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.

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