I watched some very good stuff the last couple of months. Highlights included Ruiz’s Manoel’s Destinies, Rossellini’s India: Matri Bhumi, Hawks’ Ball of Fire, Johnnie To’s A Hero Never Dies, and three musicals by Jacques Demy. There has been a lot of discussion recently about the place of women in the film industry and a much-needed push to create more opportunities for female directors. One unfortunate thing about this discussion, though, is that more emphasis has not been placed on highlighting the accomplishments of the female directors of the past. I’m not surprised– it’s a manifestation of broader contemporary neglect of history– but I do find it irksome. I spent some time recently with the work of two of the 20th century’s greatest talents: Maya Deren and Shirley Clarke. I would encourage anyone unfamiliar with their work to check it out.
(Image from Ritual in Transfigured Time)
Meshes of the Afternoon, A Study in Choreography for Camera, Ritual in Transfigured Time, At Land, Meditation on Violence
The name “Maya Deren” gives me full body chills. More than anyone else in the history of cinema, she creates the feeling that one is peering into an alternate dimension. There are things she accomplished in the 1940’s that still haven’t been surpassed. I can’t really describe her work except to say that it’s like mainlining someone else’s fever dreams.
Most of Maya Deren’s films are short and easy to find. The ones that I watched are all on Fandor (the app, not the amazon channel). I would caution against casually watching these films on your laptop. They should be watched on a reasonably large screen in a silent, focused atmosphere.
(Image from Ornette: Made in America)
Four Journeys into Mystic Time: Mysterium, One-Two-Three, Trans, Initiation; Dance in the Sun; Bridges-Go-Round parts 1&2; 24 Frames Per Second; A Moment in Love; Skyscraper; Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World; In Paris Parks; Portrait of Jason; Ornette: Made in America; Bullfight.
Like Maya Deren, Shirley Clarke had a background in dance. The two had a similar interest in exploring what cinema can add to the medium. It’s one thing to simply film a dance, but another to make a dance film with distinctively cinematic aesthetic features. Clarke experimented with a range of techniques, including fractured editing and superimposition, to interrelate the two media. They’re all worthwhile, but I would say my favorite of her dance films is Four Journeys into Mystic Time: Initiation.
Among her other work, the two features I watched (Portrait of Jason and Ornette: Made in America) are stand-outs. Portrait of Jason is an edited down 12-hour interview with a hustler named Jason Holliday. Holliday is the sort of person who is eager to tell their entire life story to anyone who will listen. Clarke and her collaborator basically give him a bottle of scotch and let him talk, occasionally interjecting with questions. The whole thing melts down by the end and the dynamic becomes openly hostile. Portrait of Jason is often abrasive and hard to watch, but it is remarkable in some respects. Holliday is a charismatic storyteller, and his perspective on life as an openly gay black man in the 70’s is often fascinating. There are difficult ethical questions concerning the way this interview was conducted and packaged for consumption, and Clarke and her collaborator do not cower away from these questions– they take a bold, decisive stand. I admire their courage of conviction. Ornette: Made in America is an absolute feast for anyone who likes Ornette Coleman. She employs some pretty wild “free jazz” editing techniques. If you don’t like Ornette Coleman, this probably isn’t the movie for you.
Szamanka, La Femme Publique, Boris Godounov, La Note bleue, My Nights are More Beautiful Than Your Days, Pavoncello, Story of Triumphant Love
I finished Zulawski’s filmography, including his two early shorts for Polish television. This is one hell of a body of work. He definitely wasn’t afraid to take chances, and not everything he did was totally successful, but it’s all worth attending to. The top tier for me is Szamanka, Possession, and On the Silver Globe. Szamanka (which is like his take on Ken Russell’s Altered States, with a feminist twist) is for me the fullest and most exhilarating expression of his aesthetic, Possession has the best acting and the most emotional intensity, and On the Silver Globe is the most sublimely berserk. The second tier—consisting of minor masterpieces—is La Femme Publique, Diabel and That Most Important Thing: Love. La Femme Publique is a batshit Brechtian elaboration of Dostoevsky’s The Devils. Diabel is a potent early work about a Lucifer figure traveling through Poland during the 1793 Prussian invation. That Most Important Thing: Love is one of his more popular films, about a director who falls for a washed up actress stuck doing soft porn (Romy Schneider) and puts all his money into a production of Richard III for her to star in with Klaus Kinski. It’s a great place to start with Zulawski.
The third tier is La Note bleue, Third Part of the Night, My Nights are More Beautiful Than Your Days, L’Amour braque, and Boris Godounov. La Note bleue is a Chopin biopic in the tradition of Ken Russell’s Mahler and Lisztomania. It feels like a very personal work, as Chopin and Zulawski were both Poles who lived in France and there is a strong emphasis on Chopin’s feelings of alienation and longing for his homeland. It is Zulawski’s most wildly colorful movie, and the Mondo Vision blu ray looks great. Third Part of the Night is excellent political body horror. Boris Godounov is a Brechtian opera film working from Rostropovich’s version of Mussorgsky’s opera. The high points are tremendous, but it drags a little for stretches. I did some investigating and it turns out that Zulawski wanted to fill these lulls with incest but Rostropovich vetoed it. The other two star Sophie Marceau and feature bizarre rhyming dialogue.
The bottom tier is the two shorts (Pavoncello and Story of Triumphant Love) and his two newest works, Fidelity and Cosmos. The shorts are good but slight. Fidelity and Cosmos are both worthwhile but flawed. Cosmos is so untethered that it’s hard to engage with and Fidelity is too restrained.
The Musketeers of Pig Alley, The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Hearts of the World, Broken Blossoms
Wow, there is a ton of D.W. Griffith readily available through amazon streaming. I intend to dig into the large catalogue of Biograph films they have available (Griffith made vast quantities of short films for the studio before making Birth of a Nation) and also some more of his later features like True Heart Susie. For now I just watched through this sequence of some of his best known works, as well as the lesser known WWI picture Hearts of the World. The Birth of a Nation is one harrowing watch, particularly against the political backdrop of 2018. Intolerance and Broken Blossoms are both great, but I think I prefer Intolerance for its breathless editing. Hearts of the World rehashes Birth of a Nation with the Germans as the bad guys. Much of it is lame melodrama, but once the war gets going it breaks from its narrative form and becomes remarkable.
(Image from Donkey Skin)
Bay of Angels, The Young Girls of Rochefort, Donkey Skin, Une Chambre en Ville
I had watched Lulu and Umbrellas of Cherbourg recently and I decided to keep going with Demy. Bay of Angels is not a musical. It’s a gambling addiction story/dramatic romance that threatens to become didactic but is rescued by Jeanne Moreau’s wild-eyed performance. The other three are musicals and I consider them all unqualified masterpieces. The Young Girls of Rochefort is pure cinematic bliss; it would be hard to overstate how delightful it is to see Gene Kelly in this context. Donkey Skin just might be my favorite. It’s a dark, lurid, aggressively weird fairy tale. Une Chambre en Ville bears some resemblance to La bohème, except it has a more political workers’ strike backdrop. It’s sad, dark, lovely and perfect.
Jacques Tourneur: Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man
Robert Wise: The Curse of the Cat People, The Body Snatcher
Mark Robson: Bedlam, The Ghost Ship
I watched Robson’s The Seventh Victim recently but other than that it’s been a while since I’ve spent any time with Val Lewton. I watched through a bunch of titles over the course of two days last week. Along with The Seventh Victim, my two favorites are easily I Walked with a Zombie and Cat People. Tourneur’s use of shadow is singular. I Walked with a Zombie is one of the most abstract films of its era. Cat People isn’t quite at the same level of formal accomplishment but its influence and importance are staggering and it contains some moments of pure genius. The Leopard Man isn’t quite as good, but it’s very good nonetheless. The others are good but not great. Bedlam is my favorite of the bunch.
Flesh, Trash, Heat
I had seen some of Morrissey’s later stuff but this was the first time I have seen this trilogy. These movies all feature Joe Dallesandro as a hustler who is mostly indifferent to sex but uses his allure to score money, drugs, or a place to stay. Flesh is pretty rough. The editing is amateurish in a bad way. I found it to have little cinematic value but to be interesting as a cultural artifact. Trash is vastly better. It feels like a movie that someone made a certain way on purpose. If you like John Waters, you’ll like Trash. Heat is not as good as Trash but much better than Flesh and you should watch it if you like Trash.
The Beast, Immoral Tales, Behind Convent Walls, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborne
Not for moralists. This stuff is all about the joys of perversion and evil. Some of it is X-rated, and it is messed the hell up, so approach with caution. It’s in the tradition of Buñuel, but it goes a lot further. If one were going to watch both The Beast and Immoral Tales, I would advise watching The Beast first. A key sequence is reproduced from a vignette in Immoral Tales, and it has far more impact in the fuller context that The Beast provides. Like Renoir’s Testament of Dr. Cordelier, Borowczyk’s version of Jekyll and Hyde emphasizes that Hyde isn’t an alternate version of Jekyll, but rather Jekyll’s true self unleashed. He gives the story a feminist twist that I appreciated.
Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet
From the Clouds to the Resistance; Chronicles of Anna Magdelena Bach; Le streghe, femmes entre elles
This is advanced stuff. Straub and Huillet are among the most demanding filmmakers in the canon, and someone jumping into the middle of their oeuvre without context would almost certainly be put off. Their films are all adaptations, often of incomplete texts. They typically feature minimalist compositions. For instance, two characters might be situated in the woods, static but in embellished poses, reciting the text of a dialogue as the camera alternates between them for 15 minutes. Their work is aggressively theory-forward, in the sense that what they are doing is often hard to make sense of without theoretical context. I strongly suggest starting with Chronicles of Anna Magdelena Bach, which is relatively accessible. It features 20+ musical performances, staged with meticulous period accuracy in the actual locations where Bach’s music was performed. I was very curious going in how they were going to give Bach’s life a political spin. The narration of the film consists in the letters of Bach’s wife, which are often concerned with the financial struggles and practical necessities they faced. Bach describes music as “the recreation of the soul.” Juxtaposing his transcendent compositions with dull practicalities suggests (brilliantly) the way such recreation can function as a response to alienation (in the Marxist sense).
I’ll refrain from commenting on the other two for now. They are extremely difficult, beautiful films. I’m going to do a deep dive into Straub-Huillet in coming months and revisit both of these along the way with more context.
Fernando Di Leo
Caliber 9, The Italian Connection, The Boss
Awesome poliziotteschi trilogy from Di Leo, who is best known in the US for his collaborations with Sergio Leone. These are tough, no nonsense crime movies. Caliber 9 is probably the best of the three. The Italian Connection is not far behind, with an awesome performance by Mario Adorf as hard-to-kill pimp Luca Canali. As the title might lead one to expect, it has an awesome chase scene. The Boss is also worthwhile if you like the other two.
Twentieth Century, Ball of Fire
I hadn’t seen Ball of Fire before! I don’t know how that happened, but I’m glad it did, because what a delight it was to watch this for the first time. It’s one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen. Gary Cooper as a dweeby intellectual and Barbara Stanwyck as a sexpot nightclub singer: you can’t beat it. Twentieth Century is an early (pre-code) screwball comedy with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard. There is *a lot* of yelling. It’s delightful.
The Rules of the Game, The Diary of a Chambermaid, Charleston Parade, The Testament of Dr. Cordelier, On purge bébé, Swamp Water, The Little Match Girl, Picnic on the Grass, The Elusive Corporal, Madame Bovary
I made significant progress on Renoir and revisited The Rules of the Game. All I have left are a few silents, a couple obscure early talkies, and Le Petit Théâtre de Jean Renoir, which I am saving for last. I will also revisit Grand Illusion and La Bête Humaine. With the obvious exception of Rules of the Game, most of the films I watched during this period are really for completists only (there are a lot of Renoir movies you should watch before these), but I would highly recommend Charleston Parade and Picnic on the Grass. Charleston Parade is a very potent 20 min short from 1927 about race. There is blackface, but the actor is actually black, so we can infer that the blackface is a deliberate provocation. Make sure you see it with a decent soundtrack. I found a version on YouTube under the French title (Sur un Air de Charleston) with some pretty awesome jazz. Picnic on the Grass is a Hawksian romp about indomitable forces breaking free of constraints. Renoir always likes to set things up in a relatively controlled and precise way and then let all hell break lose. This is arguably the Renoir work where the entropic arc is most directly related to the film’s themes. The Testament of Dr. Cordelier is his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and it’s great (and shockingly dark), but probably mostly of interest to people deep into Renoir. Madame Bovary is my least favorite Renoir so far. Valentine Tessier is godawful as Emma Bovary.
The Pornographers, Profound Desires of the Gods
I think I saw The Pornographers a long time ago, but I didn’t have much memory of it. It’s okay. The direction is on point, but I found the lurid theatrics wearisome by the end. It would have played better for me trimmed down to 90 minutes. The three-hour magnum opus Profound Desires of the Gods, on the other hand, I completely loved. It’s about the relationship between superstitious island folk and a mainland engineer who lives among them. It’s ambitious, bizarre, and captivating.
Secrets of a Soul, Pandora’s Box
Secrets of a Soul is basically a psychoanalysis infomercial about a guy with a compulsion to stab his wife. There are brilliant passages but the whole thing is weighed down by the framing. Pandora’s Box is an essential classic. It picks up a few elements directly from Secrets of a Soul but it’s a far more accomplished work. The direction and acting are exceptional but the narrative goes on an act or two too long. This was the inspiration for The Blue Angel.
Carl Theodor Dreyer
Ordet displays perhaps the most stunning mise-en-scène in the history of film. Gertrud is comparably masterful though not quite as transcendent.
Diary of a Chambermaid, The Milky Way
I rewatched Diary of a Chambermaid to compare to Renoir’s version, and there’s really no contest. Buñuel’s is by far the better film. The Milky Way is a fun heretical romp.
I spent a good deal of time with Hong Kong cinema, and it was a blast. It’s really important to watch these movies with the original audio and NOT the dubbed English versions. Lots of these are on Amazon Prime dubbed so it’s tempting, but don’t do it! These movies are not nearly as goofy as they come across dubbed. They are too good to watch in such a shamelessly mangled presentation.
Chang Cheh: The One-Armed Swordsman, Five Elements Ninjas
These are both immense delights. The One-Armed Swordsman is absolutely essential. Five Elements Ninjas is a late work and totally batshit.
Liu Chia-Liang: Executioners From Shaolin, Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
These films are all centerpieces of the genre. The 36th Chamber is perhaps the thematic high point, while Eight Diagram is the most visually electric, and Executioners from Shaolin the weirdest. Dirty Ho is also a key work—going to watch it tonight.
Johnnie To (in some cases with Wai Kai-Fai): The Mission, Lifeline, Police Tactical Unit, Loving You, Fulltime Killer, Too Many Ways to be No. 1, A Hero Never Dies
There are so many Johnnie To movies! I’ve seen a ton of them and I’ve been watching them at a pretty steady clip lately, but there are still so many more. These are all awesome. A Hero Never Dies completely blew my mind. It’s one of my favorite To movies. It’s about two absurdly unkillable assassins from rival gangs who form a friendship and seek revenge after being double crossed by their bosses on a trip to see a fortune teller in Thailand. I love it, I love it, I love it.
Police Tactical Unit is not the sweeping procedural I expected, but rather a taught thriller set in a single night about a cop who loses his gun and must recover it before the next day. It’s so good. Loving You is more of a drama, featuring an incredible Lau Ching-Wan performance. Lifeline is To’s answer to Backdraft. There’s just enough story to make you care whether the firefighters live or die and then it’s all action. Too Many Ways to be No. 1 has Wai Kai-Fai in the lead director position and it’s hyper-stylized and really fun. The Mission is classic heroic bloodshed and a great place to start with To. Fulltime Killer was my least favorite of this batch, but it’s worthwhile.
Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (Hark)
This is one of the greatest entries in the nihilistic youth self-destruction genre. Tsui Hark made some stinkers later in his career but this is an essential film.
City on Fire (Lam)
Heroic bloodshed classic. Chow Yun Fat is a cop who’s been undercover so long that he’s developed loyalties towards his criminal associates.
Come Drink With Me (Hu)
Every King Hu movie I’ve seen is fantastic, though I don’t like this one quite as much as Touch of Zen or Dragon Inn. I pre-ordered the Legend of the Mountain blu-ray.
Secret Beyond the Door, Moonfleet
These are both frickin’ great. Secret Beyond the Door is a labyrinth of lurid secrets (and yes, some of them are behind a door). Moonfleet is a Cinemascope pirate-smuggler adventure story. Lang’s use of the widescreen format is stunning.
Top Hat (Sandrich),The Gay Divorcee (Sandrich), Swing Time (Stevens), The Band Wagon (Minnelli)
I was needing some Fred Astaire. Always such a delight to revisit this stuff. The first three are 30’s classics with Ginger Rogers; The Band Wagon is a 50’s kaleidoscopic extravaganza. I hadn’t seen the Gay Divorcee before. It has a similar story and much of the same cast as Top Hat, but it’s not as good overall (though its big musical numbers are amazing). Astaire’s stalker behavior in Gay Divorcee doesn’t play very well in 2018. Swing Time is a classic, but I had forgotten there’s a jarring blackface interlude.
Erich Von Stroheim
(Image from Foolish Wives)
Foolish Wives, Blind Husbands, The Great Gabbo
Foolish Wives is comparable to Greed in its visionary grandeur, though not as well known. Blind Husbands is a slighter work but it’s a nice companion piece and there are some brilliant moments. The Great Gabbo is a very strange early talkie and Von Stroheim didn’t direct very much of it, but one scene is unmistakably his work. Von Stroheim plays a ventriloquist who talks to his dummy when no one is around. The movie is weighed down with excessive generic musical numbers but the madness of Von Stoheim’s performance is worth the price of admission.
(Image from Manoel’s Destinies)
Comedy of Innocence, Manoel’s Destinies
Ruiz made a ton of movies and not all of them are great. Comedy of Innocence is not great. Manoel’s Destinies, on the other hand, is perhaps his greatest work. It’s sadly unrestored, but a reasonable version of it is on youtube with the titles “Manoel part 1,” “Manoel part 2,” and “Manoel part 3.” It translates some of the ideas from Three Crowns of a Sailor and City of Pirates into a children’s fantasy. The mise-en-scène is transcendent. If I could choose one extant movie to be restored, this would be it. I love it.
Méditerranée, Le Horla
A couple short films from Pollet. Méditerranée was co-directed with Volker Schlöndorff. It’s an experimental film that examines the ways that memory and historical meaning overlay the landscape of the Mediterranean. It’s a powerful film that juxtaposes violent, disturbing images with ostensibly serene seascapes. It strongly influenced Godard. Le Horla is a psychological horror film based on Guy de Maupassant’s short story. It’s excellent.
Film Socialisme, For Ever Mozart, British Sounds, Wind from the East
Godard gets exceptionally challenging after 1967. These films are not supposed to be enjoyable. They range from hyper-didactic to inscrutable. British Sounds and Wind from the East are collaborations with the Vertov Group. Godard et al. set out to develop a militant, revolutionary cinema that rejected bourgeois representational norms. British Sounds is mercifully short. It starts out with footage of auto-factory workers and sounds of screeching metal, with Godard reading the Communist Manifesto as narration. It eventually gets into a critical look at student resistance. Wind from the East is a tough one to get through but it’s very interesting. Images that suggest a Western are accompanied with Maoist narration and stuff about a workers’ strike. The narrator explains throughout how the film is trying (and failing) to escape bourgeois cinematic idiom. It’s a distinctively French breed of nonsense that I found worthwhile, even if relentlessly excruciating. For Ever Mozart is a 90’s film about a theatre group that goes to war-torn Sarajevo to stage a play. It’s Godard’s treatise on the artist’s responsibilities with respect to atrocity. Film Socialisme is perhaps the most difficult of the lot, with its “Navajo subtitles” (Godard went through the subtitles and crossed off all the words that didn’t interest him, which was most of them) and experimental form. It contains a number of direct references to and even clips from Méditerranée, which one should certainly see beforehand. It is a predecessor to Goodbye to Language, which is a little easier to engage with. Most people will hate Film Socialisme.
Yakuza Papers series: Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Hiroshima Death Match, Proxy War, Police Tactics, Final Episode
Finally watched the entire original Yakuza Papers series. It’s singular and totally exhausting. The entire thing is at a breakneck pace, with a legion of characters to keep track of and constantly shifting conflicts and alliances. Battles Without Honor and Humanity is an origin story for series protagonist Shozo Hirono (played by the great Bunta Sugawara). Hiroshima Death Match is somewhat disconnected. It’s a cautionary tale, charting the rise and fall of a Hiroshima gangster. The last three films form a connected sequence. Proxy War is something else. Most of the action is elided through the news-report narration and the focus is on the various yakuza factions reacting to elided events and plotting their reprisals. When the violence boils over at the end we get some of Fukasaku’s boldest, most abstract compositions. As the title suggests, Police Tactics focuses on law enforcement strategies. Whereas the previous films build up tension and then boil over, here we begin and end in all out warfare. The Final Episode is my personal favorite. The series started with a group of young upstarts who had fought in WWII overthrowing the old guard. The primary theme—typical for Japanese films about the post-war period—is the degradation of codes of honor due to the necessities of self-preservation. By the last film, the survivors of this original gang have become the grizzled old guard. Gang warfare has reached a new level of senselessness and savagery and they are faced with the crushing irony that they have finally learned the value of human life through two generations of slaughter.
Tropical Malady, Syndromes and a Century
I saw Tropical Malady when it came out and had trouble getting into it. I haven’t followed Weerasethakul since, though I’ve always been curious to give him another shot. I still found this stuff pretty dull. There are great moments in the first half of Tropical Malady, and the second half is quite good, but I give the film overall an unenthusiastic, marginally positive review. Syndromes and a Century does something interesting with its narrative, but I just found it to be insurmountably boring.
Phantom Thread (Anderson)
I didn’t like it as much as Josh did. P.T. Anderson has finally developed some restraint, and the film is at its best in its elegant passages, particularly the ones that focus on the dresses. It needs a bit more restraint, though: flourishes like the camera on the back of the car distract from the film’s ethereal aesthetic. I am also totally over Daniel Day Lewis. Looking back over his career, I wish he had stopped after Gangs of New York. My tolerance for this breed of method acting is getting very low. I found him distracting.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Zahler)
Who knew Vince Vaughn would turn out to be the closest thing we have to Lee Marvin?
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Johnson)
Second viewing. I understood better why people don’t like the Finn and Rose subplot but I still really love the movie overall. I’ve heard people complain about the fact that Holdo doesn’t just tell everyone her plan up front, but it was totally clear to me why: she’s sick of having her authority constantly questioned and undermined and refuses to entertain what she takes to be condescension. This time through the sexual tension between Rey and Kylo stood out to me more. I’m interested to see if they follow through on that in a way that lives up to its promise.
Looking Glass (Hunter)
Tim Hunter’s first movie in a while. A sleazy hotel voyeur thriller with a really fun Nic Cage performance.
Faces Places (Varda and JR)
Eh, it was okay. Josh liked it a lot better than I did.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (McDonagh)
This is the worst movie I’ve seen in a while. Woody Harrelson is good, but that just made me hate it more for wasting his performance. The writing, the score and most of the acting are wretchedly awful. Frances McDormand is doing “Fargo, but bad.”
The Lure (Smoczynska)
Polish horror movie about mermaid strippers. Not as good as it sounds.
Logan Lucky (Soderbergh)
The master of the heist returns to the genre, with a John Denver twist and Channing Tatum. I thought it was awesome.
XxX: The Return of Xander Cage (Caruso)
Thank you for this. I’m so sick of overserious, shitty Jason Bourne action movies. This is the good stuff. Look at the cast. It’s a shameless global marketing ploy, where we get stars from all sorts of major world markets (Donnie Yen! ), but wow is it fun.
In an early scene, Vin Diesel skies down a snowless jungle mountain. Nina Dobrev (from my beloved Vampire Diaries) is cast as the equivalent of Q from James Bond. She plays it as a lascivious nerd and she is soooooo funny. I give up on describing it, but suffice to say that you probably won’t like this if you dislike Vin Diesel, but anyone with a healthy appreciation for his work is in for a treat.
Ready Player One (Spielberg)
It’s certainly not as bad as some of the backslash suggests. The referentiality is often tiresome, but this is a blast as spectacle. Spielberg schools the contemporary action genre on how to use 3d as an aesthetic resource.
Justice League (Snyder)
Not good, not terrible. It does have Jason Momoa and does not have Robert Downy Jr, so on that basis alone I liked it better than most Marvel studios movies. But I’m not really the guy to comment on this stuff, as I don’t like any of it very much.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Lanthimos)
I enjoyed this quite a bit. The soundtrack is tremendous. The film is perhaps the blackest comedy of all time. It’s so dark that one feels like one isn’t permitted to laugh.
The Florida Project (Baker)
Hated it. I’m not someone with a high tolerance for the ambient sounds of misbehaving neighbor kids, and this is basically wall-to-wall misbehaving neighbor kids. It’s too annoying for me to appreciate the cinematography. The ending is godawful.
Lady Bird (Gerwig)
I wish people hadn’t hyped this quite so much. My expectations were too high. It’s a nice movie.
Wonder Wheel (Allen)
Wonder Wheel is pretty good. He finally directly examines the beginning of his relationship with Soon Yi (albeit with some transpositions that present the situation more favorably than others might present it). The photography is gorgeous.
Je t’aime moi non plus (Gainsbourg)
This is a classic of queer cinema, directed by the crooner Serge Gainsbourg and starring his then lover Jane Birkin as a gender non-conforming bartender who falls for gay garbage truck driver Joe Dallesandro. The sexuality in the film is frank and the direction is surprisingly adept.
India: Matri Bhumi (Rossellini)
This is a masterpiece. I was initially resistant because of all the stuff early on about Indian people living in harmony with nature and religious tolerance. The film goes in surprising directions, however. It becomes a fractured examination of modernity spreading through the landscape. After pondering for some time, the reading I landed on is that the initial idyllic characterization of India is not endorsed by the film but rather is a starting point to critique and dismantle. Interestingly, this film seems like it may have been the primary influence for Malick’s The Thin Red Line.
I don’t love Orpheus quite as much as Beauty and the Beast, but it’s a treasure. It sets the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in contemporary Paris. The transitions between Hades and the world of the living are pure magic.
Punishment Park (Watkins)
Angry Nixon-era indictment of government fascism that plays damn relevant today.
The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophüls)
I finally watched this! It’s great! At the time when it was made, the occupied period was a taboo subject in France, and Ophüls pulls all the skeletons out of the closet. He finds three basic stances that his fellow citizens adopted towards the occupation: resistance (often motivated by indignation more than international solidarity), avoidance (people who tried to just look after their own interests and stay out of it), and collaboration(people who tried to maximize their own advantage by working with the Nazis). He filmed some remarkable interviews. The Sorrow and the Pity is horrifying in 2018.
Wrong Cops (Dupieux)
Forgettable cop comedy in the vein of Super Troopers
Lola Montès (Ophüls)
A gorgeous color masterpiece that interweaves the biography of a famous courtesan with a circus performance.
Song to Song (Malick)
Third viewing. I’ve heard people reference Adam and Eve, but I realized this is wrong. It is definitely correct that Fassbender’s character is Lucifer (the film explicitly refers to him as the devil), but the story isn’t the Garden of Eden, it’s Faust. One of the things that slightly bothered me on the second viewing was the romantic idealism, but once I realized it was Faust I liked that part much better.
Trash Humpers (Korine)
Aesthetic nihilism. I certainly didn’t enjoy it. It played for me like a reductio ad absurdum of post-modern theories of art.
Castle Freak (Gordon)
Nasty little gem for Stuart Gordon fans. It’s not his best work, but it’s enjoyable.
The sequel is getting so much attention that I peeped this on Netflix. I hated it. There’s a CGI talking bear and it’s a shameless Wes Anderson rip off.
If you want to see a lurid, uptempo 50’s Mexican melodrama that alternates tropical fruit hat musical numbers and menacing Fritz Lang riffs, this is your movie.