Wednesday, July 14, 2021

last week in letterboxd

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, Radu Jude, 2021

The last third really is funny and might also be the best cinematic approximation of a seriously fucked-up twitter thread I have ever seen; aside from that, though, this mostly feels like a severe case of arthouse edgelord syndrome. The almost universal acclaim this received this February, even from some of the usually most reliable bullshit detectors on this site, feels quite irritating; maybe it really comes down to lockdown fatigue.

Ete 85, Francois Ozon, 2021

Nice Ozon film, everyting's slightly subdued, but twisted in a gentle, unassuming way (no earth-shattering revelations here, stuff like suddenly realizing that you might've always been in love with a corpse is just part of the ongoing, everday construction of self); in a way, even the title is a twist, because for the most part, this doesn't play out at all like you think a film called "Sommer of 85" would, and still, the very last line suddenly throws us back into a (subverted) coming-of-age paradigm.

Wonderful production design, too.

Frustration, Jose Benazeraf, 1971

Janine Reynaud just needs to open her hair and I'm in heaven.

Zatoichi at Large, Kazuo Mori, 1972

Probably an attempt to return the series to a more routine beat after the gimmicky last few installments. Unfortunately, the script feels a bit too much like a leftover compilation from previous entries, starting with a repetition of the babysitter formula. The showdown, introducing a new, grim, almost horror adjacent form of violence to the series, lends it some relevance, though. Also it's a nice touch that this has a character whose main purpose is calling Zatoichi out for being a killer - and because he's a kid, Ichi just has to bear it without ever reacting. Just wish this was a bit better developed.

Night Eyes, Jag Mundhra, 1990

Had forgotten about the art scene setting. Even in the spatial and philosophical center of the film, the security guards' control room, there are various artworks of varying quality displayed on the wall, right next to all of those monitors. So when Will Griffith wonders: "I thought we were supposed to protect her, not spy on her", what he really strives for might be the detached yet savoring perspective of the true aesthete.

All We Had, Katie Holmes, 2016

A shame that this has a truly terrible script, and features an especially cringy voice-over that manages to double down on the botched dramaturgy by insisting that what we just witnessed really has been an important life lesson (like when Katie's daughter manages to develop, get rid of and contemplate on a drug problem - over the course of a timespan of five minutes tops) ... because Katie's direction isn't half bad, especially when it comes to building everyday social situations inside a Diner or around somewhat awkward encounters with one's neighbors. Also, there really still is (or at least was, in 2016) quite a bit of Joey Potter in her, somewhere: everytime she cuts to a close-up of herself, something interesting (if sometimes also slightly awkward) happens ... and as it turns out, she just directed another one, this time from her own script, so let's just take another chance on her.

Night Eyes II, Rodney McDonald, 1991

I knew I'd like this one too as soon as they brought that ugly dog from part 1 back. There're even dog cutaways during at least one sex scene! Aside from that and Sevens's decidedly awkward banter with his black sidekick ("I hate it when you call me homeboy"), this is decidedly less eccentric and much less stylized than part 1. Works quite well as dime-store time-filler pulp, though, and even if the sex is rather muted, Tweed introduces an air of aristocratic yet attainable voluptuousness by way of her sheer presence.

The Secret: Dare to Dream, Andy Tennant, 2020

This is one weird film. I have to admit that to me, self-help books generally are among the more puzzling American obsessions. Such a blunt, on-the-nose approach to ideology... Weren't we supposed to be manipulated into complacency by the subtle, sugar-coated tactics of a heinous cultural industry? Self-help rhetorics opt for the sledgehammer instead ... and when Hollywood tries to reappropriate their success on its own terms, a strange bastard like THE SECRET appears.

Basically this is about Katie Holmes getting seduced by a book. The book takes the form of Josh Lucas, but because THE SECRET is as sexless a film as possible without ditching the idea of bodily existence altogether, this really is a romance of ideas - of terrible ideas, to be sure, ideas that even on their own terms make no sense whatsoever. And with Katie of all people right in the middle of it. Scientology recruitment videos hardly could get any cornier, if probably much more devious, than this.

Lucas's interactions with everyone else follow the same pattern: From a narrative perspective, he's clearly a Jesus figure, but one who can commit to neither transcendental showmanship nor to emotional involvement (just as his philosophical antagonist Celia Weston is evil only because of her general air of anxiety about the world - like thinking climate change is real, stuff like that ... yet the film insists on transforming her into a lurking monster, like something out of a horror film). He's also clearly the kind of preachy middle-aged guy teenaged girls like to have hanging around at their birthday parties... It's a bit as if the real Jesus exclusively preached stuff like "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade", and at the end of a decidedly dull New Testament married Mary Magdalene to safe her from prostitution.

That it's directed by the HITCH guy in a competent, if mostly bland way only adds to the strangeness. We get lots of homey southern countryside kitsch, a tiny bit of New Orleans flavor with maybe two black faces appearing in the whole film, some terrible music ... but also a quite engaging performance by Jerry O'Connell as the "wrong man" Katie is not allowed to settle for - when she finally ditches him, he just slumps down into his chair, a interestingly underplayed depiction of defeat. And then we also get, pretty much out of nowhere, an absolutely wonderful and completely undeserved romantic ending. Meet me at the Waffle House!

Night Eyes 3, Andrew Stevens, 1993

When it comes to erotics, the series can't quite compete with Gregory Dark's on the surface quite similar ANIMAL INSTINCTS films - maybe because here, the focus is on the man, not the woman. Sex is always just a pawn in a game, never something to be explored on its own terms. Still, this one is quite inventive, especially the mirroring of domestic surveillance equipment and television studio apparatus. The electronic gaze always demands, maybe even summons, an object.

Atlantis - Ein Sommermärchen, Eckhart Schmidt, 1970

Just a supremely pleasant experience from beginning to end. Isi ter Jung as a reluctant sex goddess, roaming both city and countryside without any haste - what little plot there is comes in bits and pieces, and mostly in the form of attempts to escape any kind of decisive, productive action, and there's always enough room for a relaxed, curious street scene, a few measures of Mozart, or another appearance of the wonderful Jack Grundky title track.

Zatoichi in Desperation, Shintaro Katsu, 1972

Strangely enough, this was the very first Zatoichi film I'd seen almost 20 years ago, by randomly grabbing the VHS at a local library. It left me rather baffled then, and now I know why: This pretty much only makes sense as a thorough, radical deconstruction of all previous Ichi films - purely on the level of style, though, since, a few weird minor characters aside, the plot isn't much more than a remix of by now slightly time-worn Zatoichi staples.

Katsu's main aim seems to be to thoroughly obscure the plane of action, by hiding the proscenium-like spatial continuity of the studio sets behind intricate shallow-focus compositions, by splintering the screen, by using color as a distracting, hostile agent, and most importantly by decentering the human figure. Meaning: by decentering himself, turning Zatoichi from the pivotal point of almost every scene and by extension a whole worldview into just another accumulation of sensory data, subject to forces beyond his control.

Night Eyes 4: Fatal Passion, Rodney McDonald, 1996

One last try at the formula, this time with Jeff Trachta as Andrew Stevens and Paula Barbieri as Shannon Tweed. Trachta even comes with his own, different dog - and finally I get it: Both he and Stevens look like dogs themselves! That's why!

Barbieri, on the other hand, is clearly a feline creature. Much more so, incidentally, than Tweed. She lacks the latter's statuesque grace, but makes up for it with a very endearing, vulnerable bitchiness. All in all another great one.

Zatoichi's Conspiracy, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1973

Before moving over to television, Zatoichi visits his hometown. The best scenes in here have him silently reminiscing among the cobwebs of the past, but the plot that finally takes over is pretty good too, thanks to an interesting villain and an unusually clear focus on economics and power relations.

Animal Instincts, Gregory Dark, 1992

Shannon Whirry's breasts as both the moral and the physical center of the universe. What's not to adore?

Two Wives, Yasuzo Masumura, 1967

A major auteurist statement camouflaging as a routine potboiler. At its cote, this is another one of Masumura's mit 60s dissections of Japanese corporate culture and the associated notion of completely reified subjectivities. This time, though, played out neither as giddy satire nor as nihilist noiry pulp, but as melodrama. The difference affect the style, too: while once again everyone's boxed in, the feeling of claustrophobia is not quite as pronounced - but only to leave room for powerless affect, all those gazes of quite desperation, often accompanied by exhaled cigarette smoke, the last remnant of bodily pleasure available after "career" has taken over one's existence.

Ayako Wakao is great as always, but this time the real standouts are Mariko Okada and Koji Takahashi, a doomsday couple bound together by the vague, insubstantial notion that a better life must me possible, somehow, somewhere.

Animal Instincts 2, Gregory Dark, 1994

Shannon Whirry has a doll-like, almost surreal beauty in this. Not sure from which planet she's from or if her intentions, ultimately, are good or evil. The film makes no effort to explain her to me. In the beginning she moves in an empty house and a completely bonkers plot just starts emanating around her.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Last week in letterboxd

Sleepy Eyes of Death 13, Kazuo Mori, 1969

SLEEPY EYES without actual sleepy eyes. Since this was released less than three months after Ichikawa's death, it is safe to assume that it still was developed with him in mind as the protagonist. Now it's Hiroki Matsukata, trying to emulate both a character and an actor. In a way he's a walking ghost from the start, a placeholder wrestling with the fact that he is of course also a corporeal entity in its own right.

The result is a wooden, mask-like (he also uses much more make-up than Ichikawa) but not completely unappealing performance. Matsukata very much lacks the eternally boyish charms of Ichikawa, who managed to lend even the most appalling acts the air of youthful pranks. Matsukata's stoicism is of a different kind: a hint of tortured interiority hidden behind a decidedly aggressive facade.

With him, the series probably couldn't have gotten away with nearly as much cynicism ... although by this time, the series luckily manages to stay clear of its very worst (=rapey) instincts anyway. Plus this one actually has both one of the best plots of the series (involving an evil Tokugawa Ieyoshi doppelganger) and restraint expert staging by Kazuo Mori who manages to astonishing things with shadow here.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2016

First time around I watched a shitty screener version, which is seldom a good idea and positively lethal here because this one is more about texture and visceral impact than anything else. The fast cutting (much faster or at least more jarring than in MONSTER HUNTER, btw) perfectly blends with the set design, all crumbling darkness illuminated only by patchy, ghost-like isles of glow, splintering the world into an assemblage of detail that no longer privileges a single perspective but asks for a constant readjustment of the gaze if one wants achieve at least some form of, ever unstable, sense of being in time and space.

It's as if Anderson finally acknowledges that light equals power and therefore has to be attacked from a position of darkness, or, maybe more precisely, chiaroscuro. Indeed, every time visibility is restored and the kind of hyperreal, intensified renaissance perspective sets PWSA normally loves more than anything else threaten to establish themselves, it's high time for Milla and company to look for a way out. At the same time, the status of the surveillance / data imagery thrown in every now and then is no longer a given, because Umbrella is no longer identical with itself. With the decline of Anderson's stable, constructivist, simulationist Mise-en-scene, the possibilities of different, ever more hybrid forms of emancipative computer visuality emerge.

For now, though, what's left is a relentless forward drive, a not unified but unidirectional movement that sweeps away everything and everyone. And still, what gives the movie form is a series of deviations from this movement, a rerouting of force: into the tank, up the tower, down the hatch. In fact, this is what Umbrella doesn't get: It's not about defining the movement (the constant speed of the tank, the exact calculation of its completion), but about swirling around it, making use of the friction it creates, riding it like a wave. This is, of course, what Alice does.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 14, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1969

And I thought the series had smoothed over its rougher edges. The last entry features a beguiling visual dramaturgy, from the shadowy nighttime beginning, outlining just a few faces here and there to the cruel visibility of daytime mayhem, as well as some extremely inventive Ikehiro staging, like the scene in which Nemuri stoically keeps walking down stairs, doing away with a whole bunch of bad guys without even turning his head once; and it also goes completely ballistic in terms of misogyny and sexual violence.

This basically is a pinku rape movie coupled with self-conscious action movie toughness, an extremely ugly mixture ... that also may be able to shed some light on an underlying sexual paranoia haunting Japanese cinema at least since the mid sixties. Still, the only thing that makes this halfway bearable is historical distance.

The Man from Yesterday, Berthold Viertel, 1932

Some of the Colbert / Boyer scenes are nice, especially her farewell gaze when his train is leaving, the cut to him, sitting in his compartment, seeing his world drift away... But aside from that Viertel (who made the great PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK a few years later) doesn't connect at all with the material and as soon as Clive Brooks takes center stage again this pretty much sinks, with the melodrama unfolding strictly on the level of stage mechanics, never being allowed to take deeper roots in the image.

Mission: Iron Castle, Kazuo Mori, 1970

Really didn't expect this. The last SHINOBI NO MONO film, with Hiroki Matsukata inheriting yet another lead role from Raizo Ichikawa ... and it's by far the best film in the series. Kazuo Mori, about to transfer to television, really through everything into this one: a masterpiece of kinetic elegance, the apotheosis of Daiei black and white action aesthetics.

Ditching the history lessons as well as the at times baroque approach to character design of its predecessor, this is straight-forward team-on-a-mission Ninja filmmaking, moving with ease from set-piece to set-piece, making perfect use of the monochromatic weightlessness of the scope framings. Mori uses low angles and foreground elements like grass and shrubbery to great effect, with the action often starting out as a mere allusion, a rumbling in the fabrics of things, before moving towards ever greater clarity. And while he usually opts for a clean, spare style, here he doesn't shy away from more openly artificial techniques when warranted, especially during a dreamlike Kunoichi seduction sequence.

Deadly Switch, Svetlana Cvetko, 2019

Nor really a stalker film, unfortunately, but rather a GET OUT ripoff centered on gender instead of race, set in a very blonde, pastel-colored fantasy world - incidentally, the very difference between the city and countryside the whole plot hinges on never actually manifests itself, since the city scenes in the beginning look just as neutered and well-manicured than everything else. So in the end, both the dangers and promises of urbanity only find some kind of representation only in Danika Yarosh's piercings.

Films like this rise and fall with the cast, though, and Hayley McLaughlin's mousy glamour-performance alone makes this kind of worth the watch. Is her action real or fake? Don't know don't care, but it's a medium of cinema!

Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordman, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1971

Can't completely avoid the cheesy and always somewhat random feel of 1970s international coproduction genre cinema, although they still manage to emulate the classic Daiei style quite well. Also nice that Yasuda enhances, rather than diminishes the differences in fighting style between Katsu and Jimmy Wang Yu, mirroring two competing traditions of action cinema: the ritualistic Japanese one where the frame defines the action, and the fluid Hong Kong one where the action defines the frame.

Rip Tide, Rhiannon Bannenberg, 2017

So you want to escape your vapid life as a teenie instagram fashionista by visiting your cool aunt in Australia ... it's just that the cool aunt is super annoying, and some of the surfer bozos she hangs out with may be even worse, and you yourself are one of the awkwardest actresses in history, too, but who cares, we somehow need to make it past the 80 minutes mark, so we might as well introduce some "conflict" between the obligatory, extremely style-less pop-music montage sequences.

I hate to give a one-star-rating to a film that features an extensive slow-motion scene of high-strung teens playing baseball - with coconuts! But here I go, this one nearly broke me...

This is at least the third MarVista Entertainment production I watched over the last few weeks. I really need to lay down that particular pipe for a while.

Christiane F., Uli Edel, 1981

Big city tunnel vision: afraid of getting stuck in the tiny Gropiusstadt flat, one just has to step out into the maze. But what to do in those cold streets, not meant to be lived in but to be traversed, when the "Sound" neon sign is the only guiding light available? So she enters the corridors, again and again, one step further each time. The first needle just scratches the surface, leaves a mark of mimesis, but we all know where the journey will end. It takes Bowie to get to the next step: He takes over the film, singing just for her, and afterwards she tries H for the first time.

Later on, except for the ominous cascading main theme, the music mostly vanishes. Berlin's traffic noise is soundtrack enough for all facets of drug use. This clearly is one of the most effective gestures of the film, and still, to me CHRISTIANE F. lost some of its appeal after her initiation. Before it's a unique neorealist new wave exploitation doomsday ride, one of those films that close the door behind the hippie hangout seventies with a vengeance, afterwards it often feels more like checking boxes, one after the other (to be sure, drug dramas are something I'm not very much into in general - the main reason I skipped this one until now) and Edel clearly isn't willing to let any opportunity for a heavy-handed metaphor slide. Still, the performances and the locations carry enough weight to generate quite a bit of pull until the very end - a "happy" end Edel wisely refuses to provide with any kind of substance.

Desnuda en la arena, Armando Bo, 1969

The camera and Isabel Sarli clearly enjoy each other's company, and who am I to demand anything else from a film. My first, but clearly not my last encounter with the cinema of Armando Bo.

Limbo, Soi Cheang, 2021

Into the rubble. Most expressive production design since HARD TO BE A GOD ... really strange to remember that this was supposed to be in color for a long time, since five minutes in, I couldn't imagine this world to ever be not black and white, and later on, even the very concept of color started so slip away.

The outer world of rubble - a parallel world, a city in the city, fenced in between highways and gentrified business districts - corresponds to the inner world of the characters: three of the four protagonists are solely defined by trauma, and basically all the hope the plot has to offer (some of) them is that maybe someday they will be able to exchange one trauma for another. Only Mason Lee is promised once in a while, when meeting his pregnant wife, an alternative to an existence of perpetual trauma. In a way, though, this promise of an outside world only heightens the pain - again and again he's the one inserting himself in the rubble with the greatest intensity.

What makes this really special is that Soi Cheang shoots for both a maximalist exercise in style and a rather straightforward Hong Kong police procedural. A decidedly grizzly one, to be sure, but severed limbs and ugly rape scenes aren't exactly foreign to the genre. Basically a CATIII art movie that insists on taking both its aesthetic ambitions and its pulp mechanics seriously. And at least for me it works beautifully, not the least thanks to Liu Cya's magnificent performance. She really is a force of nature, resilience personified.

This might be the core of LIMBO's pessimistic realism (hard not to read this politically): One should strive not for shelter from the immediacy of trauma, for an escape to a better world; but for a fortification of self in this world, for building up an inner strength that might make it possible to avoid succumbing to one's environment.

Imagini di un convento, Joe d'Amato, 1979

Beautiful d'Amato minimalism, basically just longing faces, sinful bodies and an eternal corridor of desire. A solemn rhythm transforming debauchery into ritual (see for example the very systematic dressing / undressing scenes; you really get a feel for the texture of a nun's habit, here). Sex, especially of the lesbian kind, not so much as contamination, but as another kind of purification - basically indicating a shift from Christian to paganist concepts of morality.

D'Amato being d'Amato, after about two thirds of the runtime he throws in a very ugly and explicit rape scene, completely separate from the rest of the film in tone, locale and style. Afterwards we return to the corridor and things proceed as if nothing had happened.

Zola, Janicza Bravo, 2020

Generally well directed, with the contrast between the grainy, soft 16mm look and the flat, digital intrusions working especially fine; also a good eye for Florida nights, even if the Tampa locations are a bit wasted ... but I don't know, the script is very awkward at times and the whole thing feels underdeveloped. Maybe there's still too much James Franco in here?

In any case, the film never really finds its center. It makes sense that Zola herself is mostly positioned as a blankspace, but Stefani also remains completely opaque, while X is basically a run-of-the-mill villain. That leaves Derrek, by far the most interesting character here ... it's just that the film also insists on setting him up as the butt of the joke in every single scene, thereby undercutting any chance of arriving at anything but bland, mechanical storytelling.

Also, I basically knew what I was in for as soon as I saw the A24 logo, but a film like this just should not feel that clean and sanitized.

Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno, Abtellatif Kechiche, 2017

Great films start from simple premises and then discover something surprising. In this case, both the "one magic summer on the beach" and the autobiographical "a filmmaker discovering his gaze" hook certainly are familiar, time-proven staples of cinema, especially of French cinema; and one key to this masterpiece might just be that Kechiche insists on inextricably linking, if not welding the two of them. Meaning that what transforms his alter ego protagonist into a genuine creator of images really is the erotic play of unstructured (but not necessarily relaxed) hangout time; just as the summer on the beach is only magical because it is rendered through the eyes and subjectivity of a self-conscious and categorically distanced aesthete.

L Saturnino perfectly lays out the film's central place in Kechiche's post-colonial project, especially its relationship to VENUS NOIRE; but I think it also works very well in a less radical register, maybe along the lines of Rohmer by way of Claire Denis: a film about the inherent morality of bodies as well as about the necessary corporeality of all systems of morality.

And also, of course, an extremely sensual, synaesthetic film. First we get the primal image of intercourse, pure visual spectacle, a throwback to late-night teenage softcore viewings on tv, meaning it also is completely separate from us ... but we only really enter Mektoub world a few minutes later, when standing next to a beautiful woman eating strawberries while still shivering from sex. This is what Amin strives for, erotics as a form of bodily involvement in the world (guided by music, dancing, but also animals), and this is of course also what he can never reach.

Monday, June 28, 2021

last four(!!!) weeks in letterboxd

Sleepy Eyes of Death 7: The Mask of the Princess, Akira Inoue, 1966

While the world around him gets wackier and cartoonier (Inoue basically frames one comic book panel after the other, resulting in a somewhat gimmicky but effective foreground style) with every sequel, Nemuri himself mellows down a bit. This time he even does the unthinkable: when he walks into the sunset in the end he's not alone, but accompanied by a follower he at least tolerates. Despite all of his efforts at alienating the world he's not as lonely as Zatoichi. Or rather: Ichi's loneliness is destiny, his is a choice.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 8: Sword of Villainy, Kenji Misumi, 1966

Such a big departure from the previous entries, it almost feels as if this started as an independent project and got reassigned to the SLEEPY EYES series late into the production; although its' probably just a case of jidaigeki storytelling running amuck: a complex, often and especially in the beginning completely opaque web of cross and double-cross obliterating everything else, including the series' signature cynicism.

Misumi, of course, is in perfect control of the whole thing throughout and while he mostly rushes through exposition he still manages to come up with both the best full moon cut scene so far and an inventive and pleasantly humane variation on the slashing away women's clothing theme.

The Mad Magician, John Brahm, 1954

Brahm cheerfully working through some of his favorite tropes, proving that, when all is said and done, a film director ends up being the maddest magician every time (because he, in fact, manages to incinerate Vincent Price after all).

Probably closest to THE LODGER, although this time he mostly shies away from the darker implications of the material, mostly opting for light-hearted (and rather nonsensical, even for the standards of the genre) head-chopping. Also rather flat lighting, maybe because "style" was supposed to be provided by the 3d effects this time - all of them classic funfair in your face stuff that probably looked pretty desperate even in 1954. Still, there's an honest and real fascination with deviance and unstable identities that keeps this engaging throughout.

The Snow Woman, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1968

You can ever have the woman or the statue, not both. You chose the woman by declining total knowledge which equals accepting total difference. The woman can live with you because she is allowed to keep her secret, which also means: her uniqueness. You chose the statue by claiming total knowledge and thereby eradicating difference. The woman can no longer live with you because her secret has been made available. You are now free to transfer her uniqueness onto the statue, but from now on you will be alone, because the world is empty.

Great folk horror, transforming the simplest of ghost tales into a complex chamberplay of art, love and subjectivity. Tanaka's effect shots are of understated brilliance, often substrative rather than additive: no pyrotechnics, but a stripping away of the framings of the image, an elegant, icy slide into abstraction.

Only Mine, Michael Civille, 2019

Another visit to Stalkerville, USA, a place I'm increasingly fascinated by. Stalker movies really are the new erotic thrillers, and as depressing as this development might be in general, they do offer their share of stimulating weirdness. On the one hand it seems as if "real, decisive, earth-shattering" desire can only be framed of in terms of deviance these days. On the other hand, while this very deviant desire is the center of the film, it also always is embedded in a web of smaller-scale emotions which also become more pronounced when confronted with the stalker threat.

Anyway, this one really is quite radioactive. There's a strange mismatch between Amber Midthunder's natural screen presence (a bit like Aubrey Plaza without the slickness) on the one hand and the director's inability to build a scene that even remotely resembles real life. Most of the lines are awkward, but the pauses between the line are even more awkward, and Brett Zimmerman, the stalker, is the most awkward of them all. Some of his scenes, especially one in which he is supposed to threaten Midthunder with a rake, feel like very rough Alien approximations of human behavior (or maybe also: like live-action versions of the cgi-cutscenes in 90s video games).

Then there's the grotesquely overmodulated score; and the nonsensical interview scenes; and the turn towards the mythic / Native American empowerment toward the end.

Cruella, Craig Gillespie, 2021

Worst when trying to pay tribute to the original, but when it comes to honest to goodness maximalist showmanship misguided ambition is better than no ambition at all, and those showy, stupid sequence shots alone makes this a tiny bit more bearable than some other recent Disney products. Still, loud and unimaginative to an embarrassing degree, you don't even have to go back to DEVIL IN PRADA, even EMILY IN PARIS managed to get much more fun out of a similar premise. Some really bad acting too, especially among the supporting cast. And finally, you might not want to hear this, but Emma Stone really does lack in glamour and should not be allowed to play Cruella.

Shinobi no mono 8, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1966

Three years before his death Raizo Ichikawa still had his youthful looks and pulls off a much younger apprentice ninja in this prequel without any problems. There are many nice touches, including long training sequences and funny ninja stop tricks, but all in all this never quite came together for me. While the historical plot line and Raizo's revenge story are nicely intertwined on paper, this double structure once again results in way too much exposition. In the end, neither Raizo nor the colorful villains have enough breathing room... and like in most entries, all female characters remain mere afterthoughts.

Sette scialli di seta gialla, Sergio Pastore, 1972

Patchwork giallo, some bits and pieces here and there, never quite coalescing into a unified vision, but who knows, maybe it's the world that's broken. Funky wallpaper and glimmering shards, a dull lead easily outshone by glamorous sad junkie cat lady Giovanna Lenzi, a white ghost roaming the streets of a surprisingly baroque Kopenhagen.

The murder scenes, meanwhile, are mostly murky and vague, not even trying to transform an obviously rather lethargic black cat into a credible deadly weapon... until the bluntest of PSYCHO hommages arrives, literalizing every single one of the master's gestures of filmic violence.

SDU: Sex Duties Unit, Gary Mak, 2013

Even in the 2010s, Hong Kong cinema once in a while manages to make films that are better than they have any right to be. A gross-out comedy detailing a cop bro trip to the brothel, complete with pedophilia and zoophilia jokes, while still trying to sell the whole experience as an at least somewhat benign experience, a catalyst of personal growth... and still this somehow ends up being, for the most part, genuinely funny and engaging, thanks to a good cast (only Shawn Yue is a bust) and an almost empathetic interest in the inner workings of Macao's sex work scene.

No Place Like Home, Kaila York, 2019

Pretty great as a film about female friendships, or more specifically, three different examples of female friendship, each channeling a different set of projection, jealousy and power play and also different levels of expressivity, from crumbling movie-star glamour (Stacy Haiduk), passive-aggressive lethargy (Kelly Kruger), campy excess (Anne Leighton, Beth Littleford). Not at all great in its attempt to transform all of this into a conventional psychothriller.

Still, even the botched suspense scenes are kind of fascinating, because what else to do with material like this? Is there even another filmic vessel out there for the less than benign (=not at all empowering) aspects of female friendship than making just another trashy low-budget thriller about a murderous psycho bitch?

The Witches of Eastwick, George Miller, 1987

Miller's direction is inspired and at times downright bold, although he never quite manages to hand over the film as completely to his magnificent cast as he should in order to counterbalance what I suspect is a rather obnoxious John Updike novel ... I might be wrong, but the whole thing feels a bit calculated to me in its mixture of inverted wish fulfillment and the sort of feminism that strictly stays within the limits of subjectivity.

Others probably will call Nicholson's performance dated if they haven't already. I don't, he's a force of nature and a gift to humanity.

Pretty Little Stalker, Sam Irvin, 2018

So it turns out my tolerance for stupidity has limits, even when it comes to trashy stalker films. Doesn't help that Nicky Whelan doesn't seem to have a single idea about what to do with the lead role, while Ashley Rickards as the pretty little stalker has a few decent lines but never rises above a poor woman's Kat Dennings. An extra half star for the pool party slow-motion in the end, though.

A Flash of Green, Victor Nunez, 1984

Paradise is always already lost and now we're scrambling along. Although on the other hand, there's enough of the old, slow Florida left here to mourn its demise. At the center of it: a magnificent Ed Harris performance, which makes this sort of a companion piece to Romero's KNIGHTRIDERS. In both films he plays characters stuck in the past and faced with the challenges of an increasingly streamlined present. In the Romero film he chooses obstinate opposition and therefore romantic fantasy, here he chooses overidentification with the aggressor and therefore the melodrama of self-denial.

Deviant Love, Michael Feifer, 2019

Another one that didn't work for me. Amie Bell is lively enough, but soon defeated by the relentless accumulation of stupidity surrounding her. I guess in theory it's interesting that this time around the master manipulator buys into his own bullshit and with a more charismatic male lead this might even have worked. Unfortunately, dating Nick Ballard comes across as maybe even duller than spending one's evenings on Qanon websites.

A Quiet Place Part II, John Krasinski, 2020

Invested in suspense mechanics and nothing else. Well made for what it is, I guess, but I got bored with the gameplay dramaturgy pretty quickly. Pretty obvious, too, that "family" in this film is nothing but a cheap narrative device used to keep complexity in check and reduce everyone involved to a limited set of emotional beats from the start. Could all still work for me with a more adventurous script and more engaging actors - really the only thing that makes an impact here is Millicent Simmonds fascinatingly obstinate face, a face that hopefully will start popping up in more interesting movies soon.

Fatal Affair, Peter Sullivan, 2020

This film is on fire, if only because during one particularly heated exchange, taking place in a restaurant, a chef can be seen flambeing a dish in the background. Quality filmmaking and a great cast, especially Omar Epps as a soft and fluffy kind of stalker.

365 Days, Barbara Bialowas & Tomasz Mandes, 2020

Once again: one is always well advised to show restraint when judging people's fantasies... and this is marked as fantasy and nothing but fantasy as clearly as just about any film, real of imaginable, could possibly be. Of course it's also extremely obscene in just about any sense of the word and often extremely ugly on top of it, but in the end one maybe just should accept that female sex fantasies, too, have every right to take their aesthetic cues from pornhub and the worst kind of rap videos instead of from more reputable sources.

Also, ridiculous as he may be, Massimo is at least a more distinctive fantasy object than Christian in 50 SHADES, while on the other hand Sieklucka unfortunately has much less scope than Dakota Johnson. A net minus for me, but mileage will vary.

To me, the whole thing is way too stupid to come across as anything other than a fascinating if mostly opaque monstrosity. Still, as an honest attempt at mainstream erotica it's automatically much more valid than the majority of hot air festival filmmaking. So, stay tuned for the sequel, I guess. Will he fuck her even harder?

Sleepy Eyes of Death 9, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1967

Sometimes it takes nine trials to get it right. This one finally hits all the sweet spots, by counterbalancing Nemuri's cynicism with the absurdity of the world around him, resulting in a blissfully fractured narrative that also finally clearly differentiates itself from the more expansive Zatoichi films. A film of constant small-scale inventiveness, basically just Nemuri stoically moving along, stumbling into a series of adult swim shorts triggered by a satanistic sex cult gone, well, crazy.

A Quiet Place, John Krasinski, 2018

A bit better than the sequel, because naturally there's a bit more world building, the family stuff makes more sense (and is even touching at times, when old basic family rituals suddenly feel like playacting) and the monsters are much more interesting as a threatening absence than as an extremely one-note presence. On the other hand there's less of Millicent Simmonds and she's not yet as much in control of her performance. In the end the differences don't amount to much and both films end up the same brand of technocratic, positivist horror cinema (see also: James Wan) I just don't much care for.

Maria Mafiosi, Jule Ronstedt, 2017

A halfway decent performance here and there though unfortunately all in all a pretty major embarrassment for everyone involved. How can one even write a character as cringy as Rocco? I mean, Serkan Kaya is completely miscast, too, but he never even had a chance.

Zatoichi's Cane Sword, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1967

Yasuda's best entry so far, by far. His direction still lacks the poetic flourishes of Misumi and Tanaka, but this time he manages to sustain a somber, muted mood throughout. In the autumnal prologue, Ichi senses a bad omen, which later on manifests itself as him getting in too deep, way too entangled into what slowly reveals itself as a twisted family drama fueled by a woman's deep-seated feeling of inadequacy. He really seems to be at a loss this time, confronted with a problem he seemingly can't slice his way out off. When in the end he does it anyway, it feels like an eruption more than a release.

The scene with the barrel is one of the greatest action set pieces I've seen in a while.

Zatoichi the Outlaw, Satsuo Yamamoto, 1967

Zatoichi as a social actor. Doesn't suit him all that well in my opinion, and there are a few other missteps, like the at times overblown score. On the other hand Yamamoto's less stringent storytelling leaves room for welcome bits of folksy humor that enrich the series quite a bit, like the very nice hangout scenes with the horny blind masseurs.

92 in the Shade, Thomas McGuane, 1975

Peter Fonda following a fish, Warren Oates wearing tight shirts and trying to find an inner reason not to kill Fonda, the wind in Margot Kidder's hair. Only every other scene works, but as a record of a time, place and state of mind, both of a post studio era genre cinema searching for a new rhythm, a new beat to dance to and the Florida Keys before their definite touristic utilization this is quite touching.

Zatoichi Challenged, Kenji Misumi, 1967

Zatoichi versus the anti-porn brigade. Very well made if not as original as Misumi's other entries. The snow scenes are indeed magnificent.

The Devonsville Terror, Ulli Lommel, 1983

The Devonsville Terror in the 17th century: Direct action, figures of pure light sculpted out of an all-encompassing dark, women as objects of pure, scandalous visibility, hunted down with forks and torches and swine while other, human swine watch impassively, bound to wheels and finally burned, vanishing in the light they were born from in the first place.

The Devonsville Terror in the 20th century: An opaque web of creepy gestures, dark visions, fever-dreams, random murders, malicious rumors, knowing gazes set against the both overbearing and picturesque rural upper midwest. An ingrown kind of terror, ingrained in furniture, hairdos, sweaters, the terror of americana gone sour, triggered by the arrival of a sole redhead way too agile for a place like this. She's supposed to be part of a team of three witches, though the other two rarely even make an appearance. What's left are isolated acts of masculine evil seemingly separate but in fact part of a whole (a whole that makes no sense), like mushrooms connected by invisible fibers. The men, in one last act of resistance against modernity, long for the purity of 17th century misogyny, but when they try to recreate it, the magic of cinema, which in the end always takes the side of the witches, makes an appearance.

Zatoichi and the Fugitives, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1968

What can I say, I love this one, too. A more modern feel, a standard Zatoichi setup slowly turning into a all that sophisticated but pretty bloody massacre of truncated limbs and blades threatening baby skin. Unusual soundtrack, too, almost abstract at times.

The real highlight is Yumiko Nogawa, the original Carmen from Kawachi, as one of the most memorable women of the series, curiously stalking Zatoichi, her sassy nose and white features not easily impressed even when knifes are thrown her way. Also a nice collection of evil, ugly badasses, like right out of an American backwood horror film. Takashi Shimizu tries to introduce some respectability, but mostly to no avail. The barbarians have taken over, and Ichi, too, has to invest a bit more of his own flesh, this time around.

September Song, Ulli Lommel, 2001

Still no idea what this even is ... really feels like something that took the form of a narrative feature film only accidentally, with Lommel somehow ending up inventing a new way of making bilingual cinema along the way: just let the actors speak every sentence in two languages, consecutively. The detail that fascinated me most this time: the grungy no future air of the son's two nazi buddies who keep hanging around at the dinner table without having anything to do in the whole film.

Samaritan Zatoichi, Kenji Misumi, 1968

And again a woman's face is the center of it all. This time it's Yoshiko Mita's, sculpted and inherently tragic, a mask-like elegance like something from an older, more static but also more noble age. In the end this might be mostly about the difference between this one passive, insisting face, a face that demands commitment on a spiritual level, and the quirky, dynamic, evasive textures Misumi's extremely inventive direction establishes.

The most versatile Zatoichi Mise-en-scene yet. Still all decisive and clear-cut, each framing an analysis of space by way of (graphic) subdivision and (depth) scaling, but there are just more variables this times, greater degrees of freedom, starting with the color cascade in the beginning. This is also one of the funniest entries, though the humor, too, is formalistic rather than earthbound, a caustic pop-art giddiness that, however, never for a moment manages to take hold in Yoshiko Mita's face.

All in all, a masterpiece. Might even be my favorite yet.

Cocaine Cowboys, Ulli Lommel, 1979

New adventures in boredom. Proof, in fact, that boredom is as rich an aesthetic category as any other. In a way this feels like a Franco film: Just some people, most of them fucked up in one way or the other, hanging out in a rather spectacular location and shooting a film not because they have to, but because this feels like the natural thing to do in a situation like this.

It's just that here they shoot not for psychedelic hangout erotica but for a real, bona-fide sex (ok, not really), drugs (a little bit in front of, probably much more behind the camera) and rock'n roll (way too much) thriller, in other words, something that would require the kind of effort obviously no one here is prepared to muster. So we get remnants of a story, unfinished gestures, stumbling attempts at hard-boiled smoothness, lots of bad music that never quite crosses over into sublime cheesiness, quite a bit of aimless Jack Palance enthusiasm and random bits of weirdness, most of them centered around a guy who looks a bit like a very young, blond Woody Allen. On the other hand, now that I'm writing it down: do we really have the right to demand even more?

Sleepy Eyes of Death 10, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1968

After two (each of them in completely different ways) exceptional entries, this once again settles for more muddled, minor charms. Basically a random clan warfare plot that only distinguishes itself by turning the misogyny up to eleven - and while some of the scenes of women trying to kill Nemuri by seducing him reach hallucinogenic heights, the shtick does wear out its welcome this time rather soon. When, as expected, one woman falls for him and repents her evil ways, the film's attempts at bittersweet romance only make clear that the Manichaean world of the series forecloses even the possibility of true melodrama.

Tanaka, meanwhile, doesn't seem to connect much with the material, although he does find a few extremely atmospheric images and also manages to film the most beautiful full moon cut scene yet.

Jodeln is ka Sünd, Ulli Lommel, 1974

Mr. Witte already wrote everything that needed to be written about this. The only thing I can add is my docile admiration for Katharina Herberg's unhinged performance, a tour de force of enthusiastic overacting exploring modes of subjectivity previously and since unknown to mankind. For 70 glorious minutes we are in the presence of a folksy, rustic sex alien who manages to laugh, cry and fuck with an intensity that seems to be inversely proportional to the "objective" humorous, emotional and erotic stimuli she is presented with.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 11, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1968

Fully embracing the pulpier aspects of its mythology, i.e. buying into one's own bullshit is always the way to go with the SLEEPY EYES series, and Yasuda does so enthusiastically here. A bonkers plot filled with high-strung women whose complete existence seems to be taken up by their Nemuri Kyoshiro obsession: Will we be able to corrupt him by making him entertain the possibility of a woman's inherent worth as something different from a sex object? Or will his charms get to us and defile the purity of our evilness?

Some pretty out there visuals, too, almost approaching 70s grindhouse territory.

Black Dahlia, Ulli Lommel, 2006

The Lionsgate digital horror phase is still the part of Lommel's filmography I'm least eager to enthusiastically embrace. To me, these films still make more sense as an accidental conceptual art piece about the Fordist underpinnings of both the cultural industry and modern-day violence (a series of films about serial killers, each of them unfolding as a series of killing scenes and not much more), or even as an expert piece of cinematic trolling than as distinct aesthetic objects.

And still, as ugly as most of this looks, it's not completely without merit. I guess the most interesting aspect of it is how the individuality of the wannabe actresses is actually heightened by the fact that all of them are being subjected to the exact same murder mechanics. On the other hand, Eckhart Schmidt's HOLLYWOOD FLING has treaded (very) similar waters with much more elegance and inspiration.

Weißbier im Blut, Jörg Graser, 2021

Surprisingly dark. Sigi Zimmerschied is excellent and if one is willing to cope with some extremely bad acting from some of his colleagues one can find one or two desperate drinking scenes with great lighting that actually might stand the test of time. Still, is it really that hard to find enough true dialect speakers to stack a not exactly overcrowded provinzkrimi?

Fabian, Dominik Graf, 2021

Into the night. In spirit sequel to MÜNCHEN - GEHEIMNISSE EINER STADT.

5 Centimeters per Second, Makoto Shinkai, 2007

Gorgeous, yes, but in desperate need of a sensibility less streamlined than Shinkai's. While he might be able to get away with grand opera once in a while, the beauty of chamber music is way beyond his reach.

Fabian, Wolf Gremm, 1980

A film almost overeager to confirm one's prejudices against New German Cinema's dog years: self-important costumed boredom, burdened with historical and literary "significance" while shying away from political or aesthetic risks of all kinds. Especially the lack of imagination: This film's version of swinging Berlin debauchery looks and feels almost exactly like a 1970s game show on German public television (ok: what I imagine a 1970s game show on German public television might have looked like - maybe something like "Dalli Dalli - Bordello Edition").

And still, with adjusted expectations, certain hidden beauties emerge. Fabian's sex scene with a prostitute towards the end is strangely touching, especially the focus on his face, the search for sexual satisfaction in a male face beyond simpleminded notions like "release", the sudden realization that we actually don't have a lot of images for that. And also some of the scenes with Fabian and Cornelia, for example the one in the bathtub. The way people used to be comfortably naked together in 70s cinema. A lost paradise that not even Graf, the sensualist, quite manages to reclaim.

Mortal Kombat, Paul W.S. Anderson, 1995

Design without architecture, a lot of beautiful singularities that do not aspire towards integration. The island, as well as the premise, is not explored but emptied out, like a box filled with awesome toys which in theory could be assembled into a coherent whole but someone misplaced the manual and anyway, wouldn't it be really cool if we throw the red-haired guy into a red-tinted underworld and if the older Asian guy could freeze people to death? Also: When in doubt, always cut to Christopher Lambert!

How I miss the days when CGI was just that awesome new thing to play around with.

Event Horizon, Paul W.S. Anderson, 1997

An ALIEN rip-off that might actually be better than ALIEN because it comes closer to pinning down the fundamental metaphysical loneliness that is the center of all space-horror. In the sky the world does not see us anymore. All we got is a limited, closed-off man-made environment - the true terror results from the fact, that up here, the map really is the territory.

Anderson's cinema, of course, loves to roam spaces like this. Usually, though, they're not thought of as absolutes, but rather as part of a larger modular arrangement, with the dramatic conflict springing more or less directly from the internal, architectural complexities and contradictions of worldbuilding. Here, however, and unlike in later PWSA films, the enemy is not a proliferation of structure, but its absolute absence, and no one, neither the characters nor the film itself, really is prepared to deal with this. So this is about a secular, constructionist cinema encountering its other.

An extremely powerful premise, as it turns out, precisely because the characters do not have neither a sensorium for the sublime nor an inner richness to fall back on. So they can neither get lost in space nor retreat into themselves. (Those shoddy flashbacks, never even beginning to coalesce into complete psycho-signatures. Biography is shot to bits and pieces from the start and every attempt to regain it only pushes one closer to the brink.)

All that they can do is make use of what is at hand: all those shiny, glittering gangways, ravenous patterned doorways, safety mechanisms that basically work like iris shutters (one of the great last shots of action cinema!). Anderson works overtime to transform outer space into the most exciting adventure playground... but still, all that hustle can't quite escape the knowledge that every action, every single gesture is tainted by the notion of nothingness, of pure negativity, looming just beyond the frame.

(Makes me wonder what a PWSA Lovecraft film would look like.)

Soldier, Paul W.S. Anderson, 1998

As if someone forced Tim Burton to direct a military sci-fi epos. Meaning very strange and clearly at odds with itself but not without merits. On the one hand, PWSA never manages to transform the garbage planet setting into the kind of structured environment he revels in; on the other hand, he clearly knows that his biggest and maybe only real asset is Kurt Russel's face. Those excessive close-ups lend the film individuality, and at least a few scenes, like the one where he hides away in the ceiling, like the phantom of the opera, are genuinely touching.

Olivia, Ulli Lomme, 1983

Hitchcock and De Palma, yes, but also WATERLOO BRIDGE and THE GHOST GOES WEST. European medieval violence invading sunny capitalist Arizona. Put on your sunglasses, especially at night.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 12, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1969

While Nemuri can hardly be called a feminist in this one, in a way this might be viewed as an attempt to atone for at least some of the misogyny plaguing the series from the start, given that the plot is largely concerned with laying open that the whole political system of feudal Japan is based on controlling women's bodies, with whatever means necessary.

While the film never quite recreates the manic drive of Ikehiro's previous entries, it makes up for it in inventiveness. The bird costume dance sequence is the most out there 5 minutes in the whole series and a fitting farewell to poor, innocent Raizo Ichikawa.

Wachtmeister Rahn, Ulli Lommel, 1974

Unusually controlled Lommel film, set on the cold streets of the German 70s, where laying one's self open to a stranger, even for a mere moment, will lead straight into disaster. One can only hope that a better transfer will turn up some day, if only for all those gloriously dreary streetscapes.

Resident Evil, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2002

Horror of space vs horror in space. The latter mostly takes over once the zombies attack, and that's also the point when the film loses part of its steam - the camera no longer directly indicating the forces of pure, antihuman geometry, but hinting at something else, something (still) organic hidden inside the geometry. Space once again retreating into being a mere container. From now on, only Alice has access to the more primal horror of unhinged spatiality. Set apart from the rest her team, she explores The Hive not like a hostile environment, but like an unknown part of her body.

Admittedly, Milla is still very much in pure eye candy mode here, basically a nerd's wet dream, and yet, PWSA manages to install the strictly feminine foundation the rest of the series is based on: Milla as the perceptive center of RE, and Michelle Rodriguez as its emotional core. The latter is a blast from beginning to end, really one of the best natural actresses of her generation. Of course, she's the most awesome zombie imaginable, too.

The Man from Tumbleweed, Joseph H. Lewis, 1940

The one with the triangle. Not as distinctive as BORDER WOLVES (less wagon wheels, too), but much better made, basically one tight action framing after the next. Clean cut Bill Elliott as the bland lead is the main limiting factor, I guess, while Iris Meredith and Ernie Adams in a good supporting role provide some personality.

Monster Hunter, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2020

Didn't realize the first time around how big a switch this is conceptually: the first PWSA film that is not primarily about action / mastery of space, but about perception / construction of space. Not in the old, phenomenological / analog way, of course, there's no empirical world imprinting on empirical subjects here, but rather a structuring of sensual stimuli (sand vs stone, light vs dark, spikes vs caves) written on the blank canvas / consciousness of the digital. Therefore it totally makes sense that Milla's crew just vanishes without any real trace soon after the jump, without any real effort to at least milk this dramaturgically: We're no longer in action adventure territory, the stratifications along the lines of gender, race, attitude etc this mode of storytelling is based on just don't make sense when facing the desert of pure s(t)imulation.

There have been some comments here and elsewhere on the special status of Milla's relationship with Tony Jaa, and I guess this too really is something PWSA never tried before, because they're not defined by common or opposing goals, but by different levels / modes of adaptation. They run the program differently.

A film that longs to make the code palpable.

Terror at London Bridge, E.W. Swackhamer, 1985

David Hasselhoff might just be the most Brechtian actor ever to roam American screens.

Resident Evil: Afterlife, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2010

Always great to see a favorite hold up, especially one that seemed to be tied to a special time and place. This was a big promise back then, pointing towards a future of liquid stereoscopic action mayhem that never quite materialized, safe for at best half a dozen films ... and this one definitely still is one of them, even when seen, this time around, in 2D.

This also was Anderson's last big leap (MONSTER HUNTER may turn out to be another one, we'll see): it's no longer about engaging a single space, but about a constellation of spaces. More precisely it's about different spaces unfolding onto each other in non-intuitive ways, like in the end, when the drabness of the deserted boat suddenly makes way for the abstract whiteness of the finale.

Even the clumsy narration, with ungainly chunks of exposition dumped all over the place, kind of makes sense: we're lost in the no-man's land of mid-franchise storytelling from the start, with no solid anchor available to tie us to a consistent set of spatiotemporal elements. Is Arcadia in Alsaka or just outside the shores of LA? And why is the prison, of all places, leaking to all sides?

And finally Ali Larter's slightly high-strung sexiness, balancing out Milla's new-found Zen. What a beautiful film.

Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, Kihachi Okamoto 1970

I guess I liked this quite a bit more the first time around, but then again I only really remembered the finale, which indeed is by far the best part, with all the drab conflicts finally blowing up in a carnivalesque spectacle. Before that, everything's dragging terribly, there's really no reason why this is a full half hour longer than almost every other Ichi film. The darker tones were intriguing at first but at some point I started wondering if this might be a case of a bad digital transfer. Those interiors just cannot be meant to look that murky.

Also, Yojimbo really doesn't own his co-title-credit here. Mifune's performance feels phoned in, and Ayako Wakao, too, hardly makes an impression.

Resident Evil: Retribution, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2012

I guess I still prefer AFTERLIFE because the stereoscopic action choreography just feels a bit fresher there, the richness of a new language, a new territory; but of course this one is his most complete vision, not just a series of intricate frescos but the whole Sistine Chapel of CGI-powered pulp cinema: A film about a series of simulations (stacked with unselfconscious automatons) that have to provide just enough details, texture and coherence to sustain their own illusion for a "sequence" that "rarely lasts more than an hour". Or at least under 90 minutes when excluding the credits...

On the other hand, though, these "sequences" aren't even the main attraction - just something to "make it through". In fact, when immersed into those touristic moving-image wallpaper backdrops, Anderson's cinema is very much not at home, but rather an uneasy visitor, always already looking for a way out. RETRIBUTION is a film that knows that true simulation cannot be content with similitude, but has to control all the parameters. So the real action takes place in the gangways between the interactive movie sets. In the realm of the digital, stage and backstage have switched places. The props and effects of make-believe have become completely disposable, while the control room holds at least the promise of true spectacle.

Also, that beautiful musical structure: A prelude suspended in mid-air, between the sea and the sky, amidst malleable projectiles; the main movements underground, in an antirealist antiworld; and a coda on thin ice, with sharkified zombies lurking a few inches below. Traversing all states of matter, except solid ground. (Yes, I know, that stupid White House scene in the end ... well, Anderson's cinema never aspires towards purity, the show must go on.)

Good Michelle Rodriguez marches against the NRA, bad Michelle Rodriguez shoots bullets out of her fingers.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Alexander Witt, 2004

Maybe not quite the bottom-of-the-barrel-atrocity I remembered, but still very, very bad. Once in a while, there's true enthusiasm shining through the chaos, mostly when Milla is forced into a one-on-one fight. Also, Milla has great hair and among the abundance of bad acting on display, Sienna Guillory's sometimes reaches almost sublime heights - like something from a beta version that accidentally made the final cut.

Also, whenever Witt manages to hold onto a shot for more than half a second, it turns out that the sets and especially the lighting aren't half bad. Really a shame that the only RE with an urban setting fell into the wrong hands. Even a mediocre journeyman director might've been able to turn the whole thing into a tight, appealing piece of early 80s throwback neon noir zombie mayhem.

Witt, though, never manages to sustain any kind of continuity (graphic, spatial, emotional) for more than two seconds. Really hard to believe how ineffective especially the zombie scenes are - these creatures are inherently cinematic, and even no-budget backyard amateur filmmakers usually manage to get some kind of mileage out of them. Here, though, the gaze is never allowed to linger on them even in passing, since Witt always finds a reason to cut to another stupid angle that indicates nothing but a desperate search for unspecific awesomeness. No wonder the guy after this retreated into second unit again, where this brand of glitzy visual noise might sometimes even serve a purpose. (Although, when looking at his imdb-page: not really all that often.)

Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival, Kenji Misumi, 1970

After the disappointing summit with Yojimbo, this is the film that really takes Ichi into a new decade. The plot mostly vanishes into thin air, while new kinds of attractions compete for our attention: nudity (including a naked bathouse fight that would've made Cronenberg proud), psychedelic imagery, crude body-focused humor, villains with bizarre physiognomy. Put it another way, it's almost as if Zatoichi has been taken over by the SLEEPY EYES series! There's even a honey trap storyline ... although Ichi, of course, treats the seductress with more respect.

Pretty awesome overall, although there's no denying that the series now, finally, approaches the kind of baroque late style that is no longer infinitely sustainable.

Resident Evil: Extinction, Russell Mulcahy, 2007

Quite interesting structurally with its bifurcated narrative: the series' post-humanist mythology running wild in the underdeveloped Dr. Isaacs storyline, while its action-adventure element are translated into a somewhat more realist register. Both strands look for older, pre-digital forms: The Dr. Isaacs scenes are basically a Frankenstein plot with the monster and its creator collapsing into each other, while the Nevada stuff indulges in the kind of b-movie sci-fi imagery the series normally sidelines. Indeed this is the only film that even tries to imagine something like a new normalcy during the apocalypse: America reverting back to settler crossing deserts in covered wagons. Unfortunately, this unusual focus on people just spending time together also further emphasizes the series' (and I guess PWSA's in general) tendency to cast extremely dull male leads...

Also, hard to take the Vegas zombie attack seriously after ARMY OF THE DEAD: this place just cries out for vulgar Snyderian maximalism, not for Mulcahy's otherwise enjoyable pulp economy (just dump a container full of zombies in the sand and then open the door). Those signature 3D-modelling shots, too, aren't much more than empty gestures in Mulcahy's hand, and, finally, except for the beautiful burning sky scene, supernatural Alice, including the "prophetic" headscarf look, is mostly a disappointment.

Come to think of it, though, these are all minor, petty grievances that shouldn't be allowed to cover up the solid and at times surprisingly graceful feel of this (Clouser's ambienty score works extremely well, too, especially in contrast to the mindless audiotrash of APOCALYPSE). I will always love lean and dusty b-movies, and in the end I'm just glad Alice headed for the desert. Hanging out there for a while, with bigger things looming on the horizon.

The Boogeyman, Ulli Lommel, 1980

Rural dirtbag americana first invaded and then blown to pieces by demented psychotronic mirror horror mechanics. Not as effective as THE DEVONSVILLE TERROR or OLIVIA, but the fact that it makes even less (in fact, much, much less) sense is worth something, too. The kiss of death scene is a small masterpiece of, if there is such a thing, accidental understated madcap romanticism.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

car radio

You cut out a piece of me
And now I bleed internally
Left here without you, without you

My head's under water, but I'm breathing fine
You're crazy and I'm out of my mind

I would go through all this pain
Take a bullet straight through my brain
Yes, I would die for you, baby
But you won't do the same

Monday, May 31, 2021

last three weeks in letterboxd

Singapore, John Brahm, 1947

Another not quite successful Brahm noir I'm still quite fond of. McMurray and Gardner do not exactly light the screen on fire in their shared scenes and at least in theory this is quite a bit of a problem because most of the script (not very good, though I'm still intrigued by the undervalued Robert Thoeren) hinges on their mutual attraction. This time, though, Brahm has a decent dp again and excels in dime-store noir trappings. He especially goes all in on ceiling fans: for the most part of the running time, there's one running and casting shadows in what feels like every other shot. Then, suddenly, Montgomery disconnects one of them and retrieves a number of diamonds which he had hidden in its fixture. In other words: style becoming substance. For the rest of the film, there's not a single fan in sight, I believe. Sometimes an idea like that can be reason enough to make a movie, I guess.

SPF-18, Alex Israel, 2018

Rating is completely random because I have not the faintest idea what this even is. Some kind of avant-trash masterpiece I guess, that seems to mistake a bunch of random, naive impulses for a plot (which is, of course, mostly a good thing) and is filled with lots of cringy lines delivered with heartbreaking sincerity. Seriously, not a single word uttered here has even the slightest connection with the way "real" people might speak, but on the other hand, the one with the craziest lines (Bianca A. Santos) is also the most memorable member of the cast. She also designs colorful (=cinematic) surf suits.

Then there's a Pamela Anderson cameo. Keanu Reeves also plays himself, although the film unfortunately isn't really set in his house. One can't have everything, I guess, but the credits roll after 70 minutes and then there's a post-credit sequence that manages, by way of a simple shot/reverse shot, to undo all the damage Marvel has done to the concept of post credit sequences. Please everybody watch this, if only to confirm to me that it really exists outside of my imagination.

Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syd, Charles Band, 1983

The pleasures of low budget filmmaking: When there's not enough substance to sustain a full-fledged mythology, one might just approach a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film as if it were just another b-western. Charles Band isn't exactly a master of mise en scene, but he knows what to do with light, and the back-projection spaceship chase scene in the end is much more beautiful than anything in any STAR WARS film.

Universal Soldier: The Return, Mic Rodgers, 1999

A machine among humans pitted against a philosopher among machines. Mostly stupid and badly made, and still important because this might be the film in which Van Damme approaches middle age for the first time. He's very defensive in this, as if trying to fortify himself against the disillusionments inherent to the bourgeoise family life he know he can't escape from.

And also, as inept as this is as action cinema, it's also a film filled with prime action bodies. Bill Goldberg, especially, is inherently cinematic. Pound for pound.

Shinobi no mono 2: Vengeance, Satsuo Yamamoto, 1963

Once again more historically grounded adventure filmmaking than ninja pulp, which probably suits the director who doesn't seem to be all that interested in action aesthetics. The first one, however, strongly relied on the standout performance of Yunosuke Ito, and in his absence the formula just doesn't work as well. The sets are still extremely beautiful and Yamamoto assembles a pleasant, sizeable collection of grumpy old schemers, but this often lacks in focus.

Il viale della speranza, Dino Risi, 1953

Nice film that I somehow feel I should like much more than I do. All those inside cinecitta bits (probably my favorite: the scene with the character actors presenting their unique skills) slowly coalescing into a bittersweet melodrama about mostly broken dreams... The episodic start stop rhythm fits the material, but it still keeps me at a distance. Anyway, nice to once again come across two of Luciano Emmer's three "girls from rome". Cosetta Greco especially seems to have been a big deal in the early 50s. Need to see more of her.

Fight, Zatoichi, Fight, Kenji Misumi, 1964

Beautiful Zatoichi entry with one of the most straight-forward scripts so far: a random act of violence creates a makeshift family, and then the pressures of society and genre filmmaking tear it apart again. The short, explosive fight scenes are once again great, but the best scenes are about stifled emotions like the long, static shot of Zatoichi trying to will himself into sleep next to woman and child - and then there's a cut to a close-up of his hand next to Hizuru Takachiho's face, a hand that longs for a connection the world is not prepared to grant.

For a while, all important plot points seem to be related to baby urine. Later on, though, Mizumi shakes things up and other body fluids get their share of attention, too.

Extremely effective use of music, too. I didn't much care for Ifukube's overblown score in the first one, but here he delivers the kind of restrained pathos Zatoichi needs.

Il fantasma Dell'Opera, Dario Argento, 1998

On sex and rats. Argento's cinema crumbling and cracking under pressure, but most of the seams still hold, and all those wild inconsistencies and tonal shifts more often than not work for the film's advantage (with the Morricone score doing some heavy lifting, too).

Asia is all pale, desperate longing, a way too private and fragile being for the official, garish public world of the "outside" opera, a world whose destruction her father spends a rather insane amount of energy on. In the end, though, everything strives for the inside anyway, for the underworld of sex and rats and candles and vaginal fissures of desire, resulting in the kind of wacky pleasure grotto cinema I couldn't resist even if I wanted to.

Adventures of Zatoichi, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1964

Two great, sculptural sword fights (one in the dark, one punctured by snowflakes) and lots of rather tired genre mechanics. Yasuda resurrects one of the least productive tropes of Zatoichi land: the master swordsman who happens to hang around at the fringes of the film without any connection to the main plot, just to get the chance to, maybe, take on the master, too. There are two of those in here and they're both dull. Also a shame that the wacky double act comedy relief samurais from the beginning are replaced by two boring acrobat boys later on.

The Smokers, Christina Peters, 2000

Watched for Busy Philipps's cinema debut (post FREEKS AND GEEKS, pre DAWSON'S CREEK), and her energy indeed manages to shine through this trainwreck at times. There's some almost Breillat level sexual anger hidden in here somewhere, too though unfortunately Christina Peters (Kat Slater is her porn industry name) never manages to channel it in an interesting way.

Line delivery is so bad at times, it almost feels like a conscious attempt to lay bare the embarrassing mechanics of the script that might not exactly come down to slut shaming but installs lots of safety nets around anything that might possibly be perceived as debauchery. A shame, because the world probably back then was and still is very much in need of a more obscene / chaotic version of CLUELESS.

Shinobi no mono 3: Resurrection, Kazu Mori, 1963

Was thinking about giving up on this series, because of its downscaling of genre fun in favor of not all that involving history lessons. Now, though, I think I'll stick around. This is obviously a smaller scale production than the first two, much less sumptuous sets, everything boiled down to a functional, indoors-leaning mise en scene that suits Kazuo Mori's precise action geometrics well. The middle school history lesson vibe is even more pronounced with scene after scene of people keeping each other up to date on the turning tides on several battlefields, but Mori never loses sight of the main thread: Ichikawa's Goemon as the decisive shadow entity of history, a hidden executioner unwillingly aligned with the weltgeist.

Macabro, Lamberto Bava, 1980

Well made, but not for me I guess. This kind of claustrophobic zero sum game genre cinema needs to be either much denser or much more inventive to keep my interest up. This way it feels like watching a child playing with a limited number of toys which are of interest only to the one playing; and then in the end destroying all of them. Too little too late.

Plus the New Orleans setting is completely wasted. Joe D'Amato would never!

The Gambler's Code, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1961

Star-studded early Ikehiro film. Nice to see a gentler side of Ichikawa for once. Suits him well, he really comes across as gentle, benign and vulnerable once he decides to lay down his arms. The musical interludes are a bit strange, but work well in connection with the less studio bound open-air feel of the film. Ikehiro's direction is good if mostly on the conservative side, a far cry from something like SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH 4 only a few years later. Some of the fight scenes have an interesting chaotic feel, though.

Jeepers Creepers, Victor Salva, 2001

Postmodern American gothic, stitched together from various 70s horror classics without the seams ever becoming too obvious. It mostly hits a dead end after the excellent first half hour, but the all-encompassing sense of irrationality still got to me, we're in the realm of batshit crazy from the start and there's just no escape.

Shinobi no mono 4, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1964

The best one since the first and probably the best directed of them all so far. Quite amazing how Tanaka manages to infuse another quite complicated, extremely exposition-heavy setup with his sense of romantic pictorialism, stripping away the weight of history at least temporarily in favor of pure sensual cinema. The stone prison sequence introduces a sense of existential thread that reaches far beyond the abstract schemings of shogun power politics.

Reap the Wild Wind, Cecil B. DeMille, 1942

Drags at times and Ray Milland is mostly obnoxious in this (except for the genius talking dog bit), but this does not matter at all once the film finally arrives, 80 minutes in, at the heart of the matter: Susan Hayward's descent into the engine room, where she stows away, surrounded by exuberant garments, performing a fashion show just for herself (=for us), until she dies, drowned by technicolor.

It's of course Paulette Godard, not John Wayne, who kills her, but as it turns out, her act of emotional terrorism when cutting down, with a few swift movements, a whole ship, is in fact a deeply romantic gesture: Because only this way, Wayne and Godard are allowed to come together where it really counts: down in the deep, where the wild colors grow. The woman, Wayne recognizes, when diving down to her wet grave, has been transformed into the the fabrics she was wearing, into pure, translucent, fleeting cinema. He, of course, wants to stay there, too.

Godard and Milland, meanwhile, are condemned to live on the surface until death do them part.

Zatoichi's Revenge, Akira Inoue, 1965

A pleasant if routine entry with dense, functional mise en scene that comes into its own in the scenes with Ichi and Denroku, one of the more complex and memorable secondary characters in the series thus far. One perfect moment: when Ichi is recognized by Denroku (and also by us, because the framing leaves him off-screen) because of the way he pours sake.

Hangover Square, John Brahm, 1945

Once again, one year after Brahm's THE LODGER, George Sanders chases Laird Cregar through a stylized studio London, only this time we're less in gothic horror and more in psychosexual noir territory. In the end this is mostly about two women competing for Cregar's music while jointly rejecting his sexuality, resulting in an air of elevated madness fueled by a Herrmann score that meticulously infiltrates every part of the film until it finally takes over completely for the delirious last ten minutes.

Nothing in here makes sense and of course I'm absolutely in love with every second of it.

Army of the Dead, Zack Snyder, 2021

Was a bit skeptical because most people who like this seem to prefer DAWN over the DC films (a pretty ridiculous idea in my book), but luckily this is just the kind of all-out monstrosity I was hoping for. Sometimes Snyder does fall back on his weaker instincts (the needle drops, for once), and the father-daughter-storyline, dear to his hard as it probably is, is handled in the blandest manner possible. This kind of streamlined psychological realism just doesn't fit his filmmaking. Interiority must be spectacular and otherworldly, too, or else it's better to just to do away with it. What he luckily does here, most of the time.

Snyder's main interest are probably the Alphas, the "elevated zombies", a new breed of super(wo)men that seem to spring organically from their surroundings, meaning the ruins of Las Vegas, a hypercapitalist kitschscape turned olymp of the undead. Only during some of the Alpha rituals Snyder's nervous imagery coalesces into his signature slowmo grandiosity. Everything else, though, is threatend by blurring.

Often there's only a miniscule slice of sharpness in these images; and sometimes even this slice threatens to slide away into the big blur which seems to be the natural state of the image here: a garish cacophony without contours, with the film itself turning into a series of random bursts of detail, resulting, at times (especially during the awesome first big attack scene, when the hibernating zombies spring to life) in exuberant slapdash action painting filmmaking.

Daniel - Der Zauberer - Ulli Lommel, 2004

At one point, the abductors point both a gun and a camera at Daniel - and both of these devices of control and violence fail once he starts telling his life's story.

Die goldene Pest, John Brahm, 1954

Seedy, G.I.-dollars-fueled, sex and drugs centered entertainment culture instead of proper Aryan Wirtschaftswunder: a more nuanced, and much more exciting vision of 1950s Germany. And of course one critics and audiences of the time wanted to have nothing to do with.

Brahm's only German film picks up where Stemmle's SÜNDIGE GRENZE ends and points forward towards Käutner's towering masterpiece of post-war noir SCHWARZER KIES. Might be the least successful of the three overall (while Desny and Böhm make for fascinating antagonists, Gertrud Kückelmann unfortunately is terribly miscast as the female lead), but the air of seedy romanticism, often harking back more to French poetic realism than to Brahm's American noirs, is pretty much one of a kind, especially when pitted against the provincial underbelly of the cultural industry - never thought I'd encounter a mud wrestling scene in German 1950s cinema, and those female cyclists pedaling away on an indoor podium are even more fascinating.

Aliens, John Carpenter, 1986

So ARMY OF THE DEAD indeed ripped off the final stretch of this pretty thoroughly, scene for scene, sometimes even shot for shot. Snyder really is completely shameless, as he should be.

Aside from that, still a pretty awesome ride. The whole Ripley-mother vs Alien-mother stuff toward the end and especially in the subpar epilogue - which Snyder, smart enough, doesn't steal - feels a bit forced, but as long as it's just claustrophobic military sci-fi and Cameron's tech fetish running wild (so much glamourous shots of deadly machinery, never a single moment of doubt about who are the real stars here), this is quintessential Reagan era filmmaking.

The Golden Arrow, Alfred E. Green, 1936

Worth it for the proposal scene: Davis and Brent are sitting on a swing, and while they arrange their sham marriage which of course is transformed into a real one in the end, they are constantly swayed back and forth, until they're almost upside down. A grandiose dead-pan comedy miniature, completely detached from the plot.

Aside from that: not that much to see here. Green knows how to speed up a talky script and Davis comes across pleasant and relaxed, but everyone involved, including the excellent supporting cast, deserves much better material.

Shinobi no mono 5: Return of Mist Saizo, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1964

The plot once again has a lot of ground to cover, and maybe because of this Ikehiro mostly confines himself to delivering straightforward action-adventure filmmaking. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and some of the moves are indeed beyond spectacular here, like that ninja vs ninja fight in the crawlspace toward the end. The set design, too, is once again more inventive than in the other Daiei series. What it all comes down to in the end, after the (narrative) smoke clears, is a deep sense of futility, which was already evident in part 3 and 4, but now can't be hidden anymore behind Ichikawa's hollow victorious laugh.

Orgasmo, Umberto Lenzi, 1969

Lenzi's style is not necessarily coupled with intelligence and often comes down on the decorative side; but thanks to an excellent cast and effective rapid fire editing he nevertheless manages to pull off a pretty impressive frenetic descent into madness, with the film itself turning out as least as crazy as its protagonist. Strip away some of the useless side plots and this might've even turned out a masterpiece.

Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, Kazuo Mori, 1965

Aka Zatoichi and the surf. A gentle, smooth entry, with Zatoichi for most of the runtime out on the open road, while trouble accumulates slowly along the way. Of course, at some point Zatoichi still once again has to rebalance the cosmic order and the lengthy misty finale truly is a sight to see. Kazuo Mori knows how to build a stage for Ichi, and he also knows that one better keeps out of it once the stage is set.

The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, John Brahm, 1952

John Brahm directing an anticommunist religious parable, although he does try to tone down the rather simpleminded politics and focus on the folk tale aspects of the script. The beginning is quite nice and the casting of Gibert Roland as the agnostic fool works well, but after the beautiful first apparition scene it becomes clear quickly that the director doesn't have too many ideas on what to do with the material.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 6: Sword of Satan, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1965

For once, Nemuri Kyoshiro develops something like a conscience (although, in final analysis, it's probably just another vessel for his narcissism)... and is repaid by being thrown into one outrageous sexual setup after the other, with the twist being that this time, he finds ever new reasons to reject the advances of several women.

By now the series seems to be quite self-consciously positioning itself as an absurdist, sleazy alternative to Zatoichi's comparatively wholesome adventures, and this entry's director Yasuda, for one, seems to be more in tune with this kind of material. The plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense (at some point, a satanic sex ritual is thrown in just for the heck of it - who am I to complain?) and feels a bit rushed, but this still is fresh and alive.

My Teacher, My Obsession, Damian Romay, 2018

Cheapo digital giallo colors in the beginning, cheapo digital giallo colors in the end, and in the middle: a stalker film told from the perspective of the stalker - without changing anything else about the formula, so we're basically following a psycho bitch on her psycho bitch activities without being provided any explanations for her psycho bitchiness beyond no father and a mother who's maybe a bit slutty or at least sexually active. But it's really mostly about leading lady Lucy Loken being sneakily horny and getting away with it until she doesn't. Also, Rusty Joiner from Ulli Lommel's ABSOLUTE EVIL plays a, well, extremely approachable + hot teacher (almost DAWSON'S CREEK S05/06 level). Nothing makes much sense, but the actors keep reacting to the accumulating absurdities in interesting ways.

Director Romay seems to specialize in this kind of suburban noir trash. A subject for further research, maybe.

Shinobi no mono 6: The Last Iga Spy, Kazuo Mori, 1965

The SHINOBI NO MONO series actually had reached as perfect and logical an endpoint a series like that could hope for, and this "Son of..." style sequel never manages to transcends its own superfluousness. Kazuo Mori delivers a competent setpiece here and there, but this just drowns in exposition in ways the earlier ones (even if sometimes just barely) didn't.

City Cop, Herman Yau, 1995

Straightforward cops v robber. The bad guys want shiny things and they grab them with the help of big guns, while the good guys just have to take a few more variables into account, and because of all of this, some people will have to die.

Parkman Wong is the standout here, a pretty unusual performance, mostly passive until the very end. Unfortunately Michael Chow as his young, hothead partner is a bit too one-note to real become his younger/darker mirror image, like the script wants him to be. There just isn't enough going on between the two male leads. Still, Wong's trajectory comes with a decent emotional punch and all those full-throttle chaotic open air action scenes alone would make me fall in love with this.

Ishimatsu the Yakuza: Something's Fishy, Norifumi Suzuki, 1967

First Norifumi Suzuki film I've seen, strangely enough. Probably not representative of his work, but still a nice ride. The yakuza plot is very much by the numbers, and the director grabs every chance he gets to sideline it, most spectacularly during a baudy, unhinged Kabuki-performance, but also, much more gently, during a lover's stroll through a shipyard, a small visual essay on wire netting, gazes of resigned desire and umbrellas. Those one-take action scenes, on the other hand, are fueled by enthusiasm much more than by craft, though. Still probably would've faltered at some point without the natural charms of Kitajima in the lead role: a slow-witted punk with a hard of gold, born to pick fights with a bunch of guys way out of his league and still come out on top at the end because you just want to pet him when he's down, like a sad dog.

Laugh and Get Rich, Gregory La Cava, 1931

Unfortunately they mostly forgot to put in actual jokes to justify the Laugh part, but still a pleasant programmer handed over to a bunch of great character actors. Edna May Oliver tries her hand on some serious melodramatics, while Hugh Herbert mostly plays it safe with an expanded version of his usual routine. Dorothy Lee is once again sadly underused.

Zatoichi and the Chess Expert, Kenji Misumi, 1965

Small sensations instead of broad movements. The first Zatoichi film that focusses more or less constantly on his blindness, resulting at first, surprisingly, in making him come off as somewhat petty. Later on, a fuller picture emerges: he really wants to trust people, it's just that in the end he just has to, for the sake of his own survival, reduce everyone around him to a clear-cut but limited amount of sensory data. (In the film's most touching scene he's trying to go beyond this, evoking a lost love by touching the face of another woman... and ends up hurting the one present all the more.)

Excellent script and few action scenes, though the ones that are there are, of course, magnificent. There's always enough time for the odd poetic cutaway, too., Bettina Ellerkamp, Jörg Heitmann, 1999

Berlin art scene hipsters doing an abstract cyberpunk thriller as urbanism essay film kind of thing. The social networking as perpetual contract killing hook is original enough to make it work and the visuals are also mostly inspired or at least an interesting glimpse into both mid 90s video art and early stage gentrification Kreuzberg. The more straightforward documentary parts with the actors lecturing in entirely unsurprising ways on the dangers of streamlining the productive "dead spaces" of post reunification Berlin are the weakest part, though. Yes, basically all of their worst fears have come true since, but in the end, this kind of romanticizing of decay isn't helping anyone. Places like mid 90s Berlin are never built to last and if they were they would turn unbearable in a second.

Dancing Girl, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1957

Late Shimizu, utterly fascinating if clearly somewhat conflicted. The director seems to be just as much scandalized by Chiyomi's downright, uncompromising rejection of traditional morality (and Machiko Kyo's pitch-perfect embodiment of it - she especially makes perfect, sensual use of her dancing skills) as the characters around her, resulting in a number of uncharacteristically blunt displays of "unhinged" sensuality which seem to be asking for a reaction that never really occurs. A Sumie Tanaka scripted showbiz as sex work expose probably wasn't the most natural match for Shimizu (who often deals with prostitution in his films, but as a tragic fact of life, not as a socially determined lifestyle choice).

So, there are some rather awkward scenes right next to some of the most beautiful lateral camera movements imaginable. The best parts concentrate on the central domestic triangle, a quagmire of hopelessly intertwined desires rendered as lucid, perfectly controlled mise en scene; the two key scenes probably being a rooftop confrontation between Kyo and Awashima, with the camera closing in, by way of two firm, insisting cuts, on the latter's face - and the once again absolutely heartbreaking final few minutes.

47 Meters Down, Johannes Roberts, 2017

"I'm so afraid!"

As primal as cinema gets. Roberts should forget about Resident Evil and make 47 METERS DOWN 3 instead, set completely inside of Mandy Moore's face scuba mask.

Shinobi no mono 7: Mist Saizo Strikes Back, Kazuo Mori, 1966

Safe for a few unnecessarily talky twists the first straight-forward action film in the series. I'm probably both overrating this one and underrating the its predecessor, because in the end both are made in Mori's expert if sometimes a bit too controlled style, it's just that this gripped me from the beginning and never let go. I guess putting Raizo Ichikawa front and center helps, though in the end I'm still not quite sure what to make of a series that never quite seems to be able to live up to its nihilistic core.

Ruby in Paradise, Victor Nuñez, 1993

Narrative cinema can sometimes be like an overbearing boyfriend. At first it's nice to have something to hold onto, someone with whom to explore the world together, but after a while you realize that more often than not you're coaxed into a rather rigid and often closedminded framework that ultimately cuts one off from the world. Both Ruby and Nuñez ultimately resist the coaxing while still acknowledging the soothing security (and the need for just that) it sometimes provides.

Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood, Michael Gordon, 1942

Michael Gordon't first film, and I guess a playful Boston Blackie adventure is as good a first assignment as it gets. Even more farcical than its predecessors and all the better for it.

Zatoichi's Vengeance, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1966

One of those Zatoichi films that can be decribed as a number of different people competing for Zatoichi's attention, for quite different reasons: to teach him something about himself (the blind guy), to assert themselves as his equal (the swordfighter), for guidance (the kid), to use him and his blindness as a vessel for their misery (the prostitute). The film never priviledges any one of these reasons. Even the final, pretty excessive fight against the nominal villains is suspended for a while when the lone swordfighter turns up. It's the scenes with the prostitute, though, that carry the strongest emotional force, tapping into a melodramatic undercurrent the series is interested in only once in a while.

Extremely beautiful ending, maybe the best since part 4, which was also directed by Tanaka, the most elusive of the three great Zatoichi auteur (together with Misumi and Ikeda).

Zatoichi's Pilgrimage, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1966

Quirky, Kaneto Shindo scripted Zatoichi film that in the beginning finds him climbing an eternal staircase in an attempt to escape his destiny of killing. Not much later, of course, he kills again and the masterless horse of his victim leads him into a plot that turns out to be a Zatoichi version of HIGN NOON. Not quite as rounded as the excellent last three entries, but with lots of lovely ideas (including a flashback into his youth, jauntily splashing water at the river) and Ikeda's penchant for formal play provides a breath of fresh air.

Karuizawa Syndrome, Mizuho Nishikubo, 1985

Quite engaging visuals wasted on a terrible bozo fucks around until he's successfully domesticated plot.