Film diary, vol. 2

The conclusion of Twin Peaks: The Return left a major aesthetic vacuum in my life.  I felt invigorated and ready to do some ambitious movie-watching.   I started the massive project of watching through the complete filmography of Jacques Rivette.  I’m about done with that and will post a piece about Rivette sometime soon.  I’m not including the Rivette movies in this diary.  I watched a ton of other stuff during the last couple months as well.  I mildly injured myself mountain biking twice this year and decided to lay off a little, and so during my free time I just took a run for exercise and then watched lots of movies.  There was also all the oppressive wildfire smoke that kept me inside for most of September.  I kept a fairly complete diary, though I’m sure I forgot to record a few things.  I watched many of these movies on Filmstruck and Amazon (which has been on point lately, both in the channels like Fandor it offers and in its prime streaming and rental opportunities, thanks to its affiliation with some awesome distribution companies like Arrow).  I also watched quite a few on Mubi, which is a great service.

Charulata (S. Ray)

I picked it because it seemed like it would provide a sharp contrast with Pather Panchali while staying in the first half of his career. This was an accurate assessment. It’s really great, and pretty much the polar opposite of Pather while still being recognizable as the work of the same artist. The Renoir influence is very clear, along with a healthy dose of Douglas Sirk. It seems like it may have been a stylistic influence for a lot of Bergman’s later work.

Vengeance is Mine (Imamura)

Portrait of a serial killer, light on the psychologizing, heavy on the dark humor.  Great performance from Ken Ogata.  Seems like Sono picked up some influence here for Cold Fish.  Not my favorite Imamura, but very worthwhile.

Rendez-vous (Téchiné)

This is the 1985 film, not to be confused with the unrelated 2015 film with the same title.  I know for certain that I have seen this before but I had no recollection of it at all.  This is definitely not the place to start with Téchiné.  That would be Wild Reeds and Thieves.  I would only recommend watching this if you dig his stuff.  It’s like Jules et Jim meets Last Tango in Paris.  This was Juliette Binoche’s breakthrough performance.  She’s very young, and the role asks a lot of her.  Wadek Stanczak’s character comes across in 2017 like one of the original Nice Guys of Okcupid.

The Crime of Monsieur Lange (Renoir)

30’s Renoir.  Heavy handed socialist themes.  The first half drags, the second half is very lively. Jules Berry’s performance as the capitalist villain is awesome.

Surreal Estate (de Gregorio)

De Gregorio collaborated with Rivette on some of his best movies.  The movies he directed himself are fairly obscure, but mubi played the two most important ones (and they are also available on the amazon mubi channel).  Starts out masquerading as a gothic mystery in the vein of Wilkie Collins (who is later explicitly mentioned), where a British writer is shopping for a French country home and is lured into a potentially haunted estate by three mysterious women.  The story proceeds through typical genre tropes, twists and red herrings, but instead of the state of affairs becoming clearer as the narrative progresses, it becomes increasingly obscure and surreal.

Short Memory (de Gregorio)

I didn’t like this very much.  It’s okay.  It starts out not unlike a typical Rivette movie, with a young woman setting out to investigate a conspiracy, but unlike in Rivette, she finds the answers she’s looking for (and they’re not terribly interesting).

Three Outlaw Samurai (Gosha)

Fuck. Yes.  Absolute top tier classic samurai shit.

The Insect Woman (Imamura)

My least favorite of the three bundled together by Criterion as the “Pigs, pimps, and prostitutes” set.   Typical Imamura themes: the resilience of women, degradation brought on by hardship.  Hasebe cowrote and his involvement is apparent.  The film touches on Violent Pink themes without getting too explicit.

Endless Desire (Imamura)

An early antecedent of Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks, this was a studio assignment for Imamura, but he directs it with verve and gusto.  It’s a very solid black comedy.

John Carpenter’s The Thing

I’ve seen this a zillion times and it never gets old.  Some of the best horror effects of all time.

My Winnipeg (Maddin)

I absolutely loved this when it came out but it diminished for me when I revisited it.  The stuff about Winnipeg is great but I wasn’t as keen on the navel gazing and nonstop psychoanalysis jokes.

Blood of a Poet (Cocteau)

Saw this available to stream and couldn’t resist.

Three Lives and Only One Death (Ruiz)

Excellent surrealist anthology film from the prolific Chilean filmmaker featuring Mastroianni’s penultimate performance (or is it several performances?).

Love Torn in a Dream (Ruiz)

Like an explosion at the Ruiz factory.  Nine interwoven stories featuring many of the director’s favorite themes and tropes.  Pirates, cannibalism, mysterious parentage, a magic mirror, a magic painting, theological debates, divination, etc. etc. etc.

They Live By Night (N. Ray)

Nicholas Ray’s first movie and an important entry in the “lovers on the run” genre.  Good Farley Granger performance.

Berbarian Sound Studio (Strickland)

Innovative postmodern horror movie.  Very interesting in its emphasis on the physicality of film and the nuts and bolts of sound effects production.  Full of very fun giallo references.

Female Prisoner Scorpion Series (four films)

I watched a lot of Japanese exploitation movies as palette cleansers between Rivette movies, because Japanese exploitation movies are the exact opposite of Jacques Rivette.  I do not recommend these!  Don’t blame me if you choose to watch them!  Definitely know what you are getting yourself into first with the Violent Pink genre.   This stuff is way more extreme than the 70’s “women in prison” exploitation movies from the US.  There is a lot of violence against women, to put it mildly (it gets avenged, though).  I wanted to see these because I absolutely love Meiko Kaji as Lady Snowblood and these movies revolve around her.  She is fucking great.  The third movie is my favorite, followed by one, then two, and the fourth movie is a distant last place.  Hasebe—a director I normally like—directed the fourth one and it just feels like a pale imitation of the first three (directed by Ito) with little to add.  Also, the fourth one focuses way too much on a male character being tortured by the police.  The first three are strongly centered on Kaji.

Three (To)

Three is a very strange hybrid of a medical thriller and a Triad movie.  The entire movie takes place inside a hospital, where a young female surgeon seeks to save a wounded gangster who is trying to bide his time until his crew can bust him out while a cop stands guard and seeks to interrogate him.  The finale is the awesomest thing ever.  It would be impossible to overstate how awesome it is.  Be warned that the movie is also very much a medical thriller, and there’s a ton of graphic surgery

Exiled (To)

Wanted to revisit some Johnnie To favorites after watching Three.  I had to resort to internet shenanigans to get an HD version of this.  Do not watch the shitty dubbed version on amazon!  This is probably my favorite To film.  Glorious action ballet, thematically centered on friendship and loyalty.

Sparrow (To)

Delightful Johnnie To passion project that he filmed sporadically in between other projects.  It’s a love letter to French cinema, with an emphasis on Bresson, Demy, and Melville.  Hong Kong pickpocket ballet, less violent than most of his stuff.  This is essential Johnnie To.

Mad Detective (To)

Excellent Johnnie To madness.   A mentally ill former detective can see peoples’ inner personalities and is brought in to help with an old case.  Love the Lady from Shanghai references.

Wonder Woman (Jenkins)

I hated it.  Hurray women, boo war, but hurray women warriors, because their war is against war!  Limp action scenes displaying zero flare or creativity.  I like seeing Gal Gadot do her thing, but she’s too good for this movie.

Vengeance: A Love Story (Martin)

Nicolas Cage barely acts.  He gives like one speech at the end but mostly his characterization just consists in the fact that he’s Nicolas Cage.  I do not recommend this movie, although I didn’t totally hate it.  It’s an exceptionally ugly rape-revenge story that really focuses long and hard on the protagonist’s PTSD.  The high point is probably Don Johnson as an uber-sleazy lawyer (the court scenes are among the most ridiculous I’ve ever seen

Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss (Hasebe)

Pretty tame next to the Female Prisoner Scorpion movies, and not enough Meiko Kaji in this installment.  I intend to watch the rest of the series (with the expectation that there’s a lot more Meiko Kaji in the other films).  I’m especially interested in the ones directed by Fujita.

Weekend (Godard)

Probably my favorite Godard film, I hadn’t seen it in a long time and was excited to see it show up on Filmstruck.  Definitely watch it.

Mother! (Aronofsky)

Meh.  It’s got both flaws and merits.  Definitely something to see.

Gerald’s Game (Flanagan)

Strange movie, I enjoyed it.  There is some world class body horror.

Intentions of Murder (Imamura)

This and Pigs and Battleships are my favorite Imamura so far (still need to watch quite a few things).  Like The Insect Woman, this was co-written by Hasebe.  It is considerably more disturbing than that film.  It combines the Violent Pink themes that characterize Hasebe’s work with Imamura’s technical mastery and expressive potency.

The Trial of Joan of Arc (Bresson)

Revisited this to prep for Rivette’s Jeanne la Pucelle.  Rivette thinks it’s equal to Dreyer’s film (which I know well enough that I didn’t feel a need to revisit it).  I’m not sure about that, but it is a fascinating, austere film that takes Bresson’s style to extremes.  I struggle to believe that Joan as she’s portrayed here was ever a warrior.  That’s the only issue I have with it.

Pumpinhead (Winston)

It’s a transcendent example of 80’s schlock horror, with some absolutely astonishing sequences.  The creature effects are out of this world.  Great Lance Henriksen performance.

Black Rain (Imamura)

Bleak and miserable look at the consequences of the US’s A-bomb attack on Hiroshima.  Not my favorite Imamura.

L’enfance Nue (Pialat)

Pialat’s first film, a raw and emotionally difficult look at a young boy stuck in the foster care system who acts out in disturbing ways.

Massacre Gun (Hasebe)

High quality 1967 Nikkatsu yakuza shit, directed by Hasebe.  The great Jô Shishido runs afoul of his crime family and leads a mutiny.

You Only Live Once (Lang)

Fritz Lang’s second American film (made in 1937), Henry Fonda wants to go straight but can’t catch a break.  Extremely solid.

Survival of the Dead (Romero)

Romero’s last Dead film.  Better than I gave it credit for when it was released.  It’s all about tribalism.

The Mummy (Kurtzman)

Middle aged Tom Cruise is so depressing.  I’m looking forward to elderly Tom Cruise (Tom Cruise as Dumbledore?).  The movie is terrible.  I watched most of it and then turned it off with a half hour left because I wanted to cut my losses.

Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve)

All about the atmosphere and production design, which are well done.  I thought it was very solid and it satisfied me as a fan of the original film.  JJ Abrams could take a lesson on how to redeploy Harrison Ford.

The Earrings of Madame De… (Ophüls)

I hadn’t seen this in a long time.  Wonderful from start to finish.  Not unlike Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73, which is centered on a rifle as it changes hands several times, this film follows a pair of earrings through an improbable series of events.

Demons 1+2 (Lamberto Bava)

Very fun splatter horror from the son of the great Mario Bava that gets into some interesting meta-fictional territory.

Black Society Trilogy (Miike)

Early trilogy from Miike deals with one of his central themes: cultural displacement.  The first film, Shinjuku Triad Society, is about Chinese gangs in Tokyo, the second film, Rainy Dog,  is about a Japanese gangster stuck in Taipei, and the third film, Ley Lines, is about three Chinese immigrants who move to the big city from rural japan, befriend a prostitute from Shanghai, and get involved in the drug trade.  The first film is fucking bonkers and definitely my favorite.  Lots of really jarring sexuality (and sexual violence), mostly between men, and anyone prone to be upset by such things should beware.  The second film is more subdued.  It’s pretty good but doesn’t stand out among Miike’s vast body of work.  The third film is the most technically accomplished and more subdued than the first film, but less subdued than the second.

Dead or Alive (Miike)

Batshit Miike yakuza movie, I hadn’t seen it in quite a while.  The beginning and end are off the charts.

Pierrot le Fou (Godard)

Very good, but doesn’t stand up well next to Weekend (which it resembles).  It drags a bit and is unfocused in a way that doesn’t entirely work.  It’s very worthwhile, though.

Tag (Sono)

Looney Sono mindbender.

The Driller Killer (Ferrara)

Experimental highbrow exploitation horror from Abel Ferrara.  Definitely one to see for all horror fans.

Retaliation (Hasebe)

Middling yakuza shit.  Raw, verite style was an inspiration for the Yakuza Papers series.

Pitfall (Teshigahara)

The first film from the director of Woman in the Dunes. I didn’t really care for it.  The social commentary is heavy handed and the supernatural element is under-realized.

La Marseillaise (Renoir)

Very entertaining historical drama from Renoir about the beginning of the French revolution, splitting  its focus between a large variety of subjects, ranging from Marie Antoinette to rural peasants.

Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Lang)

Rivette homework.  Lang was one of Rivette’s biggest influences, and this film is a keystone.  It’s a bit bloated but its high points are exquisite.  It seems like this must have been an inspiration for BOB in Twin Peaks.  

Hour of the Wolf (Bergman)

One of the only Bergman films after his early period that I hadn’t seen.  I saw the other two parts of the trilogy, Shame and The Passion of Anna, a very long time ago, but I decided to save this one and it got away from me for many years.  It’s great, combining elements of Persona with horror themes.

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Rossellini binge

Sometimes you’ve just gotta take a day or two off from life and settle in for a Rossellini marathon.   I woke up one morning feeling burned out and knowing that the only thing I wanted to do that day was watch Rossellini movies.  It ended up carrying into the next day.

Rome Open City

White hot fire, filmed in the smoking rubble of post-war Rome.

Paisan

The least immediate of the war trilogy.   Six vignettes set all around Italy focusing on interactions between Americans and anti-fascist Italians.  The exploration of communication barriers is interesting but the movie is uneven and doesn’t stand up well to comparison with the other two.

Germany Year Zero

One of the most miserable movies ever made.  After the pointedly negative portrayals of Germans in the first two installments of the war trilogy, he turns a more compassionate gaze on suffering poor people living in the rubble of Berlin after the war (including a Nazi solider who fought till the end), focusing on a 13 year old boy.  It’s powerful, painful, vital cinema.

The Flowers of St. Francis

Co-written with Fellini, who brings his sense of humor to the table.  A series of vignettes about St. Francis, alternating rapidly between slapstick comedy and solemn exploration of self-sacrifice and spiritual commitment.  Real monks as actors.  Delightful.

Europe ‘51

Combines elements of Germany Year Zero and The Flowers of St. Francis. Ingrid Bergman plays a wealthy woman who becomes a saint-like figure in response to a personal tragedy.  Very strange, surprising movie.

Stromboli

Probably my favorite Rossellini.  Ingrid Bergman plays a fancy Lithuanian woman who is caught up in internment during the war and marries an Italian peasant boy to escape her circumstances, only to be brought to live on a barren volcanic island where she is abjectly miserable.  Remarkably, the volcano erupted during filming, and Rossellini captured some astonishing footage, both of the volcano and of local fishing practices.  The ending is transcendent.

Journey to Italy

Proto-Antonioni.  A British couple visits Italy to sell an inherited villa and their marriage starts to fall apart.  Classic and essential.

The Taking of Power by Louis XIV

Probably my second favorite Rossellini.  Jean-Marie Patte’s performance as the Sun King is truly bizarre.  He’s easy to underestimate, which enables him to set unexpecting conspirators up for a crushing Michael Corleone-esque play to consolidate power.   Perhaps the greatest movie ever about fashion and one of the best renditions of the costume drama.

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Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi)

Classic, essential Mizoguchi.  Exceedingly miserable, rapturously gorgeous.

Touki Bouki (Mambéty)

Senegalese Godardian romp.  It’s great, but content warning: several animals get their heads cut off onscreen.  Especially interesting on gender and sexuality.

Personal Shopper (Assayas)

Not my favorite Assayas, but very worthwhile.  I found it compelling as a portrait of the detachment that characterizes modern life (the protagonist doesn’t directly interact with the most significant people in her life), but flawed in several respects.  Way too much iPhone screen and typing sounds.  Mute those typing sounds and throw a score over it or something, I couldn’t handle it.  I do think it’s interesting to look at the suspense and preoccupation involved with communicating through text message, but I didn’t find the actual content of the text messages very interesting and the movie overplays its hand re: texting.  I also thought some revelations/resolutions are too abrupt and neat and it would have played better to retain more ambiguity.

The Golden Coach (Renoir)

The best movie about the relationship between art and life.

Pépé le Moko (Duvivier)

Cool as fuck 1937 French noir.  Pépé running around the Casbah eluding the law and seducing wealthy tourists.

Nocturama (Bonello)

2016 film, starts out in Rivette territory, there’s a brief Godard interlude, then we get George Romero does The Bling Ring.  I found the allegory to be heavy handed but there are some great moments and I appreciate that it stays fairly abstract.

The Whip and the Body (Bava)

Wonderful Bava technicolor S&M ghost story with a creaky mansion, hidden doors, a haunted dagger, and all kinds of other cool stuff.

Boudu Saved from Drowning (Renoir)

Excellent slapstick social satire.  The great Michel Simon plays a barbaric tramp who is rescued from drowning and invited to live with his bourgeois benefactors.

 

2 thoughts on “Film diary, vol. 2”

  1. Hell yes. If you liked Tamba Tetsuo in Three Outlaw Samurai, you can find him in a million other things, but Miike’s Happiness of the Katakuris is among my favorites (although if you can’t get into splatter musical parody, maybe avoid).

    I’m also a huge fan of the Lady Snowblood movies and Meiji Kaji, and have avoided Female Prisoner Scorpion ones because of a review that had a similar reaction to you—I’ll continue to avoid.

    You reminded me that I’ve got some Imamura to catch up on myself. Intentions of Murder is now high on the list. I agree about Black Rain—I have used it in my Nukes class along with the book, but probably won’t again. By the way, I realized that I mistakenly suggested before to you to steer clear of The Eel—i meant Warm Water Under the Bridge. I haven’t seen The Eel yet, but now have to put it on my list.

    Tidbit I learned from listening to a Scorcese interview regarding Silence: he made his entire crew watch Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu.

    And I’m a degenerate because I can’t comment on the many other non-Japanese films you watched.

    Like

    1. I have seen Happiness of the Katakuri’s and I like it. It’s been a while, though. Stray Cat Rock might be a good middle ground that falls short of Prisoner Scorpion in extremity (to clarify: I did like Female Prisoner Scorpion a lot, I just can’t recommend it to others in good conscience. You need a certain degree of desensitization to approach it). There’s also the two Wandering Ginza Butterfly movies, which I downloaded (thanks to you!) but haven’t watched yet. I was just going to rent Warm Water Under the Bridge on dvd. May postpone. I will probably watch all the Imamura movies sooner or later. Have seen Ugetsu.

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