Wednesday, July 14, 2021

last week in letterboxd

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, Radu Jude, 2021

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

Ete 85, Francois Ozon, 2021

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

Wonderful production design, too.

Frustration, Jose Benazeraf, 1971

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

Zatoichi at Large, Kazuo Mori, 1972

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

Night Eyes, Jag Mundhra, 1990

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

All We Had, Katie Holmes, 2016

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

Night Eyes II, Rodney McDonald, 1991

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

The Secret: Dare to Dream, Andy Tennant, 2020

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

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

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

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

Night Eyes 3, Andrew Stevens, 1993

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

Atlantis - Ein Sommermärchen, Eckhart Schmidt, 1970

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

Zatoichi in Desperation, Shintaro Katsu, 1972

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

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

Night Eyes 4: Fatal Passion, Rodney McDonald, 1996

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

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

Zatoichi's Conspiracy, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1973

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

Animal Instincts, Gregory Dark, 1992

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

Two Wives, Yasuzo Masumura, 1967

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

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

Animal Instincts 2, Gregory Dark, 1994

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

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