november gems

moved to NY

Death by Hanging (Oshima, 1968) – while this film, to me, has a major flaw in its structure (spends either too much time as a procedural, or too little time on its racial investigations), it is still an extremely potent, beautifully leftist film that i will pretty much always be thinking about. makes me very excited to check out more from oshima.

Extraordinary Stories (Llinas, 2008) – not only in its southern flair, but also in terms of its themes and structure, this reminded me of Amores Perros. however i believe this film is far more intelligent and mature, even though i love that film as well. frequently funny, always compelling, and there’s a ton of little things i think abut a lot. would love to see his latest.

China Girl (Ferrara, 1987) – honestly neil bahadur’s letterboxd review is one of the greatest things i’ve ever read so go read that instead of whatever gibberish i can throw together here. basically an incredible film based on a boring structure that most filmmakers don’t recognize is inherently uninteresting without the subtext ferrara endows.

Youth Without Youth (Coppola, 2007) – this has like crazy mood shifts throughout and goes through odd motions that evoke virtually the entire spectrum of ideas and themes that interest me in filmmaking. the imagery in it is stunning too, and at its core it basically seems to want to be a superhero film that indulges precisely what those sorts of films should be going for.

Choose Me (Rudolph, 1984) – really love how…consistently unique this feels? all of the characters feel at home only in this picture, they are all totally different yet cut of the same mold, and their interactions are all interesting the way a rivette from this era is. a soothing watch.

Changeling (Eastwood, 2008) – the fact that libs think eastwood is a) some dumb patriot type and b) is bad in any capacity in moviemaking is something i will hold over their heads in 20 years when i remind them how dumb they once were

Bitter Victory (Ray, 1957) – i know that nick ray had a lot of stuff that he did that he probably wasn’t that interested in but this strikes me as a passionate film from him. his screenplays are so hard hitting, his images are so spectacular, he just, to quote the goat, is the cinema man

Le revelateur (Garrel, 1968) – honestly garrel being insufferably boring for the most part (while having some great imagery sometimes) is like one of the biggest cinematic disappointments to me, but this is only an hour long and is completely unlike his other films where it’s full on abstraction instead of boring meta deconstruction so yeah lets hear it for high contrast black-and-white art thots

october gems

Aniki Bobo (de Oliveira, 1942) – what appears to be a slight and insignificant film, mdo’s first major feature is a commanding work, with a strong sense of scope, morals, and its own identity. in this, while you can’t see the sort of baroque stuff he would attempt later, one can surely identify the talent of a future great director.

(side note: i also loved his Doomed Love, A Century of Energy, and Mon Cas but i try to pick only one film per director per month for these)

Beaubourg (Rossellini, 1977) – a cool city symphony type film that explores, instead, the grand opening of an art museum. interesting to note is the quiet, deliberate camera movement which felt quite different from rossellini’s work in India, and also peculiar is how the masses here are significantly less pretentious (or, that is, appear to be less academic and wholly invested in the art they interact with) than people would have you believe. the “pretentious art critic” trope lives on as being my most hated one.

Period Piece (Andrews, 2006) – well paced version of Trash Humpers without as much deliberate nods to its own garish nature. super funny too, it’s basically sketch comedy in the most z grade way possible, and i would definitely love to see more by andrews if the rest of his films are anything like this.

The Last House on Dead End St. (Watkins, 1977) – no, not that watkins. dark film. evil film, even. there’s a level of sadism here that kinda permeates beneath and very much above the surface of its gritty appearance. i can’t believe a 3 hour version was originally considered – how much simulated misery could one endure – but as a 70 minute exploitation slasher, this is just the right amount of darkness.

Reflections of Evil (Packard, 2002) – next time i watch this i need to see the shortened version as this is just a bit too much in some areas (i think particularly with the watch salesman stuff).  however the current 138 minute cut is still a masterpiece that borders on transcending even that label; a towering achievement of camp, lofi digital, and middle class frustration at the world, portrayed as an anger towards capitalism rather than more specific zeitgeists.

But I’m a Cheerleader (Babbit, 1999) – a film which i can ultimately appreciate for giving a voice to people who have had it so bad for so long (and we have thankfully progressed at least a little since 20 years ago where this was the norm in a way), but, like a normie has their Schindler’s List, this film is ultimately too depressing for me to see it again anytime soon, because i know how real and unhappy stories like this truly were.

Personal Problems (Gunn, 1980) – one of the best pacing out of any film i have ever seen, gunn’s soap opera of sorts weaves together a long tapestry of characters and their struggles over the course of nearly 3 hours and makes it feel like almost a short film of sorts. i think that the film being somewhat difficult to follow is what holds it back for me, but ensembles of this nature (think A Brighter Summer Day) are really intriguing to me.

(also loved: Ganja and Hess also by gunn)

Tower (Meitland, 2016) – man 2016 had so many masterpieces from so many unexpected avenues, and this is right up there with em. animation sucks, normally, but i think the way it’s used here with visual motifs and to enhance the reality of the situation (or even act as a coping mechanism for it) is way cooler than anything i ever see the medium used. very moving stuff.

Grim (Ito, 1985) – you know the drill with ito at this point, never boring filmmaker.

september gems

The Blackout (Ferrara, 1997) – a super accurate portrayal of what i believe hell to be. dark, digital landscapes and soundscapes engulf everything in their path. the conclusion of the film is almost too destructive for words.

Halloween II (Zombie, 2009) – the kills in this are so visceral and hard-hitting, and coupled with the premise being based around the “last girl” having extreme PTSD it makes for a film that is effectively one long anxiety attack after another. i cannot believe this film impacted me as hard as this.

The Glass Shield (Burnett, 1994) – surprisingly entertaining and compelling LAPD story from, of all people, the director of Killer of Sheep. notable for how little it bootlicks (if at all) and it’s got a cool structure that sort of feels like how i wanted Black Klansman to go. great stuff, makes me want to see more from the dude.

Ludwig (Visconti, 1973) – obviously this is hardly a “hidden gem” but i think it’s far underseen in favor of other viscontis when i believe it’s his best work he ever did. it’s super personal, super beautiful, and i think it has that perfect mix of decadence and pathos that visconti so many times seemed to just miss. one of the best films i’ve seen all year.

Iguana (Hellman, 1988) – for some reason i thought this would be like an exploitation film, but no this is just a straight super arthouse, arguably art-horror film done by one of cinema’s under-appreciated masters. i think this film is extremely hard to pin down ideologically which makes it difficult to write much about in that way, but it’s a supremely beautiful endeavor and maybe hellman’s 2nd best.

Green Snake (Hark, 1993) – super fun, super interesting take on wuxia which is a genre i’m not that big a fan of (though i have only seen a small handful of them). this is a clear favorite as it de-establishes its tropes in interesting ways, is super funny, bright, visually inventive, and has this energy i see from few films. hark is great, folks.

Devils on the Doorstep (Wen, 2000) – i don’t think this film is saying that much super profound stuff but what it is doing is making a competent film on all cylinders and going above and beyond on pacing, camerawork, and writing. the film feels super coherent at all times and it’s able to effortlessly go from hilarious to thrilling and ends on a surprisingly beautiful note. really some incredible moviemaking.

Phase IV (Bass, 1974) – pretty much exactly what i expected out of the reviews + trailer. great cult sci-fi, not passionate about it, but it’s great at what it does.

august new discoveries

The Forgotten Colours of Dreams (Clyde, 2018): a delirious VHS trip into a purgatory of sorts, something that is so dedicated to its aura and mood yet retains high intellectual pursuits in the realm of a bergman or something. bergman is obviously the closest point of relevance as far as plots go with Seventh Seal but i think clyde retains many of his more spiritual ambitions as well.

Twice a Man (Markopoulos, 1963): this film is one of the miracles of the world. i love how repression and guilt are portrayed here; the real-world damaging psychological impact of disobedience and the lost hope of coming out. i think the editing style is really similar to a lot of brakhage shorts, but this one has a narrative and feels like you keep trying to remember that day, play it over and over, find some solace. great stuff.

Xtro (Davenport, 1982): it reminds me of some hybrid between roeg and carpenter, taking their strong elements of horror and misery. there is some flat out iconic imagery in here, as a genre film i think it’s honestly pretty close to unparalleled status – surely up there with the other greats of its time. would loved to have seen a hooper rendition on this story.

The Baron (Pera, 2011): i think this might be the most vampirey movie out there. i’m a huge proponent of vampire films as i think there is such a piercing cinematic appeal to them in so many ways, be it vulgar or transcendent (or both – see The Addiction), and this one goes so fully in the mood of vampires that i appreciate it for this alone. also goat ending.

At the First Breath of Wind (Piavoli, 2002): i don’t have much to say for this one. i loved the shots and how meditative it was; a bit of a “breather” film if you will. the setting and pacing kind of reminded me of La cienaga although with much less social nuance.

After Last Season (Region, 2009): singular. there is nothing out there quite like this. when your two biggest relatives are Inland Empire and Wax, you know you’re doing something right. confounding film, love the look, the structure, the tone, everything about this strange little picture. will need to rewatch it again and again.

Prospero’s Books (Greenaway, 1991): yeah i have no idea what this thing is about or anything but it’s beautiful so

july films

Pacific Angels (Reese, 2018) – the sharpest film i’ve seen out of the letterboxd new wave, using most definitions of it that is. a gorgeous pastiche of different textures and ideas, none of them attaining cohesion but all of them concocting some unique blend that is only possible in this no budget sphere. the best film of the year was made for, what, a couple thousand?

Tongues Untied (Riggs, 1989) – in many parts it’s the formal to Paris is Burning‘s pathos. well, i mean that’s blatantly an oversimplification at best and a lie at worst, but that’s what i’m going with. love the poems in this, the rhythm, there’s something that reminds me of eisenstein in both the treatment of homosexuality and also the beat of the editing that pulsates through this curious film.

Borderline (Macpherson, 1930) – honestly man this film is way too ahead of its time. in race relations, narrative experimentation, and rhythm. it’s like trying to be a bunch of different sorts of film that still weren’t even perfected by 1930 and at the end of the day it falls short of its mammoth ambitions, but still it’s pretty insane that something like this even exists at all, let alone a relic from almost 90 years ago.

2012 (Makino, 2013) – i would honestly pick every makino short from cerulean spectacles volume 2 here, which includes Inter View, Tranquil, The Low Storm, and Ghost of OT301, but this is the zenith of em. this honestly kinda changed the way that i thought film was possible, stretches the notion of what 3d can do as an aural mechanic. adore this filmmaker and wish i could see more of his work.

‘R Xmas (Ferrara, 2001) – this has that tried and true wonky ferrara structure, and i think it’s so all over the place that i can’t tell what messages are just there by coincidence or by pure willpower but at the end of the day man this is a drug movie done great, twists and turns all over that can only happen in film and i love that lead and the look and whatever he was trying to do with that stupid ending.

Sanguivorous (Yoshimoto, 2011) – vampire films are great because they pretty much all revolve around similar themes and motifs but there’s so much you can stylistically vary with them that they’re always gonna be fresh, kind of like the opposite of westerns. what we get here is an abstract, hazy BW journey into… well something related to vampires i would guess. being able to deduce what’s occurring is akin to understanding the specifics of a tscherkassky short and the pleasures are similar as well.

Night Moves (Reichardt, 2013) – i think that this material and the pacing of it is so innately great that even if an untalented director made it, it would still probably at least be pretty good, but reichardt’s working with some strong imagery and cuts that other directors would probably stumble around in some way. i think there’s something missing to it to give it that extra oomph but i’m not sure what exactly. still, incredible stuff.

Ere erera baleibu izik subua aruaren (Sistiaga, 1970) – a texture animation film, similar to brakhage but with a more layered quality that only some of his later work would achieve, that ends up being some of the best abstract work i’ve seen in ages. psychedelia in film format that ultimately you either succumb to or tell me that i’m looking at literal chickenscratch & to which i’d be like yea.

I Know Who Killed Me (Silvertson, 2007) – a kajillion things goin on at once, but also throughout the entire film. extremely coherent narrative-wise, the formal elements and the magical twists and synthesis of so many genres, times, images, and even songs is done to a frame perfect precision. gorgeous to look at and there’s an almost spiritual catharsis to the ending. somehow among the best films i’ve seen in a while, my pick along with 2012 for the best i saw this month.

gems of june

Some Came Running (Minnelli, 1958) – it’s weird that i’ve never been big on minnelli when he does musicals, but i’ve adored the two dramas of his i’ve seen. but to be fair, the aspects in the musicals i liked – particularly Meet Me in St. Louis – were the dramatic moments. this feels like the end of the world, it’s collapsing in the face of realized idealism. this is an old man’s film.

Mountain in Shadow (Patino, 2012) – i can’t believeee there are even landscape shots that look this nice. a great one for projecting ambient style in the background somewhere.

Running Scared (Kramer, 2006) – it’s a wonderful genre gem that has a perfect balance of style for the sake of bravado, bonkers social commentary, some chilling lynchian subplots, all wrapped up in a totally nonsensical twist and a feel-good ending for the sake of it if only to avoid senseless nihilism. one of the best of its year.

Aaeon (Razutis, 1971) – i kinda think obvious brakhage riffing was a millennial invention but it seems the only thing we’ve contributed is the decline of country clubs. anywho, this one – like every other brakhage work – takes some of his abstract imagery and tries to personify and define it more, which brakhage usually restrained from doing (certain notable exceptions – Spring Cycle comes to mind). but it has great colors and cool themes and it doesn’t run long, so i like it a lot.

Todo Todo Terros (Torres, 2006) – extremely reminiscent of 88:88 though it trades thematic clarity for narrative in a sense, but it’s still super disattached from itself. not as much AV trickery a la late godard, feels more personal in some ways. the first torres i’ve seen and i’m hungry for more of this interpersonal filmmaking. inconsistent, but high highs.

In the Shadow of the Blue Rascal (Clementi, 1986) – i remember this movie about as well as any under-the-influence experience i can recall, and i remember the movie feeling akin to that as well. unique movie on the whole – watch it with Eggshells sometime.

Scarlet Diva (Argento, 2000) – it’s kind of a standard mold that it’s working with – rebirth thru hedonism, the limelight life, champagne wishes, portrait of the artist as a tortured soul stuff. but argento’s voice is loud and reflective – she neither surgarcoats the horrors she experiences nor her complacency in them. and you all already KNOW i’m on my lofi digital shiz tho.

I Come with the Rain (Hung, 2009) – well this is an odd one. it’s this mix between Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning and, of all things, Zerkalo. changes forward and backwards in time while retaining this chilling atmosphere that’s completely a genre film if you play it at a normal pace. i want to see some more of hung’s stuff, wonder if it’s all as wacky as this. also notable for the only context where radiohead is this good.

Mary (Ferrara, 2005) – ferrara’s got no minor works (thanx richie). super weird formally, i love its aesthetics and how much spiritualism it tries to both criticize, examine, and embrace. i think some aspects of it are too much in one of those directions, but it’s a remarkably lean piece of filmmaking that is, by the end, cathartic.

Ready Player One

for the first time in my life, i’ve been paid to watch and review a movie. this has also been the first time i’ve asked, perhaps there’s a correlation there. as it turns out, this has also been a major artistic restriction; there are so many one-liners i could boil this atrocity down to, but instead i have to go more in-depth with my vitriol it seems. one in particular that i liked, and one that i truly believes sums up the thesis of this film, is as follows: “you know all those other movies we tried to leave in our childhood where the evil villain says to the hero ‘we’re not so different, you and i?’ well this is the one movie where this would be actually true and the film is plenty cheesy and reductive so why didn’t they at least give me that one?”

seriously, one of the biggest issues with this film isn’t its political stupidity but its lack of ideological narrative in a film whose entire premise is about political power and ideologies. what is wade’s desire? what is he like? well, we don’t really know, other than being a super nerd who everyone both irl and ioasis would probably mock for being as such, which in itself is kinda surprising. what are his goals if he gets the egg? well, he certainly liked the CEO changing the schools to be from john hughes movies (which, if the shining sequences are anything to go by, should already exist within some simulation, and if not, it’s not like it would be that difficult to do…) but surely, wade’s got more ideas than MORE 80s references, right?

of course he does. he wants to live in a big mansion, and to not worry about money anymore. while it’s understandable for a teen living in poverty (although, for someone who’s impoverished, even pre-key finding he doesn’t seem to have any of the struggles that impoverished people that i know have) to want to escape that, it seems to be about where his happiness begins and ends. it’s all a game, and he wants to win, and get rewarded. that’s how it should work; that’s how everyone in this movie preaches that it will work.

another rejected one-liner with this movie is that nolan sorrento frequently seems like a stand-in for spielberg himself. nolan poses as being genuinely interested in the subject material (such as him trying to negotiate with wade, and then later saying he doesn’t care about oasis at all as far as his experiences go), just as spielberg appears to be pretentiously touching upon a culture which he seems to be completely isolated from. knowing what a walkthrough is and mis-defining what an easter egg is aren’t really going to cut it in that regard. i’m not going to say it’s a sort of cultural appropriation or anything like that, but this is definitely poseur material – and unlike a film like Gamer which is also just as wildly inaccurate, this one appears to take itself substantially more seriously as an adaptation to this world.

but what, pray tell, is cline or spielberg trying to say? like i said, wade and nolan really aren’t that different. the end of the movie is wade learning to care less about the oasis and to instead revel in his riches while he does nothing for the working class, which… i mean, is what nolan wanted all along. both of their capitalist pursuits have similar end-results, which i mean, most capitalist pursuits do i guess. this is a pretty typical liberal narrative though so i can’t single it out too much i guess. in fact, while watching this i was reminded of Jurassic World’s narrative, starting out as a film making fun of the dumb masses for wanting to see genetically modified dinosaurs before subsequently abandoning that idea entirely to show us genetically modified dinosaurs. also, i’ll throw out here that wade’s pursuits aren’t any different than his villainous step-uncle or whatever; the key difference being that wade is a REAL g4m3r and his uncle is just an ol’ b055man69, or, in other terms, wade happens to be good at a video game that his uncle isn’t, though they make the same sacrifices for their obsessions. as someone who is actually kind of decent at a video game, this is preposterous thinking.

yet another silly one-liner i would have left could have been “wow thanks spielberg for interrupting the one good 80s song in the whole movie” when blue monday cuts to stayin alive. i wasn’t really considering it before, but i think this film’s editing is too erratic for it to not have happened at least a couple of times. the overlapping of STUFF happening is done in the worst of ways; while maximalist vulgar auteurism is all about overwhelming excitement and sloppy content, this seems like polished consumerism to the highest degree. the slew of references, from what i’m aware of from the book, are somehow lessened here but are no less cringeworthy every time they occur; this is on top of spielberg’s typically horrible snappy screenplays, to have me audibly groaning to my fellow audience members more than, and this is no exaggeration, at least the last 100 movies i’ve seen combined.

i previously mentioned how this film’s maximalism feels way too polished to be messy, but i mean there’s a lot of ways that this falls short of most of the great stuff out of that canon. i’ll again reference Gamer, which i don’t even really like that much, and admire its onslaught of colors (which are genuinely mismatched to hell and back) and its abandonment of finer detail or heavy explanations. in RPO, instead what we get are a lot of half-explanations to, what are more likely, very complex ideas (who is a level 99 wizard? if TJ miller’s character already is one, then why even bring it up at all? if H dies, do her possessions also disappear? how often do the races in the first section of the film happen? why are there only a few dozen people in them, if oasis is a world-wide game with billions of people competing for billions of dollars? if getting killed means you lose the keys, then why don’t the sixers try past their first assassination attempt to kill the frequently-undisguised-despite-art3mis-mentioning-it-so-there-can-be-a-superman-reference high fivers? on that note, why doesn’t anyone? if there are “cameras” in a lot of places in this world, why were there none in any of the races where the high five won?). i understand that plots aren’t always that important in all-out genre pics like this, but i mean, at what point can you call something out which is supposed to have real meaning(tm) on its huge sum of logical ineptitude? as inaccurate and hokey as things like Resident Evil: Retribution and Crank are, i never get the feeling that they’re anything but anarchic genre pictures which wholly embrace their zaniness, as opposed to far more self-serious works like this or The Dark Knight Rises.

so if this film makes no sense in what it’s trying to say, has no idea what it’s about, and compromises whatever maximalist pleasures one can get out of it by simply trying to be an actual dramatic venture on top of its sci-fi ambitions, then surely it’s got to have some nice aesthetics, right? well, as you all know, this is pretty subjective. there are some genuinely cool setpieces in this film, but ultimately its structure doesn’t allow these to transcend any of them: this is pretty much a superhero movie in every sense of its beats and rhythm, fit with the big battle conclusion thingy where civilians ‘die’ so that the rich (in oasis) gifted hero can become more rich and even more gifted. as such, this is where things like the first race scenes and the end battle ones – competent action directing on its own – really start to suffer. this film is about as formally experimental as Captain America: CIvil War, and as such, any thrills that the action scenes produce are ultimately left to be discarded at the risk of ruining the buildup for the next one.

oh, and on the whole deaths thing: can we talk about how two confirmed people, and multiple unnamed others, died in a terrorist attack, which then goes unmentioned for the remainder of the film? wade wakes up in the care of samantha, where he flirts with her a little bit and they talk about more nerd culture or something, and they’re quickly back on the hunt with no explanation or catharsis. it’s one thing to call the film out on wade’s lack of care for other people, but it’s another thing when the film seems to consciously feel similarly. wade’s call to action of the masses to go to doom island or planet or whatever and risk losing their virtual lives felt almost laughable by this point considering how nobody in the film seems to care about the actual lives lost.

i recently read a number of summary posts on the book, because i already don’t read books very much and i wasn’t about to change that with this one, so i don’t feel the huge need to bring up the things that are more or less unchanged from their in terms of their negative qualities (like how grating the pop culture references are, how annoying wade is as a person, its praise of a sci-fi nerd kazillionaire as a deity of sorts, etc.), and i’m happy that spielberg was able to successfully adapt such challenging aspects of the book to the big screen, but also he does change quite a bit. a key here is different from the key in the book, the ending is different, wade isn’t as weird about art3mis as he was in the novel, etc. but what does this really amount to? instead of playing an arcade game in some dungeon, we get a horribly contrived Shining sequence and a romance that is so milquetoast and blase that i’m shocked it didn’t leap out from the silver screen and scream some normie’s tinder bio. what was initially a problematic yet, at the very least, interesting romance, has become neither of those things, and in a film that goes for 140 minutes and at least 140 million dollars, it desperately needs the latter quality.

seriously i mean for Master Craftsman Steven Spielberg(tm), how can something’s technical elements be so woefully boring? the pacing is so breakneck that it loops around and becomes uninteresting because so much STUFF(tm) happens, the score (and, while we’re on that, the soundtrack) is actively abhorrent, there are some genuinely wonky sound aspects (in terms of mixing and how it was stereo’d throughout the theater) that i can appreciate but that’s sort of par for the course for any huge blockbuster like this. the visuals themselves, while in oasis, remind me of all those bad cgi movies from my childhood which i have no reverence for, and those outside of this playground-turned-product are as dull and uninspired as anything else spielberg has done for the last ten years or so. and i know i love to rag on spielberg, but this doesn’t even feel like his film – there’s some daddy issues and some sentimentality in it towards the end, but this feels like anyone in the business of doing big pictures could have done this. a somewhat long one-take at the beginning that i’ve seen variants of dozens of times in these types of movies at the start is about all i have to compare it to with his other ventures.

and this brings me to my final one-liner: it’s so bad that it out-bads spielberg and becomes unrecognizable.