Tuesday, March 31, 2020

last week in letterboxd

A Silent Voice, Naoko Yamada, 2016

The inner and outer spaces of adolescence, constantly dependent on each other and yet irreconcilable. A masterpiece.

Samurai Wolf II, Hideo Gosha, 1967

Stronger than the first, or at least more articulate. Every movement counts.

Der Tourist, Urs Egger, 1996

Watched this because the script is co-credited to Larry Cohen, on-screen as well as on imdb. Other than that, I found no details about his involvement online. It may even be another Larry Cohen, or some kind of inside joke. If, on the other hand, there really is a kernel of Cohen in here, it has been well hidden under a thick layer of german tv blandness. Because of its, however half-hearted commitment to genre thrills (the few "cinematic" touches point towards De Palma and the Giallo more than towards Cohen), DER TOURIST is not quite as annoying as your average TATORT and Christoph Waltz tries to make the best out of his underwritten role as a repressed serial killer. The broken marriage storyline on the other hand is beyond cringy, every single interaction between Raacke and Malton feels like two aliens playacting "human relationship" for the first time.

Killing, Shinya Tsukamoto, 2018

Stuck in a green and damp world, the only option left is to relate to each other bodily. Even when you´re being bitten, you push your hand through the wood again, towards the other. It´s not always clear how the primal forces governing the film´s strongest images (not even clearly differentiating between sex and death) relate to interiority and history, but in the end it´s probably the insistence on interiority and history that lends those images their edge, because this way they are never allowed to settle for the security of pure immediacy.

Also, I had forgotten about the frenetic feel of Tsukamoto´s cinema. Next to him, most other body cinema directors are dull protestants.

Her Tender Heart, Tang Huang, 1959

Returning from abroad, the aunt, who later on turns out not to be the aunt, stands before the door of a house she used to live in and traces with her finger the character of a name she no longer bears. A gesture of private memory that speaks of her insulated position in the film. She isn´t its main protagonist, but she´s the only one acting out her own melodrama, rather than someone elses. Her grief stems from an autonomous decision resulting in a space of autonomous affect, a space all her own.

The main plot is a confucianist melodrama of filial piety. It´s also triggered by the aunt´s return, but she´s not really a part of it, can´t be a part of it, because her own, more modern melodrama sets her apart, frees her from the net of dependencies the other characters can´t escape from. The main protagonist of the confucianist melodrama, a daughter stuck between differing loyalties, is often seen walking alone, too, but she can´t find freedom in solitarity. Her own melodrama finds its climax when she is transformed, during a tearful hug, into the physical replacement for the amputated leg of her father. Suddenly stabilized by her embrace, he lets go of his crutches.

The Scarlet Empress, Josef von Sternberg, 1934

A strange film, both more beautiful and more conflicted than I remembered. More terrifying, too, because all those translucent layerings, sprawling ornaments, the sexual spectacular, the exuberant artificiality, all that excess isn´t related to vitalism, to blooming life, but to a calcified and ever more calcifying social order. The real horror lies in the fact that the people and their surroundings are completely compatible with each other. Even those chairs carved into monsters form a perfect whole with the people sitting on them. The mechanics governing both the human and non-human parts of the mise-en-scene may be both intricate and uneconomical, but they´re still just that: mechanics. A mass ornament, removed from real-world politics and therefore without any alternative or instruction for resistance. This becomes especially evident in the finale, a ghost-like restructuring of the social and audiovisual order, a pre-arranged set of movements outside the realm of human subjectivity, like a revolution executed by a music box.

Dietrich, meanwhile, over the course of the film models herself into the automaton she had been from the start. Everyone´s a puppet, but she´s the only one holding her own strings.

Ihre Majestät die Liebe, Paul May, 1931

A lesson unlearned by most recent cinema (as far as it even engages with the topic): Love is never earned, but always granted.

Life Gamble, Chang Cheh, 1979

So much scheming that even the outlet of physical combat seems to be mostly closed-off for most of the runtime. Once the fighting does start, though, those beautifully designed, ritualistic bursts of violence turn out to have been worth the wait.

The Old Dark House, James Whale, 1932

Everyone is born with a private little secret. It doesn´t go away with age but only grows. Sooner or later it becomes so big that everyone is deformed by it in one way or other... and most of the time everyone´s better off to leave it at that.

A generous, laid-back hangout movie that just happens to double as a well-oiled horror comedy... Might not be the obvious choice but my favorite is Lilian Bond´s somewhat overeager insistence on having fallen madly in love, just now, this very moment, didn´t you see it? I´m really head over heels, believe me! Also, the dinner scene is marvellous, the authoritarian distribution of food, all that skewering. As if the violence, the mastery of nature implied in the gathering of food returns in a repressed form, as table manners.

The Dragon of Macao, Mio Ezaki, 1965

Routine nikkatsu action entry driven by Kobayashi´s cool arrogance. The blankest among many blank faces. The transitioning scenes, filled with hard-boiled desperation, are often better than the action itself. Some interesting cutaways.

Cleopatra, Cecil B. De Mille, 1934

From a time when Hollywood´s seduction techniques weren´t based on deceit, but on showmanship, just like the ever-expanding machinery of debauchery Colbert builds around herself in order to sleep with Wilcoxon isn´t meant to trick him, but to win him over, like an irrefutable argument. Wilcoxon´s homey, rumbling elegance, on the other hand, is a spectacle all of its own. Like Mature in SAMSON AND DELILAH (which is basically the same film in color), he falls in love from head to tow.

Sylvia Scarlett, George Cukor, 1935

No one jumps like Katherine Hepburn jumps in this film and I don`t think I ever need to see a Rivette of Pineiro film again, I can just watch this one over and over instead, it has all the same beats and always will give me much more joy because Cukor doesn´t try so hard and only follows where the bodies of his actors, and the fantasies inscribed into those bodies, lead him.

The Flu, Kim Sung-soo, 2013

Just as melodramatic and over the top as one can expect from a korean virus blockbuster, and just about a thousand times stupider. Might be comforting to know, in theory, that at least some films out there still clearly are stupider than the real world, but then again, this is just annoying. Every single character got on my nerves even before the mayhem starts and the ill-advised cross-cutting destroys the few somewhat forceful phantasmagorical moments later on.

The I Don`t Care Girl, Lloyd Bacon, 1953

A backstage comedy featuring three magnificent musical set pieces, each one a sexual melodrama and also a backstage comedy all its own, just as inventive but not as in your face as Berkeley. Even the Lloyd Bacon directed filler scenes in between have a certain stolid charm, all those clear-cut diagonal lines. Lots of Oscar Levant, too. Would like to see a print of this some day.

Panic in the Streets, Elia Kazan, 1950

Dynamic deep focus shots in cramped spaces, the kind of bravura cinematography that sometimes gets on my nerves, here it works, though, because Kazan keeps things moving and knows how to use actors. Even the quiet moments have a sense of urgency, especially the scenes with Widmark and Bel Geddes (who should´ve had more movie roles): intimacy intensified by the impossibility of physical contact. I love the over the top Widmark of the Hathaway films, but his controlled performance here clearly is on another level, especially when pitted against Palance who looks even more sculpted than usual.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

letterboxd backup (30)

See China and Die, Larry Cohen, 1981

Supremely pleasant. Cohen stays comfortably within the tv mystery formula, but at the same time manages to unobstrusively include a number of completely different, more cinematic images/affects: an inner city blaxploitation chase scene, claustrophobic Pakula paranoia, slasher thrills...

Of course, he makes the most of the black maid as sleuth hook as well. In other words: A film that manages to embarrass KNIVES OUT both aesthetically and politically.

Against All, Andrew Lau, 1990
While very young Nick Cheung and Jacqueline Ng aren´t the most charismatic screen couple, Lau knows how to place them effectively in nighttime lighting schemes, and all the teen male bonding / macho posturing stuff is also done with a bit more attention to detail than usually. Cheungs antagonist (played by someone with the wonderful name Lam King-Kong, now a busy tv actor, according to wikipedia) is especially memorable.

Nothing prepared me for the absolutely stunning last 10-15 minutes, though, a miniature heroic bloodshed masterpiece tacked onto a solid programmer. Probably the work of action director Stephen Tung, although around 1990, ad hoc genius like that could pop up almost anywhere in Hongkong cinema.

Adventurous Treasure Island, Herman Yau, Ha Sao Hin, 1996

A neat package I guess, and somewhat sweet at times, so maybe I just wasn´t in the right mood for it, to me it was all way too uniform once they got sucked into the game, a flow of automatic motions with nothing to cling to and a terrible soundtrack.

Sonnenschein und Wolkenbruch, Rudolf Nussgruber, 1955

Not completely without wit, although things start to get stale after the first 30 minutes. Nussgruber spends way too much energy on the "straight couple" instead of on Nicoletti, Vogel and various loony sidekicks. Jester Naefe´s red hair gets a few glossy shots, but in the end these timid attempts at glamour only make it all the more clear that we are far away from hollywood, here.

I´m amazed just how many of these mistaken identity featuring some sort of royalty set in grand hotels films there were in 1950s german and austrian cinema. Not just one genre among many, but almost the default modus of filmmaking.

Ghost Lantern, Andrew Lau, 1993

Andrew Lau seems to be more interested in the glossy flashbacks than in the sketchy present-day scene, and he also doesn´t seem to have much feel for horror. Tony Leung and Chingmy Yau are both sweet and full of energy, though, and there´s enough Wong Jing vulgarity around to keep me engaged.

The Invisible Man, Leigh Whannell, 2020

Forceful, almost lush genre cinema. Whannell isn´t all that inventive when it comes to the monster himself, the frequently used "pans into nothing" almost feel a bit ridiculous... those might be ok in ghost films, invisible man films, on the other hand, were never interested in invisibility itself, but in the cinematic ways to overcome it. I always liked the scenes in which the invisible man dresses up, complete with make-up / bandages and sunglasses. No such thing here.

The film is very good though when it comes to exploring the space around Elisabeth Moss. Basically all of it is built around close-ups of her face, in a completely different way a indie drama would be, though. It´s not about her projecting her interiority into the film / onto us, but about the camera checking in on her once in a while in order to register the imprint the film makes on her. As if for reassurance: Is Elisabeth still on board with all of this?

Some of the close-ups actually are either a little bit too close or last a little bit too long, just as the whole thing could move along a bit faster at every single stage. No reason a film like this must be >100 minutes. Each step is carefully articulated, sometimes a bit too much so, but luckily Whannell always chooses thrills over smartness and even allows itself a few weird digressions. That Storm Reid "celebration dance", wtf.

As Good As Dead, Larry Cohen, 1955

"You don´t have to be anybody but yourself." Still, what drives the plot is the opposing desire, the never clearly articulated, always implicit desire to really be, for once, someone else, to escape destiny and family. Almost like in a 19th century gothic novel (Crystal Bernard would make a great Wilkie Collins heroine), only that here, the whole thing doubles as a critique of the shitty american health care system.

Smart and playful all around. The Traci Lords parts in the beginning are especially effective, she´s much more alive than anyone else and her death steeps everything afterwards in melancholy.

Brahms: The Boy II, William Brent Bell, 2020

The last days of cinema: Until recently I caught as many analog film screenings as I could, because who knows how long that will be possible; now that I moved to a place without a repertory scene I watch lots of mediocre programmers at the theater, because who knows how long _that_ will be possible...

A bit less than mediocre in this case... although it´s not quite as big a bust as Bell´s THE DEVIL INSIDE a few years back. As long as the film sticks to a limited playing field, it has its charmes, thanks to Holmes and the really rather creepy kid. Domesticity and its discontent: something american cinema still is reliably good with. Once Holmes walks into the stupid mansion next door, though, things fall apart completely.

Heroes Shed No Tears, Chor Yuen, 1980

Red smoke on the horizon. Only that there never is any horizon, but always just another beautiful soundstage. A tale of arrogance undone by (the slowly encroaching realization of) mortality.

Ip Man 4: The Finale, Wilson Yip, 2019

The first Ip Man film that left me almost completely cold. It´s extremely silly, but that´s not the problem, in fact, the silliest parts (the cheerleader storyline, Scott Adkins as an almost literally fuming racist) are the most fun. What´s mostly missing is the sentimental side of Ip Man´s pathos. Why is his sickness treated as an afterthought? Should´ve been front and center. Everything boils down to just one competently executed, but never truly spectacular and always a little bit too tightly delimitated hand-to-hand rumble after another.

The Mermaid, Kao Li, 1965

Very nice Huangmei opera, although rather small-scale and neither as accomplished as Li Han Hsian´s contributions to the genre nor as twisted as MADAME WHITE SNAKE, with which it shares some surface similarities. THE MERMAID is much lighter. Here, the fantastic elements aren´t tied to sexual jealousy and misogyny, but rather, quite on the contrary, to a liberating erotic curiosity. Ivy Ling Po is, once again, fabulous, she just nails celibate male naivety like no one else.

All of a Sudden, Herman Yau, 1996

A Joe Eszterhas style erotic thriller, two love triangles cancelling each other out, sexual desperation transformed into potboiler gloss, fired up by fierce, syncopic Hong Kong pacing, a more direct approach to exploitation (including the jarring windshield splash 10 minutes before the end) and a wonderful Dayo Wong doofus cop performance.

Might´ve been stronger with a clearer focus on Irene Wan (so many somewhat obtrusive shots of her caring for the baby... of course all those picture postcard motherhood moments totally make sense once the windshield splash hits) but never a dull moment nonetheless.

Evolution of a Filipino Family, Lav Diaz, 2004

History is not captured, but slipping away in front of our very eyes.

Samurai Wolf, Hideo Gosha, 1966

Quite similar to all those 60s / 70s jidaigeki film serials in its primacy of style and dynamic action over pathos, but much more minimalist than most of them. No gimmicky pop-art extravaganza, just a quick, bare-bones study in violence.

Away, Gints Zilbalodis, 2019

Ghibli-style figures inserted into cgi wastelands, barren textures only very narrowly brought alive by a few selected sound markers. The crudeness of the world-building is at the very heart of the film, and the same goes for the once again extremely narrow gameplay linearity of the plot. A digital arte povera, but completely removed from politics. Images bearing witness to a pure subjectivity drained of all content, pushing towards musical, hypnotic overdrive.

I still don´t quite know what to make of it, there´s certainly a rather tiresome element of arthouse-sweetness lurking around somewhere in those images, too, and sometimes it threatens to overtake the whole thing. Still, I´m intrigued, this really feels new.

Joke With a Sorrowful Heart, Masaharu Segawa, 1985

Japanese lacrima movie with Takeshi Kitano as the father of a child diagnosed with brain cancer. Completely straightforward in its emotional approach, but at the same time quietly elegant and controlled: a film of affect and its various inhibitions and nothing else. Music is a door to the heart, but it closes once the song (or the marvelous main theme) ends.

The most beautiful scene has Kitano and the dying child travelling to Sydney, were the boy´s mother is starting a new life away from the eternal juvenile prankster Kitano. When they arrive at her home, they find her preparing for her wedding. Only while looking in on a life both of them are no longer part of, father and son are able to find a true connection - a moment of pure melodramatic acceptance on par with the final scene of STELLA DALLAS.

As much as I love some of his directing work, JOKE WITH A SORROWFUL HEART makes it obvious that Kitano the actor lost something once he retreated into his deadpan cynicism routine. I´ve never seen him even half as soft and malleable. Here, he still is involved in a constant, if mostly dysfunctional dialogue with the world. A few years later, he just unilaterally cut off all channels of communication. The cost of becoming an auteur...

Bokura wa aruku, tada soredake, Ryuichi Hiroki, 2009

Fragments of small-town life, lingering moments instead of solid, fulfilling arcs, intimate indie framings of unusual precision. Every memory points towards loss. How to account for a form of existence that always defines itself by what it is not? Maybe Barthes is right and photography really can do just that.

At times, this almost feels like a preliminary study for IT´S BORING HERE, PICK ME UP, but then again, I just have to watch more Hiroki to find out. He´s clearly major.

Emma., Autumn de Wilde, 2020

In a way comedy of manner is a question of perception: it immediately (and only) comes into being once you decide to read the life around you as one. As does, of course, Emma in Austen´s book. In the film, too, she is the creator: the magnificent Taylor-Joy rules by way of eyebrows, gloves and fingertips, while everyone else plunges into caricature, some more enthusiastically than others.

Moving from posture and interiors to faces and light, de Wilde almost directs with a bit too much bounce. Her film is best when there´s just prose, gestures and bodies, but it always comes from a place of love for Austen and in the end that is what counts.

Superexpress, Yasuzo Masumura, 1964

Modernisation as revolution: a restructuring of society, urban space, desire and mise-en-scene by capital. A constant scaling and re-scaling of bodies in cramped spaces, almost a bit too schematic at times, but once sex enters the equation, everything acquires a deeper sense of urgency. Jiro Tamiya (who is also in the quite similar, if more over the top BLACK TEST CAR) is perfect as the hard-boiled underdog in an overcapitalized zero-sum-game. The long scene of him being attacked by payed thugs who very methodically kick him in the stomach for what feels like eternity will stay with me.

Tiger Cage, Yuen Woo Ping, 1988

The prolonged action scene in the beginning sets the bar high, escalating not towards chaos, but towards abstraction, with bodies being inserted into a grid of ramps, stairs, pedestrian crossings, a 3d shuffle, agil, opening up a new spatial configuration every few seconds. Yuen action films are often as much about making use of the environment as about body techniques, and here, he constantly searches for new ways of involving the city in the gunplay.

The film slows down a bit later on and turns into a slick enough pulpy procedural (Yuen probably would´ve been a good Canon director in the 80s, too) with dynamic bursts of action and grizzly kills. Carol Cheng´s precise, detached performance between lots of male mugging is a nice touch.

Es flüstert die Liebe, Geza von Bolvary, 1935

The direction of the reliable von Bolvary is better than the material, with quite a few quirky touches like the frequent tracking shots of Fröhlich and his sidekick walking towards a receding camera, like a pair of wizards opening up a world for us. This time I even kind of liked Fröhlich, who loses some of his signature herrenmensch-snide once he meets the also very good Elma Bulla. Still, the grand-hotel shenanigans never quite pick up the necessary speed and the last act back in Hungary is really terrible. Hard not to see the shadow of nazism looming over this kind of autocratic pastoral idyll.

Virus, John Bruno, 1999

Cinemas only and of course rather blunt weapon against the virus (as a reality or, like here, as a concept) is visibility: where the cause is categorically hidden, the symptoms bloom all the merrier. VIRUS, for example, is a frenetic tech-fest, alternating between positivist adoration of stuff that moves and a post-humanist death wish. Another interesting, strictly technological schism: While the alien life-form floating through air in the beginning of the film is a jarringly artificial cgi cloud (a poisoning of the image), its later manifestations are mostly analog, oily, steamy contraptions insisting on their physicality.

VIRUS is not what most people would call a good movie. It´s sub Michael Crichton trite with rather random steampunk and 80s splatter imagery thrown in, but also quite interesting in its crudeness: cold war resurfacing as cyborg takeover. The new front-line is artificial intelligence vs profit motive which in the end turns out to be just two different kinds of stupid cancelling each other out.

Between all of this a few lost souls acting out a fast-moving thriller plot, with not much directorial control beyond the mechanical parts. Everyone in the cast is free to discover and then cultivate his or her own kind of crazy.

Virus, Kinji Fukasaku, 1980

The cold war both finalized and sublated by a killer virus - only to return, zombiefied and now devoid of any human subjectivity, for a second, even more devastating round. Extremely dark and twisted, especially for a project of this scale. The rare disaster film choosing, at least in a few key scenes, the vantage point not of survival but of death.

Glenn Ford in the Oval Office, illuminated by twilight´s last gleaming.

"We need a new approach to human sexuality."

Virus, Allan A. Goldstein, 1996

The hidden elegance of bottom of the barrel action filmmaking: Brian Bosworth trying to extract his feet from knee-deep mud while flirting with Leah Pinsent at the same time. So inept that it isn´t failed mimesis any longer but rather real-life awkward slapstick. Generally it´s strange that Bosworth is even more clumsy in the action scenes compared to the "psychological" ones.

Nice touch to end a film that never seems to leave / think beyond the same few acres of woodlands with a geopolitical "one world" summit.

Virus, Armand Mastroianni, 1995

[insert joke relating to recent events; buzzwords: cdc incompetence + government corruption + toxic masculinity; shouldn´t be too hard]

Thanks to an energetic Sheridan and a well-adjusted tv cast this is surprisingly watchable for a while. Later on derailed by accumulating stupidity.

Märkische Gesellschaft mbh, Volker Koepp, 1991

A void that´s about to be filled but the film doesn´t know that yet.

Söhne, Volker Koepp, 2007

Makes a lot out of a biographical approach to historiography and even manages to point towards its limitations once or twice.

Mädchen in Wittstock, Volker Koepp, 1975

"Kein Kommunikationssystem kann ganz davon abstrahieren, daß Menschen leiblich beteiligt sind (...)"

Berlin- Stettin, Volker Koepp, 2009

Some scenes are extremely affecting but I´m not sure if a directly autobiographical approach like this really fits Koepp´s method. The self-questioning turns into a determining force that leaves the more open parts of the film hanging in the air.

In Sarmatien, Volker Koepp, 2013

Blown away. A cartography of loss and displacement, an alternate history of europe by way of a geographical decentering.

Seestück, Volker Koepp, 2018

Impressive as a travelogue inspired by the nautic tradition in european romantic paintings. Otherwise, it left me rather cold. The discussion of Rousseau points towards a dialectical argument about the relationship of nature and civilization which the film as a whole isn´t really interesting in pursuing. It doesn´t have to, of course, but without it SEESTÜCK feels like a strange compromise between the detached cross-sectional style of someone like Geyrhalter and all those straightforward activist documentaries denouncing globalisation. (My main problem might be that I don´t care much for either of those modes.)

Schuldner, Volker Koepp, 1971

A straightforward propaganda piece, and at the same time maybe the most illuminating film I´ve seen about daily life in the GDR. A paternalistic-collectivist nightmare, hitting all the harder because the camera stays on the side of power the whole time.

Also points towards a more ambivalent perspective on film history (not only regarding the GDR; in some ways, BRD cinema was subject to similar schisms). While the implicitly dissident, realist documentaries celebrated today indeed provide access to gestures, ways of speaking, subjectivities completely absent in the "official" propaganda images, they in turn hide the totalizing claim and the accompanying violence of state ideology. Films like SCHULDNER and the Wittstock films are necessary correctives to each other.

Herr Zwilling und Frau Zuckermann, Volker Koepp, 1999

Maybe true historiography always has to be an unlikely conversation, an image against the odds of history.

Märkische Heide, Märkischer Sand, Volker Koepp, 1990

Crazy how much the Märkische Trilogie feels like a full-blown historical epic. Despite being shot over the course of not much more than two years, all of the three films speak from different, distinct, clearly delimited points in time, hermetically closed off from each other.

Neues in Wittstock, Volker Koepp, 1992

With the social matrix being ripped apart, the gaze wanders, away from the worker´s community as a time-space-contimuum towards individuals scattered through physical space and biographical time. The first Wittstock film to show real interest in the empirical Wittstock, NEUES IN WITTSTOCK has lots of street scenes, random observations, the fresh veneers of capitalism, not yet truly integrated into urban space, more like another layer of reality, a new coding, still very much bug-infested.

It´s also the first Wittstock film to explicitly present itself as the story of three women. Three lifelines, three separate entries into history. What has changed is the relationship between individual and history. Koepp´s film embodies this change rather than reflecting upon it, which isn´t necessarily a bad thing.

Bila nemoc, Hugo Haas, 1937

A film about two doomsday machines feeding and commenting on each other. Some of the implications of its strange plot might not be completely thought through, and some of its stylization might´ve worked better on the stage, but the film adaptation is always ambitious, heartbreaking and directed with lots of quirky touches. In one scene the camera pans three times from one figure to another, connecting first their feet, than their torsos, than their heads. In a way the whole film is like this, an excess of rhetorics, born from desperation.

Wittstock, Wittstock, Volker Koepp, 1997

The Wittstock series has a tendency to be a bit too much in love with its own gimmicks, especially since switching to long form with LEBEN IN WITTSTOCK. Here, the gimmicks are threatening to take over the whole thing, turning the film into a delivery system for hard-earned melancholy and those playful, flirty looks into the camera. As sheer accumulation of embodied history this still is impressive, though.

Die Hamburger Krankheit, Peter Fleischmann, 1979

The real viruses criticize the filmed ones and this one here feels like a fraud.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

letterboxd backup (29)

The Gentlemen, Guy Richie, 2019

A circus freak-show of unbound masculinity, gleefully vulgar, completely shameless and at times quite openly trolling, a film that dares to value style and performances above all else and still arrives at a layered, paranoid-panoramic, even geopolitical whole.

I wasn´t prepared to like it (I didn´t much care for Richie back when he made Richie films, and some of his studio films are extremely bad), and there are parts that fall completely flat, but its manic energy never falters. Cinema was never supposed to be wholesome.

Miyamoto Musashi, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1944

That scene in the middle of Kinuyo Tanaka closing in on Miyamoto Musashi in order to transfer her anger and bloodlust onto him, but, when finding him absorbed into his sculptural work, completely cut off from the rest of the world, slowing down herself, lingering in the foreground of a time-annihilating long shot, lost in a limbo, hesitating, turning, finally sitting down, settling into a stasis that resolves nothing but infuses the tale of heroic revenge she´s a part of with an insurmountable sense of futility.

The Sword, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1945

A sword there was. A bit too monothematic to really get a grip on me, but the forging scenes alone are an impressive exercise in form. Blang-blang-ploink.

The Ghost Cat and the Mysterious Shamisen, Kiyohiko Ushihara, 1938

Starts as a soapy jealousy drama, set in a claustrophobic world, intricate frames everywhere and no horizon in site, all kinds of barriers closing in and still no place to hide. It´s more about gaze than about action, but then a prolonged close-up announces evil and a cat gets it with a hairpin.

The dead cat is soon joined by a dead woman and a jinxed Shamisen - a trinity of hauntings somehow enhanced by the fact that the precise workings of the curse, or even its major visual representation never surface. The enclosed world doesn´t open up once the horror stuff starts, but it acquires another dimension: The main special effect is a slow pulsating of light, resulting in a repeated, complete blackening of the whole screen. It´s very effective although not really all that threatening, in fact it´s almost a bit mellow, a loosening of rhythm, smoothing down some of the harder edges.

Victory Song, Mizoguchi, Shimizu et al, 1945

An image that took me by surprise: people slipping down slides attached to the outside of their houses in order to reach the air raid bunkers faster. Of course that´s just one part of an effort of total, desperate mobilisation. This is a film that has no time to dwell on the shot, following a few seconds later, of an abandoned streets awaiting the impact of the bombs. Just a short glimpse of it, then the mayhem starts.

A theater performance and a tale of voices over water momentarily open up spaces of lyricism, but those are strictly subordinate to all those montage sequences made up of the heroic imagery of the international authoritarian avant-garde tradition. Automatic images connecting a number of dramatic miniatures, some of them somewhat touching. In the end, though, this is about a nation rushing towards death, sucked into a current that leaves nothing behind.

Shaihu Umar, Adamu Halilu, 1976

The arab slave trade filtered through a slow-motion family melodrama. At times so beautiful it hurts. Generally more successful in the more abstract, less dramatized parts (strange use of 70s zooms, also in slow-motion, shades of Rossellini´s tv work). The thoroughly detached "big resolution" scene is amazing, though.

As clumsy as some of it is it succeeds in evoking a pre-modern temporality in a way I haven´t quite seen anywhere else.

King of Boys, Kemi Detiba, 2019

I´m afraid cult cinephilia will discover nollywood only when it is too late and everything is slick and boring. (Not that I´ve seen much myself, unfortunately.)

The Hoodlum, Sidney Franklin, 1919

A beautiful film, a bit similar to SUDS, not quite as good, probably because the plot is a bit tighter and there´s less time to stray. Still, it brings so much joy to watch Pickford navigate this inner-city space, organized vertically more than horizontally: the clothes-lines stretched over the narrow street, the slide down into the cellar. Pickford is the quintessential american character, because she always already embodies the better nation everyone else only strives for and preaches about.

Daddy-Long-Legs, Marshall Neilan, 1919

At their best, these Neilan-Pickford films are in a class of their own. This one is constantly inventive, never settling down on any fixed mode of operating, with the storyline being never more than a starting point, a temporary hardening in the time-space-continuum, there only in order to play off against.

Among many other attractions, this includes a minute long sequence of a dog parading alongside a bricked wall on his hind legs!

M`Liss, Marshall Neilan, 1918

As long as nothing happens and the screen is filled with slingshots and puppets, chicken and monkeys, and the desire not to go too school (=for the first half of the film), this is great. The revenge storyline that finally takes over unfortunately is too tight and too modern, not suitable for Pickford, who needs older, more victorian narrative setups to truly blossom.

Uncut Gems, Safdie Brothers, 2019

All that is solid melts into air. Only that it´s the other way around. This is, at its core, a fantasy about re-grounding the sphere of circulation, fixating it onto a single body, a single nervous system, a single (but always divided) consciousness. Howard Ratner takes on the job and the qualities of capital itself: to assign and reassign value constantly, to transform ever more matter into commodities, and, especially, to keep everything in play, to keep account of everything at all times, from the cruel spectacle of blood diamonds right down to junior´s bladder. There are no fixed assets. Even his own body weight seems to be constantly in flux, like the stock market. Capital is always already crisis, but also a normalcy that knows no alternative. So in the next step, Howard Ratner has to reconfigure the pressure he´s under and at the same time asserts as everyday life. It can´t work but it almost works until it doesn´t.

I was a bit surprised about how my own reaction, because I wasn´t really on board with HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT and GOOD TIMES. With these, it was always a bit like watching the machinations more than the final product, like in some New Hollywood films there always seems to be an overeagerness of technique, a manic overinvestment in every single scene with the Safdies. Here too, but this time I went with the flow anyway. Partly because some of the machinations really are marvellous (the club scene invaded by harsh, delirious orange), but I think the main reason why this works so well is that it´s a one man show. This way the film can, for the most part, stay clear of the indie drama psychological shorthands the Safdies obviously have a weakness for. The worst parts of UNCUT GEMS are the family scenes (the one with the daughter is downright painful): the flow starts to falter, everyone´s falling back into known behavior. For the most part, though, it´s just a perfect match of form, content, and actor. It´s surprising only on first sight how absolutely perfect Sandler is, because UNCUT GEMS in some ways isn´t that far removed from his more out there mainstream work like ZOHAN, THAT´S MY BOY and JACK & JILL, films that also, like UNCUT GEMS, feel like risk investments that, against all odds, pay off. In a way, Sandler always is the most unlikely, and therefore the most successful of high-wire artists.


Might make an interesting double feature with Dwan´s THE INSIDE STORY.

Heart o` the Hills, Sidney Franklin, 1919

Mary-Pickford-izing the frontier. A (mountain) western and a much stronger exercise in the genre than M´LISS, because of its more ethnographical approach and also because the central love triangle actually is charming. Mary´s excitement whenever she is near the slick city boy...

Unfortunately, the last act doesn´t work at all. After the leap in time, the film loses all playfulness and fluidity, curiosity is condemned and everything is assigned to its proper place once again. The last shot of Mary before a final title card announces her marriage - looking towards the camera, a waterfall rushing alongside her legs, a free spirit still - is marvellous, though. Heartbreaking, too.

The Undesirable, Michael Curtiz, 1915

A 19 year old Michael Curtiz directing a routine melodrama, still very much in the frontal, stagey style of the time. Some of the more dramatic scenes already display a more fluid sense of dramaturgy and the outdoor shots are beautiful, but for the most part this is unremarkable.

The Ryhthm Section, Reed Morano, 2020

Completely misconceived, an almost bizarre mismatch of form and content: the images (+ the terrible soundtrack) constantly push a subjectivity that isn´t grounded in the script at all. Lively´s traumatic background and her multiple transformations into at first spectacularly grimy and then evermore glamourous versions of herself are blatantly, almost selfconsciously generic setups, something to play off of, not something to immerse oneselve in. What´s left are elaborately processed splinters of streamlined affect, and a few halfway efficient action scenes in between.

It doesn´t happen very often but this really made me long for a Luc Besson film.

Der Geisterzug, Geza von Bolvary, 1927

Not really a horror film, but rather a farcical mystery. There´s not even all that much train content as the film seldom leaves the train station and the Geisterzug isn´t much more than a gimmick. On the other hand, this mostly is a film about gimmicks anyway and Bolvary is, as always, very good with set design and, more general, with the playfully ornamental side of filmmaking. The design of the intertitles alone makes this one worth watching.

Hyenas, Djibril Diop Mambety, 1992

One of the more relaxed films about the end of the world. Reading about it here and elsewhere, I´m a bit perplexed, though: yeah, of course, it´s about capitalist modernity as doomsday machine, but isn´t the main point of the parable that here, capitalism isn´t something that comes purely from the outside, as a foreign, colonizing poison? Linguere has her roots in the community, her grievances clearly are real and tradition is just as corrupting as capital. This probably is just the starting point of the film, but without acknowledging it, you won´t go anywhere.

Olanlar oldu, Hakan Algül, 2017

Another wonderful Algül / Demirer film, one of the best, in fact, because it´s more about love than about scheming, this time and also because it features a broad, but nicely calibrated cross-dressing performance, a rare thing today. Türkay´s Aslı may be more a concept than a real person, but that makes sense, too, because this way she can be the perfect foil for the spectacle of Demirer "being in love" - for him, love is an inhibitor (another one), and also a potential gateway to a trance-like state of pure feeling. Love as a self-technique.

As much as this is a Demirer show (the best punchlines are almost always close-ups of his face, without any dialogue), this is also, like all of his films, about community, about a society en miniature, depicted with a benevolent sense of caricature and without a hint of narrative overdetermination. The people around Demirer are not "supporting charakters". They exist for their own sake.

Some people will confuse the relaxedness and looseness of the film with laziness, but I don´t care. It´s a film that handles the world tenderly, that´s enough for me.

Muna Moto, Jean-Pierre Dikongue Pipa, 1975

The freshness of a pioneering work: all things have not been said yet. Beneath the harsh, clear-cut story of monetized sexual difference lie multiple impulses, not always in tune in with one another: to perceive the world, to understand it, to transform it.

Quartier Mozart, Jean-Pier Bekolo, 1992

Sex is a many-splendored thing.

The Photograph, Stella Meghie, 2020

A well-made and especially very well-photographed romance film without any bland montage sequences and an overkill of pop tunes (one misstep though: the audio cutaway from Al Green during the sex scene - why?). Rae and Stanfield are perfectly in tune, Chelsea Peretti is very funny, as is Lil Rel Howery, Meghie is great with gestures, gazes etc... all of this is not there to be enjoyed for itself, though, but in order to put forward a story that unfortunately just doesn´t work out. The mother / daughter back and forth leads nowhere because it is built on false equivalencies - the circumstances the women are living in are too different, and the film doesn´t have any ambitions to work with these differences, either. This is especially obvious in the Louisianna scenes: The south is not much more than a (beautiful) lighting scheme.

THE PHOTOGRAPH might´ve been stronger as a low-key slice-of-life film, but I still hope Meghie stays on her lane and continues making full-blown bittersweet melodramas. Everyone who believes in both affect and narrative is valuable these days and she might just arrive at a masterpiece somewhere down the road.

Fantasy Island, Jeff Wadlow, 2020

I know nothing about the tv FANTASY ISLAND, but the film version plays out like the world´s most stupid LOST episode. It´s also badly made, basically not even the jump scares work. Still, as soon as Ryan Hansen stepped out of the plane I knew I´d have fun, and indeed, there´s a manic, additive quality to it that kept me engaged even during the very ill-advised cave-finale. The experience comes down to switching back and forth between tv channels all broadcasting tired eighties reruns but you might be a little bit drunk and there´s nothing else to do anyway and there´s Lucy Hale from PRETTY LITTLE LIARS in it and also Maggie Q who, alone in the cast, acts as if the stakes were real.

Victory of Women, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1946

Collective self-questioning in long takes. Except for its somewhat tucked-on court-room ending the inquiry lends towards introspection and stasis rather than towards proactive democratic nation building. A bright future is not yet in sight, Kinuyo Tanaka´s determined stare notwithstanding.

Die - oder keine, Carl Froelich, 1932

A talking picture. More enthralling with every viewing. All those fractious word-sensations meandering through cardboard-image-spaces, not always all that firmly tied to single bodies, motivations, plot points...

Women of the Night, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1948

That scene of Kinuyo Tanaka climbing through the barbed-wired fence and over the prison wall... suddenly, I´m thrown back to the very moment of filming: I see nothing but a tortuous parkour, set up exclusively for the actress to make her way through, the camera relentlessly registering her every move. The sadistic underpinnings of cinematic realism for once front and center...

Utamaro and His Five Women, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1946

Portrait of the artist as a manic sleazeball. Not one of his more thoughtful films, probably, more like an unfiltered, meandering, benevolent confessional. Absolutely loving it.

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu, Celine Sciamma, 2019

I already feel for the generations of french high-school students who inevitably will have to write papers on this. So much to "unpack"... and the appropriate tools are right there, too!

...don´t want to dive too deep into cynicism, because in the end this might have just caught me on the wrong foot. The very good Haenel performance aside I really can´t even begin to grasp where the almost universal acclaim for this neatly packaged piece of quality cinema is coming from.

(I mean, if that Orpheus and Eurydice dialogue isn´t heavy-handed, I don´t know what is.)

Flame of My Love, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1949

Japanese modernity as a vision of hell, creeping long-shots dissolving into mayhem. Same all-encompassing sense of desperation as in WOMEN OF THE NIGHT, and strangely, by widening the scope the plight of women is even more front and center, because they are the ones burdened with anchoring the image of an unhinged world.

Portrait of Madame Yuki, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1950

One of Mizoguchi´s stranger, more oblique heroines, Yuki seems to be a victim more of modernity than of men, a soft-eyed, inhibited creature, too sensual for her own good, lost in a world she doesn´t understand. Mizoguchi reinforces this by introducing her through the eyes and fantasies of another woman, Hamako. It´s not about contrasting Yuki with Hamako, though: After the beautiful intro (her face illuminated by the pool`s water), the latter fades into the background, becoming just one of several interpretants of Yuki.

What makes the film so interesting is that Mizoguchi himself, as a humanist who is afraid of progress, seems to be conflicted and unsure about the world he is depicting. Unlike the red-light-districts or stylized pasts most of his other films are set in, the spaces of bourgeois modernity never acquire any sense of immersive wholeness. His only chance to enter this world is through the impossible point of view of Yuki.

Undine, Christian Petzold, 2020

Resisting the libidinous pull of history. Doubling down on both madcap romanticism and the discursive underpinnings of melodrama, UNDINE probably won´t find quite as many fans as PHOENIX and TRANSIT, but might be the most daring Petzold film yet. Or at the very least the most Petzold. Paula Beer rules.

Plus there´s a wonderful love-on-first-sight-as-slapstick scene, like in THE LONG GREY LINE and THE BIG PARADE.

The Love of Sumako the Actress, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1947

A film about democratic modernisation and nation building, and also a throwback to Mizoguchi´s prewar artist films, like CHRYSANTHEMUM and STRAITS OF LOVE AND HATE. It´s fascinating, but much less fluid and organic than the earlier films. In those, the drama hinges on a dysfunctional relationship, a woman falling prey to a weak man. Here, the man isn´t much more than a catalyst, while the destructive impulses are placed in the woman herself. Coupled with Mizoguchi´s not very subtle didacticism, this almost derails the film several times.

Only when Tanaka, bursting with energy from the start, completely switches into manic overdrive, lashing out at the world in a series of convulsive outbursts of energy, the film finds its footing. Towards the end its a blast, a high-key melodrama, blistering and bursting at the seams while declaring the tragic oneness of art and life.

A Carmen stage production with Tanaka would have been the greatest thing ever.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), Kathy Yan, 2020

All that vulgar, pulpy energy makes one wish this was better written and had a bit more style. In its present form, it´s mostly a series of false starts, never leading into the kind of manic flow it obviously aims at. Still, at least it keeps up the interest. The John Wick style action is nice and the film generally works best when it trusts its more antisocial impulses instead of watering them down with girl power bonding.

Kunst kommt aus dem Schnabel wie er gewachsen ist, Sabine Herpich, 2020

Endlessly fascinated by the piece dealing with the Bode Museum, a building so ugly the artist can´t stand the sight even of her own recreation of it, therefore covering it with rags and barbed wire even while working on it. A truly impossible artwork, existing only in the attempts to overcome it.

The Lady of Musashino, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1951

Tsutomu is one of Mizoguchi´s most fascinating men, a desperate, soft-spoken romantic whose idealism might just be a cover for an all-encompassing madness. (At times he acts more like a Kinoshita man than like a Mizoguchi man.) Coming back from war and captivity, his experiences closed off inside of him, he throws the carefully arranged unhappy social and libidinous post-war-compromises into disarray. An agent of asynchonicity ripping open the seams of a self-same present.

The film looks beyond gorgeous, too.

Street of Shame, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1956

A strange last film, closing in instead of widening up. I miss the more elaborate archs of previous films, but every single one of the stories here has a blunt force that will leave a lasting impression.

Happy Hour, Benny Chan, 1995

Slapdash courtroom poitboiler about three friends wrongfully accused of rape after a night in town. Benny Chan handles the clubbing-leading-to-sex scenes very well, but seems to have no idea what to do with the rest of the film. Understandably so, because most of it doesn´t lead anywhere, especially the parts with Lau Ching-Wan´s lawyer. Some of the other stuff is interesting in theory: the three guys, despite being innocent, continue to be bro-assholes of the worst kind throughout the whole film, they even end up killing someone by accident and the film seems to be unsure about its own level of complicity with all of that. Also, someone insisted on using "Stand by Me" as theme song.

Friday, March 27, 2020

letterboxd backup (28)

Harnessed Rhythm, Jacques Tourneur, 1936

Analytic filmmaking exploring the power of close-ups and freeze frames organically leading into full-blown blockbuster affect. All of this is constantly undermined by an extremely irritating voice-over, but that might have been part of the challenge.

Cats, Tom Hooper, 2019

Everybody makes fun of Hooper, but by now it should be obvious that he makes truly eccentric cinema not by chance but out of conviction. Even a very bad film like THE DANISH GIRL almost comes alive if one manages to disconnect the interplay of overwhelming painterliness and carnevalesque performances from any notion of a social reality. Here, of course, we're in the realm of the aesthetic gaze from start to finish. This might just be the film he was born to make.

To be sure, I was susceptible to all those charms from the start - the trailer already was evidence not only of style, but of a willingness to commit to style no matter what. The cat designs indeed never lose their enchanting weirdness (I suspect the most important part are the sensuous human lips, flanked by whiskers), the choreography might be rather clumsy sometimes and the sets feel closed-off, but there's a different sparkle to every scene, a texture and variety modern effect films almost never have. Best all-out CGI in a non-Tsui-Hark-directed big budget film? Maybe an overreach, but even so: whoever makes fun of this deserves 1000 years of Disney rule.

So, going in I already expected to be pleased on some level. What I neither knew nor expected, though: CATS is a fucking great musical. The best thing about it might be the lack of plot. For once, we get a big budget effects film without any action-adventure hero's journey bullshit, Instead it's all about a cipher - slender, elegant and almost translucent - discovering a world of wonders. She enters a space of pure self-expression and finds happiness. (Sometimes I thought of, of all films, Hubert Franks 70s erotica extravaganza VANESSA... this might actually make for a nice double bill...)

"Born into nothing / At least you have something." How can one not be affected by this?

Trilogy of Terror, Dan Curtis, 1975

Karen-Black-themed anthology film with every subsequent part becoming even more Karen Black. A nice concept, somewhat undermined by the fact that the third and final part isn`t just the best one, but so obviously superior to the (okay) first and the (boring) second that it makes them vanish into oblivion instantly. In fact, it makes the whole world and everything in it vanish, except for Karen Black, a voodoo doll, and a telephone.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Philip Kaufman, 1988

I haven`t given the issue much thought, but I suspect that faux european art films made in Hollywood are almost always way more fun than the real thing. This one is unashamedly horny in a very 80s way. Daniel Day-Lewis really lost his way when he followed this up with award bait after award bait instead of with a string of direct to video erotic thrillers.

Dance With Me, Shinobu Yaguchi, 2019

Somewhat shines whenever Yaguchi leaves behind the high-concept premises and focuses on the smaller moments. The best song is just both leads singing along to the car radio, filmed in a static medium shot. Even this one fades out rather early, though. Generally, the film doesn't seem to trust its own musical numbers, most of the time rightly so. Unfortunately, at the same time, it desperately tries to be a full-blown musical. The result is a constant mismatch of form / style and ambition that might even be interesting in its own right on some level, as it might point toward a deeper, structural mismatch of social conditions and genre. Music is a medium of pressure, not of release, here.

Danger Circuits, Abdullah Al-Salman, 2018

A decidedly modest police procedural, even the short running time doesn't save it from being rather dull. The best part is a running gag about the slow-wittedness of a rookie cop. Generally, Al-Salman probably would've been better of taken his cues from workplace sitcoms instead of network procedurals.

(Although this one didn't do much for me, I'd like to find out more about the Kuwaiti film industry.)

Parallel World Love Story, Yoshitaka Mori, 2019

The emotional arcs may not really hold together, especially toward the end, but I was intrigued throughout. Love and memory and technology and fear of intimacy and Mayuko Tsuno's quiet pose, with her face turned away from the reluctant camera.

And Your Bird Can Sing, Sho Miyake, 2018

Frustrating because there clearly is something, here. The dark glow of the urban night, music as a decentering force, suspending time and subjectivity, even some of the dramatic moments, especially the ones focussing on Sometani, a much less strained presence than the other too leads... if it weren't for the absolutely atrocious sub-mumblecore script with every single scene being set up as a small reveal about one of the main characters. The images are curious, the film isn't.

BrainWaves, Ulli Lommel, 1983

Lommel's VERTIGO... the plot is only vaguely similar, to be sure, but it's shot in San Francisco, there's a faux Bernhard Herrmann score, and Vera Miles (Barbara Bel Geddes probably wasn't available) plays a Hitchcock mother. Slow but not quite as somnambulist as most of his other films I've seen, this feels a bit muted. Too much plot, the real Lommel strangeness only shines through once in a while (most clearly in the scenes with the blond tristkind).

Strangers in Paradise, Ulli Lommel, 1984

This is much more like it: Lommel's very own rock opera, a self-sufficent aesthetic/political cosmology forged with unflinching conviction out of material both autobiographical (Sage's backstory is based on the life of Lommel's father) and, for better or worse, ethnographic. As crude as this is as social satire, Lommel's fascination with american everyday culture is clearly real and a main driving force of all of his american films.

Strangely enough, the film also works as a touching self portrait: Lommel as the detached, ageless deadpan magician, forever calm in the eye of the picture-storm, curating the world around him with his remote control.

Warbirds, Ulli Lommel, 1989

Lommel's parallel cinema enters its Godfrey Ho phase with WARBIRDS, a TOP GUN ripoff built around aerial stock footage. The fascinating fight scenes somehow take the fighter jets themselves out of the equation, so we get lots of disembodied aerial shots intercut with explosions, but almost no shots of planes actually in the air. As if the gaze itself triggers the mayhem, without any intermediary physical-mechanical reality.

The non-fight scenes might be even stranger, especially the macho and buddy routines of the young pilots, no-name actors (some shared credits with d'Amato's New Orleans films - totally makes sense) fully embodying every line of the cardboard dialogue. I was especially taken with "cocky" but vulnerable Vince Costello (Cully Holland from d'Amato's wonderful DIRTY LOVE).


I often wonder if cinema generally suffers from a certain overeagerness: it takes a lot of effort to make films, and once you get one of the ground, you therefore tend to stay on point no matter what. Even shoddy commercial (ie the best kind of) cinema often leans toward a notion of total vision that proves, more often than not, constricting. Lommel's cinema provides an alternative: films somehow willed into being without much obvious effort, not quite films without a reason, but films with a very private reason, films that mostly don't communicate their reason and that thereby free us to approach them differently, like objects from a hidden world coextensive with our own.

King of Boys, Kemi Adetiba, 2018

Synth score cross-cutting matriarchy! Nollywood blockbuster that turns out to be a sprawling, at times gloriously chaotic gangster epic about a woman who made it and who now rules the world by way of her facial expressions. So much energy.

Pierre et Jean, Andre Cayatte, 1943

A beautifully crafted diptych of desires and movements, some mirrored, some antipodal. In a way it's very much a film about the possibility of moral action during occupation: It all boils down to ignorance being bliss (and Noël Roquevert really is ignorance personified, here), because it's always the one who knows who has to bear all the weight, who has to make a decision and bear the consequences.

Shades of PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE in the first half, but Cayatte is after something completely different: his characters are not, like Renoir's, of the world, they are taken out of the world and put into an abstract moral/narrative space, where they are being set in motion through a number of push-pull-movements.

Renée Saint-Cyr is a strange presence and Jacques Dumesnil is huge.

Sleazy Dizzy, Chor Yuen, 1990

Somewhat uneven... The producers seem to have decided to go with the easy-listening-funk sampler someone picked up from the bargain bin instead of with a real soundtrack, and I'm not even sure Chow is cast in the right role while Kuan Tai Chen clearly isn't in his element. Sibelle Hu is great, though, and when the comedy-action-routines work, and they often do, this has a smooth deadpan flow. At the very least it merits a better transfer in order to find out how good it really is.

Der Priester und das Mädchen, Gustav Ucicky, 1958

A film of small images, of images of smallness, a drop from the rain gutter rippling the water surface of a rain barrel, a dying candle-light, secured behind a plastic cover. In its best moments a film about private retreats into loneliness and small gestures of liberation, like Winnie Markus removing her shoe and stretching out her foot. "Feelings have their own lives". Both Markus and Marianne Hold have their moments, but against the trinity of teutonic 50s masculinity - Rudolf Prack, Rudolf Lenz, Willy Birgel - they just don't stand a chance.

As much as I am on board, generally, with reappraising what was thought to be papas kino, sometimes the label does fit (even if this is, technically, an austrian film). The hard hitting, fateful, enraptured close-ups in the end evoke, if only fleetingly, the kind of german doomsday melodrama that mostly died with nazi cinema. Rightly so, of course, but DER PRIESTER UND DAS MÄDCHEN negates its own doomsday aspirations so thoroughly and unimaginatively, that it remains always already stilted, a film made in order for us to "be able to look back at the past without regret".

Underwater, William Eubank, 2020

A fetish film with the main fetish being texture rather than Kristen Stewart, a film about water pitted against solidity, water rushing along bolted frames, water tripping off surfaces both soft and hard, about light being diverted, fractured, splintered until it is indistinguishable from matter. We do not have receptors for the sensorial triggers the film provides, but we feel that we could have, that we could train ourselves to become these bodies, move like them, dive into darkness, face the Gigeresque monster (that is somehow suddenly transformed, in the film's most beautiful moment, from something out there and huge into a private fantasy). In another life.

Symphonie in Gold, Franz Antel, 1956

Rather watchable despite the complete dullness and sexlessness of the central romantic couple, with Fuchsberger being Fuchsberger and Germaine Damar sucking every bit of energy out of every scene she's in. The main saving graces are the ice revue numbers, starting slow but growing into full, blissful dementia during the last half hour. Even the scenes in between often held my interest, Antel's uninvolved direction leaves enough room for Moser and Philipp and Nicoletti and a modest collection of small excentricities.

Ist Geraldine ein Engel?, Steve Previn, 1963

60s sex comedies about playboys living it up are often hard to bear, and this really fits the bill down to the rapey vibes of some scenes. Still, the film is strangely affecting, mostly because of Froboess investing a lot in her seemingly throwaway character. All of her songs are confessionals, basically. Also Steve Previn´s smart, dynamic american mise-en-scene makes these Schlagerfilm stets move like they normally never do.

Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi, 2019

This is so dull and witless - every attempt at a joke that tries to move beyond "nazis are evil but also stupid" falls completely flat - that it took me some time to realize just how terrible it is even beyond its unappealing surface. Turning Hitler into a clown is in itself no reason for moral outrage. But installing Hitler as a dematerialized, ahistoric metacinematic gadget while at the same time positioning Elsa as the bearer of historical truth, the center of the main emotional arc and the point where all the fun stops really is kind of insidious. Because Elsa is, of course, the real falsification: the perfect wish fulfillment fantasy, she not only introduces the boy into adulthood, like myriads of smart, flirtatious, tomboyish-sexy indiewood girls have done before her, but also redeems, by way of her very survival, a whole nation from antisemitism. Elsa, not Hitler the buffoon, is the true obscenity here.

Also: not just dull and witless, but also ugly. Those rack focus shots hurt my eyes.

Zauber der Montur, Rudolf Schündler, 1958

A farcical military comedy that also features extensive crossdressing, a talking parrot, trap doors, a knight´s armor, people hiding in hay carts, a skeleton, a "catchy" title theme and Gunther Philipp really should end up with more than two and a half stars. Unfortunately, with the exception of a short bedroom scene, the direction is clumsy as hell, Juhnke is miscast in the lead role, and except for Philipp the supporting cast seems to be strictly the b-team. Lowkey fun only because some of the ingredients just cannot lose their flavor, no matter how bad the cook and how mediocre the recipe.

Blond muß man sein auf Capri, Wolfgang Schleif, 1961

Just wonderful... a treatise on sexual mores both joyous and conflicted, that would make a perfect companion piece to BARBARA - WILD WIE DAS MEER, the other great (ok: even greater) German island film of 1961.

Oversexed german secretaries travel to Capri in order to be wooed by oversexed Italian playboys. (To remind everyone just whom they fled from, Gunther Philipp also tags along. He mostly leeches around Ruth Stephan, though.) Only Karin Baal is reluctant to join in the fun, when entering Capri, she hides her hair under a phenomenal hat, but her stylish eyeliner gives her away. She is an introvert who likes to retreat into her private fantasies, but she is curious, too, and of course she scores the top Italian playboy - only to suddenly flee back to Germany in a hurry, into a fascinating, almost freewheeling third act. After Capri, things can never be the same again. Once you enter the dark woods of desire, you can never really come back.

I was really surprised to be that enthralled by a Wolfgang Schleif movie. I´m still not sure if he is a genuinely good director... the dialogue is clumsy at times and the "touristic" imagery is mostly a bust. But I still love almost everything about this, also because there´s so much of it, so many attractions: Birgit Bergen as an incredibly horny faux blonde, Inge Meysel and Walter Gross as Baal´s rumbling parents (Gross dreams about moving into a villa "with ten rooms and twenty toilets"), the Italian playboys putting on a "muscle show" and letting their bodies be measured by the secretaries... Even Baal`s German fiancee, to whom she, of course, has to return to once her Capri adventure is getting a bit too real, is wonderful. A character like this would be absolutely unbearable in most German films of the time, but Helmuth Lohner absolutely kills it with a melancholic krypto-slapstick performance.

Das Posthaus im Schwarzwald, Rudolf Schündler, 1958

Definitively some Jürgen Enz vibes in this one, though clearly not as personal a vision. Maybe a few Straub / Huillet vibes, too... those repeated, achingly slow pans over a Black Forest scenery that somehow remains unconquered, that refuses to be turned into sentimental, glossy spectacle....

Thankfully, there´s a lot of Kessler twins material. At one moment, they dance to an especially sassy tune, and then Gunther Philipp shows up - wearing a knight´s armor! This is, of course, almost too good to be true, and you´d think that surely it will be over in just one or two shots, but the scene goes on and on, for several minutes! When it is finally decided, after this extended cinematic blessing, that Philipp should be peeled out of his shell, Rudolf Lenz (who is nominally the lead but has virtually nothing to do in the film) is anxious: "Let´s be gentle, or he might get hurt."

Sperling und das Loch in der Wand, Dominik Graf, 1996

Loose bills flying through the streets of a 90s Berlin that is still all grey, grimy and brittle (the painted palm on the door of an ugly, unglamorous nightclub feels like a sardonic joke). There´s a surplus of capital drifting through the film, unattached, freewheeling, multiplying money that almost always tends to accumulate at the wrong places. Capitalism has won, but it isn´t a completely organic part of everyday life yet, it is something external, something excessive, it´s rules are still being negotiated (see the great scene with Pfaff and Ratzke playing rock-paper-scissors late in the film).

The buildup is slower than usually, but in its double focus on the economics and affects of crime this is a prime Graf-Basedow collaboration.

Der kühne Schwimmer, Karl Anton, 1957

More supreme silliness from the guy who brought you BONJOUR, KATHRIN. This time around, unfortunately, there´s only one truly out there musical number - a haunted house sfx extravaganza with Mario Bava colours! Otherwise it´s mostly long shots of cheerful misfits busy confusing each other and embarassing themselves. Except for Walter Gross´s contributions, who is supposed to be funny because he says everything twice - everything twice, he says! - the comedy is surprisingly lively and Karl Anton, too, has the good sense to place Gunther Philipp in the vicinity of a knight´s armour. Also featuring: a joke about the nazi era, a rather rare pleasure in German cinema of the 50s.

Wenn Poldi ins Manöver zieht, Hans Quest, 1956

Dull adaptation of a Nestroy play, focussing on the overcomplicated plot instead of the spirit. Philipp´s double role can´t save it, although he gives the film his best, pro that he is.

Bloodsuckers, Ulli Lommel, 1997

At the same time hardly watchable and something close to a masterpiece... a Lommel no-budget vampire film that feels like a bizarro Harmony Korine project not at all interested in conventional notions of hipness, a psychedelic young adult offshoot of the no future subculture 90s, sex without desire, drugs without a lasting high, everyone´s lowkey depressed but too far gone to have any chance of rejoining the mainstream. The no-name cast is once again great. Michelle Bonfils is like someone out of a gothic Amy Heckerling film, and Lommel miraculously dug up Samantha Scully, the lead from Hellman`s SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3. As he did in STRANGERS IN PARADISE, the director himself plays, with detached deadpan-sexiness, a masters-of-ceremony-type figure.

The pretty abysmal, colour-bleeding version floating around looks like it was partially shot and especially edited - Lommel inserts Marilyn Monroe home movie clips and behind the scenes footage of a porn shoot at random intervals - on video, although it probably wasn´t.

Das Go-Go-Girl vom Blow-Up, Rolf Olsen, 1969

Olsen probably is better with adventure / crime stuff than with overly comedic stuff, but this is immensely watchable. He flirts with topless Munich 60s slacker cinema and even tries out a student protest side plot, only to quickly ease into a smooth, agile slapstick mistaken identity farce like straight out of the 50s. Philipp and Arent easily dominate the film, the nominal young leads don´t stand a chance. Secret weapon Voli Geiler.

Aus der Tiefe der Zeit, Dominik Graf, 2013

Munich is crumbling. One of the fiercer Graf crime tv hurricanes, no more solid ground anywhere, although all those zooms and swish pans can´t quite hide the fact that the script doesn´t come together as well as usually. The switch after two thirds from urban sociology to historical investigation might make sense conceptually, but there´s just not enough meat there to justify it. The final twist feels like a cheap stunt. Graf probably would´ve been better off focussing on the dynamics of the faux bourgeoise family from the start, because everything with Meret Becker and Erni Mangold is absolutely wonderful. Becker especially is completely unhinged - an identity-shattering earthquake of a performance that should be celebrated like Adjani in POSSESSION.

Zwei Herzen und ein Thron, Hans Schott-Schöbiner, 1955

Well-oiled and especially beautifully shot if never really inspired fluff.

Hangup, Henry Hathaway, 1974

I had been looking for Hathaway´s swan song for years (I even briefly considered a transatlantic flight when a print was screened in New York in 2014). Now a 16mm transfer has surfaced... and while the aspect ratio is off and the runtime is almost 20 minutes short of the imdb listing, it allows for an okay first impression. At the very least it makes clear that this isn´t a rush job, but a thoughtful and at least intermittendly intense drug drama turned exploitation thriller held back by a few obvious weaknesses.

Elliott is a smooth, adequate lead, but Marki Bey´s character is the true center of the film and also its main problem. She´s somehow both the engine and the victim, the subject and the object of the plot, the focus of desire (and of a variety of gazes), but also the one who, by way of her actions, keeps everyone else one step behind most of time... To pull this off, she would have to be positioned as some sort of cipher or at least as a femme fatale, but Bey mostly goes for over-the-top soapy acting, thereby constantly calling attention to the improbablilty and constructedness of her role.

The film mostly falls apart in the last 30 minutes and while some of the problems might be due to the print (there are some obvious gaps, especially toward the end), I don´t think this was ever a complete success. Still, it´s a fascinating find, both as a somber, disillusioned take on blaxploitation and as a late Hathaway film, another one of his attempts to make sense of the new codes of violence and sexuality suddenly invading cinema. The two big action scenes especially are expectably great, especially the first one that has Elliot pushing (wunderfully puffy-sleazy) Michael Lerner several times straight into a television set.

Would make a fascinating double feature with Demy´s MODEL SHOP.

Bad Boys for Life, Adil el Arbi & Bilall Fallah, 2010

The whole film is like Martin Lawrence: completely inconsistent, overeager even when chilling but engaged and adaptive enough to make even mediocre jokes work - to be sure, almost all of the jokes are mediocre at best, just as everything else plays out like a stupider, livelier, and much less elegant version of GEMINI MAN. The action scenes aren´t all that over the top and generally a bit better than in most recent blockbusters. Some of the garish Florida colour schemes are quite nice, too. Also, El Arbi and Fallah do have an eye for comedic acting (mostly of the self-deprecating kind), and this goes a long way, most of all with Lawerence (who, between this and THE BEACH BUM, clearly is due for a major comeback), but also with the wonderful Pantoliano, while Smith struggles a bit in the more operatic scenes.

Make no mistake, a lot of this really is way too stupid, especially everything involving the team that insists on tagging along despite its obvious redundancy. The ending makes it clear that Sony tries to set BAD BOYS up as a FAST & FURIOUS style franchise, which is a terrible idea and will probably result in a couple of very bad movies somewhere down the line. This, however, mostly works against most odds.

Das Mädchen ohne Pyjama, Hans Quest, 1957

One thing I love about middle of the road cinema of the 30s to 50s: Even largely uninspired films often have at least one or two standout scenes, a few minutes engaging / eccentric enough to almost redeem the whole thing. In this case there`s Philipp meticulously and fuzzily measuring, by way of a crab-like gripper-arm, the "stocking-tension" of scantily clad female feet models, whom he only addresses with the numbers he has assigned to them... Some of the scenes of Philipp and Karlowa are very nice, too, especially her wacky seduction dance. Otherwise, dullness reigns. The quest to find a good Quest film continues.

Mikosch im Geheimdienst, Franz Marischka, 1959

As good a place as any to take a (probably not all that long) break from all those web-rips of german language klamauk, in order to grant my quickly melting brain some relief. This might even have been some sort of watershed movie back in 59: not just the first Franz Marischka film, but also the first Franz Josef Gottlieb film (he`s credited as "Mitregisseur"). Indeed, there`s some sort of new energy present, at times a darker exploitation undercurrent shines through and also quite a few of the jokes are actually inventive. The tone is crass in a refreshing way, less paternalistic, less inhibited, maybe even less sexist (not everyone will agree on that one, probably). Fast, shameless, and pleasure-oriented - I approve.

Shogun and Little Kitchen, Ronny Yu, 1992

Perfectly attuned sentimental action comedy, switching back and forth between Yuen Biao acrobatics, folksy Ng Man-Tat humor and Leon Lai´s more dramatic storyline. A film that makes a scene of Ng and Maggie Shiu discussing Shiu´s "boyishness" in the midst of a raging fire feel completely natural and touching.

In Hongkong cinema, cooking often is one of the best allegories of show business in general and the film industry in particular. Here, it´s all about the threat of pure, unhinged showiness, propelled by a surplus of capital and unhinged from tradition.

Marked for Murder, Lee Chiu, 1994

Tight bare-bones action, with a few Ninja´s thrown in (the director frequently worked with Godfrey Ho). It´s about HK and mainland police joining forces to battle a magnificently crazy looking villain. The set-up is straightforward ideological, an invocation of pan-chinese authoritarian sexiness, but when the plot gets rolling, things do not quite work out that way: The decision to include mainland troops in a hk police investigation inevitably leads to perpetual confusion, a series of doublings and misunderstandings, a climate of fundamental insecurity only temporarily glossed over by all those heroic shootouts. Beneath the muscular surface, paranoia reigns.

The action scenes are marvellous, the last one especially is all-out gorgeous. Early 90s Hongkong cinema never disappoints. Where else in film history could a super obscure low budget film without any star power have had access to this level of craft?

Tiger on the Beat 2, Lau Kar-Leung, 1990

Much less intense than part 1 (which I haven´t seen in many years, though), a routine thriller with a strangely subdued emotional arch, adequate, humble performances, dynamic action and incredible stunt work.

Conan Lee´s failed jump that put him in the hospital for several months is included in the final film not once, but twice, from different angles, followed by a shot of him bouncing back up on his feet completely unharmed. A perfect example of the necessary entanglement of truth (profilmic space) and lie (montage) in cinema.

The bruises of Ellen Chan, who has the fitting screen name "Sweet Dream", look way to real, too. At one point, she gets literally thrown under the bus several times.

Oyuki the Virgin, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1935

Mizoguchi`s STAGECOACH starts with a few pronounced bursts of energy, images of destruction triggering a burst of autonomous sound followed by vectors of linear, decisive movements, which are soon deflected, though, transferred into empty male gestures and inexpressible female interiority, helpless glances, ornamental stasis, floating cherry blossoms.

Saturday, March 21, 2020


Das Untertiteln verändert den Blick auf Filme. In den Blick gerät Sprache als Geste, die nicht nur mimische, sondern gesamtkörperliche Vor- und Nachbereitung, wie auch Begleitung des Sprechens. Besonders aufmerksam werde ich für die Kunst des zum-Sprechen-Ansetzens, für das Intervall zwischen dem Öffnen des Mundes und dem Einsetzen des Klangs, zum Beispiel bei Max Hansen, der oft schon alles gesagt hat, bevor auch nur ein Wort über seine Lippen gekommen ist. Die Sprache selbst ist bei ihm lediglich ein Automatismus, der Hansens bereits im Gestischen komplett aufgehobenen Subjektivität gar nicht mehr bedarf und eben deshalb ganz kunstfertige Eigengesetzlichkeit wird. Eine Singstimme wie die eines Vogels; tatsächlich hat sein Mund etwas von einem Schnabel. Otto Wallburg wiederum ist schlichtweg kaum angemessen untertitelbar eben weil an ihm alles ansatzlos zum weniger sprachlichen als allgemeiner lautlichen Ausdruck drängt. Bei ihm verorte ich den Ton in jeder Phase seines Körpers, während er bei Hansen ausschließlich am Schnabel / Mund zu kleben scheint.

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Ciao maschio, Marco Ferreri, 1978

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

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

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

The Bounty, Roger Donaldson, 1984

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

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

Shakma, Hugh Parks, 1990

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

Tanya´s Island, Alfred Sole, 1980

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

Trog, Freddie Francis, 1970

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

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, William Beaudine, 1952

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

Congo, Frank Marshall, 1995

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

Piazza Vittorio, Abel Ferrara, 2017

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

Gorillas in the Mist, Michael Apted, 1988

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

Ratcatcher, Lynne Ramsay, 1999

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

Blonde Venus, Josef von Sternberg, 1932

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

6 Underground, Michael Bay, 2019

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

Max mon amour, Nagisa Oshima, 1986

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

Being John Malkovich, Spike Jonze, 1999

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

Bob Roberts, Tim Robbins, 1992

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

Scarlet Diva, Asia Argento, 2000

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

Unstrung Heroes, Diane Keaton, 1995

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

Miele, Valeria Golino, 2013

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

Lost River, Ryan Gosling, 2014

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

Little Women, Greta Gerwig, 2019

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

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

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

The Last of the Mohicans, Michael Mann, 1992

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

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

Wilde Maus, Josef Hader, 2017

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

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

Le Gout des autres, Agnes Jaoui, 2000

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

The Age of Innocence, Martin Scorsese, 1993

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

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

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

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

Little Man Tate, Jodie Foster, 1991

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

Ma femme est une actrice, Yvan Attal, 2001

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

Ordinary People, Robert Redford, 1980

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

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

Il traditore, Marco Bellocchio, 2019

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

The Monster Maker, Sam Newfield, 1944

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

Knives Out, Rian Johnson, 2019

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

Judy, Rupert Goold, 2019

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

Una primavera, Valentina Primavera, 2019

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

Just Like Weather, Allen Fong, 1986

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

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

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

Girls of the Night, Kinuyo Tanaka, 1961

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

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

Hitler- Dead Or Alive, Nick Grinde, 1942

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

Konga, John Lemont, 1961

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