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My March ’13 in Film

April 3, 2013

March was another month of completism rather than discovery, so much so that I’ve had to create categories for the directors I became attached to. Rohmer and Chabrol’s small book Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films fueled a fascination (alliteration!) with the master’s silent period in particular, and in viewing the woefully ignored “minor” efforts from throughout his oeuvre. These 9 films only fortified my adoration for the man’s work. Yes, Hitch made suspense pictures, but truly his is a cinema concerned with marriage as vital as Lubitsch’s. Jesus, 94 films in one month, including Wang Bing’s 9-hour epic and not including Scorsese’s shorts…I am wasting my youth.

  1. The White Meadows (2009, Rasoulof)
  2. A Girl in Every Port (1928, Hawks)
    and to a lesser extent #2 & 3 under “Hawks” below
  3. Running on Karma (2003, To/Wai)
    and to a lesser extent Fulltime Killer (2001, To/Wai)
  4. The Manxman (1929, Hitchcock)
    and to a lesser extent #2-4 under “Hitchcock” below
  5. Khrustalyov, My Car! (1998, German)
  6. Raw Deal (1948, Mann) and T-Men (1947, Mann)
    and to a lesser extent He Walked by Night (1948, Mann/Werker)
  7. The Wife (1995, Noonan)
  8. Hard Target (1993, Woo)
  9. Drive (1997, Wang)
  10. Torque (2004, Kahn)
  11. Dead Heart (1996, Parsons)
  12. Sue (1997, Kollek)
  13. Decision at Sundown (1957, Boetticher)
  14. Choose Me (1984, Rudolph)
  15. Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (2003, Wang)
  16. Everybody in Our Family (2012, Jude)
  17. Dillinger Is Dead (1969, Ferreri)
  18. Nostalgia for the Light (2010, Guzmán)
  19. Melissa P. (2005, Guadagnino)
  20. The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque (1993, Rohmer)
  21. Freeze, Die, Come to Life! (1989, Kanevsky)
  22. After May (2012, Assayas)
  23. Le Dernier Combat (1983, Besson)
  24. The Crimson Pirate (1952, Siodmak)
  25. Five Dedicated to Ozu (2003, Kiarostami)
  26. The Hawks and the Sparrows (1966, Pasolini)
  27. A Good Lawyer’s Wife (2003, Im)
  28. Rope of Sand (1949, Dieterle)
  29. Dans la Maison (2012, Ozon)
  30. The Flower of Evil (2003, Chabrol)

Compelled to mention:

  • Sudden Death (1995, Hyams)
  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011, Ritchie)
  • Rien sur Robert (1999, Bonitzer)
  • In the Bathtub of the World (2001, Zahedi)
  • Abel Ferrara: Not Guilty (2003, Pitts)
  • New York Stories (1989, Scorsese/Coppola/Allen)
    for Scorsese’s Life Lessons only

Worst:

  • New York Stories (1989, Scorsese/Coppola/Allen)
    for Coppola’s Life Without Zoe, surely the worst film ever made.
  • Bullet in the Head (1990, Woo)
  • The Expendables (2010, Stallone)
    *

Hitchcock:

  1. The Manxman (1929)
  2. The Farmer’s Wife (1928)
  3. Downhill (1927)
  4. Topaz (1969)
  5. The Paradine Case (1947)
  6. Jamaica Inn (1939)
  7. Champagne (1928)
  8. Rich and Strange (1931)
  9. Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Hawks:

  1. A Girl in Every Port (1928)
  2. Land of the Pharaohs (1955)
  3. The Criminal Code (1931)
  4. Tiger Shark (1932)
  5. The Crowd Roars (1932)

Boetticher:

  1. Decision at Sundown (1957)
  2. Buchanan Rides Alone (1958)
  3. The Cimarron Kid (1952)
  4. The Man from the Alamo (1953)

Carpenter:

  1. Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)
  2. Village of the Damned (1995)
  3. Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)

I suppose these three Carpenters are considered among his least, but for me they each affirm his qualities. #1 & 2 are strong examples of the insidious terror that so encapsulates Carpenter, with the 1978 Hitchcockian film about a woman’s apartment being stalked/violated astutely fed right into the viewer’s own personal space via the television set that was its original destination. Also noteworthy for its strong, witty, successful, and sexually assertive female protagonist and the surrounding ideas of sexism and defilement ingrained in her urban milieu. Why wasn’t this in the above top 30 again? Village displays the auteur’s brilliant comprehension of line and composition in his trademark scope frame, scarcely more appropriate than for this story of inhuman Hitler Youth-esque offspring and the fascistic forms they collectively exhibit. And lastly there was his Invisible Man, a neo-noir technological (diegetic and formal) update of a “monster” classic made fascinating for Carpenter’s workmanlike dedication to achieving the many visual effects above its fairly clumsy humour (though shoutout to the risible womaniser and his strained Gregory-Peck-doing-James-Mason voice) and clumsier baddie scenes.

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My February ’13 in Film

March 1, 2013

February was the month of James Gray rewatches/commentaries, coming close to completing Soderbergh, Bigelow, Jerry Lewis and Michael Mann, and actually completing Kubrick’s features at last (with Fear and Desire), discovering James Toback (Fingers and Exposed unlisted), and confirming that I am not really much of a vulgar auteurist (with more ambivalent reactions to its canon’s works, chiefly Hill’s Johnny Handsome, Tourneur’s Anne of the Indies, Carpenter’s Vampires, and McTiernan’s Nomads). It’s probably no accident that films about complex, charming women impressed me (another being a rewatch of A League of Their Own, which is actually more remarkable for its ‘Scope framing!), and that the male-centric movies tended to possess homosexual subtexts or undertones (Sirk’s Captain Lightfoot providing scaffolding for the Cimino film in this and in its premise).

68 in total:

  1. The Oyster Princess (1919, Lubitsch)
  2. Duo Sang (1994, Wu)
  3. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974, Cimino)
  4. The Sterile Cuckoo (1969, Pakula) and Klute (1971, Pakula)
  5. Rent-a-Cat (2012, Ogigami)
  6. We Won’t Grow Old Together (1972, Pialat)
  7. The Loveless (1982, Bigelow & Montgomery)
  8. The Hanging Tree (1959, Daves)
  9. Sunny (2011, Kang)
  10. The Keep (1983, Mann)
  11. Thursday Till Sunday (2012, Castillo)
  12. Three Lives and Only One Death (1996, Ruiz)
  13. When Will I Be Loved (2004, Toback)
  14. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet! (2012, Resnais)
  15. All the Light in the Sky (2012, Swanberg)

Compelled to mention:

  • Eros (2004, Wong/Soderbergh/Antonioni) mainly for Wong’s segment
  • The ABCs of Death (2012, various) for Dogfight and Orgasm only
  • Side Effects (2013, Soderbergh) for brilliant lensing
  • Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985, Burton)

Worst:

  • The Man with the Iron Fists (2012, RZA)
  • War (2007, Atwell)
  • The ABCs of Death (2012, various)

Best rewatches:

  • Two Lovers (2008, Gray)
  • We Own the Night (2007, Gray) -and again with commentary
  • Dogville (2003, Trier)
  • Contagion (2011, Soderbergh)
  • Little Odessa (1995, Gray)
  • Die Hard (1988, McTiernan)
  • Contempt (1963, Godard)

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My January ’13 in Film

February 1, 2013

An early attempt to watch nothing but canon masterpieces from trusted sources waned after just a few days, leaving me with the lamest month of film viewings in some time. Which means, given the amount of films I watch, there’s still a bunch of good shit. Oshima’s passing lead me to two of his films, which lead to a small discussion of contemporary Japanese cinema, which sparked a few viewings of new-to-me Japanese directors (Suwa, Ogigami, Iwai). But it was an insanely Japanese month regardless of this event, with my musical list having me watch Princess Raccoon and Miike’s Katakuris, and the inexplicable choices of a different Miike, a Koreeda, a Satô, and a Kon! 12 in total. Elsewhere, I was introduced to Giorgio Mangiamele, perhaps the earliest filmmaker to express the isolation and xenophobia of the migrant experience in Australian cinema. The last clear trend of January was…high school pictures. I have no idea why. Did the first fuel interest in the others? Besides the two mentioned, there was also Dante’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. All among the best of the genre. A good number of rewatches, to boot. Not included: The Lord of the Rings trilogy (first time in many years), and The Saddest Music in the World, which for me still runs out of steam but is often hilarious; Ross McMillan is particularly delicious in it. Middle tier Maddin.

75 total:

  1. Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924, Lang)
  2. Kamome Diner (2006, Ogigami)
  3. Executive Suite (1954, Wise)
  4. The Quiet Man (1952, Ford)
  5. Perfect Blue (1997, Kon)
  6. La Luna (1979, Bertolucci)
  7. Coeur Fidèle (1923, Epstein)
  8. Maboroshi no Hikari (1995, Koreeda)
  9. Clay (1965, Mangiamele)
  10. Bitter Victory (1957, Ray)
  11. Pleasures of the Flesh (1965, Ôshima)
  12. Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968, Satô)
  13. Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache (1924, Lang)
  14. Jack Reacher (2012, McQuarrie)
  15. The Canterbury Tales (1972, Pasolini)

Compelled to mention:

  • Bombay Beach (2011, Har’el) that kid broke my heart so fucking hard
  • Pump Up the Volume (1990, Moyle)
  • I Love Melvin (1953, Weis) for the choreography
  • The Face You Deserve (2004, Gomes)
  • Detention (2011, Kahn)

Worst:

  • Les Misérables (2012, Hooper)
  • Far East (1982, Duigan)
  • Hitchcock (2012, Gervasi)

Best rewatches:

  • Before Sunrise (1995, Linklater)
  • Before Sunset (2004, Linklater)
  • The Yards (2000, Gray)
  • Vivre Sa Vie (1962, Godard)
  • Solaris (2002, Soderbergh)
  • Death Proof (2007, Tarantino)
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The Best 21st Century Musicals

January 31, 2013

This is more or less in reaction to the Hollywood-only myopia of Best Musicals lists, which universally include such masterpieces as Dreamgirls and Hairspray. This century’s film musical output is very dire indeed, but appears significantly worse by way of said online lists. The truth is the musical refracted into various other genres or else remnants of the traditional form pop up in otherwise non-musical films (Zatoichi, Damsels in Distress, etc) as whimsical interludes. However, I have not included what IMDb classifies as “music” films, or else we’d have a significantly stronger list (think Linda Linda Linda and Ne Change Rien!), nor dance-only pictures -which would make a swell list on their own. I would love recommendations. Jury’s out on Dancer in the Dark, perhaps I should have revisited it. Tim Burton’s pair are pretty good from memory. The list is ordered more by how much I admire the film as a film rather than strictly as a musical.

12. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (Chazelle)

11. Winnie the Pooh (Anderson/Hall)

10. 8 Women (Ozon)

9. Princess Raccoon (Suzuki)

8. The Wayward Cloud (Tsai)

7. Opera Jawa (Nugroho)

6. Not on the Lips (Resnais)

5. Yellow (Peterson) Review

4. Moulin Rouge! (Luhrmann)

3. La France (Bozon)

2. Happy Feet Two (Miller)

1. For Love’s Sake (Miike) See also: The Happiness of the Katakuris

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My Best First-Time Viewings of 2012

January 4, 2013

With a total of 834 film viewings (longer shorts included, but most not) in 2012, this is surely my most prolific year as a cinephile, and naturally it makes a wrap-up piece a daunting exercise filled with the disappointments that comes with being unable to mention all those little gems and habits, the finer points of my cinematic intake. Thus, I will lazily link to my various monthly recaps, of which there were ten, after the final list.

Things I learned about my taste in 2012: comedy good; dry comedies are often the most moving of films; vulgar auteurism good; shorts can indeed be great; 3D is beautiful; dance is everything.

Not including current-decade premieres, here are the finest I saw this year, with tie cheating:

(hover over for titles, click for IMDb)

40

39

38b

38

37

36c

36b

36

Read the rest of this entry »

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My December ’12 in Film

January 1, 2013

76 seen in total:

  1. Drifting Clouds (1996, Kaurismäki)
  2. Du Côté d’Orouët (1973, Rozier)
  3. From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995, Rappaport)
  4. L’enfance Nue (1968, Pialat)
  5. Wild Boys of the Road (1933, Wellman)
  6. Uncle Kent (2011, Swanberg)
  7. Mute Witness (1994, Waller)
  8. Undercurrent (1946, Minnelli)
  9. Mandingo (1975, Fleischer)
  10. The Beast Must Die (1969, Chabrol)
  11. The Alphabet Murders (1965, Tashlin)
  12. Big Wednesday (1978, Milius)
  13. Dangerous Game (1993, Ferrara)
  14. In Hell (2003, Lam)
  15. The Pearls of the Crown (1937, Guitry)
  16. Les Mauvaises Rencontres (1955, Astruc)
  17. The Master (2012, Anderson)
  18. Pitch Perfect (2012, Moore)
  19. The Pajama Game (1957, Donen)
  20. Red Hook Summer (2012, Lee)

Compelled to mention:

  • Silent Trigger (1996, Mulcahy)
  • Domaine (2009, Chiha)

Best rewatches:

Taxi Driver, Zodiac.

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Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995)

December 12, 2012

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I enjoyed the absolute shit out of this movie. This was not so surprising, as Verhoeven at his worst is unfailingly entertaining, and at his best among the most unique film artists working today. Granted, irony is common these days, but rarely is it employed with such dedication; rather than fits and bursts of irony delineating it from the more casually sincere, Verhoeven risks the entire product (and being misunderstood) with it. As such his key progenitor is surely Douglas Sirk, likewise a European who worked within and incisively critiqued America, sharing as they do a subversive streak, targeting the satire squarely at the audience paying to see their movies. But where Sirk generally examined the middle and upper classes, Verhoeven often takes on generic movie narratives and exposes their falsehoods. Showgirls is not just a spit in the face of the American Dream, but the movies that perpetrate the myth. Nomi Malone’s (No me? Alone?) attempt to start a new life from scratch is corrupted and she becomes both victim and player (repeatedly, it becomes the film’s rhythm) of the game until her strength wins out and she ends up on top—a monster, heading for Hollywood.

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Take a look at the two phony-looking roadsigns that bookend the picture, the odd negative space on each seems to suggest L.A. represents a further moral descent despite Nomi’s social climb. Her Italian roots aren’t introduced for no good reason, like the Aryan Argentines with yanky accents of Starship Troopers, Nomi’s whitewash into Heather—along with the cowgirl outfit she dons significantly only at the very beginning—rather discreetly marks her as a vehicle for the modern American in this wild parable. But unlike Troopers, which took the form of propaganda, Nomi’s arc is subtextually tragic, and vaguely exposes Verhoeven’s sincerity, at least it felt so to me. Yet he is wary of viewer-character empathy, and his career is built around toying with its tradition in cinema. Is the rape scene here not so overblown that one’s reaction turns from horror to a distanced contemplation? Is his irony mean-spirited, or does it unpatronisingly allow for the viewer to negotiate his own way to the meaning?

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But there are aesthetic pleasures to delight in here as well: not merely in its gloriously garish cinematography, a bombardment of neon colours and lighting, but an equally heightened thrust, a total physicality that drives every bit of mise-en-scene. The result is something satisfyingly campy and sexy and hilarious and musical, but beyond that, a pointed display of affectations and egos rudely bouncing off each other; actors and characters performing alike. Elizabeth Berkley, whoever she is, is terrific in this. Nomi’s adolescent pride (later discovered to be a desperate defense) is superbly manifested by Berkley’s body, her gestures. At one point, as Nomi realises a dancing gig was a set-up, Berkley even manages the subtlest of lip quivers; it seems as if the actress felt this role body and soul.

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Verhoeven and Jost Vacano’s Steadicam camerawork dexterously keeps up with the backstage bustle, itself Renoir-esque. But it’s a real surprise to find Verhoeven’s musical talents shine through, particularly in the suturing of the dance numbers, the shots of which are timed to the music so precisely as to be kinetic. It’s not classy stuff, but then it obviously isn’t meant to be. Some may dismiss this film as a pointless and ridiculous All About Eve retread or even, as many did at the time of its release, overlook the irony altogether. But I see a great and wickedly enjoyable film, a female To Live and Die in L.A., and perhaps behind Robocop, Paul Verhoeven’s best American effort.

November 2011