Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Last two weeks in letterboxd

Man of Steel, Zack Snyder, 2013

First 20 minutes = best cgi sci-fi imagery to date.

Everything else is beyond awesome, too. Cavill is my personal electric jesus and I don't care about any other superheroes as long as he's around.

The Bubble, Valerie Blankenbyl, 2020

Some cheap shots, as expected (the hilarious "I'm a creep" ending gets a pass, though), and most of the criticism regarding pollution and socio-economic streamlining could be levelled just as easily against any number of suburban developments (including many Biden-leaning ones). Still more nuanced than I thought it would be, and some of the interviews are quite interesting.

Seni Buldum Ya!, Reha Erdem, 2021

Mostly a joy, especially the parts that are more performance piece than conceptual comedy. It's just obvious that everyone involved had fun doing this. Addressing, interacting, flirting with the camera eye, because no one else is available right now. In front of the camera eye you can be anyone you want, you can fall in and out of love without having to fear repercussions. And when all rewards are immaterial anyway it doesn't really matter if you end up getting cheated out of them.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zack Snyder, 2016

Extended cut.

Not the easiest film to warm up to, because Snyder separates us from what we really want way too long. Superman is cut off from his source, from the digital spectacular, so we have to wade through the muddy waters of (very) conflicted politics and a generally not very good script. At the same time this is the first Snyder film that is well-directed in a classic sense, the first that really knows how to make faces iconic, how to build tension, how to make images stick beyond the immediate impact.

A transitory work, and maybe a necessary one in order to transform the raw (and probably forever matchless) power of MAN OF STEEL into the grand pulp opera of JUSTICE LEAGUE.

Zack Snyder's Justice League, Zack Snyder, 2021

Like almost always with rewatches for me: What worked the first time works even better now while the flaws don't bug me as much anymore. This is just as ambitious and accomplished as anything we're allowed to expect on this scope in the next few years.

The lighter color palette compared to Man of Steel and BvS makes sense given the immense scope; a tone in tone approach would've been way too depressing. The MCU style one-liners do not make sense and at times Snyder's editing seems to be desperately trying to suppress them. But well, there're always some things off with these films, too much plot, some of it still rather stupid (although things make much more sense here than in MoS and Bvs), some bad acting (again, much less here than in the other ones) etc, and now those oneliners too... in the end all of this pales next to the sheer joy at imagemaking, and in a weird way those imperfections may even be a sign of strength, because it's always clear that Snyder isn't interested in polish for polish's sake. He always choses risk and expansion, and this is what big budget filmmaking is for.

Also, he has finally found a way to make use of his music video past. He'll turn into a total filmmaker yet.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 5, Kenji Misumi, 1965

Lacks a true standout scene and the plot is mostly treading water, but Misumi minimalism is always a blessing. The things he does with that rectangle of green glass here... Also those magnificent medium shot action scenes with torsos cut off from earth and Ichikawa clearing the space around him by slicing up his opponents until he has the whole screen for himself. For him, violence does not need external justifications, but functions as the ultimate, if not the only assertion of self. Indeed, he goes even further: more often than not he explicitly rejects external justifications, because they taint the purity of his brand of ego violence.

Also, at least to me the misogyny of the series becomes much more bearable when it crosses over, like it does here (as it did in part 4, too), into camp hysteria. Tamao Nakamura's evilness is literally painted onto her face and she ends up being a pretty awesome villain.

Moments in a Stolen Dream, Mike De Leon, 1977

First only he sings, then she does, too.

Love and primary colors and music. Beautiful and raw in its access to Christopher de Leon's face. Hilda Kolonel's pale features between her black hair remain more private. Her domestic scenes in a bright, beige-white patriarchic hellscape already point towards KISAPMATA. This one is all about a temporary safe space though, about an eternal afternoon away from the grip of society, lying in the grass, listening to a song. This was nice, sing another one, why don't you.

3rd World Hero, Mike De Leon, 2000

Circling around an individual tragedy to make sense of a collective one. Perfectly accomplished, smart deployment of the essay film form, and still I keep longing for those genre thrills that used to lend De Leon's political anger a different kind of punch in his earlier work.

High School Scandal, Gil Portes, 1981

Trash maybe, but the kind of well-made trash I always tend to fall for. Great nightclub scene that leads to a sex scene... and then to a second sex scene that plays out like an awkward echo of the first one... and then to a pregnancy and then to the crucial question: what will be used as a cutaway during an abortion scene in a very catholic exploitation flic? The solution Gil Portes finds does not disappoint.

The Goonies, Richard Donner, 1985

Rushes through set-pieces like there's no tomorrow which is a shame because the actors obviously are comfortable sharing the screen with each other. Still: great sets, great light, great colors, another proof that the 80s really were the last hurrah of studio filmmaking.

Nurse 3-D, Douglas Aarniokoski, 2013

Exploitation cinema for people who don't necessarily care much about exploitation cinema. On the other hand, that might just mean that the film knows its audience like any decent exploitation film shoud ... and it doesn't make much sense to be too uptight when it comes to films like this one anyway.

Still, the crazy stalker storyline completely sucks the fun and sexiness out of the horny nurses premise and Paz de la Huerta seems to be unsure whether she wants to be in a Russ Meyer or a John Waters film.

Killerman, Malik Bader, 2019

A 2019 urban thriller shot on location and - gasp - 16mm normally should be able to hold my interest without even trying. Still, as soon as Bader ditches the procedural approach for some random noirish bullshit, this runs out of energy quickly. Hemsworth's Al Pacino channeling is cute for a while.

Hitman, Xavier Gens, 2007

The kind of action nonsense Eurocorp normally manages to sell thanks to decent leads and unobtrusive journeyman directors. A terribly miscast Oyphant and an overeager Gens, however, are a combination from hell. Half a star for Kurylenko's makeup.

The Transporter, Corey Yuen, 2002

Didn't expect quite as much Hongkong DNA in this. Not just the action scenes (all of them great), but also the Statham / Shu Qi banter. The decisive masterstroke however is, of course, the oil fight. A transfiguration, a baptism, instantaneously transforming Statham into one of the holy bodies of action cinema.

The Runner, Austin Stark, 2015

Easy enough to see what this wants to be: A psychological tour de force slowly revealing itself to be a hard-hitting expose about the mechanisms of political corruption while doubling as a cinematic love letter to post Kathrina Louisiana. Unfortunately, Austin Stark never manages to fill his rather obvious ideas with the tiniest bit of life and settles for one painfully overwritten dialogue scene after the other. Cage's high energy performance is impressive in itself, but completely detached from its surroundings.

Beverly Hills Ninja, Dennis Dugan, 1997

Cultural appropriation done right.

Seriously, this is the closest to a truly American Summo Hung film we'll ever gonna get. Dennis Dugan might be the most underrated Hollywood director of the last 30 years.

Lang Tong, Sam Loh, 2015

Crass and tasteless exploitation cinema, unfortunately filmed without even a basic level of competence, but so committed to its own grindhouse low-budget crudeness that I really can't raise too many objections. Sam Loh obviously has his mind in the gutter and seems to be most comfortable when ditching the genre plot in favor of a series of awkwardly kinky softcore scenes. The turn towards horror (channeling, without much success, DUMPLINGS and THE UNTOLD STORY) towards the end is particularly ill-advised, but again, what can I say... stumbling over this on netflix of all places really was a pleasant surprise.

Il segno di Venere, Dino Risi, 1953

A joy from start to finish. Two sisters navigating the world (of men, mostly) while always being conscious of each other, of a fundamental doubleness of experience which manifests itself not only in Valeri's jealousy (or rather: her attempt to not give in to jealousy), but also about Loren's attentiveness (or rather: the painful realization that her happiness will always be tinged by her sister's tears). In the end, thought, this is centered not around plot but performance, and the true center of the film is neither Valeri nor Loren but Tina Pica, the aunt, a domestic and chaste creature who invests all of her energy into the art of domestic scolding, thereby turning herself into an opera singer with an audience of two.

Braqueurs, Julien Leclercq, 2015

Didn't care for SENTINELLE, but this one really is a pretty awesome piece of non-elevated genre cinema. Leclercq stages some amazing open-air action, and he manages to keep the familiar beats fresh by focussing on interpersonal relationships: professional teamwork degrading to family bonds before being partly redeemed by a cross-cultural ersatz family.

The focus on Bouajila's character doesn't always help the film (Leclercq seems to be a bit too fascinated with a certain brand of lethargic coolness in all of his films I've seen so far) and if I had to give one note it would be: skip the hectic wide shot of Tanger (?) in the end and finish with the harbour emerging through the fog. Mythopoetics beat hot air geopolitics!

La terre et le sang, Julien Leclercq, 2020

A tight, perfectly mapped out neo western in the vein of stuff like CLOSE RANGE during the middle stretch. Unfortunately towards the end Ledlercq completely gives in to his more heavy-handed impulses, without having the script to even remotely make them work. The ugly color grading and the rather embarrassing Hans Zimmer style droning doesn't help. Still, enough meat here to keep me engaged.

Wheelman, Jeremy Rush, 2017

Good idea, boring execution. Rushed by me without leaving any marks.

The Brasher Doubloon, John Brahm, 1947

Seems generally to be thought of as a minor Chandler adaptation, and I guess it mostly is, although I'm still fond of it, probably more so than of some of the more celebrated ones (including Altman's). The plot is pure pulp mechanics and flows along nicely, with Brahm making good use of his eye for small eccentricities; while unfortunately keeping his more ornamental impulses in check, maybe because of an unambitious dp (a shame he didn't work again with Musuraca after THE LOCKET).

Montgomery might not be a good choice for Marlowe, but his scenes with the excellent Nancy Guild still are what make this special. Her desperately kissing him on the sofa (and him "answering" with a tired one-liner) is a prime moment of hidden in plain sight post-code sensuality.

Yes, God, Yes, Karen Maine, 2019

A dumbed down version of LADY BIRD (et al) which, as expected, generally seems to get a pass thanks to some well-observed details and Dyer's performance, while in fact this very insistence on texture and "good acting" might be part of the problem: the idea of all the dramatic shorthand and ideological pandering being somehow redeemed by a "lived-in" performance. I mean, there's a scene in which our hero wanders off from catholic camp into a bar where she meets a lesbian savior who immediately starts spitting truth.

Trash without all the redeemable qualities of good trash, virtually indistinguishable from its own parody.

Pane, amore e..., Dino Risi, 1955

Haven't seen the first two, and the formula seems to be a bit tired by now. Risi seems to be mostly uninterested in the script (pitting private Lea Padovani against public Sofia Loren actually might be a good pitch, but the film unfortunately avoids letting them meet each other head-on) without having all that many ideas on how to break away from it. Still charming as hell of course and a technicolor print might make all the difference in the world.

You Get Me, Brent Bonacorso, 2017

Swimming pools, artificial light and faces overwhelmed by the terrors of sexuality. In other words: California neo-noir teenie trash that is right up my alley. I do think that all those "crazy stalker" storylines generally have done more harm than good to contemporary cinema (since they always hinge on the phantasma of an absolute evil that often manages to cancel out all the more complex moral / psychological conflicts that might also be going on), here though the device works, mostly because Bella Thorne fully commits to her underwritten role. She seems to insist, with every gaze, that no one, not even the script, really knows what's going on with her. Taylor John Smith is great too, though: completely perplexed by everything she does, a walking reaction shot to the very idea of illicit desire.

American cinema is still alive.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

last three weeks in letterboxd

His Motorbike, Her Island, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1986

A romantic film about a romantic illusion. In the end it turns out that the death wish was not in her gaze, but only in the camera eye.

(Besides being a part, if not the center, of a string of 80s neo-biker pop cinema masterpieces from RUMBLE FISH to A MOMENT OF ROMANCE, this might also be a secret companion piece to Romero's KNIGHTRIDERS, a film from another, more dysphoric and also more political era that still might lurk somewhere in the background here.)

Der Mann, der seinen Mörder sucht, Robert Siodmak, 1931

At times hilarious live-action cartoon centered around a quintessenial Rühmann-meatball performance. Also makes clear once again that Wilder, as much as I despise some of his most famous films, just can't be written off. His name pops up in way too many interesting places.

Four Sisters, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1985

Obayashi's heartbreaking "four preppy sisters" melodrama, filled with 80s style and existential despair both tied to and strangely detached from material conditions. As small children, the girls (at least three of the four) were, by pure chance, saved from bitter poverty. Now they're always perfectly styled while perkily flirting with tennis jocks.

But at the same time there's a gap between them and the world around them (maybe because they realize that their somewhat protected existence is based on pure luck and could collapse into pure nothingness in a moment's notice), which becomes palpable in some of Obayashi's most intricate back projection shots, but also through body language: Yasuko Tomita leaning against a tree, vaguely looking towards the camera, Atsuko Asano, the most fragile of the four, awkwardly sitting on a seesaw, no longer completely tied to the world of the living. Then there's the scene of the four of them taking a picture together, sharing the screen and still insisting, each of them in their own way, on their inability to truly transcend their inner loneliness.

Express 13, Alfred Zeisler, 1931

Another gimmicky Zeisler thriller, darker and tighter than DER SCHUSS IM TONFILMATELIER. The bland male lead is the biggest problem, Charlotte Susa, though, gets some great close-ups.

The Drifting Classroom, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1987

After directing one emotionally charged masterpiece after the other throughout 1985 and 1986 Obayashi deservedly changes gear with this one, a perfectly fine SFX children film. The matte painting and back projection work is, once again, on another level and the idea of playing Chopin to keep the giant bugs away is basically Obayashi in a nutshell.

I'm not quite so sure about the shaky cam stuff and some of the interior scenes, parts of this look really murky, to the point of suggesting a botched digital transfer. The "intercultural" aspects might be slightly cringy too at times but in the end this is once again warm and lively enough to easily triumph over these kinds of petty objections.

Bed of Roses, Gregory La Cava, 1933

Another pre-code marvel and a genuinely strange film. It's basically about Constance Bennett making her way through all the concepts of womanhood available at the time for someone without external resources: prostitute (a stage she has technically left behind when the film starts, but which is suggested constantly as the number one fallback option); female hustler; mistress; honest but poor working girl; and finally, subordinate half of a married couple.

This sequence is presented more like an argument than like a story, meaning that character development and also interpersonal pressure systems are conspicuously absent. To put it another way, what the film is interested in are objective power systems of society, not the contingent ones of traditional fallen women melodrama. Indeed, all kinds of transitional scenes are systematically cut out as if to present Bennett with a number of clear-cut choices in order to let her make up her own mind.

La Cava's both playful and upfront direction suggests a disdain for bourgeois morality and a matter-of-fact acceptance of sexuality equal only to Borzage in American cinema of the time; and to be honest I can't think of a lot non-American equivalents either.

The Discarnates, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1988

Family life can never be quite contained in a single, fixed space-time. It is also never complete, always too much and not enough at the same time, an uneasy cohabitation of future and former selves. That's why, like is said in LONELY HEART, in childhood everything feels nostalgic even when seen for the first time. And here, in the companion piece, set during adulthood, everything is remembered as if it never happened.

It's the darker film of the two, because adulthood is always darker, and also because of the dimmed lights of the big city, with faces only gradually, haltingly emerging from the black space of claustrophobic apartments. The woman on the other hand emerges out of nowhere, in the viewfinder, a peephole apparition, detached and exposed. The adult, sweaty, pumping sex that enters Obayashi's cinema with her, maybe for the first time, promises an immediacy, a synchoronicity, which will turn out to be an illusion, too.

Shinobi no mono, Satsuo Yamamoto, 1962

First of eight SHINOBI NO MONO films, more epic in scope and also more serious in tone than the other Daiei shomingeki serials (while still highly enjoyable as a gorgeously photographed ninja adventure yarn, to be sure). Raizo Ichikawa isn't as memorable as in the other films I've seen him in, but at its core, this is not about him anyway, but about Sandayu and Nobunaga and the two completely different visions of gnarly warrior masculinity they embody.

Sandayu's way of the ninja and its anarchistic scheming emerges as a hidden, and historically defeated alternative to the dominant power politics not only of the warlords era but also of the emerging Edo shogunate. A world of romantic adventures and fluid identities slowly steamrolled by hierarchical application of brute force.

Beijing Watermelon, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1989

One of the few actual feel-good movies I've seen so far in my life.

Zoom In: Rape Apartments, Naosuke Kurosawa, 1980

Is there an actual giallo in which the murderer turns out to be a piano tuner? If not: clearly a missed chance since both the tools of the profession and its old Europe roots fit the genre perfectly. Naosuke Kurosawa's pinku entry didn't quite work for me, unfortunately. It's rather ambitious, to be sure, but the obvious Argento influence remains a gimmick and never quite connects with the almost sci-fi-like apartment building as wasteland setting, which probably is the most interesting thing about this. Instead of really engaging with the desperation this kind of dehumanizing architecture seems to embody (as someone like Sato would've done), the proceedings are presented with a crass, satirical attitude I almost always dislike in pinkus.

Chizuko's Younger Sister, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1991

I'm still shell-shocked by the magnificent Obayashi 80s run (has anyone else, no matter where, had a similar run in that decade? Carpenter maybe? Sato? Tsui? Can't think of many), and well, the 90s start with yet another masterpiece.

Another one of Obayashi's expeditions into the imaginary of family relations. This time, it's all about learning to live with the presence of an unreachable because of deceased older sister = super ego. It's more high-strung and more synthetical than THE LONELY HEART or THE DISCARNATES, but it's also even more inventive, just one small miracle after the other. That relay scene with its Melies-like intervention of the fantastic, how does one even think of, let alone pull off something like this?

The Object of My Affection, Nicholas Hytner, 1998

A woke romcom from a time when those were still made with warmth and genuine curiosity rather than with self-righteous smugness. Still a bit boring, unfortunately, but a must for 90s sitcom enthusiasts. I mean, Paul Rudd has to decide between Rachel from Friends, Joe from Wings and someone who I thought for a while was Charlie from Caroline in the City. No wonder he's confused.

Haruka, Nostalgy, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1993

Nähere Untersuchungen in the dark alleyways of memory. To remember does not mean to unearth a hidden truth, but to enter a new world of shadows, echoes and co-presences. All those lurid "secrets" are a measure not of objective, but of subjective corruption and to untangle the threads only leads you deeper into a maze in which desire is always already tainted by roleplaying. There's no pureness to reclaim, only the soothing and surprisingly calm clarity of total corruption in the middle of the illuminated forest.

Obayashi's Marienbad, a memory conversation piece that suggests that German idealism might be just as important as a source for his imagemaking as romantic music.

And then you open letterboxd and suddenly this is just another "problematic" film. I mean, I'm just not at all attuned to this kind of thinking and have no interest in defending the film on these terms (by pointing out, for example, that Hikari Ishida is a "child-woman" only in the beginning and completely ceases to be one as soon as bodily desire is introduced). It's just that the final sex scene is indeed awkward and almost manages to derail the film; but to attribute the awkwardness to age difference seems to me the least intriguing of all available options. (Also interesting, btw, how the scandal of incest doesn't figure at all in these kinds of deliberations.)

I'd argue the scene feels so strange because sex can never be pure nostalgia, because the fantasies and projections of sex work on another level. Obayashi films sex as if it was a continuation of the memory conversation - still shot countershot, but now it's not only images and gazes, but bodies replacing each other. And bodies just come with way too much friction.

Alias Boston Blackie, Lew Landers, 1942

The script has its lazy moments this time, but the frenetic games of disguise and Landers' joyful, fast-paced direction (there's even a surprisingly physical car chase scene) more than make up for it. Morris is finally completely in tune with and in control of the material, with everyone else becoming pawns in his game.

Samurai Kids, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1993

Wonderful, inventive, making the most of both the narrative concept and the effect shots (including some pretty awesome early CGI intrusions). By now I'd expect nothing less of Obayashi, of course.

The one detail I love most is probably Satoru's sister's life-sized Munch The Scream doll.

Hot Water, Larry Rippenkroeger, 2021

Relaxed bro-cinema or I guess "cinema", switching back and forth between competent GoPro Mtv Sports jet ski action (with BEN HUR lurking somewhere in the filmhistorical background) and gross-out comedy skits that work not because of shock value (let alone wit) but by contributing to the unassuming and very pg-13 hangout vibes of the whole thing. Aside from the Jet Ski parts the filmmaking is as basic as it gets, and, like with many comedies of its kind, this is strictly a feature, not a bug.

Sada, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1998

I guess I just had to encounter, sooner or later, one Obayashi that doesn't work for me. Here, everything feels forced, all that stylization and picturesque minimalism just a tool to construct an overbearing and not very illuminating argument about the oppressive normative forces of myth-making. Or something in that vein, I lost interest in the intellectual mechanics rather early and just waited for her to finally grab the knife and get things over with.

Clearly one of those films, though, I might completely come around to under different circumstances. One day, maybe.

Russian Lullabies, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1993

Would love to see this in a better version someday. Clearly something of interest going on, here.

Switching, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2007

The embodied memory of playing Schumann transcending gender and, ultimately, death.

Took me a while to get into it, probably because there's nothing in it as immediately captivating as the electrifying Satomi Kobayashi performance of the first version. Later on, though, when the this time rather subdued body switch mayhem slows down, this becomes incredibly affecting. A cinema of caresses, a fingertip cinema. Like any other difference, sex difference ultimately doesn't pull us apart, but draws us together.

Goodbye for Tomorrow, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1995

The decidedly mundane vision of death and mourning points towards Koreeda's AFTER LIFE, I guess, and in fact both films keep me a bit more at distance than I would wish and expect. Maybe I really am a still bit too much immersed in the monotheistic tradition to fully accept this kind of matter-of-fact anti-transcendentalist approach.

Anyway, lots of beautiful stuff in there about dark loneliness and about how not to get completely lost in it.

Casting Blossoms to the Sky, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2012

Much more convincing when viewed as a poetic argument rather than as a political one. "Using the pain caused by war for peace" might sound nice, but in the end it's just another pretext for not talking about Japanese war crimes. Pitting Nagaoka against Pearl Harbour is a false equivalency, because it skips over Nanjing.
... Then again, Obayashi is a filmmaker and I truly do feel protected by his tender pyrotechnics. In fact I could spend hours sitting under his blooming skies.

Hanagatami, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2017

Digital flatness, yes, but also digital death masks. By far Obayashi's most morbid vision, a decadent evocation of a collective death wish affecting each face differently.

Labyrinth of Cinema, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2019

"Movies have always been unnatural and strange."

Mario Baba and Frantz Kapra. The farce to HANAGATAMI's tragedy, working through many of the same obsessions. Obayashi tries to go even further in his exploration of digital anarchism, but he just doesn't achieve the stylistic coherence of his best work this time. Anyway, this seems to be the first time that bona fide war scenes show up in his work. Like something deep and hidden, a constant subtext now finally breaking through.

And of course, best John Ford impersonation ever.

Hausu, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977

It is indeed all there from the start: the cat, the piano, even the watermelon.

This might be the problem with Obayashi cinephilia: Despite the widely ignored depth of his filmography, he's not really in need of rediscovery, because even if he had directed only his one canonized masterpiece and nothing else, he still would've been one of the greatest.

Seven Weeks, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2014

Obviously Obayashi is working through some issues close to his heart here, but this was another one of the very few which just didn't work for me. The insanely talky family stuff of the first half feels somewhat oppressive, which, of course, family stuff tends to do sometimes, but still, in his earlier films Obayashi always manages to find a special hook to ease the burden a bit, while here it's just non-stop blood relations echo chamber.

The second half harks back to HARUNKA, NOSTALGY only without the air of elevated romantic craziness which makes the latter so special. Indeed it feels a bit strange that this rather unspecific youthful melodrama is set up as the big family secret supposedly holding everything else together.

Of course there's still an abundance of striking imagery (the scene with the excavator in the background for example is quietly unsettling in a truly extraordinary way) and the discourse on lines and painting might just be a key to Obayashi's aesthetics. One never can be completely finished with any Obayashi film.

Dreams, Akira Kurosawa, 1990

The poignant short films format probably doesn't bring out the best in Kurosawa. On the other hand, the emblematic minimalism of the production design maybe does. In the end, only two of the episodes really stick with me (The Peach Orchard and, especially, The Tunnel - those also were pretty much the only ones I had any recollection of from the first time around), everything else kind of quietly fades away the moment it leaves the screen. Which, of course, most dreams do, too.

Making of Dreams, Nobuhiro Obayashi, 1990

Making images of images. Of course an Obayashi making of about, say, RAN or MADADAYO would've been even better, but this is pitch-perfect for what it is and it made me love Kurosawa even more - something I really didn't think was possible.

Michael Jordan's Playground, Zack Snyder, 1990

"Jordan put on his Superman suit..."

Quite lovely, even on its own terms and without all that MAN OF STEEL foreshadowing. Especially the musical ending.

(Interesting question, though, whether tv sports might be another source, besides Peckinpah, Woo etc, of Snyder's slow motion fetish.)

Adolf und Marlene, Ulli Lommel, 1977

I was rather curious about this one, although it's not really all that surprising that it turns out to be one of those low energy Lommel joints that don't necessarily go overboard in justifying their own existence. The script doesn't really go anywhere with the premise: There's Adolf (sans moustache) and there's Marlene (singing a song or two once in a while), and then there's all those Fassbinder regulars playacting nazis in a pleasantly lazy fashion. That's it. Ballhaus finds some interesting, claustrophobic compositions, and while the jokes, like in most Lommel films, are mostly lame, this doesn't really matter, because, also like in most Lommel films, the whole thing feels like a daydream set in another dimension that looks like our own on first sight, but in the end will never be fully transparent to us.


Another footnote to the Lommel saga: What's the deal with those three ten star reviews for ADOLF AND MARLENE on imdb? They read suspiciously alike, but, given that the film was never commercially available anywhere: why would someone go through the motions of setting up not one but three fake accounts (all three of them have only reviewed Lommel film, ten stars all the way)?

Dawn of the Dead, Zack Snyder, 2004

I remember passionately hating this when it came out and now I wonder why, especially about the passionately part. It's a mostly well-made but uninspired remake that comes somewhat alive when it dumbs down Romero to badass action bullshit but completely falters when it tries to recreate the desperate hangout scenes of the original.

Maybe it really is a realistic film about the mall in the 21st century in the way every single social interaction (except for the ones between the three security guards) feels completely random, but in the end there are just too many bad James Gunn oneliners for me to care.

300, Zack Snyder, 2006

This is clearly Snyder starting to find his style, but it's also clearly still something of a chore to sit through. For all the total control of imagery Snyder shoots for, there's a lot of awkward maneuvering to squeeze in all those desperately desired iconic moments. All style no elegance. A film that values self-identity over everything else will always come up short in the end, I guess, because it never will be able to live up to its own ideal self.

Watchmen, Zack Snyder, 2009

Ultimate cut.

Having no stakes in or even knowledge of Moore's graphic novel this feels in a way even more juvenile than 300, lots of agitation about all of those big themes, but in the end what's really important is sex, of course, and sex basically means dicks and the idea of women melting away in orgasm.

Of course it indeed is one of the best things about Snyder that he acknowledges horniness every step of the way, in all of his films. This one is better made than 300, too, much smoother and sometimes even with an eye for acting completely absent in his first two. The animated sequences are not completely successful, but I still think they are important, because, like the human wall in 300, they introduce an element of raw carnage that seems to be a necessary jumping-off point for superhero discourse.

Legend of the Guardians, Zack Snyder, 2010

Really very bad. A few youtube videos are enough to realize that they didn't understand at all why owls are awesome. Owls are deadpan, not whimsical! Basically the only part I liked was the beginning, when they're learning too fly. These rather plump creatures bumbling through the air...

I don't get at all why people give this a pass on technical grounds. To me it looks beyond ugly and they didn't even make the two owl brothers different enough to keep them easily apart. Also, no interest at all in exploring the world, rushing through way too much plot and all composition centering on those stupid owls.

Decidedly not the hidden gem in the Snyder canon I still secretly hoped it would turn out to be.

Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder, 2011

Strangely enough the first Snyder film with decent human interactions. Very basic ones, but still.

Monday, April 05, 2021

last two weeks on letterboxd

Le roi des aulnes, Marie-Louise Iribe, 1931

Starts as a rather dull narrative visualization of Goethe's Erlkönig, but takes flight once the central visual idea is introduced: The boy's hallucinations manifesting itself as a series of overlays, half-transparent figures representing the Erlkönig itself as well as a number of nymph-like dancers and other vaguely mythological creatures. Projected over trees, leaves and, especially beautiful, water, they are transformed into a direct portal into another realm of pure visuality.

That's basically it, the film isn't interested in doing much more than opening up the portal and spending some time on the other side. A one-trick pony, but sometimes that's enough.

Hinugot sa langit, Ishmael Bernal, 1985

Family melodrama, the eternal master-genre of Philippine Cinema. Here, Maricel Soriano gets sweet-talked into first watching SPLASH and then a pregnancy. Later on, she is surrounded not so much by oppressive individuals as by blunt ideological forces. The "bad" guy who knocked her up is pure irresponsibility, and advises her to toss a coin to decide the fate of her unborn child; the "good" guy who wants to marry her is pure patriarchal dullness, unable to think of her as anything else than as part of his prearranged life-plan; the aunt (?) is pure religious hypocrisy, aggressively demanding, in the name of the lord, a sacrifice she herself was never asked to make; the cousin (Amy Austria, biggest joy of the film!) is pure girl-power libertarianism and advocates for take every orgasm you can get and don't worry about the consequences. In the end, the choice Maricel has to make might not be all that hard...

There's a side-plot about a family of day laborers being evicted from their dilapidated home. Might feel like poverty porn at times, but might also be read as the dark, ironic core of the film: another kind of body politics, mirroring the possible "eviction" of the fetus, but one that does not have access to the mode of melodrama.

The Visitor in the Eye, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977

A horror film setup swept away by picturesque matte paintings, Tschaikovsky style piano romanticism and affect-trenched colorscapes. What's not to love?

Border Wolves, Joseph H. Lewis, 1938

Joseph H. Lewis cheapie from his Wagon Wheel Joe days. And indeed, his favorite framing device makes quite a few appearances. Aside from that, there are lots of songs, quite a bit of Joe-Baker-hollering, a few inventive camera movements, some of the most racist attempts at comic relief attempts I've come across recently and a vague outline of something similar to a plot. Not without merits as a sign of things to come, but a bit too random on its own terms.

Take Me Away!, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1978

For 20 minutes, this is as beautiful as filmmaking can get: Two uprooted souls falling in love while floating on top of San Francisco street scenes, remnants of the not yet completely commodified counterculture, a musical euphoria not too much removed from a plunge into death and nothingness. It all culminates first in a magical club scene and then a night of glowing close-up passion, framings of intimacy that also seem to be playing with our desire to watch.

Obayashi comes back to all of this in the end, to the club and the street romance at least. Not much has changed but that fact in itself might be telling enough. There's just nothing solid that sticks to those two. Everything in between is a bit frustrating, because it feels like this almost could've been a masterpiece, if Obayashi had just made the material a bit more his own, instead of falling back on tired family drama tropes.

There's beautiful stuff throughout to be sure, the music, the toy plane, a wonderfully giddy 70s brawl... still, the otherworldly beauty of the first 20 minutes dissipates pretty quickly, and when Obayashi tries to reclaim it in the end it feels a bit like too little to late.

Lovemobil, Elke Margarete Lehrenkrauss, 2019

Watching this after the "scandal" broke is a rewarding, if not completely satisfying experience. If one knows about the background, the signs of "scripted reality" are indeed impossible to overlook, even in the most "observational" hangout / waiting for the johns scenes. Interestingly, the only "real" protagonist, Uschi, feels even more scripted, maybe because technically she's an amateur actress while the other two women are not.

Still, turning this into "correctly labeled" fiction might have resulted in a much less interesting film, because this probably would've weakened what is strongest about it: the way these two sex workers are transformed, by way of accumulation of well-researched detail, into universally valid signifiers of what Germany and especially provincial Germany is and feels like in the 21st century. And in the end I would argue that this very quality doesn't at all depend on whether Rita and Milena are "authentic" or not.

LOVEMOBIL isn't quite strong enough to build a full-scale defense of the lying documentary on. Still, watching this with an open mind is at the very least much more enlightening than keeping up with the never-ending stream of self-righteous think pieces which come across much more embarrassing than anything the director might or might not have done wrong. Everything else the parties involved should work out among themselves.

School in the Crosshairs, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1981

When nazis take over the schoolyard, it pays off to go for the big guns. Pure joy from beginning to end.

Meet Boston Blacki, Robert Florey, 1941

Boston Blackie, king of the lame one-liners, in a well-made mystery. Rochelle Hudson, Costance Worth and Richard Lane easily make up for what Chester Morris lacks in charms (it's not him, I guess, but those damn one-liners) and Robert Florey once again directs with style, wit and an eye for the bizarre.

Facundo Alitaftaf, Luciano B. Carlos, 1978

Brain-melt material of the occasionally funky kind. Theres' a scene in which Dolphy's head gets, again and again, stuck between two sumo wrestler's bellies. Hard to not see this as the film declaring, quite openly, its own aesthetic strategy.

The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1979

ADHD: The Movie. There's more inventiveness in any five-minute stretch of this than in your average yearly Academy Awards Best Picture crop, but in the end I can only rate my own enjoyment and I was low-key annoyed by this pretty much the whole time.

Lovely Devils, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1982

Two witches battling each other and the one who loves harder wins.

The narrow television frame completely and immediately feels like the perfect container for at at least this special flavor of Obayashi's madness. No room to stretch, so the only way to go is forward, rushing through melodies and set-pieces, straight into a manic Dario-Argento-children's-book-operatic-fairytale.

Now that the frame is smaller it's all the more obvious that the core of his cinema is not visual but musical. Not a single melody or a constant beat, though, but a commitment to the musical spectacular. Pop cinema driven by a discontent with the limitations of pop. The neat two and a half minutes packaging, the emotional purity, the levelling of tone and affect: all of this has to go. Pop must aspire to something different, and one way to achieve this is an opening up towards older forms, especially European romanticism. In a way, films like this one or VISITOR IN THE EYE unfold like Bohemian Rhapsody, only without the pomp and the grand gestures. It's not about "synthesizing influences" but about speaking the cinema of hybrid musicality as if it were a natural language.

Tinimbang ang langit, Danny L. Zialcita, 1982

So there's another 1980s Filipino showbiz melodrama about a nightclub singer getting discovered and making it to the big league before having to make a choice between the loneliness of the stage and conjugal confinement as the wife of Christopher De Leon. (Or rather, between De Leon and - a diamond-plastered microphone! There's a wonderful, quiet perversity to all of this.)

This one lacks the clear-cut from rags to riches dramaturgy of the later BITUING WALANG NINGNING, and in fact mostly does away with the socioeconomic context altogether. Instead, this is about a number of high-strung individuals trying to find happiness in rather erratic ways. Most of the plot developments come out of nowhere, and sometimes even the Mise-en-scene seems on the verge of collapsing. A fragile film, but then again, good love songs are always complicated.

Zatoichi's Flashing Sword, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1964

"In the dark, the advantage is mine."

On the other hand, Zatoichi's whole mission in this one is to make sure fireworks will light up the sky in the end. So it's not about banning light categorically, but about exchanging one type of light for another. The blunt, narrow daylight of pure visibility must make room for the spectacular, expressive, artificial light of nighttime ghost vision (and while Ikeda's direction lacks the blunt force of his ...CHEST OF GOLD, this transformation is rendered beautifully). Light must stop being a mere tool for petty power schemes and become an aesthetic force in its own right.

Zatoichi cannot see, but he can be touched by light.

Sentinelle, Julien Leclercq, 2021

The somber tone on tone beginning leading up to a nice, impressionistic club scene kind of intrigued me, but once the destination became clear, I had a hard time keeping my interest up. As basic as this is, there's still too much stupid plot and while Leclercq makes good use of Kurylenko's sad eyes, she just isn't the right kind of actress for those brutal, down to earth fight scenes.

I Are You, You Am Me, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1982

Sweet and tender body switch comedy, with Obayashi keeping his more ornamental impulses in check while mostly handing over the film to his actors, especially to Satomi Kobayashi, joyfully lashing out against the restrictions of the world surrounding it; a great, intuitive performance, that at times threatens to sideline Toshinori Omi, whose equally important contribution takes longer to register. It mostly manifests itself in close-ups - with the girl, the switch mostly activates the body / exteriority, with the boy the face / interiority.

Maybe the best thing about it is that the social context, while never absent, mostly retreats into the background, so that the film mostly consists of the world the two of them build for themselves, without external interference. This is especially true for the extremely touching last part, a turn towards juvenile transcendence I really didn't see coming. Introduced, of course, by Bach's Air of Suite No. 3, the most beautiful piece of music ever conceived. Only special films can truly sustain Bach and this one can.

Crime Doctor, Michael Gordon, 1943

Warner Baxter suffers from amnesia and is haunted by an unknown, murky past while climbing the ranks of decent society. Plots like that, encompassing years if not decades while trying to do justice to a man's whole biography, are not exactly ideal programmer material. Indeed, the script takes quite a few shortcuts and never even tries to account for its psychological implications, resulting in a strangely non-commitant self-investigation: Baxter investigates his past self as he would another person. And the film isn't smart enough to make use of this "objective" schizophrenia either.

Anyway, the most interesting parts in here are probably the prison scenes and the plea for prosocial reform they imply.

The Little Girl Who Conquered Time, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1983

More plot-heavy than most other early Obayashis and while the small frictions in the fabrics of the everyday slowly leading to a big, romantic opening up of everything is a lovely vision of coming of age, I guess in the end I prefer the anarchism of LOVELY DEVILS and the relaxedness of I ARE YOU. Of course, one does not have to decide, Obayashi's image factory will provide for everyone in the end.

Haven't seen the Hosoda version yet, although while watching it I more often thought about Makoto Shinkai who just must have watched this at least a few times before taking on YOUR NAME.

Confessions of Boston Blackie, Edward Dmytryk, 1941

"You've got a little Gestapo in you!"

It's always interesting to see how the reality of geopolitics seeps into those wartime noirs. Not by way of stilted speechifying, but in much more casual ways. Being in war against fascism is just another part of the fabrics of daily life. (Don't know, of course, if the line was already in the script or if this is an early example of Dmytryk's antifascism.)

The film itself is quite nice, some original ideas and I've already made my peace with Chester Morris's swag.

The Deserted City, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1984

A town touched by death, embalmed in green, handed over to water (while waiting for fire), having lost contact with the present, every act already a proleptic memory. When being is being with death from the start, only a concrete act of sorrow, a direct contact with death can break the spell once in a while. The wake after the non-lovers's love suicide is the most lucid scene of the film, faces sculpted in light, finally in tune with their own helplessness.

So beautiful it hurts (the cats, the dogs!) and I really wonder why, to me, it's still not a complete success. Maybe it's the voice-over in combination with Eguchi's blank face, though in the end it might've more to do with the way Obayashi looks at his characters. He respects them, and knows there surrounding, carefully placing them in space-time, securing them from hostile gazes (ours, too) when necessary, but sometimes I feel like he's not curious enough about them, or at least not as curious as I am. For example Ikuyo: She's old-fashioned, we learn, and Obayashi decides that's enough, that's all we need to know about her. But is it?

Kenya Boy, Nobuhiko Obayashi & Tetsuo Imazawa, 1984

Would love to know more about this, productionwise. Is this really an unfinished work, as some are suggesting here? Or might this just be one of Obayashi's more radical attempts at a liquified pop cinema? I mean it totally makes sense for him, when for once leaving behind live-action altogether, to not settle down on a single, stable style of animation, but instead to interrogate this new toolset, especially regarding the presence, absence and saturation of color. At the same time, the stylistic ruptures do feel more jarring and random this time around.

And it's not just the style, there's also a decidedly dubious script (like a stitched-together mashup of several "exotic", colonialist 30s serials filtered through a Japanese nationalist framework) and the total and, given the rest of his work, really surprising lack of insight into how young people behave, talk or even just move around. Wataru really is more a miniature adult than any kind of adolescent here, except maybe when enthralled by the equally awkward blonde jungle goddess Kate. His horniness might've been his saving grace, but the film isn't interested in exploring it, either.

In the end the only thing this has really going for it is its weirdness, and, like with KINDAICHI KOSUKE, this isn't quite enough to keep me engaged.

La canzone dell'amore, Gennaro Righelli, 1930

Trying, with some success, to take in the wholeness of sound, chaotic street noise mixed with intimate confessions mixed with the streamlining of auditive affect by the cultural industry. A few good visual ideas, too, like the closing in on the couple sitting high up there in the tree. Most of the times, though, the window stays closed and all sensations stay confined within the limits of a particularly tired set of melodramatic conventions.

The Island Closest to Heaven, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1984

Away with my petty objections, they always remain strangely external to Obayashi's image-making anyway. Even if they're true they're wrong, because with Obayashi, it's not about truth value or fitting into pre-arranged forms, but about following the images, wherever they might lead.

Just like Keiko here, who travels to the end of the world, to a world of pure beauty, a world as special effect, in search of an image she can't describe until she sees it. More precisely: The driving force behind her trip is her conviction that she will recognize the image once she sees it. We already suspect she won't, and we already suspect that this failure will, in the end, not matter all that much to her.

The true cypher is not the world, though, but Keiko. This is epitomized in her glasses. That women (much less often: men) are suddenly transformed when they take off their glasses is a well-worn trope (and I have to admit that I'm rather fond of it. Here, Keiko takes her glasses, and she, too, changes. It's just that we don't know what exactly this change consists in. She continues to be a cypher, but has demonstrated the possibility of change.

Maybe the most important thing is that Keiko remains a tourist, even after leaving the tour party behind. She enters a few lives, a few stories, but stays on the sidelines, detached. And learning how to do this, to be content with this, to except ones own apartness is all that matters in the end. The boat is steady, it's the world that's swaying.

Prosti, Erik Matti, 2002

The hilarious poster is strangely fitting, since this is an exploitation film first and foremost, but in a playful and, yes, honest way. Just like madame's damaged eye works both as a grindhouse signifier and as a trace of her own damaged past, Matti somehow manages to pull of directing a sensual film about prostitution. An unillusioned tale of power structures and the possibilities / limits of solidarity (female-administered sex work is still exploitation, but also a way to keep the men in check) - with glossy, at times kinky softcore sex and lots of stylish low angles of narrow bordello hallways. And it's not that the latter somehow devalues the former. It's all of one piece, without the allure of bodies in heat the microeconomy of power and pleasure the film is built on would simply collapse.

Feels a bit like a much less cynical version of early 90s Hong Kong Cat III cinema. Need to finally see more Matti...

Miss Lonely, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1985

Nostalgia is one of the key modes of cinema, a medium that always, necessarily navigates the relationship between imaginary immediacy and objective distance. To do this successfully, Obayashi teaches, one cannot play off one aspect against the other, but has to fully commit do both. So on the one hand we're drowning in desire for a particular time and place and melody and face (also for completely random things, like that slightly ridiculous white sweater we always wore in our teens), while on the other hand we're working through this very desire, analytically and without any safety net. And the perfect way to do this, this most beautiful of Obayashi's films (ok, so far, who knows what'll happen next...) suggests, is by way of comedy, by way of exploring, Chaplin-style, the connection between silliness and sentiment.

In the end it's about finding and defining objects which can bind and symbolize our affect, while at the same time making it manageable. A small piano on top of a real one.

Der Schuss im Tonfilmatelier, Alfred Zeisler, 1930

Cinema as a closed-off system centered around death. Smart and inventive, though one might've wished that Zeisler would've focused a bit less on the satirical and a bit more on the depraved implications of the plot. But well, not everyone can be a De Palma, I guess.

Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, the Seacoast, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1986

The war is absent but only just so. All that's missing is one cut, sometimes maybe just a tilt. The nearness of the war affects everyone, transforming games into war games and society into a keystone cop comedy. Everyone's sliding and rafting towards it, talking about it, singing about it ... and still, war's not here. Being on the brink of war without getting there means being on the brink of madness without the possibility of a release, however gruesome. The world has already been invaded by violence, but without the accompanying structure provided by war. For now, violence is pure rupture, impulse without form.

Films like this often tend do get on my nerves. Farcical, vitalist mayhem intent on selling me on the primal richness of life in the face of devastation... That's why I have a hard time with a lot of Imamura, and BOUND FOR THE FIELDS clearly takes some of its cues from this tradition. At the same time, though, Obayashi never ceases to be a pop-filmmaker first and foremost, which is especially evident in his loving recreation of (1910s more than 1920s) slapstick aesthetics. Also, once again he kind of inserts himself into the narrative, as a young boy who, like in LONELY HEART, explores the world with the help of a pair of binoculars. What he offers is, in the end, not a treatise on man's eternal nature, but a perspective on a world.

(bw version)

Karma, Danny L. Zialcita, 1981

Patriarchy gone wild. In an early scene a woman temporarily staying in a hotel room is raped by a man who thinks she is in on it because an acquaintance usually provides him with a paid "victim" in the very same room every week. Things don't get much saner afterwards.

Once again, Zialcita's Mise en scene (and especially his editing) isn't the most solid in the world, but also once again the bonkers melodrama worldview seems to come natural to him. Plus he has a great eye for decor and what it does to people.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

last week in letterboxd

La tavola dei poveri, Alessandro Blasetti, 1932

A comedy about the sphere of circulation as an integrating force, at the same time transcending and redrawing class barriers. It ends with a banquet given for the poor... that is also financed by the rich marry on borrowed money. Blasetti's direction is always inventive and Viviani is amazing.

New Tale of Zatoichi, Tozuko Tanaka, 1963

Katsu looks about 10 years younger in color than in black and white, at least on first sight, and this threw me off for a while, but in the end this turns out to be a very emotional, quietly melodramatic entry. That long scene of Zatoichi and Yayoi alone in a room, each one in a different corner, not approaching and not really looking at each other and still they're ready to completely change their lives around just because of the intensity of the moment...

Forbidden Trail, Lambert Hillyer, 1932

Love the uneasy Buck Jones swagger (he is much wackier than his wacky sidekick in this one, especially when "flirting"), and I liked that at one point the fact that he can't get what he ordered for breakfast is used as a plot point. Aside from that very routine, mostly in a good way.

Zatoichi the Fugitive, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1963

There's once again a blast from the past storyline but at the same time the series starts to transition to Zatoichi the journeyman mode, starting with the random sumo match in the beginning. Like with Tanaka's previous entry, this is best when things get more private and intimate, especially in the scenes with Masamo Banri. Doesn't quite reach the same emotional intensity this time, though the last scene, with Zato's farewell dance turning from playful to desperate to gloomy in a single close-up is truly amazing.

Zatoichi on the Road, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1963

The first one I didn't really care for. Looks still amazing, of course, but the plot is uninvolving and also surprisingly slow, there are no standout set pieces and winy Mitsu is the worst character in the series so far, a damsel in distress tailor-made for Zatoichi to spring through all the required hoops and nothing more. Zato himself is unpleasantly cocky, too. Hopefully not a sign of things to come.

The Mistake, Bruno Sukrow, 2020

Still nothing even remotely like it out there, and this time the insertion of quite a bit of live-action footage - mostly nature imagery, often shots lasting for quite a long time - makes everything feel even more sui generis. Not just the pulpy fever-dreams of the code left to its own devices, but a gift from a twilight zone beyond the separation of digital and analog. We are blessed.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 4: Sword of Seduction, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1964

Ditches most of the classic chambara roots of the series in favor of a more serious commitment to its exploitation underpinnings. Here we get junkie sex slaves, sadistic nuns, out of the blue beheadings, defloration rituals etc., and while Nemuri Kyoshiro thankfully refrains from raping anyone this time around, the fact that he basically only acts out of spite, no matter what he does, is even more pronounced.

First Ikehiro I've seen, and judging solely from this he might be one of the more distinctive stylists among the Daiei jidaigeki specialists. Most striking is his use of long takes, sometimes whole scenes are done in single shots, which are often dynamized by gorge-like areas of deep focus. On the other hand, he sometimes goes for quite disruptive close-ups of pure movement. There's a weightlessness to the best scenes here that is quite a bit removed from the usually rather set-heavy Daiei-style.

Ikehiro is also the first director who tries to find an SFX equivalent to Nemuri Kyoshiro's Full Moon Sword Technique. Like quite a few of his more out there ideas this isn't completely successfull, but still, this is anything but by the numbers filmmaking.

Justice League, Jack Snyder, 2017

Watching the corporate capitalism cut before the fascist theocracy one. Just kidding, I'm mostly / moderately pro Snyder and what works here probably works because of him. (I'm not sure, on the other hand, that Whedon is the bad guy; some of the comic relief is terrible, yes, especially the Aquaman parts, but this more than anything feels unfinished, rushed, almost like a first draft.)

For Snyder, a superhero first and foremost is a scandal, an entity outside of traditional systems of cinematic epistemology, and the films can only be ways of accommodating this scandal one way or another. Introspection for example is not an end in itself, but must be experimental too, like it is here in some of the scenes with The Flash.

With the possible exception of Aquaman, who really is extremely annoying this time, every superhero arc in here has at least some kind of weird specificity and the stitched-together feel of the whole thing almost adds to its charm: different kinds of scandals, of disruptions folding into each other.

At least up to a point, because after the team is assembled (and the different worlds have been blended into each other), this does not have many interesting places to go. Still, the reddish, morphing CGI-scape of the finale is quite strong and hosts an action-adventure-set-piece more inventive than anything I've seen in any Marvel film, including SPIDER-VERSE.

Zack Snyder's Justice League, Zack Snyder, 2021

Funny that Snyder of all people is now being celebrated as a master of classical filmmaking. But in many ways it's true, this really is a much more well-rounded aesthetic object than just about anything on a similar budget level in the last 10 years. Still a bit disappointing that most of the raves center on "grief", "emotional depth" and similar qualities, thereby once again enshrining the vocabulary "real" cinema is supposed to be judged by.

The characters might be more rounded too, yes, and the dedication in the end is incredibly touching, but that's not what sets this apart from the previous version. In the Snyder cut, the superheroes do not get much more backstory or motivation. What they do get is a better stage for the expression of their powers. This expression might also be a self-expression, but first and foremost it is an expression of something the self is not.

To put it another way, Snyder is more interested in the super than in the hero. That's why Cavill's Superman is still his finest creation (and MEN OF STEEL his best film): With him, it's not about a human body discovering superpowers (a phenomenology), but about superpowers discovering and transforming a human body (an epistemology).

(That's also the reason, btw, why Affleck's Batman is so weird. In the absence of a superpower he loses all intrinsic value for Snyder, who has no eye for the specific melancholia / romanticism of basically all the earlier Batman solo films. When he tries to recreate it he falls back on tired stereotypes out of touch with the rest of his film, like Batman sitting high up there, overlooking the city. For Snyder, Batman makes only sense as a figuration of himself: an engineer of the spectacular always in danger of getting lost in his own schemes.)

This difference is not just one of narrative perspective, but constitutive for Snyder's image-making: Just like Superman's body is a medium for the exploration of superhuman strength, Snyder's films are vessels for the superpowers of high-budget digital imagery - that is, the films are not the powers themselves but experimental efforts to embody them, to translate them.

The biggest difference to the theatrical version is not the expanded Cyborg storyline, which is nice enough but maybe a bit too directly an expression of the digital sublime; but, once again, the way Snyder manages to make his cut much more about Superman (even the open matte framing only really clicked with me after the first true Superman closeups), to the point that a lot of this, especially the many scenes foreshadowing the resurrection, plays out like a religious parable.

The eruptive and obviously sexual release (the biggest flaw of the film might be that Cavill is not completely naked when being reactivated) delivers the other heroes not so much from trauma, but from interiority itself. Now their abilities can no longer be misread (by themselves as well as others) as coping mechanism and they, too, have access to the spectacular.

The question of how fascist all of this really is never completely fades away. Still, it's quite interesting that the first thing that happens after the resurrection is a fight among heroes. Even in the end, they cannot even begin to conceive of their abilities in terms of a greater good. The more discursive side of the film (all those strange voice-overs: who do they address?) stays completely fixated on self-determination the whole time, and maybe that is the political stake of the film: that the Justice League, the necessary transgression of individualism, can only be though of in terms of the otherworldly fantastical, unbound by any empiricism, be it psychological or sociological.

(On a side note, while I'm not all that curious about a post-apocalyptic Joker movie, what I really would love to see is a Snyder-directed WONDER WOMAN prequel set completely in Themyscira.)

Grand Piano, Eugenio Mira, 2013

Wonderfully bonkers hook and as long as this is just sub-Hitchcockian suspense mechanics, it runs along nicely (plus I was amused for quite a while about the thought of Elijah Wood as piano genius, not that it's completely unbelievable, I can see him obsessing just about anything, but it feels a bit like a fantasy life gone wrong); it becomes pretty clear pretty soon, though, that Mira isn't interesting in opening things up. The sole attempt at de Palma / Argento nastiness (the cello bow / knife match cut) is disappointingly tame and every outside event has to be matched, one for one, by character exploration. So in the end it's just another self-contained system, like so many recent genre exercises.

The Locket, John Brahm, 1946

In a key scene, Brian Aherne rushes back to a bombed out house he thinks Laraine Day, his wife, might be buried under. When he arrives, though, his eyes get stuck at a piece of jewelry stuck in the rubble, a bracelet that might be proof of her guilt, and this, her guilt, is his top priority, even in the face of her possible death. Throughout the film Day's evilness gains cinematic evidence almost exclusively in the actions and words of the men surrounding her.

This does not mean, of course, that she isn't evil, or that this is a film about the male "construction" of an evil woman. It's more about a cinematic investigation which is completely and hopelessly compromised from the start, contaminated by a primal evil that is itself outside of the scope of the film.

A top-tier psychopathology noir, in any case, and extremely good looking, too. The visuals build both on Musuraca's work with Lewton and Brahm's own gothic horror exercises - which were, however, probably really just this: exercises. This one is the real deal.

Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, Kazuo Ikehira, 1964

Now this is something else. Zatoichi is truly a free agent by now, and he stumbles into adventure just by sitting down while trying to take a rest. Ikehiro's direction is once more top notch, although he does not take as many risks as in SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH 4. Here, it's mostly about finding a new, more direct approach to cinematic violence.

The action is varied and brutal and the forest setting lends this a visually distinctiveness most of the predecessors lack. Nature's protection isn't here to stay, though: while Zatoichi slashes his way through his opponents, the dark green glow of the trees slowly makes way for a barren wasteland.

Kisapmata, Mike de Leon, 1981

There's barbed wire on top of the door, and if it even opens up (most of the time, the blunt, helpless noise of the bell stays unanswered), the entryway is barely big enough for a small car. If you've made it inside, the maid will lock the door behind you immediately, eager to perform a duty no one appreciates. The house is greenish from the outside and even greener inside. It's never quite clear, at least in the restored version, if (or how much of) the green is a matter of lighting, of paint, or of decomposition.

If you make it inside (you'd better not, anyway), on the left side a small living room opens up, a small area of relative security and civility. The dominating sight, though, is a staircase leading to the first floor. A diagonal slicing the screen, and a passageway between utter despair and the illusion of safety. Below the staircase there's also a phone. Its ringing, like that of the doorbell, mostly stays unanswered, and once you're inside, you already suspect why: This is a self-contained system, and every channel of communication with the outside world will, sooner or later, prove to be an illusion.

Upstairs, to the left, Dadong lives. Better not even look at the door. Crossing over to the right, you reach another room. The room of the daughter of the house, a child's room that might feel bright and friendly at first, but that turns out to be, in fact, the worst room of all, a chamber of unspeakable horrors, a kernel of pure negativity that, slowly but surely, will take over the whole world.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

last 2 weeks in letterboxd

The Polka King, Maya Forbes, 2017

Well made if completely by the numbers and lacking the extra spark of craziness of, say, the better Will Ferrell vehicles. Mostly glad to see Jack Black, Jason Schwartzman and J.B. Smooth again, though Jenny Slate clearly is MVP here.

Tea for Two, David Butler, 1950

A relaxed Doris Day has ample opportunity to employ her beautiful laugh, and the great supporting cast (De Wolfe, Sakall, Arden, Wymore) provides enough distraction to make up for the fact that Gordon McRae is just about the dullest male lead imaginable. Gene Nelson's dancing is way more athletic than elegant but impressive enough. Would love to see a film that really knows how to make use of him.

One of those films that feel enough like they could have been made up on the spot (a two sentence plot scribbled on a napkin tucked on a random selection of tin-pan alley scores lazily being handed around at a dinner party) to let one forget that they in fact have been made to death.

Welcome to Sudden Death, Dallas Jackson, 2020

Relaxed feel, some good performances and at times actually funny... so a pretty decent way to spend one's time if one accepts the fact that cinema is dead (managing to forget that the Hyams film exists might help, too). By now I indeed believe it is, but I guess I'm still not ready to accept all of the consequences. Anyway, before the switch to digital a film couldn't even look half as dull as this one even if it tried very, very hard.

Debt Collectors, Jesse V. Johnson, 2020

Runs smoothly on the considerable charms of the protagonists, but feels somehow much less specific than the first one. I guess the problem might be that it is a bit too content with being just a sequel, another job for the guy, while not really being interested in accumulating detail. The relaxed and resigned attitude is a given now and no longer tied to a specific place.

Still much to love, not the least an out of nowhere over the top performance by (I think) Charity Collins during the final shootout. She was born to blast away and the camera can't get enough from her doing so.

Blood Father, Jean-Francois Richet, 2016

A French production that believes more in American cinema than pretty much every recent American film I've seen over the last few years. A cinema of dusty, sun-burnt pulp archetypes, pretty ridiculous at times and without even a hint of irony to counteract the ridiculousness, but maybe that's the only way a story like this can work these days.

Tough little cookie Erin Moriarty may be even better than Gibson, though Gibson himself is pretty great, too: totally comfortable with embodying America's unenlightened self-image, obviously more interested in being a badass than a movie star (a clear sign: how long it takes for him to shave off his beard). The man obviously has issues to work through and Richet provides just the right kind of energetic post-Peckinpah genre nastiness to help him get back in the saddle.

Pretty much exactly the film LAST BLOOD should've been, too.

Acts of Vengeance, Isaac Florentine, 2017

Strange film. A straight-forward revenge tale unnecessarily and uneasily told through flashback, burdened with lots of pop-philosophical background noise and especially awkward voice-over... Quite a bit of misguided ambition, but also a sense of commitment normally completely foreign to a film like this (even to the still way too few other Florentine films I've seen; all of them better in what they do, but this one feels closer to his heart).

Banderas never seems quite comfortable with his role, the whole film could almost be described as him trying out different poses, but no, nothing really fits, neither the Fight Club masochism nor the training montage nor the spiritual redemption mechanics. The best part probably is him stopping to speak and turning into a sulky child, being mothered by Paz Vega, but only because this allows him to rest for a while. In the end nothing helps: He just can't be transformed into one of those aging, scarred b-movie vigilantes. Something about his eyes, his still way too handsome face, about his anger never quite ceasing to look like a stage trick, purely performative.

New Moon, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, 2001

Trying to find a cinematic handle on the Moro conflict. Feels a bit unformed at first, there are some jarring stylistic diversions throughout and the discursive elements are a bit forced (with every major character a stand-in for either an ethnic-religious group, a political stance towards war, or both), but all of this mostly fades away during a long, hope- and aimless walk through the jungle. In the end this is all about trying to make tangible, even if only a little bit, what it means to exist, as a live, hurting, loving body, under a perpetual regime of civil war. Great close-ups.

The Green Slime, Kinji Fukasaku, 1968

Was a bit disappointed by the space opera part in the beginning, probably mostly because an MGM-Toei co-production obviously can't keep up with all the Ishiro Honda films I've seen lately when it comes to miniature works and pulpy matte paintings. Once everything is confined to the space station, this is a blast, though. Fukasaku's lively (and slightly pervy) direction, the bonkers monster design, the Horton and Jaeckel reluctant bromance... A film that knows how to milk a premise.

Adultery, Lino Brocka, 1984

Brocka soap opera about individual desire being shaped, channeled and thwarted by the hard power of economics and the soft power of family relations. In the end, male stubbornness and female adaptivity are just two equally inadequate reactions to a state of continuous societal breakdown.

A bit frustrating in its insistence on dramaturgic ploys like the courtroom scenes or the double life routine: Brocka knows how to make stuff like this work on a superficial level but has no interest whatsoever in turning it in something meaningful, so a lot of this is just treading water. Still, Vilma Santos is pretty good, especially in the domestic scenes with Salvador. Also, there are quite a few striking strictly observational scenes like the prisoners hanging out during work breaks, just a bunch of exhausted organisms without any kind of meaningful, self-determined agency, a ground zero of body politics.

An Indivisible Heaven, Mike de Leon, 1984

De Leon Soap Opera, twisted, stylish and fabulous. Here it's not external pressure that drive the drama, but the awkwardness inherent in being trapped in both a body and society. Master director that he is, Mike de Leon makes even the weaker parts of the script (like the sudden turn into DALLAS territory towards the end) work, while Christopher de Leon's performance is magnificent throughout. His uneasy courtship scenes with the "country girl" are especially pitch-perfect hilarious, the studied script of romance performed with even the slightest bit of conviction or ease. The slow drift towards intimate darkness, drowning faces in close-up, speaks of de Leon's penchant for horror.

Klassenkeile, F.J. Gottlieb, 1969

There's so much energy in these fundamentally immature Pauker films... in the end they almost always win me over, all the more when, like here, there's a surprisingly decent Walter Giller performance at the center of it all.

Karnal, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, 1983

The kind of precious evocation of "primal" emotions that most of the time leaves me rather cold. The period setting seems to be mostly a pretense for falling back on archetypes and images of misery that at least look good and pure. Still, well-made for what it is, I guess.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 3: Full Circle Killing, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1964

The series settling into a more routine mode, leaving behind the lavish imagery of the first and the almost cartoonish stylization of the second entry. Now it's just about the no-nonsense delivery of particularly dark and misanthropic/misogynist b-movie routines.

(To me it's still up to debate how these post 1960 samurai films work in terms of gender - the often extremely disgusting violence can't be separated from the fact that women play a much bigger, and also more active role than in earlier jidaigeki, and also, for example, in classic westerns; still, I'd completely understand anyone who'd stop watching anything samurai related after the rape scene in here.)

This also lacks the stylistic coherence especially of the Misumi film. The magnificent fire and darkness finale makes up for a lot, though.

Death of Nintendo, Raya Martin, 2020

A relaxed film about volcanic eruptions. Completely comfortable in its nostalgic exploration of youthscapes, from swimming pools to basketball courts to locker rooms, and still there's also that one shot of two spiders fighting in close-up. (A nod to EVOLUTION OF A FILIPINO FAMILY?)

I, too, like how the film is reframed as Mimaw's story in the end, although what touches me most is the attentive and unobtrusive portrayal of Paolo's mother's loneliness.

The Tale of Zatoichi, Kenji Misumi, 1962

Like Mr. Euclid writes, this seems to be, at the core, less about the technique of samurai bloodshed and more about the idea of the master swordsman. What does it mean that in all these films there are one or two guys who effortlessly slice there way through dozens if not hundreds of opponents? How to built a genre, a world around that? Who can (and who can't) inhabit a world like this?

The Tale of Zatoichi Continues, Kazuo Mori, 1962

The one year later he returns to the same village and to the same woman storyline is a great setup for a sequel. Mori easily manages to make it stand its own - everything is smaller in scale, but also more private, Katsu's face is becoming much more important, and Wakayama is a memorable opponent. There's nothing like the all-out-brawl towards the end of the first one, but the prolonged fight scene at the end of this is someting else, too, a masterpiece of controlled Mise-en-scene - the way the film retreats from and closes back in on an ongoing battle... and then, after a night of somber reflections, a single, finale, decisive gesture...

Corte d'Assise, Guido Brignone, 1931

An aria superimposed with chopping wood, the town chatter cancelled out by bleating sheep, public announcements of plot points in image and sound. An experimental approach to talking pictures, embedded in a slightly confused whodunit.

Bridal Suite, Wilhelm Theile, 1939

Starts a bit lame and never quite manages to shake off the burden the production code placed on films like this one (although Thiele tries his best to suggest, in the end, that Young and Annabella did, in fact, sleep in the same bed). Still, the actors make it work, Young especially is pretty great because he's always a performer, no matter if his act is "international playboy" or "grudgingly giving in to societal pressure and getting a job". Thiele managing to squeeze Felix Bressart and Sig Arno into the plot is also highly appreciated, of course.

My personal highlight, though, is the fairytale production design once the film reaches the Alps, especially the back projection scenes high up in the mountain, a lofty combination of studio claustrophobia and natural beauty that somehow fits my personal experience of Switzerland.

La stella del cinema, Mario Almirante, 1931

...and then sound came to the pictures and, at least for a few years, everything turned weird and wacky and ridiculous and sexy and impure and chaotic.

Film is an industry, but cinema only happens when the assembly line grinds to a halt momentarily. A vernacular, low-level approach to image-making. In one especially touching scene a film shoot is recreated around a family dinner table, with a pepper grinder as a stand-in for the camera.

The Gentleman from Nowhere, William Castle, 1948

The identity confusion / stranger in my bedroom theme should be right up Castle's alley, the "becoming Warner Baxter" scene is indeed pretty great and Fay Baker has a marvelous b-movie face that should've been in many more films like this... unfortunately this somehow still ends up rather dull, with most of the runtime being consumed by a host of boring secondary characters trying to figure out the plot. A better transfer might help.

Female Ninja Magic: 100 Trampled Flowers, Chusei Sone, 1974

A film that uses several different comic sound effects for "penis moving inside vagina" will always be at least four star cinema in my book. The whole screen drowning in body liquids basically all the time helps too, of course.

Bituing Walang Ningning, Emmanuel H. Borlaza, 1985

And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever

It's lonely at the top, but it's lonely down below, too. Showbiz melodramas are almost always great and this one does not disappoint: we basically get, for two whole hours, wall to wall high-pitched power ballads, closet lesbian bitchfights and great makeup. Sharon Cuneta and Cherie Gil shine, of course, but I'm also partial to Christopher De Leon, who once again plays an inhibited pretty boy, a role that suits him well.

Terra madre, Alessandro Blasetti, 1931

Another interesting Blasetti film if not quite a revelation like RESURRECTIO. This is being described as a fascist adaptation of Soviet-style revolutionary realism, and this indeed at least partly fits a film that longs for a direct representation of "the people" (in its use of sound especially: an unruly force that has its source in the community more than in individuals) while at the same time framing them as elements to be disposed of, slotted in. Neither is the cleansing by fire scene in the end exactly subtle, falling perfectly in line with fascist propaganda: the destruction is blamed on the old, corrupt bourgeoise order, while the resulting utopian tabula rasa only belongs to the new, emerging streamlined society.

Still, on a scene by scene basis this doesn't really feel like totalitarian cinema. The acting especially comes from a completely different tradition: It's all about expressivity in a popular theater manner, and often just a few words by one of the more exalted peasants are enough to totally throw the proceedings off course. These guys still think of their lives in terms of traditional melodrama, and the film slowly but surely comes around to their perspective, too.

Harvest Home, Carlos Siguion-Reyna, 1995

One of those films that settle in a small world and start feeling claustrophobic as soon as you realize it's perfectly content with its outward limitations. The vector of inquiry always only leads inside, into the the self, the past, trauma. The switch into melodramatic overdrive about halfway in still took me by surprise, though.

Anyway, not badly made but not really my kind of movie, what kept me going were mostly the Snooky Serna close-ups, a fragile subjectivity running on fumes from the start, desperately clinging to her cigarettes.

Nurse's Sex Journal, Chusei Sone, 1976

Maria Mitsui is a fascinating presence, cold and slick and melancholic, her handling syringes almost makes one feel like in a Sato film. A shame she made so few movies. Otherwise this is a rather routine entry, lacking the unifying vision of the other Sone's I've seen. The late 70s seem to be the time when pinku sex scenes start being filmed increasingly like hardcore, just minus the genitals. In some cases this works well, here not so much. Still, you almost always can count on a few haunting interludes of musical melancholia in these films.

Tisoy!, Ishmael Bernal, 1977

So at the height of martial law Ishmael Bernal shot a Tati film on the streets of Manila. Not everything works (least of all the movie brat reflexivity), and technically something like the weirder Altman films might be a better comparison, but Altman is a cynic and Bernal is the opposite. It's all so generous and expansive, I couldn't stop thinking of Monsieur Houlot. A film to hang out in, two hours trenched in 70s warmth and Christopher de Leon dances the night away. And the day, too.

The Lodger, John Brahm, 1944

The world's a stage and everyone's a stock character from the start, having to act his part. Assigning a motive to a crime is just another stage trick. Brahm obviously loves those gothic theatrics, and this time he has a clever script and a wonderful cast to back him up.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

last 2 weeks in letterboxd

So ein Mädel vergißt man nicht, Fritz Kortner, 1933

One of my favorite back-projection scenes: Willi Forst dreamwalking in a world of private musical fantasy, while behind him the big city slides by, unaffected.

The Orgy, Koji Wakamatsu, 1967

Tight little film with a wonderful Ken Yoshizawa performance at the center. Drifting through the streets and a few beds, lanky and irreverent, too big for his car, every action, and the sex too, feels random, and still there's that one fabulous burst of energy when he suddenly starts dancing, out in the wasteland, where finally really is no one around. Expression is only possible when you're on your own, when there's no way for it to flow back into communication.

The form is 60s but the relentless nihilism feels ahead of its time. Society is not just broken but non-existent, under the water, a bet on a future that is never going to happen. The bancruptcy of everything is a given, not the end point but a starting point. It's just that there also is no way to go from here.

Der brave Sünder, Fritz Kortner, 1931

A slow but unstoppable descent into total madness, triggered by an authoritarian impulse no (yet) coupled with a talent for organization. An outlier among early German sound comedies, because it isn't rooted in operetta mechanics but introduces a darker tone, both satirical and absurdist. At times it feels a little bit overeager, too, but for the most part, Kortner's inventive direction (his eye for expressionistic detail especially) keeps things moving along fast enough. Plus, the central party scene is pretty much unbelievable, prime sleazy German precode material.

It begins and ends with Max Pallenberg's great stunt performance, that today feels a bit isolated and contextless but probably made sense for audiences at the time. Everything else is an afterthought - Rühmann at least makes his presence known once in a while. Dolly Haas, on the other hand, barely registers.

I want to know more about Rose Poindexter (all I can find is that she later married Ralph Ellison), who really is the only one here who stands any chance against Pallenberg.

New Underground History of Japanese Violence: Vengeance Demon, Koji Wakamatsu, 1969

Absolutely loved this. Less abstract than most late 60s Wakamatsu I've seen so far, but in a way, the fact that on the surface this looks like a "legit" period drama makes it only more radical. Because it's like you really can see the world folding in on itself, losing its richness and depth, until everything that's left is a series of acts of violence, an image machine running solely on anger and sadism. Violence being transformed from a means to an end: this is the (in the end not political, but anti-political) core of the film, and probably of most Adachi scripted stuff I've seen so far. Those prolonged delays before the final blow, the focus on mimics, and of course that sick, ultra repetitive, hypnotic faux spaghetti western soundtrack. Again: the richness of music boiled down to a core of compressed, seductive madness.

Ich bei Tag und Du bei Nacht, Ludwig Berger, 1932

Käthe von Nagy and Willy Fritsch are great together because they don't quite fit, she's too agile emotionally, so his attacks do not quite land and when she succumbs to them anyway it just has to be true love.

Factory Cowboys: Working with Warhol, Ulli Lommel, 2018

The scenes of aging Joe Dallesandro reminiscing about his factory past while sitting next to a bust of his younger, long-haired self are sufficient reason to justify the existence of this. To be sure, they're also pretty much the only reason, although some of the reenactments are cringy (Angela Davies) or random (Onassis/Kennedy/Marilyn) enough to make one raise an eyebrow or two once in a while.

Queen of Rio, Ulli Lommel, 2018

Maybe Lommel should've just taken the hint and stopped making movies after he died.

Singapore Woman, Jean Negulesco, 1941

Brenda Marshall hitting the bottle hard, before being reborn in a tropic thunderstorm. A lot of it feels rushed and some of the narrative shortcuts are downright stupid, but it hits where it counts, starting with a great Sternbergian barroom scene. The middle stretch with Marshall and Bruce being holed up in a plantation home is even better. At one point she humiliates him by laughing about his sensitivity. There's a sense of real cruelness to the scene, because not only is his character a weakling, but Bruce also is a somewhat inadequate actor, at least for a role like this. When he drives away in anger a bridge collapses and he gets stuck in the mud - her mud.

Itim, Mike de Leo, 1977

"A darkroom is supposed to be dark". Beautiful epistemological horror film in which the desire to see is inextricably linked with visionary blindness.

(The existing digital version generally isn't bad, but the brightness setting seems to be off at times. Hope this gets a better treatment someday, because this is a film that really needs the exactly right amount of darkness in every single frame.)

Kuthiraivaal, Manoj Leonel Jahson, Shyam Sunder, 2021

Wacky high concept film that seems to be constantly folding in on itself. Don't know if it amounts to all that much in the end, but worth it for the intricate sequence shot aesthetics and the creative use of digital alone.

Vertauschtes Leben, Helmut Weiss, 1961

Helmut Weiss trying out a solemn, at times claustrophobic black and white style and shooting for psychological realism, while still not being able to let go of melodramatic manipulations of the cheapest kind and shying away from the very same psychosexual implications the plot teases about constantly - resulting in a film that doesn't really live up to its own characters. Still, fascinating stuff, an intricate study in well-meaning repression.

All scenes with Baal and Prack are extremely creepy; more because of Baal than because of Prack, though. In fact, her scenes with her age-appropriate boyfriend are even creepier. Barbara Frey, on the other hand, is a much needed breath of fresh air.

Dark Heaven, Ratana Pestonji, 1958

Charming if extremely slow moving Thai musical melodrama. Mise en scene is mostly just a small number of characters placed in front of a flat static background (like a wall or a shabby apartment), the tunes are extremely repetitive and the focus is not on plot but on yearning. For someone, for a better life.

Once a Moth, Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara, 1976

Quintessential Nora Aunor as national allegory film. This is mostly about throwing 100 minutes of (post-)colonial injustice towards her tiny, fragile body, until she finally agrees to become the medium of the rage that has been building up inside the audience.

All in all extremely effective propaganda filmmaking that isn't shying away from the occasional cheap trick and also has a good eye for bodies. The grandfather for example really got on my nerves at times, but his dance scene is truly magical.

Assault Girls, Mamoru Oshii, 2009

A zen comedy of gameplay aesthetics; or, Oshii trolling his way into post-cinema. Don't have much to say about this, I guess, other than this would make much more sense conceptually at 700 rather than 70 minutes. Of course, this also would render it completely unwatchable, an outcome not necessarily at odds with the strategic masterplan that might or might not fuel Oshii's erratic career.

Resurrectio, Alessandro Blasetti, 1931

Endlessly fascinating early Italian sound film in which truly all bets are off. In terms of filmic style, especially (erratic camera movements, intricately composed long shots next to close-ups quivering with affect, images melting out of focus, dissolves cancelling out figures without apparent reason), but also in terms of narrative, like when a quite harmless burst of wind results in a few minutes of complete and utter mayhem inside of a concert hall. It's also extremely sensual and sexual, a film of music touching bodies, with the mind generally struggling to keep up with pretty much everything Blasetti thows on the screen. All of this doesn't even begin to describe what Venera Alexandescu does and wears throughout the film. I want to know so much more about this.

Delinquent Girl: Alley Cat in Heat, Chusei Sone, 1973

Probably my favorite Sone so far. Narratively it's extremely basic, a country girl stained by the big city setup that sometimes feels a bit like a american 70s hardcore comedy directed by someone like Chuck Vincent only without the hardcore and, of course, done with much more skill. Runs mostly on sleazy detail, inventive camerawork and a cheerful Yuko Katagiri performance for most of its runtime, only to take not one but two surprising left turns in the last ten minutes, resulting in two different versions of expanded theater: one on the streets, obscene and utopian and female, and one on a rooftop, intimate and psychotic and male.

Klondike Kate, William Castle, 1943

Well-made little Castle western that starts, directly after the credits, with a collective scream: "Women!" And off everyone goes towards the saloon... The rest of the film unfolds almost without outdoor scenes - in fact, the only time the central couple seriously ventures outside they have to return pretty soon because the sidewalk construction isn't finished and the streets are trenched in mud.

Inside it's mostly about different kinds of performances and the constant interplay of stage, backstage and audience. Castle's direction is completely assured and not without the kind of small-scale formalist inventiveness his mystery programmers excel in.

A small gem only hampered by less than ideal casting. Ann Savage remains a much too aloof presence throughout while Glenda Farrell, who might've made a much better lead, is sadly underused.

La Cieca Di Sorrento, Nunzio Malasomma, 1934

A young Anna Magnani really is the only reason to see this. Her role isn't that big but she has a few surprising, memorable close-ups. Otherwise a bit of a chore.

Black Rose Mansion, Kinji Fukasaku, 1969

Uncoupled from a solid genre script Fukasaku's ornamental approach to style easily can get on one's nerve, I guess, but I was thoroughly in love with this pretty much the whole time. It starts out like a faux European art film complete with Visconti crowd scenes and a general air of aristocratic moldiness, only to be transformed, step by step, into something much more somber and elegant and abstract. Towards the end there's a car action scene of magnificent, lurid purity.

Sale comme un ange, Catherine Breillat, 1991

Worse Lieutenant. No remorse, no redemption, no grace. (Maybe a little bit of grace.) He just has to continue existing as a sexual being, like the rest of us.

Kanto Wanderer, Seijun Suzuki, 1963

Starts with a few schoolgirls who develop a crush on a yakuza, and I probably would've liked this even more if it'd stayed in this lane. The glance Sanae Nakahara exchanges with one of the young gangsters while he's getting tattooed, the way she proudly presents her bruised wrist to a girlfriend after she was handcuffed... Then there's the enthusiastic overacting of another young yakuza who also happens to wear a hilarious crew cut. All in all perfect teen comedy material.

Akira Kobayashi unfortunately has more serious things on his mind, and once the film starts to center on him, a typically convoluted gangland plot takes over. He's still a great lead, of course, and the perfectly stylized scene, working through a new color scheme almost every single shot, leading up to his confrontation with a rival boss must be one of the most beautiful three minutes Suzuki ever directed.

Gli uomini, che mascalzoni..., Mario Camerini, 1932

Very pleasant comedy featuring a young Vittorio de Sica who could charm his way into the heart of just about anyone. Camerini uses dialog sparingly, and mostly tells his story through (automotive) movement and glances.

Three Years Without God, Mario O'Hara, 1976

The best film I've seen in a while: a requiem for the three darkest among many dark years of recent Filipino history. Opening his film with a Hitler speech, O'Hara makes it clear from the start that he is ready to go to the hardest of places, although his endgame is not so much political rage than an all-encompassing sense of loss (coupled with a strong catholic undercurrent). Projecting the multi-layered atrocities of the Japanese occupation onto Nora Aunor's fragile body means channeling history through melodrama, but not in order to simplify it, but, quite the contrary, to lay bare a number of dark ironies that are completely at odds with all nationalistic ideologies (and, for example, its use of rape as metaphor).

Although I don't know how direct an influence it was, at least spiritually this does feel like an important precursor for Lav Diaz's cinema, too. O'Hara's approach to characters and especially historical agency might be completely different, but the imago of the godforsaken woman wandering through the jungle alone makes for a clear enough connection.

(The restored version looks like a hand-painted silent at its best and like a moldy mush at its worst, and certainly never like a true color film. Still better than nothing of course, and another proof of how timely this recent batch of restorations of Filipino classics is.)

Atragon, Ishiro Honda, 1963

Of course Honda also made an underwater empire film... The clash of civilizations storyline might not exactly play to his strengths (or rather: lay bare the limitations of his films as political fantasies), and the human interest storylines are once again a bit muddled and overcrowded... but on the other hand the magnificent drilling spaceship might be his most Verneian vision and the scene with the red-haired underwater queen swimming towards the multi-color extravaganza that is the destruction of her world is enough to make this one worthwhile.

Greenland, Ric Roman Waugh, 2020

About half of this is just a single, long, dense night of pitch-black despair, with the only light provided by the continuing apocalypse illuminating the sky. Bodies desperately clinging together and still being torn apart. Alone in the dark. When the sun eventually rises, the film goes on for almost another hour and, despite a welcome Scott Glenn interlude, loses some of its steam.

Still, a touching film. Not completely un-cringy (like when the son, after mostly silently tagging along, finally opens his mouth, only to suddenly spit wisdom like the most unbearable of imaginary twitter kids), but with an expert handle on both pyrotechnics and affect. Also, while family ideology is in full swing again (the first thing Butler does, up there on a highrise, is checking a picture of wife and son on his phone), for a non-Emmerich directed 21st century disaster movie this is surprisingly uncynical, especially in its refusal to categorically pit individuals against institutions. The scene of the medic leading Morena Baccarin through several emergency tents until she finds her son really surprised me in its matter of fact humanism.

Dort oben, wo die Alpen Glühen, Otto Meyer, 1956

Beautiful camera work and interestingly high-strung in theory - if only Otto Meyer would be able to deliver a single halfway relatable human interaction. So we get a bunch of strange Heimatfilm-robots performing bizarre rituals up there in the alps. Sounds great, I know, and it is at least amusing for a while and not even without the occasional emotional out of nowhere close-up that hits you with a brig... but still, the stilted line delivery especially of Albert Rueprecht wore me down rather fast.

Ham on Rye, Tyler Taormina, 2019

A mode of being in the world that makes every single action, no matter by whom, look whimsical and therefore inherently interesting and therefore part of a cohesive network (an inclusive network, too, even for those at the bottom - thumbs down is at least a gesture, one belonging solely to you) vs a mode of being in the world that curbs and curtails every action from the start, rendering it less expressive, readable only by a chosen few as part of a private language. Exclusion opens up the world, though.

Great eye for behavior, for random detail, for trees etc and still at the same time completely dependent on structure instead of character or immediate sensual data, which sure is ambitious but sometimes bordering on frustrating, too. Is structure really a better way into this world than, for example, Haley Bodell's averted gaze? In the end I don't know and this just might be one of those films I would react to completely differently in a theater, next to all of those strange strangers.

Family Romance, LLC, Werner Herzog, 2019

A gentle stroll through Tokyo, tag along with us, why don't you, self-sameness not required. Could've used a tiny bit more energy here and there, yes, but the slow pace and the home-movie look perfectly fits in with Herzog's last few fiction films and takes their direct, unassuming, free-form approach to fiction, discourse and filmmaking to a logical, hedgehog-petting extreme.