EVIL Packaged Fresh, Never Frozen. “Raw” reviewed! (Second Sight / Blu-ray)

Brought up on a strict vegetarian diet by her parents, Justine became conscious that one swallow of meat down her gullet might start a chain reaction of life-threatening allergies. Her legacy acceptance into the prestigious Saint-Exupéry Veterinary School would have a set of challenges toward retaining that diet but her older sister, Alexia, who is still studying at the school and is also a vegetarian, would protect her from the intense hazing brought down upon the freshman class. When it turns out that Alexia gave into the temptations of peer pressure and egged her own to digest meat in a hazing ritual, Justine learns that her sister’s shielding won’t stand up against the forces of elder student pranks. From then on, a primordial animalistic behavior slowly transforms Justine from a quiet, awkward, and studious teenage girl into a party animal, an explorer of sexual awakening, and a herbivore whose slipping from her regime. Justine’s craving for raw meat digs deeper into the bone as the overwhelming need to consume human flesh spirals her down into an uncontrollable descent, turning the school’s exuberant hazing knaveries all the more dangerous.

Having been a meat eater all my life, the transition to vegetarian would be a hard-fought war that would likely shed years off my life just as much as eating a thick, juicy cut of a steak seasoned to perfection and medium cooked. After all, the human race is born with tapered canines that rip through the tough flesh and meat first and then pass along the now tendered feed to our molars, our mashers, that would handle the soft, chewy substance for an easy ride down toward our stomach. “Raw” takes that approach one step further, or maybe two or three steps further, by coupling the sudden discourse from meatless to meaty meals that expands into cannibalism with a coming of age and finding one’s place in life story that can be relatable to us all. The French film is written-and-directed by Julia Ducournau, who reprised herself with another body horror sensation with last year’s acclaimed “Titane,” and was shot at an actual veterinary school in Belgium, the University of Liège. Originally titled “Grave” before being upgraded to “Raw,” the film is a production from a conglomeration of studio labels, including the first horror production for Petit Film. Rouge International (“Murder Me, Monster”), Frakas Productions (“Sea Fever”), Ezekiel Film Production and Wild Bunch (“Martyr”) serve as a few of the film’s other coproduction companies with Jean des Forêts, Julie Gayet, Jean-Yves Roubin, Nadia Turincev, and Cassandre Warnauts as producers.

“Raw” is not your typical girl journeying through the trials and tribulations of normal self-discovery.  For this, you need not your typical girl to play centric character Justine.  Enters 16-17 year-old Garance Marillier, the Paris-born actress with an established bond on and off screen with director Julia Ducournau having debut her acting in Ducournau’s 2011 short film “Junior” as a tomboy going through a strange corporeal transformation.  Fun fact:  Marillier has been cast as a different Justine in all three of her collaborations with Julia Ducournau – “Junior,” “Raw,” and “Titane” since 2011.  Marillier soaks into “Raw’s” Justine with not only a transcending behavior pattern performance that takes the freshman from stifled to uninhibited, but the young actress also overhauls a complete body language transformation that sheds Justine’s meek skin, literally displayed on screen, for a more confident and abrasive veneer.  Ella Rumpf (“Tiger Girl”) receives Justine’s inexperienced blossom-hood with an the older, already initiated, sibling having been fostered by rambunctious peers to break the sheltering chains her parents had shackled with and just like true to life sisters, there’s contention.  The vehemence venom between them when they’re on bad terms on screen can stop one’s breath, you can hear a pin drop, yet you still understand their sisterly connection and love no matter how messed up a situation might be, especially when involving boys, such as the pansexual fluidity of Justine’s freshman roommate Adrien, played by Rabah Nait Oufella.  “Raw” rounds out the small cast surrounded by a slew of extras with Laurent Lucas and Joana Preiss as mom and dad.

Julia Ducournau has the body horror genre down to the molecular level.  It’s as if the filmmaker studied every film and playbook of David Cronenberg just from researching her various work credits that target to restructure and regress the human condition into something far worse and watching “Raw” unravel a symbiotic relationship between natural and unnatural human development blurs that line of what is considered to be normal so disturbingly good.  Exteriorly, we notice the changes and can almost set a clock to way our bodies react and change over time, biologically and socially, within the context of our environment.  Internally, a whole unexplored set of conditions apply to the unpredictable mindset of transfiguration and that’s where Justine paves an unfounded roadmap for her sudden kick from being a veggie lover to a flesh craver. “Raw’s” undoubtedly an allegory of a young girl’s pubescence and coming of age into her own from, essentially, being on her own exploring her sexuality and exploring new interests as is such with going into university. Ducournau casually strolls through Justine’s drama and tension as much of the body horror overwhelms our morbid curiosity but her angsty complications, still very much underlined even being overshadows, retain a constant line of parallelism in a symbolic reality. Delicate touches of indelicate gore really spice up “Raw’s” entrenching story not for the faint of heart as well as vegetarians.

Hot off the heels of their now out of print limited edition release of “Raw,” Second Sight Films offers a second, standard release on Blu-ray home video. The UK label offers a single disc packaged, region B encoded, BD-50 of a 1080p, high-definition, 2.40:1 aspect ratio presentation, listed at running an average frame bitrate of ~24Mbps. Highly accurate on its bitrate average, the image is well diverse in discerning details without an ambiguous scene or spot in sight. The color often feels muted, dreary, like one long continuous overclouded day that presents an everlasting feeling of dismay. Yet, that isn’t all cinematographer Ruben Impens has to offer with arthouse framing of disturbing imagery and an opening freshman party scene that takes us through the cramp pockets of sweaty, half-naked partygoers in one lengthy, single shot that expels just about everything Justine will face at her time in veterinary school. The French DTS-HD 5.1 master audio superbly distributes the audio tracks with just right levels to accommodate each scene. If there’s a noisy, bass blaring party, the score rightly takes over and the dialogue takes a muted backseat but still clear and intelligible – or so I believe since I don’t understand French, but I can make out the syllables and inflections. Otherwise, dialogue is king and clear alongside an eclectic soundtrack of English indie rock and experimental tracks as well as Jim Williams guitar and industrial synth trek across that’s beautiful and, simultaneously, disconcerting disharmonic. If you missed out on the limited edition, don’t bite yourself as the standard edition as plenty of extra features, including an interview with actress Garance Marillier The Girl Can’t Help It, an interview with producer Jean des Forêts Making Ends Meat, an audio commentary by film critic Alexander West, an audio commentary with director Julia Ducournau and critic Emma Westwood, an interview with Ducournau A Family Affair, the featurette Raw A Votre Gout with Ducournau and Emma Westwood, a conversation between Ducournau and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas Quick Bites, a genre matters panel discussion, an Australian premier introduction and post screen Q&A with Ducournau and Kier-La Janise, and a handful of deleted scenes. The film runs at 99 minutes, comes with well synced English subtitles, and is certified 18 for strong gory images and injury detail. Taste “Raw’s” unseasoned, unadulterated, pure and simple line of hidden truths and manifesting urges that once crossed there’s no turning back as the person you once were, is no longer akin to an impossible burger but a fully tendered hunk of mouthwatering meat freshly cut and ready to sink your teeth into.

The Old EVIL Scorpion and the Frog Tale in “Drive” reviewed! (Second Sight / Screener)



“Anything Happens in that Five Minues and I’m Yours.”  Drive Limited Edition Boxset at Amazon.com!

A solitary mechanic and movie stunt driver offers his services as a getaway driver for illicit odd jobs.  He falls for his single parenting neighbor and as the two begin their romantic affair, her ex-con lover returns from prison to reintegrate back into her and their son’s life.   When ex-con trouble brews an inescapable situation involving ruthless gangsters calling in their favor for prison protection, the stunt driver involves himself with his moonlighting work but when things go terribly wrong and he becomes a target, everyone he knows and cares for are threatened by the mobsters.  War is waged in the fast lane between the mysterious stunt driver and Los Angeles most feared gangsters for the sake of an innocent mother and her child caught in the middle.

Around 2010-2011, when I first heard of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” starring “The Notebook” and “Lars and the Real Girl’s” Ryan Gosling, I thought to myself, why would I watch this quirky comedy-romance actor drive around in a run-of-the-mill stunt car action film?  Immediately, I wrote off the film penned by “The Four Feathers’” screenwriter Hossein Amini, whose now penning the stories and teleplays of a little Disney+ streaming series you may have heard of called “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”  I now admit it, as painful to my pride as it is, that I was so ignorantly wrong about Refn’s “Drive” that has turned out to be a cult hit present day and a really good and exceptional crime-drama that’s subtle on the dialogue, high on the graphic violence, and all-around superb performances.  The script is the filmic adaptation based off American author James Sallis’s novel of the same title, keeping the neo-noir intact under of guise of muscle car predilection, and is a produced by Gigi Pritzker and Chris Ranta of Oddlot Entertainment (“Buried Alive”), Jonathan Oakes and Gary Michael Walters of Bold Films (“The Neon Demon”), Marc Platt of Marc Platt Productions (“Wanted”), and Motel Movies (“Blue Valentine”). 

To be upfront, Ryan Gosling has never been a go-to movie star for me, personally, so there might have been some psychogenic bias blocker keeping me away from the film over the last decade.  However, over the years, my pallet has grown in diversity and in tastes, chiefly because of influences in my life, and so curiosity got the better of me in wanting to explore the story of and the craft of Ryan Gosling’s character in “Drive.”  The way Gosling portrays the lead, known only as either the Driver or Kid, heavily relies on expression with minimal dialogue and lets all his emotions be poured through his eyes and body language as well as his actions in an anti-charismatic sense that, in a good way, leaves the character unassuming but still confident.  Watching Gosling’s methodical flow through the role and while having a little knowledge of the neurodivergence, it’s not difficult to see that the principal character comes off as a person somewhere on the autism spectrum and doing some post-credits research, I’m not the only one who had the same thought.  Unsociable, quiet, lack of facial expression, and obsessed with routine, especially when moonlighting as a criminal getaway driver with a set of very specific conditions, are just some examples of his behavior that point in the autism direction.  When the driver meets beautiful single parent neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan, “Shame”), that is when we start seeing him deviate from his isolation, from his routine, and become more complex with what was previously a non-existent life, but of course as life blossoms into something new and safe, gangster obstacles rear their ugly head and the criminal in him is forced out for a head on collision.  “Ex Machina’s” Oscar Issacs is the first hurdle as the recently release ex-con dragged back into unscrupulous dealings with unsavory organized crime that climb the latter to “Hellboy’s” Ron Perlman and “Taxi Driver’s” Albert Brooks, business partners who oversee the West Coast turf. Perlman is a natural tough guy, as we’ve seen in countless works stretching over numerous decades and I would have never pictured “The In-Laws” and “Finding Nemo” Albert Brooks to be the minatory type but he does in fact have a dark-twinkle in his eye and can extract the false sense of security out of people before he jabs a fork in their eye and slits their throat…wrist….guts….yeah, his character loves to knife others. The all-star cast rounds out with Bryan Cranston (“Godzilla”) as the Driver’s mob-connected boss-friend-agent and Christina Hendricks (“The Neon Demon”) in a lowkey accomplice role that makes a gruesome, unforgettable impact.

Speaking of “The Neon Demon,” a more recent Nicholas Winding Refn film, you’ll begin to absorb the Denmark-born filmmaker’s stylistic motifs between the two films involving lingering shots, graphic violence, and the integration of electro-pop tracks into an eclectic soundtrack. Many of the scenes convey an emotion through dialogue-less scenes and the soundtrack to contrast actions speak louder than words. However, there is one radical theory of mine that I believe has a firm foundation is that everything from point A to point Z in the story is all in the Driver’s fantasy world. I know “Drive” is a movie and the need to suspend belief is important but only to an extent and depending on the quality derived from the filmmaker. Refn’s a good filmmaker, we know this, but everything the Driver experiences pitches upon pure imagination when the truth is stretched to be in his favor for the length of the feature. First example – the Driver slams into the side of another car head on, but the headlights, front bumper, and ventilation grille are all clearly intact. Second example – a tense-elevator scene involving the Driver, Irene, and a mobster assigned to take the Driver out takes an improbable turn when the Driver turns to Irene, both bathed in the sudden appearance of a spotlight, and they kiss passionately for quite a while. The moment become the perfect opportunity for the goon to blow away his target. Instead, he lets them kiss and then a close-quarter fight ensues shortly after. Third example but not last – the Driver is nearly an unstoppable force with no background to who he really is or why he is in Los Angeles, but he fights like a hardened criminal and knows how to play the organized crime game, never really have bad hand in his deck of cards, and even is given an ambiguous “Shane” ending. So, I ask again, is the beautiful girl, the ripe for the picking off gangsters, and the prodigious skillset all in his head?

I’ve clearly misjudged Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” to be pretty-boy, stock-story, waste of time. Though I’m still not convinced about Ryan Gosling’s acting, like a Supreme Court Judge nowadays, I’m overturning my naive judgement and calling “Drive” a true modern day cult film hiding in plain sight, receiving new life from Second Sight films with an UK limited edition 4K UHF/Blu-ray release as well as a standard 4K and Blu-ray release. Unfortunately, this review covers only a BD-R screener so commenting on the true quality of the image and audio will not be recorded, but release specs include a new 4K master produced by the original post-production company with Refn’s approval, the UHD is presented in Dolby Vision HDR graded by the film’s original colorist, audio options include a Dolby Atmos and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with optional English subtitles, and the 4K UHD are region free while the Blu-rays are region locked encoded on region B. Standard bonus features include a new exclusive commentary by director Nicolas Winding Ren and The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw, a feature length conversation with Refn, editor Mat Newman, and composer Cliff Martinez reminiscing about their sudden post-theatrical career success with “Drive” when the film saw more success on video, Gutting a Getaway – a new interview with Mat Newman, and 3 Point Turns – a new video essay by Leigh Singer. The limited-edition contents include a premium box set with new Driver Scorpion artwork by AllCity, a 240-page hardback book with new essays by various authors, an exclusive interview with “Drive” author James Sallis hosted by Matthew Thrift, original storyboards, stills, behind-the-scenes photos, the original Sallis novel with new AllCity artwork as well, and 7 collectible art cards. What a massive, massive haul for the film that didn’t do great in theaters due to poor financial support by investors who saw the film as a failure. The film has a runtime of 100 minutes and is UK certified 18. Don’t be like me and neglect a chance to see “Drive,” a great piston-pumping and violently beautiful crime-drama paralleled love story that deserves our time, our attention, and everything including the kitchen sink Second Sight Films pumped into the tremendous limited-edition boxset that dropped this week for release!

“Anything Happens in that Five Minues and I’m Yours.”  Drive Limited Edition Boxset at Amazon.com!

Nature is Healing. The EVILs of Industry are Destructive. “The Great Movement” reviewed! (Sovreign Films / Digital Screener)



A group of out of work Huanuni miners march into the capital of La Paz to protest forced labor shortages.  Young miners Gallo, Gato, and Elder roam around La Paz to rummage up piecemeal work to live.  When they find work as commodity runners at an outside market, the job is labor intensive, pays very little, and they must sleep outside with other runners and vendors with essentially everything they own on their back.  The job takes a toll on Elder who is suffering a strange illness that cases fever, coughing, shortness of breath, and fatigue that hurts his pockets when he can’t run product in a timely manner.  Elder comes under the wing of a mysterious earthy, old woman who thinks Elder is her godson and she enlists the holistic medicine of a clairvoyant herbalist, living off the mountainous land just outside the city, to extract the unnatural elements that plague him.

Every so often, diving into a dramatic piece of filmic art, with hints of nightmarish surrealism to satisfy the horror element (or, in this case, the EVIL), is worth cracking into and peering into dependent the writher’s personal taste and the influencing environment surrounding.  In this instance, Kiro Russo’s “The Great Movement” spoke to the interests of this reviewer for not only the urban growth is death, nature is life social commentary but also my intimate connection to Bolivia because of my second-generation wife whose mother was born and raised in the South American country before migrating to the U.S.  “The Great Movement,” aka “El Gran Movimiento,” is the first native Bolivian film I’ve ever seen and that, too, sparked a curiosity in the Bolivian film industry that was virtually thought of as nonexistent.  Russo writes-and-directs the film produced by an international conglomerate of production companies with Altamar Films (“Killing the Dead”), Bord Cadre Films (“The Untamed”) and the La Paz based Socavón Cine as well as Sovereign Films who also distributes the film.

“The Great Movement” is a continuation of Elder Mamani’s story in this follow-up film from Russo’s 2016 “Dark Skull” where Elder’s moves in with his grandmother after his father’s death.  Living in a mining town, Elder pickups a miner job which leads to unearthed secrets about his father.  Julio César Ticona reprises his role as Elder, marching from the mines to the capital in protest for work only to be stricken by an illness insinuated from his dirty work at the mines.  Only a little of the previous “Dark Skull” story works itself way into the next chapter revolving around Elder’s suffering from various forms of urban reaping toxicity and also a clairvoyant old man living off the adjacent wilderness.  Max Bautista Uchasara, in his performance debut or at least as stated on IMDB, plays…well…Max, the well-loved, if not hard-loved, and dirty-cladded mystic that sees visions of La Paz in ruins.  Elder and Max cross paths because of Elder’s unexplainable sickness, without hardly a word spoken between them, to eradicate his illness and heal the young man’s failing body.  The connection between them is an old urbanite woman Mama Pancha (Francisa Arce de Aro) who thinks Elder is her godson but Elder, taking advantage of her kindness and generosity, doesn’t know this random person and, in the grand scheme of mysticism, Mama Pancha, which translates loosely to Mother Earth, is a symbolic representation of a forgiving planet lending a hand to an ore reaping miner by introducing a natural healer.  “The Great Movement” rounds out with a cast in Gustavo Milán Ticona, Israel Hurtado, Armando Ochoa, and Richard Aguilera. 

Through Russo’s use of cityscape and natural soundscape compositions, the sound design injects a creeping presence, enveloping the characters either insidiously or soothingly in their respective surroundings. The overwhelming arsenal of concrete jungle noise pollution becomes the harsh soundtrack that contributes to Elder’s environmentally unfriendly downfall. Every car horn, every construction machinery, every hustle and bustle of foot traffic is a spike through the head as Russo wants to make sure you can feel the audible image. In contrast, Max experiences virtually little noise, aside from streams, wind, and the rustle of greenery, in his detachment from clustered society when roaming the mountainous wilderness. Max’s elder ways grant him inexplicable aptitude that allows him to essentially speak to nature, live amongst the trees, and use the land for beneficial properties without waste and destruction. This encourages Pancha Mama, aka Mother Earth impression, to ask Max to heal her godson, aka an Earth child. This is Kiro Russo’s linchpin theme for “The Great Movement” that showcases a distinct dissonance between urbanization and nature. Being a nationality outsider going into Bolivia, that distinction is immensely obvious seeing firsthand the lack of organization, resources, and care for the city I travelled to that has been turned into a comprehensively polluted, dry dust-riddled, population on top of a population where one has trouble simply inhaling a breath of fresh air and struggling with the annoyance of a bloody nose. Now, I’m not singling out or epitomizing this one area of Bolivia I journeyed to as the worst of the worst, much of the same can be said about New York City sans the dust, but once you escape the city limits and step into Bolivia’s lush jungle, the air is noticeably cleaner with an almost healing effect on the body – no more bloody nose! My experiences greatly make visible and nail in Russo’s message as we accompany Elder through his deterioration, hearing about inhaling dust as a miner, drinking nothing but strong alcohol, and being worked literally to death with backbreaking labor. Modern medicine can’t locate or explain his symptoms, diagnosing Elder with psychological manifestation of physical problems. Russo’s “The Great Movement” is powerful and invokes soul-searching about reconnecting and healing with Mother Nature.

An insomniac nightmare that’s haunting in Russo’s solemn vision and full of delirium, “The Great Movement” is an arduous detox from the overdevelopment’s intoxicating prospect. Sovreign Films will release Kiro Russo’s 85-minute disenchanting and revival tale in UK cinemas on April 15th, 2022. With the limitations of a digital screener, I am unable to entirely comment on the audio and video quality, but the film is shot in the faint speckle of super 16mm and is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio to get the full spectrum of the cinematographer Pablo Paniagua shot Bolivia from the market busy streets to the monolithic stone and mountain structures on delineated outskirts of the capital. Paniagua employs the vibrancy of daylight and the scarcity of night light for tenebrous effect already poorly rendered by the 16mm grain. Miguel Llanques’s score is often overshadowed by the conspicuous soundscape, but the impromptu synth-flash mob dream sequence broke up the feverish trajectory at midpoint with catchy beat and dance seemingly out of nowhere. There are no bonus scenes during or after the credits. “The Great Movement” is just as raw with the foreboding circumstances in the rest the world civilization as it is with Bolivia in Kiro Russo’s film that shepherds the overlooked denizens in need for growth back to a natural world of healing.

A Snapshot Celebration, Averting the EVILs of Typecasting, for the Iconic Actress “Sylvia Kristel: The 1970s Collection” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

The “Sylvia Kristel:  1970s Collection” Available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!  Currently on Sale!

Sylvia Kristel.  A name that is synonymous to eroticism.  Kristel paved the way in mainstreaming seductive romances of softcore exploits, helping to elevate the provocative genre out of the depths of sleaze and into a more exotic trashy novel for the big screen.   In her titular role in the “Emmanuelle” franchise coursed an arousing path of sexual freedom, uninhibition, and became the sumptuous and worldly window in private fantasies. Playing the role for nearly two decades didn’t stop Kristel from other high profile and lucrative projects with an array of filmmakers as well as her roles pre-“Emmanuelle” that molded the Netherlands actress into a sexual icon rather than object of male fantasies. Cult Epics acquires four films – “Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” “Mysteries,” and “Julia” – that even though didn’t have Kristel set as a principal lead still showcased her range within the constraints of a minor, but certainly not insignificant, performance.

“Playing With Fire”

In a madcap Paris where sex trafficking is something of a sport, a wealthy French banker learns his daughter has been kidnap and threatened to be tricked out or burned alive if the kidnappers’ ransom isn’t paid.  Quickly learning that another woman has been mistaken for his daughter, a wave of relief bestows him to be cautious about future attempts on his daughter’s safety.  The banker hires a private detective to protect his loveliest of assets, offering to escort her to a local safehouse with the promise of sanctuary, but the P.I. is operating incognito being really one of the leaders of a surreal and lavish brothel who now has the banker’s beautiful daughter in his possession.  Or is it her who possesses him? 

Unlike any other exploitation-comedy you’ve likely ever seen, the 1975 released “Playing with Fire,” aka “Le jeu avec le feu,” is a wacky deep-dive of surrealistic sex trafficking from French writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet whose obsession with prostitution rings and other filmic eroticism pursuits extends back within a decade later with “L’Immortelle,” aka “The Immortal One,” and “Successive Slidings of Pleasure.”  A French production of Arcadie Productions, Madeleine Films, and Cinecompany, “Playing with Fire” masters the avant-garde art of making light of a grim topic that results in a pull of emotions.  Robbe-Grillet draws out the shocking aspects of sex slavery while also encouraging a smirk or a chuckle at the whimsical characters and shooting techniques weaved throughout a burlesque narrative.  Robbe-Grillet also plays with the theme of dualities with a number of the principal characters having two or more versions of themselves:  Philippe Noriet plays not only the banker father Georges de Saxe but also a voiceless sleaze erotically interacting with the banker’s daughter in a very Freudian concept between father-daughter relations.  His daughter, Carolina (Anicée Alvina), disguises herself as the thin-mustached private detective to thwart future any attempt at an abduction and there’s also the identity mishap with the similar looking woman mistakenly kidnapped by the ringleader.  Leading us into Jean-Louis Trintignant as the ringleader Franz constantly in a revolving door switch-a-roo façade into the private detective.  The presence of duality doesn’t stop being a present throughout, continuing with the banker’s butler who is also a whorehouse patron without affirmation that they’re the one and same person.  Before their illegal banishment in the mid-20th century, Brothels were widely dispersed throughout Paris, but not until the Nazi occupation absorbed the houses of ill-repute that seared a bad taste of deviant humiliation and sordid disgust into the mouths’ of the French populace and Robbe-Grillet taps into that once time of unrest by splicing in a pair of isolating scenes of goose-stepping Nazi soldiers with one of the moments garmenting Anicée Alvina in uniform and marching in the ranks, suggesting a more sinister subplot afoot in the storyline.  Kristel plays one of the women snatched by Trintignant’s efficiently devious Franz with virtual a voiceless performance in what’s only a symbol of strength and beauty that sets perversion ablaze as she’s taken through the motions of essentially onboarding her into slavery whoredom. “Playing With Fire” can be at times difficult to keep up with the Alice in Wonderland-like surrealism and the character dualism but persists unwaveringly with a multi-faceted narration of deceit, eroticism, and comedy full of perversions and random outbursts akin to satirical skits that make this film unpredictable yet enjoyable to behold.

Pastorale 1943

During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, a quaint Dutch farming village lives day-to-day alongside soldiers and German sympathizers known as National Socialists (NSB) to the Nazis, traitors to their fellow Dutch countrymen.  When the Nazis learn of and round up all the dissidents and Jewish heritage people living in hiding on an adjacent, ferryboat island, a small band of unorganized resistant fighters determine the local pharmacist, a NSB member, to be the Nazi collaborator responsible for the treacherous leaking of information because his son impregnates an island village girl, teetering toward the fascist movement when mocked by her peers for her involvement with the pharmacist’s son.  Inexperienced in the execution of traitors, the bungling resistance fighters learn just how difficult planning a murder can be when their scheme falls apart in a small village where everybody knows everybody.

On this second of four Sylvia Kristel features is the Spieghel Filmproductiemaatschaappij of “Pastorale 1943” which makes more prominent the Nazi regime, is set with a backdrop of a Nazi occupied Netherland town and has a cameo role of young and dashing Rutger Hauer (“Blind Fury,” “The Hitcher”).  Netherland writer-director Wim Verstappen, whose had a few titles released previously from Cult Epics, such as “Obsessions” and “Blue Movie,” develops a script out of the World War II drama novel from author Simon Vestdijk with black comedic undertones and a tinge of corrosive sexuality and released the film in 1978.  Pastorale, or Pastoral, refers to the typically calm and idyllic country life which the complete opposite in 1943 Netherlands with all of Europe and East Asia engulfed in war; however, this story takes place in its own corner of the world with a mini, damn near microscopic, war waged between the Nazis occupation along with domestic NSB collaborators and the inhabitants resisting against the encroaching fascism that has plagued revenue crops and instilled an authoritarian culture, such as mandating the teaching of the German language to students in Dutch schools. Kristel’s involvement with Verstappen’s “Pastorale 1943” is about as much as her involvement in “Playing With Fire” with a minor role that’s still a keystone piece to the narrative. She plays Miep Algera, a local schoolteacher disparaged by her neighbors and colleagues for having romantic relations with a Nazi officer, but has she really fallen for the officer or is she secretly conducting counterintelligence for the resistance? “Pastorale 1943’s” two-part story plays heavily embroiling and embroidering characters in the first half to the point of instituting a cornerstone character but when the narrative pivots, to the darker side of implied Nazi exterminations and the fumbling through the execution of a rightfully innocent man, Verstappen homes in on Frederik de Groot as the artist Johan Schults whose Germanic surname causes him much strife amongst his Dutch brethren but to prove himself, Schults takes charge, along with an equally green execution squad of resistance politicians, to murder the NSB collaborator, a local pharmacist Poerstamper (Bernard Droog). The Academy Award submitted “Pastorale 1943” can be light and funny then turn quickly on a dime into wartime darkness and director Wim Verstappen’s vision pops with epic World War II fascism atrocities, confined to one part of the world and without the explicit voyeurism of genocide.

“Mysteries”

After the strange suicidal death of a man named Karlson, Johan Nagel arrives to the coastal town where the death occurred.  Immediately, Nagel stands out from the supercilious eccentric residents with his mustard yellow suit and fur coat, dispensing small cigars and money to everyone and every service as if they were infinite, and exhibits his own brand of strange behavior, especially with amorous feelings between two women and an unlikely friendship with a dwarf who has accepted his neighbors’ belittling jabs for humorous pleasure.  As his behavior declines, Nagel’s presence unravels the coiled, seemingly impenetrable, barriers around his friends, his enemies, and his romantic pursuits that reshape their properties for the better at the dangers of his own sanity and life.

Finally, we’re at a point in the Sylvia Kristel collection where the titular star is in a lead role with this demolition of concrete idiosyncratic personalities melodrama entitled “Mysteries” from Dutch filmmaker Paul de Lussanet, based off a novel “Mysterier” by Knut Hamsun, with Sigma Film Productions as the production company.  Kristel plays the steely Dany Kielland who becomes the infatuation of Nagel in an oppositional performance beautifully deranged and conducted by Rutger Hauer.  The hot-and-cold and on the brink of frustration relationship between Kielland and Nagel is as resolved as an unfinished breakfast left to waste and void of complete nutrition as both characters digest morsels of desire only to explode in a frenzy of loathsome disgust in an unsavory, brittle dynamic only Hauer and Kristel could produce on screen.  The other love interest involved, yet hardly feels as such until the last half hour, is an aged and more humble Martha Gude portrayed by “Last Night in Soho” British actress Rita Tushingham complete with a poor-looking frosty-colored wig.  Kielland and Gude represent the two-side of society – rich and poor respectively – stuck mastering a stanch stance of an indeterminate state that Nagel barrels into and knocks down the status quo, like a bowling ball to ten pins, for the better of the coastal town.  None of what Nagel does seemingly makes any sense and that’s very true to Hamsun’s novel in the unconventional, and probably unintentional, methods of Nagel’s erratic influence.  “Time Bandit’s” David Rappaport debuts in his first feature film as Grogard, an achondroplasia character bulled by most of the town’s residents due to his disorder.  Grogard anecdotally tells the story as “Mysteries” narrator, as if reading straight from Hamsun’s novel, the recollection of Nagel’s dichotomic behavior and, at the same time, Nagel also being a mentor, protector, and a friend that pained Grogard to watch his friend whither to death in fit of emotional exhaustion.  “Mysteries” borders arthouse cinema, adaptive faithfulness, and pristine melodramatic performance that sound good in theory but not always translate well to the screen, leaving more of a perplexing impression on the whole purpose of rendering Knut Hamsun’s novel into film in the first place.

“Julia”

Every year, Patrick departs his boarding school for a short holiday with his father and relatives at his grandmother’s idyllic lakeside house.  While riding the train en route to his grandmother’s, he encounters an older, yet beautiful, blonde woman inside the passenger carriage car and before he can firm up courage to act upon his sexual brimming hormones, the blonde is swept up by an older gentleman right from under his nose.  Come to find out, the blonde woman is actually his father’s girlfriend in a completely open relationship when it boils down to sex.  Anxious about his own insecure sexual appetite, Patrick finds himself surrounded by the perversions of his family and friends, leaving the young man hesitant and nearly impotent in bedding the woman he actually cares about, a longtime friend Julia who lives next door to his grandmother.

On the heels of “Emmanuelle,” Sylvia Kristel follows up with another licentious freedom film in Sigi Rothemund’s “Julia.” Also known as “Summer Girl” or “Die Nichte der O,” the German production from the Lisa-Film company is the earliest film on the 1970s collection with a release in 1974 and is the only other screenplay on the collection next to “Playing with Fire” that is not adapted from literature. Instead, “Julia” is a wild romp ride of young sexual exploration and the anxieties that accompany it from an outlandish and witty script by Wolfgang Bauer. “Julia” might not be based off a book, but the story is certainly an unapologetically open book about the insignificance of virginity, polyamorous affairs, lesbianism, voyeurism, and the sexual rite of passage into adulthood with the young and naive principal Patrick, or Pauli as credited, played by the late Ekkehardt Belle who passed away in January of this year. Opposite Belle, Sylvia Kristel obviously dons the titular role of Julia. Inexplicably voluptuously different from the other three films on the collection, Kristel radiates a sexual aurora perhaps infected by proxy of its release soon after “Emmanuelle” as Kristel obvious branches out to more sensible dramatic roles rather than the decor of a German sex comedy such as “Julia” that galvanized by its free-for-all eccentric caricatures including an operatic, overweight, and perverse uncle Uncle Alex (Peter Berling, “When Women Were Called Virgins”), a highly aggressive lesbian in Aunt Myriam (Gisela Hahn, “Devil Hunter”), the house maid Silvana who Myrian seduces with whipped cream and has piano-top sex (Christine Glasner), and his polyamorous father Ralph (Jean-Claude Bouillion, “The Sextorvert”) and girlfriend Yvonne (Teri Tordai, “She Lost Her…You Know What”). Comparatively flimsy next to “Emmanuelle” as a sexual journey and coming of age film but “Julia” is a hot-to-trot sex comedy with funny bits as well as sultry naught bits too.

Beautifully curated for the first time ever release in the United States of all four films is Cult Epics’ “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” on Blu-ray and DVD. The 4-disc, uncut Blu-ray, which was provided for coverage, is region free, limited to 2500 copies, and perfectly packaging to extol praise upon the robust early career of Sylvia Kristel. Presented in European widescreen 1:66:1 (with the exception of “Playing with Fire” which is displayed in an anamorphic 2:35:1), each film is newly scanned in 2K from the original 35mm elements as well as been restored. Transfers for the most part are exquisitely pristine, each harboring their own mise-en-scene mélange, but some are better than others with “Mysteries” sitting at the bottom rung of showing slightly a few more scratches and one-or-two single frame damages that flame up through the reel briefly. “Julia” also has minor scratches, but that’s really the extent of the issues with the image quality on this restored visual released with a rich color palette and textures redefined for a better palpability. Compression issues are virtually non-existent and there are no tinkering enhancements or cropping used to skirt transfer limitations. I am in awe of the audio output of the 1920kps bitrate, transmitting the highest audio quality possible for each release through either DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 or a LCPM 2.0. Dialogue clarity comes through cleanly with French in “Playing with Fire,” Dutch and German in “Pastorale 1943,” and German in “Julia.” “Mysteries” sounds a bit muddle sometimes due to the consistently background popping interference, but the Dutch language still pulls through strongly and discernibly. Each film comes with optional English subtitles. Special features are aplenty with audio commentaries by Tim Lucas, Jeremy Richey, and Peter W. Verstraten, new and vintage interviews and promotional footage with cast and crew on ‘Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” and “Mysteries,” a poster and still gallery on each release, and original theatrical trailers. Outside the disc contents, the collection’s rugged cardboard boxset housing unit consists of a 4-disc snapper case with vintage-still collage cover art, a 40-page illustrated booklet with color pictures and an essay on all four films written by Jeremy Richey, and a cover art poster by Gilles Vranckx. Total runtime is 429 minutes, enough to get your Syliva Kristel fill and then want more…much more. The “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” lauds the actress’s versatility of performances and ability to work with any director from any country and fans who love “Emmanuelle,” or of just Kristel, will undoubtedly fall in love with this Cult Epics comprehensive look at the Dutch icon’s outermost filmography.

The “Sylvia Kristel:  1970s Collection” Available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!  Currently on Sale!

A Frat Boy’s Obsession is Evil’s Way of Crying for Help! “Somebody Darling” Review!


On the campus of Williamsburg University in 2006, a popular fraternity house holds an upscale house party, filled with the most beautiful students dressed in formal wear, liquored with martinis and gin and tonics, and customized to fit the luxurious lifestyle the men of fraternal brotherhood. When the fraternity president Christian Roane conducts a round around to greet guests, he catches glimpse of Sarah Stein, a coed being a good sport by giving into her friends’ urges to party greek. Christian’s unhealthy obsession with Sarah starts innocent enough, but when Sarah doesn’t take that step toward sharing the same affection, Christian’s control goes into self destruction that not only threatens Sarah, but also threatens to unearth the true and ghastly nature of the brotherhood and the brothers aim to lockdown their secret by any means necessary.

“Somebody’s Darling” is the 2016, independent drama horror from the multi-faceted filmmaker, writer-director Sharad Kant Patel, churned out from a story by Sebastian Mathews. In his directorial debut, Patel, known more for his short film work, heedfully courses through detail and treads lightly on the coattails of a sensitive social issue. His film skirts on the subject of rape culture in the American college and university setting while also touching upon sexuality complexities and severe anguish in today’s youth. Basically, “Somebody’s Darling” is a higher education dissertation on the experiences of collegiate life with a horror twist and all the along the way, Patel slowly paints Christian and his brotherhood onto a canvas of ambivalent malevolence by deconstructing Christian to quickly reconstruct him in a ravaging roundabout. Patel throughout leaves a bread crumb trail of clues that don’t make sense at first, that might lead to other conclusions, and that doesn’t explicitly genre “Somebody’s Darling” as a horror.

Christian is the film’s central focus and with a dark and brooding character, a dark and brooding soul must ride parallel and Paul Galvan intently delivers a cryptic persona. Peppered erratic is Christian obsession Sarah Stein, a run-of-the-mill coed playing darlingly enough by Jessa Settle. Then there’s the brotherhood, whom are begrudgingly split on how to action Christian’s off course fixation, consisting of a youthful lineup of white, stuck-up preppy frat boys with an actor list to match including Fred Parker Jr., “Spirit Camp’s” Matt Tramel, and Mike Kiely. Sarah also has an entourage but not as prominent and, to be honest, the brotherhood weren’t just a hair more involved, but Kristen Tucker and Cathy Baron (“The Lights”), who play Madison and Riley, hit the stereotypical college coed right on the head as the two look to score big when scouring their hot boy wardrobe and provide unnatural sexual banter toward their goody-two-shoes friend, Sarah.

“Somebody’s Darling’s” independent genetic makeup doesn’t hide under a flashy production, but presuming an indie dramatic horror that’s more bark than bite isn’t worth wild should is the incorrect assumption as the climatic end will be attention catching. Granted, the dialogue’s overdrawn breathiness can bog down a regular popcorn viewer and turn away heads that have a disdain for immense screenplay scripture, but to comprehend the whole story and to become invested in the characters, being a viewer from start to finish won’t go in vain. Patel personal investemnt extends to much more than spitfire directions and scribing with a hand in producing, composing, editor, and digital effects with the latter being used sparsely to convey the Christian’s internal aspirations and quondam self. When effects do come into the real word, a practical, lifelike approach is taken and that intensifies the horror tenfold.

Distribber released Sharad Kant Patel’s “Somebody’s Darling” onto various streaming platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu on December 1st. I was provided a screener disc and can’t focus on or comment too much on the details of image or sound quality, but the disc did provide bonus material including the making of the score and behind-the-scenes in creating the dream sequence. Sharad Kant Patel’s “Somebody’s Darling” has an edgy appeal that draws you in like an unsuspecting moth to an alluring light and then zaps a fatal shock right into the nervous system as soon as the undertones are evidently a metaphor for something far more sinister.