Classy Brothel Girls Bring Dirty EVIL Secrets to “Madame Claude” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

A high end Paris brothel ran by the influential Madame Claude sends the most beautiful and sophistical women to wealthy and powerful dignitaries all over the world to satisfy their most sexual desires.  Her lucrative business becomes a governmental target seeking to collect back taxes on the illicit business.  However, the French government is the least of her worries when a playboy-aspiring rake and amateur photographer snaps photos of Madame Claude’s clients in compromising situations that can be ruinous to their status.  The CIA becomes involved when unscrupulous business dealings involving an American and Japanese companies connect to Madame Claude and her potentially persuasive young women after rumored photographs put the Madame Claude in the middle.  Two governments, big businesses, a jet setting brothel, wealthy socialites and a nosy photographer become involved in lies, secrets, and the potential for murder.

Part biography, part fiction, “Madame Claude,” also known as “The French Girl,” is the 1977 released erotic and political thriller based off the real Madame Claude, Fernande Grudet, as her life of prostitution management and scrutiny unfolded before the public eyes in the mid 1970’s.  Erotically and elegantly sexy with gorgeous women groomed into lust and ensnared into the lion’s den of exchanging powers, “Madame Claude” became the third film from the immensely successful erotic French director, Just Jaeckin, following 1974’s “Emmanuelle” and 1975’s “The Story of O.”  Jaeckin, pressured by his financiers to continue his success in the highly sought eroticism, returns to the randy genre, but this time with a story to his liking, one that is embroiled in the background of a bribery scandal involving aerospace company, Lockheed, at the heart of it. From a script by crime-action writer André G. Brunelin, based off the book of memories of Madame Claude by Jacques Quiorez, Jaeckin splices visual elements of each story together to form not only an arousing sexual lamination but also a cloak-and-dagger tenser of a film. Shot primarily in Paris, with minor shoots in the Bahamas and Washington, D.C., especially the scenes on the faux White House, “Madame Claude” is a production of Orphée Arts of Paris with Claire Duval on as executive producer.

While the titular character is the obvious centerpiece, Jaeckin mingles the characters around each other in a game of espionage chess toward the endgame of checkmate. Keystone to everyone’s problems is Madame Claude, played by renowned French actress and early onscreen sex object, Françoise Fabian, who previously had roles in the paranormal pubescent horror, “Expulsion of the Devil,” a more comedy-friendly brothel film, “Holiday Hookers,” and among many other films predating 1977, but not until later in Fabian’s career did show rocket to success, playing older, more aligned, women that strongly championed feminism, such as portraying “Madame Claude” who used sex as a means to gain control and power of men, and pushed it to the brink of the era’s cinematic limits. “Horsehead’s’ Murray Head plays the photographer schmo, David Evans, making Madame Claude’s life complicated. An about town ladies man, Evans goes to each of Claude’s girls one-by-one and, for some reason or another, they invite the handsomely charming, but brutish, amateur porn photographer into their bedrooms, sleeping his way into blackmail scheme that will bring down the most powerful brothel head in all of Paris while also lining his pocket with not only money but power among the socialites who treat him like the village idiot. Head’s nails down the fast-and-loose aspect of Evan’s personality that treats his stratagem like a game he’s already won, but when the government agencies come knocking on doors, Head about faces Evan’s waggish incompetence to a frightened man looking around every corner for danger. It’s wonderful to see Head interact with Klaus Kinski (“Nosferatu the Vampire”) and Marc Michel as a ridiculed subordinate in an examination of social status as Kinski and Michel flaunt expensive taste and lavish orgies in lieu of decency, but it’s Murray Head, playing the fool with cemented proof that would put all them of into shame, as the aspirer to their life of luxuries. The beautiful Dayle Haddon (“Cyborg”), Vibeke Knudsen-Bergeron (“Spermula”), and Ylva Setterborg stun in just a handful of the very elegant, and very naked, women acting as Madame Claude’s international bound employees. Other cast of characters in “Madame Claude’s” game of lies and spies include Robert Webber (“Death Steps in the Dark”), Jean Gaven (“The Story of O”), François Perrot, André Falcon, and Maurice Renot.

Following his films “Emmanuelle” and “The Story of O,” Jaeckin’s “Madame Claude” strays into an atypical kind of formulaic eroticism downplaying the sexual excursions and discoveries for a more typical crime drama affair. Jaeckin’s directorial abilities can take you on an exotic tour around the world and onto the fleshy planes of some of the most gorgeous and provocative women to ever grace the screen. Yet, “Madame Claude” trims substantially the skin with a more precise execution to be more of an oil lubricating the machine rather than the gear that actually operates the mechanism to entail sex as a misused tool for motivation and bribery. These scenes of fleeting eroticism outright shine Just Jaeckin’s proclivities with mirrored reflections and becoming lost in the entanglement of sexually enflamed bodies and these scenes outright shine Jaeckin’s intent on delivering a corkscrew crime drama with double-dealings, wiretapping, and counterintelligence gathering as what unfolds isn’t clearly delineated between Madame Claude, David Evans, the French and U.S. Governments and the Lockheed scandal that actually becomes sidetracked at times by the infiltrated sex-training of Madame Claude business as the brothel head has to train an alternative misfit new girl and send her to the Bahamas work trip shortly after a quick one-night-stand initiation with one of the Madame’s trusted former beaus. We wholeheartedly become more intrigued and fascinated with Madame Claude’s feminist principles, recruiting subjugated women to use their sexuality to dominate and become wealthy in the process. In more than one scene, Madame Claude flaunts self-admiration in transforming star-crossed girls into young women fortune bound with their promiscuous ways. Madame Claude’s murky backstory caresses her complexities of anti-man without detail delving into the turning point catalyst that made her become who she became to be, an affluent Madame, other than a seemingly emotionally and controllably invalidating romantic experience with a long time friend and business companion, Pierre (Maurice Renot).

Cult Epics sustains another forgotten classic into a celebrated Blu-ray release with a new 4K HD transfer of “Madame Claude” from the original 35mm negative, supervised by the original cinematographer, Robert Fraisse. Housed on a BD50, the region free release maintains the impeccable coloring under Fraisse’s soft glow with no cropping or undue enhances that tries to put out fire with gasoline and, aside from a discolored yellow-greenish, translucent stripe, perhaps a loose film roll, during the opening scene, the image quality is clean and pleasing in it’s natural 35mm grain. The English and French language audio tracks come with three options: LPCM 2.0 mono, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. The DTS-HD Master Audio had the highest marks, slightly topping Dolby Digital stereo with a little more gusto in the pipes. Audible dialogue is clean and forefront, but the engineered dubbing laid over Murray Head and, even, the self-dubbing of Dayle Haddon can be off-putting at times when actors’ voices seem to not be sharing the same vocal space with others on screen. French composer Serge Gainsbourg’s lounge, yé-yé score tuned into that erotic soufflé of light and airy pop music that can be often dreamy with singsongy female vocals, complimenting the softer, sexier side of Jaeckin’s film while also playing into period melodies of the 1970’s. Cult Epics always has down right with resurrecting obscure erotica for not only quality sake but also to arm the hell out of the releases with bonus material. Included with “Madame Claude” is an audio commentary by Jeremy Richey (author of the upcoming book entitled Sylvia Kristel: from Emmanuelle to Chabrol), a high definition, Nico B. produced interview with director Just Jaeckin from 2020, the vintage French theatrical trailer, a promotional photo gallery, and Cult Epics previews. Not the most sensual film shot by the renowned maestro of venereal visuals, Just Jaeckin explores his versatility by acclimatizing familiarity with new horizons surrounding brothel delights with shadow games and the new 4K Blu-ray from Cult Epics is the one, and only, way to experience it all in “Madame Claude.”

Cult Epic’s “Madame Claude” on Blu-ray. Available at Amazon – click the poster!


Money is the Root of All EVIL! “Beasts Clawing at Straws” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Artsploitation Films)

A middle-aged man working a meager job at a gentleman’s bathhouse finds a Louis Vuitton bag full of money when routinely checking the storage lockers at closing.  Unsure about what to do with the money, he stows the bag away in the backroom and continues a moral, yet pauper’s, life while dealing with financial and family troubles at home.  Meanwhile, a border customs agent finds himself in severe debt with an unstable loan shark after his girlfriend skates and disappears with a large borrowed sum.  With a week to come up with the money, plus interest, he calls upon his distant cousin to assist in scamming a scammer who illegally came into some money, but things go awry when an overly friendly and clingy cop begins to snoop around.  Lastly, a prostitute grinds tirelessly to work off a large debt her abusive husband continues to blame her for with night after night beatings.  She jumps into bed with a young, handsome foreigner and her eager to support female boss to off her husband and collect the insurance money.  Yet, these troubled souls find that sticking to their convictions doesn’t always bode well as the unexpected happens in a blink of an eye.

The Asian film machine has mastered the art of the crime thriller from a proven track record that began with Akira Kurosawa films, if not even before that, and has chronically grown stronger, and sometimes more peculiar, with choice stylistic elements, suggestive themes, and extreme violence that has garnered, to much disdain, Westerner attention over the last 20 years with films like Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” and Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s “Internal Affairs” being Americanized with a Hollywood remake.  With that being said in an upward trend of remakes spilling over the edge, there would be no eye-brow raising surprise if the introductory film, the tri-narrative crime drama idiomatically titled “Beasts Clawing at Straws,” from South Korean filmmaker, Kim Yong-hoon, will one day grace the English silver screens in a diluted variation of a Brad Pitt featured carbon copy.  Based of the Keisuke Sone neo-noir novel of the same name, Kim Yong-hoon’s pulpy impression of against-the-wall misdeeds is dog-eat-dog dark comedy gold.  “Beasts Clawing at Straws” is produced by Jang Won-seok (“The Gangster, The Cop, and The Devil”) and is a production of Megabox Plus M films (“Zombie for Sale”) and B.A. Entertainment.

The three prong, greed-catapulting narrative converge characters separately at first and then string them linearly together when the picture becomes clearly what exactly each one of them is chasing, but every story is magnetized to a single focal point, a person under immense pressure, stress, and the malice forces that thirst for their humility, kinetically embarking on the bad choice choo-choo steaming toward the station of vary bad things.  Bae Seong-woo stars as a downtrodden Joong-man, a middle-aged man stuck in the rut of poverty with a geriatric, browbeating mother, a fatigued wife, and busting his rump in a dead end job.  Seong-woo combats himself as a man tight rope walking the thin line of ethic principles when opportunity knocks at his door, but his ill-timed strike to grab life by the balls blows up in his face in a farce of instant karma leaves him less than what he had before.  Then there’s a Tae-young, a comfortably Governmental positioned customs agent facing a different kind of hardship when his ex-girlfriend, Yeon-hee, disappears with a borrowed lump sum of a gangster’s money and he’s left on the fence.  “Illang:  The Wolf Brigade’s” Jung Woo-sung plays into the desperate stench of the superstitious and ambitious customs agent.  Slightly cradling the severity of the situation, Jung amply positions Tae-young’s dilemma that resembles spearfishing in a barrel and he’s the fish.  The last story follows the abused wife Mi-ran, played reservedly by Shin Hyun-bin as a desperate woman looking to bank her soon-to-be dead’s insurance money.  When Mi-ran is abetted by motive-dueling pair of instigators, she finds that paying her debt can be more severe than ever imagined.  While sitting back and basking in the stir-craziness of the leads’ turmoiled chaos, the best characters of the film are the supporting roles of Kim Jun-han as an intestine devouring, fanny-pack wearing henchman, Park Ji-hwan as Tae-young’s bumbling, but begrudgingly loyal distant cousin, and Jung Man-sik as a breezy mobster with a cherry, yet malevolent disposition.  Youn Yuh-jung, Jin Kyung, Jung Ga-ram, Bae Jin-wong, and Heo Dong-won round out the cast.

Non-linear yet interconnected in story, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” hawks a Tarantino layered thriller with colorful deplorables from all walks of life and luxuries.  Kim Yong-hoon nourishes the unbridled, free-for-all nature of diving into the murky, shark-infested waters uncaged and tethered with cuts of raw steaks dangling from the pelvis area in this two wrongs don’t equal a right account of mistrusting desperation and misguided optimism.  Kim’s style echoes the likes of the popular “Pulp Fiction” filmmaker along the lines of shooting techniques and a frank view of violence to tell the frantic clutching of hanging onto what is left of tattered lives and borrowed time while disavowing pure, unadulterated nihilism by at least giving characters a grain of hope.  With any non-linear, multiple moving part films, individual aspects tend to become lost in order for pacing and “Beasts Clawing at Straws” doesn’t fall into the excluded category as factors that play into the main quandary are left hanging, such as in Yeon-hee’s circumstantial results of jetting off with a mobster’s money as the assumption is there, but nothing is fully concrete in her storyline.  The same indiscernible spousal battery stemmed from Mi-ran and her husband’s severe debt that leads to transgressions beyond marital misuse isn’t privy to the audience of how circumstances come about surrounding their predicament and we’re forced to speculate and shoulder an explanation that doesn’t quite feel justified.  However, neither of the slapdash developments hinder “Beast Clawing for Straws’” steamrolling posture to get that desirable bag full of problem-solving, filthy lucre. 

Artsploitation Films delivers a stylish and avaricious South Korea crime drama with “Beasts Clawing for Straws” into the U.S. Blu-ray home video market. The not rated BD25, high-definition 1080p release is presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, and nears the epitome of flawless. Aside from the picture slightly flickering, more noticeably on solid colored backdrops, the hue palette is absolutely gorgeous with the neon lights of South Korean cities, the breathtaking silhouettes of the natural mountains adjacent to a lifelessly still lake, and the variety of settings from an airy fish house to a modern, symmetrically designed bordello denote a keen eye by Kim Tao-sung. The South Korean language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound couldn’t be any better with a crystal clear aptitude for strong dialogue balanced in front of a robust soundtrack accompanied by deep range of ambience from fire crackling to the faint hint of rain drops audible from inside a restaurant, solidifying the depth package as well. English subtitles are available along with an English dub track in a dual channel Dolby stereo. What’s lacking with this release is bonus material as there is virtually nothing besides four Artsploitation trailers and the film’s own theatrical trailer. Parlous and deadpan funny, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” amazes as Kim Yong-hoon’s first time effort with the technical grace and the story construction that has been a paradigm for only a handful of notable directors able to execute an impeccable result.

Own “Beasts Clawing at Straws” on Blu-ray! Click the poster to go to Amazon.com

Internal Evil is Subtle. “Fever” review!

vlcsnap-00001
High school classmates Pierre and Damien have just murdered a street woman inside her own apartment days before their French placement examinations. After hearing of the gruesome news, Zoe, a young optician working on the same street, recalls the two boys bumping into her, dropping a black glove on the sidewalk, and she begins to formulate her own radical theory, putting two-and-two together that the teens could be the very culprits fleeing calmly from the scene. Meanwhile, Pierre and Damien continue on with their examination studies over the Easter holiday, believing their heinous crime was not personal but of chance, making the offense not a crime at all. Zoe continues her pursuit of curiosity toward the murderers by not informing the authorities of her suspicions; instead, Zoe uses the crime to become self-aware of her fragile and stagnant relationship with her long time boyfriend while the two teens perverse over the concept of committing another murder.
vlcsnap-00004
Leave it to the French to make a bloodless and non-violent crime drama that’s more arthouse than conventional. Based on the Leslie Kaplan 2005 novel, “Fever” is the 2014 freshman film from writer-director Raphael Neal that dives sharply from the murderous act and into the internal struggles that lead Damien, Pierre, and Zoe into a turmoil path. Pierre and Damien think they both won’t be affected by their crime and that their moral conscious will remain clean on the philosophical notion that chance doesn’t warrant being unethical, immoral, or lawfully wrong. Damien basks in this belief more than Pierre, but still succumbs to the inevitable intrinsic battle. Yet, the two boys face separate inner warfare: Pierre’s frightened he’ll be caught by Damien’s nonchalant cockiness, looking over his shoulder constantly and fretting the off chance a witness has already spilled their dastardly secret to authorities whereas Damien fears that his chance theory is being blown to smithereens due in part of his ancestral legacy where his grandfather had cooperatively slain hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews during World War II because the Nazi’s ordered him.
vlcsnap-00003
Neal’s envisioning, as a director and a writer, flounders with a wishy-washy, by the waste side, telling when trying to convey the character centric story. From the beginning, Pierre and Damien’s sociopathic nature weakens from time to time with an invading moral conscience, like with in Pierre, but Damien’s difference lies with him questioning his justification of murder, but Pierre and Damien’s quiescent state about their family’s issues spots the story like a dirty window unable to view through clearly, leaving a vague and murky background and present state of mind for both characters. The twosomes’ up-and-down state of minds displays no consistence in their behaviors as they’re friends one instance, squabbling and bickering the next, then back to friends shortly after. Issues with angry and abandoning fathers, lustful mothers, and, apparently, genocidal grandfathers have deeply rooted themselves into the boys’ psyche like poisonous mushrooms kept in the dark to thrive to be eaten by mistake. Neal never relays that sense of foreboding wickedness. The same goes with Zoe as a character with really no background whose starting to go through a metamorphous, reforming her position in an unexciting relationship and developing, through subtle hints, a strangling desire after learning about to incident across from her shop. Yet, her full transformation never completes itself, placing her character, and the teens, into a volatile decline of shortcomings.
vlcsnap-00002
Though not too familiar with the actors themselves, their performances overshadow the film’s overall divergent plots. I was very struck by Martin Loizillon’s portrayal of Damien with the cold-heartedness that completely blankets his façade and his exerting of unorthodox spontaneity that doesn’t shy away from creating an uncomfortable scene. Pierre Moure contrasts Loizillon appropriately with a shyly frigidity, secretly yearning for more blood, Pierre Simonet. The red-headed Julie-Marie Parmentier displays the same kind of coldness reflected by the Pierre and Damien, but in actress’s own style of curiosity and intrigue with a minuscule hankering for sexual fetishes or self-morbidity. Then there’s duo lingo French singer Camille playing a role of non-fictional popular song artist Alice Snow whose hit English single, “Fever,” serves not only as the title of Neal’s film, but also symbolizes the foundation of the characters’ conflicts.
vlcsnap-00005
Artsploitation Films courteously distributes the Strutt Films’ production of “Fever” onto an unrated DVD with a sleek widescreen presentation with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The video’s clean with bright, Spring-like colors opposite the more customary, French influenced film noir that’s more common toward crime thrillers. The French 5.1 surround sound mix comes with English subtitles. While the soundtracks and the dialogue tracks are distinct and lively, there’s a slight error involving omitted subtitles, but the flaw only affects a petite portion of the dialogue, if you’re not tuned into French dialogues. “Fever” displays a mixture of psychological drama that mirrors the infamous Chicago crime of Leopold and Loeb of 1920 and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s pathologic philosophical novel “Crime and Punishment.”

Click the image above to buy “Fever” from Amazon!