Sunday, January 30, 2022

Letterboxd reprise - The Tora weeks

Tora-san, the Good Samaritan, Yoji Yamada, 1971

The mother is back! Really interesting how dense the world of these films is, with people constantly commenting on previous installments and expected Tora-san behavior. The romance part is a bit strange in this one and might be considered problematic, I guess.

Taste of Cherry, Abbas Kiarostami, 1997

Hyperrealism leading not towards, but away from the world. Still one of a kind.

First Case, Second Case, Abbas Kiarostami, 1979

Fascinating not so much as Kiarostami's "commentary" on the political struggles ongoing throughout production (ie as an active inscription of meaning - the sole, finale agitprop with the rhythmic knocking overtaking the film is incredibly effective, but remains on the level of stage mechanics); but rather for the way his mode of filmmaking turns cinema into a receptive, almost passive agent registering that allows history to express itself, within certain boundaries, of course (and in binary code, one might be tempted to say), but still, the result is multi-faceted and open-ended, never reducible to a single auteurial voice.

Titane, Julia Ducournau, 2021

A hipster's idea of transgressive cinema, which doesn't mean it's a bad film, just a bit overeager in its attempts to frame and contextualize its main attractions. The whole community of firemen part for example is pretty much stillborn discourse of the moment stuff, which unfortunately often makes Lindon's great performance feel disconnected from the rest of the film.

It's also a bit too life-affirming for a hopeless sceptic like me (and I do think it makes quite a bit of sense to read it as a neoliberal FRANKENSTEIN variation rather than as a "visionary" tale of liberation) ... but then again, as fearless, punkish, proudly feminine shock and awe body cinema it does hit quite a few powerful notes. Ramming a hair stick into the ear leading to foam shooting out of the mouth, we're all engines running on body fluids anyway, good for cinema to check up on that once in a while.

Raw, Julia Ducournau, 2016

Doesn't transcend the cannibalism as coming of age / sexual awakening formula one bit and confirmed my suspicion that Ducournau's is an inventive but terribly literal imagination that would be much better served creating gross-out comedies rather than horror movies. This has a scene of the heroine singing along with a rap song about fucking a corpse, and a few minutes later she heads for the morgue herself, so the way to go clearly would've been to double down on the ridiculousness rather than turning it into just another plot-point on the road towards self-realization.

 The Wind Will Carry Us, Abbas Kiarostami, 1999

If I remember correctly, I didn't care that much for this one the first time around, because it felt a bit like a road travelled one time too often. Well, that certainly was stupid. Not only because it is one of Kiarostami's most beautiful films, but also because its beauty to a large part hinges on the familiarity of the road, on Kiarostami's complete and seemingly effortless control of his technique, resulting in a most intricate brand of direct cinema. The more obvious meta-narrative and metaphysical superstructure are stripped away in favor of what might be called a structuralist hangout movie: dead village time being turned into a game of repetition and variation, presence and absence, visibility and invisibility - all of this with a clear psychosexual bent, too.

It's also his funniest film since A SUIT FOR WEDDING. Behzad Dorani really is the most hilarious of all Kiarostami stand-ins with his almost Keatonesque deadpan and perpetual low-key horniness.

Tora-san's Love Call, Yoji Yamada, 1971

Almost half an hour longer than all previous installments, and indeed something of an expansion. There's an unusually strong focus on a non-Tora-related story arch - Hiroshi's deep resentment of his father, a rift that just cannot be laughed away by a few Tora antiques. His own love story, on the other hand, exists mostly in the imagination of his peers, he himself plays along more with their knowledge than with his own feelings.

Three moments from Tora 08:
Sakura, pressured by Tora and two drinking buddies, singing a song about her father and moving everyone to tears.
Tora's suitcase dropping over by itself (several times if I remember correctly).
Tora stealing cake and strolling with a couple of children through the meadows, while a Strauss Waltzer is playing.

ABC Africa, Abbas Kiarostami, 2001

Was quite taken by this, and I guess it really is a strength that it often is only one step (if at all) removed from the obscene, especially in the more stylized scenes, or maybe better, the ones with a stronger felt auteurial presence. A bit strange that most reviews quickly skip over the adoption stuff which is the main focus of the second half and also the film's clearest comment on its own (necessary) insufficiencies.

Foxtrot, Cecil Howard, 1982

Out with the old, in with the new. Great New York City fuck movie that makes you wish for a different distribution of the sensible.

Tora-san's Dear Old Home, Yoji Yamada, 1972

By now the series is really starting to loosen up and gets all the better for it. This one leaves Tora and company behind for a while to follow three young women on a road trip, one of several they have taken together, but probably the last one because one of them is getting married. Of course Tora ends up crossing their path and of course he falls in love with one of them, but the film takes its time to get their and spends quite a bit of time exploring the hopes, desires and the already awakening sense of disappointment of three women on the verge of entering respectable family life.

Three moments in Tora 09:
The three women balancing on railroad tracks, a gentle scene dynamized by a nervous zoom, a marker of 70s cinema Yamada uses extremely rarely.
The women's unstoppable laughter when Tora tells his rather stupid jokes.
The real estate agent trying to rent Tora his own room and fighting like hell for his fee. A petty man in a petty world.

Ten, Abbas Kiarostami, 2002

Still the quintessential expression of Kiarostami's method, and besides everything else it's just such a beyond perfect idea to bundle all the evils of patriarchy in a single child from hell.

Five Dedicated to Ozu, Abbas Kiarostami, 2003

First shot: nice.
Second shot: boring, especially after the birds leave.
Third shot: this is starting to feel trolly, but I actually like this one, all that light blue being washed away by digital blankness.
Fourth shot: bird parade, just wonderful.
Fifth shot: a neat magic trick, but once again a bit boring.

Altogether: not bad. Why, though?

Tora-san's Dream Come True, Yoji Yamada, 1972

A structural switch: Tora has been replaced by another hopeless romantic, so instead of pursuing the woman and in the end finding out that she loves someone else, he tries to be a matchmaker but finds out that she'd loved him all along. The result is the same, though. What really sets this apart from the predecessors is the rather broad humor, though. Doesn't always work all that well, but a welcome change of pace nonetheless.

Three moments from Tora 10:
The bratty neighbor sticking an image of Tora onto the bell before chiming it.
A beautiful autumnal montage sequence set to Vivaldi. Lots of classical music in this one.
Tora stumbling into a university classroom and greeting the students,wishing them good luck.

Copie conforme, Abbas Kiarostami, 2010

As much as I still admire this, rewatching it directly after his Iranian films is kind of depressing, too. A film shot in an open-air museum rather than the world, a retreat into high modernism.

Tora-san's Forget Me Not, Yoji Yamada, 1972

 Once again extremely touching. This one has Tora falling in love with a travelling singer, kind of a Japanese version of a hippie flower child, a decidedly unstable existence. She isn't a mere love interest, this time, more like a second protagonist drifting through the film alongside the main one.

Three moments from Tora 11:
Tora and Lily hanging out at a dilapidated fishing harbor, with the film for once completely stopping in its track for a few beautiful minutes.
A young worker declaring his love to his girlfriend on the meadows above the river, surrounded by his buddies who first try to hold him back, but then start cheering him on.
The last shot: A long shot of Tora on a farm in Hokkaido, clowning on a bale of straw.

No Time To Die, Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2021

Fukunaga seems to be much more comfortable with the inherent ridiculousness of the franchise than Mendes was, so NO TIME TO DIE in theory has all the ingredients to make it another perfectly mediocre and perfectly watchable Bond movie ... only that it looks like shit and has virtually no energy to speak of after the quite good Matera opening. I wonder why no one mentions the terrible color grading: this should really have been called Depression in Blue. Every time the film cut to one of these drab, tone-in-tone shots of Fiennes or Wishaw (really the perfect dual embodiment of the whole no-fun Craig Bond era) something died in me.

Really not much shining through the fog here except maybe that one scene of Bond peeling an apple for his daughter.

Shirin, Abbas Kiarostami, 2008

Doesn't make much sense to watch this at home, I thought at first, but then again, maybe this way it is even more special: to be the only receptor of the light emanating from those women's faces, which in turn reflect the light from a non-existent Shirin adaptation ...

Tora-san Loves an Artist, Yoji Yamada, 1973

Even middling Tora entries provide pleasure, in fact almost as much as the best ones, because at this point, this really has settled into network tv show mode, so its more about spending time with beloved characters than anything else.

Three moments from Tora 12:
A split screen scene (the first in the series I think) during a phone conversation between uncle and Tora. All involved ignore the spit and act as if they were in the same room.
Tora spoiling one of the canvasses of the painter he falls in love with.
A close-up of the painter walking down the street, feeling her life drifting away from her.

Scoundrels, Cecil Howard, 1982

-"Do you sometimes think of me?"
On lacks, and how to fill them. Hits the perfect golden age sweet spot of having a plot but not insisting on it making all that much sense. Porntopia will not be reached by adding explicit sex to the regime of representation, what strives to become visible is another, secret flow of energies.

Every film with Ron Jeremy should automatically be filed under queer cinema.

Tora-san's Lovesick, Yoji Yamada, 1974

A fight scene early in the film turns unusually violent. A few scenes later, he's being hit so hard by his eternal fate that he never quite gets back on his feet. His happy-go-lucky routines are more desperate than ever and for a while he's on the verge of retreating into complete passiveness. The love story, meanwhile, is a mere echo from Tora-san 9. And still, this time Umako probably really saves his life.

Three moments from Tora 13
-A close-up of Sakura's face at the train station, while a brass band is playing in the background.
-A short scene detailing Umako's constricted, soul-crushing existence as a widow. One sentence by her mother in law, one obedient gesture in return, not even half a scene, and everything's there.
-Tora showing up at Umako's place, with fireworks lighting up the sky behind him.

Like Someone in Love, Abbas Kiarostami, 2012

Such a gentle late work. Every identification a misidentifications, not a single act of communication reaches its target, everyone's lost in a maze of doubles and mirrorings, and still, life goes on, somehow.

Ten on Ten, Abbas Kiarostami, 2004

Not very illuminating. Interesting only insofar as immediately after this "lecture", Kiarostami completely stopped making films that even remotely adhere to the aesthetic principles he put out here.

Tora-san's Lollaby, Yoji Yamada, 1974

Takes its time to become something special. The Tora with baby parts are pretty tired, but the love story has some interesting twists.

Three moments from Tora 14:
-Tora and a scarecrow, acknowledging each other.
-Once the feisty, glowing woman takes the baby in her arms, things are settled. Motherhood is an attitude, nothing more, nothing less.
-A party without Tora at the end, a cramped screen signifying nothing but his absence.

Tora-san Meets the Songstress Again, Yoji Yamada, 1975

The simplest of Tora-plots makes for one of the most beautiful films so far: Tora meets Lily again, and it almost works out. That's all. This "almost" is the only and an absolutely sufficient reason for this wonderful series to exist.

Three moments from Tora 15:
-A cascade of slanderings: The family's badmouthing Tora, he's badmouthing Lily. Punching down as a form of love.
-Tora gesturing alongside Lily's singing. Overeager in everything he does.
-Tora and some boys in a mock sword fight. He insists on winning.

Tora-san, the Intellectual, Yoji Yamada, 1975

Tora, the intellectual - of course it's played for laughs, but it's also the rare Tora film in which he really tries to change his life around, surprisingly persistently, too. The will to learn is more important than learning itself, and once one has encountered the desire to learn, life loses its sense of naturalness, an experience not only Tora but also his love interest has to make.

Three moments from Tora 16:
-Yuki, the girl we (or at least auntie and uncle) believe for a few minutes to be Tora's daughter and some of her girlfriends from school see Tora off and then go their own way, into their own, decidedly different film.
-Tora joking about Centipedes. Like always, he is his own best audience. He'll never wear out his own welcome.
-For the first (?) time, Genko gets a few real lines, not just random stammering. The first thing we learn of him is that he's dreaming of Hawaii.

El triunfo de Sodoma, Goyo Anchou, 2020

The rapid-fire assault of buzzword radicalism wore me down pretty fast - I guess even most true believers would mentally tune out of this after 15 minutes tops. Also, a film that makes quite a good case for cis men actually not being the reason the "militant left" more often than not is just an annoying and openly authoritarian bunch of assholes. And yet, as a cinematographic intervention, this is not completely without allure, never standing still, never respecting the integrity of any single image or body.

Fantasex, Roberta Findlay, Cecil Howard, 1976

A porn film that can't shut the fuck up is seldom a good idea, and this one probably really would've been much better without or at least with much less explicit sex, because as an extremely sleazy underground comedy this isn't completely useless. Turn up the weirdness, cut out the rape scene and add more stuff like that brisk pick-up bicycle ride, this could've been something...

Tora-san's Sunrise and Sunset, Yoji Yamada, 1976

At the beginning, I wasn't particularly fond of those parodic dream sequences that open the films since, I don't know, episode nine or ten, but by now they really start to put in some work there. After an excellent pirate one and an at least competent western one, now we get a full-blown three and a half minutes JAWS parody, complete with gore effects and and a huge paper mache shark. What follows is a strong Tora entry with impressive, slightly wacky performances by guest stars Jukichi Uno and Kiwako Taichi.

Three moments from Tora 17:
-Tora selling toy apes, whose mechanical, relentless movements mirror his own manic sense of desperation.
-Octopus and Tora fighting over an expensive painting and tearing it to shreds.
-Tora's lonely voice emanating from an abandoned telephone speaker.

No Man's Land, Salome Lamas, 2012

So there it is, finally, the subject of contemporary world history. I don't care much for Lamas's formalist pathos, the monumentalist minimalism that bugged me in ELDORADO XXL, too, but she clearly has found something, here.

Tora-san's Pure Love, Yoji Yamada, 1976

A throwback to earlier entries in its hyper-reflexive, mechanical storytelling: almost the second after his (first) love interest to be is mentioned, she enters the store and he immediately falls for her; and after being told that she's too young for him, but hey, she's got a mother pretty much exactly your age, we know what will happen next. Nice as a reminder of the series's beginning, but this only finds its own beat during the last stretch, mostly thanks to an unusually strong focus on Sakura.

Three moments from Tora 18:
-Tora opening a window and encounters a panorama of friendship, with everyone in sight highly susceptible to his charmes.
-Two impressions of Sakura's hidden loneliness: First she stumbles while moving away from Tora.
-A bit later she removes herself from the rest of the family and cries alone in the kitchen.

A Pool Without Water, Koji Wakamatsu, 1982

The 80s: the decade when even sleazy Wakamatsu rape movies came with stylish synth score montage sequence. Which are especially effective here because most of the other stalk, daze and assault scenes play out almost completely silently. In a total, claustrophobic isolation that also underlines the absence of the explicitly political charge of Wakamatsu's earlier work. No more taboos to break, no more dreams of revolution. What's left is a retreat into self, into perversity and sexual violence as compulsion, and into aesthetics.

Tora-san Meets His Lordship, Yoji Yamada, 1977

The lordship storyline is a bit too wacky and one note to really work. Still I like how Tora, after being a bit of a pest in part 18, really works his way back in our hearts, this time. He has to suffer for it, too.

Three moments from Tora 19:
-Just one of those marvelous layered multi-person shots in the shop, this time extending the depth all the way to the street, where Sakura is busy with something or other, opening up the family vista even wider than usually.
-A beautiful montage of movements, both big and small, ending with Tora's love interest departing by train.
-Tora's repeated problems of climbing the stairs to his room. He's really getting old now!

The Insomnia of a Serial Dreamer, Mohamed Soueid, 2021

As good a definition of cinema as any: A narcissistic and also always a bit pervy impulse channeled as a series of dialogues, as an opening up towards the world. Lots of dead air, often rather annoying, and still, I guess this will stay with me.

Tora-san Plays Cupid, Yoji Yamada, 1977

A low-key entry with a focus on wacky side characters. Tora falls in love only a little bit.

Three moments from Tora 20:
-A short scene set high up on a power pole. One of the rare moments the series ventures upwards
-Genko has a girlfriend! Or at least, he's seen walking down the street with a decidedly stylish young woman, and they look great together.
-Several people chasing a monkey who himself remains outside the frame.

Demain et encore demain, journal 1995, Dominique Cabrera, 1998

Nothing whatsoever wrong with it, I'm sure this will be hard-hitting, transformative stuff for some. All power to this film and its admirers, it's just that it bored me to death practically from second one.

Sensations, Lasse Braun, 1975

It starts on a ship, here they are, the wind in their hair, getting acquainted ... and where do you come from? One is from America, not quite as liberated probably, not quite as confident in her make-up choices, but she will surely have lots of sex very soon, we already know that. Do you want to take a picture of us? Of course. Later on, on land, everything dissolves into a loose series of coupling, sexual attractions generously spread out, until everyone zeroes in, as expected, on the America, leading to a moment, a single cut, in fact, of perfect sexual transcendence.

The very best of eurotica condensed in a single film.

Stage-Struck Tora-san, Yoji Yamada, 1978

This might be it: my perfect Tora film. This time he is confronted with a full blown showbiz melodrama - one of the most beautiful modes of cinema, of course, and at the same time not really compatible with Tora-style cinema. But that's the beauty of it: He gets to take part in something that is obviously too big for him, and in a way he realizes this. It's not just that he learns that, once again, she is "not the one for him". Instead, he encounters a different mode of gesture, of performance, and thereby his own separateness.

Also, those revue scenes are marvelous, the flow between backstage and stage, the focus on bodily stress, the audience reactions... Just magnificent filmmaking.

Three moments in Tora 21:
-Octopus has his face, while fighting with Tora, turned sideways for a few seconds. Quite a sight.
-The country bumpkin visiting the revue, transfixed by the spectacle of reified erotics. Or maybe just by that single, gleaming light in the background? A magic source of energy embalming the world?
-The dancer watches her former world, already one step removed, tears in her eyes.

Porno Holocaust, Joe D'Amato, 1981

These crabs here might not look all that big, but listen! This particularly species normally is tiny, so these somewhat sizeable ones are actually huge! And clear proof that something fishy is going on on this island, probably some kind of nuclear experiment!

The stuff you can get away with when you call your film PORNO HOLOCAUST. D'Amato probably knew his work was basically done once he came up with the title, and anyway, his eye for beautiful island scenery never leaves him, so that's half the movie right there, and the other half will come together in due time, too. For example, we got some extremely ugly monster make-up right here. So, to be sure, certainly no one has to invest more than the bare minimum in the hardcore scenes (although Mark Shannon's body language sure suggests that receiving one blowjob after the other is a truly Herculean task), and in the girl on girl scenes actually not even that. The first of those scenes of two women lazily rubbing against each other and sometimes, as if by accident, engaging in a very loose approximation to cunnilingus, starts with them slapping each other quite violently, but also joyously, and completely without reason, too. Maybe the only real burst of energy, here.

Talk-of-the-Town Tora-san, Yoji Yamada, 1978

Another extremely well made entry, this time with a surprising social realist bent. Could almost have developed into a kitchen sink Tora at one point!

Three moments from Tora 22:
-A whole sequence filled with bridges, one more beautiful than the other.
-Tora drawing closer to a woman from offscreen, entering her space when we still expect him to be an observer.
-A harsh and sudden onset of winter coincides with Tora leaving his family and Madonna once again.

Le concerto de la peur, Jose Benazeraf, 1963
Awesome little piece of pulp nihilism, erotic death mask cinema, there's quite a bit of plot on the surface, but when it comes down to it it's just two amour fous cancelling each other, and everything else, out.

Tora-san, the Matchmaker, Yoji Yamada, 1979

Another one that completely floored me, and once again it isn't a "pure" Tora film that got me but an outlier. This announces its intentions early on, with a threat of sexual violence - violent, sadistic seventies cinema almost breaking through into the Tora world ... of course, the levee doesn't break after all, and the would-be rapist just ends up being the most ridiculous character in Tora world, the butt of every single joke. And still, suddenly there's a 70s sing-along tune competing with the Tora theme, Akira Fuse gets to to sing a wonderfully cheesy song, too, and of course there's Kaori Momoi, a completely different kind of Madonna, lamenting the expectations of tradition weighing on her in a throaty, not yet streamlined voice.

All of this, of course, pitted against the classic Tora mise-en-scene, an absolutely solid backdrop, a canvas you can just about paint anything on, if you find the right entry point. The strange thing is, this one could easily be described as heavy-handed, starting with Mitsuo discussing the marital dynamics of his parents, foreshadowing the Madonna's much bigger marriage crisis. In a way it plays out like a liberal message movie, and somehow Yamada really does manage to drive his points home without sacrificing Tora's integrity one bit. A marvel.

Three moments from Tora 23:
-Just one shot of pitch-perfect Tora mise-en-scene: Sakura in the foreground, splitting her family / her world in half.
-The would-be rapist, already thoroughly humiliated, shooting for a gesture of rage, and even this doesn't work.
-The bride's face at her wedding.

Venom, Ruben Fleischer, 2018

Decent body-switch comedy suffering surprisingly little from being attached to a very bad superhero movie.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Andy Serkis, 2021

Once again two films in, haha, one body. As superhero mayhem this might be even worse than part one, the church finale especially must be one of the most incompetent action set-pieces in recent memory. The comedy, though, is much more unhinged this time and comes from a place of erotic curiosity Hollywood normally shies away from these days. Also, like everyone keeps pointing out: the runtime. If one leaves the moment the credits start rolling (an absolute must these days when it comes to franchise movies), one is out of the theater in 80 minutes tops. Can't think of a single better development in recent big budget filmmaking.

All in all, a nice surprise, those Venom films. I was expecting something in the vain of DEADPOOL, but they feel more like shoddy blockbuster offshoots of IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA. Maybe hire an actual filmmaker next time, though?

Tora-san's Dream of Spring, Yoji Yamada, 1979

This one doesn't get much love on letterboxd, but to me, gently poking fun on a lanky, sad-sack American vitamin salesman while boiling down the issue of cultural difference to a question of expression and perception of feelings is more than enough to fill a Tora-san movie. The man himself doesn't get all that much to do, for a chance, this one really belongs to Sakura and the American.

Three moments from Tora 24:
-Tora walking through an Orange (Persimmons?) grove. Smoothly embedded in yellow dots.
-The American's mother, reading his letter, on a dusty Arizona porch. A dream of America dreaming of Japan.
-A flower called Adonis.

Tora-san's Tropical Fever, 1980

Tora entering the 80s together with Lily on Okinawa. Another attempt to widen the scope of the series, and although this one doesn't quite come together, I actually liked the long stretch away from the shop and the usual family troubles. As for Tora's intimacy issues, it kind of makes sense to connect his perpetual, compulsive joking with a fear of sex, but to really follow up to this the series would need to go to places it is obviously not prepare to go (I mean, I clearly don't want it too, either), and because of this the central conflict feels unresolved in the end. It's not quite clear if we have just witnessed yet another melodrama of missed opportunities, or if we have indeed glimpsed into the darker areas of Tora's soul.

Three moments of Tora 25:
-A passerby rudely intruding into a streetside conversation and Yamada's carefully calibrated mise-en-scene.
-Genko scaring children with a dead animal.
-Tora sleeping like a child while planes thunder above him.

Claude et Greta, Max Pecas, 1970

Heterosexuality (as symbolized by nothing less than the ultimate symbol of phallic chauvinism, the Eiffel Tower) as disillusionment, a sobering "truth" negating the poisonous beauties of same-sex lovemaking ... a decidedly 19th century vision of homosexuality, to be sure, a private, decadent world of flittering gauze and idealistic eroticism lightyears removed from the sexual revolution the film at the same time seems to be reacting to. Anyway, fascinating, sensual stuff, need to see more Pecas.

Halloween, David Gordon Green, 2018

Best in the few fleeting moments, mostly concerned with standard teenager stuff, it allows itself to be a David Gordon Green film; most of the times, though, this desperately longs to be a HALLOWEEN movie and doesn't quite know how to. A shame because it actually looks nice, one of the rare films to make a vintage visual style work. The slow drift from autumnal soberness to day-glo night-time artificiality works very well; the transformation of world into props and of human skin into papier mache. The rest is treading water, unfortunately, overlong mythology rehashs and showy yet completely uninvolving kill scenes which are obviously only there to prepare for an overblown finale which would've needed much more stakes to work.

Foster Daddy Tora!, Yoji Yamada, 1980

Tora in night school. An unobtrusive, gentle entry.

Three moments in Tora 27:
-Tora ironing a couple of banknotes, his way of keeping up appearances.
-A couple of lively female factory workers thirsting for Tora.
-The young, irreverent night-school crowd, a perfect audience for Tora and one of the rare moments the series manages to successfully break away from its family-centered, petite bourgeoise leanings.

Halloween Kills, David Gordon Green, 2021

Nasty, bloodthirsty and surprisingly unhinged, the chronicle of a night of terror and not much more, with the slashings no longer tucked away in artsy sequence shots, but shoved right in front of the gaze, categorically too close for comfort. Overall a bit too random to be as effective as its best scenes, and still, I was on board pretty much the whole time, I even liked the much-maligned vigilante storyline, the original HALLOWEEN is one of the great what goes on behind closed doors neighborhood horror films, and this is just the even uglier flipside of it.

Also, they found a way to both age and even further dehumanize Michael, that alone is quite a feat.

Tora-san's Love in Osaka, Yoji Yamada, 1981

When spending more time away from shop and family, the films tend to become a bit less complex, because Tora's destructive side doesn't have that much chance to shine. As long as they are as sweet and heartbreaking as this one, I won't complain one bit, though.

Three moments in Tora 27:
-Tora waking up after the opening dream, having used his suitcase as a pillow. One of those small details illuminating his fundamental loneliness.
-A surprising cut to a rapid travelling on a city highway. A shocking intrusion of another Japan, synchronous yet completely incompatible with Tora world.
-Tora gazing towards a thundering sky. He probably finds beauty there.

Tora-san's Promise, Yoji Yamada, 1981

My least favorite Yamada-directed Tora so far. The class reunion in the beginning hits hard, but the two main plot strands feel unusually by-the-numbers and uncommitted. The brat is especially annoying, a way of looking at youth that makes the series, for once, really feel out of touch with its time. The madonna also never quite comes into view... and still, the goodbye scene is handled so beautifully, might even retrospectively illuminate the preceding film in new ways.

Three moments from Tora 28:
-Video games invading the Tora series.
-Those long, straight alleyways in Kyushu, a woman walking away from Tora, into depth. A pureness of feeling that would not be possible in chaotic Tokyo.

Hearts and Flowers for Tora-san, Yoji Yamada, 1982

Feels like another watershed-moments in the series, although watersheds are always relative in Tora country, because the fabric - the gaze as a way of placing figures on the screen - always stays the same. Still, Tora stays away from the store for the whole first hour, even a bit longer, and instead gets lost in the most quiet, opaque of romances, a love story that is more about a yearning for another world than about any real-life future prospects.

Three moments from Tora 29:
-The guitar melody announcing the madonna, and then taking a firm grip of the film, announcing a temporary suspension of Tora style realism. Only at the very end, the familiar melody reestablishes itself.
-A group of schoolgirls invading a pottery.
-Mitsuo imitating Tora. Often a bit annoying, this one.

Die fünf verfluchten Gentlemen, Julien Duvivier, 1932

The crudeness of early sound cinema will never cease to fascinate me. This one frames Marocco in several sequences as a spectacle of unhinged, rhythmic sounds, drowning out any sense of narrative logic or tension. Unfortunately the version I watched is beyond crummy, hope to catch it under better circumstances at some point.

Blondes Have More Fun, John Seeman, 1979

Expected the worst after the clumsy, bumbling "comedy" at the beginning, but as soon as the serious fucking starts, this goes to some special places. The euphoria and desperation of total orgasm. One of the great San Francisco films, at least intermittently.

Tora-san, the Expert, Yoji Yamada, 1982

Pleasant, meandering entry with a by now almost completely benign Tora quite comfortable with his role as somewhat erratic matchmaker rather than romantic martyr. Also by now the touristic aspects of the series really are front and center.

Three moments from Tora 30:
-After Tora has left: a sad miniature of family life without its abject center, just a bunch of isolated individuals sharing space.
-Giraffes invading Yamada's mise en scene and throwing it off balance during a visit at a safari park.
-Salesgirls at a department store roll call.

Gaslight, Thorold Dickinson, 1940
Such a neat little exercise in total terror. Interestingly, it is the man's performance that's the spectacle here. Wohlbrück/Wolbrook deals in big gestures detached from any sense of reality, from sadistic coldness to burning rage to complete breakdown, while Wynyard, even in supposed madness, is just processing cues fed to her, translating input into countenance.
Tora-san's Song of Love, Yoji Yamada, 1983

The Tora series goes Schlagerfilm: The main plot - Tora falling in love with a famous singer whom he does not recognize, with both of them being chased around a scenic island by the singer's clumsy management - feels like right out of a Music House production.

In the end it's another one that doesn't quite come together, unfortunately. Harumi Miyako's role never rises up beyond gimmick status, and unfortunately, the whole film is built around her. Still interesting in its surprisingly wholehearted embrace of the surfaces of modern mainstream pop, in a way the first Tora film that at least at times feels like an 80s movie.

Three moments in Tora 31:
-Tora and Harumi looking at fireflies.
-A spontaneous musical number involving fishermen.
-Octopus watching a performance of the singer on television and singing along with her, silently.

Die englische Heirat, Reinhold Schünzel, 1934

Wohlbrück is smooth as ever, and his killer gaze when "Liebe ist ein Geheimnis" plays is reason enough to watch this ... and still, I guess I might just not be in tune with Schünzel's satiric and rather heavy-handed style of comedy. Also, while this one indeed lacks the more obvious markings of nazi cinema, the whole British decadence vs German honesty angle isn't exactly underplayed. Not just the collection of upper class twits who might deserve some of the ridicule, but also the "floozy" Hilde Hildebrand.

Part of my diminished enthusiasm might have to do with the fact that I'm just not a Renate Müller fan. I only really liked her in WALZERKRIEG so far; she has her moments in here, too, like the car mechanic bit in the beginning, but altogether she's way too wholesome for my taste. Her good girl act always comes with at least a tiny bit of moralistic judgement.

Gaslight, George Cukor, 1944

I can understand why these days quite a few people enjoy the British version more than this one, as Dickinson's take in many ways feels more modern: the central relationship is dissected rather than represented, the mechanisms of gendered power laid bare unflinchingly, as an objective structure. This also means, though, that the cinematic gaze remains strictly external to it: in the (smart, economical) prologue, the characters are placed in the story and also in the house which is transparent not only to us, but also to society as a defining outside force.

For me though, GASLIGHT 1944 is still it: the ultimate vision of romance as a method and practice of anti-realism. Cukor is not interested in demystification. Quite the contrary: He fires up the fog machine to seal off Thornton Square from the outside world and places us strictly on the inside. We're introduced to Gregory and Paula not by way of a criminal investigation (like in the British film) but through romance. Meaning we're the ones falling prey, and not just to Boyer, but to the lure of a hermetically sealed otherworld of elevated madness which, in the end, might not even have an outside.

A key to the difference of the two versions is the role of Frank Pettingell / Joseph Cotten. In the older film, Pettingell is the complete antithesis to Walbrook: the no-nonsense representative of law and order, practical reason personified and also completely sexless. Cotten, on the other hand, is almost the mirror image of Boyer. They have the same stature, the same hairdo, the same softness in their voice and in a few scenes, they are framed in almost exactly the same way. Cotten breaks the case not by breaking open the cocoon around Bergman, but by way of inserting himself in it.

The fog never really dissipates, there is no sense of grounding, no reality check - and consequently, at some point psychological realism is no longer distinguishable from utter madness. One of the remarkable aspects of Bergman's masterful performance is that it isn't quite possible to pinpoint the moment in which she switches over into complete craziness. Even more important: She never really switches out of it after the revelation. When Wynyard grabs the knife in the 1940 film, this is an obvious gesture of empowerment, a proof of agency (the prime fetish of modern day film criticism), when Bergman grabs the knife, it is impossible to decide whether this is part of the healing or just another symptom of the disease.

The film ends on the balcony overlooking the city. It's still dark outside and while Cotten ensures Bergman it will clear soon, we do not have much reason to believe him yet. In fact, his words point in the opposite direction: "In the morning, when the sun rises, sometimes it seems as if there never was a night. You'll find that too." So his proposition comes down to substituting one illusion with another. The last shot, though, belongs to the busybody neighbor, played by May Whitty. If there's any hope left, it resides with her and her benign but also slightly twisted, gossipy curiosity.

The Last Duel, Ridley Scott, 2021

I guess the Ridley Scott brand of producer's cinema auteurism belongs to the aspects of contemporary cinema which only will be appreciated once they're gone. Because who else would even try for something like this: a muscular, unironic big budget swashbuckler that ends up an uneasy marriage between a woke RASHOMON remake and a psychodrama of armoured masculinity.

The rather obvious problem is that the latter works much better than the former, meaning that at heart this is a film about Jean, not about Marguerite. And in itself this isn't even a problem. Genre cinema almost always is better at autocritique than at "revisionism", and this also means that, no matter if people like to hear it or not, a film about raging masculinity in the middle ages might even be better off without a "strong female character", at least of the kind Hollywood (and not only Hollywood) tends to write these days.

His gazes towards Jacques Le Gris, his sturdy but also clumsy gait in the presence of a more eloquent, more natural asshole tell us much more about Jean than the "revelation" in the Marguerite chapter that his self-image may not be entirely accurate (surprise surprise). Unfortunately this also means that she is from the start the least interesting character of the three. (That Comer's performance, unlike Damon's, Driver's and even more Affleck's always stays on the safe side doesn't help either).

Of course, in theory her perspective could add something to the story: the reality check of domesticity mostly, a materialistic angle, but while the script makes some attempts in this direction like in the scene at the stable, the film never really commits to this, perhaps rightly so - stuff like this deserves its own movie, probably its own cinematic language. The rape storyline, meanwhile, in Marguerite's retelling gets reduced to a checklist of contemporary grievances and at times doesn't even shy away from the worst kind of pandering like the shots of impoverished countrywomen celebrating Jean's victory in the duel.

In the end, though, the self-serving political smugness dissipates quickly after the credits start rolling. What will stay with me is Matt Damon's way of riding a horse and Ben Affleck's mad smile.

Tora-san Goes Religious?, Yoji Yamada, 1983

Probably the least Tora-centered Tora-film so far. Not only is he external to most of the plot strands in this, he doesn't even really try to insert himself in them. His almost becoming a priest, meanwhile, is treated strictly as a gimmick, both by Yamada and the characters in the film. To me the highlight here is Kaoru Sugita's desperate teenage heartache.

Three moments from Tora 32:
-Tora meeting the madonna for the first time on the temple stairs. Just one of many examples of the beautiful way Yamada uses location shooting.
-Sugita recognizing herself as the bathing beauty on a photograph cherished by her love interest.
-Tora using his jacket to form wings, an itinerant bird forever fluttering through the streets of small-town Japan.

Maskerade, Willi Forst, 1934

Basically a continuation of the earlier Reisch-Forst-collaborations at Super-Film in Berlin, with Forst replacing von Bolvary as director and casting Wohlbrück in his own role. Of course, especially the latter intervention does make a huge difference; Wohlbrück's approach to playacting is much more self-confident and straight-forward - a means to an end rather than something to be cherished in itself. Anyway, it all comes together wonderfully, Forst already is a master of the tracking shot and in the last scene, he manages to add a signature note of madcap romantic transcendentalism.

König für eine Nacht, Paul May, 1950

Trying to recreate a pre-war Vienna film as a post-war Munich film. Some of the textures are there but the spirit is gone. While I mostly can relate to blahr's take-down of this, I guess I found a little bit more to enjoy. Annelies Reinhold looks good in black, and I even liked the film's obsession with the water fountain - from some point on really every single scene ends with the thing even flourishing up or shriveling down, mirroring the film's reluctance to commit to its own horniness. Also, it's interesting to see Fritsch and Wohlbrück together (often quite literally, in the same shot), mostly because the former has aged so much worse, basically a sad clown now while Wohlbrück is still Wohlbrück, through and through.

But yes, otherwise it's mostly a dud, and the awkward attempts to poke fun at militarism and authorianism point towards deep-seated anxieties obviously no one involved in the production was willing to confront.

Marriage Counselor Tora-san, Yoji Yamada, 1984

The series moving away from the shop for ever longer stretches of course also means that the madonnas become more important. Rie Nakahara is one of the most impressive ones, and consequently, this is the best entry in quite a while, a sad love ballad shot through with an unusually strong sense of tragedy and futility.

Three moments in Tora 33:
-Impressions from an emptied out fun fair, with the remains of the bustle dirtying up, but also still gracing the streets.
-Mitsuo almost being forgotten and lock in a car.
-And, of course, Tora being chased by a bear.

 Tora-san's Forbidden Love, Yoji Yamada, 1984

A kaiju dream sequence! I guess they had to do it at some point, and it is quite lovely. They probably also had to enter the world of stock brokers at some point, and while the plot of this one is a bit stupid (of course, the broker suffers from burn-out), it also comes with a pleasant sense of naivete.

Three moments from Tora 34:
-A long shot of the stock exchange. A totality Tora cannot and will not enter.
-Tora learning (and deliberately forgetting again) how much his escapades are costing his family.
-Tora wanting to take the train, but the rails are gone!

Der Student von Prag, Arthur Robison, 1935
First and only sound version, and very much a Wohlbrück show. Unfortunately I don't remember all that much from the two silents, but I guess this one gets rid of quite a few expressionistic flourishes in favor of a more straight-forward, character-centered aesthetics, an approach that fits the material quite well.

Tora-san, the Go-Between, Yoji Yamada, 1985

Starts with a parody of BALLAD OF NARAYAMA, which made me think about how singular Yamada's commitment to this series was: while the other auteur filmmakers of his generation at least to some degree looked towards the outside for recognition, he strictly stayed at the home front. Very successfully so, of course, but still.

The structure of this is mostly a throwback to entries early in the series (especially the one with the weird professor). It's also quite silly and even comes with some wacky sound effects.

Three moments from Tora 35:
-Tora waiting for the train in the beginning - a stretch that stretches time.
-Church music invading first the film and then even the Tora theme.
-A winking Beethoven portrait. This one really is silly.

I Accuse!, Jose Ferrer, 1985

Of course not much effort here to reveal the true scope of the "affair", that would better be described as a full-blown pogrom, but I guess at least the rare film from the 50s that acknowledges the existence of anti-semitism. More court-room mechanics and less Zola grandstanding would've been appreciated, though.

Tora-san's Island Encounter, Yoji Yamada, 1985

Octopus's daughter Akemi has been a very welcome presence in the last few films, if only for the juvenile bluntness of her voice, and it is nice to see her rise to co-lead for the first half. Unfortunately though also consequently she's been given a more visible role only in order to being tamed in the second half. In the end there just isn't an escape from petite-bourgeoise respectability. Or rather: there's just one single, eternal escape - Tora-san's.

Anyway, an interesting entry, with more friction than the previous ones.

Three moments from Tora 36:
-Tora and Akemi talking about love on the beach.
-A guy losing a number of beverage cans and thereby leading Tora into a new story.
-Aunty searching for the island Tora has made it to this time on a map, and has to use a magnifier to find it. Japan has been pretty thoroughly pervaded by the series by now.

Die vertauschte Braut, Carl Lamac, 1934

A pleasant surprise. Lamac's direction makes up in irreverent vitality what it lacks in elegance; he basically hands over the film to a completely unhinged Anny Ondra who clearly knows what to do with it. Really much closer to the Weimar spirit than most other 1934/35 comedies I've seen so far - a film that escaped the streamlining of production that soon would leave no room for shoddily / charmingly knocked together low-budget star vehicles like this. At times a bit too childish even for my taste and the ice revue finale is terrible, as expected. Still, so much energy on display here.

Tora-san's Bluebird Fantasy, Yoji Yamada, 1986

The first one in a while to take real risks, and consequently the best one at least since HEARTS AND FLOWERS... Once again, the film spends a lot of time away from the shop, and this time even away from Tora. In fact, the scenes with Miho and Kengo do not feel like part of a Tora film at all, and for a while their desperate artist romance and the standard Tora shenanigans are running in parallel without much interference or points of contact. Even the ending brings together the different strands only on the surface; there clearly are more things going on here than usually.

(To be sure, generally this seems to be a less loved entry, and I even get why - Kengo especially is a bit annoying, but to me, his strong, offbeat presence makes the whole film appealing.)

Three moments from Tora 37:
-Tora chasing a train conductor in order to present him with change.
-Kengo painting a bra on the picture of a topless woman.
-When a worker leaves Octopus's print shop for another job, a female colleague starts to cry, suddenly uncovering a melodrama no one knew anything about.

The Red Shoes, Powell / Pressburger, 1948

Don't ask me why I never got around watching this, since it is pretty much all I want out of cinema in a single film.

Tora-san Goes North, Yoji Yamada, 1987

Good Tora-film dominated by an impressive late Mifune performance. The main dynamics here is, I believe, the difference between Mifune's extreme, categorical outsider status and Tora's much softer mode of self-exclusion from society. The love story and everything else really takes a backseat this time, although Akemi once again has some nice scenes.

Three moments from Tora 38:
-Akemi luring cutomers into the shop. A new mode of address.
-A touristic cut to the local waterfalls.
-Tora goes fishing and catches a ... shark.

The Man From Morocco, Mutz Greenbaum, 1945
Spy yarn that tries to invoke the tradition of anti-fascism as a foundation of a new post-war Europe. Well-meaning and the lively visuals as well as the two very good leads make it a somewhat pleasant watch, but it really falters almost every time someone opens his or her mouth.
Last Night in Soho, Edgar Wright, 2021
Guess I'm with most of my timeline here: quite good as long as it sticks to the girl from the provinces encountering big city life formula, and even the first dream sequence has some charms, but boy is Wright out of his depth when he shoots for delirious psychosexualia. Almost on the level of Boyle's TRANCE when it comes to mismatch of subject and sensibility.

Koichiro Uno's Wet and Riding, Junichi Suzuki, 1982

Quaint, workmanlike comedic pinku that solely relies on the charms of its two great lead actresses. Safe for a decidedly tame rape fantasy in the beginning, sex has been thoroughly domesticated and all sense of style has vanished into thin air. Still, some itches are left, so why not scratch them.

Tora-san Plays Daddy, Yoji Yamada, 1987

Introducing another little boy because Mitsuo has grown too old points towards the sentimentalist imperative of the series in rather obvious ways, and also introduces a travelogue formula which is in itself a bit uninspired... slowly but surely Yamada seems to get tired of his material, but in individual scenes, this one is quite lovely yet again. That piss fountain sure is a grace note.

Three moments from Tora 39:
-A cruel miniature: A father teaching his son to throw rocks at Tora.
-Akemi stumbling over Genko's feet. Two of the best characters collide, maybe for the first and only time.
-Sakura and the priest speculating about Tora being a buddha.

Tora-san's Salad-Day Memorial, Yoji Yamada, 1988

The doctor's choice. Devastating, didn't expect something like that that late in the series.

Three moments from Tora 40:
-A ghost talks to Tora.
-Tora alone in a lecture hall.
-Tora wondering about the meaning of a handshake.

La Ronde, Max Ophüls, 1950
Wasn't really on board with this previously, for reasons I no longer care about. Now I just succumb to the Wohlbrück-eye view on humankind, both incredibly beautiful and incredibly cruel, because how could it be otherwise.

Red Notice, Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2021

A faux blockbuster, yes, the corruption of an already corrupted form, yes that too, lazy, unimaginative, incompetent action scenes, you name it, and still, it is often enough surprisingly touching to watch three of the biggest stars of the present desperately trying to remain relevant in a world that no longer needs them. Every showy tracking shot arriving at yet another empty Dwayne Johnson smile, every throwaway Reynolds line, that terrible car chase through a mine scene that is basically just a bunch of headlights bopping up and down... It's all so clearly second rate that one just has to feel for everyone involved. At least they haven't stopped trying.

Plus, Gadot unfortunately has little to do, but she's still magnificent, the only full-blown ridiculous Hollywood goddess we got right now. (And, who knows, Ryan Reynolds might turn into Harrison Ford yet.)

Tora-san Goes to Vienna, Yoji Yamada, 1989

Tora heads for Vienna. A bit too much Tora out of water clowning for my taste, but all in all not the gimmicky diversion I thought it would be. Instead, this is quite serious in its portrayal of different aspects of life in exile, the isolation and also the charged, uneasy friendships among exiles.

Three moments in Tora 41:
-A long shot of a busy train station. No place for Tora in this crowd.
-Maybe the first Tora-return to the shop from the perspective of Tora.
-A dancing Japanese guy being transformed into expressionistic shadow play.

Tora-san, My Uncle, Yoji Yamada, 1989

I have to admit I would've vastly preferred a Sakura-centered film over a Mitsuo-centered one, but I guess this would be outside of the scope of the formula. Yoshioka is a great actor, though, and Yamada finally warms up to pop music, too. In the end this is just the breath of fresh air the series clearly needed.

Three moments in Tora 42:
-Mitsuo jumping up a wall to fetch a persimmon.
-Mitsuo trying to kiss his girlfriend with his bike helmet on.
-Mitsuo looking at balloons.

Ich war Jack Mortimer, Yarl Froelich, 1935
Wohlbrück is great as always (was this his real accent, though? He is Viennese, but it still sounds rather fake), but I have to admit that Froelich's direction is quite good to. He obviously didn't lose his touch after becoming a Systemregisseur. Surprisingly tight and inventive.

Tora-san Takes a Vacation, Yoji Yamada, 1990

A bit too similar to the last one to make a real impact. The doubling of Tora's and Mitsuo's love story is way too mechanical this time, although Kumiko Goto makes for a lively and funny madonna. Just a few of them left, now, I hope there's enough fuel left.

Three moments from Tora 43:
-Hiroshi watching a tv program about the fall of the Berlin Wall.
-Hiroshi and Sakula listening to Mitsuo and his girlfriend playing the piano. The danger starts when the music stops.
-A tracking shot alongside an escalator in a modern warehouse, marking the outdatedness of Tora's world.

Pink Curtain, Yasuaki Uegaki, 1982
Upbeat, incesty standard pinku elevated by a positively radiating Jun Miho.

Tora-san Confesses, Yoji Yamada, 1991

I don't know, this one I once again absolutely loved. Tora's own love story isn't given much space and the store doesn't get much exposure either, but all the better, because Izumi's and Mituo's story really shines. A young, beautiful, long haired sad girl and a naive, clumsy, overwhelemed boy, lost in a romance of waves and sand and absence and distance. Tora's world is not part of this young love, but it acts as its framing device, an anchoring.

Three moments in Tora 44:
-Tora miming a number of jobs; respectably jobs he can access only through playacting.
-Rose light from the past illuminating Tora and an old flame.
-An extremely regular-formed artificial waterfall.

Allotria, Willi Forst, 1936

Really didn't expect this to be this good: a full blown German screwball masterpiece, completely with endlessly rotating quadruple-bedroom-balcony-hallway scene, treacherous cigarette lighters and magnificent dog close-ups. Wohlbrück is the expected treat, and Jenny Jugo wonderfully bubbly, but miraculously, Forst also knows how to turn Rühmann (a child-man smeared with custard pie, always playing with his little mouse) and Renate Müller (a woman of complicated morality with intricate hair) into pure delight. What really makes this stand apart from almost every other nazi cinema production is the uncompromising commitment to surface pleasure, and, by extension, to pleasure. There people really dare to value their own personal happiness and libidinous fulfillment over everything else. And Forst really dares to not punish them for this, but to just follow them on some of their wilder trajectories. If not for a short excursion into murky ethnic humor ("naked savages"), one might almost forget what country this came from.

Tora-san Makes Excuses, Yoji Yamada, 1992

I obviously love both Izumi and Mitsuo and there are those wonderful moments of youthful ennui now, but still, since the focus switched to the younger generation, there's a soap opera tendency creeping in that wasn't there previously. I mean I refuse to rate any of the remaining Tora films below three and a half stars, that would just be rude at this point, and yet, there really is a sense of things winding down and probably that's not a bad thing.

Three moments in Tora 45:
-Mitsuo introducing fitness culture to the series.
-Izumi in bed, singing quietly.
-The priest's head being shaved by Genko.

Non ho sonno, Dario Argento, 2001

The one stroke of genius comes very early: turning a train, with a few decisive gestures and especially two masterful cutaways to hallucinatory long shots, into pure terror-space (space as terror, terror as space) while swallowing up the rest of the world. Soon after this starts to get a bit dull, though. Mostly it plays like a mediocre standard giallo, with a boring lead, way too little female presence (complaining about gender in giallo is rather useless, I know, but here, women really only show up to be killed and Argento works overtime to make the one exception, the Gloria storyline, as unexciting as possible - not casting Asia in the role probably was the first cue) and too much repetitive investigative stuff. Probably his most "normal" approach to narrative since IL GATTO A NOVE CODE, and that one had at least much better set-pieces.

Still enough little bits and pieces of weirdness to keep me on board, and even the Goblin-gore inserts, as perfunctory and fan-servicy as they feel, are not completely useless, but all in all a film that plays it safe, especially after the much more invigorating experiments of TRAUMA and IL FANTASMA DELL'OPERA.

Taro-san's Matchmaker, Yoji Yamada, 1993

Mitsuo making his way through the very same machine of Japanese corporate culture Tora had managed to escape from. For the younger guy, the films offer only temporary relief, a short island adventure in this case, afterwards he will return to the hustle. Nice film, not a lot of new angles, though.

Three moments from Tora 46:
-Mitsuo receiving a rejection after a job interview per phone. A quiet build-up of tension, and no release.
-A neighbor opening the window in order to listen to Mitsuo and Sakura quarelling.
-Mitsuo and his girlfriend exchanging sweaters.

Oh... Rosalinda!!, Powell / Pressburger, 1955

Pretty much a perfect film in my book. It also touches on one of my special interests to be sure, since this is not just a modernization of the Strauss operetta, but also of the tradition of the pre-war German operetta / Vienna movies, a genre Pressburger was himself involved in at the beginning of his career.

Now he and Powell visit the genre again, staying clear of all old-Vienna-nostalgia by setting the whole thing in an exorbitant card-board universe, an artificial world of props and color and extras (really not much difference in impact between these three element), at the same time sealed off and limitless, forever unfolding in perpetually expanding cinemascope vistas, a wimmelpicture aesthetics downplaying traditional notions of perspective and anticipating Tati, Iosseliani and Altman, but combined with the dynamic sense of montage and expressive corporeality of a 1930s Hollywood musical while some of the more openly antirealist techniques like the explicit mismatch between Wohlbrück and his singing voice almost point towards Resnais ... and all of this in service of a vision of post-war Europe as a hotbed of incestuous, polyamorous desires cutting through all political affiliations. Well, a masterpiece.

Une derniere fois, Olympe de G., 2020

Never finds the right kind of balance between the fictional setup and a de facto autobiographical take on Lahaie's life as a public sexual being. Also more a catalogue of contemporary discourses on porn rather than a film interested in the diversity of bodies. In the end pornography might really be dead by now - as art that is, if certainly not as a mode of communication and self-expression.

Tora-san's Easy Advice, Yoji Yamada, 1994

This time Tora's love story has more punch than Mitsuo's, thanks mainly to the Madonna, the melancholic photographer Rino Katase. Really just waiting for the big blow-out at this time, though. I'm basically in tears already.

Three moments in Tora 47:
-Mitsuo making his way through a busy modern shopping street, completely unlike the one he grew up in.
-Tora being reminded of his mother when handling pencils. Or maybe he's just making it up on the spot, as a sales pitch.
-Genko wetting himself with a garden hose, a throwback to early cinema (slapstick, Lumiere...).

Horrors of Malformed Men, Teruo Ishii, 1969

The rare exploitation film in which the craziness of the imagery is matched, point by point, by the craziness of the plot - narration as an abyss one can never quite pull oneself out of, there's always another crazy flashback around the corner. Also, the constant foregrounding of presentation instead of representation, starting with the first scene, in the prison, a sleazy women in prison miniature that turns out to be more like something of a knife ballet, with everyone in on the joke, only that there is not really a joke. Later on the island of freaks is basically a performance pieceand keeps on being treated as such even by the people who are about to fall prey to it.

Most importantly: it never stops. Also, Ishii luckily never lets good taste get in the way of his imagination, while at the same time still making use of the studio apparatus of Japanese cinema. Just one of those films in which everything clicks.

Tora-san to the Rescue, Yoji Yamada, 1995

A bit too much concerned with wrapping everything up neatly to arrive at something truly great, and still, Yamada gives us what we want, and this is all anyone could reasonably expect from this. The scene with Izumi and Mitsuo on the beach is the most perfect piece of cinema I've seen in a while.

Three moments from Tora 48:
-Tora's surprise when encountering a wireless phone.
-A man trying to exit a car and repeatedly falling into a roadside channel.
-Was this the first underwater footage in the series during the diving scene?

Eros + Massacre, Yoshishige Yoshida, 1969

Can't deny the ambition, and I probably will have to come back to parts of this soon, and still ... this just very much isn't my thing. What works best here - the performances of Mariko Okada and Yuko Kusonoki, the use of empty / negative space, those circling camera movements as ersatz-expressions, like in early Antonioni - basically all belongs to classic melodrama, while the modernist gestures feel terribly forced. As a political text, too, it is completely airless, which might correspond with the state of the Japanese left at the time, but still... unlike Oshima or Wakamatsu, Yoshida needs the grand architecture, the European art film trappings, the burnt-out whiteness unsexing even the nakedest of bodies, as a safety net because on scene to scene basis, his image-making just isn't dense enough to sustain a noose.

Tora-san, Wish You Were Here, Yoji Yamada, 2019

Would've preferred a different new scenes vs clip show ratio and once again there's not enough Sakura, but what can you do, Yamada is a populist at heart and if he weren't Tora would never have existed, which of course is the most terrible of thoughts once one has gotten used to him.



Monday, January 17, 2022

Trying to keep up with letterboxd, or anything these days, really

Tremor - Es ist immer Krieg, Annik Leroy, 2017

The natural and cultural landscape as sites of inscription, the camera as a tool for both reading and writing. Not always clear how both of these actions relate to each other, but what really got me here was the inclusion of Fernando Nannetti's scribblings on the walls of an asylum alongside texts by Pasolini, Moravia et al. In the face of these modern cave paintings, the film's discourse of existential pessimism suddenly makes sense beyond its somewhat retrograde avantgarde trappings: because for once, the world really becomes directly readable, and what emerges isn't enlightenment but pure terror.

Bobby Dodd greift ein, Geza von Cziffra, 1959

I wish this wasn't quite as low energy, because there's a well-oiled, unsentimental pulp storytelling engine running in there somewhere, and Walter Giller is quite good as a cynical proto-Bond, too. In the end, except for Mara Lane's isolated, melancholic sexiness nothing really sticks, though.

Vers la mer, Annik Leroy, 1999

What it means to follow a river. A simple concept that turns out to be an excellent vessel for Leroy's concept of documentary as philosophical inquiry ... because it turns out you really can't live next to a river without putting yourself / your self in relation to it. A river always has an origin as well as an endpoint, and therefore a historical dimension that never can be accounted for by a simple, purely synthetic act of mapping.

666 - Trau keinem mit dem Du schläfst, Rainer Masutami, 2002

"So, another Faust parody, really?" "Yes, I know, but hear me out ... this one has a crazily homophobic storyline about Mephistopheles falling in love with Faust and embodying a number of celebrities in order to trick him into sex. Bernd has Feldbusch, Mooshammer, Becker, Claudia Schiffer and basically everyone else on speed dial and you know they won't ever turn the dark master down."
Bottom of the barrel even in the context of 2000s mainstream comedy. Still kind of essential in its utter shamelessness. If anyone wonders when Zischler started to lose his way: Taking part in this might've been a first sign.

Autobahnraser, Michael Keusch, 2004

Germany, the only country without a speed limit on highways, is also the only country (I hope) that produces a FAST & FURIOUS ripoff told from the perspective of the highway patrol. I guess one might use this paradox as a starting point for an essay on the abysses of the German mindset, but this would also require further engagement with this extremely dull and clumsy piece of filmmaking. So I guess let's rather not.

Abgefahren, Jakob Schäuffelen, 2004

By far the biggest discovery among my sampling of German 2000s mainstream comedies on netflix: an unassuming, supremely pleasant girl power car racing movie that knows that all relevant human emotions and gendered power relations absolutely can and in fact should be translated into a spectacle of pimped-out cars, cargo pants, tank tops, resolute faces smudged with motor oil and lots of good hair (Teresa Weißbach! Male lead Sebastian Ströbel, too, is mainly defined by his hairdo). Finally a film that trusts both its setting and its actors. Plus there's Nina MC in what should clearly have been a star turn, as sapphic, high-strung Sherin, a motor woman whose every action comes with a sense of heart-breaking urgency.

Poveri millionari, Dino Risi, 1959

Basically an attempt to transform a neo-realist soap opera into an absurdist sitcom. As such admirable, but unfortunately the execution is rather dull.

Mädchen Mädchen 2 - Loft oder Liebe, Peter Gersina, 2004

The few scenes that work solely belong to Diana Amft who once again manages to get quite a bit of mileage out of a particular mixture of clumsiness and narcissism. Unfortunately, the other two storylines are a bust, mostly because the more intimate, psychological framework of the first film has been replaced by a very basic, real-estate-centered comedy of manners. Basically the girls are out there gentrifying the neighborhood, only that neither they not the film has any interest in acknowledging this. Everything and everyone just strive naturally towards a lifetime of bourgeois self-deceit.

The boys, meanwhile, get much more screen time and they are, without exception, dull as dishwater. Plus, this wouldn't be a German comedy from the mid 2000s if they didn't manage to squeeze in a bit of random homophobia toward the end.

Venga a fare il soldato da noi, Ettore Maria Fizzarotti, 1971

Wonderful commedia sexy all'militaria, which gets the expected flak on letterboxd for sexism, but well ... much better to just ignore the stupid nominal storyline, the male lead who has to be continually honey-trapped by his girlfriend because of his natural horniness is by far the least interesting character anyway. Because what really matters here is the wonderful Katia Christine dressing up as a man in order to casually, relaxedly cohabitate with a number of bozo recruits. A parade of deranged eccentricities: One nurtures his wine bottle like a child, another one puts his son (who is a magnificent asshole himself) into a gunnysack and feeds him with the help of a drinking straw, a third hires a fourth as his personal serf - who, in turn, accepts with eagerness and a slightly scary smile that just as easily could start a revolution. Franco and Ciccio do their usual thing, too, as the benevolent masters of ceremony presiding over mostly unformed yet consistently cheery, sometimes surprisingly musical good time.

Kickboxer, David Worth, Mark DiSalle, 1989

Clumsy and bare-bones and trenched in the kind of 80s xenophobia JCVD left behind completely just a few films later. Nothing but stupid brutal muscle cinema, essential in its purity.

Kiss of the Dragon, Chris Nahon, 2001

Quite the discrepancy between Corey Yuen's awesome, extremely versatile action set pieces (especially the big chase scene might really be one of the most successful marriages of Hong Kong dynamism and larger scale Western action mayhem) and the uneven, borderline campy direction of everything in between. It's not necessarily only Nahon's fault (although he seems to be a lesser talent, even for Europacorp standards), since the weird tonal shifts might also point towards the diverging interests of Li, who probably wanted this to be his James Bond flic, and Besson, who clearly has no interest in moving beyond his usual throwaway exploitation staples, except maybe for a bit of weird pro-PCR pandering. Anyway, stay for the action, and maybe also for Bridget Fonda's very committed exercise in bad acting.

Addicted, Bille Woodruff, 2014

Sort of a precursor of stuff like FIFTY SHADES, AFTER and 465 DAYS: female-centered and -targeted erotica with a decidedly retrograde moral framework, based on an internet literature hit. Not good (at all), but I still appreciate Woodruff's determination to downplay the thriller elements in favor of the rather awkward erotic power play.

It's kind of strange that with all that woke talk about sex-positive feminism and female self-determination, these films with their straight-up Victorian take on sexuality are basically the only kind of mainstream erotica around in cinema these days (with otherwise barely an exposed nipple in sight).

Irre sind männlich, Anno Saul, 2014

Really terrifying how much this sucks, also in comparison with the also bad but still somehow alive comedies from a decade earlier I've watched recently. Something is truly broken by now and I don't think the "industry" has the tools to fix it, although banning all pop music from comedy releases in the foreseeable future might be a first step. Maybe just ban pop music outright to be on the safe side. And while you're at it, ban sex too. And most importantly, beware of Milan Peschel close-ups.

The Girl in the Bathtub, Karen Moncrieff, 2018

This obviously is all about pushing buttons in entirely expected ways, but still ... Caitlin Stasey's performance hit me like a brick nevertheless, the way she seems to be bodily disintegrating before my very eyes, her hands with those long, slender fingers stretched out towards the camera, towards the world, towards me, towards nobody. In the end there is no cinematic language, no genre convention, no audience manipulation - as an act of embodiment film is always primal, untamed, untamable.

He's All That, Mark Waters, 2021

"Not the eyelashes, those are glued on tight!" ... The quest for authenticity will always, sooner or later, encounter its own limits. Because unmasking is, in the end, just another form of masking - a fact that becomes especially evident in the at the same time by far worst and most instructive scene of the film: when the "nonconformist" guy takes his fashionista soon to be girlfriend to a "real, old-fashioned train station" - which of course turns out to be the least "real" space imaginable. In fact, what we see is a particularly obvious brand of hyper-reality: Mark Waters staging the already irredeemably commodified idea of an old-fashioned train station, which is then repurposed by the male lead as enticing slice-of-life. Of course, in itself this is common practice in Hollywood and probably most other cultural industries. What makes the scene stand out is its obviousness, the film's utter inability to even for a few seconds render the concept of a train station (as a democratic, inclusive public space) palpable.

One of the film's best scenes, on the other hand, has the same guy taking pictures of a garbage can while waxing poetically about the beauty of the mundane or something like that.


Still not sure whether I've seen the original, but those Pygmalion variations are almost always intriguing, probably because they touch on one of the driving sources of all popular cinema, if not culture: the necessary (dis-)connectedness of outward appearance and inner substance. Admittedly, Waters doesn't deliver more than the bare minimum in terms of plotting, but the mechanical feel of those faux-courtship-followed-by-real-counter-courtship-tropes mostly works to the film's advantage, since it leaves even more room for the almost uniformly very good performances, some inspired high-school miniatures and the altogether relaxed hangout appeal of the whole thing. Especially during the extended prom scene towards the end this almost feels like a Happy Madison joint, with Matthew Lillard single-handedly delivering the necessary dose of all-out craziness - only that the Sandler crew, with few exemptions, doesn't seem to have much interest in or feel for teen comedy. So I guess this one really is essential cinema.

Enter the Fat Dragon, Kenji Tanigaki, 2020

Director Tanigaki is mainly an action choreographer and it shows: the inventive and dynamic, if not especially visceral fight scenes go a long way in rendering bearable a lazy screenplay that basically assumes (ok, rightly so, in my case) that Donnie Yen in a fat suit is reason enough to watch any movie. Anyway, there are some nice tasteless jokes in there too, and the whole thing doesn't look half as shabby as my last encounter with the Wong Jing galaxy (FROM VEGAS TO MACAO). Good he's still around, I guess.

The amount of Japan bashing in this is truly baffling, though.

We Are Oh! and Yeah!!, Satoshi Takemoto, 2020

Cute but boring j-pop fluff about a group of boy wonders teaming up with high-schoolers on a remote island. Strange that Toho produced this, feels more like something cooked up by some community theater group.

Seobok, Lee Yong-ju, 2021

Korean sci-fi blockbuster with great action and a completely over the top Hans-Zimmer-style score that gets derailed, time and again, by cheap emotional pandering (cheap even in the context of korean mainstream filmmaking...) and a supremely uninteresting protagonist. I was rather annoyed for the first 90 minutes, until the grand finale transforms the whole thing into something that almost looks like a live-action AKIRA movie. Should've been the beginning rather than the end, of course, but better than nothing.

Mortal Kombat, Simon McQuoid, 2021

Josh Lawson's annoying one-note quirky redneck asshole performance is the only thing in here that even registers.

Tora-san's Cherished Mother, Yoji Yamada, 1969

A drifter and his baggage. This is only the second one and already extremely moving in its sense of futility. Tora-san can never arrive because no matter where he's going, he's always already returning.

She's All That, Robert Iscove, 1999

Love Rachael Leigh Cook (and "Kiss Me" is, as long as it lasts at least, just about the greatest song ever), but everyone else in this is way too douchy for my taste. Really a good argument for never returning to the world, or at least the youthscapes of the 90s again. Wasn't even possible to stage a splashy prom scene in that dire decade, it seems.

The Experience, Abbas Kiarostami, 1973

Whatever else this is, it might also be the ultimate Iranian movie brats film.

Death Race, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2009

A pleasant rewatch, even if this clearly is an also ran in the PWSA canon. He tries his best to turn the original into one of his neat little machines, but this kind of populist slapdash exploitation material just doesn't really fit his approach. Probably because it presupposes an outside world that can be reached, or at least directly communicated with, by way of the sheer impudence of pulp cinema. PWSA's films are much more sceptical, fueled by a different sense of paranoia, one that finds its fulfillment not in a final breakthrough, but in a thorough working through (not in ontology but in epistemology).

Plus, maybe there's a reason not a single one of PWSA's films has a memorable male protagonist? (Will revisit POMPEII soon, that one might just blow up my argument...) Just like with Kurt Russell in Soldier (who is mostly reduced to his mimics), he seems to shy away from making use of Statham's full potential. In PWSA films, men ultimately are just part of the landscape (like the Indians in John Ford). Or maybe rather: part of the engine. This becomes obvious during the racing scenes, especially in the way they privilege montage over spatial continuity - a strategy that is counterintuitive only as long as one reads those sequences as men and cars battling it out amongst each other.

What they really are is, I believe, a game of power and pleasure between two women: Joan Allen, up there in the control room, manipulating the environment, the conditions of matter, and Natalie Martinez, down there in the seat next to Statham, registering every impact, feeling and externalizing every impulse. This really is the one thing that stands out for me in these otherwise strangely frustrating action scenes: All those glamorous reaction shots of Martinez, the way PWSA foregrounds her pleasure and pain as the prime aesthetic surplus of the mayhem.

The Death Race of the title is, in other words, all about Allen pushing Martinez's buttons, with both Statham and the car race being nothing but parts of a complex libidinous conduit system. A shame, of course, that the film doesn't really know what to do with this constellation as soon as the race is over. Martinez stays confined within the limits of eye candy, and Allen is being disposed of by a company of men. Still, those scenes of the engine in full motion are pretty spectacular and probably the closest PWSA's cinema ever comes to a real sex scene, thereby laying open, more directly than usually, the sensual charge of all of his filmmaking.

Garagenvolk, Natalija Yefimkina, 2020

Getting access to these spaces is pretty spectacular in itself and the films knows this. Could have done without the "storylines" introduced along the way. Just step inside these private boxes and spend a bit of time there, that's more than enough.

Die verkaufte Braut, Max Ophüls, 1932

Might not yet be Ophüls at his most inspired, and the main cast isn't necessarily all that interesting ... but any musical comedy with multiple Karl Valentin showstoppers couldn't possibly be less than pure joy.

Tora-san, His Tender Love, Azumi Morasaki, 1970

"That takes care of everyone."
"No, there's one left."
"Who is it?"

Well, that's what the film is for: taking care of Tora-san, the guy whose only stable home is cinema. Tora-san, the one left over and still accounted for, the integrated outsider. This one comes down more on the comedic side, and while I do miss the more elegiac, melancholic side of Tora, Morisaki's closer, more functional framing as well as the broader action style work surprisingly well.

Great self-reflexive ending with Tora taking over television. There's no escape.

The Traveler, Abbas Kiarostami, 1974

Still a great film, although, just like with EXPERIENCE, the revisit didn't really add much for me. Lucid, transparent filmmaking, a gaze found and held. I guess childhood can feel like that, sometimes.

Bori, Kim Jin-yu, 2018

Mostly manages to play like an easygoing family film while never quite ceasing to be a heavy-handed message picture. In the end, the actors and the relaxed small-town atmosphere make it work.

Prey, Thomas Sieben, 2021

Really no idea why netflix insists on being that mediocre. At all those pitch meetings, there have to be at least a few halfway original scripts being passed around. ... and then this paint-by-numbers manhunt film about five assholes (not a pun but an objective description) lost in generic German mixed woodlands gets the green light? I mean I guess the build-up isn't completely incompetent, but shouldn't it have been obvious from the start, that there really is zero risk involved, here? (Ok, I guess the Pynchon quote in the beginning is kind of funny, considering everything that follows, or rather doesn't.)

In der Dämmerstunde - Berlin, Annik Leroy, 1981

Not really on board with every visual metaphor on display here
- stuff like Kreuzberg backyards as claustrophobic prisonscapes and labyrinthean meanderings through the hallways of Bahnhof Zoo brutalism is a bit too much on the nose for my taste. Still, as a record of a time, space and state of mind, all inextricably entangled with each other, this feels rounded and, in a way, necessary.

Also notable how Leroy's three features start from quite different methodologies (diary film vs ethnographic investigation vs political essay film) and still manage to arrive at a mutual notion of historical-materialist pessimism.

Tora-san's Grand Scheme, Shunichi Kobayashi, 1970

Focusing completely on the childish attributes of Tora rather than on the mere child-like ones - this time he isn't the innocent fool, but an infantile jerk who tries to model the world around him according to his will, whatever the price.

Consequently, the series loses the balance between protagonist and world / comedy and drama and tips over into full farce. Kobayashi's less than subtle mise en scene doesn't help, either. I still enjoyed the first part about Tora trying to fake an overseas trip quite a bit. The second half, though, is a bit trying.

Moral, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, 1982

One of those sprawling, enthusiastic ensemble dramas in which at some points even the weaknesses become strengths, because they result from a desire to take in everything, a whole world, to account for not one but four lives, four lives that demand four completely different modes of operation, four different gazes, so of course things will feel jarring sometimes, especially whenever Kathy's showbiz career enters the film and suddenly broad caricatures enter the screen - unlike the worlds of Joey, Sylvia and even Maritess (herself being stuck in patriarchy), this one isn't malleable at all, you have to fit in or head out.

Not that there really are many weaknesses, really there aren't, this hits the perfect spot so often, it's almost frightening, especially when it comes to Joey, a face of obstinate softness, a lost soul, trying to find peace in love, but only starts to approach it once she's in the presence of the devotion of another woman. In one of my favorite scenes she fights with her mother in a taxicab, the mother anxious in a cruelly tolerant way, Joey herself reverting back into full pubertal antagonism, and then the cab driver starts barging in and you realize that's exactly what was missing, a reality check, even if the guy talks nothing but rubbish, he establishes an outsider perspective, another gaze.

Malignant, James Wan, 2021

Wan never quite clicked with me before, but I guess I must've misjudged him because anyone that much in love with artificial light and argentoesque sequence shots just has to be one of the good guys. It's also a film that doesn't distance itself from its own craziness but rather feeds on it, relentlessly (like a tumor? Not quite, probably, but this is also a film that knows that metaphors are not meant to fit, but to bust open, violently and colorfully).

Wallis isn't and doesn't have to be much more than a vessel, but there are some nice, wacky performances splashed throughout this (Maddie Hasson especially, also George Young, and Ingrid Bisu, who co-wrote this, in a small role) and I sometimes wish Wan would let stuff like this register a bit more. That's just not what he's after here, though, there are no tiny quotidian asides, every scene, almost every shot is already part of the machine and in the end this uncompromising forward drive, sustained by nothing but the hunger for evermore colorful distortions, is the main reason this works.

Tora-san's Runaway, Yoji Yamada, 1970

Yamada's return to the series as a director, and I suddenly feel at home again: those beautiful, layered long takes, transforming family into a dynamic system of gazes and counter-gazes, presences and absences really aren't mere trappings, but the true center of the series. Also, this one, the most beautiful one so far, introduces a subtle change of focus: Tora isn't quite as imposing a presence anymore, at least part of the time he functions more like a vessel, a (highly idiosyncratic) canvas on which to paint another lifeline, another mode of existence, which in this case turns out to be centered around trains. Indeed, for a few minutes, the film becomes downright obsessed with trains (the close-up of the hatch in the stoker's cabin), and afterwards, the idea of trains, of a life with and on trains, keep on haunting the film - indeed right up to the very last image.

Tora-san's Shattered Romance, Yoji Yamada, 1971

Ayako Wakao sitting up there, in the room upstairs, in Tora-san's room, her delicate features a painting of pain. In the face of the precision of her desperation, Tora-san's actions grow even more erratic, he doesn't simply arrive anymore, he pops up, like a rare disease.

A Wedding Suit, Abbas Kiarostami, 1976

Kiarostami's cinema discovering the abysses of communication and arriving at a first full-blown masterpiece.

The Wicker Man, Robin Hardy, 1973

Somehow never had seen this. Well, it's great of course, and the only thing I want to single out here is how much of the greatness hinges on all of those hilarious reaction shots of Robert Woodward.

Il demonio, Brunello Rondi, 1963

Early Rondi film, already very much dominated by the female face as a endlessly fascinating text that stays, in the end, unreadable, no matter how many interpretants the film drapes around it.

Candyman, Nia DaCosta, 2021

Was prepared to defend it immediately after the screening, but there's really not all that much that sticks a few weeks later. A shame, because Nia DaCosta seems to be willing to have quite a bit of fun with the genre and some of her visual ideas do have weight. I do believe that the switch from female to male pov is part of the problem, since the connection between Anthony and Candyman never rises above the level of conceptual proposition.

Savage Hunt of King Stakh, Valeri Rubinchik, 1979

A ghost story that feels itself ghostlike, with neither beginning nor end, set in a castle that decays in full bloom, filled with the artifacts of a past forever out of reach, because historical time is suspended altogether. Outside, people melt into the meadows, inside they get lost between the decors. A claustrophobic arresting of all sensible, active movement, every effort without weight, every desire without object.

Just so intriguingly crafted, like a special room in a big old house, a room you're only occasionally allowed to enter, because normally the key is hidden and no one really knows why, but it has always been that way. The academy framing insisting on depth instead of scope, the hypnotic, repetitive music, the meandering mise-en-abyme storytelling ... and even the "materialistic" ending, which might've been dictated by state ideology, works perfectly, because it renders the proceedings even more insubstantial, no mythical reckoning, just a game of malicious shadows roaming through the negative space of genre film history.

Dark Waters, Mariano Baino, 1993

Very nice. Magnificent production design and a great eye for light and shadow and color and faces coupled with the cheesiest of soundtracks and line readings right out of the shoddiest of amateur horror. On first sight nothing really fits, but the sheer force of Baino's completely un-self-conscious pulp imagination somehow wills it into being, and after a while I'm completely fine with just going with the flow. I guess this might be the perfect film for those (=me) who think that LA TERZA MATRE isn't necessarily the worst part of the mothers trilogy. Also, Louise Salter reminded me of Jennifer Connelly in PHENOMENA and LABYRINTH, only that she's much more distant, reacting to all Baino throws at her in odd and slightly unexpected ways. Really one of the great out of nowhere performances of horror film history.

Penda's Fen, Alan Clarke, 1974

A crude mixture of anarchist politics, homoerotic imagery, nature mysticism, paganism and everyday schoolyard bullying, translated into self-assured, slow-moving, carefully calibrated imagery. I guess it this contrast between chaotic juvenile Sturm und Drang and detached stylistic control that lends this its peculiar brand of beauty. Plus, the main actor is pretty great.

The Blood on Satan's Claws, Piers Haggard, 1971

On the trashier side, which of course isn't a bad thing in itself, especially when it comes to films about backward villagers trying to patch together their private lord of darkness out of pieces of human skin, and the location work alone makes it worth watching ... but I guess this one would've needed a more inventive director to really fly. A bit of a waste of a great score, too.

The Dreaming, Mario Andreacchio, 1988

Rather uninspired historical trauma horror film that kind of turns into a mediocre slasher towards the end.

The She-Butterfly, Dorde Kadijevic, 1973

Wonderfully relaxed off-beat folk-horror that plays like an uneasy meadow hang-out movie for the most part. Beware of hippie chicks!

The Report, Abbas Kiarostami, 1977

Modernity as a succession of objective pressure systems - bureaucracy, bourgeoise family life, street traffic and so on - deforming the individual. Pretty great how Kiarostami's long take aesthetic shifts the focus from damaged interiority to bodily stress, to a mismatch between man and environment. Plus he's already one of the great directors of car cinema. Plus it's really interesting to see an Iranian film made immediately before the Islamist take-over, making clear that this particular rupture really affected all aspects of daily life, public and private.

Still, in the end it all comes down to well-made boredom, a zero-sum game of masculinity under siege that has to revert back to cheap theater tricks to make any kind of impact, like when the doorframe just happens to hide the woman when the husband hits her, or when her subsequent suicide attempt vanishes in a ellipsis foregrounding quotidian contingencies. The mechanics of quality cinema, I just can't stand them any more and I expect more of Kiarostami.

Identity Crisis, Melvin Van Peebles, 1989

"Weird Crap from Melvin and Mario"

No budget body-switch comedy from Van Peebles senior, with the special hook being that the switching mainly occurs within one body, that of Van Peebles junior, whose great, committed performance is the center of this and really the only thing that kind of holds it together ... although Ilan Mitchell-Smith as the perpetually stressed-out white side-kick is pretty good, too. In fact, he and Mario make for a quite nice double act comedy team, and some of their more focused scenes make it clear that the concept might've also worked in a slick studio comedy.

Well, Melvin opts for campy mayhem instead and although this often looks like shit (the beyond ugly transfer doesn't help, either) and seems to be edited with a machete, it's also charming as hell and filled to the brim with infectious music, wacky asides and, sprinkled throughout, melancholic New York City decay.

MVP forever.

She-Wolf, Maren Piestrak, 1983

Admittedly the focus is a bit too much on period trappings and generic masculine sulking instead of the very real assets that are Iwona Bielska's magnificent teeth and those extremely stylish blood smears on her décolleté. Still, a film that knows how to sneak up on you, also I liked the snow, and the overblown score too, actually.

First Graders, Abbas Kiarostami, 1984

So great, a film about the necessary violence of language, the creation of meaning, of difference, of an inside and an outside ... and at the same time it's basically just two camera setups with few variations, the occasional reaction shot (from the pov of benevolent authoritarianism, a pov never quite absent in Kiarostami's work) and a few lyrical asides.

Nang Nak, Nonzee Nimibutr, 1999

Mostly by the numbers ghost horror that not often enough focuses on its sensual core: the smooth glow of two bodies in the forest. (Didn't know - or had forgotten about - the crew-cut hairstyle of thai women before 1900. Would love to learn more.)

Where Is My Friend's House, Abbas Kiarostami, 1987

Always great when a film you watched ages ago turns out to be just as good as you remembered it. Even better maybe, because I didn't expect this to almost turn into a children's horror film towards the end, with the screen being overtaken by the spectacle of light and shadow and wind, basically the purest version of Deleuze's "pure optical and sound images" - which at the same time never break away from meaning and structure. This combination of freedom and confinement, perceptual neorealism and the commanding imperative of the metaphorical is what interests me most while (re-)watching his films.

Witchfinder General, Michael Reeves, 1968

The absolutely pitch-perfect casting alone would make this a classic - just take Robert Russell, who manages to out-sleaze even Vincent Price himself in several scenes. Also, I was surprised by how much of it basically plays out like a British western, a British Spaghetti Western, more precisely, but with a thoroughly un-Italian sense of "objective" violence.

You see the ending coming, but it still hits.

Close-Up, Abbas Kiarostami, 1990

Once again, freedom and confinement, a perfectly calibrated Swiss clockwork of tender observations.

Homework, Abbas Kiarostami, 1989

The most minimalist of all Kiarostami films (so far), mostly confining itself to long-take close-ups and highly repetitive interviewing patterns; and at the same time the one with the widest scope, because for the first time, the propaganda efforts of state ideology find a direct representation. The rhythmic Islamist and militarist chants on the schoolyard literally are a framing device, or more precisely another frame Kiarostami has to acknowledge before replacing it with his own.

Clearheaded and heartbreaking. If no one else is willing to account for those bruises, cinema has to.

Witchhammer, Otakar Vavra, 1970

One note, but in the end that is what makes this memorable. It starts with a kernel of pure misogyny, or rather: with the fantasy of womanhood as something completely independent of men, a weightless, bodiless gaze caressing female flesh, with the women returning the gaze openly, without shame ... and then, in order to negate its own sense of helplessness, this very gaze has to turn violent, acquire weapons and especially a suit of armor, it has to drag the phantasmagoric absolute of pure womanhood into the mud, it has to soil it, and not only it, but everything that might be connected with it, every relation between the sexes that is not always already built on violence, resulting in a systematic annihilation of reason and decorum.

Life, and Nothing More..., Abbas Kiarostami, 1992

Back then (= in the early 2000s) this was the film that sold me on Kiarostami for good, and for a while it might've even acquired the status of a de facto personal aesthetic ideal. The thought that cinema can connect to the world by as simple an act as driving through the countryside while using the car window as a membrane that, by making use of a gaze that insists on continuity rather than separation, transforms life into movie-life and therefore into something legible, just blew my mind; and it still does, although I felt much more conflicted, rewatching this - which of course only speaks for the film's richness.

What struck me this time was that while this clearly can be described as a quintessential humanist film, it works just as much as a treatise on the limits of humanist cinema, or maybe better, humanism in cinema. The key element here is the film's forward drive, embodied by Kiarostami's stand-in, the film director, who, once and again, calls his son to order and treats the people he meets with oblique coldness, as a means to an end, all the while displaying an often decidedly grumpy disposition. It's tempting to read this only in terms of the social differences Kiarostami's films always talk about, the difficulties the intellectual from the big city experiences when trying to overcome the chasm separating him from his rural surroundings - and clearly, from this perspective, the film becomes the medium to overcome these differences.

But in the end, what a director wants to make is a film. Cinema has to move on, to the next line, the next set-up, the next set piece (and also: from the classicism of WHERE IS MY FRIEND'S HOME to the modernism of CLOSE-UP, to the post-modernism of LIFE, AND NOTHING MORE...), and what happens along the way can, in the last instance, never be more than just another stepping stone. This tension probably is present in all of Kiarostami's work, but here its presence makes its full weight felt for the first time, because Kiarostami loosens up the structure. While WHERE IS MY FRIEND'S HOME and CLOSE-UP unwind on their own, self-sufficient terms, here every movement is tinged with arbitrariness. Because there is no outer, filmic reason for the director to drive on, seemingly eternally, on those dusty country roads, the inner ones take over, and the desire for ever more, ever new images can't quite hide its less than benign underpinnings.

A pesar de todo, Gabriela Tagliavini, 2019

The aggressively stupid screenplay tries its best, but in the end I guess no film that much in love with its main actresses (which decidedly is not the same as saying the acting is good), and featuring a scene in which all four of them are getting high in a car while singing along with the radio can't be completely worthless.

(To be sure, this is one extremely stupid movie, even for netflix originals standards. "Despite Everything" really is the only possible line of defense here.

Murder Mystery, Kyle Newacheck, 2019

I just have to call this the better KNIVES OUT, although even I have to admit that it maybe could've used a tiny bit of the latter's strained inventiveness. But then again, Sandler's Europe Trip mostly plays out like a routine entry in one of the lesser 1940s mystery series, meaning that just like in those, narrative ingenuity is much less important than all those wacky character bits generously distributed throughout the runtime. Also, the film surprisingly does get a few interesting shots out of the Monte Carlo setting (like Sandler surrounded by postcards) and Aniston is really good in evoking a decidedly mundane type of relationship fatigue. "You question everything I do!" - "Well, everything you do is questionable".

Jackie Sandler rating: seriously lacking.

Wild Child, Nick Moore, 2008

Struggles quite a bit to maintain the bare minimum of artisanal competence a film like this requires, though in the end it crashes and burns only during a lengthy series of insipid shopping / makeover montages in the middle stretch. Other than that: quite enjoyable, lots of love for the british english bitchiness and Roberts´s over the top performance. Even the romantic arch involving some mostly featureless blond dude has its moments: rubbing thumbs over a photograph. Also, I might like lacrosse now?

Battleship, Peter Berg, 2012

I skipped this back then, and now I guess I shouldn't have, because it is much more interesting than I expected and probably would've benefitted from a big screen quite a bit. Yes, this basically is sub-Bay lens-flare military porn leading into sub-Bay techno-cubist action mayhem, plus Taylor Kitsch is a terribly bland lead ... and still, it has a much more distinctive feel than most recent blockbusters.

A vision of heightened patriotic antirealism, with imagery that looks like filtered through a Stars & Stripes banner. The mundane white trash barroom brawl beginning is quickly discarded with, but the faces remain: some young, open and crude (Jesse Plemons! He should be in every blockbuster!), some old and weathered, some glamourous yet still rather unruly (Rihanna, used exclusively as an added attraction, strictly external to all remnants of narrative economy - they should've at least given her a medal in the end!), all of them heading out towards the sea, where both water and sky become extensions / reflections of technology, elements of the digital sublime which is then projected back onto the faces. Unlike Bay, Berg insists on this: the techno-marvels do not crush, but intensify sensuality, even if only a limited part of it. The world vanishes, and what's left is the duality of pure subjectivity and pure spectacle.

Through the Olive Trees, Abbas Kiarostami, 1994

The fictional director bugged me a bit in his wise old artist demeanor. Otherwise this is, of course, great: cinema as a temporary shelter, a way of re-synthesizing scattered biographies, a makeshift address for the homeless, a technique to overcome speechlessness and to act on one's feelings - if only for a single camera setup that will, if one just examines it thoroughly enough, contain a whole world.

Cry Macho, Clint Eastwood, 2021

He always liked animals, which is another way of saying he didn't necessarily always like humans, but the film decides not to expand on this all that much. His own history of violence stays hidden under the brim of his hat, and the one he's inserted in, when searching for someone else's son in Mexico, doesn't really take shape, either. The worst thing the supposed bad boy does over the course of the film is stealing a few sips of beer, while his supposed mother from hell is a great presence without any substance, almost like a character from a different film that dropped into this one by accident. The chase isn't much of a chase, either. Most of the time, the hunters are ridiculously easy to get rid of, at one time, even changing a door sign from "open" to "closed" is enough. The running gag that during the few real confrontations a rooster does most of the fighting is great because it almost doesn't register as a gag but feels completely natural. And one of the greatest bits has Clint shooting suspicious glances at local law enforcement lurking in the vicinity only to find out that all the sheriff wants is him taking a look at his sick old dog.

It's really something Clint hasn't done for a long time, giving in to sentiment that thoroughly. The magnificent second half at times even evokes the reluctant communitarian utopianism and ballad-like structure of JOSEY WALES and BRONCO BILLY.

For all its warmth it's still a sceptical film, though, playing at times like a Christian tale of redemption that in the end still isn't sure whether god exists or not. Clint is the guy who only opens up a little bit only while making sure that no one can look him in the eyes. The political anger so central to his recent work is almost completely absent this time, probably because the focus is not on institutions, but on family. Instiutions fail us (according to Clint), but they also are something completely outside the individuum, while families do their damage mainly from within, as internalized pressure systems. Cops you can bribe, but family you can't buy your way out of or completely run away from. All you can hope for is to be able to leave behind the tightest bonds, avoid the severest beatings.