gems of march

hope all are safe

D.E.B.S. (Robinson, 2004): i didn’t have it in my mind that this was actually going to be as gay as it was and thought it was projections (which, fair) buuuut nahh this ended up being extremely sweet and just as serious as the subject matter demanded. i might be a little forgiving including this on here but it honestly rarely makes direct misfires in its spoofing of disney channel original movie aesthetics and rewrites them in a way that that company never could (or at least, couldn’t in a timely manner).

First Cow (Reichardt, 2019): another extremely sweet movie, this one based on platonic love though and between dudes at that. entirely a “guys bein dudes” movie, maybe a bit more plot focused than other such entries in that subgenre, but reichardt is soooo good at narrative cinema it’s legit insane. killer outfits. the fact that there are so few twists and turns and it’s ultimately about perseverance in the face of imperialism is a super healthy cleanser.

Hackers (Softley, 1995): seeing this drunk in a packed theater was definitely up there wiht some of my favorite cinematic experiences. movie itself is genuinely pretty great at being a total campfest, worth watching for (as always) the 90s cgi and the off the wall outfits which are never really explained or touched upon. will be difficult to recapture the initial experience though.

Black Is…Black Ain’t (Riggs, 1994): honestly a huge tragedy that the world lost riggs so soon as he had already established himself as a great voice and one of the best editors of his time. this film deals with, predictably, the black experience – which black artists and authors and academics all attempt to share how they feel about it and what criticism they have for the status quo. really heavy and enlightening stuff.

Side/Walk/Shuffle (Gahr, 1992): this reminded me of playing frogger as a kid when you’re on the raising platforms and it’s slow and kinda comfy. reminds me of michael snow a lot obviously, but that tends to have a negative connotation as snow imitators kind of suck. not here though!

The Watermelon Woman (Dunye, 1996)*: super funny, insightful, adore the structure on this type of deal, and its breeziness combined with its confrontation of the harsh histories and realities its director encounters is a tonal contrast that long-time pros have a tendency to mess up in some way, but never dunye. one of the best things i have seen so far this year and one of the truest portrayals i’ve seen of “reclaiming one’s history.”

The Last Woman (Ferreri, 1976): at times it appeared like a franco type sex picture, but this one slyly subverts a lot of those leanings as it focuses on male nudity, denial of sex, and the toxicity of more conservative traditionalist ideals and how those deny agency rather than the progressive more feminist ones. starts off slow, ends with a bang. makes me want to see more of ferreri’s work.

Goshogaoka (Lockhart, 1998): no idea what to actually talk about here. lockhart’s stuff is very sweet and honest in a way that people lose when they attempt to tryhard.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Mankiewicz, 1947): yeah yeah mankiewicz might be the most boring major director of all time, his style-less-ness is truly something to behold and this is unfortunately no exception. at the same time, it’s a flat-out bizarre reading on what could have easily been an uncomfortable tale, yet it turns into a brazen sort of romantic fantasy as it limps along. i liked it.

Night Passage (Minh-ha, 2004): lone narrative feature of trinh t. minh-ha, Night Passage is a peculiar beast. very reliant on early 00s lo-lo-fi digital, reminded me a ton of stuff i would watch on ubu in high school for a lot of it, where other times i was reminded of z budget horror movies that never received official distribution. the story actually ends up being more complex than it seemed at first glance, to my surprise, and leaves with a haunting if occasionally serene mood.

great stuff i saw in jan + feb

buckle in, long one this time. i’m also doing something where if something has a *, that means it’s a personal favorite to me.

White Wedding (Brisseau, 1989): in a similar way to brisseau’s Celine, this one has this autumnal, frigid vibe to it, yet it’s contrasted by the almost rohmer-esque sensibilities it takes on when dealing with character interactions. these usually signify pretty people in love with each other, but also problematic and treacherous relationships, which this film is hinged upon. i like how it explores the subjectivity of the central plot, and how it ends on a realistic level.

Kaala (Ranjith, 2018): bollywood is known for its maximalist eccentricities, but i think the most brash thing about this is how it’s such a revolutionary communist film and has the production values of an a-list music video. as a result of these ambitions, it comes with some of the dialectics that can range from exciting to basic, along with brutal violence out of nowhere. as i explore bollywood, i hope to find more curiosities such as this one.

Peep “TV” Show (Tsuchiya, 2003): like cohen’s Chain, this one seems to hit at the distinct feels and aesthetic approach of the vaporwave movement without ever really copping the windows 98 production style, and also like that film, it explores a constant downer ennui between its two central characters. also just pretty rare to see post-9/11 films that aren’t iraqi or american.

Martin Eden (Marcello, 2019): incredible aesthetic statement from a longtime experimental director, marcello’s first (i believe) foray into full-on narrative is pretty obviously a large step ahead of what most period films and biopics are capable of. big reason is probably that it doesn’t have to bend to any historical record – and marcello particularly plays with this idea by setting the film in an indirect “past” with few signers of an exact time or place. i think the discussions explored here are enlightening and ones that artists and politicians alike have to cope with in their day-to-day.

Selva: Un portrait de Parvenah Navai (Klonaris, 1982): doesn’t quite knock me down as much as the other klonaris film i’ve seen, though i do love the way she uses rhythm, movement, and the splintered nature of editing to construct this…. ethno-drama? like with The Amazonian Angel i don’t really know a proper term for this type of filmmaking, though it is exciting in many ways and i hope we get more klonaris soon.

Intentions of Murder (Immamura, 1964): as someone who thought Oldboy was too edgy in perhaps the most edgy time period of my life and subsequently was put off by park for that reason, i had always tied immamura to him due to the influence he supposedly had. this joint, however, retains none of that excess – it’s a long, very in-depth movie about how women can become predators of not only individual men but of their interpersonal systems. never once feels insincere, rushed, excessive, or “we live in a society”-core, it’s a fantastic balancing act that has me wanting to see more from immamura.

Holy Flame of the Martial World (Chun-Ku, 1983)*: the more of these shaw bros films i see the more i realized that i’ve missed out on a lot of great kung fu and wuxia flicks. unlike something like Green Snake, this one doesn’t go too far in the subversion category, so much as it seems like opposition to ruthless tradition is ingrained in the DNA of most of these sorts of films. it’s very funny, chaotic, and operates brilliantly as genre excess.

Jauja (Alonso, 2014): i’ve been meaning to see this for years, kinda glad i waited as it seems like the right moment for me. slow-paced, cool structure, great costumes, but most of all i’m drawn to the downright spectral look of this, as if it was copied from a scrapbook or something. i can’t describe it so well, it’s a work that seems to breathe with a colonial agony in every frame. very different from the other alonso i’ve seen as this one goes in the more baroque category.

Daguerrotype (Kurosawa, 2016): as someone who thinks Pulse is easily one of the greatest horror films ever made and maybe the best one of the last 20 years, i’ve never quite been as high on KK as others are with that notwithstanding, something about his synthesis of trauma and ghost stories doesn’t always click with me enough. this one does though! it’s a deeply sweet and heartfelt film about loss, one that necessarily ends in tragedy because it’s about the danger of not being able to give up what’s surely gone. i’m really surprised that this worked for me so well, but it’s momentarily reinvigorated my interest in the j-horror icon.

Elements of Nothing (Makino, 2007): not really a lesser work by the master, i dig this one a good deal. love the o’rourke score this time around. not too much to say that i haven’t said more excitedly in other makino posts.

All My Life (Baillie, 1966): 3 minutes just watch it

Cruising (Friedkin, 1980): leagues better than the only other friedkin i’ve seen (The Exorcist, go figure). perhaps an interesting element about this movie is that it’s aged very gracefully despite being a controversial film at the time w.r.t. its place in the gay community – where at the time, it was perceived as a film with a reductionist scope towards them by portraying them as leather-crazed serial killers. these days, from what i can tell, the leather stereotypes and mass murder has sort of gone by the wayside as far as negative gay male stereotypes go, so it’s something that doesn’t come into play too much in modern viewing. one of the rare cases of something like that happening, i think.

Empty Quarter: A Woman in Africa (Depardon, 1985): lots of twists and turns here! from the cover + description i had believed it to be a chamber romance, then i thought it was a film that was needlessly susceptible to the downfalls of the male gaze in cinema, before it then went on to show how seductive that style can be and the potential downfall because of it. very unusual little essay film, but something that i enjoyed for the most part once i got the hang of it. makes me wanna check out more of depardon’s work.

The Future (July, 2011): nails the twee film that can take itself kind of sort of seriously, july’s pseudo-fantasy tends to hit the marks that it aims for. also the type of people who vehemently hate this are some of the most aggravating people out there (yall really wanna complain about lucy’s dumb oneliners when adam cook’s reviews are plastered all over letterboxd?), so i did get a lot of secondhand enjoyment seeing something that so needlessly frustrated them.

Jessica Forever (Poggi + Venel, 2018)*: another film whose structure could easily cause frustration (and certainly did among some people whose tastes i trust), the debut film of these two new fellas on the scene is one which at once is an almost virulently sentimental bonding exercise and half-heartedly dystopian sci-fi narrative. it’s a film where not very much happens, and development comes within slow meditations and unspoken agreements – curiously also one where the plot is so twisty in new ways (much has been said about the supposed lead character, but also consider the fact that it opens as a military film, then abandons that for 70% of the runtime to focus on a problem we didn’t even know existed for the first 20%). excited to see what comes next from these two.

Johnny Mnemonic (Longo, 1995): a thousand keanu-isms, ice t is in this for no reason, takeshi kitano is in this for no reason, a telepathic cyber dolphin is in this for no reason. unironically insane 90s SFX. real treat.

Stray Dogs (Ming-liang, 2013): so far the only TML that’s really really clicked with me, the nearly wordless and plotless, very damp and cold film from taiwanese new wave icon has this distinct sadness to it that i think is difficult to replicate without coming across as edgy. though in many ways, that sort of approach is what i always wish tsai’s work went for more of: lose the half-and-half comedy of manners and up the neoliberal hellhole depression. suffice to say, winning formula here.

Mera naam Joker (Kapoor, 1970): jean renoir type beat. very sweet, very tragic, understands the complexity of humanity without assigning too much of a value to it that it doesn’t deserve. makes me want to check out more of kapoor’s stuff after having it on my indirect radar for a couple of years.

The Bigamist (Lupino, 1953) and Not Wanted (Lupino, 1949): lupino is a solid 4 for 4 right now for me, all of her films have this ray-esque caring for each of its characters who truly deserve it on some level, but doesn’t sugarcoat tragedies or legitimate malevolence. these two features are about the exploitation of three very different women, with all of the men given as much of a fair shake as they can have without coming across as apologia. her movies are tender in a way that few can pull off.

Wolkenschatten (Dornieden & Monroy, 2014): the very few post-humanist movies i’ve seen combine some truly insane aesthetic principles with some genuinely mind-boggling conclusions, and i would love to see more in this canon. this one adds to it with splendor.

Altered States (Russell, 1980): someone else mentioned this on letterboxd, but as someone who watches a good deal of experimental film, the trip sequences in this are unreal and could easily rival some of the great abstract filmmakers if taken on their own merit. the rest of this has some cronenberg-lite body horror and also goes for some post-humanist stuff ironically, though some of the usual 80s treatment of women bring it down in a way that seems unnecessary for the setting and ambitions it has.

Martin (Romero, 1978): ironically enough, this movie apes a lot of the ideals and energy that a24 horror seems to strive for – stuff that’s scary but not too scary, a laid-back vibe, subtle satire and even just slapstick gags of known horror bits. it seems like the type of movie that would have been a blast to see in a nice theater when it came out (or even a drive-in), manages to function as a few genres quite well. i’ve only ever seen romero’s original dead trilogy, and this is like, abjectly different from those films in tone.

The Big Blue (Horn, 1988)*: probably my favorite thing i saw in these two months, this noir-y type deal from little known filmmaker andrew horn is probably the closest thing i’ve seen to Dreams that Money Can Buy in terms of the overt stylization of dialogue, tropes, and the sheer lyrical-ness that both of those works contain. it looks incredible too, even in its lo-fi presentation that it’ll likely always have. those who know me know that i despise the term “neo-noir,” though i can’t imagine it would offend me so much if we had less in that loosely defined meme genre that were like Chinatown and more that were like this.

In the Cut (Campion, 2003): exotic thriller about how exotic thrillers are less exotic than they are rape-y and less thrilling than they are traumatic, this is a rape-y trauma flick to be sure.

I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians (Jude, 2018): unending disappointment at the behest of even a privileged white woman in her home country, this cumbersome-yet-appropriately-titled diatribe from romanian filmmaker radu jude exists as a text on the antisemitic diatribe which manifests itself in our belief that it has left, vividly showing the folly of believing that you are better than your ancestors were, or that it was ever a “different time.” the fact that it ends up becoming documentary by the end of it (which was unplanned to my knowledge) only sadly heightens that.

So Pretty (Rovinelli, 2019): sweet idyllic dreamscapes with distinct knowledge of the outside world, but also of how far we can truly get from that place, rovinelli’s debut feature is one which i think takes on a number of admirable ambitions and pieces them together in a loving tapestry of queer bodies interconnecting. very excited to see where she goes after this.

december gems + great films i saw in ’19

Night Without Distance (Patino, 2015): a visually arresting portrayal of a drug deal, this featurette has all the glorious imagery that patino has established himself to be great at creating. i don’t want to blabber on about it bc i don’t think there’s too much subtext involved and it’s short anyways so go watch it!

the entire filmography of patrick wang: new indie kid on the scene, patrick wang has made his first four features in the 2010s. i would say they are all, at the absolute least, worth watching. his influences seem to stretch far and wide and i think his handling on dialogue is unparalleled today, reminding me most strongly of kenneth lonergan in his smart decisionmaking. a great figure to watch out for.

Little Joe (Hausner, 2019): it seems like a minor film in nearly every way, but if Hotel is anything to go by, hausner is fantastic at creating minor films that don’t oversell themselves and merely deliver the goods. pretty basic black mirror social commentary, pretty gorgeous color palette, no obvious screwups, relatively brisk. kinda reminds me of an old efficient noir in that way, even if the content is totally different.

The Strange Little Cat (Zurcher, 2013): speaking of minor films done well, this debut picture is low-key and slight at almost every opportunity, but zurcher seems to be in full control of his mise-en-scene, writing, and all the elements in between. in some ways this most brings to mind a “minor” rivette, where while it’s difficult to cite any one standout feature about it, it propels forward with a relaxing and meticulous appeal.

Time to Die (Ripstein, 1966): very efficient, gothic western. i’ll start this the way that most people start reviews on westerns: although it has a fairly straightforward plot, the dialogue and editing are enough to propel this to being a great film. also a big fan of how singular and small ripstein makes the town feel in this one, like it’s one last jail. eager to check out more from this little-known director.

Inside Out (a bunch of people, 1991): so basically playboy released this…thing in the 1990s, best way i can put it is that it’s a bunch of people making vaguely sex-themed works in very different ways. alexander payne’s (yes, that one) piece is basically just a one note one take joke, where lizzie borden (yes, that one too) has two different sections, both about taboo fantasies in some way. 90s softcore is an underappreciated area of the film world, and this is likely one of its pearls.

The Wild Boys (Mandico, 2017): though i have little direct nostalgia for my childhood, i am always a fan of when movies can replicate the confusion i had to watching “trippier” things at that age. mandico’s debut feature pulls this off in spades. also one of the best looking films of the decade, where it faces some stiff competition. not too sure about how the gender-bender stuff interacts though, would like to see some trans writing on it sometime.

L’eau de la Seine (Hernandez, 1983): teo hernandez is a director that i like but don’t love. this one seems like the best of his i’ve seen. note to film students: if you want to make a good film, just shoot water really well.

Barbara is a Vision of Loneliness (Elder, 1976): an early bruce elder joint that brings to mind kubelka and tscherkassky more than his ever-wordy features. would have been interesting to see what happened if he continued down this direction. great stuff though, while bruce’s features are quite inconsistent, his shorts tend to have good ideas at the very least.

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and now, the great films i saw in 2019, in little particular order aside from the top 5.

though he’s been a director that i’ve fawned over for quite some time, it took me a while to seek out The Freethinker (Watkins, 1994). i think a big reason is that i hadn’t heard basically anything about it other than the fact it was long and literary, like many of watkins films. but seeing it early this year gave me so much hope for the future. it’s mostly just a biopic of the swedish playwright strindberg, but watkins (and the dozens of high schoolers involved with the production) takes a different direction: it largely demonizes strindberg, focusing on the hurt he caused others and his reputation, bypassing who he might have felt he was as a person. it’s four hours of varying perspectives on an artist who no doubt pushed social boundaries forward but was a scumbag while doing so, and it’s a document that i think can be used to learn with today.

i finally decided to give one of ida lupino’s solo works a try after loving On Dangerous Ground, and it happened to be Outrage (Lupino, 1950). it’s pretty crazy that the second studio film to have a rape in it was able to so tenderly portray it and the aftermath of the event, acknowledging how much it can ruin a person and that even good intentions can’t solve it. maybe it goes a bit too far in the melodramatic department at the end; i wouldn’t know as i was crying. like her once co-director nicholas ray, i get this deep sense of empathy from lupino already.

basically a blind watch for me, i was recommended Luce (Onah, 2019). ended up being a fantastic investigation of race and expectations, something which continuously contorts until it becomes unrecognizable, characters doubling down so hard you wonder what their original intentions even were. very smart, a touch overstuffed and literary, yet it doesn’t detract much from onah’s control over all of his elements. an oscar bait film if oscar bait was capable of being good.

i managed to only catch one film at moma’s abel ferrara retrospective, though it ended up being a clear highlight in a filmography full of bangers. the wretched, angry, crass Welcome to New York (Ferrara, 2014) plays out like a response to something like The Wolf of Wall St., painfully constructing what the rich and powerful are actually like as opposed to some half-hearted narrative they sell back to us. a film that pulls exactly 0 of its punches and only caves at the end to show ferrara’s last hint of humanism left, but by the time it gets there, it’s plowed through endless monologues, arguments, and misery all around.

bit the bullet this year and finished season 2 of Twin Peaks. this in turn led me to seeing Twin Peaks: The Return (Lynch, 2017), which i was much more fond of. though i’m not sure of all of the structural decisions here (the first three-ish episodes are great yet fail to establish a solid narrative off the bat, the final episode seems like the start of a fourth season), and i think that we’re in a dire place with television of episode 8 became the event that it was, i have to admit that through-and-through it’s a powerful, arresting piece of media. sometimes funny, more often than not chilling. the fact it kinda turns into a superhero movie at the end is perhaps one of its best gags.

after years of putting it off, i ended up being thoroughly wowed by The Swimmer (Perry, 1968). isolates an aspect that 60s counterculture could have used more of: shifting social values being used to hold bad people to being accountable for their actions. tears down the lead, in a cool way as virtually every scene re-contextualizes those that came before. some needlessly beautiful imagery in here too for some reason. don’t put it off like i did!

another film i had intentionally put off for years was Harakiri (Kobayashi, 1962). i knew i was going to like this a good deal, so like a smart man i saved it for when i was in a movie slump. nah though, great flick. comparisons to kurosawa are obvious, fully earns them at the end of the day.

overstuffed, ambitious, sprawling, flat out weird. Kamikaze Taxi (Harada, 1995), in addition to having one of the best movie names i’ve ever heard, was one of the best films that i saw in 2019. movies between being funny and thrilling, uplifting and brutal. lots of flat out weird themes to be spending this much time investigating in what could have easily just been a basic crime thriller, like national identity, integration, the like 30 minute scene they spend meditating in a temple. though i didn’t see many great “wonky” movies this year as compared to others, this one is near the top of the list in that regard.

i kinda liked phil solomon’s GTA movies, seeing them more as a curiosity than anything, though i felt like i wasn’t getting the full experience of him. cue a bunch of his movies leaking and light industry putting on a screening of his work. though he’s still an avant-garde director that i feel i may appreciate more than i actually enjoy watching, The Secret Garden (Solomon, 1988) is definitely the exception to that loosely-defined rule. a somber, harrowing portrait of…childhood? memories? who knows, it’s just an emotional waterfall. i hear it’s also leaked to the public now, so get your hands on it if you can.

another screening that i was lucky to be able to get to was the takashi makino three night show at anthology. here i was able to see Cinema concret (Makino, 2015) which opened the program. as loud, compelling, and beautiful as the best of his work, this one astounded me in its raw energy and the colors makino picked out. another confirmation for makino as perhaps the best working director in the world today.

they also showed Still in Cosmos (Makino, 2009) at this screening, a film which i saw earlier this year. absolutely love this one too though, probably among my three favorites of his – earth-shattering proportions, droney score that culminates in the birth of the universe type deal. i also think it works excellently in lo-fi, the pixelation kinda adding to the makino aesthetic well in this one.

on a whim, i decided to hit up a US premiere at anthology, this one for a small film called The World is Full of Secrets (Swon, 2018), this one being a debut by someone who’s more known for their producing credits. among the best films i saw this year, and already a pretty high pick for some “best of the decade” material as far as my tastes are concerned, swon’s breakthrough uses some key techniques from the avant-garde, structures it similarly to Landscape Suicide, and frames the whole thing in this hazy, tragic atmosphere that i couldn’t get enough of. i would say it’s kind of rare for genre films to be able to reach this level of pure sadness in them. excited to see where swon goes in his producing, but also now in his directing.

another 90s softcore that will probably never get the recognition it deserves, Cyberella: Forbidden Passions (Garth, 1996) is a soothing, sci-fi take on sex, one that has mostly tastefully done erotica, great music, and concludes in a sort of new age-y serene afterlife where the lead learns to not let men walk over her and to escape the male gaze in a sort of meta sense. also very campy and self aware of it in a not-annoying way.

i wrote a biiit about wang earlier, gotta come back to his seminal debut In the Family (Wang, 2011) tho. long, endearing, quiet, mournful, yet full of empathy, it’s like a laundry list of elements i love seeing in my movies. particularly noteworthy in how it addresses homosexuality, though a reviewer on letterboxd remarked that it’s maybe a bit too hopeful in that regard. one of the best debuts ever though, for sure.

wasn’t too sure what i was getting into when i stumbled upon the debut feature Prototype (Williams, 2017). it ended up being the rare avant-garde feature length film that DOESN’T need to be trimmed by 20+ minutes. nay, williams’ 3D concoction is filled with haunting imagery, questioning a “what-if” city that was destroyed by a heavy storm. recontextualizes a horrible event and questions its outside implications with the 20/20 vision of the future. williams also has talked about this a good deal, which helped clarify his many intentions to me, so i recommend seeking that out if you watch the film.

technicolor miracle One from the Heart (Coppola, 1982) is virtually indescribable. i mean, obviously the whole MGM inspired look is the thing that people stick to, but that doesn’t do it justice. this is a fantasy land of what the world looks like when you’re in love or when you’re embracing a partner, and the fact that it ends with the continuing of an extremely toxic relationship as reflexive criticism of the musicals that inspired it? wellllllll played, francis.

yet another obscure flick that remi put me onto, Finished (Jones, 1997) is a unique take on, like, stalking? seeing someone so beautiful you have to learn more? whatever it is, a DIY investigation over a male pornstar that the director is smitten with takes us in unusual directions, concluding with a respectful sense of mourning that never comes across as exploitative in the wrong ways. kinda reminds me of thom andersen.

onto the top 5.

5. Lake Mungo (Anderson, 2008) is a pretty direct ripoff in many ways of Twin Peaks for the digital era, but man is it ever good at pulling that specific niche off. a fascination i’ve had for the last several years is the ways that genre films are able to differentiate themselves from more ordinary dramas, and this is like a playground in that regard; anderson’s lone feature is one that mandates having supernatural elements as an explanation for one character’s horror, as it doesn’t seem to even be comprehensible in the “real” world. imagery reminds me often of kurosawa, particularly in “that” scene. wish we could get more from this clearly talented director.

4. in what appears to be a light comedy, lizzie borden ends up making perhaps the most significant film on sex work in the entire canon with Working Girls (Borden, 1986). a compelling comedy for much of its runtime, borden masterfully fuses this material with an almost sharon lockhart sense of “work as boredom” and solidarity as acknowledging that fact. the movie refuses to succumb to easy categorizations regarding the nature of the work, instead focusing more on how it is, ultimately, a job, and a pretty bad one at that most of the time for these women. as always, wish we had more.

3. seemingly out of nowhere comes Empty Metal (Khalil & Sweitzer, 2018), a film so full of energy, ideas, and aesthetics that it seems to be the work of a seasoned master rather than two youngsters. directors clearly set on tackling the difficult questions that radical politics must ultimately answer, it’s the somewhat rare leftist film that feels thoroughly organic, not at all like it’s punching or talking down to anyone. a chilling, thunderous experience, and one that makes me excited for what these two dudes have in store next.

2. at the makino screening, though i liked pretty much everything i saw there, the big standout was At the Horizon (Makino & Knapp, 2017), a film which appears to finally give makino a protagonist of sorts to work with: the grid that knapp supplies. it’s in some ways a creation story, a simple narrative, an immersive avant-garde film, a horror, really there are too many ways to read this even though it’s ostensibly lines and static. to quote a friend, “unreal this was made by humans.”

1. La flor (Llinas, 2018) u already know what it is boi

november gems

The World is Full of Secrets (Swon, 2018): an extremely exciting project from a breakout director, this arty, slow cinema take on art-horror is what i’ve been desperately craving from a24 but never truly gotten on this level. plenty to talk about and analyze but i’m really in love with swon’s approach to the genre, which feels entirely unpretentious and fresh simultaneously.

The Snowman (Solomon, 1995): though i like solomon’s gta stuff and his Decasia sequel, i think it’s his early work i connect most to and this is no exception. love his textures and sense of sorrow he gets from his memories, a pretty unique spin on diary filmmaking.

Body Double (de Palma, 1984): twisty and turny in self consciously pulpy ways, a pretty effortlessly lean thriller from one of the best in that area. i would say that the way he subverts the male gaze and heroism is very akin to verhoeven here, and there’s a scene towards the end that particularly astounds me (is anyone as good at these random fourth wall breaks as BDP?); overall it’s a joy and one of his best 80s films.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Lee, 2016): forgive my armond white-isms here but i think liberal critics are usually harsher on films which attempt to address these sort of masculine roles if it’s not told in some kind of distancing way. lee’s unusual, eastwood-esque feature mostly plays things straight, paying off in a somewhat too long but usually interesting work with the thesis statement being that the working class is the working class regardless of which industrial complex it serves. which, cool.

The Learning Tree (Parks, 1969): most discussion of this film is based on its importance as the first major film directed by a black director (which i disagree with on those grounds but eh semantics). kinda disappointing because the picture itself is way more than that; would say it has a sirkian sense of empathy even in an unholy world. better than its (perhaps boring) reputation suggests.

The Strawberry Blonde (Walsh, 1941): very effective romcom stuff, the period aspect of it is kinda weird but charming enough. though i’ve only seen White Heat by him, walsh seems much more suited to this lighter fare than for crime dramas, could just be entirely off there.

Luce (Onah, 2019): great soundtrack and some of the most biting writing out there, stuff that could easily veneer into terrible sorkin directions or liberal identity politics yet seems to just get things RIGHT. a couple of plot complaints aside, this is just masterful stuff on every level and a pretty under-seen film for what it is.

The Big Gundown (Sollima, 1966): good spaghetti western, watch when bored. nothing too subversive or amazing, nothing boorish or haphazard. check it out.

Outrage (Lupino, 1950): i think that, when it comes to classic hollywood, the sense of empathy is something which connects with me the most. this is especially apparent in my faves of the era, particularly sirk and ray, the latter of whom lupino co-directed a great film On Dangerous Ground with. this one excels in that way – there’s a boundless sense of hope and understanding in the face of trauma that always has a way to move me.

Love is the Message, the Message is Death (Jafa, 2016): won’t rattle on about this too long as it’s only a few minutes long but yeah uhhhh amazing editing!

All the Marbles (Aldrich, 1981): i was really happy w my letterboxd summary of this and it only got 1 like ;( but i’ll restate: love movies about obscure competition-based subcultures, love campy dramatic stuff, love things with this much care for its characters. aldrich developing nicely into a favorite!

Dark Angel: The Ascent (Hassani, 1994): a movie about the “good satanists” if you will. plays by its own rules. funny. sweet. good gore at times. not seen anything like it!

A Solar Dream (Bokanowski, 2016): animation usually leaves me cold and feature length experimental films often get the worse of me, plus i didn’t really know much about bokanowski beforehand, yet he creates this gorgeous lump of abstract cinema that totally works. really diverse visual treat though i quite like it about a third of the way in. makes me wanna see more from the dude.

reply to scorsese vs marvel

wanted to get some quick notes down about the scorsese vs marvel discourse currently going on. you can read it here. nothing super formal, just wanted to get my voice in before it’s washed away by whatever disney+ controversies we get.

 

-scorsese’s films are not from earth to alpha centauri when it comes to marvel movies. i have no idea where he got this notion from, especially because he knows the movies that are actually in that vein. a lot of scorsese’s comments here confuse me for similar reasons because he’s aligning himself as the opposite to marvel when this comes across as complaining of a system that brought him up and then left him to rot (except, that didn’t happen at all) when it’s mostly a similar system as before, just with different tastes. i acknowledge that the cultural landscape has absolutely changed, though scorsese still sits at a pretty standard midpoint by any recognizable definition. but i guess being that rich for that long can make you lose perspective a bit sometimes.

-something i see a lot of in a the comments of certain anti-MCU people is a certain preference against a “cinema-of-attractions” approach to the medium.  scorsese kinda sets himself up for the “not everything needs to be Citizen Kane” strawman here. it’s one thing to say that the movies lack depth, another to say that movies which lack depth are necessarily worse than those that do. how many masterful cult films are there that get brushed aside in favor of these terrible films? probably far more than the type of “adult” projects that scorsese seems to favor, and i would argue that the two are way more comparable as far as broad filmmaking goals go.

-scorsese speaks of the cultural importance of projection, and repeats this a couple of times to solidify his notion. this is a waning demand however; it’s his one like “ok boomer” moment where he veneers into the territory of seeing the movie house as the monolith when everyone who gets hardcore into art cinema knows their way around a VPN by the time they’re out of high school. this is important because many of these people never even go to theaters normally; for them, the cinema is their laptop screen. i don’t see the cinema as being whatever happens to play on a metroplex for $12 near you – the advent of streaming is what will assist cinema, even if it ruins “cinema.”

-not falling for his “i had to go to netflix” sob story lol, waaah only one media conglomerate would give me 9 figures for my oscar bait

-the financial situation is brutal for small theaters not just because of indirect forces like everyone only seeing disney trash but also directly because of extremely harsh, borderline illegal theater policies that disney themselves employ. i wish scorsese would have brought this up – someone with his sway and clout speaking against that practice could do some popular good.

-i think in parts of his article, his notion of success is directly linked to “is it playing on a theater screen for millions of people.” it conflates financial success with cinematic success, which as someone who has had a lot of the former, seems to come from a biased position. obviously he doesn’t entirely mean this should be taken all the way – as evidenced by him, you know, hating superhero movies – but i do see this line of reasoning a lot and think it’s kind of unhealthy.

-it’s good that someone with some iota of clout is saying these things even if the points are a bit rough around the edges. i generally agree with his thesis, just believe we need to have more carefully crafted criticism on the subject.

gems of september and october

spent a lot of the month watching Twin Peaks, the rest watching makino. then i got back into melee.

Harakiri (Kobayashi, 1962) – was in a bit of a movie slump prior to seeing this and i’d been saving this movie for a day like that. i knew i would at least find it solid but it sorta exceeded expectations and became a favorite of mine. my first kobayashi and i want to definitely check out his other classics at the least, and maybe dabble in his deep cuts as well.

virtually everything i saw at the Show and Tell exhibit for takashi makino would rank as either a highlight or a bonafide masterpiece, but i’ll give a special shoutout to At the Horizon which, upon my first watch, seems like it could be the greatest non-narrative film i’ve ever seen. words really can’t do it (or other makino films) justice; it really needs to be experienced to be believed.

Homework (Kiarostami, 1989) – this endures as one of kiarostami’s more direct and “simple” films, which is hardly a mark against it. its examination of how generational norms can be transposed to the younger ones (albeit in a specific framework that never feels anything other than universal) is well-crafted and builds to a classic kiarostami finale, ripe with his ever-present humanism.

Finished (Jones, 1997): a great find by remi. labyrinth tale about a man fixated on someone who struck him, a kind of obsession i think most people can occasionally relate to. one of the only films that has a similar vibe to Los Angeles Plays Itself in how it’s constructed as an essay film of sorts. definitely a huge film even when it admits its own shortcomings outright.

Twin Peaks as a whole: well, i finally bit the bullet and finished S2 (which wasn’t very good), excitedly devoured Fire Walk With Me (which was great) and then plunged into The Return (which, will maybe a bit overhyped, is some fantastic movie-making). lynch is a master of these intricate, guilt-ridden tales, and the best parts of this series are when he meshes this with his knack for striking imagery. i’m down for more of it now that i’ve actually gotten through the S2 slump.

Super Inframan (Shan, 1975): unbridled fun. like seriously, you are not ready for how fun this movie is. sets, oversatured cinematography, action editing, costumes (especially the costumes), SFX, stunt choreography, everything is designed for maximum campy excellence. can’t believe i don’t hear more about this.

Cleopatra (Bressane, 2007): i haven’t seen anything by bressane and have really no idea what his other movies are like, which makes analyzing what is already a pretty difficult film to analyze even more difficult. i can say at least that i get heavy straub-huillet vibes, manoel de oliveira in baroque mode, and India Song. i really don’t have enough to say about this in terms of analysis, but really like the sets, the purple prose, and the ardent sexuality of it.

Dusty Stacks of Mom: The Poster Project (Mack, 2013): i’d known about this and its acclaim for a while but never actually had an idea of what it would be like. as it turns out, it’s Crashbox for art thots. yeah.

The Amazonian Angel (Klonaris & Thomadaki, 1992): i think the closest reference point i have to this would have to be Salome by hernandez. like that film, i’m drawn to how impressive and dreamlike its imagery is, although in this there’s a bunch of dialogue that very dissociative and reminds me of abstract poetry. it’s a combination that clashes occasionally but the end product is one that works well for me, and i would love to see more of these directors’ work.

Every Single Night (Tsao, 2019): it confirms not only tsao’s consistency but also his range; where Utah was a well-shot, well-edited direct cinema sort of documentary, the artificiality of Every Single Night‘s construction and the setups of its concept scream an entirely different idea altogether. always attempts to re-invent itself in unique ways, homerun with this one. look forward to producing what the director manages next.

Lake Mungo (Anderson, 2008): i somehow entirely had mis-categorized this film in my head. i thought it was supposed to be some slower slasher film, when in reality it’s a mockumentary that feels like reverse kiyoshi kurosawa; something which starts creepy, seems to suggest that the world is creepy enough as we know it, and then pivots into unusual lynchian directions. some of the most effective horror of the last two decades and an easy favorite for me.

Bliss (Begos, 2019): out of the 6 horror movies i saw at the horror marathon, this was the only one that really knocked it out of the park for me. takes some obvious cues from ferrara structurally and from a laundry list of films stylistically but begos has the control of a seasoned director in how he synthesizes these many styles and ideas. a great gem to find, one i probably never would have seen if not for the screening.

Milla (Massadian, 2017): an indie film which is so careful about sidestepping negative indie conventions that it ends up becoming somewhat toothless by the end of it, though it’s still an engaging watch with some beautiful moments to it. reminds me of costa more than anything, who i like but have rarely seen as a personal favorite (seems to be the case with this film too). would love to check out some more of massadian’s work though.

gems: july and august

Two Lovers (Gray, 2008): gray is a solid 3 for 3 right now, an immersive dramatic director whose deft navigating of melodramatic and adventure archetypes reminds one of, say, a 60s hollywood director making 40s hollywood pictures. can never quite pin down what makes him good, it’s likely a mixture of his ear for dialogue and impressive cinematography which treads the line between dull and flashy. as his other two have done, builds my excitement for Ad Astra.

Offering (Caldini, 1978): this movie’s only like 3 minutes or something, just go watch it. great non-narrative.

Surrender (Kopko, 2019): manages to pull off lo-fi VHS retro-vaporwave aesthetics in the decade where that mode of creation seemed to die and rebirth at least three times already. kopko’s eye for inorganic imagery and sounds, surely influenced by her immense knowledge of the medium, is what propels this to the forefront of the modern avant-garde to me.

Jane (Christensen, ???): adore the music in this, adore how un-pretentious this film is in its portrayal of a teen who demands to be taken seriously while acknowledging the paradox in this sometimes. other people are probably going to hate the dialogue in this, and its trashy-ness certainly encourages that to an extent, but it’s something that has a really profound appeal to me, hokey as it can be. a fantastic gem in the rough.

The Deadly Spawn (McKeown, 1983): it’s something that i can’t quite call a masterpiece because i generally prefer my shlocky genre films to go really far in some political or vulgar direction, but as a lean, mean 80s horror it’s pretty much as good as it gets this side of tobe hooper. not too much to say, pick it for your midnight movie sometime.

The Last Film (Martin & Peranson, 2013): alex ross perry taking the piss out of every white person who’s ever been to latin ruins for an hour and a half is a surprisingly fun way to use an hour and a half

The Death of Louis XIV (Serra, 2016): been meaning to get to this for a while, and i felt with the fact that his other Louis films are going to be easier to get ahold of, now was as good a time as any. doesn’t quite hit the maximum height that slow cinema is easily capable of; think of it like a more baroque van sant if that’s your fancy. and it obviously doubles well with rossellini’s film too. leaud can do no wrong etc.

Rumble Fish (Coppola, 1983): had no idea what this was gonna be like going into it, and nobody really thought to call this Tetro 0.5? man, film criticism is a dead art. anywho, some beautiful vignettes, generally up to snuff with his other great-not-masterpiece tier work. the central visual motif/metaphor here is surprisingly well-done even if it seemed like slam poetry at first.

Cyberella: Forbidden Passions (Garth, 1996): remi’s extremely good at finding these giga-obscure SOV/genre/no budget/sleazecore type films that end up becoming favorites for me. this is among the best of those types; 90s softcore about the afterlife and learning that sometimes the most difficult thing to do as a woman is being able to demand more for yourself from misogynists. the dredges of being a manic pixie dream girl, set to dialogue that would sound corny in a sega commercial. masterpiece because of it though.

Up, Down, Fragile (Rivette, 1995): it comes off to me as a minor rivette in the way that, idk, Love on the Ground does (or that Secret defense doesn’t). good thing jacques is incapable of making bad movies, or even movies less than really good in most cases. pacing god.

La flor (Llinas, 2018): the best film of the last 5 years for my money. i was impossibly hyped for this movie and my hype still couldn’t have prepared me for how much i unabashedly adored this mammoth feature. it’s always fresh, funny, entertaining, inventive – this is really just what the movies were made for. reminds me of that jimmy neutron episode where he engineers the perfect movie – this one’s got like everything in it i could ever want. lifetime subscriber to the church of llinas.

Chain (Cohen, 2004): while its aesthetics only touch the vaporwave movement, the influences seem very akin to that aesthetic, and the notion of late capitalism swirling together the entire working class into this depressed day-to-day “there has to be more to life than this” is done beautifully. makes me interested in what else cohen has to offer. great fake-doc feel as well, legitimately thought it was a real documentary for most of the time (though i suspect a lot of it is very true to life).

Esophagus (Fotopolous, 2004): not a genre you hear of everyday, this fotopolous flick combines noisy soundscapes, lo-fi digital, and repetitive sequences into this scifi-horror-experimental fusion. works perhaps a bit better in concept than in execution at times but there are moments that are beautiful and moments that are horrifying and it’s paced well for an outing of this nature.

The Secret Garden (Solomon, 1988): i saw several solomon shorts at a screening and they were all good to varying degrees but this was the biggest highlight. something so nostalgic and primal about it, especially in the like subtitled dialogue that was extra zoomed in with almost a christmas-y filter going on. would love to see this one again soon!

The Black Tower (Smith, 1987): structuralist horror of sorts but still lighthearted enough to not feel like it’s too tryhard-y. great stuff, fun little picture. go watch it on youtube it’s just a short!

The Sticky Fingers of Time (Brougher, 1997): the poster and name had me thinking this was gonna be some like lighter campy scifi when in reality it was quite funny but in a sort of rivette way, there’s a humor to it that sort of extends in unusual directions. i always like scifi concepts even when it’s just the same type of time travel, this one has a great allegory for it, and the pacing is on-point for the majority of the runtime. cool little gem for sure.