Monday, November 20, 2017

A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies, 2016)

The premature burial 

Attempt something often enough and sooner or later you get it right. Attempt the biopic often enough and someone was bound to hit the bullseye sometime, not so much telling a subject's story with reasonable accuracy as using said subject's life as grist to express the filmmaker's obsessions on his own stylistic terms--thinking Wong Kar Wai's lush narratively wayward The Grandmaster or Jane Campion's austere Bright Star with its focus on the female protagonist (John Keat's great love Fanny Brawne). Terence Davies' A Quiet Passion does something as interesting if not more so: cast Emily Dickinson--one of America's greatest poets--in what essentially reads as a horror film.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)

Ghost story

(Warning: plot details and narrative twists discussed in explicit detail)

Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Moon and Rain 1953) based on a collection of Ueda Akinari short stories of the same title (in particular "The House in the Thicket" and "The Lust of the White Serpent")--plus a bit of short fiction by Guy de Maupassant ("Decore!" or "How He Got the Legion of Honor")--is often considered the director's finest work, the supreme achievement of not just Japanese but world cinema.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Begotten (E. Elias Merhige, 1990)


E. Elias Merhige's Begotten has sprouted a few legends since it emerged in 1990--how the writer / director / producer / cinematographer / special effect-and-sound designer spent three years of his life and an estimated $33,000 to make it; how he conducted extensive experiments including running the unexposed negative through sandpaper and building his own optical printer to fabricate the special effects (most of the details can be found in a 9/20/10 interview he did for The results have since been considered one of the most (if not the most) disturbing films ever made.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008)


(Warning: plot and narrative twists discussed in explicit detail)

Pascal Laugier's 2008 horror film deserves respect for taking the challenge presented by American torture porn (The Devil's Rejects, Hostel 1 and Hostel 2, the remake of I Spit In Your Grave) and upping the ante considerably.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Blade Runner vs. Blade Runner 2049

Does Deckard dream of synthetic sheep?

(Warning: narratives of Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? discussed in close detail)

Ridley Scott's science fiction epic Blade Runner opened back in 1982 to poor boxoffice and middling-to-hostile reviews (including a memorable slam by Pauline Kael).

And then--like a launching police spinner or Roy Batty's level of empathy--the film's reputation rose. From cult classic to cultural touchstone to a place in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry pantheon, Scott's possible masterpiece is now widely considered one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.

The film print went through its own odyssey from seven differently edited versions (including a Director's Cut that doesn't have the director's full participation or approval and a Final Cut that does) VHS releases laserdisc releases DVD releases Blu-Ray releases lord knows how many re-issues and retrospectives and finally--after thirty-five long years--a sequel.

How is the picture? Lemme put it this way:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001)


Like a maestro with baton poised Claire Denis begins her 2001 genre film with vague stirrings (couple making out in a car) then a confident if understated gesture: truck drives past hitchhiking woman stops reverses; the woman smiles. Driver climbs out of his cabin walks towards her the truck's rear flashing its appropriately named 'hazard' lights.

So far so what? Working class lump attractive woman--not much to see here. Setup for a rather lurid scenario the woman presumably asking for trouble when she raised her thumb at the guy--only why is the woman's smile so wide why does her eyes flicker with an unnatural spark? Why are we  aware of the truck's flashers aimed directly at us, the driver--who turned them on in the first place--pointedly ignoring their warning as he walks towards the object of his desire and doom?

Friday, October 06, 2017

Out 1 (Jacques Rivette)

Let us play

What to call Jacques Rivette's 1971 work? He named it 'Out' because the word 'in' was so fashionable (the 'in thing' to do) added a '1' because "(t)he action of the film is rather like a serial which could continue through several episodes."

But Rivette is also all about accident and chance (throughout his career but particularly in this production), and (so the story goes) scribbled on the cans of an early work print were the words 'touch me not' in Latin. What could be more eloquently descriptive of this monstrous long mix of fantasy and realism filled with characters so sensitive (so perceptive so susceptible to suffering) they both resist and seek out contact? What more appropriate plea than that the film is a special case that must not be shortened or simplified?

What's in it? A series of scenes where Rivette gathers his actors (or actor) tells them who they are and what must basically be said and/or done to further the plot (such as it is) then cuts them loose. And they fly or stumble (as the director put it) "without text or rehearsal" bringing something new to the scene the film the world.

On and on and on for some twelve-and-a-half hours.