RIDM 2018 Preview: Dead Souls by Wang Bing

Wang Bing’s documentary Dead Souls tells the story of China’s deadly re-education camps.

UPDATE: After watching the first half of this documentary I can say that it did not seem long at all, and it certainly was not boring. 

Dead Souls (Ames Mortes for the version with French subtitles) is a documentary by acclaimed Chinese cineaste Wang Bing. Here’s an extract from the synopsis on the RIDM web site: “Wang Bing’s latest work is more than just a film. A painstaking compilation of testimonials, as precise as they are devastating, Dead Souls is a crucially important historical document. . .Wang Bing looks back at China’s post-war reeducation camps. Through survivors’ chilling stories, Wang exposes the cruelty inmates experienced and, especially, the workings of the implacable and terrifying political machine that set out, in the mid-1950s, to crush all opposition both real and imagined. The remains abandoned in the Gobi Desert remind us of the staggering death toll. . .”

A long story, with many victims, takes a long time to tell. RIDM is presenting Dead Souls in two parts, over two days, Saturday Nov. 17 and Sunday Nov. 18, 2018. Each part is 250 minutes long. A ticket for Saturday’s screening is good for Sunday’s as well.

Dead Souls has a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. You can read 13 favourable reviews there.

Here is a quote from Variety: “Wang Bing’s ‘Dead Souls’ is a powerfully sobering and clear-eyed investigation that justifies its length through the gravity and presence of its testimony. Wang. . . isn’t just making a historical documentary; he’s using oral memoir to forge an artifact of history. . . it does just what a movie that’s this long should: It uses its intimate sprawl to catalyze your view of something — in this case, how the totalitarianism of the 20th century actually worked. (One is tempted to say: quite well.)

And one from Toronto’s NOW: “it’s an overwhelming and damning portrait, but the film’s power lies in heartbreaking, idiosyncratic and overlapping details.”

I will watch this on Saturday and report back. I imagine that one COULD watch Part 2 without seeing Part 1.

Dead Souls

Nov. 17, 2018 6:30 p.m.
Cinémathèque Québécoise – Salle Fernand-Seguin
Screening presented with English Subtitles
Seance 152B


Dead Souls

Nov. 18, 2018 6:00 p.m.
Cinémathèque Québécoise – Salle Fernand-Seguin
Screening presented with English Subtitles


OMG! Action-packed Commando 2 opens on Friday, March 3, in Montreal!

Vidyut Jammwal as Captain Karanvir Singh Dogra in the film Commando 2: The Black Money Trail
Vidyut Jammwal as Captain Karanvir Singh Dogra in the film Commando 2: The Black Money Trail

In the summer of 2013, Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival showed an Indian action film called Commando. Fantasia fans loved it. (Me, too!)

The headline for my Montreal Gazette blog post was handed to me on a silver platter when I heard a (female) audience member exclaim “That’s the sexiest man I’ve seen in my life!” She was referring to the star of Commando, Vidyut Jammwal.

Jammwal plays a super-skilled, extremely fit Indian soldier who is captured and brutally tortured by another state, in some faraway outpost. Of course, he escapes his tormentors. I wrote that his “skills include, but are certainly not limited to: punching, kicking, stabbing, setting traps, swinging on vines, running up walls (or people) leaping off rooftops, cliffs and bridges, over cars or through the windows of their open doors, etc., etc.”

“He gives good glare, where the bad guys are concerned, but is also ready with great smouldering looks, when the heroine (Pooja Chopra) needs one. Multi-talented!”

The film’s subhead “A One Man Army,” was an understatement, if anything.

If ever a film was crying out for a sequel, it was Commando. And now. . .  it’s almost here! Commando 2: The Black Money Trail,  opens in Montreal (and many other places, I’m sure!) on Friday, March 3, 2017. Whoohoo! The film is about money-laundering on a massive scale, along with a double kidnapping in Malaysia.

Vidyut Jammwal in the action film Commando 2.
Vidyut Jammwal in the action film Commando 2.

Take a look at the exceptional action choreography in the trailer below. (More than 16 MILLION people have already watched it since January 23, 2017!) The action is even more impressive than what we saw in the first film. The leaps, spins, the tumbles! Good grief! How does Jammwal slip through that tiny window? He has been studying Kalaripayattu, a martial art from the Indian state of Kerala since he was three years old. That probably helps!

In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Jammwal said “Commando 2 will be the biggest action film in recent times.” “We created a new genre of action, where no cables and wires were used. It will be a visual spectacle.” I believe it! I’m also thinking, maybe it’s time to redefine the concept of a “chick flick.” We don’t necessarily need female bonding, singalongs, weddings, alcohol, flowers, fancy food or clothes, you know?

I usually avoid opening weekends, because the films often sell out and audiences can be too unruly, but in this instance. . .I don’t think I’ll have the patience to wait five whole days until (my unofficial name for it) “Cheapo Tuesday.”

Commando 2: The Black Money Trail, written by Ritesh Shah, directed by Deven Bhojani, starring Vidyut Jammwal, Adah Sharma, Freddy Daruwala, Thakur Anoop Singh, Esha Gupta, Adil Hussain, Suhail Nayyar.

Fantasia presents the bizarre, mesmerizing mayhem of Dangerous Men, Thursday, January 21 at Cinéma du Parc

Poster for the cult fim Dangerous Men (Drafthouse Films)
Poster for the cult film Dangerous Men (Drafthouse Films)

Fantasia? In the chill of January? Yes, indeed. Montreal’s exuberant genre fim fest officially takes place in July and August, but like the documentary film festival RIDM Fantasia looks after its many fans in the off-season, too.

On the third Thursday of each month Fantasia will show a film at Cinema du Parc. (RIDM uses the fourth Thursday.)

What’s on tap this month? Dangerous Men is a little-seen U.S. revenge flick that took more than two decades to make. It was only shown in four theatres on its release in 2005, and that was because the filmmaker, John S. Rad, paid to have it shown.

Evidently, Dangerous Men is not your usual slick blockbuster; it falls into the “so bad/weird/strange/insane, it’s good” category. It was appealing enough that Drafthouse Films invested in its restoration, and now Dangerous Men is on a bit of a world tour to an assortment of cities that include Fort Collins, Colorado, Seattle, Ottawa, London and Bristol (the ones in England) and Melbourne (Australia).

Drafthouse says “It’s a pulse-pounding, heart-stopping, brain-devouring onslaught of ’80s thunder, ’90s lightning, and pure filmmaking daredevilry from another time and/or dimension. Blades flash, blood flows, bullets fly and synthesizers blare as the morgue overflows with the corpses of DANGEROUS MEN.”

The synopsis from Drafthouse: “After Mina witnesses her fiancé’s brutal murder by beach thugs, she sets out on a venomous spree to eradicate all human trash from Los Angeles. Armed with a knife, a gun, and an undying rage, she murders her way through the masculine half of the city’s populace. A renegade cop is hot on her heels, a trail that also leads him to the subhuman criminal overlord known as Black Pepper.”

CinemaBlend says Dangerous Men is as “ridiculous and insane as you think it is, but also disturbingly entertaining. ”

Rolling Stone calls it a “mesmerizing, incomprehensibly riveting movie,” and says that watching it is “an exuberant, surreal experience.”

The Hollywood Reporter says “its awful glory. . .”would make Ed Wood green with envy.” “The pacing is bizarre; the dialogue is laughably atrocious; the production values are non-existent; the acting is embarrassing; the fight scenes are ineptly staged, with loud sound effects failing to compensate for the fact that no blows are landed; and the synthesizer-heavy musical score sounds left over from a ’70s porn film. ”

The AV Club says that: “Dangerous Men is a singular movie-going experience (in a good way).” “Ridiculous, artless, and wildly entertaining, Dangerous Men is more than the sum of its fascinatingly misguided parts, although it will take a special sort of moviegoer to truly appreciate (or endure, depending on your perspective) its charms.”

IndieWire says “the bonkers trailer. . . “plays like the best action film Ed Wood ever made.”

IndieWire also compares it to Roar, another old film released by Drafthouse. It features the many large felines owned by Melanie Griffith’s parents Tippi Hendren and Noel Marshall. Roar was shown at Fantasia 2015. (Read my review here, if you like.)
Rad is certainly a great short and punchy name. The filmmaker’s real name was Jahangir Salehi Yeganehrad. He was an Iranian who fled Iran for the U.S. five days after the Shah left himself. Rolling Stone says he was a multi-millionaire engineer and importer/exporter who had also been personal cameraman to the Shah. Rad made between three and 11 films in Iran, depending on which sources which sources you believe. Vanity Fair and the Hollywood Reporter say he was an architect and filmmaker.

Apparently Rad showed an early version of the film in 1984 or 1985, but the unfavoruable reaction led him to re-work it. Vanity Fair says he might have added footage that he’d shot for a different film.

Dangerous Men was still not big hit when Rad showed it again in 2005, though Vanity Fair says that it did catch “the attention of adventurous filmgoers like Hadrian Belove (now the founder and executive creative director of the nonprofit cinema Cinefamily), who rallied enough like-minded movie buffs to sell out a single screening.”

“By my standards, I think Dangerous Men is the apex predator of outsider cinema,” Belove said. “Usually, no matter how special and strange and surprising these movies are, there’s a moment where you sort of settle in. Where you go, O.K., I get it. I know you, Birdemic. I get what you are. . . . But Dangerous Men keeps transforming and becoming a different movie. By the time you get to that freeze-frame at the end—they do a freeze-frame for the final credits—and not a single person in that frame was a character in the movie 20 minutes earlier.”

IMDB lists it as an Action, Adventure, Comedy. Probably Rad would be displeased by the comedy designation. Rolling Stone says: “Even Rad’s family isn’t sure where the line between intentional and unintentional humor lies in the film. ‘He was trying to give a message, but I don’t think it came out the way he wanted to,’ (Rad’s daughter Samira) Wenzel says. ‘He would get insulted very quickly if someone would laugh at a section of the movie. When my daughter laughed at a scene, he thought that was very unacceptable. I’m still trying to analyze where he was coming from.’ ”

Dangerous Men, written, directed, edited, produced (etc.) by John S. Rad
In English, 80 minutes long.
Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, at 9:15 p.m. at Cinéma du Parc, 3575 Ave du Parc