D: Alex de la Iglesias; with Antonio Resines, Alex Angulo, Frederique Feder, Juan Viadas, Karra Elejalde, Saturnino Garcia.
Luminous Film and Video Works.
Produced by art-house fave Pedro Almodovar, the passionately off-beat Accion Mutante marks the debut of Spanish director Alex de la Iglesias, whose style clearly follows in the maniacal tradition of John Waters, Peter Jackson, and (early) Sam Raimi. An action/comedy/sci-fi/horror epic with all the stops pulled out, de la Iglesias' film is set in an unspecified but presumably distant future, and chronicles the exploits of "Mutant Action" - a renegade terrorist faction made up of a motley crew of "physically challenged" misfits dedicated to waging war on the so-called "normal" human population. Led by the hideously scarred Ramon, this crack team of handicapped soldiers sets about on its most ambitious mission yet, namely kidnapping and ransoming off the virginal daughter of a rich business tycoon. While this plan more or less goes off without a hitch, things get (literally) sticky for our heroes when Ramon begins gruesomely murdering his comrades one by one, in hopes of keeping the ransom money all to himself. This mayhem eventually leads to a climax that sees Ramon in a violent firefight with a virtual army of police, one half of a Siamese twin out for revenge (his brother, still joined at the shoulder, is dead), the hostage who is falling in love with him, her well-to-do father turned suicidal lunatic, and a bunch of bullet-riddled corpses rising up for an impromptu musical number. An outrageous bit of nonsense directed with style and gusto by newcomer de la Iglesias, Accion Mutante effectively re-interprets genre clichés in an affectionately crazed manner and more than delivers the goods for those foreign film fans looking for a fun, hilarious walk on the wild side. Despite the overall quality of the film coupled with Almodovar's international appeal and generally great production values, it has yet to nab an offical U.S. distributor, making this pan-and-scanned release from Luminous (the damage of the compromised 2.35:1 compositions is noticeable), for the moment, the only game in town. (Available at I Love Video's Airport location.) -Joey O'Bryan THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION
D: Mario Bava; with Elke Sommer, Telly Savalas, Joseph Cotton.
Elite Entertainment, the enthusiastic new company that recently blessed us with their wonderful, eye-opening laserdisc set of The Night of the Living Dead, serves this exquisite double-feature platter, consisting of two films from legendary director Mario Bava. Placed together, the pictures Baron Blood and Lisa and the Devil, neatly manage to express Bava's dual approaches to filmmaking - the former displaying the inventive showman who manages to breathe life into what might have been tired genre "product" in lesser hands, the latter offering a portrait of a visionary, taboo-breaking artist in the mold of Roman Polanski or Alfred Hitchcock. Both movies are dripping with visual style and moody atmosphere, and while Baron Blood provides a number of chilling sequences and makes for great spooky fun, Lisa and the Devil is a far more memorable picture, filled with the kind of startling, ironic images and subversive spirit that mark the best of Bava's films. Beyond their obvious importance to serious aficionados of the horror genre, these discs also represent an important first step toward the highly underrated Bava getting a bit of the respect he so richly deserves. In keeping with the standards of excellence set with past releases, Elite doesn't stumble in presentation. Both films exist (for the first time domestically) in their uncut versions and look considerably better than they ever have before, with Bava's trademark use of color a particular joy to witness with such clarity. Nicely letterboxed at an appropriate 1.85:1 ratio, with the addition of theatrical trailers and, in the case of Lisa and the Devil, a collection of deleted footage, there really isn't much here to complain about. One small thing, however, is the virtual ignoring of the troubled history of Lisa and the Devil, which suffered from enough severe post-production tampering to render one of Bava's most fascinating movies a laughable, incomprehensible mess. A supplemental section detailing the changes forced upon Lisa and the Devil would have not only made for some resonant background information, but would have helped to foster an understanding as to why this marvelous film wound up as one of Bava's most obscure works. Nevertheless, this thoughtfully affordable set (only $60) is an unquestionably worthy addition to any laserphile's collection, as well as being (dare I say it) one of the most important releases of this year. -Joey O'Bryan JOHNNY SUEDE
D: Tom DiCillo; with Brad Pitt, Catherine Keener, Alison Moir, Tina Louise, Nick Cave, Samuel L. Jackson.
DiCillo's new film, Living in Oblivion (opening at the Dobie Theatre on August 25), is the buzz of the indie film world, so moviegoers who like to do their homework should check out the director's earlier effort with Brad Pitt as the indescribable Johnny Suede. Sporting a heavily lacquered pompadour with the aerodynamics of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Suede's visual appeal is almost reason enough to rent this film. Johnny Suede is a loner in search of a soulmate; a singer in search of a band; a fashion victim in search of style, and incidents both strange and sometimes inexplicable occur during his quest. The film can be quite funny; one-liners are thrown out with abandon, and the characters are all winningly eccentric. While the story itself leaves a little to be desired (think of an overextended TV episode of Twin Peaks), the characters truly make the film worth watching. Appearances by Nick Cave, Tina Louise, and Samuel L. Jackson are scattered throughout the film like jewels. The film's narrative develops around the relationship between Johnny and Yvonne (Keener), a woman who works as a kind of social worker, struggling to find a place in her life for a man with huge hair. Their love/hate courtship provides some of the more entertaining scenes, and the situation in which they meet is symbolic of the misunderstandings that characterize their relationship. Pitt makes a terrific Johnny, playing the role with tongue-in-cheek bravado, and Keener (who also appears in Living in Oblivion) is smart, funny, and on target as Yvonne. Although Johnny Suede lacks a consistently strong narrative, it is well worth watching for its other elements: the characters, the deadpan dialogue, and the Fifties-inspired sets and music. In addition, Pitt eschews a stunt double and does his own singing, which is an event in itself. And did I mention his hair? - Alison Macor