donderdag 26 februari 2015

Sky Riders (1976)


Dir: Douglas Hickox - Cast: James Coburn, Susannah York, Robert Culp, Charles Aznavour, Harry Andrews, John Beck, Zouzou, Werner Pochath, Antonys Antipas

Sky Riders is a straightforward action movie, good guys versus bad guys (with a few daredevils thrown in) with a good a cast and excellent stunt work. Moreover it was shot on truly magnificent locations. So what could have possibly gone wrong? Not too much actually, it’s quite entertaining, but it’s also one of those straightforward action movies which make you wonder who are more stupid: the villains or the heroes.

While staying in Greece, the wife and children of an American industrialist are kidnapped and taken to an abandoned monastery, situated on a high rock. The police have located them and surrounded the rock, but the stronghold is impregnable. Is it? Well, not to the woman’s ex-husband (and the father of one of her two children) who has a brainstorm when watching a flock of birds hovering over the impressive landscape ... He hires a few hang gliders who teach him how to fly - or rather glide - and becomes such good friends with these daredevils that they’re willing to join him in the attack on the stronghold.

The terrorists tell us that they’re opposed to imperialism and desire to give the power back to the people, but that’s all we learn about their motivations and plans. There are also a few (rather vague) references to the period of the Greek Military Junta (1967-1974), but this is most certainly not a political movie. So let’s get back to our initial question: who is more stupid, the bad guys for taking recluse in a place from which they won’t ever be able to escape - they should have studied the story of Masada, 73 AD (1) - or the good guys for attacking the stronghold in para-gliding style, turning themselves into flying rather than sitting ducks? But never mind, hang gliders performing their art against the background of the world famous Meteora Monasteries (2) are a true visual delight and James Coburn smiles and growls himself through  the movie, as hefty and cool as ever. You can’t help wondering: Is he really such a cool actor or just pretending to be one?

Roussanou Monastery
Apparently none of the hang gliders was hurt even though the stunt work looks quite dangerous, but the movie provoked an international incident when a Greek electrician was killed during an explosion.The film's executive producer Sandy Howard was imprisoned in Greece and according to some sources he had to bribe Greek officials so the crew member responsible would not be arrested by the Greek police (3).


* (1) Masada is an ancient fortification in Israel situated on top of a rock plateau on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, near the Dead Sea. In 70 AD, towards the end of the First Jewish–Roman War, a group of Jewish rebels fled to the fortification which was considered to be impregnable. But the Romans did not give up and in April 73 Masada fell. According to the historian Flavius Josephus all Jews comitted suicide when they realized the situation was hopeless.

* (2) The monastery in which the hostages are supposedly kept, is the Roussanou monastery, one of the six remaining Meteora monasteries.

* (3) Variety, Producer Sandy Howard dies at 81:
The article is wrong in mentioning the Greek Military regime in this context. The dictatorship of the Greek Colonels had ended on 24 July 1974 under the pressure of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the new government had been installed when Sky Riders was filmed.

Sky Riders can be watched (in widescreen and reasonably good image quality) on You Tube:

maandag 9 februari 2015

Audition (1999)


Dir: Takeshi Miiki - Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura, Miyuki Matsuda, Toshie Negishi,  Tetsu Sawaki, Shigeru Saiki, Ken Mitsuishi, Ren Ohsugi, Renji Ishibashi

 “Kiri kiri kiri”

Miiki’s international breakthrough movie is a truly disturbing piece of film making, a romantic drama that turns into a visceral horror movie. Audition tells the story of a shy, emotionally inhibited widower, Shigeharu, a middle-aged man who lives alone with his teenage son. He would like to start dating again but doesn’t know how to approach women. His friend, a not so successful film maker, offers him to arrange a fake audition for a film that will never be made. Shigeharu immediately feels attracted to one of the candidates, the fragile Asami. His friend signals to him that there must be something wrong with the girl, because her autobiographical stories don’t seem to match with reality, but Shigeharu refuses to give her up, walking like a lamb to the slaughter ...

The first ninety minutes of the movie are austere, subdued, almost glacial, with only a couple of sparse suggestive moments indicating the horrifying turn the events will eventually take (I won't say anything about the girl's motivation because it would harm the fascination of the narrative). The horror is limited to the final twenty minutes of the movie and note that even in those twenty minutes, Audition remains more suggestive than exploitative: the physical torture is only shown during a couple of seconds, the camera keeps lingering on the girl’s face most of the time, showing her enjoyment, accentuated by this hypnotic line she keeps repeating:

“Kiri kiri kiri”

Some call this Miiki’s best movie. I tend to agree, but of his immense body of work (he’s one of the most prolific film makers in history) this is not the easiest one to enjoy. Some will no doubt think that the story-telling is too drawn-out while other will find the horror repulsive. But the atmosphere is great and Miiki is immensily helped by two magnificent performances. Ryo Ishibashi is very good as the emotionally inhibited widower and Eihi Shiina is truly sensational as Asami. And you’ll never forget those sparse moments of visceral violence, even if you try: they’re so intense that few people can watch them without closing their eyes in abhorrence.

You’ve been warned.


* (1) Since his debut in 1961, Miiki directed more than 90 productions; he’s active in cinema, theatre and the video circuit and his work ranges from excessive (the blood-spattered Ichi the Killer) and experimental (the yakuza epic Dead or Alive, partly shot in video clip style) to family friendly (the children's movie Zebraman).