Tales of the Night (2011, Michel Ocelot)

Michel Ocelot presents these six inventive fairytales using silhouette animation and the latest 3-D technology.  Tales of the Night is a bewitching mixture of classical storytelling with a modern sensibility.  Ocelot is inspired by traditional folk tales from around the world, as well as real events; the human sacrifice rituals performed by the Aztecs for instance, but the resulting stories are witty and fresh.
The Werewolf’
Ocelot riffs on a familiar theme in fairytales, transformation.  A handsome horseman marries a woman because he mistakenly believes she was the one who sent him gifts while he was in prison.  So he reveals his terrible secret to her on their wedding day. 
‘Ti-Jean and Beauty Not-Known’
Young Ti Jean breezes into the Land of the Dead and finds himself faced with an impossible set of tasks by the King of the Underworld.  Can Ti Jean win the hand of the King’s daughter Beauty Not-Known?  Does the laid back young adventurer even care?
‘The Chosen One of the City of Gold’
A stranger is appalled to find the beautiful women of the City of Gold are all sad.  The reason for this soon becomes clear.  They are to be sacrificed to a mysterious creature which keeps the city intact.  The stranger resolves to end this barbaric practice once and for all but must face down both the monster and the people who follow it. 
‘Tom-Tom Boy’
Tom-Tom annoys the hell out of the villagers in his small African town by using makeshift objects as drums.  When an old man teaches him to use a magic drum he finds he has the power to make people dance. 
‘The Boy Who Never Lied’
A boy with a talking horse has a reputation for always being honest.  The King of Tibet place a bet with his cousin on that the boy will never tell a lie no matter what.  The cousin gets his daughter to play a cruel trick on the boy and tries to manipulate him into lying.
‘The Girl-Doe and the Architect’s Son’
A sorcerer turns a woman into a doe in front of her lover.  So he embarks on a quest to find The Caress Fairy who can turn his love back into a human again.
Though children will enjoy this animated film, there is a dark heart behind many of the stories.  Ocelot’s tales acknowledge death.  They show love can be cruel, people even more so, particularly in ‘The Boy Who Never Lied’ which ends with a grievous loss.  Tales of the Night should appeal to those who admire revisionist versions of fairytales such as Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves (1984).
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The Grey (2011, Joe Carnahan) – DVD Review

“Once more into the fray…”

I’m in the minority but I quite liked Joe Carnahan’s The A Team remake. Nothing he has done before however prepared me for this stripped down tale of a motley group of oil workers battling against the elements. Wrongly advertised as a film about Liam Neeson punching wolves in the face The Grey divided audiences with its downbeat approach and ambiguous ending. The Grey is an entry into the nature’s going to fucking eat you genre of films, the daddy of which is Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) and so far has included predators as varied as crocodiles, piranhas, alligators, lions, and anacondas, yet it stands apart from all of these with its melancholy, and its doomed machismo is closer in spirit to the bleakness of Walter Hill or Sam Fuller. 
Working amongst the roughnecks at an oil drilling refinery Ottway makes his living shooting wildlife for the company. At the beginning we see him writing a letter to his dead wife and almost joining her by putting his rifle in his mouth. Oddly enough the howling of the wolves in the distance seems to be the thing that pulls him back from the brink as if they are telling him not now, come to us. Animal rights activists have claimed the depiction of timber wolves is not entirely accurate and these animals rarely attack humans. Fair enough then but while Carnahan aims for realism in every other aspect of the film the wolves are fantastical. They are merciless antagonists, their eyes glowing in the darkness as they circle their prey. These wolves are more akin to the monsters lurking in the forest in a fairytale than real animals.
Usually humans are treated as sport in these kinds of movies as we watch them picked off one by one until the hero saves the day. Carnahan and his co-writer Ian Mackenzie Jeffers screenplay is an odd mixture of the perfunctory and the poetic as they balance the thrills with sequences where the men reveal details about their lives. “Who do you love? Let them take you there,’ Ottway (Neeson) says in comfort to a dying man which is essentially what the film is about. What do these men have to live for if anything at all? Carnahan’s existentialist approach justifies his handling of the ending; the emphasis on what has been lost rather than the confrontation between the human alpha male and his wolf counterpart.
It is a film of haunting power aided by Masanobu Takayanagi’s beautiful photography and Marc Streitenfeld’s score. Neeson’s tough soulful performance is outstanding, a natural leader of men the film makes great use of his physicality and his understated delivery of dialogue. Whether threatening to kick the shit out of somebody or reciting poetry there is no doubt he is contemporary cinema’s finest Alpha Male.
Extras
Deleted scenes which to be honest I never watch, I’d rather not see what didn’t make the cut, and a director’s commentary with Joe Carnahan. 

‘Dellamorte Dellamore’ – DVD Review

Francesco Dellamorte has an unusual problem in the cemetery he watches over in the small town of Buffalora; the dead have a tendency to rise again within seven days of their original demise. Dellamorte has no interest in finding out why they are coming back. Indeed, he is baffled by why anybody would want to come back. Dellamorte is a misfit. Nobody really listens to him. The little old lady who visits the cemetery every day calls him Engineer, even though as he keeps explaining he is not one. The mayor is politely inattentive, praising Dellamorte’s work, while paying no attention to what he has to say. A group of young locals mock him for his rumoured impotence, although Dellamorte later admits he started those rumours so people would leave him alone. He has only two friends, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) his assistant, who can only communicate by grunting, and Franco (Anton Alexander), a clerk at the post office in the village.
Reclusive, while also longing to escape from Buffalora, Dellamorte’s closed-in world is thrown into crisis when he is drawn towards a beautiful young widow (Anna Falchi). She has no interest in Dellamorte until he shows her the Cemetery’s Ossuary and it arouses her. Unfortunately their tryst is interrupted by her dead husband, whose bite seemingly causes her death. Yet Falchi returns to in various guises later on in the film as Dellamorte becomes increasingly disturbed. 
Unusually for a horror-comedy with gore and sick humour, Dellamorte Dellamore takes loss and grieving quite seriously. Sure, there’s exploding heads and killer dialogue and Rupert Everett bludgeoning a zombie-nun’s head in with a blunt object, but there is a mournful aspect to the film. Everybody has lost or loses someone. Dellamorte Dellamore operates on the same level as a fairytale, or a dream, in which strange happenings are possible, but they have a deeper psychological meaning that is open to interpretation. Death appears to Dellamorte, taking form out of burning rubbish on a bonfire and asks Dellamorte to leave the dead alone. Given that the ‘Dylan Dog’ comic books take place in a world where reality and the supernatural exist side-by-side it is entirely feasible that Death does visit Dellamorte. Maybe however Dellamorte is just losing his mind. 
.Michele Soavi has a gift for creating stunning visuals (Terry Gilliam used him on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Brother’s Grimm) and the film’s beauty is complemented by a truly warped sense of humour. Dellamorte Dellamore is based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi and features a character who appeared briefly in the author’s ‘Dylan Dog’ comics. Dellamorte bears a startling resemblance to Dylan Dog and is essentially an alter-ego for the Nightmare Detective. Sclavi based Dylan Dog’s appearance on Rupert Everett so the big fella is perfectly cast here. A gifted comedy actor Everett makes the most of the dialogue and has a sadness to him which renders the absurdist elements of the film more believable. It is a great performance, one of the best you’ll see in a horror film and it’s a shame the film has never found a wider audience though maybe this will change with this new DVD release. Sadly even Everett undersells it, the only mention of Dellamorte Dellamore in his autobiography ‘Red Carpets and other Banana Skins,’ is a small photograph.
Watch the English language track rather than the Italian version. Genre films in Italy have traditionally used American or British stars to attract funding and shoot scenes in English. Everett’s deadpan delivery is preferable to hearing him being dubbed into Italian.The Americanised version of Dylan Dog (2011, Kevin Munroe) appears on DVD and Blu-ray later this month and while it is nowhere near as bad as expected, it is no match for Dellamorte Dellamore
Special Features
Part of the fun of Shameless releases is going through the trailers for there other releases. Highlights include Who Saw Her Die? (1972, Umberto Lenzi), a giallo starring former 007 George Lazenby, the haunting reworking of Patricia Highsmith’s ‘Strangers on a Train’ The Designated Victim (1971, Maurizio Lucidi) with Tomas Milian, and Dario Argento’s underrated Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). 
There’s also an Italian trailer which emphasises the Dylan Dog connection and a photo gallery. The commentary with Soavi and screenwriter Gianni Romoli is interesting and gives an insight into their approach to the material. Soavi says the film is about a man who can’t face reality, who refuses to grow up, who “doesn’t want to leave his garden, his enchanted world.” Film journalist and author Alan Jones has also provided writing on the film’s production and photographs for an accompanying booklet. 

‘Sleeping Beauty’ – DVD Review

“Such a sleep works wonders.”

By turns haunting, baffling, risible, voyeuristic, perverse, tender, and funny, novelist Julia Leigh’s directorial debut is a strange one. It may take its title from a fairytale but this Sleeping Beauty owes more to Walerian Borowczyk than the Brothers Grimm. The film may well be a critique of modern young women and their willingness to submit to the desires of men; or a parody of the service industry taking the absurdities inherent in fine dining and raising them to a whole new level.  It may even be a dream for at one point sleeping beauty closes her eyes and the screen goes black. 
                                   
Lucy (Emily Browning) is a pretty student who pays for her studies in a variety of ways.  She submits to medical experimentation, works as a waitress in a café, photocopies documents as an office drone, and occasionally prostitutes herself in nightclubs to guys who can’t believe their luck.  Despite earning money she never pays the rent in her shared accommodation.  Lucy is ambivalent, just drifting along, sleepwalking through life.  There is a tender friendship with a withdrawn literary type (Ewan Leslie) who appears to be drinking himself to death but no other emotional bonds.
She answers a personal ad for a waitress with silver service experience placed by Clara (Rachael Blake), a fixer for wealthy clients and arranger of unusual requests. Lucy’s uniform is pink lingerie. She starts serving at weird dinner parties for older men, and one noticeably masculine looking female, at which the guests eat ludicrously prepared dishes overseen by a maître d who looks like a topless version of an extra from a Robert Palmer video. Clara persuades Lucy to become her sleeping beauty, to lie drugged in a bed for melancholy old men to peruse at their leisure though she remains unaware of what is happening to her. 
There is a disturbing sequence when one of these men becomes aggressive, burning her with a cigar, yet even though she is sleeping she seems the stronger of the two.  He is impotent, ugly, and unlovable.  Aware of it too no doubt and perhaps this fuels his rage. Yet Julia Leigh is by no means unsympathetic to the vagaries of age.  One man delivers a startling monologue about his weariness with life.  What makes this moment more immediate is Leigh’s decision to cut from a reverse shot by having the actor directly face the camera as he begins to speak.  Though in terms of the narrative he is talking to Clara, Leigh breaks the Fourth Wall bringing the viewer into the story, another voyeur here to observe but never touch the heroine.
Sleeping Beauty is made up of static takes, the camera rarely moving, just watching and observing.  The acting is non-realistic and underplayed and the ethereal Emily Browning is outstanding.  The effect is unsettling and often this deadpan approach is quite funny. Though it may be inscrutable Sleeping Beauty is all the better for this ambiguity. Leigh has already written the screenplay for another movie, The Hunter (2011, Daniel Nettheim) based on her own novel, but it will be interesting to see what she chooses to direct next.


Extras


Cast & Crew Interviews are fairly short but in Leigh’s case revealing as she discusses her approach to the film and how she wants the audience to be a “tender witness.” Apart from that there are only trailers; one for Sleeping Beauty, the disturbing serial killer movie Snowtown (2011, Justin Kurzel), and a TV mini-series called The Slap starring Melissa George and Alex Dimitriades.