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.

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