Forgot to mention this earlier, but the 2012 Magill’s Cinema Annual, a comprehensive book of reviews to which I contributed, is out now. It possesses a steep price given its academic/reference source leanings, but check it out on Amazon if you so desire.
Starting in the 1970s, Nikkatsu, Japan’s oldest movie studio, launched a series of erotic sexploitation flicks, most of which are inspired by and loosely comparable to Italian giallo exercises. Zoom In: Sex Apartments, a grisly, 1980 offering from director Naosuke Kurosawa, is one such effort, a jumbled oddity of psychosexual kink.
After Saeko (Erina Miyai) is raped by a mysterious stranger wearing a dark mask and gloves, several residents of the nearby Kibougahara housing complex are beaten, killed and have their genitals set on fire. Powered by arousal as much as dread, Saeko has suspicions about the pyromaniac’s identity, but a thick haze of craziness seems to hang in the air.
Kurosawa, working with cinematographer Masaru Mori, crafts the movie as an obvious valentine to Dario Argento, but it’s awfully thin in plot and sensible motivation, even by giallo standards. One supposes there’s a certain genre cultural cache here, but Zoom In: Sex Apartments, though redolent with sadomasochistic air-quote artfulness, mostly just seems an elaborately orchestrated and unrepentantly nasty excuse for fetishized violence and degradation.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Impulse Pictures’ North American release of Zoom In: Sex Apartments comes to DVD alongside companion offering True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues (yes, complete with its hilarious colon), in a solid, grain-free 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, with a Japanese 2.0 mono audio track that features newly translated, removable English subtitles. A minute-long, forced-start-up Nikkatsu introduction gives way to a static main menu screen, and a dozen chapter stops. Apart from the movie’s 80-second trailer, there are no supplemental featurettes, though film historian Jasper Sharp’s liner notes — as part of a little insert booklet featuring the movie’s Japanese language poster on its cover — are sharp and insightful, if a bit dismissive of what he terms the movie’s “misogynistic verve.” To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here; if Half is your thing, meanwhile, click here. C- (Movie) C+ (Disc)
A respite from his more recent sociopolitical filmography, and an unapologetically bawdy blast of violence, backstabbing and revenge, Savages represents Oliver Stone’s most streamlined and overtly commercial movie in more than a decade. It also feels less than the sum of its parts. A super-stylish but overlong drug-running kidnap drama starring Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch and Blake Lively, Savages skates by on colorful but sometimes thin characterizations, evincing no great point beyond the mode of its telling. How disqualifying that damnation is rests in the eye of the beholder.
The film’s main redemption lies in its evocative telling — Dan Mindel’s gorgeous, sun-dipped cinematography alternates between gritty fever dream and beguiling travelogue — and its acting. In the latter category, John Travolta gives a tack-sharp performance shot through with desperate self-preservation, while Salma Hayek plays a chilly matriarch. It’s Benicio Del Toro, however, who steals the movie — exuding a dark, magnetic charm and pumping rich, intense depth into the untold backstory of his character, a brutal enforcer. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (Universal, R, 130 minutes)
Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, which suffered a snuff theatrical release last autumn, bows on home video next week, in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that includes an additional director’s cut. But the movie isn’t named for Anna Paquin’s lead character. It’s actually based on a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. So the poem is entitled “Margaret,” right? Well, no… it’s actually called “Spring and Fall.” But here, let this interactive study guide, with film clips, explain the connections.