Wednesday, February 19, 2020

letterboxd backup (14)

Antiporno, Sion Sono, 2016

conceptually, this runs out of steam even before the first twist, but somehow it coasts along on its gimmicks and some interesting performances.

Sign of the Pagan, Douglas Sirk, 1954

Hm, I liked this one much less the second time around. This almost never happens as normally, in my experience, films only get better with each fewing. Maybe the bad German dubbing is to blame, but besides a few shots with awesome, shadowy production design, there isn’t much joy, here. Tcherina is completely miscast (her sexless dance scene is an abomination) while Rita Gam’s character, by far the best thing in this, is pushed to the sidelines.

The discourse about unreadable signs and self-fulfilling prophecies is interesting only in theory, Sirk never manages to bring it alive.

Magnificent Obsession, Douglas Sirk, 1954

I always forget how long it takes for them to arrive in Switzerland, because this is where the film really takes off.

The FBI Story, Mervyn LeRoy, 1959

An extremely elaborate production, the Oklahoma scene especially is almost absurdly stuffed with extras and scenery, the South America scene is a beautiful, poetic pulp miniature, the New York scene in the end tries to take in the totality of the city...

Unfortunately, the episodic adventure stuff and the family melodrama never quite coalesce. While Stewart shines in both professional and private life, Vera Miles gets only one good scene - right in the beginning, the kiss between the bookshelves.

All in all, not quite THE LONG GRAY LINE, but still an impressive example of conservative counter-modernism.

Toward the Unknown, Mervyn LeRoy, 1956

Turns out the real unknown is man’s heart... ok, not quite, because the film never really explores its own existentialist underpinnings, but still, the most interesting thing about this is the way the fragile self-images of both Holden and Nolan are externalized and thereby somewhat, but never completely stabilized in the fixation on aviation technology. Correspondingly, the flight scenes aren’t metaphorical equivalents of psychological developments, but a realm of "objective" sensations that only accidentally fill a psychic need. (On the other hand: When Holden’s plane catches the parachute of Nolan’s plane with its own jet engine, this is the closest to an airplane on airplane sex scene I have ever seen. Not even Sternberg went that far in JET PILOT.)

Anyway, this is once again an impressively stylized production. LeRoy seems to be much more in control than in most of his MGM films. The only problem is, also once again, that the female element is subdued. Vivian Leith is not to blame, her performance is a bit irritating but irritating in an interesting way - she never quite stops smiling, no matter how desperate a situation she’s in, the smile never feels forced, though, but rather like an infinite mimic ressource somewhat detached from her interiority. I especially liked her early dance scene with Holden, the way her hand tries out different kinds of grips on his back, as if trying and failing to define their relationship gesturally. Unfortunately it becomes clear pretty soon that she is even more wasted by the script than Miles in THE FBI STORY. Not even the perennial wife and mother to come home to once in a while, but a perennial wife and mother in waiting.

Strange Days, Kathryn Bigelow, 1995

Watched this only for the confetti in the end this time, but of course I had to take in the whole experience again.

Only one bad moment: The depressing realization at the beginning that this, too, probably is a Disney film now.

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Jack Sholder, 1985

Queer nightmares in rusty steeltown America. A film not terribly interested in sorting out its own confusions, and this somehow gives it its strength.

Das langsame Leben, Angela Schanelec, 2001

Schanelec's most rounded film (and probably still my favorite, give or take ICH WAR ZUHAUSE, ABER), a summer, a wedding, a funeral. Some of the most beautiful tracking shots of this millenium. The Michael Sideris scene towards the end is the kind of disgression that speaks for the fundamental openness of her films.

Blow Out, Brian De Palma, 1981

Loses nothing. Still a blast from start to finish and one of the few "smart movies" that really are smart, because its various layers of irony keep playing against each other.

The crucial one might not be the substitution of the political symbolic with the real of cinema, but the organic, well-rounded feel of the whole thing: All the beats we expect of a conspiracy thriller are there, John Travolta goes through all the right epistemical, emotional and iconic motions... but still, all we really see is the successful editing process of something called "Coed Frenzy".

Of course, the general air of griminess and sleaziness is just as important. Plus, Nancy Allen is amazing, this could've so easily turned into a strained stunt performance but with her it is pure vulnerability.

Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, Boris Rytsarev, 1967

Can't relate to the humour, that comes with a subdued sadistic edge, but the dreamlike minimalism of the psychedelic dollhouse production design is marvellous.

A Thousand and One Nights, Alfred E. Green, 1945

Just about as dull as a technicolor studio film about a thousand and one nights story can be. Meaning that, while most of it is static and unimaginative at best and extremely annoying at worst (the tradition of the pop-culture-savvy sidekick should've died with Phil Silvers, he already nailed all the worst traits of it), there are also moments of supreme, silly beauty, most of them having to do with the princess (Adele Jergens, who wears an absurd headgear at one time that makes her look like a unicorn), her servant (Dusty Anderson, the only highlight among the cast) and her handmaidens prancing around in the castle's garden.

The Fury, Brian de Palma, 1978

Maybe the purest De Palma film, because this is, in a way, only about perception as a deformation of the world, ie a film about the core of the De Palma image without any distractions. A manifesto of cinematic antirealism detached not only from all conventional notions of a well-made movie, but also from most of De Palma's secondary fetishes.

Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed, Lotte Reiniger, 1926

I'm intrigued by the seemingly natural promiscuity of these slim, elegant, untiring figures.

La nuit americaine, Francois Truffaut, 1973

As a Leaud and Bisset comedy this is very nice, everything else feels strangely noncommitted.

Cat Effekt, Gustavo Jahn, Melissa Dullius, 2018

filter effect "avantgarde": on

The Bonfire of the Vanities, Brian De Palma, 1990

Favorite rewatch moment: F. Murray Abraham’s freak-out about Park Avenue WASP’s in front of the city plan, a perfect, dance-like comedy miniature easily transcending its rather stale satirical function, like something out of a Mel Brooks film.

And a random thought triggered by the film’s obsession with verticality: it’s a shame De Palma didn’t get the chance to make a 3d film during the post AVATAR craze.

Doubles vies, Olivier Assayas, 2018

Might be Assayas’s darkest. A film about people on the verge of realizing that the language they speak has already regressed into pure reflex. In response, they desperately, helplessly, clumsily cling to each other.

A Dog´s Journey, Gail Mancuso, 2019

Nothing like the enjoyably bonkers first one. Positively vile at times. Still, towards the end, there are a few heartbreaking scenes I can`t distance myself from.

Scarface, Brian de Palma, 1983

Probably my least favorite among the major De Palma’s, but it nevertheless clearly is major. Technically, it’s every bit as accomplished as his other 80s films, with the Mise en scene for once structured around set design and choreographed movements more than around the camera gaze, but no less fractured because of it.

There’s just too much Oliver Stone stupidity in the script, though. It wears me down.

The Dead Don´t Die, Jim Jarmusch, 2019

A scene early in the film: After the first zombie attack, three cops visit the scene of the crime, a diner. One after the other, they take a look at the bodies of the victims, afterwards they walk out of the room to join their colleagues. While they try - and to varying degrees manage - to regain composure, reflections of the cop car's blue light are visible in the diner's window.

A scene late in the film: We are inside the stuck cop car with the zombies roaming behind the windscreen, grey specters illuminated by the blue light, a lightshow of the undead. The same three cops are watching them, each of them slowly solidifiying his/her own conclusion.

This has been described as rather tired and I get why. At times it feels less like a Jarmusch film than like the work of a less ambitious, but also less pretentious director wanting to shoot a "Jarmusch-like zombie film". This also means that Jarmusch sceptics (like me) might enjoy it much more than most of his other films.

This mostly seems to be about reiterating the Romero zombie tropes almost point for point, while delaying response time and thereby introducing an aesthetic difference that can take several forms, but is most effective when it stays on the level of basic, playfull stuff like those weird colour effects.

Spends a lot of time registering Chloë Sevigny's despair.

Orly, Angela Schanelec, 2010

Some moments of supreme beauty and the Jirka Zett stuff is perfect, but I don't think the episodic style fits Schanelec, and the very thing everybody celebrated back in 2010 - the on location telephoto work - lends it at times an artisanal, precious look absent in her other films. A road not taken, and rightly so.

Wake Me When It´s Over, Mervyn LeRoy, 1960

Another overlong military comedy portraying the army as a chaotic system of bureaucratic rules blind to each other and to reason. This one, unfortunately, is completely unfunny for most its runtime, even when Kovacs is on the screen, who at least always seems to be bursting with good-natured excitement. The potentially risque material is handled clumsily, even the attempts to defuse the more sexual aspects are done in the least elegant way and all of it makes one long for the italian comedies of the same time.

The steely surprise movie of LeRoy's filmography.

Long Shot, Jonathan Levine, 2019

The Rogen vanity stuff got on my nerves even after a few minutes, most of the more explicit political maneuverings are downright embarrasing (the wokeness overkill especially, but the few attempts to balance it out with laissez-faire-centrism also are clumsy at best) and unfortunately there are quite a few other weaknesses, most of them just part of the territory of american mainstream filmmaking these days: the beyond stupid action scene in the Philippines, the overuse of pop songs etc.

All of this can't hide the fact, though, that, at the core, this is a surprisingly well-made romantic comedy, best when raunchy, beautifully acted especially by Theron (she has the easier part, admittedly - starting out with an elegance score of 98, each cute "misstep" will almost automatically work in her favor by way of humanizing her; still, a very good, coolly nuanced performance), and directed with more intelligence than I had expected from the man who made WARM BODIES. As off as this film is when it comes to concrete politics, its romance plotline does play into questions about visibility and privacy, so the setting isn't completely arbitrary.

Having said all that, any film that wastes Lisa Kudrow on a single scene clearly doesn't have its priorities straight.

Home Before Dark, Mervyn LeRoy, 1958

Jean Simmons and her blonde helmet... A magnificently high-strung melodrama, fueled by pop-psychology of the more pragmatic, not quite Freudian kind - no secret beyond the door, just a bunch of people fucking each other up. Instead of just fucking; even the wannabe-adulterers are virtually sexless. Its real strength isn't the potboiler material, but its grounding in a patient depiction of a broken marriage. The extreme coldness of the man and the mental instability of the woman are in a way only pretexts for all of those long, painfull scenes depicting two people who still share a house, and sometimes a room, but no longer a life.

It's a bit similar in style to THE BAD SEED, but HOME BEFORE DARK is at the same time more controlled in terms of performance (Simmons is a marvel, of course, but O'Herlihy is also extremely good, one of the best weak man performances of the 50s) and more fluid in terms of visuals. The use of close-ups is especially effective - the way they go beyond iconic effect, because LeRoy manages to integrate them into the overall fabric of the film, mainly, I think, by ways of movements along the z-axis. There's a reflexive, malleable quality to the shots absent in a lot of the more stylized films of the era.

L´histoire d´Adele H., Francois Truffaut, 1975

Painterly. Seriously, this is what a film shot by Degas might have looked like.

Body Double, Brian De Palma, 1984

Maybe it's better to stay in the grave.

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