders takes the slasher genre and gives it a slick twist. Blending horror and satire, it tells the story of a rock band on the brink of stardom that is shooting its first video on the back lot of the worlds most famous movie studio. But little do the musicians know that they and their girlfriends are targets of a deranged psycho killer! Who is he? The obvious guess is merely the tip of the iceberg in this Hollywood send-up.”

Lost Boys: The Tribe – (2008) – “When their parents die in a car accident, Chris Emerson (Tad Hilgenbrink) and his sister, Nicole (Autumn Reeser), move to a California beach town to live with their quirky Aunt Jillian, where Nicole falls for a local surfer, who, unbeknownst to her, is a vampire. Soon enough, Chris finds himself battling a whole gang of vampire surfers in an effort to rescue his sister. Corey Feldman and Corey Haim co-star in this sequel to 1987s Lost Boys.”

Lost Boys: The Tribe was a pale imitation of Lost Boys. I remember enjoying Murphys Romance but I have not seen it in decades. The other three I have not seen (or do not remember watching).

R.I.P. Corey Haim

Maniac Nurses Find Ecstasy – The Doctor is Out! week

In honor of my sudden illness this past weekend, this week is The Doctor is Out week. Maniac Nurses Find Ecstasy is currently available on instant Netflix.

AVOID: Maniac Nurses Find Ecstasy (1990) – NR – Not rated but definitely not for the kids.

“Ilsa (Hajni Brown) and her daughter Sabrina (Susanna Makay) are lesbian nurses with sadomasochistic tendencies in this Hungarian erotic thriller. Along with their friend Greta (Csilla Farago), the women lure unsuspecting men to their remote hospital and subject them to various surgical tortures. Soon, however, Sabrina falls victim to a feminist slave ring — and learns she’s expected to play a pivotal role in their plan for world domination.”

Lets give her a new sensation – I want to watch her sweat – drag her into the sauna.”

She will operate on the young female patient the following day and make her a robot love doll.”

“First there was a boy born with an Elvis tattoo.” (No I am not kidding)

Help! I have been Tromatized! I think this may be the first Troma film that I have ever watched in its entirety. Normally I switch films like this off after the first few minutes but I endured all that this film threw at me to save you from this horrible fate.

I seriously do not know where to begin describing this film. Did this film make more sense in its original Hungarian? Any sense? Was this made for Skinemax? Who was this made for?

The women are scantily clad and often topless. There is essentially no sex in the film so it does not appear to have been a chopped up pornographic film.

The women (when clothed) are either in unconvincing nurse outfits (often while brandishing automatic weapons – is that a specialized fetish?) or in jean shorts and tee shirts (again with automatic weapons).

The nurses encounter a flagellant in sandals walking down the road (?!). Naturally they kidnap him so they can whip him themselves.

At one point the film appears to divert your attention from the fact that the semi-nude women always appear bored by making it an actual plot point.

I would call this film misogynistic (it is) but it really hates men just as much. Men take up almost none of the running time but the ones we have are a flagellant, a mindless zombie, a peeping tom, a virgin, and a victim who has his feet cut off and is left suffering. All are killed.

The film makes so little sense that they have to have a constant narrator who is not one of the characters. In addition to that at a later point we have a second narrator. Things still do not make any sense so they added captions as well. That did not help.

Ultimately this is a voyage of self-discovery. No no no not of the characters – I have discovered that no amount of nudity or lingerie can make this film palatable.

AVOID this film at all costs. It is not “so bad it is funny”, it is just plain awful.

People Watch: Writer/Director/Producer Leon Paul De Bruyn is billed as Harry M. Love for the directing and producing and billed as Leon P. Howard for the writing. Bizarre!