Saturday, March 21, 2020

letterboxd backup (27)

Ciao maschio, Marco Ferreri, 1978

Gerard Depardieu as a brotherless, aimless Harpo Marx adrift in a strangely depopulated New York. No one is at home, here - the interiors never feel lived in, just as the exteriors never feel like public spaces. A world invaded and paralyzed by props.

The general air of weirdness, the jabs at popular culture, the casting of a porn star opposite Depardieu and Mastroianni: all of these are less punkish gestures than vessels for melancholia in one of the more interesting post 68 films. Social cohesion has been lost, irrevocably (the only collective project depicted in the film: how to experience rape), but the various retreats into private fantasy are being blocked, too.

In the end, masculinity, lost in its own perversions and mirrorings, burns down, while female, natural fertility lives on. This opposition probably is very much in line with Ferreri's worldview, but, in this film at least, the vitalist last minute solution doesn't feel utopian at all, but rather like just another dead end.

The Bounty, Roger Donaldson, 1984

"...and civilized men we shall die."

Bounty 84 is no longer a naive, straightforward adventure tale, but not yet a postmodern reappropriation. Donaldson tries for a more serious tone, and he also constantly suppresses politics in favour of interpersonal drama. The result is surprisingly dull for quite some time, this only gets affecting toward the end, when the death drive takes over.

Shakma, Hugh Parks, 1990

A bunch of badly dressed people lock themselves into an ugly building in order to play an extremely dorky game not even they themselves have any real interest in. Except for some decidedly awkward sexual tension here and there, they also don`t care much for each other. So, this really is the perfect, most realistic film about academia ever - even before a mad monkey turns up and rips everyone into shreds.

Tanya´s Island, Alfred Sole, 1980

As much as I admire the intuition to combine the genres of female given name erotica and monkey suit trash... aside from the intriguing prolog this really is a terrible bore.

Trog, Freddie Francis, 1970

One of the more fascinating ape movie finds. By 1970, the missing link theme probably already felt pretty outdated. The monster design, too, is beyond ridiculous, but both Frances and Crawford still double down on all of this by taking the premise extremely seriously. His direction is as sober and methodical as her performance is committed. She`s like a flower hell-bent on making the world a more colourful place. The opposing force, Michael Gough`s eloquent fundamentalism, is very well articulated, too. Everyone here has a one-track mind, maybe even a bit too much so, but the melodramatic ending still carries some weight.

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, William Beaudine, 1952

Like a single, long nightclub act, not really funny but always pleasant, a bit boring but smooth enough in the right company. Petrillo might`ve been better suited channelling Joe E. Brown than Lewis, his performance does feel desperate at times; and Mitchell is surprisingly sleazy for a 50s crooner. Drugged out Lugosi and the static mise-en-scene (not without a few surprising moments of elegance, though - like the scene of Petrelli and the gorilla rhythmically walking up and down) perfectly complement each other. The true highlight is Charlita, though, in what seems to be one of her very few non-bit parts. She really seems to enjoy every second she`s on screen.

Congo, Frank Marshall, 1995

Not particularly good, but still probably a bit underrated. For about an hour everything flows quite well in its crude ways - much closer in spirit to 30s / 40s pulp b-films / serials than anything Spielberg or Lucas ever did. Crichton`s might even be better served by Congo`s slapdash rapid-fire approach than by Jurassic Park`s winking smartness. The cast is mostly good, too (even Walsh has his moments) and it's one of guess rather few films with a female ape suit artist... Unfortunately it mostly changes gear after the discovery of the hidden city and turns into just another bland, chaotic blockbuster.

Piazza Vittorio, Abel Ferrara, 2017

"I'm not a journalist, I'm a filmmaker. Big difference."

Gorillas in the Mist, Michael Apted, 1988

Basically all non-ape scenes are dull and the politics are at least somewhat dubious... but if Sigourney Weaver laying her head down on moss and stretching out her hand, in order to make contact with a gorilla isn't cinema, I don't know what is.

Ratcatcher, Lynne Ramsay, 1999

Finds enough small wonders on a beaten path to make one wish it would've strayed just a little bit further.

Blonde Venus, Josef von Sternberg, 1932

Pretty much perfect and perhaps the clearest evidence that Sternberg isn't interested in the ornamental for its own sake. His cinema strives for (and maybe only in this film truly achieves) an aesthetic equlibrium in which a homeless shelter is just as spectacular and intricate a space as a fancy nightclub. Dietrich on the other hand is the unstable element, the shapeshifter, the decentering of every gaze. But she also introduces a sense of tragedy, a real weight this world of smoke and layers otherwise would never be able to acquire. Through her, it almost becomes tangible, like the turning figurines in the beyond beautiful (and, like the whole film, very Ophulsian) last shot.

6 Underground, Michael Bay, 2019

I guess it took Bay to transform Ryan Reynolds's passive-aggressive, misanthropic quips into an aesthetic force.

Max mon amour, Nagisa Oshima, 1986

The making and unmaking of a mental image. On one level a "biting satire", granted, but on another, more interesting level it's a gentle, generous, optimistic film about learning to live with a non-neurotic curiosity about the world and its feminin secrets. Also, one of the very films I've seen so far (CONGO is another one) with a female ape suit performer. She's very good.

Being John Malkovich, Spike Jonze, 1999

I'll probably always dislike the indiewood films of this era... although I might be getting a bit more tolerant. I still can't stand clever scripts buried in cuteness, but maybe that's also a form of honesty: MALKOVICH might be, at heart, about a need for cuteness overwhelming all other intentions, good or bad, about a desperate wish for the world to be cute. That might be a starting point. It is also about sex, which automatically makes it better than most other films of its kind.

Bob Roberts, Tim Robbins, 1992

Suffers from polemical overreach (see especially Rickman's and Esposito's characters), but its surprisingly rich in detail, especially about the inner workings of media. Robbins's performance is excellent.

Scarlet Diva, Asia Argento, 2000

Asia Argento, love child of Abel Ferrara and Klaus Lemke.

Unstrung Heroes, Diane Keaton, 1995

Has a sense of place (those narrow staircases in the family home... while the stairs in the psychiatric ward look like something out of a lavish 30s musical) and not much more. No control of performance, especially, everyone's set in his or her usual routine. Michael Richards didn't even get a haircut when driving over from the Seinfeld stage.

Miele, Valeria Golino, 2013

Floats by without registering much, even though Jasmine Trinca is a pretty awesome bodily presence. The way she leans on things, slightly awkward but also sportive, with a constant body tension not visible on first sight. The central relationship is interesting in theory, too: two people stabilizing each other but at the same time seperating themselves even more from the world. What's missing is a sense of orgency that goes beyond the level of the drawing board script. Its also too clean and too white and the cinematographer is way too fond of certain scope framing tricks like filming parts of a face in close-up and opening up the rest of the frame.

Lost River, Ryan Gosling, 2014

The Malick parts are better than the Refn parts. While it's beyond obvious that LOST RIVER is only the simulation of an original work, this doesn't matter all that much because cinema is made up of small sensations and a film that, for once, really makes use of Christine Hendricks's gothic 19th century gingerness already is on my good side.

Little Women, Greta Gerwig, 2019

Only truly comes alive during a not quite hour-long stretch in the middle, when the dramatic stakes are heightened and the weaker ensemble scenes make way for more intimate stuff, often filmed in symmetrical long shots, quietly oppressing but never crossing over into suffocating arthouse formalism. Fred's proposal to Amy, like a paper cut-out, Jo and Beth sitting on the beach with the sand drifting away from them, toward the camera. The latter is also one of the few moments in which the non-linear storytelling pays off, because it feels like an immediate reflex, an answer to emotional pain, and not, like in most other scenes, like simply doubling down on the point the film wants to make.

A few other scenes are beautiful, too... Gerwig is too good a director to not occasionally turn those storylines into somehing affecting. Also, like in the much better LADYBIRD, she knows how to make use of a limited colour palette and the cast is, unsurprisingly, great. (My favorite might be, strangely enough, Watson, but then again I also liked Meg best in the LeRoy version.)

It's just not a very Gerwig film. To make sure I don't sound like a broken record: The problem isn't the "woke rewriting". While some lines like the one about the north also profiting from the system of slavery might be a bit much, the enhanced focus on Jo's professional and private frustrations is perfectly grounded in both the material and Ronan's performance. It's more about the way this gives in to tired oscar bait movie conventions like the montage sequence when Jo finally writes her book; generally there's no real sense of the passing of time. And it's also a bit about Gerwig's fondness for showy dramaturgic tricks that even bugged me in LADYBIRD. Then, it was the mother circling the airport in the end, here it's the dream sequence. Might be an unfair and stupid perspective, but to me Gerwig is just a bit too comfortable with the textures and limitations of the kind of quality cinema she's drifting into.

The Last of the Mohicans, Michael Mann, 1992

Behind the waterfall, we will see. As if an early romantic painter had discovered cinema per chance, mastered it immediately and then, after having been told the history of the indian wars by several unreliable eyewitnesses, transformed it, with the help of a doped-up organ player, into a fantasmagoric animated picture scroll about the death of a nation (and a few small hints about the birth of a new one).

I had forgotten and probably never really known how absolutely perfect this is. Michael Mann mobilizing all the forces of classic cinema, thereby freeing himself to move beyond it. Although if you ask me today, this just has to be his findest hour. Saw it in 35mm, which I'm afraid once again is a must or at least a grace.

Wilde Maus, Josef Hader, 2017

Pretty wonderful for a while: a relaxed urban comedy, distantly evoking 70s Woody Allen. Directed so smoothly, you'd think that Hader has done this since forever. At first, the script feels unconsequential in the best of ways, as the film is completely driven by performance and both Hader / Hierzegger and Hader / Friedrich work perfectly together (most of the supporting actors can't keep up, though).

Unfortunately, this isn't enough to make an impact in the marketplace Hader is shooting for, and it also wouldn't be very austrian, I guess, so the film just has to take a heavy, existential, "meaningful" term and this, predictably, doesn't lead to a pleasant place. Still, the first 30 minutes alone put it way above most of the austrian festival hits I've seen over the years.

Le Gout des autres, Agnes Jaoui, 2000

Everyone has his or her neat little problems and when we dim them all down even further, to an equal, acceptable level and put a bit of Schubert in between we have a neat little french arthouse film. When played straight, like here, that's probably one of the least interesting genres there is, but there are some small pleasures, Chabat for example is rather interesting, oblique in a Richard Gere way.

The Age of Innocence, Martin Scorsese, 1993

They are beautiful enough in themselves, but for once I'm not sure whether all those Scorsese flourishes ultimately work for or against the movie. The lighthouse flashback at the end, with the waves of memory overflowing the image, would've probably hit much harder if the film had shown more restraint earlier when it comes to painterly effects. The textures of bourgeoise art aren't as flexible as the textures of pulp (see CAPE FEAR), they lend themselves to stuffiness far more easily.

All this doesn't matter, of course, when Michelle Pfeiffer sprawls out on the coach, opening herself up for Day-Lewis's kiss.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Tommy Lee Jones, 2005

Tommy Lee Jones directs his first film and it's like an old master's work, relaxed and self-assured, playful and poetic. The script might be too smart for its own good at times, but the way the nonlinear, meandering americana beginning organically flows into a folksy existentialist epic is just marvellous. Wellmanesque.

Little Man Tate, Jodie Foster, 1991

Foster's scenes with Hamm-Byrd are so wonderful, they overshadow everything else, which is mostly a good thing.

Ma femme est une actrice, Yvan Attal, 2001

Male hetero neuroses treated both naively and playfully. Like a Hong film, but directed by an unassuming fratboy, and also very french and featuring Charlotte Gainsbourg. Unfortunately, this sounds way more interesting than the film actually is.

Ordinary People, Robert Redford, 1980

Redford is an interesting director and in some scenes like the bowling alley date with Elizabeth McGovern or Mary Tyler Moore's breakdown on the golf court this shines through, but most of it is pretty heavy handed. When it works it works because of the cast.

‘...più forte ragazzi!’, Giuseppe Colizzi, 1972
Not necessarily one of the more inventive or more serious Spencer / Hill films, but they are still full of energy, the anarchistic streak is rather pronounced, the Oliver Onions title track is extremely smooth and, perhaps most surprisingly, there's quite a bit of seventies widescreen style.

Il traditore, Marco Bellocchio, 2019

Hard not to place IL TRADITORE next to THE IRISHMAN (if only because they're the two best films of 2019), but the comparison probably doesn't make much sense. This one isn't about a moral reckoning, but about a man choosing his own dance of death.

The Monster Maker, Sam Newfield, 1944

As far as signs of devilish mischief in horror films go, fingers too thick to play the piano may be one of my favorites so far. Also, C. Carrol Naish and Tala Birell make for a beautiful mad scientist couple.

Knives Out, Rian Johnson, 2019

People seem to be extremely generous with this; I mostly couldn't relate, though. Johnson is nerdy enough to construct a few nice mise-en-abyme whodunit mechanics, but he never transforms them into an engaging whole. Stylized mysteries like this only work when they're done with a certain nihilistic irreverence, a willingness to take risks with the characters (this is especially true when your film stretches out over 130 minutes instead of 65). Here the mystery is not about unsettling the world, but about "revealing" it, ie about letting it fall in line with preconceived notions. Also, Daniel Craig is grotesquely miscast, and except for Toni Collette and Don Johnson everyone else is underwhelming, too. I didn't even care for Michael Shannon and I always care for Michael Shannon.

Judy, Rupert Goold, 2019

Nothing against Zellwegger who is an honest-to-goodness showwoman trying to make the best out of a dire script and a general lack of imagination... but there's really nothing going on here, just go watch the Dalida biopic instead, you won't regret it.

Una primavera, Valentina Primavera, 2019

The patriarchy as witnessed from the passenger seat. Holds up on second viewing.

Just Like Weather, Allen Fong, 1986

Marriage as a constant negotiation about which dead end to pursue... and still, there's beauty along the way, once in a while.

The promised land, wherever that may be, seems to be just one phonecall away, but that phonecall will never work out. What's left are his dreams and her diversions. He wants to leave everything behind, she's constantly surrounded by pets and stuffed animals.

The pick-up lines of the sleazy veterinarian...

Girls of the Night, Kinuyo Tanaka, 1961

Life after prostitution. Breaking away from sex work is hard because of prejudice, and even more so because once you experienced it you recognize the pattern that come with it everywhere. Still, what gets me is not the eternal sameness of suffering, but Kuniko's abilty to adapt (this feels closer to Sumie Tanaka's scripts for Naruse than to Kinuyo Tanaka's work with Mizoguchi). When inserted into a farcical family melodrama she turns into a cheeky seductress, when thrown into exploitation hell she goes down kicking and screaming, the roses of romance make her bloom.

Very well made, a film of long shots punctured by close-ups that hit like bricks.

Hitler- Dead Or Alive, Nick Grinde, 1942

As dull as this unfortunately is for most of its running time, a poverty row film filled with wonderful character actors about an american businessman enlisting the mob in order to kill Hitler will never get less than three stars from me.

Konga, John Lemont, 1961

A film about looking, as engaging as it is clumsy. Starting with the premise (an ape monster as the missing link between animals and plants?) nothing really fits, but the stiffness of the presentation lends it an almost hypnotic feel. Both the carnivorous plants (one of them looks like a wobbly rubber dick with a tongue attached to it) and the ape costume are extremely absurd and treated with a touching earnestness perfectly in line with Michael Gough's seemingly endless monologues. Once the rampage starts, the film doesn't speed up but slows down, mainly because every tiny bit of monster action is drowned in a sea of statuesque, somber reaction shots (my favorite shot in the film: a group of men turning their heads like spectators of a tennis match - while observing the monster smashing the evil scientist to death). The climax is completely static: Konga standing next to Big Ben, waiting stoically for the military to take him down.

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